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December 8, 2004
Today's eMo is really two different meditations on the same text for this Sunday's gospel reading: the first is the usual sermon preparation eMo and the second is intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the Church's work with the suffering 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.

A Moment of Doubt in a Life of Faith

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you he who is to come, or should we look for another?"
Matthew 11:1N.i>

This is heartbreaking: John is about to die and he knows it. His entire life has been spent proclaiming the coming Christ. He has had no other job. Now, with hours to live, he wants to know what we all want to know: did my life make any difference? Or did I waste it all on a mistake?

A moment of doubt must have seized him in his cell. We know this moment: Is this the right thing? Will I regret it forever if I take this course? Am I closing a door that can never open again?

We only have one life here. It's not very long, either -- the oldest person in the world died the other day, and she was 114. Most of us don't get anywhere near that far. And none of us get today back, no matter how long we live.

The whole of John's teaching can be summed up in two ideas: The first is "Make today count for yourself and others while you still can" and the second is "What you see here is not all there is." Each day is a gift, and we don't have many of them -- none of us knows how many. A day we waste is one we will never have again. And every day is lived in the light of a longer day -- there is a reality outside the narrow one in which we live this life. We have inklings of it now and then --in prayer, in dreams, in meditation -- but, by and large, it is mysterious to us.

John sits in the dark. He believes there is a longer day. He knows he gave everything to every day he had on earth because of it. He wonders if he had it right, if the whole idea of eternity was wishful thinking. And he waits for word, from the only person who can tell him.
And here is the ERD meditation:
The Kingdom Comes, One by One by One

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you he who is to come, or should we look for another?" And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and then lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up,
and the poor have good news preached to them."
Matthew 11:1-2

Here is the way the world works: it's better to be rich than poor. The diseases of the very poor kill them more quickly and more unnecessarily than the diseases of the rich. and the very same diseases are different for them than for the rich -- where we live, a bout of diarrhea is a nuisance, and your child might have to miss school for a day or two. In southern Africa, a mother can lose her child in a day or two. To the very same illness.

The means by which disease may be prevented are often simple: clean water, a good mosquito net, a vaccination, nutritious food. Some good advice from a traveling health technician, who leaves behind a few trusted neighbors trained in the provision of basic health services. Its not --as we say --rocket science. It's usually very simple.

Jesus was simple. Some people who saw and heard him were disappointed by him. He wasn't very kingly. He appeared to be a very ordinary man, a carpenter -- definitely working class. And the signs of his kingdom were not very kingly, either. No fanfare. Not even John the Baptist was absolutely certain -- Are you the one who is to come, he asks, or should we look for another? Maybe it was all too simple -- just healing, one by one by one, village by village, house by house. Good news preached to the poor and healing for those who needed it, over and over again. Simple, one-by-one things.

Yes, they were simple things. But they were signs of the kingdom -- Isaiah had said that these and many other sorrows would be conquered, and here they were, in the midst of the conquering. And it was quiet and simple. One by one.

The signs of the kingdom are the same today. Not much in the way of fanfare. Just one-by-one things, simple things. Things we can become part of, just by joining with those who visit the sick we will never meet ourselves, who bring them food we could never bring them ourselves, who bring healing and strength and encouragement to the very poor whom we will never see. By ourselves we cannot be signs of the kingdom to them -- they don't know us, and we are too far away.

But through our relationship with Episcopal Relief and Development, we are part of it now, through prayer and support of those who partner with local health workers, community workers, clergy. Look at what is happening, Jesus says tenderly to John, who wonders, at the end of his life, if his whole ministry of proclamation has been in vain. It has not been in vain. The signs are all here, one by one, and the kingdom really is coming into the world.
To learn more about ERD's work in southern Africa, visit or call 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129.
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