By: Louise Browner Blanchard, Rector
Nine years ago, I was in a village in the middle of Tanzania with Buck, our two sons, and four other families. The friendships among us had begun when the husbands and fathers were fraternity brothers in Boulder, Colorado. I can say with almost absolute certainty that they never imagined that their friendship would someday lead them to a remote African village…with their wives and children…as part of a collaboration between some Episcopal dioceses in the United States and a diocese in Tanzania. But there we all were. God works in mysterious ways.
Like just about everywhere, education is the first ticket to a better life in Tanzania. Primary school itself is free, but families must buy the required uniforms and shoes. Like much of Africa at the time, Tanzania had been hit hard by the HIV/AIDs epidemic. One of the hardest hit demographics was young parents, and many children whose parents would have scraped together whatever it took to send their children to school were orphaned, often left to be raised by grandmothers who could not afford to buy uniforms and shoes. Under the collaboration between the American and Tanzanian dioceses, a church or other organization would partner with a village to provide the necessary support for children who would not otherwise be able to go to school. People within the villages decided which of the village children most needed that support.
Our five families had agreed to provide the support for the children in one of those villages, and that day nine years ago, we were there for the announcement of which children would be able to go to school. You cannot imagine the anticipation and excitement. Everyone in the village gathered, and as the names were announced, there were whoops of delight and tears of joy, and great pride as the children received the uniforms, shoes, and big bar of orange soap that their families otherwise could not afford.
At the conclusion of the big announcement, we all moved into the church for a service of thanksgiving. The church itself reflected the circumstances of the people in the village: concrete, with no electricity, and well-worn wooden benches that served as pews. As we were ushered to places of honor at the front of the church – at least at one level – we couldn’t help but feel pleased at the part that we had played in making these people’s lives better and more hopeful.
And then the most amazing thing happened. Our five families were invited to stand at the front of the church as a procession of mostly grandmothers began walking toward us. Each of them was bearing a gift – a gourd, a sack of beans, a cloth, a little carving. Whatever it was, it would have required a sacrifice on their part, and as they began presenting their gifts to us, our first inclination was to say that we couldn’t possibly accept them.
But we were the guests, and accept them we did. And as we did, three things happened. First, we experienced the importance in any relationship of being able to receive as well as to give. We often hear that it is more blessed to give than to receive, but in any healthy relationship, giving and receiving are equally important…That led to the realization of the second thing that happened: once we were receiving as well as giving, the line between which was which blurred. We were giving children the opportunity to go to school…and receiving immense gratitude from the children and their families. They were giving us an appreciation of all the blessings of our lives…and receiving immeasurable respect for the dignity and tenacity and faith of their lives. We all shared an appreciation that the hopes and cares and dreams for our lives and our children’s lives have far more in common than not.
Which led to the third thing that happened…as we stood at the front of the church in the waning afternoon light in that exchange of giving and receiving, an incredible sense of joy and peace and love settled over all of us, an undeniable sense that whatever the differences in financial circumstances, language, and color, we were all one in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all one in the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer.
Which brings us to today, which is Trinity Sunday, the day when we celebrate the mystery of God as one being manifested in three ways; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Like all great mysteries, it is impossible to fully explain. Thankfully for me, Matt gave it a good lick a few weeks ago. If you weren’t here to hear his sermon on the that day, I commend it to you, and you can listen to it on our website. I doubt that you’ve ever heard the Trinity explained before in terms of a misadventure involving a reservoir tower, an SUV, and a flooding creek.
Or that you’d immediately jump to a comparison between Matt and his college buddies at the reservoir and us and our friends at the village in Tanzania. But for all of us, the mystery of the Trinity is revealed in what we do rather than simply what we accept on faith. Jesus doesn’t ask his disciples merely to believe, and, in fact, some of them doubted. But without rebuking their doubts, he declares his authority and commands them to go and do, to baptize and to teach. And he promises that he will be with them always.
We are all heirs of that Great Commission to go and do…and to remember that God is with us always in ever changing ways. As baptized Christians, we are all called to a way of life, and wherever we are, each of us is called to go and do and remember, in relationship with God and one another, whatever our path may be. Next week, our path will lead Buck and me back to that village in Tanzania. Amid the countless ways that our lives and the lives of the people of that village are different over the past nine years, an awareness of God’s ongoing presence has transformed even the lesson of giving and receiving.
But we do not have to go to a village in Tanzania to realize God’s transforming presence. Whether you are a child, a spouse, a parent; a banker, a builder, a student; an artist, a fraternity brother, a community volunteer; or anything else that you are and in any combination, you are called to do that as a child of God in relationship with other children of God and with an awareness of God’s presence among you. Contemplate that, explore it, and celebrate it. We are all one.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”