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.
Giving Our Demons Away
Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. - Luke 8:32-33
Nobody minded much about the pigs. They were an unclean animal -- to this day, Jews don't eat pork. So who cared if a herd of them went over a cliff?
Some species are expendable. Your eyeliner may have been tested on one, to see if it was safe for you to use -- rabbits are often used for this, strapped down and assaulted with massive doses of whatever chemical it is feared might be too much for our delicate systems. Hamsters, too, and mice. They used to use frogs to test for pregnancy -- the urine of a pregnant woman makes a frog ovulate, so that was how you found out. Some frogs became laboratory professionals: the frog survived the pregnancy test, and could be reused. They used rabbits, too, and they weren't so lucky: whether or not the rabbit ovulated was determined upon autopsy. In this, ours is a gentler age: these days, we sacrifice only a piece of litmus paper.
Sometimes they used people. Many of us think immediately of the Nazis, but African Americans may remember something else: the Tuskegee Negro Syphilis Study, begun for six months in 1932 but somehow still going strong in the late 1960s: even after penicillin was known to effect a cure, nobody in the study was given the drug. The subjects were told they were receiving "treatment."
So we actually know more than we think we do about shunting our demons into someone else's life.
The people around the demoniac were astounded -- he was unharmed, talking normally, clothed and in his right mind. He was no longer dangerous. This was an unqualified good thing.
But, it turns out, they were afraid. They begged Jesus to leave. The demons themselves had pleaded to be allowed to enter the pigs, and Jesus had permitted it! Who knew what else he might permit? The pigs were first. Who might be next?
We leave these ancient people to their confusion and fear, and turn instead to our own willingness to allow others to bear our burdens and fight our battles for us. Keep my demons far from me, we beg; let them trouble someone else in my place. If that someone is far enough away, or different enough from me in race or culture, I won't even know about it, and my conscience will be clear.
Or maybe something else will be true of me. Maybe my conscience will not be clear at all. Maybe it will just have disappeared.
4 Pentecost Year C, Proper 7
I Kings 19:1-4,(5-7),8-15a) * Ps 42,43 or 22:18-27 * Isaiah 65:1-9 * Galatians 3:23-39 * Luke 8:26-39
And here is the ERD meditation:
Where Was God?
Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire... I Kings 19:11-12
When something terrible happens, people look to God for a motive behind it. God can do anything, right? Could have prevented this, right? So this must have happened with God's cooperation. God must have done this, or at least permitted it. Where is God in the wind that kills and destroys? Where is God when the earth opens and swallows houses and whole towns, animals and human beings? Where is God?
Perhaps we are looking in the wrong lace when we ask that question this this way. Perhaps we will not find God in the beginning of a tragedy's story, but later -- in what happens afterward. Perhaps we will find God in what we do in response, in the months and even years that follow a terrible loss that was devastatingly complete in only a moment.
Earlier this month, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Yunnan, a Chinese province just north of Laos. Nin'ger County's water supply and its communications infrastructure were seriously damaged. Many dwellings and crops were destroyed, and hundreds of people injured. At least three have died.
Episcopal Relief and Development is working with Action by Churches Together and the Amity Foundation to distribute rice, quilts, and plastic sheeting to protect food and seed from spoiling as China enters its rainy season. Three damaged irrigation systems will be rebuilt, as well as 100 homes and two schools.
Where was God when the earthquake struck? Was God in the earthquake, and Yunnan chosen for this tragedy? We have no reasonable answers to questions like that. They take us exactly nowhere. But ask where God is now, and it is clear: God is in our reach across the sea into a culture very unlike our own to help people we will never meet. And God is in the people who serve there right now, bringing what we have sent to the ones who need it most. And God is in the hope the victims already begin to feel.
To learn more about ERD, or to make a donation, visit http://www.er-d.org/ or telephone 1-80-334-7626, ext 5129.