Today's eMo is really two different medications on texts that will be read 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 ministry to the poor and those who suffer from war or natural disaster, explores an aspect of Episcopal Relief and Development's work. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.
What Do You See?
Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.-- Luke 21:29-31
The dentist down the street has already wrapped his fig trees for the winter: they are swathed in black landscaping fabric, supported with lines attached to sturdy stakes, so they won't blow over in the winter wind. The tall black cylinders bend this way and that. They look like a convention of drunken druids.
Our fig tree lives in a more sheltered spot: next to the house on the south side, where it will be warmed by whatever sun manages to come around in the cold and protected from the worst gusts of the winter wind. It also enjoys an occasional half hour of warmth from the dryer vent, which is right at its feet. Still, our garden is far from being a fig tree's vision of heaven: this is New Jersey. Figs are a Mediterranean fruit. Dryer vent or no, we must wrap our fig, too, if we expect it to survive the winter.
No one has the right to expect a fig tree in New Jersey to bear fruit. You have to work to make it happen. The tree does contain a powerful life force, but you have to protect it -- it has come into a hostile place, and it needs all the help it can get. And so it will be a fine day next spring when we see the first fat buds on the fig's branches. Well, well, we will say. You made it!
The kingdom of God is coming, and it will come without any help from us. The ways in which we will see it, though, and the places in which we will receive it -- those we must make for ourselves. We must prepare and protect them. If you want a library book, you have to go to the library -- one won't just appear in your hand. If you need laundry soap, you have to go to the store -- you won't get a box of detergent just by imagining it. God is right here, here for all of us. We don't have to create God for ourselves. But we do have to lift our heads and see where God is to be seen in our world.
This is as good a time as any to ask ourselves: what is God doing in my life? Where do I see the signs? Might there be signs I've missed? Has heartbreak or disappointment dulled my vision? Maybe. But these things are the winds of winter. They don't last forever.
Lessons for Advent I, Year C:
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Face to Face
Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. -- I Thessalonians 3:10
To see and be seen -- we travel at this time of year, eager to see members of our family we don't see much, to visit friends we don't see enough. Oh, it's so good to see you! we say, as we embrace upon greeting them. It's been way too long!
When Hurricane Katrina struck, the lucky ones were evacuated from their homes. Many of those who could not be reached died. And, among the lucky, some were luckier than others: some homes remained standing and could be saved. Some remained standing but clearly would never again be habitable. Others were just gone. And the people who lived in them traveled, too -- to Houston, to relative's homes in other states, to the homes of strangers, to hotel rooms in cities they'd never seen, put their children in new schools.
And now, family by family, many decide to go back home. To a house whose rotted sheetrock walls have been hauled off with the trash, whose muddy furniture is beyond redemption. To an old school with new teachers, to a familiar street without its familiar grocery store. To a precarious new job. Or to no job.
The fourth phase of Episcopal Relief and Development's Katrina response includes case management: person by person, family by family, careful answers to important questions: How do I find a new job? How do I gain access to help with my home repairs? Where can I find a new doctor? How do I discipline my children and hold it all together, with dad working in another city and sending money home?
The case manager knows all the players -- the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, the city, the state, the whole network of social services and those who run them. She sees people face to face, week by week. Problem by problem, she walks with them to find a solution. There is a solution to everything, she tells them. Don't you worry. We'll find it together.
She must be a sight for sore eyes.
All I want for Christmas is ERD! Give the ones you love the gift of giving, from ERD's lovely new Gifts for Life catalogue, which provides imaginative ways of giving concrete help to those who need it, in honor of your recipient. For more information about ERD, or to make a donation, visit http://www.er-d.org, ortelephone1-800-334-7626,ext/and click on "Gifts for Life," or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129.
This weekend, Dec 1-3: Barbara Crafton will appear at VivaBooks (http://vivabooks.booksense.com/NASApp/store/IndexJsp) on Friday afternoon, lead a retreat for wonderful St.Mark's in San Antonio at the Bishop Jones Center, 111 Torcido on Saturday, and will preach at all services on Sunday morning. Space on Saturday is limited; get details at http://www.stmarks-sa.org/cgi-bin/kingdomtools/ktpublic.rb
Check the website, http://www.geraiumfarm.org/, for Barbara Crafton's whereabouts in the coming months.