[The Rev. Mark Norris; Last Sunday after Epiphany, 2/6/05; Matthew 17:1-9; at the joint worship of the Church of the Holy Family and St. Andrew's in Omaha, NE.]
My father nurtured and raised – a sports fanatic. And did a fine job at that. We had season tickets to the Huskers. I was able to attend the November games when it was too cold for my mother usually getting to see the Sooners and Missouri. My father is a graduate of Creighton and Creighton Law School. So often we would watch them at the civic – always when Marquette was in town. We belonged to Happy Hollow so I had clubs in my hands at an early age. So it should come as no surprise that my radio stays on 1620 ESPN all day long.
The church office here will never be the same.
And as you can imagine – when I'm in my apartment, my television rarely ventures away from sports. Rarely – but it does for 2 particular programs because both bring tears to my eyes. One is Drew Carey's "Whose line is it anyway?" I find their comedy so hilarious that I virtually cry for joy.
The other program is Extreme Makeover – Home edition. I don't know if any of you have seen this program. Videos are sent to ABC revealing the homes and lives of people in need of help. Some homes are in practically unlivable conditions. Like the Dore family. A widow and three daughters. The family was dealt a tremendous blow when their Kingston, Washington home, originally built by Roseanne and her husband, burned to the ground in March 2004. Following the devastating news of the fire, Roseanne found out that their home insurance policy lapsed when their agent retired. The structure was uninhabitable. While figuring out what to do, Roseanne moved her three daughters into a half-built, backyard utility shed that had no plumbing, electricity or running water. Not having enough money to tear down the remains, it was a visible sign of death before their eyes seen day after day.
Some people who are helped lead extraordinary lives. For the past 25 years, Consuela Mackey has tirelessly helped those living with disabilities by providing them with job training, individualized training in personal care and education on workplace etiquette. Since she has devoted most of her life to helping others, it was long overdue for something extremely nice to be done for her. Consuela is the founder of the non-profit organization, Operation Confidence, which, as of last year, has helped almost 10,000 disabled individuals find gainful employment and assimilate into the workplace. But her effort to help the disabled doesn't stop when she gets home. As an example of how she sacrifices her own happiness and comfort to help others, when one of the people she works with needs a place to spend the night, Consuela selflessly gives up her own bed and sleeps in a chair. She has raised her grandson whose father was a drug dealer. She cares for her sister who is going blind and her teen-aged daughter. But what made her story so poignant was that she ran her ministry out of her bedroom. Her own sole means of support is her beauty shop business. Apparently she experienced a time in her life that she was temporarily disabled. That radically transformed her life and she wanted to see to it that no one else would have that same experience.
Just as her ministry is that of transforming lives, Extreme Makeover not only transforms houses. They radically transform the lives of these families. And not only are the families affected. But those who help in this project, those who manage the building project, who inspire neighbors and friends and classmates and Basketball stars, country music stars all, to give of their time, spreading this spirit of generosity that even their lives are touched, renewed that inevitably in the end, everyone is overcome with tears of joy, including myself.
Just a few episodes back one gentleman prophetically said that Extreme Makeover is about God's work. It is the Transfiguration story on Prime Time TV. It is Habitat for Humanity gone Hollywood. It is about people gathering as a community to make a difference a difference so profound that it Transfigures the face of the earth. This week, the clergy of the diocese had our pre-lenten retreat, while it was pre-lenten it really was not a retreat but a workshop - on Evangelism.
Four days of talks on Evangelism. Fr. Grant somehow managed to get excused for the first four sessions. Well - I did miss the last few. I had tickets for the Letter of Intent signing dinner with Coach Callahan and his staff. Scott Downing coach of the TE sat at our table. I basically had front row seats. Steak Dinner – or cafeteria food? Well - it was also my brothers birthday so I had to be there.
The Bishop brought in Wayne Schwab, [our church's first] Evangelism Ministries Officer. He pointed out that there are six arenas where ministry or evangelism takes place. At Church, at home, at work, in the community, as citizens and during leisure time. And then he talked about evangelism as what we do to make life better, what do we do to make life more loving or more just.
Evangelism was as simple as that. What do we do to transform the lives of others, how we live the Christian message. It may even be the most simplest of gestures or working with Habitat for humanity.
I started thinking about these six arenas and started with home. And the first thing I thought of was Christian Therapy. At least that's what I call it. Just after I moved back to Omaha, my brother and sister-in-law graced the family with my first nephew – Christian. At that time I was a chaplain at Clarkson so I got to see him everyday. Then a year later they had twins. Instant family.
My new occupation was to keep Christian busy so that they could tend to Aiden and Zoey. And Christian is a bundle of energy. A few months ago he developed a new game. We sit down on the fireplace ledge and then Christian says, "Ready, go," and you run through the family room into the kitchen, crash into the cabinets, sit down and look at each other and say "Whew." Christian can play this game for hours. I get my play fix for the day while I make Jeff and Lori's life a little easier. Christian Therapy as Evangelism.
Then there was the arena of Leisure time. Not an arena that I would have guessed. But as some of the clergy shared their leisure stories I thought of golfing. Since I lived away from Omaha for over 20 years, being a part of the lives of family was difficult. Now that I am back home, my father and I – and sometimes my brother – like to go out golfing which is quite different than before I left when golfing was more of a competition between my father and I. Now, it's no longer a competition – maybe I've mellowed a little – (or maybe he can't beat me anymore). But it is a great time just to relax and talk about life and things. Becoming closer together and more of a family. Evangelism as making life more loving.
Viewing Evangelism in this way fits in very well with Ignatian Spirituality. Matthew and Dennis Linn wrote a book with Sheila Fabricant called "Sleeping with Bread – Holding what gives you life." Following the Ignatian scheme of paying attention to our consolations and desolation, they suggest we practice an evening examen with family or friends – and simply ask yourself, "For what moment today am I most grateful? For what moment today am I least grateful? When did I give and receive the most love today? When did I give and receive the least love today?" Or, "When did I feel the most alive today and when did I feel life draining out of me?" Or, "What was today's high point and what was today's low point?" Maybe these moments are times when God is most or least active in our lives – then what can we learn from this.
This Last Sunday in Epiphany we hear the story of the transfiguration and we prayed in today's collect that we would be changed into the likeness of Jesus from glory to glory. We ask ourselves how do we transform the world. At home, at work, in the community. It may not be a call for an Extreme Makeover, but it is a call to make life better, more loving, more just. And maybe bring a tear of joy into our lives.
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