Many of you know that I lived in Hawaii before I went to seminary. I was raised a Presbyterian in Oklahoma. I came to the Episcopal Church as an adult, it was at Epiphany Church in Honolulu.
When I began attending, I heard the prayer that says: “… galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home,” I thought it was wonderful that the church had a prayer which included Hawaii, my island home. It was years before I understood that the prayer was referring to the earth as an ‘island’ in the midst of our vast universe.
Prayer C makes advantage of a set of words and images to talk about our relationship with God and the world which had not been used before 1979. Today, as we are more in the mind of thinking about the environment and the well-being of the earth, Prayer C sounds ever more timely.
It has been in the context of my life experience, and in the unity of global life, that I have been able to connect Hawaii to Kansas – but this week that all changed. Now I understand in another way the connectedness of St. James Church in Wichita and the Episcopal Church in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Get this: Mondays are my day off. Tuesday, when I was in the office, Deb warned me about a guy who had been in the day before. She wasn’t sure of the details, but Bob, she said, was convinced I knew his father because he noticed in my bio on the website that I once lived in Hawaii. She was warning me ahead of time in case he came back during the week to meet me – as he said he would.
Sure enough, very soon Bob arrived, and with his wife and their adult son, they were in here, in the church, looking around. Deb told me they were here, so I part-reluctantly came into the church to see what this was about.
The visitor, Bob, told me that his dad was an Episcopal priest and that a historian is currently writing a book about him. The author’s research project revealed that Bob’s dad was the first person to be baptized at St. James – in 1920. Not only did he grow up to be a priest, he also became dedicated to ministry to the under-privileged, homeless, and hungry.
As I stood here hearing this story, I realized it that I knew about Claude DuTeil. I knew his name because he founded a local charity where my parish, the people from Epiphany, regularly volunteered and supported the mission financially.
One of the things I most vividly remember about the ministry of IHS, was their effort to take care of the feet of people living in the street. They assembled doctors who went out in the middle of the night to offer care to feet in dire need of it.
The backstory is that in 1978 Claude Francis DuTeil, on his 58th birthday, began a volunteer-driven movement to help people living on Oahu’s streets. He started by offering peanut-butter sandwiches and coffee in the Chinatown area of downtown Honolulu.
Fr. DuTeil sowed the seeds of compassion that grew to become an active ministry of the Episcopal Church. Today, The Institute for Human Services is the leader in feeding and housing the homeless on Oahu. Each night it shelters more than 300 houseless people. Starting with a few peanut-butter sandwiches, IHS has fed thousands and thousands of hungry people since 1978.
As it happened, Claude DuTeil died when I lived in Honolulu. Everything that was said about his life and ministry at that time made a real impression on me. I never imagined that one day Bob, Claude DuTeil’s son, would show up at St. James Church in Wichita, Kansas – where I would happen to be the rector – and tell me that his father is believed to have been the first person baptized by St. James Church.
For me, the connection between Hawaii and Kansas has been made more clearly. No one can predict how the good things we do in life – on this fragile earth, our island home – will reach down the years – and possibly around the planet – to inspire good in numerous other ways.
Today I am grateful to be a part of a parish which unreservedly supports the ministry of Breakthrough-ESS in our downtown area. There, the underserved, the homeless, and the mentally ill receive practical love and compassion from The Episcopal Church and numerous volunteers.
Love and compassion are what Jesus took with him into the towns and villages of the Galilee region. He fed people in miraculous ways. Nearly empty-handed, he and his disciples fed 5,000 hungry people with someone else’s five barley loaves and two fish – his love spoke to their souls.
The problems of poverty have always been with us. It isn’t new. What is new is the way we seem to see problems of poverty, the environment, and the need for peace looming everywhere in modern permutations.
Encountering big problems on a global scale often leaves us feeling helpless and unable to act. In situations such as this, there is only one way forward – to get to work and love the people in the crisis. We can’t necessarily see the horizon of the good deeds we do, but we keep pecking away and trust that God will provide what we cannot.
Turning to our faith is the only way we have of responding to incomprehensible need.
We don’t have another way of making sense of giant problems on a massive scale. The leap of faith – for us – is trusting that God will work in us to feed hungry people, cool a heating globe, and spread peace abroad.
Faith, like inspiration, works best when it arrives to find us already at work. So, do not fear. Do not give up.
We don’t know if poverty, the state of the planet, or the evasiveness of peace will arrive at our own doorstep and threaten us. But we can’t wait until calamity visits us personally to address these issues. This fragile earth, our island home faces existential threat – and we have one place to turn.
Follow in the footsteps of Christ, offering the basics of compassionate ministry: peanut-butter sandwiches and coffee for those who stand before you. Be at work so that The One who came to save the world will have hands, and feet, and heart with which to accomplish it.