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UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL / A BALANCE OF HEARING AND DOING
September 8, 2006
 
Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts for 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 poor and those who suffer, explores some aspect of Episcopal Relief and Development's ministry. 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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Up Close and Personal

He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.
Mark 7:33


Look how physically intimate Jesus is with the man who cannot hear or speak clearly. He takes him aside privately. He puts his fingers in the man's ears. He spits on his own fingers and touches the man's tongue with the spittle. He speaks silently to God, but aloud to the man: "Be opened," he tells him. And he is opened.

We are more distant well-wishers, most of us. We won't even ask about an illness whose signs are obvious -- Hey, good to see you! You look terrific! we say jovially, but our shocked expression betrays us. He looks terrible. He is so thin. His eyes are sunken and his skin is dull. He looks like he's going to die. And we don't give him a hug. We're afraid of our dying friend, afraid of his germs, of his touch, of his blood. And, more than all of these, we are afraid of his truth.

And it's not only physical illness from which we keep our distance. We won't approach other people's disgrace, either: one false move and a lot of your friends make themselves pretty scarce. Just when you need some evidence that you're still a child of God -- more than you've ever needed it in your entire life -- nobody talks to you. Hi, how're ya doin'? they sing out from across the street when you pass. But they don't cross over for your answer. Your divorce, your slip, your fall from grace -- it is as if it were contagious. As if getting caught being kind to you might send someone the message that they approve of your bad behavior, that you and they are birds of a feather. So nobody comes too near.

Jesus isn't afraid of much. Doesn't seem to think he'll catch anything from the people he approaches. Not very worried about who will think what. He accords the suffering a dignity equal to that of the well, in an age that assumed a direct and immediate causal relationship between misfortune and sin. If you were ill, most people thought in Jesus' day, it was probably your own fault.

But then, Jesus wasn't most people.
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Isaiah 35:4-7a
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:31-37
Psalm 146 or 146:4-9
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And here's the ERD meditation:


A Balance of Hearing and Doing

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.
James 1:22-24


Soon there will be an immense church service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. -- an utterly festive celebration of the institution of the first woman to be elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. With all due humility, it must be said that we do these big feasts well -- nobody puts on a parade like Episcalopes.

Beautiful and stirring liturgy, art and music; prayer and the contemplative study of scripture, the careful crafting of and equally careful hearing of a sermon: we have so many ways of experiencing and expressing our faith. But experience and expression is only half of living, the inward-looking half. We're not just inward beings, individually or corporately. We are also outward-looking. We are about more than ourselves. We are about our neighbor. And we're not just about the neighbor we know and love -- in a way, they are extensions of ourselves. Their pain naturally hurts us as well. We must be about the stranger, as well. We must find a way to make the stranger's pain our own, too, so that we can feel urgency about the stranger's healing.

We all find ways to do that, as individuals and as parishes. But having a national church means that the totality of what it means to be a person of faith must also be true of what it means to be a nationwide community of faith. Nobody who does not serve others is balanced, no matter how exquisite his or her individual spirituality may be. I may pray and sing and read and go to church every day until the cows come home, but if I have no service to others in my life, I will feel that something is missing and I will be right about that.

Episcopal Relief and Development is the way our nationwide community serves others. It provides our balance. It is our outward-looking self. It enables us to be complete as a body, to live the corporate life of Christ on earth, which is a life of prayer but also of witness to the healing of the world. Healing and feeding and sheltering are all signs of a kingdom in which there will be no pain or grief, no war or disease and which will have no end.

Even now, God begins it in us, again and again.

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