Proper 13- Deacon Gill- August 5, 2018

August 5, 2018

A couple of weeks ago Rod and I went on vacation to Alaska. We did not go on a cruise but instead we went on a tour of the interior with a group of 15 people. We started in Fairbanks , in the center of the State, then went north by small plane to Wiseman, population of 18, above the Artic Circle.  There we met Jack who showed us his home and talked to us about how he survived all year by working with a plan for how to survive the changes of season. Sometimes repairing his log cabin, sometimes hunting to fill his below ground freezer in the perma frost, sometimes tending his vegetable patch. He had solar panels which would only work during the summer and a generator for winter. He uses Amazon Prime for many of his deliveries but it takes 3 weeks for delivery!  He is getting married in a month to a young park ranger who lives nearby.

On the way back we stopped at Coldplay. If you have you ever watched the Alaskan Ice truckers on tv then you will know the truck stop at Coldplay where truckers get their rigs ready for the final push on the ice road to the north and the problems they encounter. Living in Alaska is hard but everyone we met was at peace and was content with their life.

Days later, on our travels South we were driven on a bus by Lindy. Lindy is one of the many native people who live in Alaska. His people are called the Athabaskans and are centered along the Yukon River. On several occasions over the next few days, whilst driving us to different locations, admiring the beautiful scenery and looking for moose and bears, Lindy, who was in his 60’s, would tell us about his childhood. He told us stories in his native Koyukan language and then translated them for us and interpreted their meaning.

Many times I was reminded of the stories and parables that Jesus told. How he would talk and then he would interpret so that the listener could fully understand the meaning of what he was saying. It was his way of teaching.

Lindy told us that he was very close to his mother and would learn all the stories from her. But it was his grandfather who he lived with from the age of 4 who taught him to track, to hunt and to harvest animals for food and clothing. He was never hungry or cold because he was taught how to use all the riches of the land. All the plants growing in summer could be eaten as food but they also talked to the people. Certain plants produce a cotton like seed which would blow in the wind. The cotton is flying now. It looks like snow and it tells the local people that the salmon are coming. And yes we saw salmon jumping in the streams. Then when the large flies arrive, which thankfully we did not experience, it is an indication that the salmon have arrived at their spawning ground.

Lindy did not finish grade 7 at school but his wealth of knowledge for the environment and his love for the land, is incredible. As a teenager he went on to drive the big rigs that build the ice road each year so that the Trans Alaskan pipeline could be built. We saw the pipeline and it is not all bad as some would make out. Sometimes it is above ground, other times under. Once the oil has stopped flowing the State is committed to removing all signs of the pipes, but in the meantime all Alaskans receive a share annually of the profits that it brings in the form of cash.

One story his mother told Lindy was about plants. Some are called flowers and they come in many different colors and shapes. Some are tall and straight. Some are bent over. We are only on this earth for a few minutes and when you walk on this earth you will encounter plants, also known as people, who are upright and some who are bent over. Young ones grow up and are full of life, they begin straight and then they grow away from home. They are scattered by the wind. Bent plants are those who are people disabled by many different afflictions, either physically or mentally. But they all have a purpose and value in life and they all have their own stories to tell. It is by the stories passed down through the generations that we learn today.

And we heard in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Paul talks of the gifts of humility, gentleness and patience.

C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity contends that, in Christian moral teaching, the opposite of pride is humility. Or as Rick Warren says “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” Humility implies a freedom from arrogance which grows with the recognition that all we have and are comes from God and that by ourselves we are inadequate. I recognized this gift in both Jack and Lindy. They both humbly work to preserve and use to their fullest the abundance that God has created.

Secondly gentleness may be translated as meekness, but being gentle or meek does not mean weak. Jesus was gentle and meek, but He was anything but weak. Gentleness is more a kindness and consideration with a spirit of fairness and compassion. It is hard work surviving in Alaska. Such diversity in the seasons and length of daylight create problems that we simply cannot comprehend. However Jack and Lindy do not fight against their problems, but work with others to overcome adversity. Gentleness or meekness carries with it the idea of power under control. So be gentle. Do not use your power or authority for your own benefit.

And thirdly to be patient is interacting with others in a way that will glorify the Lord. That is because people can be difficult. You can be difficult! I can be difficult! We need to be patient, or longsuffering, during those times when we and others are difficult to deal with.  Be patient with people, helping them grow because we love them like Christ loves them.

God has chosen us to be his representatives on earth and Paul challenges us to live lives worthy of the calling we have received. The calling of Christians is to build up the body of Christ in all that they do. Often differences among people can lead to division but we cannot let that happen in the church. There is unity is diversity, and advancement comes from that unity, with love and maturity. To grow in ones ministry, therefore, is to align oneself with God’s intentions. Celebrate the varieties of gifts present in the community. Use your gifts and grow with those gifts.

We need these gifts for the unity of the Spirit. We need these gifts for peace. It is diversity of individual gifts that equips the saints for ministry. And when we are keeping in step with the Spirit, we will keep the unity of the Spirit. Love is not an emotion: love is an act of the will. It is what knits the body together. It is our love for one another that unites us and the tools for this love are humility, gentleness, and patience.

We have to want unity and be willing to be led to achieve peace. Unity is something that Paul has talked about extensively. It is also something that is talked about often today. Some people want unity at any cost. But that is not Paul or Jesus. In fact, Jesus while he prayed for unity, he prayed for unity around him, not just unity for the sake of unity. He knew that if it was not centered on a right belief in who he is and what he did, unity would not and should not happen.

As I said before we can learn much from the stories and the lives of others. No one is ever going to be perfect here on earth so we must accept and love other Christians as they are and learn from them. There is one important fact that I have not told you about Jack and Lindy and Athabaskans as a people. Lindy was proud to tell us that they are all Episcopalians and I got his permission to tell you a little of his story. The Holy Spirit has given each of us special gifts for building up the church. When Lindy told his stories he did not know that I am a Christian and an Episcopalian. He shared part of his story with strangers as an act of his love for God and creation. Will you and do you share your story with others?

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