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September 29, 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. The second, intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the Church's ministry to the poor and to victims of natural disasters or war, explores 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.


The Watchtower and the Fruit

Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower.
- Matthew 21:33

Vineyards looked pretty much the same in Jesus' time as they had in Isaiah's, I guess: surrounded by a wall, a hollow dug out for the winepress, and a tower in the middle. "A watchtower," Jesus calls it, and so does Isaiah: a tower from which someone minding the vineyard might detect an intruder -- not a belvedere, such as one might find in another kind of garden, a place where one can survey its beauty from above. The vineyard seems to be in danger. It needs people to protect it, from intruders, from wild grapes growing like weed in place of what's supposed to be growing, from the ravages of drought.

Of course, if you're up in the watchtower keeping an eye out for bad guys anyway, you can't help but notice the beauty of the garden. The vines lay out a patchwork on the landscape, plainly visible from your perch in the tower: from up there, the garden looks like a quilt: green vines on their wooden arbors, brown earth in between, the sun hot on the leaves so that the grapes will grow sweeter and sweeter. Right now you can see the bunches of mature grapes, lovely pendant cones of red or green or dark blue among the green leaves. Perhaps you see the workers down below, pruning the vines that have already been harvested, tying those still holding their grapes. You see the vat, full of purple grapes, and the workers up to their ankles in them, trampling out the juice.

It is a scene of homely beauty, human industry and natural fecundity. The same tower upon which you sit, watching over the safety of the vineyard, is the place from which you behold the fulness of its beauty. There is a symmetry about that, you think: That which protects me also delights me. Maybe they're the same thing.

Your prayer and everything else you do to come closer to God protects your spirit from harm. It keeps you aware of what is important and what is not. It saves you from spending time and energy on things that don't matter, or even on things that are hurtful to you. And it increases your sense of wonder in everything God has made, too: it grows and grows, the longer you continue in a life of prayer. The learning is itself the ending. The protection of the vineyard is the means by which you see the beauty of the fruit.

Psalm 80 or 80:7-14
Isaiah 5:1-7
Philippians 3:14-21
Matthew 21:33-43

And here is the ERD meditation:

Replanting the Wasteland

I will make it a waste...
- Isaiah 5:6

Is that really what happens? Does God really decide to lay waste to entire towns, whole sections of the country? There are some people who think so -- they read the weather reports as signs of the end of the world, signals of the judgment of a wrathful God upon a sinful humanity.

Most of us do not believe this. Most of us think that weather just happens, that sometimes its devastating effects are worsened by human action or inaction, and that the only for-sure signal natural disasters give us is the call to gather every ounce of our compassion, every bit of our skill and a major part of our resources and help those who need it. When the world seems to be falling apart, all we really know for sure is that it is time for all of us to come together.

We have a lot to do with whether or not the areas devastated by one hurricane hard on the heels of another -- and the season not over yet -- become a wasteland. They don't have to. A wasteland is a place in which life is impossible, a place with no resources for life, a place where there can be no fellowship or joy. This need not be.

An entire nation has come to the aid of people rendered homeless by these two tragedies, discovering a kinship with total strangers many didn't know they shared. Episcopal Relief and Development was on the phones and in the air right away, first in one place and then in another, providing immediate support for local dioceses and their parishes in the daunting work of cleanup and rebuilding.

And all the while, the need in other parts of the world continues unabated -- the need for hope and help for those with HIV/AIDS and their families in Africa, hope and help for post-tsunami rebuilding in India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, hope and help for the starving in Niger and Sudan, hopeful development in South and Central America.

I am in none of those places. And yet, I am really in all of them, through the privilege of my sharing in the work of ERD. I pick up a phone that works in a comfortable office with electric lights that also work, and I read a person from ERD my credit card number. I thank her, she thanks me, and we hang up. I get back to work, knowing as I do that I am right where I need to be.

To learn more about ERD's work in response to the Gulf Coast hurricanes and to human need throughout the world, and to make a donation, visit or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129.

Have you checked out More or Less Church lately? Deacon J offers liturgy resources for St Francis' Day. Over at the Hodgepodge, Debbie Loeb has some good music samples and a pattern for Thanksgiving turkey placemats! As always, the bulletin board in the Vigils section is busy and there are -- at last count -- 254 virtual candles burning for people's prayer intentions. All are at
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