We concluded our 2009-2010 school year with a graduation ceremony at the preschool, July 16. Most of our eight graduates and their families attended the previous Sunday's service, at which we gave thanks for having the children in our preschool and prayed for their future starting with first grade in September. I was pleased to note on both Sunday and Friday that for the first time two of our graduates, Elias Montoya and Genesis Marquina were baptized at our mission.
The other six graduates were:
- Diego Sanchez
- Breitny Morales
- Suneisbeth Pacheco
- Eduar Cuevas
- Carla Peralta
- Anny Arteaga
We also were pleased and honored to have two important figures in our local community attend the graduation ceremony: Noel Marquina, father of Genesis and president of the Barrio Las Lomas community council; and Yelvis Selina, director of all the preschools in our sector. These two left early from graduation ceremonies at other preschools specifically to attend our graduation.
There is reason for us to feel optimistic at this point. The population of La Caramuca continues to grow and the existing first-grade classrooms will be filled to capacity this year. If we could raise the money to build additional classroom space, the next few years would be a good time for us to expand our program to include first grade students.
Honoring marriage and martyrdom
On July 25, 2010, Luz Maria and I marked the sixth anniversary of our wedding ceremony at La Fortaleza Lutheran Church in Maracay. Of course, we have two anniversaries, since we were married in a civil ceremony in La Caramuca November 29, 2003. In Venezuela, religious marriage ceremonies are not legally binding. You have to publicly sign the contract, along with witnesses, in front of a civil magistrate. Actually, first you have to apply for the marriage license and the date for the civil ceremony is set by the magistrate according to his (or her) convenience.It took us seven months from the date of the civil ceremony to arrange a church service asking God's blessing on our marriage. Because of the complications and expenses involved in a "proper" church wedding, many people will forgo it in favor of having their pastor come to the magistrate's office and say a prayer before the civil proceedings begin.
On both our dates, Luz Maria and I always give thanks for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we received to work in partnership toward the realization of a Lutheran mission in La Caramuca. There is no doubt that we have accomplished much more as a married couple than either of us could have on our own.
On the church calendar, July 25 is the day of the Apostle James the Elder. This is James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John, fellow apostle and evangelist, as distinguished from James, son of Alphaeus (or Clopas), another of the original 12 apostles, and James the Just, brother of Jesus and bishop of the church in Jerusalem after the death of James the Elder.
By the way, Venezuela's national capital is named after James the Elder. The city was founded July 25, 1567, and its full name is Santiago de Leon de Caracas (literally, "St. James of the Lion of Caracas"). The city seal incorporates the Cross of St. James and a lion,
|Image via Wikipedia|
James the Elder is the second Christian martyr mentioned by name in the New Testament, after the deacon Stephen, and one of the only two apostles whose deaths are recorded (the other being Judas Iscariot). According to post-apostolic Christian writings, his brother John was the only apostle to die of old age. The Scripture readings appointed in our lectionary for the Day of St. James reinforce the theme of sacrificing all for Christ and there are lessons to be learned by all Christians, these passages speak quite directly to those who have been called into the public ministry of the church.
The Old Testament reading, 1 Kings 19:7-18, God finds the prophet Elijah hiding in a cave and asks him what he is doing there. Elijah replies, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” There always are those who rebel against the authority of God's Word, and thus against those who attempt to preach and teach it, even with violence. But as God revealed to Elijah that he was not alone, that were 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed down and kissed Baal, God in various ways reminds those of us charged with preaching the Word that wherever it is preached, there also will be those who respond in faith and so will be saved.
Likewise, in the epistle reading, 1 Corinthians 4:9-15, "For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things."
Kretzmann´s commentary says, "Paul has in mind either a public procession on a great festival day, in which the condemned criminals on their way to the arena marched last, or he thinks of gladiators who, no matter how often they escaped death on one day or during one season, were always brought forth again and were thus doomed to die... The ministers of Christ must pass for fools, because they preach Christ crucified, a message which in no way conforms with the wisdom of the world..." The lay Christian, not obligated to preach publicly, may escape for a time being the target of the world's wrath, but it is the pastor's duty to be such a target, to endure all manner of humilliation and mockery that the Gospel of Christ may be proclaimed in all its power and purity. For this reason, the pulpit and altar must be kept off-limits to those who are not prepared to be stewards of God's mysteries, those who only want a soapbox for their own opinions, and the attention and praise of the crowds.
Jesus Himself makes this point in the Gospel reading, Matthew 20:20-28. After the mother of James and John has requested special positions of honor for his sons in the kingdom of heaven, He says, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” All Christians must be prepared to serve and care for the needs of other, but especially those entrusted with positions of authority in the church must be the servants of the servants of Christ. Those who publicly preach the Word especially must be prepared to share the "cup" and "baptism" of which our Lord speaks in these verses. This means that the public ministry is not just a ministry of words, but of actions which reflect, on a smaller scale, the suffering and death of Christ.