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February 17, 2006
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 to the poor and victims of natural disasters or war, 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.

Illness, Sin and Cure

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Stand up and take your mat and walk'?
Mark 2:9

This three-way encounter -- Jesus, the paralytic and the scribes muttering to themselves -- is a watershed teaching moment for the scribes, just in case they're interested in one. They have the opportunity to exchange one model of disease and its causes for another.

Jesus begins with the old one, the one the scribes use: the reason people get sick is because they've done something wrong. It's all over the psalms, and frames the essential conundrum of the book of Job -- what did I do to deserve this? The paralytic must have gotten himself into this, and Jesus gives him a chance to get out in traditional terms: Your sins are forgiven.

Nothing happens. The man continues to lie there on his mat, surrounded by ceiling rubble.

Hmmmn. If it is his sins that have gotten the man into this state, as the scribes assume, then Jesus isn't having much luck in healing him by forgiving them. We are far from God, the God who tosses our trials down from heaven in a neat equation between our error and our suffering. Who is this, who presumes to erase it?

And Jesus senses their question, although they seem not to have spoken it aloud. With one stroke of blessing, he destroys something they have always thought was true. Which is easier? To say, your sins are forgiven? Or to say, take up your bed and walk?

It was much easier for them to assume that what they had always thought about illness was true. They thought they knew why the man was ill, but they were wrong. Jesus lifts the healing of the paralytic entirely out of the arena of sin and punishment and into the neighborhood of grace.

We love to think we know what's going on. We even prefer our old ideas if they are unpleasant and hurtful -- at least they're ours. they're the ones we know. We don't want new information -- we just want our old assumptions confirmed.

Forget it. We're not going to get away without an encounter with Jesus. We won't be able just to phone it in, counting on Jesus to rubber stamp the things we think we know about the world and God's ways with it. Not having your life changed is not on the table; the past is closed now, whatever it was, and we need to move on into the future. Here is what the future will be: the lame will walk. The ones who sinned and the ones who didn't. Illness and pain aren't about that, not in any neat and orderly way.

Oh, and another thing: sins will be forgiven anyway. They do carry their own painful consequences, even if they don't cause the common cold or the broken leg. But they are not permanent parts of who we are. We can lay them down at the feet of Christ any time we want to.

Isaiah 43:18-25
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
Mark 2:1-12
Psalm 32 or 32:1-8
And here is the ERD meditation:

Water To My Chosen People

For I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people...
Isaiah 43:18-25

No water, no life. Humans beings must have it, and so must every other living thing on earth.

But it has to be clean, or we just exchange one form of death for another. There must be clean water to drink, or waterborne diseases -- polio, encephalitis, meningitis, hepatitis, cholera and typhoid fever all come from microbes that live in impure water -- will kill or maim large numbers of the world's children. Malaria-bearing mosquitoes breed in standing water, and more than a million children die of it every year. The parasite that causes river blindness breeds in water, too: six million people have the disease, and another 500 million live near and regularly use water in which the parasite swims. Simple diarrhea is the largest single cause of death worldwide among children under five, killing 3-4 million every year, and it comes from unclean water.

A bitter irony: we need water to live, but children in poor countries are being killed by their water supply. They're dying from the very thing they need to live. Such a symmetry is too ugly for us to bear.

But there is another symmetry, a graceful one: the means by which much of these deaths of impoverished children can be prevented are modest, simple. They are within the means of people who have hardly any means at all. Episcopal Relief and Development supports local trainers who educate families and villages about securing a safe water supply in many poor countries, such as Honduras and El Salvador, and in places where natural disaster has interrupted the supply of clean water, like South India and other areas continuing to deal with the effects of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Boil your water. Wash your hands carefully -- and your face, too, against river blindness. Locate your well away from where you dig your latrine. Cover your rain barrel so mosquitoes can't use it as a nursery. Not rocket science, these measures, and almost free -- a dollar goes a long way in these simple but crucial strategies to protect the water God has given us.

To learn more about ERD's work or to make a donation, visit or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129.
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