Remember me?

I heard the plaintive little voice and even though I was looking down at my papers, she was looking into my face and smiling a huge disarming smile, her black eyes sparkling. Remember me? Remember the ballet skirt. Remember my shoes? Remember me? You came to my house yesterday. Don't you remember me? In the chaos of our opening day of Bible School in Wha'Ti, yes, indeed I had forgotten Carmen since the day before. My head was totally focused on trying to spell the names I was writing on the attendance sheet, names like Cindisa Moosenose, Kiana Wedowin, Rasinda Beaverho. The day before, we had gone by Carmen's house to talk with her mother, Brenda, who is the summer water front director for the community's children this summer. I had discovered in the past, that I'd best coordinate our Bible School schedule with the waterfront director, because the southern college girls who came north for the summer never seemed to be expecting us and we both couldn't plan on having the same children at the same time. And so I knocked on Brenda's door that Sunday, to find Carmen, her 3-yr-old daughter, dressed in a ballet skirt, made of layers of pink net. Without any fear or concern, Carmen freely and gracefully, though a true amateur, performed twirls and turns and twists around the narrow hallway inside her backdoor. Standing there, it was easy to forget where we were. The young mother and daughter in a very clean, modern home, with plumbing and electricity, where we could see home interiors-type hangings on the living room wall inside, momentarily I forgot that we were over 3000 miles away from Harney and Barlow. 3000 miles away from this place.

During this summer, there have been and there will be more, Gospel readings in St. Matthew that talk about sowing and seeds. I know that earlier Pastor Hoener preached a sermon with a focus on our mission statement, which, incidentally, I have asked him to write up for the Mason Dixon Line one of these months. All of these texts lend themselves exceptionally well to us here in Harney and Barlow. As seeds of God's love we strive to grow in his service by sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. As I have shared with you before, when we created this mission statement last year, we did something that is very much rooted in the Biblical tradition. Jesus relied on the agricultural heritage of his own day. Just as Jesus did many times, including in today's gospel, he used images of his day relating to agriculture. He illustrated some of his most powerful heart-felt messages that way. Again and again he talked about vineyards, vines, branches, seeds, weeds, plants of many kinds and about growth in God's kingdom. It was imagery God's people of that time could easily relate to.

You may recall being told that a mission statement is to be reviewed every year to see if it still has relevance for us, if it still describes our mission to God's world. Is this still who we are? Who we want to be? Does it still give us room to grow? What do you think? Are we reaching out to God's people in this hurting world? Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ? Are we seeds of God's love?

Today's Gospel reading talks about seeds, wheat and weeds. In Bible lands, apparently there were and still are weeds that look exactly like wheat so that it cannot be told until the wheat and the weeds get heads on them, which one is which. It still grows plentifully in Syria and Palestine. There have been many times in the history of the church where the wheat seeds and the weed seeds have been confused. Sometimes that happens in Christianity. It easy enough to do. In our new Lutheran Handbook, on page 133, it tells us the difference between a saint and a sinner. Then it shows us a picture of each. The pictures are exactly alike, because we are all both saint and sinner at the same time.

Although we are all both saints and sinners, C. S. Lewis points out in one of his books, that when people become Christians, if they are not careful, their sinning often shifts from the outward, visible sins of lying, cheating, stealing, cursing and swearing, to the more inward, hidden, non-apparent invisible ones ... and among them he lists "a critical spirit" ... a spirit of judgmentalism, a censorious attitude. In fact, he points out that this sin is one of transgression which is more commonly committed by church people than by those who are not. So prevalent is it in churchly circles, that it is sometimes labeled "Christian cruelty." Could those be the weed seeds Jesus was talking about? In the church, who are the wheat and who are the seeds and who are the weeds?

During our time in the north, I was very strongly reminded what it means to plant a seed. I can recall years ago, talking in my summer Bible school team about our expectations of planting seeds. That we were not in the north to make the northern people into carbon copies of ourselves. God forbid. The story of Christianity among Indian people is often a sad, confusing story. We have heard of missionaries who have helped Indians, but we have also heard of Christians who have cheated Indians out of their lands.

Why would any Indian even want to belong to a religion that was so much a part of the tragic history of their people? Why did so many non-Indian Christians hurt Indians? In the Acts of the Apostles, there are some clues. This book is the history of the beginnings of the Christian faith. In those days, Christians believed that there was only one way to be a Christian - their way. They wanted to make everyone else be just like them. They were afraid of others who were different from them. Even though they thought they were sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others, the only way they knew how to do it was if everyone acted exactly the same way they did.

The early church agreed that Christianity didn't belong to just one group of people. It was a faith that was open to everyone. It was a faith that left everyone free to be who God created them to be. People who were raised in the Jewish tradition could keep that tradition and be Christian. Those raised in the Greek culture could keep their tradition and still be Christian. Christians could come in all shapes and colors, male and female, Jew and Greek, all cultures, all languages and customs. The Bible says there is no difference before God - they are all the same. What made people Christian was not the way they dressed or danced or sang even the way they made their living. It was their commitment to Jesus Christ as the Savior of all.

Much, much later, some white missionaries, politicians, soldiers and settlers forgot about who they were as Christians. They forgot the lessons learned in the Acts of the Apostles. They forgot their commitment to live as Christ wants us to live. They made that same mistake that the early Christians made. They thought they knew what was best. They thought that Indian people should be just like them. And they were wrong! Not only wrong because of the pain they caused, but wrong in the way they wanted to share the Christian faith.

Christianity doesn't belong to any one group of people. It never has and it never will. It is as much a faith for Indian people as it is for non-Indians. Making a commitment to Christ does not mean having to stop being Indian. If we have learned anything from the history of the church, it is this - Christ calls us just as we are, as who we are and as what we are. Christ calls us in all languages and all traditions. He asks us to follow him along the path we know best. For thousands of us, that means walking the Indian way. That takes courage and commitment and it even takes a strong sense of forgiveness for all that white people have done to them along the way.

That is one of the reasons that On Eagle's Wings is a presence in the north. You see, white people convinced Indians that they were just not good enough. That their culture was unacceptable. Thousands of years of traditions went down the black hole, and along with it, their self-worth. They are a people who are caught between cultures. They are not white and never can be. Yet they have lost many of their traditions, so are they really Indian? In addition, imagine the stress of going from an igloo to the computer age in just one generation. It is a privilege to be there because we have a special invitation from each community where we conduct our Bible schools. The people of the North have asked Pastor Lee Berry and OEW to walk with them, to be with them on their journey as they discover who they are as Indians in the church of Jesus Christ today. Given our history, it is indeed an honor to be invited. This year, we had 1300 children in 25 communities in our Bible School, using the GIGGLES curriculum. Five of them are brand new sites.

So when Betty, Bonnie and I went north, part of our challenge was to not impose our own standards on them. Our job was to share the good news of Jesus Christ, accepting them just as they are, the way that Jesus Christ does. Our job was to form relationships with them. Carmen asked me, do you remember me? That was a theme I heard repeated again and again. In the band office, when I was working out arrangements for our Bible School, I was trying to remember the names of the young people working there. I kept guessing - incorrectly. Jetonia, I said, I had you in Bible School awhile ago, didn't I? Yes, she said, sadly, but you donít come back often enough to remember my name. Speaking of names - if you were laughing at the names I mentioned earlier, the names of Moosenose, Beaverho, Drybones, Football - they were given to the Indians by white people, who insisted they had to have last names.

An amazing thing has come to pass in that the parents of this year's children, were for the most part, former Bible School students of mine. Over the years, it has been challenging to connect with the parents. The children were easy to relate to and to love, but the parents seemed quiet and withdrawn. Now I already have a connection with today's parents. Which is great for many reasons. Our goal in Wha'Ti and in the rest of the North, is to put ourselves out of a job. Our goal is to convince the natives that they are able to teach their own children and then to help them learn how to do it, by working alongside them. This year, several of the moms committed to come back to Bible School next year and to be part of our teaching team. That is very exciting. That is the reason I know we have been planting seeds, that we have been seeds of God's love there, in that community.

On our last day of Bible School, this story was told to one of our teaching team by a mom who was there for our closing celebration. Years ago, she said, we had given the children Bibles, as we did again this year. Our plan, of course, was to give them all away. We had given them all out, when I noticed a little girl who was sitting there, sobbing and sobbing. What is wrong, I asked. Between her tears, she sobbed that she was upset because she now had this beautiful Bible, but she didn't know how to read and her little heart was just broken! According to her story, I knelt down next to her and put my arms around her and I told her that, even though she can't read her Bible now, she should keep it until she can read and then she can find all the beautiful stories God gave us to know about his love. She finished telling her story and then she said, and that is exactly what I did. I kept the Bible and I read it and I still have it today. Tell Faye thank you so much.

Do you remember me? No, I didn't remember her name and I didn't even remember this incident, but she did. As seeds of God's love, we never know when we ourselves have planted a seed. Sometimes we feel as if its all weeds, especially when all the little wild Indians are running around instead of sitting quietly as we would have them sit and we think we are not getting anything into their hearts or heads. And then, when we don't even know it, a precious seed falls exactly where God intended. And that's how we are all seeds of God's love - in ways we never imagine.


Read other sermons by Pastor Faye