Thursday, August 18, 2005

Pictures: The Tennis Court


The hotel tennis court overlooks the sea, too. You can see it through the wind guards. They offer a free clinic by a visiting tennis pro every day and I took it and was the only one there and it's Thursday and I'm still really sore. I guess I'll have to play more in order to loosen up those muscles.

Pictures: The Pool!


I had been waiting to go into a pool all summer long. It was fabulous.

Pictures: View from the Hotel Room


Krista knows how to pick a hotel. This is the view from our hotel room in Montego Bay.

Pictures: The Boat House


Someone is building a house that looks like a cruise ship a few communities over from mine.

Pictures: Scrabble on Emancipation Day


Pictures: My room at the Bennett's


Lots of laundry to do!

Pictures: My Second Home


The Bennett's house on Mayflower Close.

Pictures: Overrated and Overpriced Tour


Nine Mile, Bob Marley's birthplace and burial place. Very overrated and overpriced. Would never go back again.

Pictures: My Friend Floyd


He is a very good soccer player and knows so much about sports that he won a contest a couple of years ago to go on vacation for a weekend in Curaco. However, he knows very little about the US, including how many states there are. Says Floyd, "How many states are there, anyway? 52?" I had a lot of fun talking to him and miss him.

Pictures: The Bennetts


Pictures: Crusade at Boscobel


Pictures: Moses, Elijah and Meshach


Three very sweet boys I met at the Crusade and Vacation Bible School.

Pictures: The Eyes of the Lord...


"The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good." ~Proverbs
Object lesson: do not steal money from the church during Vacation Bible School.

Pictures: Vacation Bible School


Some of the teenagers hanging out after VBS at the church.

Pictures: Nursing Home Ministry


An average Sunday at the nursing home.

Pictures: Ochi from Above


Pictures: Jenny


A picture of me. Or of Krista. We look so similar it's hard to tell, really. :)

Pictures: Juicy Patties


Whenever Krista and I would go into Ochi, we'd usually use the internet and get a Juicy Patty. I prefer the beef one (shown), but Krista loved the chicken ones.

Pictures: Domino Players


Domino players at the Boscobel Heights United Church Harvest Supper

Pictures: Jenny Leading Communion


My first experience leading communion at Immanuel United Church.

Pictures: $99 Discount Store


Nothing over $99...

Pictures: Downtown Ochi


Pictures: Krista


Very often Krista and I were asked if we were sisters. More than once we were asked if we were twins. I just don't see the resemblance.

Pictures: Boscobel Heights, my home in Jamaica


View from the manse of the Boscobel Heights community.

Pictures: Boscobel Heights Community Field


The soccer players from afar. I never took another picture closer - wish I had. The men (and sometimes teenage boys) would gather almost every day of the week to play soccer (football) on the field. I'd usually watch at least one day a week, if not more. I will miss the friends I made there.

Pictures: Boscobel Heights United Church


Pictures: Immanuel Church


Sermon #3: All are welcome

Lectionary Text: Isaiah 56:1-8

Kee bayti bait tefilla yicaray lecall ha amim.*
For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Loving God, we are again worshipping before you this morning. We pray that you will speak to us through this message and that we would be open and receptive to be led by your Holy Spirit. Bless us with this word so that we might bless you. We ask these things in the name of your son Jesus Christ. Amen.

I began my sermon this morning by reading part of a verse from our text in Biblical Hebrew. Kee bayti bait tefilla yicaray lecall ha amim.* For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Isaiah 56:7. I took a year-long course on Biblical Hebrew this past year at seminary. I recite the verse to you this morning not to show off, nor to claim value from the large amount of money I am taking out in loans in order to make my way through school. I recite part of verse 7 in Hebrew for you to hear and recognize that the Bible we read is actually written for an entirely different community from ours. The Bible, especially the Old Testament but also not excluding the New Testament, was written for the Jews as a means for them to know more about God and as a means to know how to live as God’s chosen amidst the nations. Sometimes we forget the specificity of the text and jump straight to interpreting it for our own means without looking at the cultural and historical background.

The book of Isaiah is a complicated book if you look at the text critically. Biblical historians separate the book into three different sections, all written by different people at different times. The prophet of the first section, or First Isaiah, writes about how God will not let Jerusalem fall into the hands of warring nations. First Isaiah is optimistic that God is in absolute control and that God uniquely favors the Jewish monarchy and nation. One of the reasons we know that Isaiah is written by different authors at different times is that the prophet of the second section, or Second Isaiah, writes some years after the city of Jerusalem has fallen into the hands of the Babylonians. The Jews are in exile in Babylon and are now wondering where God is, whether God is indeed sovereign and why they who are the chosen ones are suffering at the hands of another nation.

Our text this morning is written at the beginning of the Third Isaiah, at the time some of the Israelites have begun to return from exile. The prophet of Second Isaiah promised a glorious return to Jerusalem, a return that would make the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt in the exodus look like chopped liver. However, the real-life experience of the returnees was hardly glorious. The Israelites found themselves faced with hardships, disillusionment, hopelessness and despair. They begged and pleaded with God to redeem their situation and to give them salvation from it – salvation in this case meaning the restoration of a prospering Israelite community.

Third Isaiah gives a response to the people that they might not have wanted to hear. He passes along the Lord’s exhortation to the people, “Maintain justice and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance will be revealed. Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil.” (1-2) The Lord is speaking through the prophet and is saying that the salvation the Lord offers is only through the Israelites’ actions. What should their actions be? To maintain justice and do what is right.

There is an unwritten separation in the Ten Commandments. The first four deal with humanity’s relationship with God. You shall have no other gods before me, you shall not make idols, you shall not take the Lord’s name in vain and you must remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. These commandments that signify how humanity must interact with God are what makes us righteous, or have right-action. This is what the people must do when the Lord admonishes them to do what is right.

Likewise, the second grou0p of the Ten Commandments deal with humanity’s relationship with each other. Honor your father and your mother, you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor and you shall not covet. These commandments that deal with humanity’s relationship with each other is how we are to ensure justice among us. Thus, when the Lord was admonishing the Israelites to maintain justice, he was reminding them of what they were commanded to do long before.

Happy or blessed is what the Lord says the one who maintains justice and does what is right will be. Israel will not despair or feel hopeless in its situation so long as they keep the Sabbath by doing what is right and so long as they maintain justice by refraining from evil.

However, the Lord is not only telling the Israelites what they already know and need to be reminded of. The Lord is, in this passage, expanding the definition of God’s own community. Things are beginning to get controversial and uncomfortable in verse 3. The text says, “Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’; do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.’”

It came to pass that being a member of God’s chosen people was not as simple as merely doing what is right and maintaining justice. The Israelite community was quite exclusive with regard to who could be a member and who could not. Much of their focus lay upon preserving their race and separating themselves from the other nations. Indeed, their identity was formed out of their exclusiveness.

Deuteronomy 7 talks about God’s chosen people. It says, “When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you…seven nations more numerous than yourselves, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods…for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (1-4a,6) We learn from this passage that to be chosen is to be purely Israelite and not to have any foreigner among them. There are some instances we can recall where foreigners can and do participate in God’s chosen community – the story of Ruth is an example – but the message, for the most part is exclusionary. Yet it is exclusionary with reason – by excluding foreign nations, the risk of acting unrighteously by serving another God is taken away.

Also excluded from the assembly were the eunuchs. Deuteronomy 23:1 says, “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” Eunuchs, too, were excluded and looked down upon because of their inability to procreate and, thus, pass on their heritage and add to the number of the Israelite nation.

We humans are very exclusionist with each other. It is not just the Jews of the Bible who set up barriers between themselves and others. All of us are exclusionary, sometimes rationally and sometimes irrationally. It is not hard to think of social constructions that are used to designate people either belonging or excluded from a community. I cannot speak for Jamaica because I have only been here for some weeks, but in America, those who are in are those who are rich, who have certain material possessions, those who are educated, those who have power and can speak for themselves. Those who are out are the poor, those who are homeless, those who are uneducated, have no power and cannot speak for themselves.

We also place social barriers in our communities by making the healthy to be the insiders. Those who are unwell, those who might be alcoholics, drug addicts, or who might be mentally handicapped are our society’s outsiders. They find no home among us, our government or our church. Similarly, we also place as outsiders those who defy our laws. Criminals, prostitutes and others are people who we exclude because their actions are reprehensible to us.

Even the unconscious things we do separate and alienate those among us. This is my final day among you and I want to thank you for being kind and hospitable to both Krista and I. However, when I first arrived, I had a hard time being here in Jamaica because I felt quite excluded from the Jamaican community. A prime reason why is because some were speaking Patois to me, a language that I’ve been told is broken English, but hardly sounds like English to me. This simple, unconscious act put up a barrier and prohibited me from feeling as one among you when I first got here.

The good news is that even though we are exclusionary with each other, God is not exclusionary with his people. He addresses those who have been excluded and invites them to be included in his community.

To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (4-5) God invites those cast out of the Israelite community into his house, into his community. They now belong to God and God belongs to them. The eunuch’s worth does not consist in what he can produce. The eunuch is not a dry tree that will disappear when his life is up. The Lord promises to give the eunuch an everlasting name and a monument better than sons and daughters. In God’s community, the eunuch goes from being despised and excluded to being honored.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples.” (6-7) God also addresses the foreigners and invites them onto his mountain, in his house, to be members that belong to his community.

The Lord is being radically inclusive in his grace in welcoming his people to his community. God embraces those excluded in this passage, the outsiders, and shows his universal love for all. This is not to say that there is no responsibility upon humanity in order to belong to this holy community. There is responsibility in membership. Those who claim membership must abide by maintaining justice and by doing what is right. They must minister, love, serve, keep the Sabbath, hold to the covenant and worship with offerings and sacrifices. In order to live in God’s gracious community, we must model God’s gracious community. God invites all to come in but those who come must be responsible to participate accordingly.

Lest we think, however, that we can earn our way in by our actions, the Lord God who gathers the outcasts of Israel says, “I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.” (8) It is not we who let ourselves in to God’s community. We cannot either let ourselves or others in. Likewise, we cannot exclude others from joining. When we segregate or exclude others from worshipping with us, we are denying the ideal New Testament church. Ephesians 2:14 says that Jesus is our peace and makes us one and has broken down the dividing call of hostility in his flesh.

The New Testament lesson from Acts about the Ethiopian eunuch shows the radical inclusion of both a foreigner and a eunuch into the body of believers. That the Ethiopian had come up to Jerusalem to worship indicates his belief in God. As Philip told the Ethiopian about Jesus, the man sees the water and asks if there is something prohibiting him from being baptized into the community. This is asked because the Ethiopian knows the restriction of foreigners and eunuchs being rejected from wholly joining the assembly. Philip, knowing that God does not exclude, baptizes him, an outward expression of an inward commitment. The invitation for us to belong and participate comes solely from the Lord and only as individuals can we decide if we want to enter and participate in God’s community.

The most meaningful experience I have had here in Jamaica was allowing myself to include members I had excluded from belonging to the body of believers. It was hard for me to minister to those at the nursing home who were physically and mentally unwell, and I wondered if their lives had any worth. With repeated visits I became accustomed to worshipping and ministering to them, but it was not until we took communion together that I recognized that just as I am a member of the body of Christ and have a purpose for my life, that so, too, are the residents of the home members of the very same body that I am a part of, and have a unique purpose that God is using them for upon this earth.

I invite you today to hear the Lord’s admonition to act rightly and maintain justice in your own lives and to the people you come into contact with. See the community that the Lord has invited you to be a part of and claim your membership by participating accordingly. Humble yourselves before the Lord and see what he will do with you and through you.


*I did not properly transliterate the text - I wrote it down how I would pronounce it for ease in speaking.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Soon Come

"Soon Come" is a Jamaican phrase that stands for "coming soon." However, I have found that it is wise to ask Jamaicans to define "soon" when they tell me "soon come." For instance, it could mean anything from fifteen minutes to three hours..."soon" is really subjective here.

In my case, "soon" means that I will be home next week. I think I am in the single digits both in number of days left in my internship and number of days left on the island. It is hard for me to realize that next week I will be back in America. Part of me is excited to see my friends and family and worship at my church, but then the other part is sad because I have just begun making friends here. And it seems that the friends I have made (even some around my own age!) will miss me when I leave and I actually believe them because I will miss them, too.

Last week I was concerned about doing visitations by just showing up at homes unannounced. Probably the most interesting and rewarding visitations I have made the whole time I've been here were all last week. One day Krista and I went only to one house in the hills. There is a member there who is dying of cancer (which kind is unclear to me). The day that Krista and I went, he told his wife that it was going to be his last day. Our time with him was really wonderful, even though the situation was not wonderful. We sat with him and talked to him. He is too weak to talk, so he mostly gestures (although if it's something he needs to say, he'll say it). We also read some scripture to him and sang to him and just sat with him and the experience was probably one of the most meaningful situations I have experienced in my life. I have not heard if he is still alive, so I suspect that he's still holding on. I'd like to see him one more time before I leave, but I don't know if I'll have the time to do so.

The other day of visitations we did was interesting. It was very difficult for us to find people who were at home and who wanted to visit. We were shooting to do three different visitations and we had to visit six different people in order to find three people. I think, though, that the people we ended up visiting were touched that it was just Krista and I alone (instead of having the Rev. with us) who were going to visit them.

Otherwise, time is wasting away and is sorta like an hourglass. At first the sand doesn't seem to be moving, but as it nears the end, it slips through with ease. I have about a million things to do this week, so I am feeling scattered and a little stressed out because I don't know when I'm going to have time to get it all done. I have to prepare my final paper (there are several components), write my final sermon, give my final Bible study, pack and do my normal duties, along with go to a farewell party for Krista and I on Wednesday and a family fun day at Aqua Sol on Saturday. Additionally, something that is nice (but frustrating) is that the friends that I've made who are all around my age all of a sudden want to hang out with me all the time. So, I just have to be really diligent with my time and be responsible to prioritize and do what I can.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Emancipate Yourselves From Mental Slavery

Happy (Belated) Emancipation Day!

Jamaican Emancipation Day was celebrated yesterday on August 1st. I spent the day at the Reverend's house at a party for the United Church ministers in the area. There was lots of food, specializing in Jamaican delicacies such as Manish Water (aka Goat's Head Soup), Buzo (some shellfish soup), Rice and Peas (what we know as red beans & rice), Stewed Pork & Chicken, Fried Chicken, Jerk Pork, and some salads and fresh vegetables. Along with the food, there were games galore - many tables of dominoes, scrabble, video games (for the kids) and the like. The day sounds like it was a lot of fun, but really I was very lonely at the party. None of the guests either talked to me or invited me to play games with them. And since I love playing all sorts of games, it was particularly excruciating for me to just sit and watch people having fun together. At the very end of the day, around 5 p.m. (I was there since 10 a.m.), my friend Miss Davis invited me to play Scrabble with her and someone else, which was nice. But even that was frustrating because there were a couple of words that I wanted to play but couldn't play them because they were the American spelling. At least someone played a game with me but, overall, I was disappointed the whole day long. The consolation that came to me is that it is now AUGUST and my return to the US is close and, when I return, I can play games as much as I want and I will have a wealth of people with whom to play them with.

This coming Saturday is Jamaican Independence Day. I don't think there are any celebrations (at least, that I'm involved in) that will be going on that day, but there will be a baptism. This'll be the second baptism that I'll have gone to in Jamaica. The first was a few weeks ago. Both are held at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. and are done by immersion into a pool at a United Church conference center by the seaside.

Otherwise, things are winding down here for me. I am continuing to develop friendships that have begun within the past week. On Sunday night I had a fun conversation with four guys I have met at the soccer field who are all approximately around my same age. They were asking me all sorts of questions about what my life is like back home and what I thought the weirdest thing about Jamaica was (flying cockroaches, without a doubt) and just general getting to know each other.

I've begun my final paper and am nearly half-way done with it. There are some hard questions that I have to answer in order to evaluate how my time here has been, so I have not been taking the time I need to take in order to just get it done. I have begun reading for my last sermon, but have not had the time or inspiration just yet to write it. I believe I will preach on Isaiah 56:1-8. Otherwise, I have been continuing on with my normal duties. This morning the Reverend let us know that the normal visitation to people's homes Krista and I will do on our own from now on. This sounds fine to me...I enjoy doing them and have missed going to visit people in the past couple of weeks when our schedule was different with VBS and the Crusade and stuff. The only thing that gets to me is that you just show up uninvited, and this is hard for my American sensibilites to come to terms with. I just have to remember that Jamaicans like it if you just come over unannounced and that it is not rude.

I am feeling better - I don't feel like I have the flu anymore, but I do still get headaches. I think it may be allergies and the bright sun. Also, last night I had a full night of sleep and even went to bed early at 9:45 p.m. It felt great to wake up this morning!