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THE TRIBE
June 23, 2004
 
Today's eMo is a meditation on texts that will be read in many churches this Sunday. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. A second meditation provides material for preachers who wish to focus their sermons on the Church's work with the poor and suffering through the ministry of Episcopal Relief and Development.

I invite you to post your sermon -- of whichever kind -- on the Geranium Farm's message board, which you will find at http://www.geraniumfarm.org/ in the "Vigils" section. It will be a good idea to place a copyright notice, such as the one in this eMo's subject line, at the beginning of your post, signaling to borrowers that the words are yours, and attribution to you is required.

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Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. -Luke 9:58

There are rules in churches, rules you will not find in their bylaws or in the prayer book or in the canons of the Church. The most dangerous rules to break in a church are the unwritten ones.

You can tell who the breakers of these rules are by the moat around them: they are not dressed like the others in church, and they don't always smell like they've bathed in the recent past, and so parishioners give them a wide berth. You won't find a dress code in writing posted in any church, but the code is always very clear. You know how you're supposed to dress for church and how you['re supposed to act, and you isolate yourself by not dressing or acting that way. Which can be hard if you live in a shelter or in the park, and have only one outfit.

We know this about ourselves and our unspoken rules, and sometimes we try to do something about it. A parish will "adopt" a person who doesn't fit the mold, making much of him or her, showering him or her with attention, almost as if that person were a mascot, sent to them to be an example of what a loving family St. Chad's really is. The person who doesn't fit in has an important job: he is the poster child for the parish's diversity. Often, he is the parish's diversity, all by himself. That's fairly heavy lifting for one person.

One or two of them is fine, and the parish is proud to have that person among them. Add a few more, though, and vestry meetings take on a certain guarded quality: people start talking about the maintaining the basic values of St. Chad's, about the importance of its image in attracting the new families we want. About security. About what constitutes being a "member" of St. Chad's. Nobody ever says we don't want homeless people at St. Chad's. Everyone is welcome at St. Chad's; everyone knows that. We are a warm and welcoming community. We are like a family.

But there are families and families. The Casa Nostra is a family. A family cares for its own, but it also protects its own from forces outside it that threaten its unity. Sometimes a family circles the wagons to keep people out. You have to be related to be in the family. St. Paul, who was full of images for what the Church is like, never uses the image of a family to describe it. But we do.

That is why the people in parishes tend to look alike: there's a family resemblance. Ethnically diverse parishes are rare, except in large cities, and not all parishes in all of them. People are annoyed when somebody points this out, and they look around for the mascot: Well, look at Jim over there. He's a member here. Parishes are often accurately described in economic terms; this is a working class parish, that one is a society church.

It was so long ago, the ministry of Jesus, who did not understand himself to be the founder of a church at all. Who was from a region of Israel looked down upon by the more sophisticated people of Jerusalem: a bumpkin. Who was run out of one synagogue and caused a big security problem in the temple one day. Who didn't have a home or a job or any money of his own, and advised his followers to have only one cloak to wear. Well, it was a different world then, we say. It's not the first century any more, for heaven's sake. Do you suggest that we all take off and wander through the countryside preaching?

No. What has already been said is sufficient. What I suggest is that we remember who Jesus was, and what he didn't have. That we stand back from ourselves and notice our own tribalism and how it colors our communities -- or drains the color right out of them. That we ask ourselves what our own unwritten rules are, and see if they are rules we really want to live by.

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And here is the ERD sermon starter.

A Happy Ending in Belize

When Hurricane Keith destroyed much of northern Belize, the island of Caye Caulker in particular suffered damage to about 70% of its infrastructure, leaving a quarter of the population homeless. Episcopal Relief and Development responded and provided emergency assistance: with the Diocese of Belize, ERD committed to build 30 new concrete houses on the island. The government was to provide the land, and ERD, together with the Diocese, would provide the funds and oversight for the house construction.

In the past, families on the islands could only afford to build homes unable to withstand the elements. The new homes are different, sturdily designed and built of materials that will weather the hurricanes that visit Belize every year.

Curiously, the market has intervened in this story of homelessness: the beautiful island has become a tourist Mecca. Real estate prices have risen dramatically, and something approaching prosperity has come to Caye Caulker.

And so, the Diocese and ERD have turned their attention to other parts of the impoverished country. Because, in just a month, the first hurricanes will begin to for, far out to sea. Every church in a tropical place knows that human beings are very small compared to the awesome power of nature. There will be a need for more houses, on other islands. What ERD did on Caye Caulker can be done anywhere.

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To find out more about the church's ministry to disaster-stricken areas, visit http://www.er-d.org/
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