WOMAN AT THE WELL IN INDIA, GRACE, AND THE POLITICAL RHETORIC OF OUR TIME: A REFLECTION OF THE ASIAMERICAN MISSIONER AT EXECUTIVE COUNCIL MEETING OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
(The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred Vergara. New Jersey 10/21/2016)
All these years I tried to live with the thought that I cannot lighten anyone’s burden unless I bear the pressure in my own soul. My job as Missioner for Asiamerica and Pacific Islanders Ministries of the Episcopal Church has enabled me to engage with people in this country, across Asia and Pacific and even around the world and I am amazed at the grace of God. I have come face to face with God in people; I rejoiced with those who were honored and cried with those who were oppressed and I have transcended my presumption that simply because someone looks happy, that he or she is. For behind the smiles and the laughter is the human drama, that when the curtain falls, the comedian weeps, and deep within the mask of the warrior is a child.
In India, there is saying which says “You can never know what someone is carrying until she is bumped.” The image is a woman in a village carrying a jar on her head; you don’t know what’s inside, milk or water. Then there are children who were playing and accidentally bumped the woman and the content of the jar spilled. Now everyone knows what she has been carrying all along.
Yes, we can know what burdens people carry but only in the context of interaction, of relationship. We can program our action but we cannot program our reaction. That is why we need to have empathy, to have compassion and to nourish it in our hearts.
The poet George Elliot wrote, “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”
There are so much pains and so much heart aches in the world and there are people who constantly live in the shadow of use and abuse, of bullying and shaming, of oppression and suppression---and in some ways these dark shadows get into the limelight of the current political rhetoric.
There many reasons to despair, many reasons to give up on humanity, even on civility. When powerful adults display their misplaced values we wonder if there is a good future for the next generation. And when we see the sea of humanity in crises, such as those refugees of war and refuse of their countries, we wonder how long we stay as bridges over troubled waters. But as Christians, we believe the grace of God is sufficient, for somewhere in this universe there is a place where all the heartaches and pains of humanity are funneled into---and that place is the heart of God. And if our hearts are too small for God, God’s heart is too large for ours.
When Jesus saw the crowd, he was filled with compassion for they were like sheep without a shepherd and he taught them many things. Miracles broke open their hearts to believe but we wonder if they were able to translate their compassion to the real world.
I learned that as missioner, I can teach the skills of evangelism, pastoral care, revival and church growth but passion and compassion are more caught than taught. Like charisma, you either you have it or you don’t. For his age, some people wonder the kind of energy our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry exudes, especially when he is proclaiming the gospel. There is so much excitement, like standing on tip toes. For me, this is the major challenge of the Jesus Movement that we should address ourselves to—how to be more like Jesus in his passion for the lost and his compassion for the oppressed, how this virus of empathy and love can be viral as the Korean pop Gangnam Style.
Grace is free but it is not cheap; Jesus paid the price with his own blood. And so when we address ourselves to human sin in all its protean forms, when we call people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, we must do so as a divine-human interaction. God calls, we respond. This world is worth saving because God so loves it He gave His only Son.
People who only believe in the “pie in the sky” and who care only for the “end times” may not do their part in climate change or get engaged in environmental stewardship. But we who are Anglicans or Episcopalians are “passionately cool” because not only that we believe in the resurrection but also care for the here and now. We are a both/and People of God.
People who believe only in the spiritualist understanding of the kingdom of God would be passive audience in the political arena. But we who listened to what Jesus said, that the “kingdom is in your midst,” know that participation in the political system is an integral part of faith, that fighting to change unjust structures or challenging structures of injustice are an integral part of peace making.
Yes, the Jesus Movement ("Evangelism and Racial Reconciliation" as the Presiding Bishop so defined) is a spirituality in action, a theology of engagement. May we live out the Jesus Movement in the lives we lead and the relationships we create in our churches, in our homes, in our neighborhood. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us now and ever more. Amen