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November 23, 2004
Today's meditation is really two different meditations: the first being the usual sermon preparation eMo, and the second, a meditation intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the work of the Church among the suffering through the ministry of Episcopal Relief and Development. As with all the eMo, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.
Against a Life of Might-Have-Been

...and they did not know until the flood came and swept them away...
Matthew 24:39

Let's wait until next year....One of these days, I'm going to write a book...Learn Greek....Take a drawing class....When I retire, I'm going to a couple of years...maybe later...someday.
No -- now. As much as possible, now. Tomorrow is not promised us. The life you have had may, at any moment, become all the life you're going to get in this world.

Still -- and probably for the rest of my career -- I encounter survivors of the World Trade Center bombing at the retreats I lead throughout the country. I meet them in other states, but I meet them especially here, in New York or Connecticut or New Jersey.

I was in the building across the street, in a meeting. We heard the noise of the first collapse but we didn't know what it was. I didn't go to the window, but a lot of people did. So I didn't see the people jump. I couldn't look.... I was on the thirtieth floor and I just started walking because I remembered the last time in '93 and all I knew was that I was going to get out of there.....My wife couldn't get through to me until afternoon. I was going crazy at home....I looked up and saw the first plane hit....I saw a plane flying low right along the length of Manhattan and I thought to myself, why is it flying so low?...We were all on our rooftops, watching from the East Village, every building had people on the roof, and when we saw the first tower go down everyone just screamed. Yeah, just screams, going up from all the rooftops...

A day like any day. Every last day is a day like any day, with one important difference: there aren't any more after it. It was the last one. You don't know until afterward. And then, of course, you're not here anymore.

Advent is here -- the secular year breathes its last, but the Church year begins. After everything is over here, after that last day, we affirm that life continues in Christ. It is not historical life -- history happens only here. But it is a life for which we can prepare, so that our leaving of this one for its mysterious glory need not a remorseful moment of bitter might-have-beens. Short and uncertain, this life is nonetheless lovely, as lovely as we are willing to make it. Lovelier still, in fact, for its very uncertainty: you don't have all the time in the world in which to find its meaning and beauty, don't have forever to find a way to be kind and learn the peculiar joy of kindness.
Isaiah 2:1-5 * Romans 13:8-14 * Matthew 24:37-44 * Psalm 122
here is the ERD meditation:

Helping Is Always the Same...and Always Different

...and they did not know until the flood came and swept them away...
Matthew 24:39

In ancient times, there was little warning of a flood -- just the folk wisdom that marked the seasons, scanned the skies, using what knowledge of the natural world they possess to try to stay ahead of its destructive power.

We are much better informed now, of course -- satellites track storms and we can communicate with ease, sending out evacuation warnings everyone can hear on the radio see on television. We usually know when a natural disaster is coming. But sometimes, we don't.

The people of Panama were struck suddenly by terrible flooding and mudslides after heavy rains fell in the country. But the enormous power of nature is bigger than human beings: the wall of water rushing down the tiny streets of the little towns -- Pedregal, Felpillo, San Munguelito, Tocumen -- far outweighed the people fleeing before it, easily crushed the houses it encountered, carrying the chunks of their remains and some of their occupants along in its savage current. People died. People lost everything they owned.

After the storm, Episcopal Relief and Development was on the phone to Bishop Julio Thompson, assuring him that help was on the way: food, emergency, medicine, shelter materials, the things ERD knows so well how to provide.

In some ways, all disasters are alike: everyone needs food, everyone needs shelter, everyone needs medical supplies. These are things we can know in advance. In other ways, each one is different: it comes into a different culture, a different climate, comes to different people, to each victim in a unique way. These are things we must learn in each new situation.

In the season of advent, the word is "Watch." Look ahead. Be prepared. We are prepared to help those into whose lives disaster comes, through our participation in ERD's work. To help quickly, based on what we know. And to learn quickly, watching for the signs of what is needed.
ERD saves lives and builds hope in communities around the world. It provides emergency assistance in times of disaster. When the immmediate crisis is over, we rebuild devastated communities and ofer long-erm solutions in the areas of food security, health care and HIV/AIDS. For more information on ERD, call 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129, or visit
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