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THE ORGANIZER BAG
March 12, 2004
 
While regular readers of the eMos will recall that I have switched the publication of the sermon prep eMo from Fridays to Mondays, preachers who only turn to the eMos out of homiletical desperation at the end of the week might be wondering where it is, and so I have reprinted the sermon eMo. It follows this one.

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Where are my keys? I mumble, embarrassed. The nice young woman behind the counter waits patiently for me to find them. I need my keys because the little card from Curves hangs from them, and I have to show the card to the machine at the desk, which will shine a red light on its bar code and recognize me.

My purse is the kind that is supposed to help you stay organized. It has multiple pockets, and you're supposed to put specific things in each pocket. If you always put your keys in the same pocket, they'll always be there and you'll be organized.

I almost always put my keys in the same pocket. But sometimes I'm in a hurry and just stuff them somewhere in the bag. The great truth about organization is this: "almost always" doesn't work. It's just as bad as "never." It's always got to be always. Always.

I root through each pocket. There are six of them. I find the keys in the fourth pocket. It has taken about five minutes for me to find them in my organizer bag. Incredibly, I am near tears when I finally locate it. Why can't I ever find anything?

Some of us just defy organization. We mean so well, and we make such promising starts. But our natural entropy is powerful stuff, more than a match for whatever feeble attempts we might make at doing things differently.

Where am I going? I know I printed out the directions to the place several days ago, and that I put them somewhere that made sense. But I root through all the logical places on my desk and don't find them. I think I also saved them in the filing cabinet on the computer. Things seem not to stay in that filing cabinet. How can that be.

You need a real desk, Mom, says Anna. Not a vanity table, which is what that thing you're using is. She's right. I do use an antique vanity as a desk.

I've thought of that, I tell her. It was Anna who gave me the organizer purse. I haven't told her that I'm about to give up on it and begin using a black plastic garbage bag instead.

You need a truer sense of your worth, she also says.

My worth? A sense that my time is worth something and should be husbanded more carefully? That rushing around makes me crazy and makes me start misplacing and forgetting things? That I am worth waiting for, and that if I slow down, nobody will have to wait for me as long as they do now for me to get my act together?

Organizing is about more than being a robot. It's about worth. An agenda is more than a straitjacket -- it's courteous to everyone in the meeting. Planning ahead doesn't destroy spontaneity; it makes room for it. I know all that.

It's a good thing God doesn't judge us by our success at acting on the things we know. Almost none of our errors are caused by lack of information -- we know perfectly well what to do, we just don't do it. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

When the flesh is weak, we are not alone. It's not silly to pray about mundane things like keys and misplaced travel schedules, and the prayer need not be restated worry, as in Oh, God please please please please please please help me find my keys please please please please please please AMEN!!!!! Just writing that twisted my stomach into a knot.

No. Calm down. Ask God to help you be who God would have you be. Remember that God loves you even when you hate yourself. Be alert for the people God might send you to point to a different way of doing things. Remember that all good things come from God, and that God stands ready to lead you out of the bad things. Even the ones that are your fault.











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It has been an eMo tradition that Friday's meditation is on the lectionary texts for the upcoming Sunday's worship. But I have heard a cry of pain:
"I work on my sermon on Monday morning. By the time you do yours, it's too late. Couldn't you do it on Monday instead?"

Well, certainly. I can swallow my jealousy and do that. Here it is. And for you folks who don't get there until Friday morning, I will reprint
the sermon meditation on Fridays, after the one I write for that day.

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Do you think that these Galileans were greater sinners than all the other Galileans because this happened to them? Luke 13:2

The only possible answer is "no," of course. But we knew that. We already knew that bad things happen to good people and bad people alike. We even knew that we're all a little bit of both, each of us an uncomfortable hybrid of virtue and fault. We even knew that.

But we revert easily to an earlier understanding when we are injured. One from childhood. You'd better behave yourself, someone said to us, someone who was trying to help us learn to be good. God's got His eye on you. And in some of our churches, it really was: up there on the ceiling was an immense eye, painted right at the peak of the roof, an eye like a human eye, unblinking, gazing upon all of us, the whole congregation. You're not getting away with a thing. God's got His eye on you.

Good fortune for good behavior. Really bad things for sin. This must be how it works, we think when we are little. But we don't have to get very old before we begin to notice that this simple symmetry does not accurately describe human reality. Before we begin to see just how asymmetrical a place the world is.

We revert to it, though, all the time, no matter how old we get. What did I do to deserve this? we ask ourselves and God. Why me? The answer sounds like silence.

But the answer is not silence. It is fire. Moses turns off the road to see an amazing thing: a bush is burning, but it is not consumed. The great destroyer of human achievement and natural beauty engulfs but does not destroy. Fire burns everything. Everyone knows that. Fire will kill the bush, and it will kill you, too, Moses, if you hang around to watch it burn. Better move on.

But no. Not this fire. Moses does not move on. He stands to watch and see. And God speaks to him from the fire. Destruction is real here on the earth. Its forces must be opposed. You will have to stand against it. But I am with you when you stand, and you will be free. I will help you get free.

The book of Exodus says little about how the children of Israel became slaves in Egypt. One offhanded remark is all we get: "There arose in Egypt a pharaoh who did not know Joseph." Oh.

Not interested in why this bad thing happened. Not interested in what they did to deserve it. We don't know what they did wrong. We don't know they did anything wrong. God enters the story only when it is time to set them free.

The fire can burn a bush and not consume it. It can burn through iron shackles of whatever bondage you are in and set you free. Soon, it will burn through a funeral shroud deep in the darkness of a tomb and kindle life. And the bush and the shroud and the shackles will not be consumed. They will still be there. Good and bad things will still happen, and some of them will happen to you.

But you will be set free.
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