Today's eMo is actually two meditations, the first being the usual sermon preparation eMo and the second intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the ministry of the Church to the suffering through the work of Episcopal Relief and Development. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.
Today in Paradise
Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.
The man stiffened in his chair and leaned back, as far away from me as he could get. I don't believe in praying for the dead, he said, his mouth a grim line. I had forgotten, in talking about his recently deceased mother as living with Christ and loving him still, as still with him in prayer, still present in the sacrament of the Eucharist, that he was a relatively new Episcopalian, come to us from s strict fundamentalist background, that many evangelical Protestants believe in a general resurrection at the end of time and nothing at all before then -- we just moulder and wait.
It struck me as odd that the idea of some other scenario, even this comforting one, seemed to make him angry, though. What about this promise from the cross, for instance? What makes the idea of an immediate ongoing life with Christ so threatening? How would it change things here if it were so? What would we do differently? And why get angry about it?
The drive to protect religious truth from heresy has animated many people their whole lives long. Let's make sure nobody deviates from right belief. It's very, very important that we all think the same thing. Nothing is more important than that. There have been eras in our history during which people paid with their lives for voicing the wrong opinion.
And yet, what can we really know about the things of God? Hardly anything. Even if we read our Bibles until they fall apart, even if we choose to think that every word in them is literally true, as concrete as a cookbook, much remains a mystery to us. All religious language is metaphor, the fumbling attempts of limited beings to communicate something beyond our power to know. Try as we might to get it all straight, it's beyond us.
To receive good news requires a certain humility about the things you already think you know. We are not the ones who tell God what he can and cannot do, based on our reading of scripture. God is the lord of history, not its captive, and scripture, divinely inspired though it is, was divinely inspired in history, and it is read in history. Throughout history, we have done different things with it, mutually exclusive things sometimes, making it the tool of our changeable nature without even knowing we were doing so. Scripture does show God, contains in its pages the hints of God, some of them yet to be unearthed from there, but scripture itself is not God. It also shows us, our learning curve and our refusal to be taught. And God stands above it, unknowable.
Know God? Know what heaven is like, where it is and who is there? Know what they do? Not likely. We must leave the knowing for the time when knowledge is given us. For us, hope and trust in the love that sparks God's whole enterprise with us, a love that can welcome us into Paradise from the very cross itself, will have to be enough.
Jeremiah 23:1-6*Colossians 1:11-20*Luke 23:35-43 or 19:29-38*Ps 46
And here is the ERD meditation:
Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.
Like the recurrence of a nightmare, we have watched the horror of the Sudanese genocide unfold. It seems to us that we have been here before: ethnic cleansing, midnight roundups of men for killing, women and children for terrible sport. People walking away from their ancestral homes forever, out into a wilderness where there is no food for them to eat. Why must this happen again and again in the world? What did little children do to deserve such suffering? What can we do to help?
The world community's efforts to relieve this situation continue, often in
ways that frustrate us. Few of us occupy the positions of power that
could bring the pressure to bear on it that might end it. All of us, though, can express solidarity with the men, women and children who have suffered so in that faraway desert by joining with the Episcopal Church of Sudan, which has modeled courage and faith to the entire world.
In Darfur, Episcopal Relief and Development assists internally displaced people in the Kass region with the dangerous but steady provision of food, plastic sheeting for the construction of rudimentary shelters, mosquito nets for the prevention of insect-borne disease, even saucepans for cooking.
In Kenya, where many Sudanese refugees live in camps, ERD trains adults in vocational schools so that they might be prepared to earn a living, even though their lives have been so cruelly uprooted, the directions of them so cruelly changed.
Usually, we speak of someone as being "Christlike" because of his or her remarkable goodness. But people are also like Christ whenever they suffer unjustly. We are all in Christ, those of us able to help and become more like Jesus in doing so, and those who must accept help, crushed like Jesus under the heel of a tragedy they did not author and did nothing to deserve.
To learn more about ERD's ministry in Sudan, visit http://www.er-d.org/ or call 1-800-334-7626, ext 5219.