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ALL THE REALITY WE CAN BEAR / A DIFFERENT KIND OF MAJESTY
February 1, 2008
 
Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be heard 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 Church's work with the victims of natural disasters and war, considers some aspect of the worldwide ministry 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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All the Reality We Can Bear

But Jesus came and touched them, saying "Get up and do not be afraid.And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. Matthew 17:7-8

At first, two important authority figures accompany the transfigured Jesus: Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the wonder-working holy man, whose return has been foretold as a sign that Messiah has come. And, if that is not proof enough that something extraordinary is going on, God himself speaks from a cloud. These are such majestic sights and sounds that the disciples are quite overwhelmed, and suggest enshrining it all in bricks and mortar: temples to all three important men, right there on top of the mountain. So they can all just stay up there.

But Jesus turns from the tableau of which he is a part. He reaches out and touches his mortal companions. When he does so, his visitors vanish and he is suddenly alone -- mortal again, like his friends. It was a crossing over, from heaven back to earth and earth's concerns. It's not time for him to leave us, not yet.

There is a time for everything. While we're here, the world absorbs us: its demands are so insistent that most of us find it difficult to yield to a spiritual focus at all. I keep getting distracted, we wail, every time I try to pray I think of a million other things -- silly things, like something I forgot at the office or something I'm going to do later. I think maybe I'm just not cut out for this spiritual business.

Oh, sure you are. We all are. It's part of being human to have a spiritual life, whatever you may call it and no matter what a person may believe about God or Jesus or anybody else. We have spirituality the way we have toenails -- just ask an atheist to give you a rational accounting of his falling in love. He cannot, not in rational terms alone; you hear the clear accent of the spirit in everything he says.

But it is also part of being human -- and it is the major part -- to be a creature of this world. We live here. People who live in the world are worldly, and that's not a sin. Even Jesus' transfiguration was temporary; even he was not yet ready to leave until it was time. And so we go back and forth, catching tiny glimpses of heaven here and there amid the great swaths of life's daily-ness. For the most part, we're not built to behold heaven; we can't look God in the face for very long.

Humankind cannot bear very much reality, wrote T.S. Elliot. And it is so.

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Last Epiphany, Year A
Exodus 24:12-18
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9
Psalm 2 or Psalm 99
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And here is the ERD meditation:

A Different Kind of Majesty

We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.
2 Peter 1:16


It was a long time ago, of course, and none of us were there -- but what kind of "majesty" was it that they witnessed with their own eyes? We know that they didn't see Jesus of Nazareth crowned as king or emperor -- the only crown he wore was a crown of thorns, and the only people who hailed him as a king did so in cruel jest. And we know that they themselves, those earliest Christians, didn't command any noticeable power in their world: they were the subjugated people of an occupied country, and then they were wandering people with no country at all.

This writer, whoever he is, must mean something else when he speaks of majesty, something besides the power we associate with the word.

We do know what sort of things happened among them. People listened to them and believed, some of them. People were healed by them. They learned to live a life of accountability with one another in a community characterized by love -- or at least, they tried, and they succeeded well enough that the little community of love grew to encompass us: it has lasted two thousand years. And we know that, right from the beginning, the primary way this community showed its love was in caring for those in need.

Perhaps the majesty of which 2nd Peter tells us looks like this: Episcopal Relief and Development is providing emergency assistance to communities in Sri Lanka affected by ongoing civil unrest. At least 55 people were killed over the past weekend in the latest clash in a civil war that has been waging between the Sri Lankan Military and Tamil Tiger rebel forces since 1983. Although there has been a nominal truce since 2002, fighting has never stopped in parts of the country, and the death toll since that time has topped 5,000. Now, even the unsuccessful attempt at a cease-fire has been called off, and the fighting which rages on has displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

Still reeling from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, many villages are overrun with fighting, and the people have been forced to seek refuge in camps, where their only shelter is rubber sheeting hung from the trees.

The National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, supported by our donations through Episcopal Relief and Development, is delivering critical emergency aid to those living in the camps. That's all: blankets, food, clean water, more rubber sheets from which to make shelters, given by strangers to people who fled with nothing but the clothing on their backs. Nothing very majestic, not as the world understands majesty.

But then, the world's understanding is always only half of the truth.
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To learn more about Episcopal Relief and Development,. or to make a donation, visit www.erd-d.org or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129
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