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ON FIRE, BUT NOT CONSUMED / TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES
August 29, 2008
 
This morning's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be read in many churches this Sunday. The first is the usual sermon preparation eMo. The second, intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the church's service to the poor and those who suffer as a result of war or disease, explores the work of Episcopal Relief & Development. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.
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On Fire, But Not Consumed

There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.
Exodus 3:2

For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?
Matthew 16:26


Now there's something you don't see every day, Moses must have said to himself: That bush is on fire, but it is not consumed. That's no ordinary fire.

Well, no. That fire was God. But is there any of that fire left? Because we sure could use some. Could we be on fire and not burn out? Because this is the time of year when we really want to know. Are we going to be able to do it all this fall? Get everyone back to school and gear up for the busy season at work? Prepare for the holidays, which will be here before we know it? Oh, yes, we say, I can do all these things. I'll get it all done. But will it be like last year, and the year before, when we dashed from one obligation to the next with no break in between, collapsing into bed on the weekends? When we caught a cold in November and kept it until Christmas, because we were too tired to have a working immune system? Last year, when we were exhausted and bitter almost all the time. When we never wanted to go anywhere or do anything fun -- I'm too busy, we would snap, when somebody asked. When a kind invitation felt like an act of aggression?

We do have all these things to do. They will require great energy. But can we find the energy to do them all and not destroy the spirit of them?

For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?

Fire is energy. Some energy destroys, but some energy gives life. We need the life-giving kind, as well as the kind that mows its way through our many tasks, dispatching them all in short order. We don't just want power. We don't want to possess the whole world -- we want the spiritual space we need to love it, also. We want life: abundant and sweet, speedy enough to be strong but slow enough to enjoy the gifts of God.

The mind is energy, too, and the spirit. The wise energy of the mind can look at our tasks and make sure we don't try to use a rocket launcher for something a slingshot could accomplish. The spirit can gaze upon the enormity of our commitments and ask its quiet, honest question: Is this truly in your heart, or is it only in someone else's? If it cannot, in some way, bring life to your spirit, it should not occupy your time.

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Pentecost 16, Proper 17, Year A

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
or
Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm 26:1-8


Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28



And here is the Episcopal Relief & Development meditation:

Take Off Your Shoes

Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.
Exodus 3:5


You take off your shoes in the presence of God, it seems: stand with your bare feet on the bare ground, symbolically naked before the God who made you, as vulnerable and unprotected as you were on the day you arrived here as an infant. You remove your shoes when you visit a mosque, too, or a Hindu temple -- there, you also wash your feet.

I look into my closet: rows of shoes. Sensible black ones for church, a few fancier pairs for dressier occasions. Some flip-flops for summer. A pair of sneakers, and another pair. Two pairs of bedroom slippers. A beloved pair of red pumps, which I keep just for old times' sake. Yes, my feet are definitely covered.

Take off your shoes, for you are on holy ground. I can do that. And, when I take off my shoes, I am not only becoming like a newborn baby. I am becoming like a person who lives in poverty: millions of people have no shoes to remove. Millions of people are so poor that they have never owned a pair of shoes, and they never will.

How about that? We are all born into a state of poverty: no clothes, no shoes, no way to shelter ourselves from the weather and no way to get food or water for ourselves. We won't last more than a day or two without help. The baby born into the richest family on earth and the one born to the poorest are vulnerable in just the same way.

But, since it is our families who help us at first, until we are grown up and can fend for ourselves, they do not stay the same. Our babies start life with dresser drawers full of darling outfits, with piles of clean soft blankets and stacks of snowy diapers. We interview pediatricians until we have found just the right one, and we schedule the first appointment the day our baby is born. And their babies? They remain naked. Their families' meager livings, already stretched to the breaking point, must somehow stretch further to include them. They see no doctor, as their mothers sw no doctor while they were in the womb.

Take off your shoes, for you are on holy ground. Not just church-holy. Not just take-off-that-hat-boy! or put-your-hat-on-girl! holy. We stand upon another kind of holy ground: You are on holy ground. Make yourself a partner with those who have nothing. Remember that you came into this world all the same, and strive toward the equal blessing that is the right of all to pursue. Take off your shoes: feel that common origin, for a moment. And then, for a lfietime, do not forget it.

Episcopal Relief & Development is committed to the United Nations' Millenium Development Goals. The first of these is to end extreme poverty, which is defined as living on less than $1 per day.

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To learn more about Episcopal Relief & Development, or to make a donation, visit www.er-d.org, or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext. 5129.
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