Luke 4: 14-21
The Advent and Christmas message lives on during the Epiphany journey: God is with us.
In today's gospel, we hear Jesus begin his Galilean ministry. Significantly, his chosen starting point is Nazareth, the setting of the Incarnation, where the Word became Flesh. In the synagogue, he reads from the prophet Isaiah, proclaiming, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news...." Then he rolls up the scroll and sits down. Jesus knows when to speak and when to be silent, to give God space for things to take hold. The stunned silence invites interpretation. Simply and profoundly, Jesus explains, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing".
Bringing the good news, mission, is God's work. But we are invited to participate, to be both the medium and the message of the liberating Word of God -- that God is a loving God, that God's love is unconditional and all-embracing, and that, no matter what, God is with each and every one of us.
College of Religious Studies,
Mahidol University - Salaya,
Nokornpathom 73170, Thailand
Here at home and in church-supported programs overseas, God is calling us to share our lives, to engage in servanthood. What is servanthood? It is doing the job (I teach English), and loving as God first loved us. It means risking real encounter, not just being polite.
God always reaches beyond boundaries. It is a little over a year ago that my colleague, Luther Symons, and I took up our long-term assignments at the College of Religious Studies in Bangkok, Thailand. We did not bring God. God is already here.
The vision of the College of Religious Studies is liberal and delicate in a Buddhist country. Undergraduates and graduate students, many of them Buddhist monks, learn not just about Buddhism -- but about all the great world religions -- and they are taught by people of those faiths. Unique to southeast Asia, the program aims to broaden religious understanding, eradicate prejudice and intolerance bred by ignorance, and strengthen personal faith. Many graduates will become religious studies teachers in high schools and temple schools. Some will be (and already are) prominent religious leaders of Thailand, and will have significant roles in the inter-faith community, nationally and inter-nationally. Others will become political leaders of this country.
In our work here, we are mutual receivers and givers. Our students are keen, enquiring, lively, and often, very funny. They ask probing and often profound questions about Christianity, and observe us to know how Christians live out their faith. We try to answer their questions and witness by what we are.
They, too, are willing to risk real engagement and share their lives with us. This means real listening, respecting, openness, honesty -- and vulnerability. It means, occasionally, mistakes, "little misunderstandings", as the Thais call them. Trust is crucial, yet so very fragile. But because God is with each person, all strive in love earnestly and with patience, and often with some hilarity, to set things right again. Servanthood is a gracious process of gentleness, and reverence -- and humour!
At the heart of Buddhist belief and practice are two ideals: compassion and lovingkindness. Qualities of God. As I witness God's love and share my life here, one way I experience God is through the compassion and lovingkindness of my students as they live out their faith.
Here are some "snapshots":
God comes to me in the on-going hospitality, gratitude, and affection I experience. Each day, students joyfully and respectfully welcome me (this is humbling!). At the end of a class, they express gratitude, sometimes chanting (if the class is monks) or in (usually) cheery, unified voice. When I help a student, I hear, "Thank you, Ajahn (teacher), for your kindness." ...One day, Boonchit, one of the graduate students and a senior monk, knocked on Luther's office door, popped his head in, and called out, "Thank you, Ajahn!" Laughing, Luther asked, "For what?" "For everything, Ajahn, for everything!"
God comes to me in kindness and caring. When I was down with bronchitis some weeks ago, students telephoned. A fourth-year monk, Wichai, called every day. No small gesture in a city where traffic jams are a way of life, a delegation of second-year monks took the time to come and visit. Boonchit called to check on me several times, ending his conversations with, "God bless you".
God comes to me in great gentleness. One morning, just outside our classroom, Wichai asked with smiling lovingkindness, "Teacher, can I take your burden?" I was only carrying my folder and some copies. What was happening stopped me in my tracks. It was obvious I really didn't need help. The gesture was profoundly gentle and beautiful. This gentle, dignified monk, in a carefully wound saffron robe, extended toward me his books that I might give him mine (women may not touch monks directly). He had his folder and the book he was reading for Luther's class -- "Jesus of Nazareth". The whole image and the action overwhelmed me. I knew that I had encountered Jesus that day.
When we do God's work, living out the good news of God's unconditional, all-embracing love, life is abundant. Engaging ourselves in servanthood -- at home or abroad -- we find ourselves reaching with God beyond boundaries of all sorts. Through the ever-present love of God, we accept and are accepted. We mutually receive and give. We transform and are transformed. May God make us truly mindful of the richness of this journey, that we might not say at the end of the day, "We had the experience, but missed the message." (T.S. Eliot). May God bless each and every one of us as we share and receive God's love in various and unexpected ways.
-- Lori Endress