13 October 2010

Blessed Samuel Schereschewsky

“How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me?” - Psalm 116.12

Some homilies practically write themselves. Others are like are like having a baby. The idea is rather appealing, but in the end, the baby arrives only after pain, screaming and vows of “never again.” This is one of those homilies.

The epistle is filled with doom and gloom and in the gospel Jesus reminds his followers that he had suffer in order to bring the Kingdom. It is only after knowing the story of the Rt. Rev’d Samuel Schereschewsky, that one sees the logic in the lectionary.

Samuel was born in Lithuania, orphaned at a very young age, raised as an orthodox Jew, and headed for rabbinical fame. Everyone said so. In rabbinical school he was given a copy of the New Testament in Hebrew, and, as he read it, he became convinced that Jesus was the promised messiah.

In 1854, he immigrated to the United States to lead a synagogue. However, he made contact with a group of Jewish believers in Christ. That was the end of Samuel. Everyone said so. But it wasn’t – it was merely the first step to a remarkable service for God in Asia. He was baptized in 1855 in the Baptist Church and he enrolled in Western Theological Seminary (Presbyterian). Two years later he transferred to General Theological Seminary (Episcopal).

While still in seminary he was appointed a missionary to China so he was ordained to the deaconate while he was still a seminarian. During the voyage to China, he taught himself Cantonese – an extremely difficult language for Westerners to learn. He was priested on 28 October 1860 and began his life’s work.

As a man to whom learning languages came almost effortlessly, he quickly learned the local Shanghai dialect and translated the Book of the Psalms from the original Hebrew. When that translation was completed, he translated the Book of Common Prayer into the Mandarin dialect. In 1877 he was elected Bishop of Shanghai, founded St John's University, and began a translation of the Bible into the Wenli dialect.

Tragically, he was diagnosed with the early onset of Parkinson's disease. He lived with the disease for twenty-nine years, the last twenty of which he was almost completely paralyzed. That was the end of Samuel. Everyone said so. But, in spite of almost unimaginable suffering, Bishop Schereschewsky had a work to finish for God – completing his translation of the bible. He typed the final 2000 pages with the one finger that he could still move.

But, he continually assured all those around him of the goodness of God in that God left him able to move that one finger – he saw it as a gift. Like the solitary man with Leprosy in the gospel last Sunday, Samuel was thankful. He was thankful the Parkinson’s disease. You know, I will never be a saint!

In the epistle today we read, “While we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.” That’s a nice, tidy statement containing heavy theology. But the question is, “what does it mean and how do we do it.”

During my long illness, I have repeatedly reflected upon the baptismal office in the Book of Common Prayer. I’ve discovered that everything we need is found there. It is a road map for us with the path clearly marked.

One small part of that office dovetails with the life of Bishop Schereschewsky and with us. “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” That’s what Paul means.

But that doesn’t mean wearing Jesus on our sleeves. Paul doesn’t mean ending every sentence with “praise the Lord” or quoting scripture in every conversation. Those things actually turn people “off” Christianity.

What Paul and the Prayer Book mean is that we must live our lives in such a manner that people will notice something different about us. They will see God.

St. Francis of Assisi allegedly put it this way, “Preach the gospel at all times – use words if absolutely necessary.” He was correct: If we need to use words, our lives are not reflecting God’s love to the world.

Those who met Blessed Samuel Schereschewsky stated it was evident that God was working though him.

But, “They lived not only in ages past…” We at St. James’ knew a woman who was also the embodiment of Paul’s charge. Her name was Jane Yeats. Like Blessed Samuel Schereschewsky, when one was in Jane’s presence, there was no doubt that she was abiding in Him for one could feel the love of God emanating from her.

Can people say that about us?