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December 8, 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 is intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the Church's ministry, through the work of Episcopal Relief and Development, to the poor and victims of natural disasters or war. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.

I Must Decrease

For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. John 3:30

Are you the Messiah? Some other celebrity? Whatever we might think of him, John the Baptist must have been very charismatic -- people came from miles around to hear him. Everyone came. Ordinary people came. Even the scribes and pharisees came.

John is such an odd duck, and so combative, that it would be easy to overlook the fact that he is also an extraordinarily humble man. Not everyone would have been able to remain who he was in the face of such attention. Many of us might have started believing our own reputation: Hey, maybe I am the Messiah! Many might have begun to contemplate a run for that office.

Not John. My importance will diminish now. The one whose coming I foretold has arrived now. I have done what I was supposed to do.

Forceful he was. But he was even more faithful. Part of the lore surrounding him is that he and Jesus are cousins, John the elder cousin, the one to whom deference might be due, the one who might expect his younger relative to yield to him -- and John expects nothing of the kind. He announces the exact opposite: He must increase, and I must decrease.

Most of us have a harder time with our own decrease. Our bodies fail us. Our work is better done by younger people. Your new supervisor is the age of your eldest child. There are near-misses at work; you become aware that replacing you with someone younger and cheaper looks attractive to management, and so you cling with some desperation, arriving earlier and staying later. You don't dare take a sick day. You cancel your vacation. You don't want them to experience what it would be like there without you -- it might give them ideas.

The quiet terror of this state makes us admire John all the more: he's absolutely on his way out. No doubt about it. And he doesn't cling, not at all. He faces into the strong wind of his own destruction and announces the new thing that will replace him.

I knew he was odd. But I didn't really know how brave he was.

Isaiah 65:17-25
I Thessalonians 5 :(12-15)16-28
John 1:6-8,19-28 or John 3:23-30
Psalm 126 or Canticle 3 or 15
And here is the ERD meditation:

The School of Hope

They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD-- and their descendants as well.
Isaiah 65:23

My parents met at a school -- he was the principal, and she was a very young, fresh-out-of-college teacher. She was wearing a green coat and hat, he recalled, when she came for the interview. She didn't remember what he wore, but she did run out to the car afterward, where her parents waited for her, and told them that the principal was just so handsome!

It was a tiny town in Minnesota. It was the middle of the Depression. The people had been poor before, but now they were really poor. Some of the fathers couldn't handle the daily hopelessness of it, and sank into alcoholism. The mothers were thin and worn out, ashamed of being on what dole there was.

And the children? They loved their school. They couldn't wait to get there each morning, trudging along in the bitter cold and snow, happy and excited to be going. They loved their teachers, loved the order and calm of the classroom, the tasks of school, tasks that could be completed, unlike the hopeless ones at home. They wrote their essays on the backs of paper they had already used on the front, wrote with stubs of pencils their teachers had bought them out of their own money. School was the bright spot in their hard young lives.

I think the schools Episcopal Relief and Development sponsors for AIDS orphans in Africa must be just like that. Home is a hard place for these children: hard and hopeless. A beleaguered grandmother or aunt presides over it, struggles to feed six or eight little cousins. Perhaps the adult is ill herself; perhaps some of the brothers and sisters are also ill. The ones who loved these children most in all the world are in heaven now, and home is a lonely place.

But school isn't lonely. School is all about hope. You don't have a school unless you think children are going to live. You are safe here; here there is order. You can learn here. Here is smooth white paper and a book, here is a pencil. We have confidence in you. You will grow up to be good and wise men and women. Let's get to work now; we have important work to do, you and I.

Is there someone in society more important than a teacher? I don't know who it would be. In sponsoring these schools, we have the great privilege of helping to preserve the next generation of African children -- many will die, but some will not, and the ones who do not will be the leaders of their generation, the rebuilders of what has been lost.

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