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10am Combined Service through September 3

One Body, One Family (Jeff & Christi Boyd)

June 18, 2017 Pastor: Jeff & Christi Boyd

Topic: Diversity & Acceptance Scripture: John 21:9–21:17, 1 Corinthians 12:12–12:14, 1 Corinthians 12:26–12:26

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An African proverb says, "Those who eat together do not eat one another."   To eat from the same gourd is to be in relationship with one another.  Families do that.  It implies community.  Those in communion with one another look out for the interest and well-being of each other.  They promote the common good and use of talents God has gifted each

When talking about Christian community, we can think of our gathering for worship as we do now, and of our joining hands across town and country in service to God’s mission in this world. We also experience it when we humbly struggle together to discern God’s will in cultural diversity and communal lives, celebrate and break bread with one another in Holy Communion, or share a meal as Presbyterians often do. As members of God’s household, we serve a living God who calls us to unity.  We acknowledge and celebrate how, in different ways our communion with God is intimately related to our communion with one another.  We gather, worship, study, serve and eat together interested in the wellbeing of each other.

Many moments of significance in Christ’s ministry were while he was communing over a shared meal.  Among the first of Christ’s recorded miracles was His turning water to wine at a wedding feast.  Through loaves and fishes, He demonstrated that God can multiply what may seem meager offerings in the midst of tremendous need.  By eating with tax collectors and prostitutes Jesus pronounced his priority to bring back to the table of God’s household those who have strayed and are shunned.  On the eve of his crucifixion, Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper in a setting of political and religious oppression.  After rising to life he joined bewildered disciples on their walk to Emmaus, and again broke bread with them behind doors locked in fear. Over a breakfast of fish and bread on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, after again reminding the disciples of his ability to provide in abundance, Jesus insisted on the connection between loving Christ and caring for his flock as he recommissioned Peter:  

“Do you love me?"  "Feed my lambs."

“Do you love me?"  "Tend my sheep."

“Do you love me?" "Feed my sheep.”

Over time Peter’s understanding of that charge grew.  In the Acts of the Apostles we read of Peter’s transformation in understanding that the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ is for all, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” It was a pivotal moment for the early Church as it realized that the family of God includes all nations. Christ’s command “to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead,” was meant for everyone - not just the Jews. The sheep Peter was to tend and feed were part of a much larger flock than he had earlier realized known.

And so today, we, too, are reminded that our family in Christ extends beyond the walls of our weekly fellowship.  Our body is more than those we usually see sitting in the pews around us.  We are an extended family, a worldwide flock that communes in Christ across a rich diversity of languages and cultures.

Throughout much of Africa, the familiar terms brother or sister, aunt or uncle, and even father or mother, are used to describe a breadth of relations.  “Mother” may for example stand for a maternal aunt, and reference to a brother or sister may imply someone you and I would call a cousin, a second cousin, or simply someone from the same village or region.  But he or she may also really be a sibling.  When someone from Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea or the Congo talks about their brother or sister, I do not know immediately what, if any, biological relationship exists.  That may come out further in the conversation, or not.   If someone wants to be specific they will say brother of the same mother and same father.  Regardless, the term does communicate a relationship, a connectedness. In Christ we are one global family. Each of us is part of the one Body of Christ where we are in communion with one another.

I invite you to think about your sisters and brothers, your fathers and mothers, your aunts and uncles who are not in this sanctuary with us today.  Those living in places with names like Kananga, Kitchanga, or Mweka, who gathered in churches 7 hours ago to worship our same Lord Jesus Christ.  I’d like for you to meet some members of our extended family in Congo.        

Julienne, an evangelist in the Synod of Luiza, in southern Congo. When Julienne's husband became blind he encouraged her to carry on the work of evangelism they used to do together, but upon his death Julienne's life was turned upside down.  As is common in the Luba culture the family of her late husband took everything from her: the house, the furnishings, and even crops from her field. But Julienne had been prepared to stand up against one of the most abhorred customary practices. Several years earlier, she had attended a seminar organized by women leaders of the Presbyterian Church in Congo. There she learned about the Congolese law on Women’s Rights, including the legal ramifications for widowhood.  And while the local church stood by her and prayed for her after her husband had died, Julienne refused to abide by the cultural tradition to marry the brother of her deceased husband and become part of a polygamist household. 

With a grant from the Presbyterian Women's Thank Offering, women leaders of the Presbyterian Church in Congo held seven of these seminars to change what they themselves consider harmful traditions.  They encourage couples to register their traditionally entered marriages so women can better claim their legal rights. As Facilitator for Women and Children’s Interests I accompany the Congolese women leaders who want to bring the training to the remaining five synods. Through their gifts to the work of their Congolese sisters, Presbyterians in the US continue to support ministries that fight violence and violation of basic rights.

Pastor Kabala Mboyamba, the director of the Department of Evangelism and Church Life in the Presbyterian Church of Congo.  For six years he has worked to strengthen rural churches by helping elders to better understand their role in supporting the church.  Through seminars held in each of the 12 synods these rural elders have been trained to deal with spiritual and cultural issues and to undertake small income generating projects that can help financially sustain their pastors, who usually receive less than $10 a month.  Gifts from church members in the US help finance these seminars, and support fellow mission coworkers Bob and Kristi Rice who have worked work with Rev. Mboyamba.  Together, we share this way the Good News in Jesus Christ.

Willie Lushimba is the teacher for English courses in an after-school enrichment program for girls in Presbyterian high schools. At the age of nine Willie contracted polio, which left him unable to walk.  His parents were distraught by his prospects for life, but a missionary doctor encouraged them to not give up hope. By sharing with them the story of Franklin Roosevelt, who had also contracted polio yet served as President of the United States, the doctor convinced Willie’s parents to send their son to school, where he excelled.  Now decades later, Willie is married and supporting his extended family. The 10-month course he teaches began with a grant from the Presbyterian Women Thank Offering and has proven very popular and successful ever since. Each afternoon forty girls come in two groups to learn English and computer literacy. Several of the students who completed this course are now helping pay their way through university by teaching others English and computer literacy.  Mission coworker Gwenda Fletcher has accompanied this popular program since its inception.

Leonard Nombwa, a primary school teacher and volunteer in Bana Bansaka, a community-based holistic program to promote health, development and the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ in Kananga town. A campaign of upper arm measurements established malnutrition rates of over 20% in children under 5, and Leonard’s toddler son was one of the children identified as seriously malnourished. Bana Bansaka volunteers worked with Leonard and other parents to ensure proper feeding of children, establish household gardens, use potable water and create a sanitary environment to help keep children healthy. 

As this ministry seeks to transform individuals and communities for physical, spiritual and social health, so conditions changed around Leonard’s home.  First he planted a vegetable garden that bettered the children’s diet.  Then he enhanced his pit latrine and started filtering drinking water, thereby improving family’s sanitation and health. He and his wife started raising guinea pigs, rabbits and ducks to eat or sell.  The transformation was exemplary for the neighbors, and Leonard was invited to join the team of Bana Bansaka volunteers so he could help his community. Leonard is one of nearly two dozen volunteers in this ministry that was started with a grant from the Presbyterian Hunger Program, one of three Ministries supported through the One Great Hour of Sharing. Bana Bansake is an initiative dear to the heart of our mission coworker colleague, Ruth Brown, who had worked with the Community Development Department to start the program.

Debora, a 16 year old girl from Goma in East Congo. Debora’s father was brutally killed by a militia with political ties to Rwanda. At the time, Debora was four years old, and the trauma has marked her childhood relations.  Last year, Debora shared with me how angry she would become anytime she met a person of Rwandan descent or heard the language being spoken. She had sworn to herself to never ever again share a meal with people from Rwandan descent. In August, Debora took part in a children’s camp as part of a training for facilitators of trauma-healing in children. The first 8-day training session was organized by the Women’s Department of the Protestant Council of Churches in Congo in collaboration with the Congolese Bible Society. Presbyterian congregations in the US had raised sufficient funds to help the Protestant Women to organize the initial training of 30 facilitators, which will be followed later this year by an advanced, certifying training session. The facilitators come from five different provinces and represent 11 Protestant denominations. Debora said the children’s camp helped her to understand her feelings, and equipped her to better deal with her feelings. Supporting trauma healing ministries for children is one way Presbyterians in the US engage in ecumenical reconciliation initiatives to end violence in East Congo.  We are grateful for the support First Presbyterian Church in Normal has given to help the Protestant Communities of Congo bring healing to traumatized children.

Julienne, Pastor Mboyamba, Willie, Leonard, and Debora are members of our family, a global communion of followers of the risen Lord.  Their stories are a testimony of some of our joint efforts with global church partners, be it through the presence of mission workers or prayerful financial, material and spiritual support from congregations throughout the United States. 

They also represent three initiatives in response to critical and global issues facing the Church:  (1) To identify and address the root causes of poverty in a globalizing world, particularly as it impacts women and children; (2) to share the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ together with other members of Christ’s body; and (3) to engage in reconciliation amidst cultures of violence.   We seek to root out poverty through quality education. We proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ by training leaders for community transformation.  And we work to reconcile relations and restore communion so that all may eat from the same gourd.

The Body of Christ is facing challenges around the world.  In some places the Church’ presence and witness is violently threatened.  Elsewhere our Communion is embattled by cultural indifference, and relative affluence has eroded recognition of our dependence on God.  In the US and Europe churches are dwindling and shutting their doors while in Africa we experience the impact that has on our ability to accompany our brothers and sisters in God’s mission. The body of Christ, God's household as a whole, is suffering.

Christi and I want to thank you, our sisters and brothers from First Presbyterian Church in Normal for your contributions to our mission service through Presbyterian World Mission.  Much more so than previous eras World Mission relies on the directed support to sustain mission personnel overseas and our accompaniment of global partners and PCUSA congregations and presbyteries.  While local and global forces combine in denying the life in abundance that Christ wants for all, we recognize our communion with one another and remember “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it.”

Another African proverb says, "Only united ants are capable of transporting an elephant."  Addressing the challenges facing the Church and the world requires us to work together.  The Presbyterian Church USA has been engaged in worldwide missions for 180 years and continues to be committed to sending long-term mission coworkers who join hands with sisters and brothers around the world to carry out God’s mission. Christi, and I are grateful to have been able to serve this way as mission coworkers of the Presbyterian Church (USA) for 27 years now. 

As we worship here today, let us think of our sisters and brothers around the world and consider “The body of Christ is not made up of one part, but of many.” Let us not allow our differences, whether socio-economic, clan, language group, political affiliation or otherwise, to keep us from working together for the good of the mission to which God invites us all.  Let us remember Christ’s words spoken hours before he was put to death, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."  Let us keep working together so that all in God’s household may have life, and have it abundantly!

Please allow us to close with a prayer from a Jesuit Community in East Africa.

Lord Jesus Christ, in the world of abundance, many people still go to sleep hungry each day. Give all those who have in abundance the grace to share with the hungry, and grant shelter to the homeless, clothing for the naked and protection for the weak. Open the heavens and grant us rain that the crops in our expansive and fertile land and the animals in our savannah grasslands may grow and offer plentiful harvest. May food always be a source of unity rather than division amongst us! Give us this day our daily bread, for us to eat it in loving communion with one another.  Amen.