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May 6, 2005
Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be read in church this Sunday: first, the usual sermon preparation eMo and second intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the Church's ministry to the suffering through the work 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.
That They May Be One

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
John 17:11

Of course, we are not all one -- conspicuously so. We are on television and in the paper, so noisily not being one that an outside observer might be forgiven for believing that arguing is what churches do and that sex is the centerpiece of our belief system.

And I suppose arguing is what churches do, in part. Ethics is part of any religious faith, and ethics always involves debate over competing values. The presence of disagreement is not by itself a sign that something is wrong -- it's actually a sign that something is right: people are awake and thinking, they care about what they do, they want a better Church and a better world.

But no human activity can be the centerpiece of faith. Not sex, for sure, but not war, either, and not economics, as important as these things are. All our ethical conundrums are important, but faith is about God, too, not just about us, and God transcends us. We have the values we have because of our relationship with God, not the other way around. We don't check God's references to see if He qualifies and then begin a relationship with Him -- we have the relationship first. We had it before we knew we had it -- before we could talk, before we could read, before we'd ever heard of God or Jesus or anything else in scripture, God was loving us and calling us to love back.

We look to ourselves as children of God in communion with each other. Period. After we know that primary identity to be primary, we are free to discuss, argue, write and study, theorize and conclude, change our minds -- all under the umbrella of God's love. That is our first principle.
It will govern how we disagree. It will recognize and respect an opponent, and will not descend to the level of spiritual violence that must brand him an enemy. It will include a healthy suspicion of our own virtue based upon that most orthodox of Christian doctrines, Original Sin -- humanity's ancient tendency to substitute our will and understanding for the will and wisdom of God. God is good, but we can be bought, and we often are, trading our godly freedom for peer approval, for proximity to power, for comfortable moral certitude, for insulation from the daunting task of ethical discernment -- even for money, sometimes.

What a state of affairs! We turn our backs on each other, confident in our own rightness. In the gospels, it was the scribes and Pharisees who claimed that confidence.

Acts 1:1-7(8-14) or Ezekiel 39:21-29
I Peter 4:12-19 or Acts 1:1-7(8-14)
John 17:1-11
Ps 68:1-20 or Ps 47

And here is the ERD meditation:

Finish What You Start

I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.
John 17:3

We don't realize what a difference we make being there, a volunteer from Western Massachusetts said. Her group was leaving El Salvador after a week's work building a house, a village founded by the local diocese with on-the-ground support from Episcopal Relief and Development. They had just finished an informal worship service in the house they had worked hard building all week; its walls were high now, and its floors level. Another group would be coming in, to put its shoulders to the effort. Wave after wave of Episcopalians visit El Salvador every year, hauling bricks, digging, hammering, all under the direction of skilled local builders, to help reconstruct that tiny nation that has suffered so much.

Hard times are nothing new in El Salvador. From war to hurricanes to devastating earthquakes, the predominantly rural nation has seen the suffering of its people struggle to improve and succeed, only to be knocked back down by things completely beyond their control.

Over the long term, Episcopal Relief and Development has been involved in recovery from all of these human tragedies. Through programs of rebuilding houses, schools, churches and other community buildings; renewing (in some cases, beginning) healthcare services and health education, micro-loans to help poor families start small businesses of their own to sustain them, assistance in protecting sanitary drinking water and safe waste management and in improving agricultural production and marketing.

Many charitable organizations come in early with promises of help after an earthquake or a hurricane. Not all of them deliver on what they pledge. ERD has stayed for the long haul in El Salvador, helping our Salvadoran neighbors rebuild their lives and giving the Nord Americanos who volunteer with ERD a chance to enter their lives and work in solidarity with them. Having given a week of their busy lives to this work changes the volunteers forever, building enduring relationships between ordinary people in both countries that will ensure that the Church will remain connected to El Salvador for as long as help is needed and longer.

We stood in the house and held hands and prayed...We didn't just work on the houses, but we also saw completed villages and schools --hundreds and hundreds of smiling, happy kids that had a future and had hope!

Finish what you start. Stay on when the newspaper and TV reporters have all gone home. Bring your brothers and sisters with you to help. And come back again, in your prayer and in person.

For learn more about ERD and about volunteering in El Salvador or to make a donation, visit or call 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129.
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