Easter 6 Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 5 May 2013
Year C RCL Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29
Jessica is a busy executive in Washington, DC, who handles chaos at the office by getting (her tutu) on1. What does that mean: she is getting (her tutu) on?
What image comes to your mind?. . . . .
Getting her Tutu on means Jessica is in her office, finding that still place within. She is practicing “The Habit of Stillness” that author Ed Bacon (who grew up in Georgia) writes about in his book, 8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind.
Bacon (who preached at the National Cathedral on Easter) says that Jessica was inspired to practice stillness when she heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu preach – so her tutu is capital T-u-t-u. When work gets chaotic, she reminds herself to get her Tutu on – to find that stillness Archbishop Tutu preached about at All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena, Calif.
Reminding herself to get her Tutu on is a handy prompt to engage the "Habit of Stillness" – her positive response to stress. The author, who is rector at All Saints, says Jessica knows the value of stillness; it helps her not waste valuable time in problem-solving.2 It reminds her to find her stillness.
Some of us call this Centering Prayer.
Whether we are getting our Tutu on, finding our stillness, or practicing centering prayer, our concepts come from experience, from something we understand.
Our Collect (which you recall “collects” our thoughts to focus on what the Scriptures say) tells us God has prepared for us such good things that they “surpass our understanding.” The writers of today’s scriptures tell us about good things that surpass their understanding.
They use imagery of what they do know.
The writer of Revelation tells us about his vision. He bases his descriptions on what he knows from the Hebrew Bible - from Isaiah 603 and from Genesis 2. As he describes the heavenly Jerusalem, we hear echoes from the Garden of Eden: the tree of life, the river flowing from Eden4.
In Revelation the tree of life grows on both sides of the river of the water of life – the river that flows from God.
The tree provides everything we need for life & healing. We lack nothing. We need no light. The glory of God’s face shines & lights all....like we hear in Psalm 67:
“May God...show us the light of his countenance & come to us.” The Jewish Study Bible says this literally means “make his face shine”... (it is)
“the visible expression of (God’s) benevolence”5
This Psalm & Revelation give us a vision of God’s love spreading throughout the world to all people, all nations.
We see God’s love spread as Paul responds to the vision he has & goes to Philippi. Apparently that city has so few Jews they have no synagogue, so they gather at the river for prayer6. Lydia is a Gentile worshiper of God, who worships with the Jews. She has a habit of prayer, a habit of stillness in God’s presence.
In a vision Paul sees a man asking him to come to Philippi “and help us”. Us? Who? God? The Holy Trinity?
God has laid the ground work for Paul’s message that opens Lydia’s heart. She is the first Christian convert there. Notice:
God opens Lydia’s heart to listen
to what Paul says.
God is active before we have a vision. God is active as we act on it. God is active in & through us. Jesus says in today’s Gospel that God sends the Holy Spirit to teach us & remind us what Jesus has said. Jesus says:
“Peace I leave with you; my own peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be trouble,
& do not let them be afraid.”
Fear is rampant in our world, in our culture, in in our news, in our lives. We live lives of clinched fists. Clinch your fist & hold, hold, hold. Now: slowly, slowly, very s-l-o-w-l-y relax the grip. Let it go. Feel the difference.
The loosening of a clinched fist is how Ed Bacon describes the feeling as his shoulders & upper arms relax when he practices "The Habit of Stillness"7.
In the stillness we find peace.
The Habit of Stillness, the habit of Centering Prayer – finding that quiet place to be with God – readies us for chaos that is part of life.
Stillness increases our sense of peace.
In it we find the peace Jesus promises.
The peace that surpasses our understanding.
It is the peace that we read in Martin Rinkart’s hymn, “Now thank we all our God.” He wrote it in 1636 during the turbulent 30 Years War8, whose atrocities & suffering sound like news from Syria today: refugees fleeing to a safer place, crowding into a walled town, besieged, fearful.9
As pastor in the besieged city, Rinkart (also Rinckart), weakened by famine & the pestilence that are part of such overcrowding10 “maintained his belief in mercy even as he buried the dead, conducting funeral services for as many as (40) to (50) people (daily) – including his wife & some of his children.”11
Please open your Blue Hymnals to #396, Rinckart’s Hymn. Look at Verse 2:
“O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us! With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us; and keep us in his grace, and guide us when perplexed, and free us from all ills in this world and the next.”
Please read Verse 2 with me:
“O may this bounteous God through all our life
be near us!
With ever joyful hearts & blessed peace to cheer us;
& keep us in his grace,
& guide us when perplexed,
& free us from all ills in this world & the next.”
This man has just buried his wife & children & 40 other people.
He is suffering from famine & filth.
Yet he has grace, stillness, peace.
He writes of peace – peace that the world cannot give.
Bacon, Ed. 8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind. New York: Grand Central Life & Style. Hachette Book Group. 2012.
Behind the Name: the etymology and history of first names. http://www.behindthename.com/names/usage/biblical. Accessed: 2 May 2013.
Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing Inc. 1986.
Hallelujah: The Poetry of Classic Hymns. Ed: Anna Marlis Burgard. Berkley: Celestial Arts. 2005.
Dios Habla Hoy: La Biblia. New York: American Bible Society. 1983.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.:Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1985.
Heidt, William G., O.S.B. The Book of the Apocalypse. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press. 1962.
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
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.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 10 April 2013.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Eds.: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
1 Bacon, Ed. 8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind. Pp. 37-38.
2 Ibid. P. 38.
3 Heidt, William G., O.S.B. The Book of the Apocalypse. P. 121.
4 Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. P. 1318.
5 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. P. 1353.
6 Harper’s. Pp. 1100-1101.
7 Bacon. P. 36
8 Hallelujah: The Poetry of Classic Hymns. Ed: Anna Marlis Burgard. P. 12.
10 Ibid. Hallelujah. Burgard. P. 12.