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, intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the Church's service to the poor and those who suffer from the effects of war or natural disaster, explores the 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.
A Quick Change in Pastorate
They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Getting rid of a preacher seems to have been simpler in New Testament times than it is today. Apparently you could just run him off a cliff.
Ours is a more complicated time, though it is no less savage. Once the idea that a pastoral relationship is irreparably broken has taken root, the agenda shifts. Nobody is asking how the relationship might be redeemed, not any more -- all anybody wants to know is how quickly it can be ended. Rich places can run people off cliffs more easily than poor ones can; a clergyperson's early departure can usually be purchased, if the price is right. And, if it isn't, everyone can end up in a secular courtroom for what can be an ugly business indeed.
Sometimes it becomes clear, after a suitable interval of mourning and licking of wounds, that it was all for the best. Nobody was really a villain; the fit just wasn't right, and both parties are the better for having parted ways. Sometimes there really was a villain, and that person will need some major repentance and some serious work before he or she ever tries again, if that day can ever be allowed to dawn. And sometimes it just becomes clear -- for those who have eyes to see -- that the sickness unto death was not located solely in the entrails of the departed leader, that there were demons lounging about the place before he ever arrived, and that none of them have gone anywhere. They are busy now, readying themselves for a season of productive work with the next search committee.
Oh, no, parish leaders think, what if we make another mistake? What if we're blind in some important way that none of us can discern? What if there's a curse, some kind of weird jinx we cannot shake? What if we've become radioactive, famously difficult and doomed, and nobody will ever want to go near us again?
Hey, I thought this was supposed to be a preaching eMo, you're thinking as you struggle with Sunday's sermon. I can't get up in front of my people and talk about running clergy off cliffs. Or about demons lounging in the vestibule.
No, but you can talk about the aftermath of a major mistake. You can talk about picking up the pieces after something has been smashed to smithereens. You can talk about what a painful thing it is to doubt one's own judgment -- but what a cartoonish horror it is never to do so.
You can talk about finding one's way back to the land of the living again, after something like that. You can remind people that there really aren't curses or jinxes in this world, that all we have is the love of God and that we can trust that love. Nobody's magic and nobody's doomed. We all make mistakes and we all can learn from them.
But to get started this week, you're going to have to get up there and make a joke about running the preacher off a cliff. Good luck with it. Remember that Jesus walked away unharmed, and that you probably will, too.
And here is the ERD meditation:
Anybody and Everybody
But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.
What made the people in Jesus' hometown so angry? It was his refusal to limit the love of God to the people of Israel. Healing was for everybody, he told people again and again, throughout his short ministry. Everyone will eat, anyone who is thirsty will drink! Look at these cases, he said, cases you folks remember hearing about: miracles worked by God -- in the lives of foreigners! That was hard for those who had always been told that they were the chosen people to believe.
I suppose it all comes down to what it means to be chosen. It seems that chosen-ness for Jesus involved looking outward, sharing the love of God with people besides the ones known and loved. It seems that chosen-ness was for the sake of the whole human family. We don't have to know who they are or who they follow. Need qualifies them, nothing else.
Who knows how many of the farmers whose cattle herds were devastated by the terrible ice storms in central Nebraska were Episcopalians? How many were Christians? Which of the homes without power and the hospitals on emergency generators were Christian ones? Nobody involved in relieving their suffering knew or cared, not when the ice was eight inches thick in places and the power lines were down.
People in and around the town of Holdredge could go to St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church for vouchers for food, utilities, rent -- all local businesses were closed, some for as along as three weeks, and many people lost their sole income. During the days when radio and television transmitters were out of commission, the church was an information center. Local pastors quickly improvised a program of community meals at another church, opening its doors for lunch and dinner, other congregations taking turns cooking and serving. In two weeks, the churches of the little town of Holdredge served hundred of meals and dispersed vouchers worth $28,000.
We're going to have a big celebration as soon we can, the Rev'd. Jami Anderson of St. Elizabeth's said. Local restaurants will put on the food, see if we can't help them make up for some of the business they lost. We'll open the agricultural center in town and have a reconnection celebration. Not just the reconnection of the electricity, although that will be wonderful -- there's still only one electrical line going into Holdredge, and we all have to be really careful -- but a celebration of reconnecting with one another and with the outside world.
You know, she went on, one of the things we've been struck by is how blessed we are. The bishop and Episcopal Relief and Development have been great -- we're tiny, and we could never have done what we've been able to do without their help. And we've done it! We're doing it! I've been thinking a lot about how rich we really are. Even with all that's happened, we've got it pretty good.
Through the Diocese of Nebraska, ERD helped St. Elizabeth's help. Right away. A tiny church in a tiny town, frozen in the ice out in the middle of the agricultural heartland. Isolated, but not alone. God was with all the people of that rural area, and the Church was there.
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.