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A SLAVE TO DUTY
October 6, 2007
 
Today's eMo is the usual sermon preparation eMo, without the ERD piece that usually accompanies it. I regret the omission; I ran out of both time and power. 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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Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?
-- Luke 17:9


Let us leave aside for another time the obvious fact that this passage assumes an acceptance of slavery which we reject -- other than to note, as we pass it by, that you can't just lift stuff out of the Bible and expect to "follow" it.

The passage assumes a system of slavery, but isn't really about that -- it's about duty. Duty -- the word is seldom even heard today. That there might be obligations on us that we didn't think up is shocking to people as committed to ourselves and our own happiness as we have become. We have lived long in the luxury of self-determination, and many of us have come to believe passionately that we should never have to do anything we don't want to do. We have come to think that freedom means each individual doing what he pleases, period. That society might have the right to ask something of us seems outrageous to many of us.

We are so convinced that one's own immediate good is one's only possible motivator that we immediately suspect anyone who presents herself as wanting to serve. What's her real angle? we ask, our heads tilted to one side as we listen. What's she getting out of this?

This past week saw the airing of Ken Burns' ambitious television documentary called, simply, The War. Millions of ordinary people were drafted into military service. Thousands of conscientious objectors fulfilled their obligation to serve in other ways, worked in mental hospitals, prisons, TB sanitaria. Millions of people went to work in essential services throughout the country. The mobilization of the country was total; even children went door to door collecting tin foil, rags, paper, used cooking oil.

The documentary did not glorify the war. War is about killing. Much of what we saw on our televisions was terrible to see, and errors of judgment and conscience abounded in that enormous enterprise, in the same strength that they abound in all human projects. But it was obvious in watching it that awareness of having a duty to something larger than oneself was an active one in those days fifty years ago. Everyone felt it. Almost everyone rose to it. Millions died for it, some in acts of courage that saved the lives of others while sacrificing their own.

Jesus' words suggest that the concept of duty was a godly one to him. Doing one's duty was not just an option for those who want to be especially saintly, but something everyone has -- we don't get extra points for doing what we were supposed to do. It's assumed we'll do that much.

The performance of our duty is our admission price, what we owe for the privilege of living in this world. And those to whom much is given have a higher duty -- we can afford more. Since all of us have a duty laid on us, of whatever size, it would serve us well to get used to the idea that one exists -- sooner than later, so as not to waste needed energy and wit fighting to be let off the hook of our obligation.

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Pentecost 19, Proper 22, Year C
Lamentations 1:1-6 or 3:19-26* Psalm 137 or Habakkuk 1:1-4,2:1-4 * Psalm 37:1-10* 2 Timothy 1:1-14 * Luke 17:5-10
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