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May 18, 2004
Today's eMo, the usual meditation on texts for this Sunday's sermon, is followed by a second one, intended for preachers who would like to focus their sermon this week on the Church's service to those in need. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.


The Rules of Engagement

The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one...I desire that they also whom thou hast given me may be with me where I am. John 17:21-22

Two ways of being in Christ, one earthly and one heavenly. On earth we will be known by our unity. In heaven -- well, that is not something that can be described in an email. But whatever it is, it is life with Christ in a way utterly unlike any life we have had Him before.

But what does it mean to "be one?" We employ the concept of oneness all the time, in settings secular and sacred. The motto of the United States of America is "Out of Many, One." In the marriage service we speak of two people becoming one flesh.

Initially, we think it must mean we're alike. We're one because we do the same things and think the same things. Sometimes couples are alarmed when differences surface after a time: different opinions, different personal styles, different ways of doing things. Does the fact that we don't resemble each other as much as we thought we did mean that we don't love each other?

No, of course not. Couples don't have to be alike, or people in families, any more than Rhode Island should be more like Texas.

But the Church? Shouldn't the Church be of one mind about its doctrines?

Well, maybe in heaven it is, although I suspect heaven may not be a very doctrinal place. But the Church has really never been of one mind doctrinally -- we have been tinkering with the faith ever since we received it, exploring its implications for life in the world, often coming to different conclusions about what they are. Each individual tinkers, too, struggling to figure out how he or she will live.

But we should at least do what the Bible says, someone mutters, annoyed. Well, we can try -- but yesterday's readings for the Daily Office included one about how to manage your purchasing of slaves: It's okay to buy people from other countries, it says, but don't buy anyone from your own country. Leviticus 25:44. Okay.

The truth: good people will disagree about very important things. The more important they are, the more passionate their disagreement will be. A second truth: history instructs us, along with scripture. God continues to reveal his truth and love -- we don't think it's okay to buy and sell slaves now, no matter what it says in Leviticus. The rules of engagement for human oneness must include the possibility of such disagreement and such instruction.

Our oneness can't be about uniformity of opinion or practice. It must be about membership in a fellowship of people all related to God in the same way: beloved of God, known by God, redeemed by Christ. One, then, in loving response to love, able to reach across the gulf of our differences and desirous of doing so.


And here is a meditation for a sermon on the Church's mission to the poor through the work of Episcopal Relief and Development. This week, Nicaragua.

Come to the Water

And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price...Revelation 22:17

We would think them very beautiful the girls, of Nicaragua, is we were to see them standing in the river, washing clothes. Or walking along the road, beautiful and graceful, balancing buckets of water perfectly on their heads as the walk home form the water's edge. How picturesque, we might say, and we would grab our cameras to capture the pretty sight.

But a bucket of water weighs forty pounds. And some of their homes are a mile or two from the river. And the water in which they stand and wash clothes is also the water they drink. And also the water in which human and animal waste is dumped. And some of the girls are very young, too young to carry such a heavy load without damaging their half-grown bones. And if they have to carry water several times w say, they can't go to school.

Picturesque? Maybe to us. But ask their mothers how picturesque it is to them.

Episcopal Relief and Development works with El Porvenir, a Nicaraguan community health organization that seeks to educate people about wise use of water and proper sanitation. Together with the people who will use them, they build water wells, pit latrines, and central wash stations, and they teach people how to avoid contaminating their own water supply in simple ways: Wash your hands after using the latrine and before you cook dinner. Cover the well. Add chlorine to the drinking water. Things anybody can do, right now.

So the price of drinking water in rural Nicaraguan communities will no longer be disease, neck and back injury or missed educational opportunity.

All they'll have to do is go to the well.
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