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August 9, 2008
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 congregations' attention on the Church's service to the poor and those who suffer as a result of war or natural disaster, explores 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 necessray.

Ghost Story

But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear.
Matthew 14:26

Many of us remember a time when the Holy Spirit was referred to routinely by its Elizabethan name, the "Holy Ghost." When people of the sixteenth century talked about something being "ghostly," they didn't mean that it had to do with anybody's deceased relatives come back to smash the teapot or frighten the cat. They just meant that it was spiritual.

For a little girl of the mid-twentieth century, this important distinction required some explaining. I knew what a ghost was: we all dressed up as ghosts on Halloween, which involved cutting eyeholes in an old sheet and walking around the village in it, begging for candy. And we enjoyed scaring each other with ghost stories late at night. There was a cartoon character called "Caspar, the Friendly Ghost," and we understood that descriptor to be an eloquent one by virtue of what it left out: most ghost were anything but friendly, we knew. They did not wish us well.

So why on earth, I wanted to know, did we have a ghost in church? Why would God and Jesus have a ghost as the third member of their party? Wasn't this a terrible mistake? Because how holy could a ghost really be?

This was exactly the problem the disciples were having when they saw Jesus walking on the water. How can there be anything beyond the categories of what we already understand? And, if there is, must it not be dangerous? We bring our instinctive distrust of the unknown much too easily into our experience of faith, cutting ourselves off from anything even faintly mysterious. The result is that we are left with an image of God as merely a larger version of ourselves: liking what we like, despising what we despise, and making only the degree of sense our limited brains can encompass, which isn't much sense at all. Our fear of ghosts drives us to create God in our own image.

If Jesus has any message at all for his friends, and for us, it is this: There is more to life than what you see around you, so have a little humility about what is real and what is not. Don't be so sure of the facts you have that you miss new ones.

God is free. New things can happen. Every old thing we venerate was once a novelty, and there is much that we do not understand.
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 or 1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b or Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33
And here is the ERD meditation:

But God Was Not In the Earthquake

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
I Kings 19:

As if there had not been enough suffering in Sichuan province: this week, another earthquake. Thankfully, the devastation was nowhere near as great as in the disastrous quake that struck the area on May 18 of this year, but there were more than 200 injuries and one death. And there were millions of newly-terrified people, still reeling from the horror of the last one and now thrust back into the panic. Trauma is like that: every new one brings back all the old ones.

With the Amity Foundation, our local partner in China, Episcopal Relief and Development continues to provide support and services for those who must rebuild lives shattered by these cataclysmic events. Christian work in China originating from abroad must be done in such a way as to satisfy a powerful central political authority concerned about outside interference. The Amity Foundation is true to its name, providing a Chinese structure by which those who wish to offer help for human need can do so without triggering an unnecessary political response. Since 1985, it has been an important force for the upbuilding of Chinese Christianity in what can be a difficult setting.

Was God in the earthquake? Not in its planning -- God doesn't rain down natural disasters on human beings to make a point. We just build our houses and cities on the fault lines of history, and sometimes the earth quakes. But God is in the subtlety and courage with which we respond to what happens in our world. If we choose to do so, we show Christ forth in what we do as servants of one another as children of God, whether they are those we know and love or those we will never meet.

To learn more about ERD, or to make a donation, visit, or telephone 1-800-334-7626.
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