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DRAWN BY THE FATHER / HELP THAT REALLY HELPS
August 11, 2006
 
Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be heard 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 work with the victims of natural disasters and war, considers some aspect of the worldwide ministry 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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Drawn by the Father

No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. - John 6:44

Let us remember who the Father is in the gospel of John -- it is the Father who creates the world. It is the Son through whom the world is created. Life comes from God, everything that is. Without the Father and the Son, nothing is made.

And so the idea that God the Father is involved in the sorting of people into the company of the saved and unsaved -- or that Jesus engages in such sorting -- seems unlikely in this context. It is the entire creation that is soaked in God's creative power. This drawing that God does is the omnipresent love that caused us to be here in the first place and orients our longing in the direction from which we came. It hasn't gone anywhere. It hasn't been withdrawn from any of us. We may have made decisions about how we will or will not respond to it, but God hasn't left any of us behind.

And so the favorite verses in this gospel that seem to point toward a salvation invent involving an elite few -- or even an elite many -- only do so if we are determined to remake John the Evangelist in our own narrow image. Nobody comes to the Father but by me, his Jesus says, and we think that means that lots of people just don't come, just don't get in, just don't make the grade, because they didn't sign up with the historical Jesus or with his organization.

No. What Jesus says here is much more matter-of-fact. Are you saved? Yup. Who saved you? God. How? Through Jesus. Are there any people who got saved another way? Nope, Jesus was there for every last one of us, whether we knew it or not. There weren't any exceptions. God's love doesn't have exceptions.

Well, what happens to you if you don't accept Jesus Christ as Your Personal Savior?

Well, I may engage a personal shopper or a personal trainer or a personal assistant, but I don't have a personal savior. I have the same one everyone else has, and I have him by virtue of having been created through him. My salvation is my return to him, from the midst of the worst muck-ups into which I can stumble. It is not my reward for good behavior or for having the right answer when someone asked me a question about him.

As always, we are uncomfortable with a love that all-encompassing, not least because it cuts us out of a decision-making role in the matter of who is in and who is out. It turns out we're all in.

What we do with who we are, and whose we are, is up for grabs. We can ignore it. We can decide we don't want it, although that won't change God's mind about us. We can determine to experience none of it as long as we live. We are free.

Or we can turn into it. Now. Before we have to live another minute unaware of its beauty.
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Deuteronomy 8:1-10
Ephesians 4:(25-29)30-5:2
John 6:37-51
Psalm 34 or 34:1-8
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And here is the ERD meditation:

Help That Really Helps

The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these forty years. -- Deuteronomy 8:4

Now, that was something: forty years in the wilderness in the same shirt, with your pedicure intact. Of course, that was far from being the only thing that made the experience of the Exodus refugees different from that of the refugees we know. Mysterious food appeared on the ground when they were hungry. Water sprang from a rock when they were thirsty. And they never got lost, either: a pillar of cloud led them by day, while a pillar of fire took over at night.

The refugees we know don't have these things. Maybe they do escape with the clothes on their backs and nothing else. But those clothes aren't miracle clothes: nothing keeps them from turning into rags.
And the desert is a big place: very big and very, very dry. Water doesn't spring out of rocks there. It doesn't spring out of anything. They keep walking toward a place in which they think there might be some. They keep walking until they find it. Or until it doesn't matter any more.

Because we know something of hunger and thirst, we think we know what to do about the hunger and thirst of the people who have lost everything: Let's give them food and water. And at first, that's exactly what you do: save their lives, if it lies within your power.

As soon as possible, though, it is imperative that those who have lost everything regain the autonomy they had before. They must believe that they have a role in their own survival beyond that of an aid recipient, or no amount of direct aid will help them. No matter how many blankets, cans of food, no matter how many tons of castoff clothing we send, if they cannot regain trust in their own capacity for production, they won't make it. A permanent vulnerability will settle upon them like a discouraged cloud. And the things we sent them will rot in the heat of the desert day.

This is why our natural impulse to have a food drive, a clothing drive, to collect things and send them to the poor must be rethought as time passes. The direct provision of goods can only be only helpful in the first phase of disaster aftermath, and is often problematic even then. It is possibility we must send the refugee, the flood victim, the widow and the orphan -- possibility we send best when we coordinate our effort with what already exists on the ground, with the efforts of those who can help those in need see a way forward that directly empowers their own efforts. As soon as possible, they must reconnect with what it is to secure the things necessary for life themselves.

Real clothes wear out. Real people's feet swell when they walk too far without water to drink or a place to rest. Real human help does not fall from the sky or rise from the ground. It is the fruit of human cooperation and human wit -- ours, theirs. And the divine intelligence that combines the two.
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