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WHOSE WILL WE BE? / GIFTS TO STRENGTHEN
November 9, 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 eMo. The second, intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregation's attention on the Church's service to those in need, explores the ministry of Episcopal Relief and Development's ministry. 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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Whose Will We Be?

Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.-- Luke 20:38

Why don't the two of you go out for a cup of coffee?
my stepmother said to my father and me. She always did that, at some point in every visit. She knew we had a shared history of which she was not a part, and she set a high value on our privacy.

I've been thinking about something I wanted to ask you, my father said as we slid into our booth.

I wondered what that might be.

I'm thinking of being buried out here, next to Laura, he said, instead of back home, next to your mother. There's a plot next to hers. Howard's buried on the other side.

Howard was my stepmother's first husband. He died a brittle diabetic, blinded by the disease that had afflicted him since his service on the Murmansk run in the war. The shock pushed him into it, Laura thought. But he had come home to become a lawyer, and he was a scoutmaster for years and years; on his gravestone, a colleague from the scouts had placed a permanent ring of small stones, the trailblazing sign that means "I have gone home."

She cared for him so well. Of course she did -- she was a nurse. She had been the school nurse when she met my dad in the late 1930s. They had been an item, the school principal and the nurse -- but then the war came and they lost track of each other. Fifty years later, both widowed now, they found each other again and married almost immediately. It was anything but a marriage of convenience. It was love. Old people are a lot more interesting than young people know.

I stirred my coffee and thought about my mom. Funny, kind, smart, she died too young -- I didn't know she was young at the time, because I was even younger, and too full of my own loss even to think of the years she lost. They were the woodwork of my life, the foundation, the walls. They shaped everything. I didn't really know that either, not then.

I took a sip, dark and rich. They make good coffee here, I said, stalling for time while I thought.

They do that, he said, and I noticed for the thousandth time that I loved the way he used words.

Then I answered. I don't see a single reason why not, I said. Mom doesn't mind, not now. And Howard doesn't mind, not now. And if that's something that would please you, that's what you should do. I believe I even referenced today's gospel reading in my answer. My dad and I were in the same business, and liked to talk shop.

He asked me what I thought my brothers would say. I told him he'd have to ask them. The talk turned to other things. We paid for our coffee and went back to their house, where Laura was busy hanging clothes.

You drive into the cemetery and make a right turn. You follow the drive around a bit and there they are, the three graves. "I have gone home" on the left, my dad on the right. Hers is in the middle, not yet occupied. Laura will turn 98 years old this month, so she will be along soon. Back east, my mom lies next to my brother, her second child -- whose name happens to have been the same as my dad's, making for an easier edit, as the kingdom of heaven sometimes does when it writes a word or two on the world's hard stone.

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Pentecost 24, Proper 27, Year C
Haggai 1:15b-2:9 Ps 145:1-5,18-21 or Ps 98
or
Job 19:23-271
Ps 17:1-9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5,13-17
Luke 20:27-38
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Gifts to Strengthen

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. -- 2 Thessalonians 2:17


What is a gift really for?

It isn't just a transfer of wealth from one person to another -- certainly that's a transaction, but it's not necessarily a gift. A gift is a sign of investment in another's personhood. I wish you to have a portion of what I have, so I give it to you as a gift.

One of the things we have, in the world's wealthier countries, is a basic confidence that our hard work will be rewarded. This is so much a part of our reality that we don't consider it remarkable, or even notice it at all. We think everybody has it. We think everybody knows that hard work will result in prosperity. We think that, until we meet people who work as hard as we ever will, but -- for reasons arising from outside themselves -- cannot rise. War, a storm, a fire, a drought, a flood: they destroy countless things, sweep away shoes, dishes, hand tools, ploughs and oxcarts, houses, entire villages. But no destruction they can wreak is as devastating as their destruction of the capacity to rebuild one's life.

When we offer support to them across the great gulf between our confidence in our capacity and the deep wound in theirs, 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.

The holiday season will soon be upon us. Sit down now and browse a little, either at your computer (http://erd.servicenetwork.com/Store/CatalogList.asp) or with the "Gifts for Life" catalogue you can request from Episcopal Relief and Development, and do a little planning for the near future yourself. Notice that almost all the gifts in the catalogue -- seeds, animals, tools, schooling -- are really gifts that build capacity. Gifts that will help the poor narrow, through their own effort, the great gulf between our prosperity and their abject need. Gifts they can grow into something for the future, not just something for today.

And let your children join you. Children understand the gift of building capacity immediately, for they also are people in whose lives the meeting of immediate needs and the building of capacity are both works in progress, right now. They need your help and they need you to help them grow. Your children know just what it's like to have both those needs.

There's a special section in "Gifts for Life" designed to attract and delight your children. And to help you build in them the most important capacity a person to whom much has been given can have: the capacity to take joy in giving service.

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To learn more about ERD, make a donation or request a "Gifts for Life" catalogue, visit www.er-d.org or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5219.
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