Tag Archive for 'Uganda'

Pentecost 4 June 20, 2010

Galatians 3:23-29                                                                              

Luke 8:26-39                                                                      

This morning is an unusual one at little Holy Cross Church. This homily will be preached only at 8:00, the Eucharist that we add in the summer for a handful of people who want to go off and play for the rest of the day. At 10:00, the preacher will be the Reverend Mary Tusuubira. Mother Mary is from the Anglican Church of Uganda. She and her sister were the first two women ordained priest on the continent of Africa. Mother Mary’s husband is also a priest, her brother (killed in a tragic accident last winter) was a bishop. She founded a congregation of Ugandan immigrants in Waltham which grew to 500 and is now doing the same work in Lowell. She supports herself as a caregiver to an elderly woman, sending as much of her earnings as she can back to her husband in Uganda to support his work keeping the orphaned children of AIDS victims together in families in their villages.

So at Holy Cross we hear today’s gospel story of the healing of the Gerasene demoniac against the story of Mother Mary and the Anglican Church of Uganda. St. Luke took the story of the demoniac, like most of the rest of his gospel, from St. Mark’s gospel. Luke wrote 10 or 20 years after Mark, and for a different audience – Gentile converts to Christianity rather than the Jewish Christians for whom Mark wrote. Mark wrote in the aftermath of the Roman takeover of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, the scattering of Jewish believers, including the followers of Jesus. His gospel is urgent, a “gospel in time of war.” Mark has no brief for either the Jewish authorities or the Roman occupiers.

Luke wrote for people who had no quarrel with the Romans, who indeed wanted to live peaceably under the Empire. To Luke’s Gentile audience, the destruction of the temple was not of great importance. Luke was writing to set the story of Jesus in a broader historical context, to affirm the faith of a congregation that wanted to understand how their new Christianity fit into the Classical world view.

So in Mark’s account, the fact that the demons possessing this man were “Legion” linked the story to the Roman army occupying Judea. The fact that these demons were driven into swine had significance for Jewish believers, who understood that swine were unclean. And the fact that the story is set in Gentile territory, would have been a sign to Mark’s hearers that the Gospel of Jesus was a challenge to both Jews and Gentiles. But Luke smooths away what he saw as the rough edges of Mark’s account. He is simply interested in presenting a story of the power of faith to heal. His account of the Gerasene demoniac is set in a series of stories about faith, intended to affirm the faith of the new Gentile Christian community.

Christians in Uganda, or Ugandan Christian immigrants in Lowell, similarly stand in a different context from Christians in Holy Cross, Weare, New Hampshire. The Church in Uganda is an amazing story of the power of faith in the face of violence, persecution and martyrdom. Each June 3, the Episcopal Church calendar of saints celebrates the feast of the Martyrs of Uganda. These martyrs were a group of young men, pages in the court of the King of Buganda, one of the tribal groups which the British had put together administratively in their new colony of Uganda. The young men had been Christianized by Anglican and Catholic missionaries, who were allowed to operate among the court circles. Their new faith clashed with some of the cultural ways of their past, leading the King to demand that they recant. They refused and were burnt to death on June 3, 1886.

This martyrdom, however, had entirely the opposite result from what the King intended. The example of the young men, who walked to their death singing hymns and praying for their enemies, so inspired many of the bystanders that they too converted. Within a few years, the original handful of Christians among the elite had multiplied many times and spread far beyond the court. Uganda is now the most Christian nation in Africa, and the most Anglican in the world.

Persecution of Christians was renewed in the 1970s under the Muslim military dictatorship of Idi Amin. Among thousands of Anglican and Roman Catholic martyrs to Amin’s violence was Janani Luwum, Anglican Archbishop of Uganda. Luwum, a gentle and peaceable man, had protested Amin’s rule. He was seized at night and murdered, buried secretly in his ancestral village. But again, as the old saying goes, the blood of the martyrs proved to be the seed of the Church. Luwum was a revered and beloved figure, and his murder focused the world’s attention and led to the overthrow of Amin, further strengthening the Church in what remains a poor country, devastated now by a new enemy, AIDS.

Through history, Christianity (and other religions) flourish when believers call upon their faith to inspire and strengthen them in the face of opposition. The story of Jesus, his courage, his commitment, his willingness to die upon the Cross forgiving his enemies – is a story new in every age and place where violence, tyranny, injustice and oppression flourish. That is why Christianity is so vital today in places like Uganda. It is the seductive comfort of life in America that makes Christian faith seem unnecessary or even impossible to so many. We New Hampshire Episcopalians whine about our budget cut-backs and the inability to find clergy to serve part-time congregations. Mother Mary takes herself off to a distant country to minister for a pittance to her brothers and sisters in need, supporting herself with secular work, sending money back to help with the work of the Church at home.

And so, listening to this morning’s gospel, we must ask: Who in this story of two countries, two continents, two Churches, is possessed by demons? Who lives among the tombs? Who is bound in chains? Who is not in their right mind? Who is in need of healing and liberation? The Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to all men and women. What does it say to us, in our place and time, here today?

Advent 3 December 13, 2009

Zephaniah 3:14-20                                                            

Philippians 4:4-7                                                                 

Luke 3:7-18

So this is “rejoice Sunday,” gaudete Sunday, for those interested in church trivia, which isn’t many of us, thank goodness. It’s the Sunday to light the pink candle on your Advent wreath, if you have three purple ones and a pink one, which we don’t at Holy Cross. The reasons for all this need not concern us this morning. Instead, we take a look at what it might possibly mean to “rejoice in the Lord,” as the reading from Philippians says. What it might mean to live with “our hearts and minds guarded in the peace of God in Christ Jesus.” It is a dark time in the world, an anxious time for many – for all of us, if we really let ourselves think of the challenges our world faces. So “rejoicing in the Lord” and finding security in the peace of God is no easy matter.

But imagine yourself in the following situation. You are born to a poor family, poor in ways that no one in this room has ever experienced. This is Uganda, a poor nation ruled by a cruel dictator, Idi Amin, where life expectancy is short and Christians like your family are persecuted and sometimes murdered. When you and your twin sister are just two years old, your mother dies. Your father, a lay preacher in the Anglican Church, proceeds to raise you and your siblings, to see that you receive an education. This is not easy, but you and your sister become the first women in the whole continent of Africa to be ordained priest. You each marry priests, on the same day, and proceed to have children and then grandchildren.

Now you are in the United States, working as a priest with a tiny congregation of African immigrants down in Lowell. You have already founded such a congregation, which is now large and flourishing, in Waltham. Your husband and family are back in Uganda. You work to send money home to your village, to help educate street children, orphans many of them from the AIDs epidemic that is devastating Africa, to encourage them to return home and stay together with their siblings in families – families headed by children 10 and 12 years old – to keep things together in the midst of chaos. You work to raise money to buy sewing machines, tool boxes, chickens, pigs and goats, so that these families may have a livelihood. You hope to buy bicycles for every priest in your diocese, in memory of your father, who died at the age of 96. And, of course, you are working in Lowell to build up your immigrant congregation, whose members have their own struggles and their own stories of loss and privation.

I don’t know about you, but I can scarcely imagine how I would function in this situation. It makes me ashamed of all the material things I take for granted, of the minor inconveniences and challenges in my life that I complain about. More fundamentally, it makes me embarrassed for my lack of faith, the thinness of my life in Christ. I call myself a believer – what do I even begin to know, compared to this woman and her family, to those to whom they minister?

 This woman has a name; it is Mother Mary Tusuubira. Tusuubira means “hope.” I know of her through John and Fernanda Harrington, who met her 15 years ago and have kept in touch since, visiting her in her congregations in Waltham and Lowell. I hope Mother Mary can arrange to be with us at Holy Cross some day before too long, and that we can become involved in supporting her ministries.

We read a lot about how Christianity is dying in America and Europe, congregations dwindling, churches empty on Sundays. And how in Africa, it is just the opposite. Uganda is the most Anglican nation on earth now. The very persecution that Christians suffered when Mother Mary was young has given life to the Church there, proving once again the words of the second century Christian apologist Tertullian that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Hearing Mother Mary write or speak helps one understand the contrast between faith in western cultures like our own and faith in places like Africa. Almost every sentence Mother Mary utters refers to the Lord and his blessings. She sees God’s hand at work in everything that comes to pass. She understands her life, and the lives of her family, as a mission for Christ. She knows the Lord is with her as she faces her challenges. In a letter she wrote me, words like love, hope, embrace, care, welcome, pray, faithful, testify and build up overflow from every page.

It must have been that way with the prophet Zephaniah, rallying the people of Judah to pull their nation out of a period of moral and political decay:

Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you with his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.

It must have been that way with John the Baptist, proclaiming the “good news” of the coming of a Messiah who would “baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire,” bringing righteousness and justice to earth. It must have been that way with St. Paul, telling the struggling little Christian congregation in Philippi to “rejoice in the Lord always” and not to “worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

For the great revelation in all of this, my friends and fellow beneficiaries of a spoiled and comfortable life, is that true joy and peace are not about us, not about building up our success and security. The peace that passes all understanding, the peace that “will guard our hearts and minds in Christ,” is centered on God – on his justice, his judgment, his righteousness, his coming in Jesus Christ. Like the “brood of vipers” who stood on the banks of the Jordan listening to John so long ago, we are called to repent and redirect our lives so that they may be one with the life of Christ, with the life of God. In that we will know true rejoicing.