Sunday February 9, 2020, Grand Cane UMC and First UMC Mansfield (a two point charge) in Louisiana, invited us to give the Sermon. It was in celebration of UMW Sunday. They are two of the most welcoming churches we have visited. The United Methodist Women is a General Agency composed of amazing mission warriors and have always been a great supporters of the McCormicks. It was a fun Sunday which ended with a Potluck and Cake Auction for missions. They raised $1,600 in selling cakes!
In keeping with our goals of posting the sermons, you can find the UMW Sunday Sermon below. Also, and I will try to do this more often, there is audio. We would love any feedback or comments, they can be added below.
The Yokes of Injustice
It is great to be here with you again. It is an honor to have the opportunity to stand before you and share what God has laid upon our hearts. It is even more special when that opportunity coincides with UMW Sunday. Please Join me in a brief word of prayer:
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your site Lord, my rock, and my redeemer.” Amen.
“Do and the good you can, by all the means you can. In all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever…you can.” This quote attributed to John Wesley is a bedrock of Methodist Missions. And nowhere will you find an organization as dedicated to “doing good” and being missionally minded as with the United Methodist Women.
The UMW celebrated 150 years of existence last year. They are an international agency with a reach that stretches the globe. Also, I will add, they never missed a birthday for us during our time in Mozambique. Each year I would watch the calendar as my birthday approached with equal sense of excitement and dread. Because I knew I was going to receive a ton of emails and cards from UMWs from across the nation wishing me a Happy birthday. It was exciting as I felt loved in a time of separation from extended family and friends, I dreaded it, because that meant an additional 100 plus thank you emails to send. It was very conflicting time.
As taken from the UMW website, the entire program and organization of the United Methodist Women focuses on Mission. Their initiatives include
- Providing opportunities to grow spiritually
- Equipping women & girls to be leaders
- Providing transformative educational experiences
- Organizing for growth & flexibility
- Working for justice through service & advocacy
Focusing on Women, Children, and Youth, these United Methodist Women are the justice fighting superheroes of our day. And while Marvel is not beating down the door for a movie contract and few of the women actually wear capes, this group’s support of missionaries throughout the world and here in the United States is one to be celebrated. They actively work toward identifying and improving what mission work is, and how mission work is done. UMWs host mission academies and universities where they teach best practices, they are advocates for Climate Justice, Economic Equality, Global peace, Anti-Human trafficking, immigration, racial justice and women’s rights. They actively identify the yokes of injustice and put a name to it.
The UMW is ” a community of women whose purpose is to know God and to experience freedom as whole persons through Jesus Christ; to develop a creative, supportive fellowship; and to expand concepts of mission through participation in the global ministries of the church.” I love that, expand concepts of mission through participation in the global ministries of the church. How cool is that? And they do this not from a vantage point of an outsider looking in and evaluating what needs to be changed. But their approach, is from the viewpoint of having been on the receiving end of injustice. As those who have experienced a period of oppression, having known a time when equal opportunities and advantages were not commonplace. Whether this is in the job market or, in the home, or the church. And I tell you friends, in many countries this is a reality even today. Did you know women of the Methodist Church did not get full clergy rights and authority until the 1956…and in some places women are still not welcomed as equal spiritual leaders. I know, for me, if it was not for a female pastor and mentor, I would not be standing before you today, nor would I have served as a missionary. These women, these superheroes, are ones who work to throw off the yoke of injustice and continue the fight of equality. Just as Jesus ministered to the sick, the forgotten, and the broken, the UMW focus their efforts on the marginalized. And folks, they need all our support. I recognize how I as a white Male, am saying this, but I hope this is seen as me confessing to be an advocate and not an obstruction in their path of justice.
How would this be seen in the times of the Prophet Isaiah? Let’s take another look at the scripture which was read today.
Specifically, Vs 6-12. Is not the fast that I choose, to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.
I read one commentary on these verses that stated fasting was a common practice in the time of the book of Isaiah, BUT only for those who actually had food. See in this time of temple reconstruction, there was rampant homelessness and hunger and economic inequality as people flooded to find a place in this time of rebuilding of the cultural center. Yet those in charge chose to fast from food and to give up what was easy or what was abundant in their lives as an outward show of Holiness. The prophet says this type of fast was not pleasing to God as it served a self-interest and not an act of worship. Then the prophet goes on to say what true fasting for God, should be; it would be casting off the yokes which bind us. And I believe in this instance, by yoke, it is referring to anything which keeps us in a full, non-harming relationship with God and with our community.
Verse 7 goes on to say
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover them and not to hide yourself from your own kin.
This verse models what service and mission should look like, active participation, active doing, active intermingling of the impoverished and the plentiful. But what I like is the structure of the scripture. First it addresses us before we turn toward helping others. To make sure we have thrown off our yokes of injustice, our barriers of connection and our owns sins before we go out to serve. Then, we can really open up and invite someone who is suffering to share our roof, to break bread at the table where our children grew up, and to recognize a connection in spiritual oneness with each other.
When we call out the yoke of injustice in a Christ like way, we put a name to it. And when we name it, we can then begin to dismantle it.
An important mission minded book is When Helping Hurts. The information has worked to rescope what mission looks like, in a way more aligned with a theology of “coming along side in service together”, instead of a “doing for” model.
Authors Corbett and Fikkert say Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings. In this definition it does not limit poverty to just those without material possessions, but those who struggle to find peace with themselves, with others, with creation, and with God.
A cornerstone of this book’s method on service was something I realized in my time in Mozambique and how I was part of the problem…it was simply this,
Avoid Paternalism…do not do for others what they can do for themselves.
Mozambique experienced 500 years of colonial rule from the Portuguese…that’s almost twice as long as the United States has been around. That many years of being ruled, and having decisions made for you, decisions that are not in your own interest, has a way of shaping a culture. And even though they are now free from this colonial rule, they are still a young country, 44 years old. They still are grappling with the expectation and permission of people telling them what to do
I saw it in my work at the hospital, especially when it came to the facilities. Elizabeth and I called it the Chefe mentality. Basically, if you are the chief of one thing… this means you think you are in chief in ALL things. People expected to be told what to do, what to focus on and to not question. So, when I got there, thinking I had all the answers because I was a Methodist Missionary from the United States, I fell into not asking for opinions or consensus because, you know, God had called me, right. I instructed them to move all of the pharmacy medications and medical equipment to the basement of the operating wing. The basement had been empty for a while and I wanted to make the Physical Therapy wing larger and shinier. It was something I insisted on and would not listen to others because, I was right. Then the rainy season came… and the basement flooded. Drugs, Bandages, Sheets, scrubs all lost because of my unwillingness to let people assist in making a decision. In my doing for them and not allowing them to do their jobs, I ended up losing precious resources in resource-scarce community. I had to admit as humbling as it was, I found the learning curve was steep and the reality was that if I had listened more and talked less, we would not have lost material, money, or time.
And when I realized this, my focus changed. It became one of empowering and equipping the people of Chicuque Rural Hospital to be confident and capable in themselves. I became ok saying “I don’t know…what do you think.”
When we “do” mission and service from a place of privilege and power we are participating in an outdated and harmful practice of self-inflation. This way of service is a missed opportunity to recognize an area for spiritual growth in our own lives. And I say this as having been paternalistic in my mission service.
It was this yoke of injustice I had to recognize in myself and own up to before I could ask God to help me cast it off and find a point of personal brokenness which led me to equality in service. Once I had identified it, I could address it. For me, my yoke of injustice, was realizing my time in Mozambique was not to help people but I was in Mozambique so that in living our lives together, we could all find healing.
I would say this reconciliation is being open to understanding where we carry our yokes of injustice. Allowing ourselves the time of discernment to see how our actions or inactions serve to not free people from oppression but actually serves to perpetuate oppression of our sisters and brothers. And to call it out in ourselves. The ageism, sexism, racism, nepotism, Paternalism…any ism which stands to prevent people from being complete and whole in the sight of God and in relationship with each other.
Because if it we do not bring it into the light, it will flourish in the darkness.
When we approach service of others from a place of mutual brokenness and a desire for spiritual healing, we are putting the focus on how we are Holy WITH Others, and not on how we are Holy FOR others. And when we experience this mutuality, we grow in our relationship with God and we grow with each other.
And what will come of our throwing off the yokes?
Vs 8-12 says: Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom by like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
You Shall be Called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of Streets to live in.
Lilla Watson is an Australian artist and activist who is credited with saying: “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time. But, if you have come because your liberation is bound to mine, then let us work together.”
So,I say again…
“Do and the good you can, by all the means you can. In all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever…you can.”
But I will add, from a place personal reconciliation and mutuality.