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:
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. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 20 Nov. 2013. Publications. 2007.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1970.