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.
The Good Shepherd Weeps
The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd.
There was a fire at a horse farm in New Jersey a month ago -- twelve mares died in the night, each with her foal beside her. When day broke, even weather-beaten farmhands wept at the sight. Ever since the fire, people have been stopping by to put flowers next to the barn where the horses died.
It wasn't the case that the hired hands didn't care, not at all. You don't work with animals for years and years without loving them. This is true of pets, as many of us know, but it is also true of farm animals, whose lives have a financial as well as an emotional value to their owners. To a farmer, an animal is a complete being: beloved for its beauty, its humor, valued for its usefulness -- everything.
Of course, an animal's usefulness can crowd out the grace of its loveliness, if there is a lot of money involved. We read about it all the time: unsanitary puppy mills; cruelly crowded, windowless chicken coops in which a hen spends its entire life and never walks; a chaotic crowd of terrified cattle prodded toward their slaughter -- a far cry from the bucolic image we have of a devoted shepherd walking the hills with his flock of sheep, fluffy, safe and free.
Life and death are always close together on a farm. Both are facts. But anonymous life, life that doesn't matter -- that is a foreign concept to a farmer. Each one matters. Not one can be spared.
And so Jesus is a good shepherd. Not one of us wanders outside his care. If we do, he comes and finds us. And, having raised us, he weeps at our sorrows as if they were his own.
Acts 4:(23-31)32-37 or Ezekiel 34:1-10
I John 3:1-8 or Acts 4 (above)
Psalm 23 or 100
And here is the ERD meditation:
A New Kind of Falling in Love
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
The apostolic community's memory of itself was this: We all shared. We took care of each other. Nobody was hungry or in need.
For how long did that happy state of affairs continue? Or was it a memory, like so many of our other memories -- a conviction that once things really were as we think they ought to be? For it was not long before they were tussling over who would care for widows and orphans, how church workers would be compensated, how money would be collected and who would do it. We know that St. Paul himself struck a deal with the leadership, giving him the right to preach the gospel to the Gentiles if he would also raise money from them for the relief of the poor in Jerusalem.
Whenever the first relief campaigns began, it was very early. If the first Christians really did share everything so that nobody was poor, it didn't last -- already, in Acts, it is described in the past tense. For almost all of our history, we've had to raise money to help the poor and the victims of disaster. It doesn't just come in on its own.
Sometimes church people don't want to be involved with it. Don't even want to talk about it. Gripe about the rector, often -- All he ever talks about any more is money! But something odd happens when you allow yourself to become involved in giving to people in need: you begin to fall in love. Your heart quickens. People in faraway lands matter to you more. You scan the front page and stop at an article about malaria in Africa or water shortages in Central America or rebuilding in Mississippi, something you might have passed over before, and you read it carefully now. You're invested.
Put your money where your mouth is!, we say. But the truth is more like this: your heart will go where your money has already gone, so choose carefully where you put your money. It's a matter of what you want your life to be about.
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 visit Pennies From Heaven, now up on http://www.geraniumfarm.org/ -- a new program for your child or a child you know to become personally involved with giving and develop a new appreciation for the meaning of money.