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September 2, 2004
Today's eMo is actually two different meditations on texts that will be read in many churches this coming Sunday: one is the normal sermon prep eMo, and the second is intended for preachers who wish to focus on the Church's ministry to the suffering through the works 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.


If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:25

We have to hate them?

Our kids wake us up in the middle of the night for drinks of water. We take them for trips in the car and they ask if we're there yet, when we're not even a mile from home. Our parents want to know where we went and what we did and did we have a good time and did we have any supper? They seem still to want to know these things when we are forty-five years old. Our siblings borrow things from us and never return them. Everyone's annoying. We're annoying ourselves at times, we are told.

But we don't hate them. What are we to make of Jesus' shocking counsel?

Remember that Jesus is from the Middle East. Exaggeration is a standard rhetorical device there -- and it was in his day, too. You make a point by making it way too broadly, larger than it really is, and your audience understands what you're doing. They do it, too.

But many of us don't. We value reserve and understatement: the slightest of hints, the elegant double entendre. And we are in awe of facts, in a way that ancient people were not: Well, is it true or not, we ask? Did it really happen? They knew something we have forgotten: truth is textured. It comes in many forms. Things can be important and true without being literally true. Life is neither a journalism class nor a court of law, and truth walks through life with subtlety and complexity. You have to pay attention.

Do you have to hate your mom to follow Jesus? No. But you must allow nothing that you love -- even your own evolving self-love -- to prevent you from becoming the person God is forming. Formation is hard. It sometimes involves saying "no" to things you'd love to embrace. But we must go forward, even so; we must follow where Jesus leads. Because he leads us into all truth, and we can have none of the things we love if we do not also have a life of integrity and truth.


And here is the ERD sermon meditation:

Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he had enough to complete it?
Luke 14:26-27

It's hard for most of us to read or hear about the devastation of HIV/AIDS in Africa. To watch stories about it on television. It's not because we don't care. We do care. But we can't look -- because the whole terrible thing seems so enormous that we despair of ever coming to the other side of it, of ever seeing its end.

But here is a great truth about any daunting task: everything human
beings do is done one piece at a time.
We never do the whole of anything -- we do everything piece by piece. It is this truth which makes it possible for the people closest to the suffering to carry on with unbelievable courage in the face of this deadly scourge. The people actually on the ground in Africa have no choice but to walk into life day by day, to tackle all of its many facets one by one. And those of us who wish to relate to them, from our too-comfortable distance?

The Rev'd Diane Corlett, rector of the Church of the Nativity in Raleigh, N.C., traveled to South Africa and Namibia to see for herself
what television and newspapers had been telling her about AIDS. She and others journeyed with Episcopal Relief and Development's Ubuntu Africa Pilgrimage. My heart bleeds when witnessing pain, she wrote in her journal of the trip. HIV/AIDS is as much part of this world as the weather.

Do you have enough to build your tower? Do you have enough courage and compassion and money and knowledge to build a bridge to suffering people you will never see except on television or in the newspaper, to build it all by yourself? No, you don't. And if we each had to build our bridges all by ourselves, we would have no reasonable alternative to despair.

But we don't have to. We build our bridges together. We go step by step together through tragedy too terrible to experience alone. Addressing the piece we can do first, and then doing another piece. And another. Day by day, piece by piece, person by person: that is how all of life is lived. And how even great tragedies are healed.

The pain of other people's pain was joined, on the Ubuntu trip, to something that can only be called joy at the many piece-by-piece ways in which HOPE Africa, the social service arm of the Diocese of Capetown, abides with men, women and children living and dying with AIDS.

Foster care for the children and arrangements for the burials. Food for the hungry and notebooks and new pencils for the start of the school year. Hugs from a caregiver and visits from the priest. Instead of collapsing in tears at the sight of orphaned children in an institutional setting, Corlett and her companions on the Ubuntu trip found themselves blowing soap bubbles and laughing with them. Because, bruised as they are, they are still children, and they still love to play.

The journey Diane Corlett and her fellow travelers took to Africa was
called "Ubuntu." The word is a Zulu word without a precise rendering in
English -- but its meaning is that we are never alone. We are only people in relation to other people, in the community of people. Or, as Corlett puts it, "If the children and people of Africa have to live through it, the least we can do is make ourselves look into their faces and pay attention to what they have to say."


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