A sermon on the texts John 17:20-26 and Romans 15:5-13 preached by Pierre Ploude at El Shaddai Church in Haiti, February 2013. Pierre will be returning to Haiti again this February, as part of the EMAS medical team, “Hand in Hand with Haiti.” This is one of the projects supported by saint benedict’s table through our mission and outreach fund.
T his year marks the tenth anniversary of EMAS Canada teams visiting the El Shaddai community. The first team came in 2004, when we simply spent a few days working at the former church building in Bon Repos and at Dr. Robert’s clinic. More recently, our teams work not only at Dr. Robert’s clinic and the former site in Bon Repos, but we have work to do here as well in Molleard and at Imago Dei School.
So much has happened in 10 years. Only 3 weeks after the team left Haiti in January 2004, Jean Bertrand Aristide departed Haiti, followed by years of political turmoil and upheaval. In September/October 2008, four hurricanes (Faye, Gustav, Hannah, Ike) ravaged this neighbourhood causing extensive flooding and the destruction of most homes. In December 2008, our beloved Pasteur Saint Hilaire died and was taken away from us. And no one will ever forget January 12 2010, described to me by many of you as Armageddon. In March 2010, we learned of the death in childbirth of Vicki just weeks before she was to graduate from medical school. And then cholera visited this nation later in 2010, and it is likely going to remain in Haiti for many years.
There is so much pain and so much suffering! I am sure that you are asking the same question as me, “When will it all end?” Has anything good happened in 10 years? Well, I am standing here before you today to say, “yes”. Despite the pain and suffering that you have endured, I have seen many good things coming from this community of Christian believers – El Shaddai.
First, I have noticed that you are becoming less religious. You may wonder why I am saying that this is a good thing. Well, Jesus himself was not religious. In fact, he condemned the most religious people of his day. Although his family and his followers closely followed the Law of Moses (Jesus was Jewish after all) (Matthew 23:3, Luke 2:41); as an adult, Jesus was not religious. By this I mean that he did not blindly and inflexibly follow the religious law. Jesus did not make the practice of religious duties take precedence over the practice of justice, of mercy and of faith. Jesus saw through the hypocrisy of religious practice whenever it interfered with the more important aspects of the life of the believer, that being justice for the oppressed, mercy for the poor, and faith for the hopeless.
On the other hand, the Pharisees were religious; they were more concerned about “religion” practiced to the exact letter of the law. They were very religious – and Jesus condemned the way they practiced their religion. St. James even tells us in his letter (James 1:26-27) that those of us who are religious but cannot control our tongues are practicing a worthless religion. True religion, according to James, is taking care of the poor (widows and orphans), and keeping ourselves from being tempted by the ways of the world. True religion is not found in many of our churches, for many of our churches are more concerned about rituals and doctrines than they are about widows and orphans. But over the 10 years that I have observed your work, I have noticed that you are spending more and more time helping the widows and the orphans. You are ministering to the desperate physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of your community; and you are not forcing religion upon your neighbours. And in this, I am encouraged to have witnessed your growth over the past 10 years.
Remember, Jesus was not religious – he ate with unclean hands (Mark 7:3-5), he worked on the Sabbath, he offended the religious authorities by breaking their laws (Matthew 12:2). If we want to follow the example of Jesus, we need to strive at becoming less religious, not more. We need to worry less about our rituals and doctrines and more about our widows and our orphans. We need to find better ways to open the doors to live in better harmony with our suffering neighbours; and we need to bring them justice, mercy and faith – not our religion (Matthew 23:23-25). And in this, you have done well; you have demonstrated deep concern for your suffering neighbours and you have brought their children education, nutrition, and health care, and thus hope for their futures. And I know that even though you are becoming less religious, you have not given up on the Gospel of Christ. You know what you believe, and you stand firm in your theology. But what you have preached (justice, mercy, and faith) I see that you have put into practice.
Second, I have noticed that you are becoming less divisive and more accepting of your brothers and sisters in the Lord. There was a few years ago when I would hear baptism sermons preached in this church by visiting preachers where very hurtful insensitive comments were made toward our brothers and sisters from other Christian churches. But I was myself baptised and subsequently raised in a good Roman Catholic home. Although I now worship as an Anglican, I have always respected the foundation that I was given as a child that eventually led me to a saving knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ (just as the apostle Paul always respected his heritage as a Jew). But you know, Jesus was not a Baptist. He wasn’t even Pentecostal, or Anglican, or Lutheran, or Roman Catholic …. Jesus was in fact a Jew, and he and his family practiced Jewish customs and laws. He was circumcised on his eighth day of life, as a baby (Luke 2:21); which brings much comfort to those who believe in the practice of infant baptism (as in my Anglican tradition – we baptize both babies and adults). Jesus himself supported the practice of circumcision within the Jewish tradition where it was administered to mostly infant baby boys and occasionally adult men (John 7:22) – but it was in fact the practice of male circumcision that became the first source of conflict among first century Christian believers – creating the first “denominations” and the first divisions among Christians (Jewish Christians versus Gentile Christians).
The fact remains that Jesus was a Jew, not a Baptist; he taught in Jewish synagogues (Matt 4:23); he practiced Jewish customs (John 7:1-10 – Jesus at Festivals of Booths; John 2:13-23 – Jesus at Passover); and He prayed for unity among his Jewish and non-Jewish followers (John 17:11, 20-24). His fervent anguished prayer for unity in John’s gospel gives the impression that he knew of the high likelihood of disunity ultimately developing among his followers, which brought much pain to his heart. Likewise, the apostle Paul was troubled by the lack of unity among first century believers and exhorted the many churches to which he wrote letters to live in unity with one another, even within their diversity. Paul was quick to remind Christians that there was no room for divisions. So I would like to encourage you to continue celebrating the diversity of the body of Christ, rather than condemning it or arguing for your theological biblical teachings on baptism. Diversity is absolutely essential in the body of Christ. A body cannot function with only a head, or only eyes, or only hands, or only feet. The body of the worldwide Christian Church needs all of its parts to be working in harmony in order to function properly. So let us celebrate diversity, and reject the spirit of division in the body of Christ; “that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Cor 12:25). I would like to encourage you to continue finding ways to glorify your God with one voice, in unity – whether you call yourselves Baptists, or Anglicans (like my children and I), or Roman Catholics (like Jane and John) – especially as we reach out together to your suffering neighbours to bring them justice, mercy, and faith – not discord or division.
Finally, I have noticed that you are becoming less judgemental. Jesus himself was not judgemental. In fact, the Son of God the Creator of the universe who will one day judge all of creation, did not come to walk among us primarily as Judge, but instead chose to be among us to suffer on our behalf, to die for us and to redeem us from our sins; in effect to be our Saviour, not our Judge. Jesus was not judgemental; but he spent most of his time with the people that we are most ready to judge ourselves – corrupt public officials (tax collectors), prostitutes, adulterers, sinners (Matthew 9:11, Mark 2:16, Luke 15:2, John 8:1-11). Instead of judging these people whom we are likely to reject, Jesus welcomed them to receive forgiveness of their sins. It is therefore encouraging to me, that when one of your own brothers or sisters falls from grace (is caught in adultery or in corruption) that you are no longer so quick to condemn or so slow to forgive. When Jesus met with sinners (corrupt tax collectors, prostitutes, adulterers), his most common words of comfort to them were “Your sins are forgiven” (which appears 12 times in NT). Jesus said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). The spirit of forgiveness in this community, even after the murder of a beloved Pastor, has been an encouragement to me. Paul’s letter to the Romans and his first letter to the Corinthians both exhort us to refrain from passing judgment in the current age (Rom 14:12-13, 1 Cor 4:5); judgment is reserved for when the Lord comes again; it is not ours to pronounce at this time. Jesus wants us to spend less time pronouncing judgment upon one another in our churches or upon our enemies and to spend more time forgiving our brothers and sisters and our non-believing neighbours. Jesus wants you to continue opening the doors of hospitality toward your suffering neighbours; to bring them justice, mercy, faith, and forgiveness – not judgement.
If you want to continue to be like Jesus, then continue being less religious and more merciful toward the oppressed and poorest among you; and more faithful to the hope that awaits us when Jesus returns.
If you want to continue to be like Jesus, then continue being less divisive and more unified in your worship of the Lord and welcoming in your witness to the world.
If you want to continue to be like Jesus, then continue being less judgemental and more forgiving of your brothers and sisters who fail you; and continue being more forgiving of your neighbours who disappoint you; and more forgiving of your enemies who hurt you.
According to the apostle Paul, Jesus came that all nations might learn to live in harmony with one another (Rom 15:5 – May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus); that we might forgive one another’s weaknesses and welcome one another in love (Rom 15:7 – Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God); and that we might worship Yahweh with one voice (Rom 15:6 – so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ).
My prayer for you is “ that all of (you) may be one, …, so that the world may believe … (and) so that (you) may be brought to complete unity.” (John 17:21-23)
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)