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 work with the poor, explores the mininstry of Episcopal Relief & Development. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No futher permission is necessary.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.
Well, what a surprise. How much human striving is just this anxious jockeying for position? Tons.
But trying to become great never leads to greatness. Doing something worth doing is the way there: losing yourself in the excitement of creating something the world needs. It can be something quite small -- once you grasp what greatness is, you realize that it has nothing to do with size or volume. Greatness is about devotion and the willingness to do what it takes to be excellent, and that can be about cooking or raising children or really understanding how an office needs to function or a customer needs to be served. I know when I am in the presence of greatness, and it is a separate thing from being in the presence of celebrity.
Sometimes people call it being "in the zone." You're focussed on what you're doing, You're not watching the clock. The very act of doing is a pleasure, even if it's also difficult. You love the product -- the stream of numbers that add up exactly right, the word that does exactly what you needed it to do, the finished hem, smooth and straight. No, it's not big. But it's great.
He's a great man, I may say about someone. She's a great woman. I find myself saying it often, and it's never about anybody famous. It's always about a friend I admire, someone who does what she does with every power that's in her, and finds her reward in just that fact.
Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
And here is the ER&D meditation:
A capable wife, who can find?
-- Proverbs 31:10
I expect the description of the supermom in Proverbs 31 would be daunting to any of us. Busy from morning to night with her real estate deals, her spinning and sewing, her mothering, her teaching, her shopping, her supervision of the help, her charitable work -- she makes Martha Stewart look like a slacker. Who can find such a paragon, the ancient writer wants to know? Is she an imaginary character?
Maybe. But many women in poor countries are like her. With the help of loans in amounts that seem ridiculously small to us -- $75, $50, $25 -- poor women are starting their own businesses doing what they do well. They sell their embroidery, raise livestock, farm, cook delicious food and they are lifting their families out of extreme poverty.
Recently such a woman was in the news, described in the new book by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide. Life was bleak for Saima: her husband was an abusive layabout, and was talking of taking a second wife, as she had not yet given birth to a male child. He was encouraged in this by her in-laws, who viewed her as a failure. But Saima got a tiny loan, enough to buy materials for the beautiful embroidery she knew she did well, and went to work. Very soon, demand for her product exceeded her own ability to produce it, and she brought other women into her enterprise. Before long, her husband was a partner in it as well, and had changed his tune considerably, now that her earnings were making it possible for their girls to go to school. Her children rise up and call her blessed, it says in Proverbs 31:28, and her husband also praises her.
Episcopal Relief & Development conducts extensive work in microfinance in many poor countries, mostly to women. The repayment rate would spark the envy of any American commercial lender -- 95-98 percent of the money lent is repaid, and the money can be recycled into more microloans. This kind of help excites many potential donors, who often wonder if they are not just putting a Bandaid on a bleeding wound. It offers the hope of permanent change in the lives of the poor, and actual way out of poverty at its worst. One of the benefits recipients of these loans mention most frequently is the chance to send their children to school, promising even more hope for the next generation. From a life with no choices comes a life with more choices, and the promise of even more for children and children's children.
To learn more about ER&D, or to begin your support of its microfinance programs, visit www.er-d.org or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5219.