Monday, August 21, 2017

God's Expansive Love

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 20 Aug. 2017, Proper 15

Year A RCL: Genesis 45:1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28

When someone throws you a ball,
do you have to catch it? Notice how Jesus handles what's thrown at him
in our Gospel.

[At this point, I literally threw 3 balls into the congregation at both services. Our early birds caught some.]

Not everything life throws at us is immediately clear.
[Folks at both services caught on, as I tossed & caught the furry ball & revealed its true identity as a toy porcupine puppet.]

In Romans we hear Paul struggle with the tension between God's sovereignty, our human responsibility1 & our freedom to accept or reject God's love.

How expansive God's love is! Through Jesus' dying for us, God's love reaches out to all humans – even us Gentiles.
We Gentiles are the dogs Jesus refers to in our Gospel.

Notice: Jesus says plainly “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Only after his dying on the Cross & his Resurrection does Jesus send the disciples to every nation.

Today we see him focusing on the work he has to do among his people – not the neighborhood dogs.

The disciples want Jesus to say something to this yapping dog of a woman to send her away. I hear anger in their words.

I hear determination & quick wit in hers2.

Notice: Jesus responds differently than the disciples.

How do you respond to a yapping dog?

What do you do with a lizard, spider or roach that belongs OUTSIDE your house, not in it?
It's easy to chase the lizard out with a broom, stomp on or squirt insecticide on the spider & the roach. It takes time to hum & be peaceful with them so you can catch them in a bug bottle 

[however creatively you make one] & return them outside where they can do the work God created them to do to help the earth.

The 1st reaction to stomp or chase brings out the creatures' natural defenses. The 2nd transforms the dynamic, shifts perspective & outcome.
The 1st offers more death in the world.
The 2nd offers more life.

Jesus didn't come to offer us less death.

Jesus came for us to have more life.

Jesus demonstrates how to have more life by shifting perspectives & expected outcomes. 

Among the ways he does this is through compassion. Jesus applies the 3 types of compassion we talked about in our Forgiveness Forum: tender, fierce & mischievous.3

The type he uses depends on the situation:
tender letting little children come to him,
fierce telling Peter: “Get behind me, Satan”,
& mischievous in today's encounter with this outsider who wants her daughter healed.

Jesus simply says: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This gives her an opportunity to speak so Jesus can gain her perspective & see as she sees.

She says simply: “Lord, help me.”
Her body language speaks respect as she kneels to ask. Jesus speaks to her & crosses a cultural divide by speaking to this outcast.4

He says he has important work that has limits. Life is short, & he does not have too much time to take food from the mouths of hungry sheep & throw it to dogs.

I wonder if the woman suddenly sees herself in new ways with this playful word picture. I wonder if she sees her life more clearly in a new light, the Light of Christ, so she can respond about being worthy to share crumbs.

I wonder what the disciples learn from this encounter & how they react to the grace which comes as her daughter is instantly healed because of this mother's faith.

The disciples want to get this dog – this lizard, this roach, this spider of a woman – out of their house of Israel & away from them.

Jesus playfully speaks peace so she can return to where she belongs to do the work God has created her to do on this earth.

God has created you / us Beloved Brothers & Sisters, to tend this earth & to tend lost sheep where we are.

God has created this Body of Christ – this image of God's Love5 – to work so that all manner of thing shall be well.

God calls us to see the needs of God's hungry children here,

to offer God's healing grace,

& to speak peace to trembling dogs

who are lost & hungry

for God's love.


Bibliography
Barclay, William. Letter to Romans: The Daily Study Bible. Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press. 1971.
The Book of Common Prayer. “An Outline of the Faith”. New York: Church Publishing. 1986.
Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. 2nd Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2001.
Freeman, Lindsay Hardin. Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter. Forward Movement. 2015.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Eds.: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR: The Appreciative Way. 2010. www.appreciativeway.com.
Voyles, Robert J. “The Three Faces of Compassion”. Forgiveness Forum: Teach Your Congrgation How to Forgive. www.appreciativeway.com. 2014.

1 Barclay, William. Letter to Romans: The Daily Study Bible. P. 163.
2 Freeman, Lindsay Hardin. Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter. P. 368.
3 Note: Voyles, Robert J. lists the 3 types, quoting Psychlogist Stephen Gilligan on p. 55 of “The Three Faces of Compassion”. Forgiveness Forum: Teach Your Congrgation How to Forgive.
4 Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. Pp. 85-86.

5 The Book of Common Prayer. “An Outline of the Faith”. P. 845.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What Beautiful Feet!

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 13 Aug. 2017, Proper 14

Year A RCL: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33


When we hear today's Gospel, we tend to

focus on Peter's sinking in fear & 

Jesus asking, “...why did you doubt?”

Notice what else Peter does.

Peter is the only one among his fellow terrified disciples
to take the big step out of the boat
in that storm to be with Jesus.

He does walk on water,

however briefly.

 In his book, If You Want to Walk on Water You've Got to Get Out of the Boat, John Ortberg sees Peter's “Getting out of the boat [& walking as] Peter's great gift to Jesus...[and] the experience of walking on water [as] Jesus' great gift to Peter.”1
While Peter keeps his eyes on Jesus, he walks on water. When he notices the strong wind, fear takes over. He starts sinking.
We have to keep our focus on Jesus.

When life's storms arise, we, like the disciples, may forget: Genesis 1 says: God moves in the beginning of creation, sending a wind over the waters of chaos; Exodus 15 says God sends wind to part the Red Sea & turn it into dry land.

We have to rely on the great gift God gives us:
the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us
through life's storms.
We may have to get our feet wet to do the work
God calls us/calls you to do.

Sometimes it takes time to find our new calling in life's changes. A long ago friend's new life after retirement comes to mind. After his success as owner of a restaurant & bar, he worked with Habitat for Humanity in Valdosta, GA. My husband & I were reminded of this in a newspaper tribute after his death in June.
[Tribute by The Valdosta Daily Times Executive Editor Dean Polling at
includes parts below adapted from the original:2]

Stuart Mullis was a big man in his positive impact on people & literally broad & over 6 feet tall. After selling his business, he volunteers at Habitat & is not initially impressed working in 100-degree summer heat pushing a wheelbarrow full of sod. Then he encounters a boy from the Habitat house next door & becomes a believer in Habitat's effectiveness.

The children & their mother come outside to play. Stuart cuts his hand. The little boy with 2 front teeth missing comes over, looks at his hand & asks what's happened. Stuart says he cut it & playfully asks the boy what happened to his teeth. He says, “My daddy knocked them out" & he wraps his arms around Stuart's legs & says, "Thanks to you for our house, he'll never do that again."3

Stuart hadn't worked on their house. This was his 1st Habitat experience. But the child knew Habitat helped him & his family have a home.4

That little boy walked on water to Stuart.

On that 1st project, Stuart learned Habitat needed a local executive director. He applied, was hired, & served well, being generous & firm with Habitat's required sweat equity as the way people pay for their homes.5

Stuart did a lot of walking on water.

A blind man wanted a house for his disabled wife. Stuart offered a creative opportunity for sweat equity: Habitat had received about "a million nuts & bolts”, which a store couldn't sell because they were mixed in damaged boxes.

Day by day in the cold winter, the blind man came to Habitat's storage facility & stood sorting nuts & bolts by hand to fulfill his sweat equity for the house he wanted because he loved his wife.6

That's walking on water.

Building houses is work.

Building relationships is work.

Building up the Body of Chris is work.

Work requires rest.

In our Gospel today notice: Jesus is alone with God, taking a rest after feeding the 5,000 & sending the disciples off in that boat. Early in the morning he comes to the disciples walking on the water.

Life's storms distract us.

May we have the grace to take time

to rest

&

take time

to walk on water.



Bibliography
The Four Translation New Testament. Minneapolis: World Wide Publications. New York: The Iversen Assocs. 1966.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Eds.: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
Ortberg, John. If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2001.
Polling, Dean. Executiv Executive Editor. The Valdosta Daily Times. “Stuart Mullis” http://www.valdostadailytimes.com/news/local_news/remembering-the-man-that-habitat-built/article_6677c42b-d285-5f31-8298-e16d616aa744.html Accessed: 30 June 2017.

1 Ortberg, John. If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat. P. 78.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Reality Check

Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 6 Aug. 2017, Transfiguration
Year A, RCL: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36

What's going on today?
We're in the church's green season,
yet we use our white hangings
like we do for All Saints, Christmas, Easter, weddings & funerals.

Today is Aug. 6, the day we focus on Jesus' Transfiguration. [It was last on Sunday in 2006.] We use white to remind us of the brightness of God's Love we see in Jesus, the Love & purity which shines so brightly in our Gospel & our 1st lesson, which tells us how people react when they see Moses' shining face after he encounters God & brings the covenant to the people. [The Jewish Study Bible calls the covenant the Pact 1.]

Our scriptures shine with God's glory. In our 2nd lesson, Peter reminds us of the Holy Spirit's work & his own first-hand experience we hear in our Gospel.2 Notice how our Gospel demonstrates life in community: Jesus takes disciples with him to do the work of prayer.

Jesus relies on us to work with him.

Our Gospel's focus on Jesus' transfiguration we also read in Mark 9 & Matthew 173. It shows us a range of activity & reactions:
  • The men go up the mountain with Jesus.
  • Jesus prays. His face changes. His clothes shine. [The Revised Standard Version says, his clothes become white as a flash of lightning.4
  • Moses & Elijah appear & talk with him about his departure, which sources call his exodus5.
  • The disciples feel tired.
  • A cloud comes over them.
  • They feel terror & hear God say Jesus is God's Son, listen to him.
What about the building project
Peter suggests?
How rash does he sound?

Offering to build dwellings for Jesus, Moses & Elijah shows Peter, who will be a leader of the church, “grasps the theological significance of the event...”6 from his experience as one who observes the feast of booths specified in Deut. 16:13.  
[You can read about the feast, with an interesting twist, in The Year of Living Bibilically by A.J. Jacobs7, which we will use as a monthly study starting in September.]

How do we respond when we encounter significant events?
What makes your face, your eyes shine?
How do we build & enhance community?
How would you handle yourself working in outer space & seeing 16 sunrises & 16 sunsets in each 24-hour period?

I learned about this reality reading about Astronaut Andrew Feustel, who will be commander on his 3rd mission to space, orbiting 6 months in the International Space Station with his team conducting “over 250 research investigations & technology demonstrations that can only be performed in...space.”8

Preparation with fellow astronauts, including a Russian cosmonaut, is spread over 2 years, including time in Russia, to enhance teamwork, and, the article notes, language is one challenge.

The commander says they really “are learning the language of spacecraft.” “With the amount of time the crew spends together . . . [before] their launch, a bond develops . . . they develop a blend of nonverbal communication, anticipation & trust.”9

How do we, how can we develop
& enhance verbal &
nonverbal communication,
anticipation & trust?

Think of the bond we have in worship. Like the reality Peter, John & James see on the mountain, our worship “fundamentally is about the definition of reality,” as John Ortberg says in If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat:10

[In] worship, at its heart,
we magnify God.”11

"In our daily life's distractions, we may tend to see God like looking through the wrong end of a telescope [very small & distant.]"12

In worship [we] declare...God is real...our perception of reality is changed, ... sharpened...[We] remember...reality is more than what [we] can see & touch.”13

Like the reality of seeing 16 sunrises

& 16 sunsets in 24-hours
[which most of us will never experience],

reality is more than we can see & touch.



Bibliography
Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Luke. Revised Edition. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1975.
Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press. 1984.
DeMoss, Michael C., J.D. Bible Briefs of the Old and New Testaments: The Bible Made Easy. Minneapolis: Light & Life Publishing. 1999.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Hughes, Robert Davis III. Beloved Dust: Tides of the Spirit in the Christian Live. New York: Continuum. 2008.
Jacobs, A.J. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2007.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation.New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
Ortberg, John. If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2001.
Smith, Robert Lawrence. A Quaker Book of Wisdom: Life Lessons in Simplicity, Service, and Common Sense. New York: Harper. 1998.
Thompson, E. Scott II. “Commander Feustel prepares for third mission to space.” SigEp Journal. Summer 2017. Vol. 114. No. 2.


1 Jewish Study Bible. P. 191.
2 DeMoss, Michael C., J.D. Bible Briefs of the Old and New Testaments. P. 120.
3 Note: Aug. 6 is the day we commemorate Jesus' Transfiguration. It falls on a Sunday in an odd sequence of years. Internet search shows it was on Sunday in 1972, '78, '89, 2000, 2006 & now.
4 Scripture quoted by: Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Luke.P. 123.
5 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 1028. The New American Bible for Catholics. P. 1109.
6 Hughes, Robert Davis III. Beloved Dust. P. 260.
7 Jacobs, A.J. The Year of Living Biblically. Pp. 77-80.
8 Information from cover story by E. Scott Thompson II. SigEp Journal. Pp. 24-25. [My husband's fraternity.]
9 Ibid. P. 25.
10 Ortberg, John. If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat. P. 201.
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Mix of Wheat & Weeds

Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 23 July 2017, Proper 11
Year A, RCL: Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Like last Sunday, today Jesus gives us seeds to munch on mentally – food for thought.
As we ponder life now & how it will be in the future when the righteous shine like the sun, know this: God is active in our lives, even when we do not know it. God is active at this altar, even when we do not sense it.

Like the ladder in Jacob’s dream, our 1st lesson points us to this truth: as we reach for God, God reaches for us, [actually God reaches for us first]. We reach out to each other. Often God reaches for us through others.

Our Gospel today points us to the truth: Like Jacob, we are a mix of good & ill, wheat & weeds1, yet, God loves us, God loves you. God’s wisdom is beyond our comprehension. God’s holy & whole perspective sees beyond our perspective.

Both stories today point us to God's total trustworthiness to accomplish God’s purposes for us & for all God’s creation, of which we are integral & dependent parts.

As one Bible commentary says2, God’s patience “is a strategy” of restraint, not vague, but wise & intentional & differs from our impatient, quick-fix world, which wants a lifetime guarantee. Jacob’s story reminds us our quick-fix is not unique to our time & place. Like the slaves in Jesus’ parable, we want to pull up weeds now to fix the problem as we see it. We want a sure thing.

We see this in Jeremiah 44, which we focused on at Friday's fascinating Bible study3. Women exiled to Egypt worship God & a female goddess as extra “life insurance”. This reminds me of the political savvy of Samaritans, who live today in Israel.
In his book, The Year of Living Biblically, which we will start
studying in September, A.J. Jacobs notes Samaritans are neither Israelis nor Palestinians & “feel slightly out of place...[& try to] remain friendly with both sides...[to] dodge the political raindrops.”4
Jacob, in our 1st lesson, wants to avoid the unknown dropping on him & takes matters into his own hands to guarantee life will work to suit him. As we learned last Sunday, Jacob has cheated & lied to get what he wants. Now he's on the run.
Despite all his faults, Jacob intentionally seeks an encounter with God. He does what was common in his day: stops for the night at an old shrine, hoping to encounter God in a dream. He takes a stone from the wall & lies down, putting the stone at his head as a quick, handy weapon & protection from a wild animal.5

Jacob sleeps. God speaks in his dream so Jacob hears for himself God’s promise & blessing of land & posterity.6 God promises more: to be with Jacob in his travels & to bring him back to the land from which he flees.

Notice: God gives us more than we ask, more than we deserve. God refrains from giving us what we deserve. We know God blesses Jacob, & we hear this in Jesus' words about wheat & weeds.

Jesus’ parable tells us God’s timing & perspective are different from ours: Don’t get rid of the weeds. You'll hurt the good plants.
We can't see clearly to pull out the weeds & to see God’s big picture.

If you plant a vegetable garden & discover poison ivy in it, do you let it grow? [Answers: pull them out.] If we see poison ivy, we see a big problem:
Weeds with a capital W for Wicked!

God sees differently.
God knows poison ivy provides food to more than 60 species of birds.7 God knows the details in God’s creation. God knows the details in all parts of our lives.

God is in the details in our lives. We aren’t always aware God is here. Like Jacob stopping for the night at the shrine, we expect – or hope – to encounter God in this place. We expect God at our altar. Our altar may be one of those thin places where we encounter God . . . . if we stay aware.

How many other places have you encountered God & not known it? How many times have you sensed God’s presence & been too busy to stop? God is polite & does not force us to recognize God’s presence.

We do not always recognize God immediately. Sometimes it sinks in later. Notice: Jacob sleeps through this encounter. He awakes, it sinks in & he responds with awe, then fear, then action:
He proclaims awe,
declares it really is a holy place,
& renames it to emphasize this reality.

When we are slow to respond to our encounter, God – in God’s intentional strategy of patience – does more than bide time. God is busy, patiently at work in us & with us in God’s work to redeem the whole of God’s creation.8 God is at work waiting for wheat & weeds to grow.

Despite his faults, Jacob – that liar & cheat – purposefully seeks an encounter with God. Can we do less?

Despite our faults, we boldly & gratefully gather at this holy table. At this table we proclaim we worship the God of our Fathers:
Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob.

Notice: We claim Jacob,
that mix of wheat & weeds,
as one of our forefathers in our faith.








Bibliography
Eastman, John. The Book of Forest and Thicket: Trees, Shrubs, and Wildflowers of Eastern North America. Stackpole Books. Mechanicksburg, PA: 1992. ISBN 0-8117-3046-8.
Education for Ministry: Year 1 The Old Testament. 4th Ed. Revised 2006. Gen. Ed: Patricia Bays. Chapter 10. Pages 137-45.
Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary Year A. Vol. 3. Eds: David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. 2011.
Freeman, Lindsay Hardin. Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter. Forward Movement. USA: 2016.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jacobs, A.J. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2007.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation.New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
Opening the Book of Nature” class notes. School of Theology, The University of the South, Sewanee, TN. Advanced Degrees Program. Summer 2011.

1 Feasting on the Word. Year A, Vol. 3. P. 263.
2 Ibid.
3 Freeman, Lindsay Hardin. Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter. Pp. 295-300.
4 Jacobs, A.J. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as 
Literally as Possible. P. 217.

5 Education for Ministry Year 1. P. 143.

6 Ibid. P. 144.

7 The Book of Forest and Thicket. Eastman, John.


8 Feasting. P. 263.