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December 7, 2006
Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be read in church this second Sunday of Advent. The first is the usual sermon preparation eMo. The second, intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the work of the church with the poor and those who suffer from war or natural disaster, explores an aspect of Episcopal Relief and Development's ministry. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.
The Big Boys

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John...Luke 3:1-2

Usually we understand this list of bosses to be intended to locate the story of Jesus in time. We think it's there so we'll know that these things took place in the historical space historical figures occupy. So we'll know that they really happened. And maybe that is why Luke tells us who was running what when John began to preach.

But it could be that there's another message in that list of important people. All those power people -- emperors, governors, high priests -- and to whom does the word of God come? John Nobody.

How about that -- this won't be a story about powerful people getting things done. It's going to be about the meek inheriting the earth.

Not that John is all that meek. John is, literally, a royal pain in the neck -- he will later be executed precisely for speaking one too many truths to kingly power. But his speech is about the meek, and how they are to be treated. Don't abuse the power you have, he tells soldiers, and merchants and tax collectors in another verse. Don't think your power will last forever, king. Every valley will be exalted -- and if you're a mountain, you'll experience an adjustment. That's the way power is. It's not eternal. It's temporary.

Probably sooner than later, we should envision our world as it will be when we are not in the center of it. Sooner than later, we should prepare for our own meekness. It's coming.

Which is good news. Because the word of God came to John. The word of God didn't come to the big boys that time. They were busy with other things.


Baruch 5:1-9 or Malachi 3:1-4 * Canticle 4 or 16 * Philippians 1:3-11* Luke 3:1-6
A Geranium Journeys lunch today! At beautiful St. John's Episcopal Church in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island -- bring a bag lunch and plan to arrive at noon. For directions, call 516-692-6368.

And here is the ERD meditation:

Gifts From the Heart

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. -- Philippians 1:4

What do you do about Katrina, or the tsunami, or a tornado if you're not anywhere nearby? How do you help?

Aware of how lucky we are, and how prosperous, our instinct is to go into our closets and find clean, useful things to give away. We feel good about doing this, in much the same way as we feel good about a visit to the recycling center. I don't need two coats, we say to ourselves. I'm sending one of them down there. And we go through our pantries and find almost an entire case of canned goods that haven't reached their "use-by" date. Makes perfect sense and feels terrific.

But only to us. There are hidden costs to relief efforts when we give in-kind donations like that -- shipping, storage, deployment. Somebody has to sort those things. It could be weeks or even months before they reach the people who need them-- and the truth is that they usually never do. Never. You really don't want your gift rotting on a dock somewhere, far from the people who could use it, and neither do I. And there's one more thing, the most important of all: in-kind gifts don't build capacity.

"Building capacity" is a more precise expression version of the tired-but-still-true philanthropic maxim about giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish. Always, always, always, it is better to support the local economy by giving money to buy goods instead of giving the goods themselves, so that relief agencies can buy what the local people need from other local people who still need to make a living. The sooner a local economy can get back on its feet after a disaster, the more secure and complete recovery the community will make. This happens through buying and selling, not by sifting through free stuff. The ability to buy and sell, the ability to find work -- these are what must be built, as quickly as possible, in order for normal life to resume.

In the first days and weeks, goods are needed -- and even they will almost certainly not reach their destination unless they are procured, packaged and shipped by relief organizations who know their business and know the situation on the ground. Many givers feel strongly that it is impersonal to give money, that an item you can hold in your hand is a much better thing, that there is more heart in it. And there is. But a good heart is no substitute for know-how and hard facts.

And continuing the good work begun in a place where something terrible has happened is not just about our hearts. It's about other people's lives.

Q and I are giving each other ERD for Christmas again this year. We'll make a fire Christmas morning and sit on the couch with my tea and his coffee and the Gifts For Life catalogue and we'll choose something to give. Because what on earth do we need that we don't already have? Absolutely nothing.
This year's catalogue contains beautiful photographs -- they always do. You can get one by visiting or telephoning 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129
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