Mark 3:31-35, John 4:31-38, John 21:4-14
Good morning. Buenas Dias! Sorry for the Spanish but we just got back from Cuba yesterday and the Spanish is still ringing in our heads. Actually I learned something about Spanish on our trip. There are dialects in Spanish, just like in English. Who would have imagined. So in Cuba, they don’t say, “Buenas Dias!” They say, “Buena Dia.” The word for water is “Agua.” They don’t pronounce it Agua, but Awa.
So the next time you are in Cuba, and get thirsty, don’t ask for Agua, but Awa.
Well, this was a wonderful trip. Spiritually nurturing. Meaningful, both to our group and the church in Cuba. And a whole lot of fun.
Let me fill you in on some of what went on.
We arrived in Cuba on Saturday afternoon of last week. It was hot. We would discover that it would almost always be hot! The only thing was, there was little escape. That is, there was very little air conditioning. It was hot. And hot. And hot. And hot.
The church sanctuary did have a unique air conditioning system. They called it FANS. In fact they had a row of small fans installed along the ceiling. They ran and rotated. It brought the temperature down from sweltering to only blistering.
That wasn’t the only distraction. The church door, which stayed open because of the heat, was right on the street. So car, motorcycle, and horn noises were always blasting through.
One of the things you worry about in a 3rd world country is the Agua….or Awa. The water. Can you drink the water? The answer is, NO! No, no, no, no. Not just any water. Even the pastors did not drink the public water. Even they boiled it before drank it.
But the church we visited and the seminary we stayed at – had a filtration system. It was clean drinkable water, even for Americans. This system came through a program of the Presbyterian Church that provides clean drinking water systems for churches in 3rd world. One of the things the church must do is make it available to the community. So 5 days a week, people from the community came from 4 – 6 p.m. to fill up water bottles with good water. Many did.
We got checked in. We stayed at the seminary in Matanzas. We had a meeting with a group from the church that Saturday evening, so we could begin to get to know the congregation.
And on Sunday morning we met with them for Sunday School and worship. I preached and Ary, one of the pastors, translated into Spanish. I said 3 or 4 sentences, then stopped. He then translated for the congregation.
There were a couple of things I said to them as way of introduction. I said first of all, “We’ve been wondering what you looked like too!” That was a joke in English. I think it translated!
I talked about our common faith in Jesus Christ. Then I told them a few things about our congregation here in Athens. I shared our purpose statement with them. Gather, Grow, and Go. That has a nice ring to it in English. Apparently not so much in Spanish. That will probably NOT become their new purpose statement.
I also shared with them our motto, which is “Making Christ Central.” That resonated more with them. Especially the recognition that the name Central, has a “t” in the middle of it. And the “t” is a cross. Central has the cross right in the middle of it.
That ought to remind us that our purpose is to put Christ in the center, or our hearts, lives, communities.
And as they are Central Presbyterian Church also, or in Spanish, “Iglesia Presbyteriana Central,” we both ought to be working to “Make Christ Central” as our name indicates.
I extended to them your best wishes, and support, and goodwill. I read some of your cards and words of encouragement. And I think they understood and received our visit as a gesture of goodwill and friendship.
I used 3 stories from the gospels in the sermon in Matanzas. The first is the story about Jesus and his family.
Jesus was teaching out in the countryside one day. His family came to see him. The crowd was large. They could not get to where Jesus was. So they sent word for Jesus to come out and talk to them.
Jesus’ reply may sound harsh to us. He says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” In other words, he ignored his family standing outside waiting to talk to him.
There is probably a good reason he did so. They did not really understand his ministry at that point. They thought he was making too many people mad. So they probably wanted to give him some advice on how to get more people to like him. And how to not make so many waves. Jesus did not have time for this so he went on teaching the crowd.
What is important about this story is whom Jesus identified as his mother and brothers. He looked at the crowd and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
What is it that makes us brothers and sisters with Jesus? It is doing the will of God. When we do the will of God we become part of Christ’s family.
This is what makes us brothers and sisters with the Christians in Matanzas Cuba? We are all trying to discover the will of God and do it. We all seek to follow Jesus. We want to do God’s will.
What we discovered is that we have brothers and sisters in Christ in Cuba. Who also love Christ. Who seek to do the will of God.
We saw real examples of people who sought to do the will of God in the church in Matanzas.
Two of them are the pastors. The husband and wife team, Ary and Beidy. Ary is about 45 and just graduated with his Ph.D. from a seminary in Canada. Beidy is also ordained pastor with a Master’s in Divinity. Both native Cubans who fluent in English.
Ary was a young man in high school after “the revolution.” Most people talk about things as “before the revolution” and “after the revolution.” They mean the socialist revolution under Fidel Castro. The date is 1959.
At the beginning, the revolution was officially “atheist.” If you were not part of the party, particularly if Christian, life could be very tough. Ary’s mother recognized this. She didn’t want her 2 sons to grow up and have difficulties in life.
So she took them out of church, so they would not have that social stigma. But Ary said, “She prayed like Moses’ mother did when she sent Moses into the bulrushes,” that there would come a time, and a day, when they would find their way back to Christ.
For Ary it happened when the Soviet Union broke up. That created a crisis in Cuba, because the support of the Soviet Union went away. They economy suddenly plummeted into disaster. It because a spiritual crisis for Ary.
He decided to go back to church. When he did, he felt at home again. And almost immediately felt like God was calling him to become a minister.
Ary has one brother. Has not found his way back, so far.
Many young people in Cuba have gone to Canada and other places to go to seminary. Many of them have found it comfortable and, when they got through with seminary, stayed. Ary found comfortable too, but he could not stay. He came back because he felt his call was to Cuba.
Beidy, Ary’s wife has a different, but similar story. She was a leader in high school. She was outgoing, liked, and very capable. But she was a Christian and would not join the revolutionary party.
People said to her, “You need to join the party.” Stop going to church. But she would not, even though it made her nervous. If she ever saw one of her teachers there, she hid so her teacher didn’t see her.
But when things finally opened up for the church in the 1990’s, two of her teachers showed up in church and wanted to be Christians too.
We heard many stories like this of people who chose to do the will of God. Not just hear it. Not just know it, but DO IT.
There is a second story from the life of Jesus that I mentioned. In it Jesus is talking about the harvest. It comes from the gospel of John. Jesus was very devoted to doing the will of God. It was what motivated him. It was what fed his heart and spirit.
Jesus said this to his disciples. He said, “Look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.” The disciples probably did not know what Jesus was talking about. They probably thought he was talking about farming. He was not. He was talking about the harvest of reaching people with God’s word.
The disciples did not see the possibilities. All they saw were difficulties. All they saw were problems. Where was their food coming from? Where would they sleep tonight? How long would it take to get to the next village? Jesus understood these needs, but he was focused on something different. Jesus looked around and saw the possibilities. Jesus saw that there were people everywhere who would be open to the gospel, if we just had eyes to see them.
This is an important word for us to hear. The fields around us are ripe and ready for harvest. Again, Jesus is not talking about crops, but people. Jesus is saying that there are people all around us who are open to the gospel. We just need to look around and see them.
If we do not realize this, it means we are not seeing like Jesus sees. Jesus sees the possibilities. We see the difficulties. Jesus sees the faces of people whom he loves. We just see a crowd of people.
It is time for the church to pray for the eyes of Jesus. Jesus sees people. Jesus sees their hurts and needs. We need the eyes of Jesus.
There are plenty of needs around the church in Matanzas. One of the things you see about Cuba is that everything is in disrepair. Everything!
This simply makes everyday life hard. You can’t go to Wal Mart and find store shelves filled with goods. You go to the local market and see what they’ve got. Often what you want, they don’t have. You make do with what they have.
Transportation is a huge problem. Most people don’t have cars. So if people want to get to church, they walk. Rain or shine.
One of the people who helped us every day, served our meals, helped in kitchen, was named El-ester. He smiled all the time. He never said a cross word.
He has to walk an hour to get to church. One way. He was there every day before we were and left after we did. At the beginning of the week, we thought he worked at the church. We came to find out he was volunteering his time and service.
On Thursday morning, we got up and cooked pancakes for a group from the neighborhood. This is one of the church programs. Twice a month, at least, the church provides a meal for low-income seniors in the area. Free of charge. About 20 came. And we fed them meat, bread, and pancakes. All the pancakes they could eat. “All You Could Eat Pancake Thursday.” And fresh milk. A rare treat.
Your gifts and donations to this project paid for this meal. Thank you. And the use of our John 21 funds for this ministry will keep it going for many months.
Because they see many opportunities for ministry, the church is helping sponsor an elementary baseball team and youth soccer team. These are not like our recreational teams. They don’t have nice uniforms. They don’t have any uniforms. They don’t have the latest soccer shoes. In fact we saw 2 boys wearing the same pair of shoes. Each boy played with one soccer shoe with the other foot barefoot.
But….they have coaches who want to teach, not only the sport, but moral values. And the church is helping support this.
Many of the kids come from dysfunctional families. Where there is alcoholism, abuse, neglect. They needs some good role models. The church is trying to give them some.
We went to watch them practice. The kids are – just like any other kids. With a little love and attention and help – they can turn into wonderful and productive people.
But who will give them that love? The church there is trying to have the eyes of Jesus for them and see the potential they have.
We were able to take them some new baseballs, about 6. The coach told us he had not had new baseballs in 4 years.
Jesus said the fields around us are ripe with the harvest. Our job is to go out to the lonely, the unlovely, the hurt, and the wounded. And love them like Jesus would.
There is one more story from the life of Jesus that I used. It is one of the appearances of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection. The disciples were out fishing. That was their old life. It was what they knew how to do. They didn’t know what else they ought to do, so they went fishing.
Jesus was standing on the shore but they did not know it was Jesus. He called out to them and told them to throw their net on the other side of the boat. When they began to pull it in, it was loaded with fish. Then they recognized that it was Jesus on shore. They brought the boat to where Jesus was, though Peter could not wait. He jumped in the water and swam to shore.
There are many parts of this story that are interesting, but I want to point out one. When they pulled the net onto shore, it was full of fish. They even counted them. There were 153. And they were all large fish. And here is the thing. The net was not broken. Even though it was full of fish, the net did not break and none of the fish was lost.
What does this signify to us? It is a hint that our work will be successful! Through Christ our work as the church will make a difference. And what is that work? It is to catch people. Jesus said, “I will teach you to fish for people.”
This story contains a promise. Our work will succeed. We will catch people and not lose them. It may not always be easy. There will be plenty of challenges. There will be some times in which it is easier to work than others. The harvest may be greater at some times than others. But Jesus will show us where to throw our nets, so we can catch people for God’s kingdom. Jesus will help us in our work. Jesus will show us the way.
One afternoon we went to a park. Our youth and the kids from their church played soccer and the adults sat around and talked. The adults from Central in Matanzas began to talk about how they got connected to the church.
Several of them told stories about coming with a friend. And feeling the love. And finding friends. And how they just got caught by the church.
Someone then said, “We’re the church of the net.” And several folks agreed. “That’s who we are, the church of the net.”
I loved that image. The church of the net.
Well, as you talk to people who went to Cuba, you will hear a number of things. First that it was fun. We did have a great time and did our share of fun things.
The church there tried to give us a feel for Cuba and help us get to know the island and the people.
We ate some good food and had a wonderful time touring old Havana. It is an intriguing old city and we saw lots of pictures of the celebrities who used to go there in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s.
And we painted a room and cooked pancakes and played soccer and went to Bible Study.
But most of all, we started a relationship. That is what our guide from the Outreach Foundation tried to stress to us. This is not just about going and helping them out.
It is about establishing a relationship. That we hope will benefit them. And us too!
We don’t know all of what this relationship might mean. That is what we will be exploring. But we have started a relationship. And I hope it will help us expand our ministry.
For us, it is a way to expand our ministry. To reach it beyond our shores. And extend the love of Christ.
It is also a way to see the church of Christ in action, in another place. And be encouraged by their faith. And learn something from them.
We have lots of great pictures. We’ll have some times where you can hear more about this trip. And see the pictures.
One thing the church there said to us over and over. Thank you for bringing your young people. Along with our adults, we took 6 high school youth and 2 college youth.
The church loved them. And they did a great job. Parents you should be very proud of them. We got nothing but compliments about them.
So if there is one thing I brought home with us, it is their idea of “the church of the net.”
I like that. That’s what every church ought to be isn’t it?
God’s Net. Catching People.
Being fishers of men and catching people.
Jesus said that the fields are ripe for the harvest.
Can we see it? Do we have the eyes of Jesus?