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January 13, 2005
Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be read in many churches this Sunday. The first is the usual sermon preparation eMo, and the second is intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the work of the Church with the poor and those who suffer through the ministry of Episcopal Relief and Development. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution.

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-41
Psalm 40:1-10

There Are No Small Parts

One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah (which is translated Anointed).” He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon, son of John. You are to be called “’Cephas’” which is translated Peter.

John 1:39-41

My part was a small one – one scene. A handful of lines and actions – I was a nurse, engaged to care for the Elephant Man, who couldn’t handle either his appearance or his stench. That was about the extent of my role.

You know, said Lee Winston, after watching me do a mediocre job in my small part, in a role like that -- one in which you do one scene and the audience never sees you again -- you’re the star of that one scene. Its only reason is for you to be there and tell the audience what it is you know – the playwright wouldn’t have put your character in the play if that character didn’t have something to say the audience needs to hear and that only she can say. So take the stage. It’s may be only one scene, but it's not a small part.

I never forgot what he told me. He was absolutely right, I saw immediately: only we can do what we do, and we are each the star of the scene we’re in. Maybe we’re not the star of the whole play – but our scene is our scene.

Andrew doesn’t have what today would be called a high profile – he listens to a sermon and then goes and gets his brother to listen to the preacher. That’s pretty much it for Andrew. But he knew, on the strength of that one encounter, that he had seen the Messiah, and he knew he had to share that knowledge. So it is all-but-anonymous Andrew, not his famous brother, who is the first evangelist in the gospel of John.

It’s important to be important, I guess. But not everyone is called to high visibility --in fact, hardly any of us are. Almost all of us work our way through life and faith considerably below the radar of public awareness. Not many people know about us.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t matter. Everyone who acts, on however modest a stage, affects others. We don’t even know, until later on, who all those others are – a moment you forgot long ago may have changed the life of the person who was with you. Your unsung steadiness may be the thing for which you are lovingly remembered – it may have taught prompted someone to think for the first time that God, too, may be dependable.


And here is the ERD meditation:

Strike While the Iron Is Hot

Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was still in my mother's womb he named me.

Isaiah 49:1-2

It is the faraway coastlands this time, devastated by the largest natural disaster any of us have ever seen. And, of course, most of us will not see it, except on the television -- we are not there.

There has been huge media coverage since it happened, of course. Every news organization that could afford to do so sent people to report from the scene. But already the media frenzy has begun to die down. It has a shelf life, and its shelf life is more than half over. Which means that giving to the disaster relief will taper off, as well.

This happens in every disaster: get your donations early, while people are still reading about it, because you won't be able to get them later on. As the tsunami hit country after country and the horrid circle of its destruction widened, the suffering in other parts of the world continued to suffer. People didn't stop dying of AIDS in Africa because there was a tsunami in Asia. Six years after Hurricane Mitch, communities in Honduras are still devastated, but the world's attention is focussed elsewhere. It also seems, I read in the Times, that lots of the aid countries and organizations pledge never materializes, and that many relief projects are abandoned halfway through their completion, leaving villages with deep new wells but no pumps, sturdy houses with no running water or electricity, community centers whose doors are locked, medical clinics with no visiting medical professionals and no medicines.

There is only one solution to the tragic sequence of events that promises so much and ends up delivering so little: work with the structures that are already there and which will remain. The Church is one: Episcopal Relief and Development partners first with the local church wherever it works. Local church leaders know their people and their neighborhood. They already have the respect and trust of the community. And, most importantly, they aren't going anywhere. They will remain, and remain in relationship with ERD, a relationship ongoing enough to permit ongoing sharing of needs and a reasonable expectation of ongoing response.


For more information on Episcopal Relief and Development, visit or call 1-800-334-7626, ext 5219.
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