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June 29, 2007
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 eMos. The second, intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the Church's ministry to the poor and those who suffer because of war or natural disaster, 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.
Let the Dead Bury Their Dead

But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead...
Luke 9:60

This is another one of those gospel sound bites you'd better not ignore in your sermon, once it's been read out loud in the service -- if you don't unpack it a bit, newcomers are going to wonder what we see in Jesus.

Commentators who wanted to temper it a bit have sometimes suggested that the man's dad was in fine health -- he was asking to wait a few years to follow Jesus until he was free of obligations. Okay -- that does calm it down a little, but it sounds a little like a loophole. I think we're talking about a man with a dead father who is still above ground and, by Jewish custom often still observed today, must be buried before another sundown arrives. This is an urgent situation.

And it is the exaggerated urgency which is at the heart of this seemingly heartless exchange. Take the most urgent obligation you have, Jesus says, and the urgency with which you must follow that urgent and more. Already Jesus himself is marching towards his own death. Everything else is secondary.

We remember that Luke writes decades after Jesus lived and died and rose again. There are churches already, and bishops and deacons making them run. There is organized charity within them. There is liturgy. There are ecclesiastical arguments -- there has even been a church council of sorts, to try and resolve them. Although Luke's is a very different age, the beginning outlines of a church like ours are plainly visible.

And with the institution, the complacency that endangers faith more than any persecution ever can becomes possible. It is now possible to take the easy way. You can be a Christian because your mom was one, and it doesn't have to dominate your life. You can choose how much of yourself you will give to it. People will want to choose the easy way, because the hard way is getting harder, and we have so many easy ways among which to choose.

But isn't faith about being happy? Isn't it a way to find peace of mind? Yes, it is, often. Often -- but faith entails hard choices, too, and nobody has ever said that religion offered a way out of making them.

Pentecost 5, Proper 8 in Year C

2 Kings 2:1-2,6-14 or 1Kings 19:15-16,19-21 * Psalm 77:1-2,11-20 or 16 * Galatians 5:1,13-25 * Luke 9:51-62


And here is the ERD meditation:

The Spirit's Power in a Teacher

When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other... - II Kings 2:14

And so Elisha inherits a double portion of Elijah's power, power that makes the impossible possible: he can cross a river on dry land, just like Moses and the Hebrews of old.

We see that God has given Elisha power that emerges from his relationship with Elijah. Elijah taught him what he knew, and now he would become even more of a blessing than his master was -- surely it is this for which all teaching hopes, that the student will surpass the teacher.

Did Elisha do that? Surpass his teacher? Well, it is Elijah we remember today, not his pupil; Elijah for whom a place is still set at many a Passover table to this very day. But, at the very least, the writer reminds us that the transference of the spirit's power from one to another in no way reduces its power. A teacher expands the field of knowledge by communicating it to a student. It is like fire: there is more light when you give some light away, not less.

Today, 100 million children worldwide are not in school. 70% of them are girls. Because education is so closely linked to so many other issues -- a person with at least a primary education is less vulnerable to disease and contributes more to the community than one without schooling, no matter where he or she lives. Education is the key that unlocks the prison of poverty.

Throughout Africa -- in Zambia, in Congo, in South Africa and many other African nations, as well as in South and Central America, in Southern Asia, ERD and its local partners support schools and what is needed to enable children to attend them. We also provide education for adults: job training, education in agricultural method, medical training and training in sanitation methods for community leaders in remote villages where there is no doctor for miles.

It is not impossible for the world to be a much, much better place than it is. Like Elisha -- who may or may not have surpassed his master -- we have the spiritual power to do much more, and we can give that power to others without losing a bit of it.


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