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July 14, 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.

The Right Answer

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

-- Luke 10:25-28

Almost everyone thinks that faith involves believing the right thing. Jesus' questioner was a lawyer, one who made his living by defining his terms. He must have thought that faith was like everything else in his life, a matter of getting it right: the right answer, the right conduct, the right opinion. Tell me what's right. I want to know.

But no. It turns out that faith not a secret code of rightness that will unlock the treasure of eternal life. It turns out that faith is a relationship with God and with the world, and that the name of this relationship is love. Again, a lawyer would be frustrated here: Well, what is love? A feeling? An obligation? A decision? He would need some specificity, he felt, in order to understand.

No further explanation was forthcoming. Instead, a story: a man is in serious need of help, and a stranger whose people are at odds with the injured man's people helps him, when his own religious authorities won't. The two are brought together in the story for a moment and then we hear no more -- nothing about eternity, no angels, no voices complimenting the Samaritan on his good behavior. He goes on his way with a promise to come and finish his good work, if need be.

It turns out there's no secret code, no hidden key. There's no need of one: eternal life isn't locked. Anybody can live as a lover of God and neighbor, just by walking out his front door and looking around at what needs to be done. And then doing the first thing that presents itself. And then another. And another. As many as you want -- they're all your neighbors. And the Christ who lives in you also lives in each of them.


Pentecost 7, Proper 10, Year C

Amos 7:7-17 or Deuteronomy 30:9-14 * Psalm 82 or 25:1-10 * Colossians 1:1-14 * Luke 10:25-37


And here is the ERD meditation:

A Samaritan Takes a Chance

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, "Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend."

-- Luke 10:34-35

Not only was the Samaritan good to the unlucky traveler whose allegiance was so different from his own, he was willing to negotiate with people who, he knew in advance, might not be disposed to trust him. He had to make the first move, though: he needed their cooperation to complete his good deed.

So how did he go about building trust? By trusting them first. He gave the innkeeper two perfectly good coins from his own purse and promised more. A risky business, we might say.

Doing nothing would have involved no risk at all. But doing nothing also would have ensured that the injured man would die by the side of the road. The Samaritan took a risk, but it was a calculated one: he knew he would return to the innkeeper again, knew that the innkeeper needed to maintain a reputation for honesty if he wanted to remain in business. True, there were reasons why the Samaritan's gamble might not work, but there were also reasons why it might. So he elected to take the chance.

The micro-loans Episcopal Relief and Development offers in poor communities are like that. Anybody who contemplates lending money must always factor in the possibility that he may not be repaid. Never lend money you can't afford to lose, the saying goes, and that's sound advice.

But when the lending takes place in a small town, where everyone knows everyone else's business, where people need to trust each other for the future, where one neighbor's repaid funds go out again right away as a new loan to another neighbor, where reputation for honesty is a precious thing, easily lost and not easily regained, the odds improve. The repayment rate for these loans -- to some of the world's poorest people -- is an impressive 97-99%%.

What happened to the wounded man after the Good Samaritan went on his way? We don't know what happened to either one of them -- we never hear of them again and, anyway, it was just a story. But we do know what happened to us because we heard it: we got a new and much wider definition of the word "neighbor."


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