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A WIDENESS IN GOD'S MERCY / NARROWING THE GAP
September 28, 2007
 
Today's eMo is really two meditations on texts which 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 work of the church with the poor through 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.

A Wideness in God's Mercy

Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
I Timothy 6:12


The Episcopal Church in America is new, I suppose, organizationally: just a bit over two centuries have passed since it stumbled from the fog of war with the rest of the new nation, an English church in a suddenly-not-English land, a church needing to establish its American bona fides, and to do it quickly.

But then again, the Episcopal Church is old, too: ancient in its liturgy, in its veneration of ancient saints, heir to ancient scriptures. It is ancient in the long line of bishops who have led the faithful since long before it occurred to anybody in Christendom that there might even be an America somewhere across the westward sea.

The Episcopal Church is ancient in the same way Anglican churches in Africa or Asia are ancient, and it is new in the same ways they are new. Like them, it was founded in one land by people from another; like them, it has had to work hard to find a workable stance for life on its own and relatedness to its own colonial past. The politics of nations has always swirled around the Church, from its very beginnings, whenever and wherever in the world's history there has been a Church, of any kind. Each new worldly reality has touched the sacred reality of the faith community. Each touch, however slight, has moved it.

Of course this is so. The Church is the Body of Christ, we affirm, but it is the body of Christ among human beings. As fish swim in water, human beings live in history. For as long as we draw breath, we do not escape it. And history is always a journey. History travels from one place to another. Its beginnings are not its endings. Although the domain of God is timeless, life on the earth is not: it only moves forward. Whatever else the Church may be, it is not a way out of the pilgrimage of human history.

We may long for a way out, but we will not find one. You and I will move aside, will yield our places to those who wait to take theirs. Over time, we have seen that the company of those who claim a place at the table of the Lord has widened. Over time, we have seen that some of what was once unthinkable has become normal, and some of what was once normal has become unthinkable, and that the direction of these changes has been toward the wideness of God's mercy. Only rarely has this happened easily. Our assumptions, too, will yield -- indeed, they are yielding at this very moment.

So we must go slowly in asserting the timelessness of our own customs, however dear they may be to us. Judging from what we have noticed about the widening movement in history, we must question ourselves with especial rigor whenever we cherish and defend any system that enshrines us at its summit. In the name of moral honesty, I must always suspect myself: perhaps it is not really morality I defend. It may only be turf.

Might marriage change its meaning? Might it move, a bit, from one place in the landscape to another? Most assuredly, it will, as it has many times before. Might the complexion of ordained ministry change as well? Certainly it will. It already has, many times. And are these things steps on a downward spiral that can only end in chaos and the death of faith, as some are absolutely certain they are?

Not at all. Fear not: faith does not die unless we choose to stop trusting in the love of God and serving the children of God. That airlessness alone kills it, and even then it only lies dormant, ready to spring to life again, given half a chance, a little sunlight, and half a cup of water.
+

There's a wideness in God's mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.

There is no place where earth's sorrows
are more felt than in heaven;
there is no place where earth's failings
have such kind judgment given.
There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man's mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we should take him at his word;
and our life would be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.

Words: Frederick William Faber, 1862
+
Proper 21, Pentecost 18, Year C
Jeremiah 32:1-3a,6-15 * Psalm 91:1-6,14-16 or Amos 6:1a,4-7 * Psalm 146
1 Timothy 6:6-9
Luke 16:19-31
+
And here is the ERD meditation:

Narrowing the Gap


Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall... Amos 6:4

You don't want to eat a lamb, not if you're poor. You must wait and eat mutton, stewed for a long time because it tough. Your lamb must grow up: you'll need her wool for as long as she lives, and you'll need her to breed other lambs. In the Bible, only the rich can afford to eat lamb.

The same goes for veal, the tender meat from a calf. You don't want to eat that, either. You'll need her milk, for as many years as she can give it. You'll have to wait out her natural life span, a life of so much benefit to you and yours, and then that life of service can complete itself. Mostly you don't eat much in the way of meat at all; these animals are worth more to your family alive and producing than they are as meat.

When Amos talks of eating the meat of lambs and calves, he's talking about conspicuous consumption, living a life of luxury that ignores the need to plan for the future and also ignores the needs of others. A life, in other words, rather like the lives we in the world's developed countries all live. It's not that we live as we do in a deliberate attempt to oppress the poor. We just don't think much about the great gulf between us and them.

When we offer support to them across that great gulf, from our distance prosperity and from our great geographical distance, we do so with an eye to their future reality as well as their grim current one. A can of food is one thing -- if you're hungry, it's a huge one. But the capacity to feed oneself in the future, as well as today, multiplies a gift immeasurably.

Except for the sudden, immediate needs that a disaster brings -- shelter, food, water, medicine, NOW! -- our Episcopal Relief and Development's work among those in need focuses on the building of that capacity. The capacity for a life that can live into the future. The capacity of communities to feed themselves, to educate their own children, to grow their own economic life. Our work through ERD is our gift that will help the the poor narrow, through their own effort, the great gulf between our prosperity and their abject need. A gift they can grow into something for the future, not just something for today.

+To learn more about ERD, to make a donation or to request a hot-off-the-presses-brand-new "Gifts for Life" catalogue, visit www.er-d.org or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129.
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