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HELL, AGAIN? / LIFE GOES ON AS USUAL
October 5, 2005
 
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 ministry to the poor and victims of natural disasters or war 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.
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Hell, Again?

Then the king said to the attendants, `Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen.
Matthew 22:13-14


Oh, stop it, for heaven's sake -- if Jesus makes one more offhanded remark about throwing people into the fires of hell, I'm tossing my WWJD bracelet.

Actually, I don't have a WWJD bracelet. I so seldom know What Jesus Would Do, and don't wish to insult him by assuming he'll rubber-stamp
whatever action I might be leaning toward.

Jesus is near to me. I feel his presence many times a day, talk to him frequently, read about him in scripture every morning. I'm expecting to be with him eternally when I'm finished here, and I think that eternal life with him has already begun for me, only I'm too dim to experience it fully now, distracted as I am by everything being alive in the world involves. Jesus and I have a relationship, and I don't have a relationship more important than the one I have with him.

But I don't always know what he thinks. He has surprised me too many times for me to assume anything. I try to follow him, but his way is sometimes a mystery, and I stumble frequently. I'm in the dark a lot.

The people in the story Jesus tells about the wedding feast are as clueless as I am. Their priorities and obsessions get in their way as much as mine get in my way. They don't know what's expected of them, like the one who came to the wedding in his jogging suit, and so they take a guess and get it all wrong. This guy's fashion mistake had really bad consequences, but most of our mistakes get us into some kind of trouble, and some of it is pretty serious. We raise plenty of Hell right here, without anybody needing to toss us anywhere fiery.

I read and wonder, puzzle over his words, look to see what others have thought about them over the centuries. I absorb arguments about whether all the words we think are his really are, and what it would mean if some of them were not. I don't feel guilty about any of these explorations: we're supposed to explore and wonder about things, including the things of God. We have a relationship with Jesus, and we can trust him to correct the errors we will certainly make and help us to grow into him.

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Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:4-13
Matthew 22:1-14
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And here is the ERD meditation:

Life Goes On As Usual

When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm,
the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place,
you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds;
the song of the ruthless was stilled.
Isaiah 25:4b-5


While the rains fell and the wind blew and the waters rose on the American Gulf coast, life went on as usual in the rest of the world. Of course, "as usual" means different things in different places. In Africa, for instance, "usual" can have many meanings.

Liberians are still recovering from more than a decade of civil violence. Only now can farmers even think of beginning again. Schools in this highly education-conscious society are only now reopening -- the war has cost many young people the entirety of what would have been their school years. Episcopal Relief and Development supports a new community health clinic at the Bromley Mission School in Monrovia, an Anglican school which has educated generations of Liberian girls, including the current First Lady of Liberia. Now, dozens of its girls are war orphans.

The displaced children in the camps where ERD ministers in Darfur have been occupied doing what all children love to do: drawing with colored crayons. But their drawings are of the rampaging Janjaweed on their horses, sweeping through the villages, of the children's families cornered in their houses, crying out, their mouths round Os of terror and pain; of people on fire, people dead on the ground, government helicopters hovering in the air. Nobody has told them what to draw. They just draw what they've seen.

And life goes on as usual in Botswana. But then life there is so much about death -- a third of the population is living with HIV/AIDS. Life expectancy for men is 35 years. For women, it's 25 years. Better things are hoped for, with ERD's support, but right now it's hospice care. And a day care center for AIDS orphans. So that life can go on as usual.

Oh, nothing is as usual! Nothing remains, for long, as God intends it: peaceful, sufficient, fruitful. Death comes in an instant, comes to people already beaten down by life. Or it creeps toward them, inch by starving inch, cell by dying cell. Despair beckons us all with its bony finger, and we cannot help but see.

But God is not about our despair. Despair is the enemy, the tool of our undoing, and our God is all about our coming together. If death creeps toward us, inch by inch, we meet it with strong faith and decisive action, faith as strong as death is ruthless. Action as deep and broad as our giving can make it: the more, the better, wherever there is need.

To see what the children of Darfur drew, visit
http://hrw.org/photos/2005/darfur/drawings/


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