Thursday, October 08, 2009

Guest Sermon by Agent Smith

I met Agent Smith through LTS's Leadership NOW program for young adults. Agent Smith traveled this summer to Thailand with Leadership NOW. This is a sermon he gave to his congregation about his trip (i added the pretty pictures!) I am always amazed by the profound wisdom I encounter with Leadership NOW and you'll find this sermon particularly enlighted.

also a message to pastors: WAKE UP! LOOK WHAT YOU HAVE IN YOUR PEWS! LET THEM HAVE A VOICE! thank you.

and now without further delay, I present Agent Smith:

This week, as a part of the seasons of creation, we are talking about mountains… Mountains that are offer “mountain top experiences”.

The idea of using mountains as a metaphor was a challenge for me.

It was hard to know which way to go with it...In some ways, a mountain is a good thing…being on a mountain can be inspiring…energizing...refreshing…and relaxing all at the same time. The Bible is full of stories of people having visions while up in the mountains.

But, trying to climb a mountain can be exhausting and discouraging and maybe even dangerous.

And then again, being on a mountain gives you a different vantage point…your place on the mountain impacts your view on the world. And that’s the first thing I wanted to talk about.

In Thailand, we had some of those experiences; most of them were related to the hospitality of the Thai people. Thai people have always been known for their respect and hospitality, and the reason for that is because it used to be a law.

Now that they have realized that there are some people who have bad days and have a hard time being nice to every Westerner they see, the laws are no longer in place but this way of thinking is still very much a part of their culture. The laws were known as the “Sakdina System” a system with points.

Just imagine a pyramid, no wait, how about a mountain? Ok, well on this mountain there are different levels, and on each level there is a group of people, like farmers, beggars monks and elephant trainers. The number of points you have depends on your occupation, who you are related to, and who you work for.

Down in the valley of the mountain are the beggars, and peasants with 1-5 points, and at the base of the mountain you can find the farmers with maybe 10 points. Ok, so move up the mountain, you can see merchants and gas station owners with 50-100 points. And about half way up the mountain you see elephant trainers with 300 points, and then you see the king’s elephant trainers with 600 points.

Now you look up and see the royal family with maybe 1000 points. The king on the other hand is even further up, he has infinity points, but he is still not at the very top… up in the clouds above the peak are the monks and novice monks. But there is one group I left out… the “Farangs.” (tourists like you or me.)

To Thai people, we Farangs are nothing but selfish pigs with money to spend. People who come just to take what they want and leave... Although these Farangs are looked at like this, they have a lot of points so they are treated with a lot of respect. We westerners the Farangs, have 800 points on the “Sakdina system”, only because we help to support the Thai economy.

It is hard to have the, well let’s call it the Thai mentality, when here in America, the way to get respect, is to dress to impress, or have a lot of money, or a big house… all of those big _physical things_. Comparing the two ways of thinking is something that is hard to wrap my mind around.

The difference really jumped out at me recently. I’ve been doing some research about how people “do church” So, for the past couple of weeks I’ve been snooping around at a local mega church. The American way of getting respect was demonstrated when the minister opened his sermon like this. …

This young, hip guy walked onto the stage all decked out in 3 huge diamond rings and a silver necklace, then the first thing he said was, “Ok, so everyone, I want you to check out these awesome kicks, these are probably the coolest shoes ever worn by a minister, these are the coolest things out, are they not?” This statement, for some reason, bothered me for the rest of the night. Especially because one of topics of his sermon was about not caring what other people think about you. He talked about people who have eating disorders, people who self harm, and all of these other things people might do to try to impress other people. I’m not exactly sure why it bothered me so much, but it did. I seriously almost raised my hand to tell him about a story from Thailand. A story about a monk, a monk who told us about his pair of shoes.

One day this monk found that his shoes were old ripped and torn (not just out of style) so he decided that he should invest in a new pair of inexpensive shoes. So, the next week a man selling shoes walked by and the monk pounced! He bargained, and bargained and bargained, until the monk could actually afford the shoes.

The price for his new pair of shoes 100 baht, not 100 dollars but a little over three dollars; this was still a high price for the monk, because monks do not have paying jobs. So the monk went back to his temple wearing his semi-shiny new shoes and as the tradition there, he left them outside the temple for the night.

So the next morning he got up, and went to the front of his temple, and could not find his shoes, he looked and looked and looked, and could not find them anywhere! He assumed that someone must have stolen them, and he has yet to have seen those shoes again. The way he looked at that situation was surprising. He saw it as him donating money to the poor shoe salesman, and that the person who stole the shoes, might have needed them more than he did.

I have to wonder if the minister at the mega church would look at it that way if someone stole his expensive Italian leather shoes. I doubt it.

I wish that I could look at things like that, the next time Josh wants to play the x-box while I’m playing… I’ll just pretend he does not have hours upon hours that he can play, and I will think, wow, he might never have a chance to play x-box again… Well, I don’t know about that, but one thing I do know for certain is that Thai people deserve respect, respect that they will not accept because they feel like we deserve more respect, just because we are Farangs.

Whenever we went to market, we always saw Farangs with their wallet in hand, ready pay their way through the city of Chang Mai to get the best experiences that money can buy … climbing that mountain of fun experiences.But they were turning their backs to the valleys…the valleys full of blind people sitting down in the middle of the street, singing into an old beat up amp with traditional Thai music playing along, Or turning their backs to all of the Thai children that are different in some way, turning their back on those valleys and pretending they are not there, the valleys located at the bottom of their mountain, valleys filled with poverty and despair.

While in Chaing Mai we heard stories about children, different children, children with Down’s syndrome. These kids are usually hidden away into their parent’s house so that no one knows about this child.There are some cases like that still here in America, but it’s rare, but in Thailand, it happens, and it happens often. Children with Down’s syndrome are often hidden from society, with hopes that their family will not have to explain to their friends and family what is “wrong” with their child.

We went to a place called the Healing Family Foundation, which run by people who have family members with Down’s Syndrome and similar conditions. It is a place for children and adults with this type of special need to go during the day. While they are there, they learn work skills so can make a little bit of money and have fun group activities for exercise. In my eyes, that place, is a mountain within a valley. It is a place where they are loved and cared for and learn to climb their own personal mountains.

I’ll tell you about another valley that people want to ignore that I experienced in Thailand. Our group was headed up a mountain and we came upon some people selling paintings. I stopped for a quick moment…because one thing you don’t want to do in a valley is to get separated from your group….I saw a couple of paintings that I thought Joshua might like, so I bought them. We weren’t in a major touristy area so they weren’t overpriced. I turned around and about a half dozen other people who had paintings literally started running after me…While they were saying “You buy Cheap” They were also saying “My children have nothing to eat. My children need to eat. You buy. You buy.”

People want to ignore the valley of severe poverty and the huge differences between the “haves” and the “have-nots” that is growing bigger all the time.

But, back to my trip with the group up the mountain…I rejoined the group and we went to a Buddhist temple at the top of the mountain. We were given the opportunity to be blessed by a monk. A lot of people have seen that picture and some were confused by it. I wasn’t praying to the monk or to Buddha or anything like that, I was opening myself up to receive the blessing that he had to offer. Even though we couldn’t understand each other with words and, even though he is a Buddhist and I am a Christian, I had a real mountain-top experience in that moment. I could feel that he cared for me. That he wanted the best for me and he gave that blessing without expecting anything in return. I will never forget that moment. Under normal circumstances… in when I’m not trying to write a sermon, When I think of mountains, I think of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

And I love the Blue Ridge Mountains. Maybe it’s because of going to the church retreats every year. Maybe it’s because of our many trips to EB Fox’s campground near Boone. Maybe it’s because of fly fishing for trout in Valley Crusis. Maybe it’s because of our annual trip to find our Christmas tree. While I like the real mountains, I’m not too crazy about some of the metaphoric mountains that I face and I’m sure you face, too.

You know how I mentioned that trying to climb a mountain can be exhausting and discouraging and maybe even dangerous?? As a teenager, I have Algebra mountains, I have Spanish mountains. I have acne mountains. I have “trying to understand the female mind” mountains. I have relationship mountains. As an adult, you might have employment mountains or health mountains or trying-to-do-too-much mountains.

I have to admit it. Sometimes it gets depressing. You’re struggling to climb one of those mountains and, just when you think you’ve made it to the top, you realize there is more to climb or you slide back down the hill or somebody who’s further up the mountain knocks the rocks loose and, here comes an avalanche.

One of the things I learned in Thailand is that the Buddhist monks are expert metaphoric mountain climbers. How is that? They are always learning…always in training. They spend a lot of time praying, too. And, they live in community with others…They are ready to help whoever needs help and they are ready to accept help, too.

I think that’s how they deal with their mountains.

Now, there are certainly differences between Buddhism and Christianity but I think that, we as Christians, can learn some things from the Buddhists.

We can be Seekers, always looking to learn more and be better at what we do

We can be Prayers, always asking God for strength and wisdom

We can be family to one another, always ready to give and willing to receive

We can be grateful for our blessings, & realize that the journey is part of the reward

We can be responsible, because we share ownership of this world and need to take care of it

We can be confident we know we are not alone as we struggle up that hill.

Instead of complaining to God about how big our mountains are, we can boldly tell our mountains how big our God is.

Instead of complaining about how far we’ve got to climb to get to the top of the mountain, we can concentrate on what we’ll be able to see when we get there.

Instead of trying to reach the top on our own, we can tie ourselves to our brothers and sisters in Christ so, when they slip we can help them and, when we slip, they can help us.

How we look at a mountain is our choice. How we respond to the mountain is our choice. How we look at a valley is our choice. How we respond to a valley is our choice.

Let us pray…
Gracious God. Help us to see the mountains for what they are. Help us to see the valleys for what they are. Help us to think, to act and to be according to your will.

1 comment:

Al said...

That was awesome! Thanks for passing that along.