Sunday, January 15, 2017

What Do You Hold in Your Hand?

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, 15 Jan. 2017
Year A RCL: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
What does this Christmas ornament of Santa & the Easter Bunny have to do with our Gospel today?

My husband saw this ornament years ago & had to buy it. It reminds us of my mother [who could communicate well in several languages] telling us:
Santa isn't coming this year.”

Startled by this puzzling statement, we ask why. She says:
The Easter Bunny broke his leg.”

Our confusion deepens. We ask more questions.
She says Santa will be at the mall for children but not arriving as usual parachuting from a helicopter because in the spring the Easter Bunny broke his leg parachuting in for his visit.
Ah. This mystery's darkness lightens.

Week by week we face mystery:
in bread & wine,
in Jesus' incarnation,
in Jesus' dying for us, rising again
& our receiving the Holy Spirit.
We face mystery in our scriptures today.

Why does John say of Jesus – his cousin – “I did not know him”?
Why do John’s disciples answer Jesus’ question with a question?
Why do we have 2 places in the Gospel pointing out translated words?

Reading “Scriptures is an act of coming face-to-face with the mystery of God,”1 Episcopal priest Urban T. Holmes III says in his book Spirituality for Ministry.
Scriptures are the memory of the church;” their power rises from what happens inside us to “draw us deeper into the process of discerning God’s vision for us.”2

Part of God's vision for us are the unique gifts you have to share! Your unique gifts are gifts only you can share, gifts God created in you, the puzzle pieces God placed in your small hands at your creation.

I recall comedian & actor George Gobel saying at a conference in Atlanta: babies are born with their hands balled into fists because they hold what God put there & has given only that person. God gives each of us pieces of the puzzle to complete the world.

We may imagine baby Jesus clutches a cross & nails in one tiny hand & in the other a healing touch or perhaps the gift of the Holy Spirit, as today's Gospel may suggest.
What did God put into your small hands?

Notice Paul tells the Corinthians & us: God’s grace has been given us in Christ Jesus; Jesus’ testimony is strengthened among us so we do not lack any spiritual gift.

Notice Isaiah tells us: God’s Love is so large God shares it beyond the tribes of Jacob. God says: “I will give you as a light to the nations.” God calls each of us to be a unique part of God’s “lighting system” so God’s “salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

As my friend & fellow priest, The Rev. Steve Evans of Savannah, GA, posted on Facebook the other day, quoting Plato:
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when [adults] are afraid of the light.”

Perhaps you know someone afraid of the light, afraid of God's light. Perhaps your gifts will calm this fear.
Know this: you are not alone.
As we seek how to be lights to the world,
we travel together like the Wise Men.

Your epiphany may be slow like their journey. You may have sudden clarity: God nudging you in an interesting dream, a word from a friend, your star word [which we have here for you if you weren't here on Epiphany to receive yours for this year].


I wonder what nudges John in our Gospel to say he does not know his cousin Jesus. I wonder if he means he doesn't know him as God’s son, as the Messiah, until he sees the sign.
Others may know Jesus when they see signs of the Good News as you share your gifts.

I wonder if our Gospel's translating the words “Rabbi”, “Messiah” & “Cephas” puts the message into clearer language for the original hearers.
You may put into clearer language the Good News of God’s Love for someone who needs to hear it in a way they can understand.

I wonder if John’s disciples follow Jesus & answer Jesus' question with a question because they feel drawn deeper into the process of discerning God’s vision for them, to find where their puzzle pieces fit.
You may help draw a person into a deeper relationship with God.

I wonder if they ask "where are you staying?" because they have learned from John there is something deeper to seek.
Visiting a person at home deepens our perspective.

When they accept Jesus’ invitation to "Come & see," the disciples recognize something beyond location. Something about his conduct speaks to their hearts & sends them to bring others into fellowship with Jesus.
You may help a person see Jesus is staying in your life, & this person may have an epiphany about God’s love not from your words but from how you treat this person.

An epiphany can come slowly like the Wise Men’s journey or be a sudden realization through a striking occurrence. It is an ordinary occurrence for stars to shine at night.

The Wise Men saw something striking & followed the star. How many others saw the star & said: “Wow that’s bright! Well, let’s go get supper.”

How many were burdened by life & could not look up?
How many are burdened & cannot look up?
How many are broken, not suffering a broken leg leaping from a helicopter, but broken in spirit?
How many are afraid of the light?

You / we have all we need to share the Good News God gives us to help God's beloved, broken children to look up.

We just have to open our little fists to share our puzzle pieces & make a positive difference in the world for Jesus' sake.

Doing this, you / we help clear away confusion & assure a beloved child of God no helicopter, no broken leg will stop God's love.

Not even death on the cross stops God's Love.





Bibliography
Barclay, William. The Gospel of John. Vol 1. Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed: James L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. Gen. Ed: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1985. p. 851.
Holmes, Urban T. III. Spirituality for Ministry. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing. 2002.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints. New York: Church Publishing. 2010.
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.

1 Holmes, Urban T. III. Spirituality for Ministry. P. 123.

2 Ibid.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Sermon Not Preached

Wisdom says: in extreme winter weather's hazardous driving conditions, cancel Sunday worship & encourage parishioners to worship at home, saying Morning Prayer from our Book of Common PrayerBelow is the sermon not preached today:

“How Will You Shine the Light of God's Love in 2017?”
Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 8 Jan., 2017, Epiphany 1: The Baptism of Our Lord
Year A RCL:Isaiah 42:1-9' Psalm 29; Acts 10: 34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

Waters, beginnings, God's spirit & God's approval flow through & connect our scriptures today.
In the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, the waters of baptism flow over him. In our Gospel, Matthew tells us Jesus stands in solidarity with the people of Israel1 who are re-dedicating their lives to God. By his actions, Jesus shows us public commitment to God, to what God calls us to do.2

Then God's Spirit descends like a dove. Remember in Genesis: The dove offers a fresh olive leaf as a positive sign to Noah after chaotic flood waters subside – a sign of peace as human life begins anew.

Human life begins anew as Christianity begins to spread. Waters of Baptism flow over believers &, as Acts tells us, “everyone who believes in [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Notice what Peter emphasizes as he speaks in Acts:
...Jesus is God's story continued,” showing God has no favorites.3
This means we Gentiles [you & I] can be part of God's holy people. How do we share this Good News? How will you shine the Light of God's Love in 2017?

As members of God's family, we have work to do sharing the Good News of Jesus & supporting each other as we grow in knowledge & as God's grace continues the work which begins in the beginning of Christianity.

It is work we catch a glimpse of as we read in Isaiah about the coastlands waiting for God's teaching. The Jewish Study Bible notes “coastlands” refers to people far away4 – you & me.
God has been reaching out to all people for a very long time.
Notice: our Gospel tells us of Jesus' unique status5 when God's Spirit descends like a dove. God says clearly:
This is my Son, the Beloved...”
This is a lived relationship with God. We have a lived relationship with God. What else does God say in this sentence?
This is my Son, the Beloved,
with whom I am well pleased.”
How does it feel when someone says something like this to you? “With you I am well pleased! Great job!” “I admire how you handled this.” “You are special to me.” When I see a person hearing such words, I usually see a positive reaction in the relationship.

In this Epiphany season, we focus on God's reaching out to us Gentiles. We enter the world of beginnings. Like the wise men who encounter the baby Jesus at Epiphany by following the star, we may find it helpful to have a star to guide us in 2017.

Thanks to the artistic skill of 2 of our young people for creating these, we have a star word for each of us! [I appreciate your due diligence, girls! Good work!]

Let the Holy Spirit guide you as you select your star, your special word for 2017. [Unless weather prevents us, we will have church next Sunday & you can discover your star word!]
Some of us post our star on a mirror, in our car, at the office, or use it as a bookmark for reading the Daily Office in the Prayer Book.
We place the star where it can easily remind us & teach us its deeper meaning.

What message does the Holy Spirit have for you in your star word for 2017?
How will this star guide you into a deeper relationship with God &
a fuller relationship with your Brothers & Sisters in Christ with whom & for whom you shine
the Light of Christ & share God's Love?

Let us pray: Loving God, bless these stars to guide your holy people. Grant that your children reading their special stars may receive insight & wisdom in daily life & work for the increase of your love in this world. We prayer in the name of Jesus, the Light of the World. Amen.6


Bibliography
Barclay, William. The Acts of the Apostlesk. Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press. 1962.
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.
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.

1 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 986.
2 The New American Bible for Catholics. P. 1013.
3 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 1093
4 Jewish Study Bible. P. 867.
5 Ibid. Harper's.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Gift of Compassion

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis' Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; Holy Name of Jesus, 1 Jan. 2017
Year A RCL: Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:15-21

Garfield the cat [in Dec. 26, 2016, edition of Goldsboro News-Argus] bemoans “Christmas is over already?!” Obviously he's not an Episcopalian! We are celebrating the 12 days of Christmas!

Garfield protests he's not yet “done being merry...” Lazy as he can be, he shows us he's ready for more action. Our scriptures today give us action verbs:
  • The Lord speaks to Moses & gives him a job to do.
  • Galatians tells us God sends his Son so we get adopted & can cry out to God “Abba!” [Daddy / Papa]
  • Our Gospel says the angels go back to heaven. The shepherds go quickly to Bethlehem to see this baby. They tell Mary & Joseph what they experienced. Mary listens, treasures & ponders what she hears. The shepherds leave, glorifying & praising God. After 8 days Jesus is circumcised & receives his name.

Like many of us who are called by names in addition to our given names, we call Jesus “Son of God”, “Incarnate Word” [as we say in one Collect for a Sunday after Christmas].
The Spanish version of “Incarnate Word” has a more immediate sense of action. Instead of “palabra” [which means “word”] our Collect uses the word “Verbo”1, which is the word for “verb” & the word defined as the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity2.
[I am intrigued to see my Spanish dictionary/encyclopedia has as its 1st definition for “verbo” the reference to Jesus & lists its 2nd meaning as an action word.3 I wonder if some cultures are quicker to see God active in the world.]
How readily do we see God active in our lives? How often are we like Garfield & miss God's blessings & love active in our lives?
Dense as I can be, God has helped me recognize God's love in action when it would be so normal for me not to see! For example, enjoying people watching in Washington, DC, I noticed love & unity of families of different cultures, 2 races who not long ago hated, conquered, imprisoned & killed each other. Yet the several generations of these 2 families radiate deep respect, love & great joy, laughing, playing & taking plenty of photos.

Their love surrounds us. You can almost feel it in the air. These families witness the truth: We dwell in the World of God's love. These families shine the Light Jesus brings into the world.

The next morning my husband & I stand on a street corner waiting for the traffic light to change. I just realize I have forgotten to bring cash. I don't usually carry cash, but I like to when we go to DC so I have something for homeless beggars.
Feeling sad about my forgetting, I notice something move in the breeze: two $1 bills wave in the base of a tree.
I pick up these 2 simple pieces of paper & recall telling someone recently: God blesses us in unexpected ways.
Now I have something to give a homeless person. As we walk a few blocks, I wrestle over the gift: Do I give both dollars to the first person? Give one & save one for the next person? Suddenly we encounter a beggar.
I stop, look him in the eye & tell him I don't usually carry cash. “God has blessed us this day,” I say, holding out the 2 bills & explaining how I have them.
You have a choice,” I say. “You can keep both bills as a blessing or you can keep one & leave the other to bless another person who needs it. What do you want to do?”
The man returns my gaze. His eyes tear up. He smiles & says: “I'll take this one. Please bless another person with the other.”

I put my hand on his shoulder & assure him I will & will tell the other person that he has shared God's blessing. Then I ask God to bless him. He grasps my hand & holds it, looks me in the eye & asks God to bless me. We shed tears.
Together we have entered the World of Blessing. Together we experience unmerited grace & the truth of God's blessing: Love that surpasses understanding. God's love is for each human being.

Suddenly I realize Jesus never just drops a coin or a healing into someone's outstretched hand without looking at them4. Jesus always interacts with those seeking help, always engages those seeking his blessing [even the woman who tries to sneak up behind him just to touch the hem of his coat].
God's Love lights the world & breaks through
our darkness to bless us.
Darkness cannot overcome the Light of God's blessing.

A few blocks on sits a toothless, lame man, extending the cup he holds to receive cash. I stop, look him in the eye & repeat my story, adding the detail of the blessing from the other man. With my hand on his shoulder I tell him the generous man down the street is sharing God's blessing. As I give him the dollar, I ask God to bless him.
He tears up, clasps my hand & reaches up to touch my head in a blessing. In this moment, we dwell in the World of Blessing, the World of Unmerited Grace.

This is the world God creates in the beginning. We corrupt this world with self-focus. Jesus restores this world on the cross. Jesus relies on us to continue his work, shining God's Light in the darkness.
Jesus relies on us to work with God in the on-going work of transforming the world.

If two simple pieces of paper can unintentionally

bless people, what can our
intentional evangelism do?5














Bibliography
Bacon, Ed. 8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind. New York: Grand Central Life & Style. Hatchette Book Group 2012.
Dios Habla Hoy: La Biblia. 2da Ed. Nueva York: Sociedad Bíblica Americana. 1983.
The Four Translation New Testament. Minneapolis: World Wide Publications. New York: The Iversen Assocs. 1966.
Handy Dictionary of the Bible. Gen. Ed: Merrill C. Tenney. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1973.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Larousse Diccionario Usual. Novena edición. Ramón García-Peleyo y Gross. México, DF: 2003.
El Libro de Oración Común. New York: Church Publishing. 1989.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1970.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.

1 El Libro de Oración Común. New York: Church Publishing. 1989. Pj. 127.
2 Larousse Diccionario Usual. Novena edición. Ramón García-Peleyo y Gross. México, DF: 2003. Pj. 690.
3 Ibid.
4 Note: Influenced by presentation of Robert J. Voyle, “An introduction to Appreciative Inquiry”. 2013 Clergy Leadership Institute.
5 Question my husband asks.

Monday, December 26, 2016

What About the Sheep?

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; Christmas Eve, 24 Dec. 2016
Year A RCL: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

The shepherds hear astounding news from the angel & go in haste to Bethlehem to see this miracle baby.
On this night of nights, who watches over the sheep?
Our Gospel tells us:
v what the angel says to the shepherds,
v  what the heavenly host says &
v  what the shepherds say.
What do the sheep say?
[Yes, baa.]
What does this mean? . . . . Let's find out.
I have 2 distinct sheep. Use your imagination to hear this gray one say “baa”. [At right in photo]
How will this sheep's “baa” sound?



[Demo of sheep with colorful legs, at left in photo,
saying the Lord's Prayer.]
This colorful sheep [1] reminds us how Jesus teaches us to pray. We can pray the Lord's Prayer when we are living in joyful light & in difficult darkness.
We hear Isaiah say in our 1st reading: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

There are many kinds of darkness. Some of us experience post-Christmas letdown, as author Tim Schenck reminds us in his book Dog in the Manger: Finding God in Christmas Chaos
Schneck asks: 
How does post-Christmas letdown impact your spiritual life?[2]

Beloved Brothers & Sisters, Jesus comes to redeem us & give us fuller life to draw us closer into God's love before, during & after Christmas.
Like a shepherd, Jesus comes to gather us straying sheep so we are safe in the flock. I know this is hard to remember when life is hard, when we are alone or separated, when we are in the grip of many demands.
Some demands we self-impose, striving to make Christmas “perfect”.
If the perfect Christmas means we have every detail taken care of, tell me:
Why on the 1st Christmas do shepherds
up & leave their sheep?

We know from our Nativity sets there are only 2 or 3 sheep with the shepherds!
[I asked some of you for a headcount of sheep in your Nativity sets. Only one family has more than 3: they have 4 sheep!]
How could the shepherds make haste to see Jesus & have time to gather all their flock into Bethlehem so crowded with people that Mary & Joseph have to stay in a stable?

What plan did God to have to protect the sheep the shepherds leave from lions & wolves?
I wonder if the shepherds laugh in the joy they experience after they get over being terrified. Joy & laughter are gifts from God. Laughter is healthy & can instill peace.

I wonder if the shepherd's laughter joins the joy of Mary & Joseph & the angels to fill the world with God's profound peace however briefly on this night of nights.

I wonder if this peace settles on the lion & the wolf & gives them deep sleep & freedom from worry about their next meal so the sheep are safe in the peaceable kingdom we glimpse on this night of nights.
How does this holy night come to be?
I wonder if one day God the Holy Trinity discusses the darkness we stumble in & starts brainstorming how to bring us Holy life-giving Light to restore us fully in God's image so we can live in righteousness & justice, as Isaiah says.
I wonder if the conversation goes like this:
God the Father says:
Y'all we've got a problem on earth.
The Holy Spirit says:
Yes! The people, especially the leaders, ignore what we say through the prophets about how to live.
Regular folk don't stand a chance to live fully & know us fully.
God the Father says:
We promised not to zap them again with a flood. They rationalize natural disasters & ignore their responsibility for caring for all creation.
If only we could talk to more of them more directly & walk with them through life.
Jesus says:
Hey, this could work!
What if I get born to one of them? Not as a prince but as a regular person.
Oh, what if I get born in a stable & sleep in a feedbox [3] !?
That's so funny it just might work!
At least it might give them some joy & a good laugh!
They are often so dreary.
God the Father says:
Son, if  you do this, many will remember & set up stables & decorate trees with
stars & angels to celebrate.
I love it!
The Holy Spirit says:
One thing wisdom demands: after you show them how to live & how to love, you have to show them how to forgive.
You have to love them until the end of life &
show them love never dies. [4]
God the Father says:
Son, you must realize they will betray you &
execute you, nailing you to a tree.
Jesus says:
I know. I love them so much I will do it! They can celebrate my birth & decorate all the trees they want. Those trees can remind them of the one tree only I can decorate. [5]
I will decorate the tree of death so they may have abundant life filled with joy & laughter,
peace & good will.
The Holy Spirit says:
Wonderful!
Y'all do remember we have given humans freedom to choose between good & evil.
Jesus says:
Yes. Some will choose right. They will be so filled with our joy & trust in us they will share the Good News that we love them
They will tell others that even in darkness, we shine great light.
They will be zealous to do good deeds
[as their holy scripture in Titus will say].
The Father says:
Son, who are they? How many?
Jesus says:
There are enough.
Look: I see a great group right now gathered in the far future in 2016 at St. Francis' in Goldsboro.
The Holy Spirit says:
These Beloved Children are so filled with our joy!
They will tell others that even in darkness, we shine great light!
These Beloved Sheep are strong in our love & zealous to do good!
Jesus says:
Yes. Ya gotta love 'em!
These Beloved Sheep ARE zealous to do good deeds!



Bibliography
The Catholic Company Christmas Gifts for Everyone. CatholicCompany.com. Charlotte, NC.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed: James L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. Gen. Ed: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1985. p. 851.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
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.
Robinson, Barbara. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. New York: Avon Books. 1972.
Schenck, Tim. Dog in the Manger: Finding God in Christmas Chaos. Forward Movement. 2013.
Voyle, Robert J. “Blue Christmas Meditation: How Shall We Remember”. www.appreciativeway.com.

 [1] Toy by WeeBelievers.com purchased at The Christian Soldier book store in Goldsboro, NC.
[2]  Schenck, Tim.  Dog in the Manger: Finding God in Christmas Chaos. P. 77.
[3]  Note: Influenced by Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
[4]  Voyle, Robert J. “Blue Christmas Meditation: How Shall We Remember”. www.appreciativeway.com.
[5]  Note: Influenced by information from Christmas Catalog of The Catholic Co. (Charlotte, NC). P. 30. CatholicCompany.com.