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DO YOU ALSO WISH TO GO AWAY? / WHEN A STRANGER PRAYS
August 19, 2009
 
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 -- this one also appears this week in the blog of Christian Century magazine, Theolog (www.christiancentury.org). The second, intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the church's work with the poor and those who suffer as a result of war or natural disaster, deals with an aspect of Episcopal Relief & Development's work. 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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Do You Also Wish to Go Away?

Many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.
-- John 6:65


This is a difficult moment in Jesus’ ministry. He loses some members of his band—maybe a lot of them: many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

Why? Was it because The Way is harder than they had thought it would be when they signed up? Or because “eternal life” is beginning to look like something other than an endless physical sojourn in a tropical paradise? Is it the puzzling things Jesus has said about his relationship with God? Or is the specter of death looming over it all, and seeming to come closer?

There is a rare plaintive note in Jesus’ question to the ones who remain—only 12 of them, apparently. “Do you also wish to go away?” he asks, and waits for an answer. Who is to say that his confidence was not shaken by this considerable defection? After all, we preach that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, and the capacity for self-doubt is one of the most important qualities a person can possess.

I know that the writer of this passage is concerned, as are many Christians, that his Jesus never be shaken, never doubt—for Jesus knew from the first which ones did not believe, and which one would betray him. The writer's Jesus must be in control at all times.

But I don’t need Jesus to be that way; it’s all right with me if he didn’t know everything. Jesus’ divinity is not impaired by the presence in him of human frailty. That’s what the Incarnation is: God becoming flesh, with everything that being flesh entails. Incarnation is not about God becoming some kind of titan who walks the earth unscathed by its sorrows. Jesus is no superman. Besides being truly God, Jesus is truly us.

The meal in which Jesus is “eaten” is a spiritual one. The paradox of the Real Presence is exactly that of the Incarnation: true bread and true body, true God and true human. Both at once, and each one true. Retaining everything that flesh is, but bursting the limits of it—bread that doesn’t rot, bread that never runs out, bread that satisfies forever, bread that is always enough.

In the Eucharist we eat eternal life, practicing the oneness of heaven as we take the body and blood into our bodies. We look to a life in which the constraints and barriers that our physicality imposes on us all fall away.
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1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43 and Psalm 84
or
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 and Psalm 34:15-22

Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

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And here is the ER&D meditation:

When a Stranger Prays

Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name -- for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm-- when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built. --- I Kings 8:41-43

Solomon was talking here about foreigners coming to the temple in Jerusalem. Many must have done so: this is a message of hospitality to the stranger: Give them what they need, Lord, whether or not they are "one of us."

Solomon's temple has been gone for millenia. But the ancient impulse this passage remembers, from when it still stood -- the acknowledgement that God's love touches everyone, not just the children of Israel -- is the foundation of the Christian commitment to care for the poor. They are not "foreigners" just because we haven't met them personally. They are God's, just as we are God's.

Mariama, a 48-year-old mother of six, lives in a rural community in northern Ghana, the region with the highest malnutrition, child and maternal mortality rates in the country. For years, Mariama and her neighbors struggled to feed their families by farming small plots in this drought-prone area. Traditionally, crops were only planted during the very short rainy season, which often led to shortages of food during the long dry season. But a partnership between Episcopal Relief & Development, the Anglican Diocese of Tamale (which serves northern Ghana) and its development agency, ADDRO, has significantly improved conditions for Mariama and her neighbors. A women’s farming cooperative was formed: each woman in the cooperative also received $100 in start-up capital and training in basic accounting and bookkeeping. Within one year, they earned a profit of over $3,000 — more than tripling their initial total investment of $1,000. They used the profit to expand their farming activities.

The women learned new farming methods including dry season vegetable gardening, giving them food to eat year round. Mariama, her children and her community are no longer hungry. The children aren’t needed to work the farm any longer, and Mariama can afford to send them to school.

Ghana is a long way from here. I know some people from Ghana, but I've never been there, and I've never met Mariama. But I know about the amazing thing she and her neighbors have achieved together, and have been privileged to be part of it through my support of those who supported them. Now they've paid back their loan and are on their way to the life for which they have prayed, far distant in time and space from Solomon and his temple, from me, from you -- but right next door in the heart of God.

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To learn more about ER&D and to make a donation, visit www.er-d.org. You can "meet" other brothers and sisters from far away by reading Rob Radtke's blog, which share his experiences as he visit the countries in which ER&D works. Rob is the organization's president.

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eMinistry Class with Barbara Crafton

Monday, September 14th 8pmEDT: An eMinistry Teleclass with Barbara Crafton. These classes happen on the phone -- in essence, they are conference calls. This one, A Year in Italy, will be an discussion of how living there has changed us spiritually. Space is limited; to register, visit
http://www.eministrynetwork.org/cmcspirituality.htm#Italy
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