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July 7, 2004
Today's eMo is a pair of meditations on texts that will be heard in many churches this church this Sunday -- the second of the pair offers preachers a springboard from which to preach about a congregation's service to the suffering through joining forces with the ministry of Episcopal Relief and Development. As with all the eMos, preachers, teachers and people who prepare church bulletins are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.

Genesis 18:1-10a(10b-14)
Psalm 25 or 25:3-9
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

It's more than thirty years ago now, and I haven't thought about it in ages. My baby didn't know we were poor, but I sure did: it was a terrible January day, down in the teens, and we were making the trip home from the doctor's office by bus. She was bundled in her stroller, a rickety affair that I had gotten with S&H Green Stamps. They didn't have those clear plastic enclosures to keep out the cold on infant strollers in those days, and the icy wind cut right through just about anything you had on. We huddled at the bus stop, I crouching down beside her, encircling her with my arms in attempt to put myself between her and the bitter cold.

The bus was late. It didn't come and then it didn't come some more. The wind blew air that seemed to be getting even colder as we huddled there. I fought back tears: they wouldn't do any good, might freeze my eyes shut and might scare my baby, who seemed to be doing all right surrounded by her mother, her secondhand snowsuit and all those blankets.

Then a truck pulled up and its passenger door opened. It's too damn cold to be out here with a baby, a rough voice said. Where are you going?

Back to College Park,
I said. Never accept rides from strangers, I said to myself. You don't know this person.

Get in, he ordered. I looked at his face, looked at my baby, looked again in vain for the bus, swallowed hard and climbed in. He got out and folded up the stroller, settling it in the cab behind my seat. It was blessedly warm inside.

Sure is cold, I said. I'm grateful to you for stopping. I don't know where the bus is.

It's too cold for you to be out there with the baby.

I know, I said. He was right. I'd like to pay you a little something for gas.

Naw. Where shall I drop you?

Well, the store would be fine, thank you. I had a little more than two dollars in my purse: thirty cents for the bus and two dollars for food. That's not enough for much of anything today, but in those days you could feed a family on twenty dollars a week, and I could do it on ten.

I don't remember what we talked about as we drove along -- it wasn't far. I would buy some groceries in the warmth of the grocery store and then Corinna and I could easily make it the ten blocks home on foot. Besides, my benefactor was just rough enough that I didn't want him to see where I lived.

But he was kind. Kind to me -- unfolded the stroller onto the sidewalk in front of the store. Just as I left the warmth of the cab, I sneaked the thirty cents I would have spent on the bus onto his dashboard. Thanks, I said. It was nice of you to stop for us.

I was in the canned goods aisle of the store when he reappeared, looking fierce. I started when I saw him -- what was he doing here? He picked up my hand and thrust the thirty cents into it. I could kill you for doing that, he said, and turned around and left before I could even respond.

I stood there with the coins in my hand. My good Samaritan, though not as poor as I was, was not a rich man, either. I had sought to deny him the joy of doing a kindness with no expectation of return and he, in his rough way, had corrected me. Even the poor are ennobled and delighted by giving.

I finished our meager shopping and pushed the stroller home. The wind wasn't as biting now, and the walk was outwardly uneventful. I thought of him, though, my angry good Samaritan, the whole way.

And here is the ERD sermon meditation:

"Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?"

He said, "The one who showed mercy on him".

Jesus said, Go and do likewise."
Luke 10:35-37

Roger and Lois were 79 and 68 years old, respectively, and lived in the tiny town of Mossy Grove, Tennessee. There is no Episcopal church in the town. But when disaster struck suddenly, a nearby Episcopal congregation in Harriman reached out to local residents, and the couple found that there is a special kind of faith that only happens when your life has been miraculously spared, and a special kind of human gratitude that can only come when a perfect stranger offers you compassion for no other reason than your need.

They knew there was a tornado that day in November, 2002, but Mossy Grove is surrounded by mountains -- no stretch of flatland over which a twister could gather strength and become a big one. Besides, it wasn't really tornado season -- we just read about a big one this year in Nebraska, and there was wild weather all over Kentucky this past spring, but you don't think of tornadoes much in November. But this twister was different: with a roar unlike anything they'd ever heard, the tornado picked up four of their huge oak tees as if they were drinking straws and crashed them into the house, with Roger and Lois still inside. There wasn't time to do much more than look at each other, let alone get out. When it left, the house and everything they owned was a pile of unidentifiable rubble. But they were lucky: seventeen people in Morgan County were dead.

Episcopal Relief and Development came through with emergency assistance, so they could buy food, bottled water, and other things they needed to get through the first few weeks after the tornado. When disaster strikes, it never matters who's a Samaritan and who isn't. "You really helped us," Lois said, "we desperately needed that money." She and Roger weren't used to accepting help like that. but sometime you just have to. Kentucky, Nebraska, East Tennessee -- ERD can get the help where it's needed, that very day.
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