Monday, December 30, 2013

The Worlds Where...

The Worlds Where God's People Dwell
Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA; 1st Sunday after Christmas, 29 Dec. 2013
Year A RCL: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147; Galatians 3:23-25;4:4-7; John 1:1-18

My husband & I had a world of unexpected experiences last week in Washington, DC, where we flew Christmas morning to visit our son.
As we walk through the airport to baggage claim, a woman up ahead suddenly sneezes without time to cover her face. It happens so fast, we cannot avoid entering the World of Germs she has created. I hold my breath & hope not to get sick.
I think:
This is the world we live in:
the world of the human condition,
the world of sickness & vulnerability,
the world Jesus enters to heal us.
Our first night there, we enjoy the hotel's hospitality beside the water feature teeming with colorful fish that soothe us and delight the 7 children from 2 families, who are traveling together.
These 2 families radiate love & unity. These families are of 2 different cultures: 2 races of people who – not so long ago – hated & conquered each other, imprisoned & killed each other. Yet the several generations of these 2 families radiate deep, mutual respect, love & great joy.
We see them united: children, parents, grandparents, maybe great-grandparents. They laugh & play & take plenty of photos. Even the youngest skillfully operate a phone camera to record their love.

These families dwell in a

World of Love.

Their love surrounds us.

You can almost feel it in the air.

It's like that airport sneeze you can't


My heart feels light & saturated with

their contagious love & joy.

I will carry this love always.
These families witness the truth: We dwell in the World of Love – God's love. These families show forth light – the Light of Christ – the light Jesus brings into the world. This love lightens the darkness, and as our Gospel says:

the darkness cannot overcome it.

I wonder when I will have an opportunity to share this love. I don't have to wonder long. The next morning we stand on a street corner waiting for the traffic light to change as we walk to go see our son. I have just realized that I have forgotten to bring any cash on the trip. I don't usually carry cash, but I do like to when we travel to DC so that I have something for the homeless beggars we encounter.
Feeling sad that I forgot, I notice something move in the breeze. At the base of a tree near me are two $1-bills. I pick them up & remember I have just told you: God blesses us in unexpected ways.
Good, 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? Do I give one & save the other for the next person?
Suddenly we encounter the 1st 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?”
He returns my gaze. His eyes tear up. He smiles & says: “I'll take this one. Please bless another person with the other one.”
I put my hand on his shoulder & assure him I will & that I 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 all 

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 them1. Jesus always interacts with those seeking help, always engages hose 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.
 This man tears up, clasps my hand &
then 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,

sneezing out

the germs of our self-focus 

that can spread & sicken others.

On the Cross, Jesus restores the 


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 money

can unintentionally bless strangers,

what can our intentional evangelism do?2


Lectionary Page. Accessed: 23 Dec. 2013.
Merriam-Webster. Smartphone Dictionary app. Merriam-Webster Inc. 2012. Accessed: 27 Dec. 2013.
Voyle, Robert J. “An introduction to Appreciative Inquiry”. 2013 Clergy Leadership Institute. Presented at Diocese of Georgia Fall Clergy Conference.

1 Note: Influenced by presentation of Robert J. Voyle, “An introduction to Appreciative Inquiry”. 2013 Clergy Leadership Institute. Presented at Diocese of Georgia Fall Clergy Conference.
2 Question my husband asks.

What Happens...

What Happens to the Sheep?
Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA; Christmas Eve, 24 Dec. 2013
Year A RCL: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, Isaiah tells us in tonight's reading.
There are many kinds of darkness.
I remember the darkness at Christmas when we'd lost a good-paying full-time job. My part-time work supplemented my self-employment as a free lance writer. I remember deciding to take a break from dismal financial figuring to read a cheery- looking note in the stack of mail. The message from United Thank Offering encourages me to save loose change to give to the poor. I cry. Right now, we ARE poor. Every bit of loose change goes to the next week's groceries at the discount store.
I feel more depressed as I drive to my part-time job. I tell God I feel really bad about not giving, but I have to use loose change to feed our son. I can't see any hope, any way to help except to pray. I can't look up. Eyes downcast as I get out of the car, I see a penny on the ground & pick it up. As I put it in my pocket, I think darkly: this won't do any good.
On my desk are 2 pennies. Hmmm. I pick them up & put them in my pocket. I push open the curtains. On the floor sits a pile of pennies!. . . . I inquire of co-workers. "No, they don't belong to anyone. Guess, they're yours!"
God knows I am slow to catch on, but light starts to break into my darkness. I laugh a little & save the pennies to send to United Thank Offering – someday – when I have more to send.
More comes sooner than I expect. For weeks I find stray coins in the oddest of places! . . . . I KNOW God IS in charge. God DOES provide . . . in unexpected ways. God meets us where we are.
 Even when we are downcast & cannot look up, God comes down to where we are &
looks us in the eye with God's eyes of love.
The question is . . . . do we see God's love?

My Brothers & Sisters, Jesus comes to redeem us & give us fuller life & love. I know from experience this is hard to remember when life is hard, when we are in the grip of many demands. Some demands we self-impose as we strive to make the perfect Christmas.
We can be so busy (as Glennon Doyle Melton writes in “A Christmas Miracle,”)  
that we have no room in our hearts for Jesus1 
& we send him away to the manger to get out of our way.
If the perfect Christmas means we have every detail taken care of, tell me: Why at the first Christmas do the shepherds leave their sheep? How could they possibly herd all of them into Bethlehem that is so crowded Mary & Joseph have to go to the stable? Why didn't God didn't have a plan to protect the sheep from lions & wolves & bears?

I wonder . . . . .if the shepherds laugh in joy they after they get over being terrified. . . . . Joy & laughter are gifts from God, who creates us in God's image. . . . We laugh, so God must laugh. One good belly laugh raises the immune system for 3 days. So laughter is healthy. It can instill peace.

Maybe the shepherds' laughter & joy join the joy of Mary & Joseph & the angels & fill the world with God's profound peace – however briefly on this night of nights. So that peace settles on the bear, the lion, the wolf – peace that 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 night come to be? I wonder . . . . if one day the Holy Trinity discusses the darkness we stumble in & brainstorms how to bring light to us – Holy life-giving Light – that will restore us fully in God's image so that we live in justice & righteousness, as Isaiah says. . . . . Maybe 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.
The 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 of creation.
If only we could talk to them one-on-one.

Jesus says: Hey, that 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 feedbox2!?
 That's so funny . . . . it just might work!
At least it might give humans some joy & a good laugh!
They are so dreary.

The Father says:
Son, IF you do this, many will remember &
set up little 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.3

The Father says:
 Son, you must realize they will betray you
 & likely will 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 to. All those trees can remind them of the one tree only I can decorate.4 

I WILL decorate that tree of death so that they may have life – abundant life filled with joy & laughter, peace & good will.
It will become the tree of life!

The Holy Spirit says:
Wonderful! . . . .
Y'all do remember we have given them
freedom to choose between good & evil.
Jesus says: Yes. Some WILL choose right.
They will be so filled with our joy & trust in us that 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 will say. 

The Father says:
Son, who are they? How many? 

Jesus says: There are enough. Look:
There's a great group gathered right now at St. John's
in Bainbridge. They ARE so filled with our joy!

They WILL tell others that even in darkness, we shine
great light. They ARE zealous to do good deeds.

The Catholic Company Christmas Gifts for Everyone. 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.
Lectionary Page. Accessed: 20 Nov. 2013. Publications. 2007.
Melton, Glennon Doyle. “A Christmas Miracle.” FamilyCircle. December 2013. New York: Meredith Corp. 2013.
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.
Voyle, Robert J. “Blue Christmas Meditation: How Shall We Remember?” Accessed: 31 Oct. 2013.
1 Melton, Glennon Doyle. “A Christmas Miracle.” Family Circle. December 2013. P. 90.
2 Note: Influenced by Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
3 Note: Influenced by Voyle, Robert J. “Blue Christmas Meditation: How Shall We Remember?” Accessed: 31 Oct. 2013.
4 Note: Influenced by information from Christmas Catalog of The Catholic Co. (Charlotte, NC). P. 30.

Monday, December 9, 2013

You Viper's Brood! . . . May You Abound in Hope....

By The Rev. Marcia McRae & edited for this blog from Homily for
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA; 2 Advent, 8 Dec. 2013
Year A RCL: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
"You viper's brood!
Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?!"
I can't preach like John the Baptist that fiery outdoor prophet. I preach in this climate controlled building. These purple vestments over a white alb look very different from what our Gospel says John wears: camel's hair clothing with a leather belt around his waist. What would he look like today?
 Can you see him with his hair long & unruly?
He wears a crocker sack tied with twine.
As he walks down this center aisle to sit on the front pew, you read the slogan scrawled
on the back of his denim jacket:
“Jesus Saves!”
If this character comes in here & sits on your pew will you bear fruit worthy of the repentance we speak at every Eucharist as we seek God's forgiveness so that we can live new lives? Will you welcome this strange stranger?
Will you, dear Beloved Child of God, dear little child, welcome this lion to eat with us at this Holy Table?

Will you offer your hand at the peace to shake his – like a child putting its hand over the adder's den?
(as Isaiah describes of the peaceable kingdom)
Will you (as Paul encourages the Romans to do) welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed you?
 If you do, then we can – with one voice – glorify God. That one voice is a harmony of many voices.

Paul reminds the Romans (& us) that with God's help we can live in harmony with one another. Harmony has many parts, many sounds. It is so different & much richer than a monotone, than all sounding exactly alike. Our many voices blending together speak God's love & unite into a glorious chorus of praise to God.

I am convinced that you – that we – have such great unity, such ability to live in harmony. Yes, you would do as Paul encourages the Romans to do. You WILL welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed you. You will welcome a John the Baptist here as he marches down the center aisle in his crocker sack, trailing a scent of body odor like incense floating in procession on a festival day.

I am convinced that you – that we – can reflect the unity we know of God's Mystery: Unity that is Holy Community, the Holy Trinity – 3 in One, 1 in 3 – Unity that welcomes all sorts & conditions of people.

I am convinced of this because I have seen you welcome strangers & make them our Beloved Brothers & Sisters. I have seen your grace & determined unity under fire & in stressful times. I am convinced because my husband & I have witnessed such an encounter among Episcopalians not too far from here. We remember that Sunday when the lessons we have today have just been read:

The preacher has just started her sermon, focusing on John the Baptist. In walks this character that I have just described: the crocker sack guy with denim Jesus Saves jacket strides to the front pew.
Most of us think he's the preacher's prop,
a theater student from across the street
here to help illustrate her sermon.

We think this until we whiff the scent of him & see people shift uncomfortably nearby. One woman on the pew scoots closer to him after the sermon & opens the Prayer Book to the Creed for him.
He doesn't use it.
He knows the Creed by heart.
He's an Episcopalian.
He knows when to stand, sit, & kneel. He has drifted into our community, ill & far from home.
He becomes part of parish worship & fellowship. He chastises us for throwing out food left on plates after the parish supper & rescues it for a meal. He chastises me for shaking crumbs from the table cloths into the yard behind the kitchen; however, he stops when I remind him they are for the ants & the birds.

This Beloved Child of God teaches us much & gives us new perspectives. God has put him among us for us to learn from him,
& for us to bless him:
The head of a health organization happens to be a parishioner & eventually locates his family, gets him needed medicine & helps him return home.

When we see someone who is different or someone who irritates us, what assumptions do we make? He assumed I was thoughtlessly wasting food when (in fact) I was careful not to throw crumbs into the trash but was feeding God's creatures outside.

Jesus meets us where we are.

Our scriptures remind us that God constantly reaches out to us in love, peace & mercy. Sometimes God wears a crocker sack to do this.
God does this to bring us into closer relationship
with God & into fullness of life.

We know that Jesus dies for each of us before we ever ask forgiveness. Jesus dies for each of us while we are still trailing the odor of our sins. Jesus dies for us while we are still a disheveled mess.

Jesus reaches out his hand to us while

we are a brood of vipers & lets us bite his 

hand over & over.

Eventually we will run out of venom.

Eventually we will curl up in peace, wrapping ourselves around Jesus, hearing his heart beating,   beating in harmony with God's love.

 Jesus does this just because....just because...just because God loves you.

YOU, Beloved Child,

God invites to feast in peace

& in unity

in God's Holy Community of love.

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. Accessed: 20 Nov. 2013. Publications. 2007.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1970.