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September 22, 2004
Today's eMo is actually two different meditations on texts for this Sunday's liturgy: the first is the usual sermon preparation eMo, and the second is intended for preachers who wish to focus on the Church's work with the suffering through the ministry of Episcopal Relief and Development. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the4 usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.


Ineffectual Warnings...

If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead. Luke 16:31

Remember "Scared Straight," a short film about prison life that they showed in schools in the 1980s? Actual inmates told kids about the violence they lived with in prison, about the certainty of a young person being raped and injured there. Ugly. It was intended to frighten kids into remaining on the right side of the law.

And remember "Reefer Madness," about the dangers of marijuana? That one was so bad that it's become a minor cult classic -- college students watch it while they smoke pot.

Sometimes you see an article or something on the television about what happens to the heart and lungs -- and just about every other organ, I guess -- as a result of cigarette smoking. You see that more often than you see pieces on what happens to the liver from too much alcohol: suffice it to say that if you're a man in your fifties who drinks a lot and you look like you're about eight months pregnant, you'd better get yourself checked.

We hope that our warnings will make people change their behavior. There is so little else we can do but issue them -- we can't force other adults to do things they don't want to do, and we all know the unsettling fear that our warnings may entice our kids to try the very thing we fear. And yet we can't be silent. We can't sit by and say nothing. And so we cry out our warning, and they roll their eyes, bored, scornful. They do not believe us. Sure, all these things are harmful. They happen. But they won't happen to me.

If only he had listened to me. To his teacher. If only she had believed me. He's a doctor, for heaven's sake -- why does he smoke? Her dad died of cirrhosis of the liver -- why does she drink so much? These things happen. But they won't happen to me. Or, if they do, it will be years and years from now, and I'll deal with it then.

Years and years from now. I'll pay later. Maybe I'll get hit by a truck or struck by lightning or something, before I have to pay. Jesus knew us well, knew that we avoid facing things squarely until we are forced to do so. Never, we hope, if we can get away with it.

And so warnings of punishment are of limited use. So how about invitations to grace and joy instead? How about the hope that I can have a better life right now if I allow a power greater than myself to help me control it? Everybody dies, and some dies too soon, no matter how healthy their habits. But everybody can submit the gift of life to the gentle guidance of the One who gave it, and everyone can be more joyful for having done so, and everyone can do it now.


Proper 21

Amos 6:1-17 * I Timothy 6:11-19 * Luke 16:19-31+ Ps. 146

And here is the ERD sermon meditation.

...And Effective Ones

Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue...Luke 16:23

Poverty is never the sole problem of a poor community -- long-standing customs whose harmful effects are not perceived by the community, simply because they are long-standing, can hold them in as steely a grip as lack of money ever does. For this reason, Episcopal Relief and Development never just throws money at local problems, but works with dioceses and their partners to help communities identify their needs and find the most effective solutions.

44% of Tanzanian households use unsafe drinking water. Many are not aware of the dangers of an undependable water source -- the dry season in Tanzania is long and hot, and thirst is a constant companion. A third of the population is poor, a quarter of the people have never been to school and 29% can neither read nor write.

The Anglican Church of Tanzania sends diocesan development directors, train to spot both problems and local resources for solving them, to visit communities in each of its 19 dioceses, including the rural region of Choka. In Choka, the river from which women and girls draw water dries up completely during dry season. Villagers dig down into the dry riverbed until then find the water beneath it. A good idea, on the face of it, although there can be a five-mile difference between the walk to the well and the walk to the river. But a visiting diocesan development director noticed that the girls of Choka were pumping water from wells dug too near a latrine, or too near areas of contaminated runoff into the river during the rainy season. To them, the cool water rushing from the pump looked good -- you can't see intestinal parasites or waterborne pathogens, and they couldn't know that these things contribute to illness and high mortality rates, especially among children, until somebody told them and their elders, and engaged them in the process of coming to understand the problem and change their practices in order to meet it.

That their might be invisible enemies in water that looks clean and good. That a village can eliminate them by digging its well in a safe place. That illness and early death are not matters of fate, or even of poverty -- these things are news if you don't know them. Sometimes all a village needs is good information, presented by people it deems trustworthy.


For more information about Episcopal Relief and Development, especially about its assistance to communities stricken by the recent spate of hurricanes, visit or call 1-800-334-7626.
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