In 1998 when I began my ministry, before I was ordained, I was a missionary in Honduras
and I served there for just over two years. While I was there, the Bishop put me in charge of a small church that was being built. The name of the Church was Saint Peter’s by the River, but everyone called it Kilometer 9, because it was 9 kilometers outside of the city of Tegucigalpa.
When I first went to Kilometer 9 the church was being built. There were walls and there was a sense of where the roof would go. There were holes in the walls where the windows would go. And on the floor inside the church were pews made out of cinderblocks with boards placed across them so people could have something to sit on. It was a far cry from finished but it had the look and feel of a church. It felt like a church.
To get to the church you turned off the main road and went down this little one lane dirt road until you got to a clearing. The church was in that clearing. The only other thing around was the house that belonged to the patrons of the church, the people who gave their land so it could be built, who were named Dona Ruth and Don Pedro.
And here’s why I’m thinking about them today. Today is the 19th of the month unless I’m mistaken. On the 19th of the month, some twenty years ago, Ruth and Pedro’s youngest daughter was playing outside whe suddenly the Lord came to her in a vision. And Jesus said to her – child, whatever her name was, child, you are blessed, you are beloved, and I want you to acknowledge me, to recognize me.
It was an amazing moment in this girl’s life and she went inside and told her parents and her parents ran out and said something like- Jesus thank you for showing yourself, for revealing yourself to our daughter, and for telling her she is blessed. And they responded just like you might do by saying: let’s build a church right here, right next to our house. Or perhaps you would not do that. But that’s what they did.
And so they donated the land to the church and they worked with the Diocese to help form a community there. And they acknowledged the experience of their daughter by establishing that every month, on the 19th of the month, at that same spot where the Lord appeared, they would have an all-night vigil.
So starting about 8 p.m. they would gather in the church with friends, family, and people from the community, usually more than 50 or 60 people. They did this before there was a church even. And on the 19th of that next month. And they did it every month. They would take time to eat. In the course of it, people would share stories and testimonials about the difference that Jesus made in their life. And they would sing and they would pray. And it would last until the morning. And they would stop, wrap it up and everyone would go home.
To me it was amazing that it didn’t matter if it was a Tuesday and they had to work the next day. It didn’t matter if it was a holiday, or a Sunday, or Christmas. This is what they did every 19th of every month. And I went two or three times, but I’m kind of fragile, so I didn’t stay up all night, I stayed up late, though. But I remember how powerful it was to be standing there in that little space with people all around me praying and singing, and sharing stories of the presence of Jesus for hours without end. Until the morning. And I’m sure they will be doing it tonight. So please pray for them. Pray in thanksgiving for them.
Today St. Paul says to the Thessalonians: “But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day.” My experience in Honduras with people like Ruth and Pedro and the others from that church has helped me to re-define what Paul talks about, these notions of darkness and light. For on the surface of it, the lives of Ruth and Pedro and everyone else in that community could easily be put into the category of the dark.
They suffered. They lived just down the road from the town’s largest trash dump, the place where everyone brought their garbage. They lived in its shadow. And when they burned the trash at the dump, the toxic smoke came over the hills and into their houses. And when they tried to get water out of the ground, it came out yellow because it was so polluted.
Many of the families in my church, many of my parishioners, lived on the proceeds of what they found in the trash. They collected cardboard and cans and bottles to be re-sold. They gathered things of value that the rich people in the city had thrown out and cleaned them up. They decorated their houses with these things, and many of them made a living by selling them back, after they were cleaned, to the rich people in town.
And many of us, myself included, would say that their lives were pretty dark, after all they didn’t have luxuries. There was no electricity. No running water. No cell phones. No flat screen tv’s. Nothing of value at all inside their house, except what they had found in the trash. And the poverty, the dirtiness of living by the dump, the lack of material comfort, and financial insecurity made for a life of struggle we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies.
And I remember the 19th of every month and think and pray for these people from that church in part because they gave me a testimony. And it was not of the darkness. Not a story of despair or desperation or woe, but it was just the opposite. A message of light. A powerful message of lives transformed by faith and a clear acknowledgement of the presence of Jesus Christ. And instead of pitying them, we should learn from them. Because they, despite the circumstances of their lives, they knew that they were blessed.
I believe all of us have received this message that Jesus gave to the girl in Honduras: we are blessed and we are beloved. But I wonder how many of us take the time to acknowledge it? Are we too sophisticated to share our stories of celestial visions, or too cerebral to feel the appearance of the lord as he comes into our hearts? Is it possible for us to see Jesus before us in some way every day, perhaps even right now? Do we see him? Do we know him? Has he appeared to us?
And moreover, what do we do in response? What do we do with this message of our blessedness, with this message of our belovedness? The Gospel has an answer today. For the Gospel would say that these things, our blessedness and our belovedness are all part of the gift of the talents that the landowner has given us. Before he went away, he us to care for these things, and he wants to know how well we are using them.
And so in terms of the parable today, we could say that God has put into our hands these talents of our life, the things we are, the things we have, the things we’ve been given. And so think of all we’ve been given. Think of our material wealth, which may not be much, but compared to some, it is everything.
And hopefully we can realize and pray and rejoice that we are truthfully and actually blessed beyond what we can imagine. And God has put into our hands these things, these gifts. And they number not one, and they number not two, but they number five, like in the parable, the maximum number of talents given by the landowner to anyone to take care of. We are blessed with maximum talents.
Yet do we feel the light? Do we dwell in the light of this blessing? Are we fully aware, and I hope we are, of the fact that despite our struggles and despite our illnesses and despite our financial insecurities, and despite the fact that we have relatives coming on Thanksgiving we don’t want to see, despite all these things we are in the light.
Because the light, as I saw in Honduras in this group of people who live way worse than we do, the light is not about how much money or talents we have, but about realizing that we’ve got enough. All of us have maximum talents. It’s not about asking for more. But it’s about using what we have well. Not burying them, not squandering them, not spending them poorly. But acknowledging our gifts. And realizing Jesus within them.
So the question is: do we set aside something to realize Jesus Christ in our lives? Do we take some of what we have and use it, like they did in Honduras, to build a church? Maybe not a physical building like this, but a church made out of love. Do we build in our lives a space that is holy, carved out from the busyness of the world, in which we fit prayer, in which we put an altar dedicated to making real the presence of Jesus Christ, in which we perform a ministry of service to those in need? Do we do that in our lives?
In the intervening years since I left Honduras I’ve come to realize that I’ve seen the light, I just don’t always live in it. And I know what it looks like to feel blessed. I just don’t always practice it. And the impulse to have a regular and repeated all night vigil may not be so foreign to us, for at the heart of this impulse is nothing more than a desire to give thanks. Isn’t that something we too can do? Isn’t that something we can do on a regular basis, to have a little thanksgiving, and even something we will do this Thursday in the week to come?
I want to thank everyone who has pledged this year so far. We thank you for dedicating a portion of what you have to building this church and providing a ministry where we know and see the presence of Jesus Christ every week.
But also I want to invite us to do something else this week which has nothing to do with our money but is also part of our stewardship. I wonder if we can do this: to take an account of our talents and what we have. To take some kind of inventory of the gifts and blessings that God has given us. And if you would, to write it down.
I know we don’t like to write things down, we don’t want to leave a paper trail behind us. But in this case, I think it would be really helpful for us to see there on paper the many things we’ve been given. These talents. Our abilities. Our desires. Our visions. The people in our lives. The ground below us, the air above us. These beautiful, fragile bodies. And then of course, all of the things we own. So much. To write them down.
And on Thursday, whatever else we do, I invite us to realize Jesus Christ in these things. And to give thanks. In public.