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HOW GOD SHOWS US THINGS / CITY OF GOD
May 25, 2007
 
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.
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How God Shows Us Things

Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.
John 14:8


Jesus sighs and begins to explain, yet again. But you have seen the Father, if you've seen me. The Father and I are one.

Over and over, in passages as intricate as they are inscrutable -- read John 17 and tell me how it hangs together -- Jesus, as the gospel of John shows him, tries to explain the oneness of God to people whose way of thinking is -- shall we say? -- concrete. People pretty much like us, who want things to make sense.

But, for the most part, the things of God don't make sense. Many things here on earth are pretty puzzling, and nothing of God fits within the limited parameters of the human imagination -- everything human beings try to say about God, from Genesis to Revelation and on through the ages, is necessarily metaphor. "Making sense" in something that happens only on earth. So if that's what it's going to take to make us satisfied as far as God is concerned, we'll be perennially in want.

As we begin to live in Christ, we take each step in trust, which is hard to do. Each step is tiny, usually -- once in awhile, someone gets knocked off his horse all at once, like St. Paul, but most of us move toward Jesus a bit at a time. We do it before it makes sense -- very few of us are persuaded to believe by the preponderance of evidence. So you pray before you think there's a God -- which means you feel fairly foolish when you begin. You share your own longing before you know for sure your vulnerability will be respected, which means it takes significant courage. You imagine heaven with no information at all about what it's like -- and so you pave its streets with gold, dress its inhabitants in identical white nightshirts and call God the king of it all. None of it is true, not in any empirical sense of truth -- you can describe the king Sweden factually, and even produce photographs of the royal family, but the kingdom of heaven will remain hidden from the camera.

After a time, you come to understand that belief in God is different from belief in the king of Sweden. That it is not a matter of information received and processed. That belief is much more about what you follow than what you think. Then you quiet down considerably, and are not tormented by so many questions. You turn your eyes upon the same world in which you've always lived, only now you see God everywhere in it.
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Feast of Pentecost Year C
Acts 2:1-212 or Genesis 11:1-9 * Psalm 104:25-35,37 * Romans 8:14-17 * John 14:8-17 (25-27)

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And here is the ERD meditation:



City of God

as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. -- Genesis 11:2

Cidade de Deus
as an idea whose heart was surely in the right place -- a Rio de Janiero suburb created in the 1960s by the Brazilian government as a community that could receive families displaced by flooding and be a home near their places of employment for low income workers, a planned alternative to the favelas, informal shantytowns that fringe almost all Brazilian cities.

But more and more rural people streamed into Cidade de Deus, thousands more than it could handle. Like the unplanned favelas, Cidade de Deus was soon overrun with many urban ills: disease, crime, overcrowding, limited legal access to utilities, to education. Still, to the faveladors, it is home, and they want to live there, desiring to make their community a safer and more human place to raise their families.

Episcopal Relief and Development and the Diocese of Rio de Janiero have built a community center in Cidade de Deus, providing holistic health care education, care and support for people with HIV/AIDS and other illnesses, support for young people and families traumatized by drug and gang violence. This uniquely creative partnership has enriched life in this teeming urban setting in many other ways: dance, art and theatre for young people, community gardens tucked into alleyways, so that faveladors can raise needed fresh vegetables for their families and to sell to other families, health education in school and church buildings -- even in a beauty school!

Migration of the poor to the cities is a fact of life in Brazil, as it is in most developing countries. Cidade de Deus is not as its planners hoped it would be, but it is a place where people from rural areas have come to stay. Bit by bit, it is becoming better than it was, and it will be better than it is. It is, after all, Cidade de Deus -- Portuguese for "City of God."

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