Today'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 ministry to the poor and those who suffer as a result of war or natural disaster, discusses 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.
What Belongs to God?
Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's.
It was a long time ago: I was very young. My brother and I lived in the same university town. It was long before there was such a thing as an ATM, and my brother did not yet have a checking account. He needed $75.00. Our parents called; could I give it to him, and they would send me a check to cover it? Yes, I could. I was poor as dirt, and all my money was earmarked for food and rent. But I could make this temporary loan. Their check would come soon, and all would be well. I went to the bank and got the money. My brother worked at MacDonald's. I would go there and take it to him.
But somewhere between the bank and Macdonald's, I lost the envelope with the $75 in it. Frantic, I retraced my steps. I asked at the bank. I asked at every store I had passed along the way. I asked a policeman. But it was $75 cash in a bank envelope; of course it was gone.
I wanted to cry, I know; it was so long ago that I don't remember whether I did or not. $75 was a fortune to me in the 1960s. Now what? Maybe I could just explain to David that I had lost the money. He was poor, too; he knew what $75 meant. Surely he wouldn't expect me to cover it myself, not once he heard what had happened. He'd understand. I didn't owe him this money, after all.
But he needed it. He had nowhere else to get it. And I couldn't ask my parents to cover $150 instead of $75, not after I'd been foolish enough to lose an envelope of cash. I don't know how long I wavered about what to do. I had rent to pay and a toddler to feed. In the end I decided to do the right thing and give my brother what he needed. My faith in God was rudimentary in those days; I wish I could say that I trusted in the presence of God to take care of things, but I really didn't. I was in despair as I handed him the money.
But then, you don't have to trust in the presence of God in order for God to be present. God is free. Summoned or not, God is with us. I don't remember now how we managed the $75 hit, but we did. We didn't starve.
You can take Jesus' cryptic answer about a Roman coin two ways, of course. The emperor's picture is on it; give it to him. Or maybe Jesus means something else: everything is God's, including all the wealth. Nobody else really owns everything. We hold the things we possess, only for a season.
What if we thought of our money as really belonging to God? We'd have to ask what God wants us to do with it.
Pentecost 23, Proper 24
Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13)
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
The Presence of God
My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.
The Exodus was a while back, of course -- the children of Israel escaped from slavery in Egypt some three and four thousand years ago. It was a hard trip: many died, many were hungry and thirsty, all were afraid, and many, many wondered if God were really with them. Think of what it must have been like to look back and see the army of the Egyptians coming after them -- their hearts must have sunk to the soles of their feet at the sight. We would be like them, if we were in their situation. In our fear, we would be desperate for a sign of God's presence, too.
Just last week the Bishop Isingoma and 200 members of the Diocese of Boga in the Democratic Republic of Congo were forced to flee their homes after an upsurge of rebel violence. For two days they walked toward Bunia, the provincial capital, staying in the dense forest as they went, to avoid meeting the rebels on the roads. They made it, too: as I write this, they are living in church buildings in Bunia. Bunia is safe now, surrounded by United Nations peacekeepers, but government troops continue to fight with rebels throughout the surrounding area. Displaces and terrified, people continue to stream into the city. When will it be safe to go back home? Nobody knows. Not yet, that's for certain.
What a terrible thing to happen to a family, running into the forest and walking for miles toward an uncertain destination. Who can blame them if they wonder where God is? Finally they reach the city, and there they realize that God has been present all along. There are kind people there, with food and water and a safe place to sleep. They can stay as long as they need to.
People from the church around the world are helping keep this welcome going. Episcopal Relief & Development is providing funds for the churches in Bunia to continue providing food and shelter to the refugees until they can safely return home.
To learn more about Episcopal Relief & Development, or to make a donation to help feed and house these refugees, visit www.er-d.org or telephone (01)800-334-7626.