Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be read in many churches this Sunday. The fist 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 and those who suffer, addresses the 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.
"Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
At first glance, this looks like a transfer of authority to a select group. Certainly, the Church has understood it that way: the disciples became the Apostles, commissioned by Jesus to carry on his ministry and authority. Just the disciples: one of the arguments against the inclusion of women in the ordained priesthood has been that no women were included in that group of disciples, and so no women should be priests, now or ever. And the power to forgive sins -- it has seemed clear for centuries that ordained priests had the power to pronounce absolution, and it has seemed that this power was conferred here in these verses.
Of course, we think these things because we can only look backward at history, rather than forward, and so we project our institutions back upon a time before they existed. When these words were written, there was yet no ordained Christian priesthood, for men or for women. Sacramental confession was far into the future.
But maybe Jesus is speaking to everybody, not just to the people who happened to be there, not to a church which did not yet exist. Maybe we're all sent. And maybe his statement about forgiveness is just a common-sense statement about the effect of forgiveness and unforgiveness in the world: If you forgive, sins are forgiven and nobody need obsess about them further. It you don't, they're still around, taking up valuable space that would be better used in some other way. Maybe Jesus is saying that it's time to move on.
And maybe the Holy Spirit's main work with us is helping us to do just that. Up out of Jerusalem and into the world. Up out of your sorry history and into something better. Up out of sorrow into a place that has a shot at joy. Out of confusion and isolation into Church, at its worst a royal mess of insularity and guilt but, at its very best, a community of power and love.
Pentecost, Year A
or Numbers 11:24-30
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
or Acts 2:1-21
or John 7:37-39
+And here is the ERD meditation:
Perhaps For Just This Moment
Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.
The news from Myanmar grows worse every day. One would expect mounting casualties as deaths are confirmed, of course, but the increasing government frustration of international aid efforts is an unwelcome and distressing surprise. The United States today suspended its efforts to get aid to the people in the stricken areas of the country, its aid workers having been forbidden entry by the repressive government there. Nobody can get in.
The Church, though, is already there and already at work distributing aid. We have been able, through transfers of Episcopal Relief and Development funds to people already on the ground there, to do what national governments have not been able to do. Anglican churches have been in Myanmar for generations; there are five Anglican dioceses in the country. This terrible case of human need strangled by the harshness of human politics reveals the blessed power of the local faith community to do much good when much larger and mightier entities can do little.
90 percent of Myanmar's people are Buddhists. The living water that flows from the heart of the believer in that country has not transformed it into a Christian country. But the presence of the Holy Spirit is never measured solely by numbers of conversions. The Spirit does other things besides inspire religious belief; we hold that the whole of creation came into being by the power of the Spirit. This include plants, animals, water, the bright sun after a dreadful storm, the power to heal after a devastating blow. The Spirit hovers over the waters of chaos and waits for just the right moment. Maybe it was just for this moment that the church has endured in Myanmar.
To send emergency support to the Anglican Church in Myanmar, visit www.er-d.org. or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5219.
Don't miss economist Carol Stone's perceptive essay on this very topic in Ways of the World, as well as Debbie Loeb's in the HodpgePodge - Debbie also has received a nice group of reader responses to her Mother's Day question "What did you receive from your mom?" All at www.geraniumfarm.org.