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 eMos. The second, intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the Church's ministry to the poor and those who suffer because of war or natural disaster, explores 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.
Wanna Buy Some Hope?
Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.
I remember her still -- she had come to New York from Haiti years before, and she lived in the Bronx. She was a widow and no longer young; some of her children were grown, but she still had two at home. She cleaned houses for a living.
It was a long ride on the train down to Trinity Church, but she made it every month. She would appear near the end of the month, at the time her rent was coming due. There was always a gap; every month she was forty or fifty dollars short.
Was there anything that could be arranged differently in her budget, I asked, after three or four months had passed. She laid out her expenses for me, what the children needed, what church food pantries she visited for grocery staples, how much rent she paid. As she talked, I could see that there was no fat in her budget.
And I give $40 to Reverend Ike, she said. I never miss that.
Do you know Reverend Ike? He is the founder of the Christ United Church, which teaches that it is not the love of money, but the lack of it, that is the root of all evil. He has a different Rolls Royce for each day of the week, each in a different color. The Rolls Royces are lined in mink. He wears more mink, and diamond watches and rings. Services are held in the truly astonishing Loews 175th Street theater in New York, restored by the Reverend to all its former glory, and then some.
The thing is, Ike says, that Jesus doesn't want you to be poor. And he doesn't want me to be poor, either. So get out your wallet and give me some of what you've got. And people do. Including poor people, like my widow. Reverend Ike gets part of her next month's rent. Her widow's mite.
The hope, at his church, is that one will give to Ike and be blessed by money in return. Not from the Reverend -- he'll keep his -- but from God. You pass money along to him, and somebody will pass it to you. Putting money in the plate at Christ United Church is a little like buying a lottery ticket.
Come to think of it, it worked, didn't it? She gave Reverend Ike her money and I gave her mine.
We preach on the widow's mite every year at this time because now is when churches focus on their budgets for the coming year and the stewardship that will find them. The Sermon on the Amount, we call it. We trot out the poor woman who gave her last coin to God -- or at least to someone who said he worked for God -- and then we put her away again after the last service, until next year. But she is a literary figure; real widows stay around all year, week after week and month after month, ground down by hard work and loneliness, longing to hope that somehow, someday, things will be different. That maybe God will act,as it says in the Bible, over and over again, that God will.
And, sometimes, buying that hope. If buying it seems like the only way to get it.
I Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146 or 146:4-9
And here is the ERD meditation:
Food That Does Not Fail
The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.
I Kings 17:16
The 23-year civil war in Sri Lanka has complicated the nation's recovery from the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. Homes and businesses have been looted and destroyed; 120,000 people have fled their homes. Many have died, including aid workers, killed in the performance of their duties.
Such a situation discourages aid from outside the country. Into the black hole of war and greed go bags of rice, bales of blankets, crates of medicines. Soon, people start talking about throwing good money after bad. And soon, they just stop throwing money.
The ones who cannot afford to give up are the people who live there. They have to stay, and they have to keep working toward food and shelter for those in need of it because it is their own need. The Diocese of Colombo has opened its churches as temporary shelters and dining halls for the displaced, serving meals to those with no food and no stove to cook on if they did have any. Mattresses, dry rations, temporary shelter, relief packages for emergency use in the refugee camps -- at the invitation of the bishop, we support the Diocese in providing these things
by means of the relationship Episcopal Relief and Development has with the bishop and his people.
As much as is needed must come from somewhere, and the supply runs dry if it does not come from nearby, through people who are themselves immediate stakeholders in the recovery of their neighbors. Elijah ate the cakes the woman made that day himself; he was hungry, too. But the recovery belonged to the woman: it was her jar that did not run dry, her flour that miraculously lasted for days. Because he was right there with her, and could see her need for himself.
To learn more about ERD or to make a donation, visit http://www.er-d.org or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129.