Sunday, June 24, 2012

Change the World

Chaplain Mel Baars
June 24, 2012
Presbyterian Church of Chestertown
"Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to every creature." (Mark 16:15)
Throughout the week, our Vacation Bible School has been learning new insights of faith each day by “diving into” God’s word. On Monday, we learned how to - DEPEND ON GOD - through Proverbs 3:5 which says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, don't rely on your own intelligence." Tuesday’s lesson - DARE TO CARE - came from the gospel of Matthew 22:39, "You must love your neighbor as you love yourself." On Wednesday, we learned to- CLAIM JESUS - remembering this well known passage from John 3:16, "For God so loved the world ..." Thursday’s story, from Joshua 25:15, taught us that we should - CHOOSE TO FOLLOW - and we learned these words, "Choose today whom you will serve ... but my family and I will serve the Lord." Finally, on Friday, we learned that we are all commissioned to - CHANGE THE WORLD - by "Going into the whole world and proclaiming the good news to every creature." It is this verse from Mark 16:15 which is our gospel reading for this morning. It’s not every day that the gospel is just one, short verse. You got lucky. Nonetheless, through Mark’s gospel we remember a very important message about who God has called us all to be, people who share good news.
Listen as I read our gospel verse for today from the gospel of Mark chapter 16 verse 15, 
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to every creature.” 
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Believe it or not, my grandmother is one of the most technologically savvy people that I know. Long before I had a digital camera or a phone with internet or a keyboard for texting, she did. She was always ahead of the game, coxing us along to get with the program. I never know what new thing she is going to be up to. About a year ago, I got an email from her, sent through her Blackberry no less, inviting me to view a series of videos on her website which she had just digitized from old VHS technology. She was hoping to keep the footage preserved much longer than the tapes could ever guarantee. The video she sent out was mostly a string of random family Christmases and birthday parties. Dispersed throughout these holiday clips were a few other videos of me as a small child, standing on top of our fireplace hearth, equipped with my mother’s hair brush as a microphone, singing a variety of Vacation Bible School songs that I had learned at church over a number of consecutive summers. One performance was of a song called God is Love. Another, was of a song that many of you know well, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, and then, perhaps the favorite of my childhood VBS songs, Jesus Loves the Little Children.
Like most of our children, actually most in this room, I, too, have been singing songs about God and God’s love for the whole world since I was barely old enough to speak distinguishable  words, certainly long before I knew what any of these words really meant. I doubt many of us can pin point the first time we learned Jesus Loves Me or Jesus Loves the Little Children or any of our other VBS classics, but these are the songs, the words, that first taught us about God, who God is in our lives, and who God is calling us to be from our youth until we take our final breath. I may not remember the first time I sang “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world,” but in almost thirty years, I have never forgotten these words. I have never forgotten the awesome notion that even when I have been at a loss in how I might love others from different places or backgrounds, God has been and continues to be at work, paving a way for all of us, showing us what this kind of faithfulness can look like. 
Watching my post-VBS performances and being present this week as PCC “dove in” for another wonderful week of Vacation Bible School, welcoming children from across Kent County and even beyond that, I have realized that there is a real theology present in these songs. They may be simple, but they are absolutely pertinent to our understanding of discipleship. If you listen carefully to the words, there are important lessons to learn about faith, lessons as important for us as adult as they are for our VBS participants. In many ways, some obvious and others hidden deep inside of us, these words, their meaning, their promise, and even their demand, to go out and to share the good news, become our lifeblood. They are at work in us even when we don’t realize it. Their melodies run through us, reminding us in whispers and in bits of phrases, that we are loved, that we have work to do in the world, that our strength and courage come from God, that God is with us always until the very end of the age.
It should be no surprise that I was particularly struck with the words of the theme song of our last day of VBS, “Change the World.” It echos our gospel “passage” for this morning found toward the very end of Mark’s gospel, so far toward the end that it is in a section entitled “the longer ending of Mark." In this verse, Jesus’ disciples, his followers as we learned this week in VBS, because a disciple is “one who follows,” were told this: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to every creature." (Mark 16:15) This verse tells us how we are to be a part of God’s changing the world, God’s ultimate restoration of all of creation. After all, it is God who is doing the changing and restoring. It is us who are vehicles of this change. We are the hands and feet of Jesus, reaching out to every creature wherever we go.
Listening, even this morning, as our kids sang “Change the World,” it struck me how significant it is that we not only teach our children these songs as a part of a week of Bible school which includes great food, fellowship, and fun, but also, that we show them what sharing this Good News looks like, here and now in our community and even reaching beyond our own borders to other places and peoples who, despite distance or experience or even understanding of God, are still a part of us, still apart of that whole wide world which God is holding in holy hands. 
We are hands and feet of Jesus... knitting warm sweaters, scarves, and hats or a bear which might bring comfort to a child in Afghanistan or South Africa or even in our own backyard, as we  recognize that there are many who need the love and support of a community of faith...
We are hands and feet of Jesus... sewing backpacks and collecting school supplies so that kids in Kent County and in other parts of the world may have more of a chance to thrive in school, so that perhaps, one day, these kids, too, may be a vehicle of change in their communities...  
We are hands and feet of Jesus... supporting malaria nets for mothers and children in Malawi or the Responsible Fathers Program as a part of Shared Opportunity Service, Inc in Kent County. It’s hands and feet, one hand and one foot at a time. It’s sewing seeds, when the landscape is fallow and dormant, trusting that God is going to do what God always does, create something good.
On my way home from Afghanistan last week, I had a fascinating conversation on one of my many flights with a bright young man, just a few years younger than me, about the state of our nation and the future of the world. Now, granted I had been traveling for more than five days, and I was not on the tip top of my game. But, as I listened to him regale his dismay of the present situation and go on at length about the hopelessness he perceived which only seemed to be getting worse, it dawned on me that what this young man really needed to do was head to the Eastern Shore and the Presbyterian Church for a week of Vacation Bible School. Because no matter how hard things may seem or how much the darkness may threaten to extinguish whatever light remains, when we come together and remember these simple truths, that God is love, that God does have the whole world in God’s hands and that because of God’s boundless love for every color and flavor and shape and size, hope is hard to ignore. This is why, eight months ago, I made the decision to come here for my leave from the Army. I had no idea then what my Afghanistan experience might turn out to be, but I figured that a reminder of some of the ways that God is working for good might help me find the strength and the courage to continue with the mission upon which God has called me.
In these past few days, I feel that I have become a little like a broken record, making vain attempts to thank you for all the ways that you have reached out into the whole world, proclaiming the good news to every creature, particularly in Afghanistan. I have had the privilege to share stories of some of the kids who have benefitted from your generosity or the soldiers, sailors, and airmen whose lives have been made a little brighter because of your care and support. But, for just a moment, I want to paint a more vivid picture. First, you need to imagine the colors gray and gray with some brown, and then more gray and lots of rocks. This is our landscape-- literally and figuratively. There is very little color and as the time goes on, it sometimes feels as if whatever color exists is being slowly drained away. 
With this as our backdrop, I want you to imagine some other things, too. Imagine the picture of our congregation taken last November, which was included in the Christmas cards that you sent to every member of Task Force Viper, imagine this picture taped and pinned on computers, walls, and bulletin boards so that daily, throughout our camp, I see you smiling at me. Imagine your blue Christmas cards with a handprinted dove and these four simple words, “And on Earth Peace.” Talk about proclaiming good news. Imagine over a hundred and fifty Afghan women and children, leaving the local hospital with brightly colored fleece blankets with your hearts sewn subtlety their edges. Imagine children, the same age and size as the ones who were just singing here, maybe with the same energy and love and dreams for a better, less violent tomorrow, wearing their new backpacks filled with pencils and crayons and paper. Imagine all this immense color. Imagine all this hope which you have continued to offer over these months. 
"Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to every creature." (Mark 16:15) Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin in this task of changing the world, of bringing fullness of life into places of pain and sorrow, of bringing light into what has been a dark and endless night. It is a daunting task, which is why we never endeavor to share good news all by ourselves. While very few of you have been to Afghanistan, at least physically speaking, you have been there through me, as I have been there all this time with you. Wherever it is that we are called to go, when we go out into the whole wide world, we go hand and hand, as a community of faith. This is the way we proclaim Good News to every creature. We are all witnesses of God’s transforming and changing love from our very first church days at VBS all the way to our very ending. Going out and sharing Good News, in the way we live, in the way we serve, and in the way we love one another. This is what it means to follow Jesus. This is how we change the world. Really, there is no other way. Amen.

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