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.
And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.
Jesus stands on a mountain, part of a long tradition of people who stand on mountains to talk with God. They get very bright and shiny. Here, it is Jesus' garment that shines, dazzling white, whiter than a laundry commercial.
The righteous wear white robes. Bad cowboys wear black hats and good ones wear white. We speak of a black-hearted deed. We pick up our Bibles: "Though your sins are scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." We think "white" and "good" go together somehow. We even make Jesus, a man who must certainly have been dark-skinned and dark-haired, into a Nordic-looking blond athlete.
Has anybody claimed responsibility? I asked someone, when the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was bombed. Well, who do you think did it? he demanded indignantly, as if my question had been unbearably naive. He meant that the bombing must have been the work of Arab terrorists. But it wasn't Arab terrorists at all. It was blond, blue-eyed Timothy McVeigh. A white man -- really white. Being white was part of his cause. I guess being white was the thing Tim did best. I guess the bombing of the Murrah Building was a white-hearted deed.
Don't you know anything about metaphor? someone asks me when I raise the issue of black as bad and white as good. It's not about people. It's a metaphor, about soil and cleanness.
I know quite a bit about metaphor. But the language of imagery is oddly fluid and oddly powerful: it overflows its categories easily, creating what before it only described. Put the bad guy in a black hat long enough, and you'll see evil in black everything. You won't even know when you started doing it, and if someone calls you on it, you'll deny that it's true. You'll ask him how come he doesn't know about metaphor.
Crown the good guy with a white hat long enough, and you'll let him commit evil right in front of your nose and not see it. He can't be the bad guy, you'll say, uncomfortable at what you're seeing but afraid of where it might lead your thoughts, not in that hat.
I Kings 19:9-18
2 Peter 1:16-19(20-21)
Psalm 27 or 27:5-11
And here is the ERD meditation:
The Lord is in the Knitting
Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire... I Kings 19:11-12
A hurricane of incalculable power, unleashing the destructive force of a mighty river. The terrible downward slide of an entire mountaintop. The dreadful opening of the very earth. The race of wildfire through the western hills, swallowing everything in its path. Where is the Lord in any of these?
God can be present in something without having caused it. Go to the place where something terrible has happened, and you will see God immediately at work: people working to free others from the wreckage, people welcoming the suddenly homeless into their own homes, people from far away hearing about the tragedy and responding. God mostly works through people when disaster strikes; people are all God has. God isn't the cause of tragedy, but God is certainly present in its healing.
The healing takes a long time. It takes years for a community to recover from such destruction. Some communities will not recover: the village of Guinsaugon in the Philippines just overwhelmed by a landslide will probably be declared a mass grave, all of it. Not a building is left. Almost everyone who lived there is entombed in 30 feet of mud.
The storm, the earthquake, the fire -- they are huge. Loud. They gallop into the routines of human life and smash them to bits. Next to them, God seems oddly small and quiet: a doctor here, an open door there, a truck full of bottled water; a meeting in New York from which comes the decision to send immediate cash. A church, then two or three churches in a faraway diocese reaching out in love to devastated brothers and sisters they will never meet. The healing spreads. God quietly knits the world back together when tragedy strikes, and we all have the chance to be part of the knitting.
I can be part of the knitting together every day. For me, it is not a slog through mud up to my knees, through the charred remains of houses and furniture -- my part is the click of a mouse. I see the images of disaster, read about it, all from the comfort of my home, and I can help without even getting up from my chair. It is not dramatic. It is so easy.
But it is so necessary. Episcopal Relief and Development couldn't help anybody without us. Each of us may be small, but together we are mighty.
To learn more about ERD's work or to make a donation, visit http://www.er-d.org/ or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129.
And stay tuned for The Geranium Farm's "Pennies From Heaven" program for children. Debbie Sharp Loeb is the godmother of this program, and we'll be unveiling it very soon: a cool downloadable label your child can put on a jar and begin to learn how pennies can add up, plus a weekly story about how an ERD program makes a difference in the life of a particular child.