Imagine No Malaria Guest Sermon – Advent 2
When we lit our advent candles just a few minutes ago, we were reminded that not everything in our scriptures is full of sunshine and roses. Luke’s vision of the coming Messiah includes terrible signs and distress among the peoples.
As the Message translation of these verses puts it:
It will seem like all hell has broken loose – sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking.
We don’t have to look far to see those kinds of signs all around us.
Wars and rumors of war fill our news broadcasts.
Natural disasters have wreaked their havoc on our crops with drought and on our friends on the east coast with wind and rain and destruction.
Mayan calendars appear to have end dates and the fiscal cliff looms precariously in the very near distance.
Even in our scripture from Philippians, we were reminded that this world is filled by a corrupt and perverse generation… a squalid and polluted society.
While it would be easy to point fingers, the truth is that greed, lust, anger, violence fill our favorite television shows and we don’t bat an eye when yet another child falls prey to child slavery or is forced into an army or work in a sweatshop.
This week, Bishop Hoshibata of the Desert Southwest Conference reminded me that what is truly perverse is that in this world of God’s goodness and abundance there is one corner over here where we have mountains of waste because of our riches and another corner over there where people have nothing.
What is perverse is that we spend until it hurts on things we don’t need in order to celebrate the birth of the child who is everything that we need.
What is perverse is that we live in a time and a place where we grumble and argue over the specifics of health care when there are children who are dying from a preventable, treatable, and beatable disease.
Malaria claimed a reported 655,000 lives in 2010.
And 85% of those who die are children under the age of 5.
A child like this little, blessed child – Domingos.
Domingos weigned only 15.5 lbs when his family brought him to the hospital. He had been sick for several days before the family brought him in for treatment… although we do not know why they waited. Sometimes there is a long distance to go to the hospital… sometimes they need to scrape together the funds to pay for treatment… sometimes they are just hoping and praying that a child will get better on their own.
When Domingos was admitted, he was suffering from acute anemia and he couldn’t breathe.
Malaria is caused by a parasite that is transmitted by the female anopheles mosquito. And when this parasite enters your blood stream it wreaks havoc on your body. One of the ways that it spreads is by attacking your red blood cells, causing them to swell until they burst. That lack of blood cells was the cause of his anemia, which in turn meant that oxygen was not being carried through his blood to his organs.
The doctors did what they could, but because Domingos was so small and his veins were so tiny, they were unable to give him the blood transfusion he desperately needed. If there had a been a pediatric surgeon at that hospital, perhaps a vein could have been found.
Five minutes after this picture was taken…. 8 month old Domingos died.
The photographer asked what else might have saved his life and the doctor responded – “Oxygen.” This hospital in Angola did not even have an oxygen tank.
With realities like these pressing in on us… with the weight of human sin and the fears of disaster… what are we to do? Sit back and weep? Crawl into a hole and hide?
In our candlelighting scripture, Jesus speaks directly to our burdened hearts:
When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!
Your redemption is drawing near!
Do you hear those words, people of God?
Your redemption is drawing near!
The day when weeping and crying and hunger and sickness will be no more… that day is drawing near!
The day of the Lord is drawing near!
And seeing that day on the horizon, the apostle Paul left us with words to live by:
Do everything without grumbling and arguing so that you may be blameless and pure, innocent children of God surrounded by people who are crooked and corrupt. Among these people you shine like stars in the world because you hold on to the word of life.
Stand up! Raise your heads! Shine like stars in this world! Be beacons of hope and light and life in this world full of darkness and disaster and death.
As people of faith, we know that there is nothing to fear because the Lord is on our side.
And we are called to tell the world the good news that not only has Christ come… but he will come again.
We are called to shine like stars in the dark night sky.
I’m here this morning, because I believe one of the places where we as a church can be a shining star for Jesus Christ is in this battle against malaria.
We, as the UMC, have only begun to let our light shine. But bright already it has shone.
- As United Methodists, our tradition of work in Africa spans over 160 years!
- Together, at General Conference in 2008 we affirmed Global Health as an area of focus
- Through a generous grant from the United Nations Foundation and out of the passionate response to Nothing but Nets the UMC created Imagine No Malaria as a comprehensive response to the devastating scourge of Malaria
- Imagine No Malaria builds on the success of “Nothing But Nets” and takes it beyond, preparing us to engage public health in Africa not only with nets, but with a comprehensive and effective strategy that will attack all the killer diseases of poverty.
While we did amazing work before, Nothing But Nets was just that… nothing but nets. But now we are fighting this disease with nets, treatment, education, communication and advocacy – our scope (and impact) are delivering life-saving results!
We are working together, our little stars shining bright, to say a resounding NO to hunger and poverty, illness and death. We are speaking words of hope and life into places where there was despair and struggle. We are answering God’s call to make a world of difference in the name of Jesus Christ.
So I want to share with you a few bright stars I see shining out there in the darkness.
This little girl is Dodo. She is five years old and has a twin brother Caliste. By the grace of God, Dodo and her brother have made it to the age of five and their family is now protected from malaria because of the work of the United Methodist Church. Dodo’s face lights up with joy as her dad hangs up an insecticide-treated mosquito net in their home…. And her little brother can be seen playing under the net.
And there are men and women, the people of the United Methodist Church in Africa, who are coming together to make communities like hers a healthier and more vibrant place. We have already established 15 Health Boards throughout Africa and these community health care workers are attending a training so that they may return to their villages and bring education, sustainability, and accountability to our prevention and treatment efforts.
Each one of those people are a shining star who help their communities to stand up and raise their heads so they can work together to combat this disease.
But it doesn’t matter what age you are… each one of us can be a star for Jesus Christ. These are school children in Nigeria who are teaching their families and their village about the effectiveness of mosquito nets. This little boy near the bottom is playing the role of a mosquito who has been killed by the insecticide-treated net.
All across Africa, there doctors who are shining stars who combat this disease day in and day out.
I learned this week that in some of the places where our United Methodist Church has been actively engaging in Imagine No Malaria the longest there is profoundly good news. In some hospitals today, the doctors and nurses can now honestly say, “we cannot remember the last time we had a death from malaria.”
And that is because we… the United Methodist Church… has made this a priority in our churches. Just this past week, I was in Washington, D.C. with over 100 United Methodists to learn and make our voices hear throughout the capital about our investment in this work of global health.
We were liberal and conservative, black and white, young and old. This is something that we all get to do together, a call of God that not only unites us, but allows us to join with Jesus Christ in truly transforming this world.
Paul tells us that we are to chart a different course than the world that surrounds us. We are to stand in the midst of the darkness and proclaim that there is another way. We are to fill ourselves with the word of God so that we may act and shine and witnesses to God’s glorious future.
In our work with Imagine No Malaria, there are three specific ways that I want to challenge you to be a shining light. Each one of us, no matter how old or young, can help shine by advocating, raising funds, and engaging your community.
When we advocate: raise awareness, build support for this work. Advocacy is really just finding a way to tell the story. Be a witness and tell someone when you go home today about the good news that we are making a difference in this world!
But you can also help to raise the funds we need to make a difference. Nets and medicine and training costs money… but even $10 makes such a huge difference. In your advent offering this year, give what you can to save lives and be a light of hope for a family in Africa.
And if you feel called to do more… find me after worship and I have some pledge cards for you and your family to pray over and think about what more you might be able to do.
The last thing that each one of us can do is to engage our community. All around you are people who are hungry to make a difference… people who want to help, but don’t know how. In this great work, we get to not only shine, but one by one, we will add the voices and work and lives of others who can join us. Don’t forget to invite your neighbors and your classmates and your co-workers to join us in this effort.
We get to be shining stars. We get to answer the gospel and let the light of Christ shine through us as we heal the sick and feed the hungry and empower the poor and build relationships with those who are struggling.
Yes to saving lives.
Yes to a world of healing and hope.
Yes to moms like Marie here, who will no longer have to worry when she tucks her kids into bed at night.
Yes, God. Yes. We want to shine like stars in the sky. We want to shine for Jesus.