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November 29, 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 is 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.
A Popular Preacher

And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Mark 1:5

Years ago, Q used to dress up like John the Baptist on the Second Sunday of Advent every year and burst into the church, interrupting the sermon. He'd bang the church door shut after him and walk down the aisle shouting REPENT!!! at the top of his lungs, wearing an old fur coat of his mother's from which we'd cut off the sleeves, a wide leather belt and nothing else. He would offer the children chocolate-covered "locusts" from a paper bag as he passed. Then he and the rector would have a conversation about what repentance meant and why it was important in getting ready for Jesus to come. People looked forward to it every year; Q was a great John the Baptist.

John was so popular -- everyone wanted to confess their sins to him. Was it a particularly sin-conscious era? Did they know they were sinners before they heard about John? Or did his reputation make them nervous? Better go hear what he has to say, they may have told each other, maybe he knows something we don't know. Even Herod the king, who knew more about sin than many other people, was curious about him, and used to send for him sometimes for a late-night talk. I can't imagine our John held back during these conversations, but Herod didn't seem to hold it against him. He wouldn't have had John killed if his even more sinful wife hadn't made him.

Someone shouts at you and tells you you're a sinner -- and you love it. This is because he also tells you what you can do to stop being one -- you can repent, turn from your sins and mend your ways. John is clear, and clear is what people want. Just tell me what to do and I'll do it, we say, feeling a little desperate.

Oh, that was so long ago! Sin and virtue are so ambiguous now, so complex, so hard to pin down. We hate that: things aren't clear any more; the simplicity for which we long eludes us now. We have been part of so many compromises that sometimes we despair of ever finding our way back into the sunshine.

Maybe things aren't clear. Maybe we are compromised. But we can still walk through life with a heart open to repentance, a willingness to be corrected, to admit that we might be wrong. This is a beginning, and we can always make a beginning. Tell me what to do, we can say, tell me where I fall short, and I will turn and listen.
Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15a,18
Mark 1:1-8
Psalm 85 or 85:7-13
And here is the ERD meditation:

Comfort for the Long Haul

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God...
Isaiah 40:1,/i>

New Orleans was famous and Pass Christian, Mississippi was not. But Hurricane Katrina cared nothing about human fame, and crushed Pass Christian, Gulfport, Long Beach, Biloxi along with New Orleans, all in the same destructive breath.

God isn't very concerned with human fame, either. God just comforts those who need comfort, regardless of who they are. It may be easier to draw world attention to a famous place, but God pays attention to every place, and God specializes in things that are not easy.

That's a good thing, because FEMA is coming to the end of its rope in terms of the housing support it can give Katrina victims, and it's running
out of rope before they run out of need. Some have found new homes and new jobs, but more have not: it takes longer than four months to rebuild a house and a life.

In partnerships with local Episcopal and Lutheran churches and social services that have existed since long before Katrina, Episcopal Relief and Development has developed plans for the long-term comfort of these Mississippi towns. Physical relief is still needed: getting people out of shelters and into housing, training local volunteers to minister to the ongoing social and occupational needs of neighbors who have lost everything, including their means of earning a living. Children's needs are a special ongoing concern: a new school, a new house or no house yet, terrible dreams at night -- the little ones suffer in ways that are not always easy to see, since they don't always know how to tell the adults who love them what's wrong.

The comfort God brings through the Church in the small towns of Mississippi won't come quickly -- not like the Hurricane, which destroyed everything in minutes. What took a short time to destroy will take years to rebuild. But it will be comfort for the long haul.

To learn more about ERD's work or to make a donation, visit or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129.
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