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September 29, 2004
Today's eMo is really two meditations. One is the usual sermon preparation eMo; the second is intended for preachers who wish to focus attention on the w ork of the Church among those in need through 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.

Mitzvah and Duty

We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.
Luke 17:10

This is as good an explanation as any of the Jewish concept of mitzvah -- the obligation to do good. Christians have lost contact with mitzvah over the millennia: we are apt to think that a good deed is a remarkable thing, the act of an extraordinary person. Not so, say our older brothers and sisters: you have an obligation to expend yourself for others. It's part of the package of being human. It's not extraordinary at all. It should be normal.

Bob quietly agrees. He remembers buddies in the fire department who resisted being called heroes, including many who unquestionably were. They were just doing their job, he says. He thinks we have inflated the term "hero" these days, until everyone is a hero. If everyone is a hero, he says, then no one is. Some of us just have jobs like that, he says. You need to brave and your need to rely on your training and your team. But you're just doing your job. You're not a hero. Even if you save somebody's life. Just saving a life is reward enough. But it's your job.

Mitzvah. Duty -- an equivalent word you don't hear much. Obligation. An obligation to go beyond yourself on someone else's behalf not as something extraordinary, but as a matter of course. Words like these seem to leave a dusty taste in modern mouths -- the idea of duty seems to invite us into a martyred grimness we do not desire. But the knowledge of having done one's duty, of having made a difference -- this knowledge is never grim. It is joyful. It is reward enough, all by itself.

Perhaps the capacity to do our duty is, like everything else in the spiritual life, a gift from God. Perhaps we do not manufacture it within our own souls. Perhaps we receive it, instead, as an endowment from the God who extends himself into our lives out of the freedom of limitless love, imposing a duty on himself from that boundless freedom. If so, that is very good news: if a loving sense of duty is a gift from God, we can seek the gift, ask for it, wait expectantly to receive it and the requisite guts that we will need to act on it.

And here's the ERD meditation:

Proper 22
Habakkuk 1:1-6(7-11)12-13;2:1-4
Ps. 37
II Timothy 1:(1-5)6-14
Luke 17:5-10

We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.
Luke 17:10

Twenty-four-year-old Heyci Sulemia Garcia of Izalco, El Salvador has a volunteer job with some fairly routine duties that keep her busy all day several days a week: she has been trained to take medical histories, checks patients in, administer first aid and dispense prescriptions at the medical clinic which Episcopal Relief and Development built in her village as part of its extended, holistic response to the Salvadoran terrible earthquakes of 2001. Routine, perhaps, but not light: Heyci sees between 20 and 55 patients each day the clinic is open!

The clinic is rudimentary, by most of our standards -- there is no surgery performed there, none of the high-priced equipment most of us would consider minimally necessary: no EKG machines, no blood lab, no defibrillator. For these things, people must go to the hospital in El Mango, a distance of several miles.

One day last year, a mother brought her sick baby to Heyci's clinic. Once glance at the thermometer told Heyci that this little girl needed more help than she could give her: a dangerously high fever had overtaken the little body, and the baby's life was in peril. The young woman gathered up her tiny patient and set off on foot. "I had to run with her in my arms to the hospital in El Mango. They were able to resuscitate her. I felt good that I had been able to help save her."

Do good for your fellow human beings. Care for one another as if you were sisters and brothers, for that is what you are. Run along a dusty road for miles, if you have to, with one of my little ones in your arms, and perhaps you will give her the chance to grow up, to become a brave young woman like you: someone so lovingly committed to her good work that she now has the memory of saving a baby's life to bring her lifelong joy.


ERD came into Heyci's life as a result of a disaster: the earthquakes that killed thousands. But the ministry stayed to help make the whole of life in her impoverished community better. A sudden friend in an emergency, a wise partner for the long haul: read about ERD at,org/ or call 1-800-334-7626, ext. 5129.
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