Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 5th Sunday of Easter, 18 May 2014
Year A RCL Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
Stones are scattered throughout our
stones that kill, stones that protect,
stones that build a spiritual house,
stones that live.
The stone (in the photo) with its gentle flame reminds us (as we read in 1 Peter) that we are called out of darkness into God's marvelous light.
Episcopal Diocese 0f Georgia, who
decorated it to remind me to have faith & to trust in Jesus.
Stephen, the first Christian martyr, trusts in Jesus. We hear his trust in today's lesson. His words echo our Lord, Jesus, on the cross. As Stephen is being murdered by the enraged crowd throwing stones to stone him to death, Stephen says to Jesus: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”.
As we murder Jesus on the hard wood of the cross, Jesus says: “Father forgive them.”
Through Jesus' love & sacrifice for us, God equips us: to be able to live into the reality of God's far-reaching Love; to find joy & freedom in forgiving those who hurt us; to find joy & freedom by forgiving ourselves.
How easy is it to forgive?
It can be hard.
On the Sunday after the September 2001 bombings, Episcopal priests & other preachers reminded us to love & forgive & have faith. What else do you expect a priest to say?
What do you expect a country singer/songwriter to say or a Muslim to say when they have suffered attacks & near death?
Devout Muslim Rais Bhuiyan & “avowed American terrorist Mark Stroman” are the central people in TheTrue American: Murder & Mercy in Texas1 by Anand Giridharadas.
After the 911 attacks, Stroman killed 2 men he assumed were Muslims & shot Rais Bhuiyan in the face, leaving him for dead2. Stroman was sentenced to death row.3
Ten years later, Bhuiyan acted on inspiration from his Islamic pilgrimage & his family's upbringing that led him to forgive Stroman publicly4 & to work “to have his attacker spared from the death penalty.”5
This is amazing grace.
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me...”
Country music singer/songwriter Sam Baker has quite a perspective on the sounds he heard in his near death experience in 1986 before he became a song writer, as I learned listening to Terry Gross' interviiew with him on NPR's Fresh Air6.http://www.npr.org/2014/05/06/310089151/sam-baker-finding-grace-in-the-wake-of-destruction
Baker was traveling on a passenger train in Peru & almost died from the terrorist bombing of the train. The blast from the bomb in the compartment directly overhead instantly killed a couple sitting there. Their 7-year-old son took hours to die.
Since then, Baker has gained a renewed perspective on life & people that he expresses in song, teaching us about our common humanity, about mercy & grace. He emphasizes empathy, sees each person as a sinner & a saint,8 & has gained faith “in us as a group, as humans" (as he says in the NPR interview).
His perspective of humans as a group echoes what we hear Peter say in today's Epistle:
“Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people.”
Beloved Brothers & Sisters, you are a people. You are a royal priesthood to serve God, to draw others to God so that they become God’s people, living stones, fitted into Christ, the cornerstone.
What a difference it is to choose between
throwing stones in anger &
being living stones
fitted into Christ Jesus:
the way, the truth, the life.
May we have the mercy & the grace
to live as Jesus calls us to live,
(& as Sam Baker reminds us to in his album, “Say Grace,” when he sings:
“Go in peace. Go in kindness. Go in love.
Go in faith...Go in Grace.
Let us go into the dark. Not afraid.
Remember: we go bearing
the Light of Christ into that darkness.
Barclay, William. The Gospel of John. Vol 2. Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975.
Baker, Sam. BlueLimeStone Publishing. Sambakermusic.com. Produced by Walt Wilkins & Tim Lorsch Bull Creek Productions. 2004.
Book of Common Prayer. New York: The Church Hymnal Corp., and The Seabury Press. 1979.
Giridharadas, Anand. The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2014.
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.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 8 May 2014.
Sam Baker: Finding Grace In The Wake Of Destruction. http://www.npr.org/2014/05/06/310089151/sam-baker-finding-grace-in-the-wake-of-destruction. 6 May 2014.
Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR: The Appreciative Way. 2010. www.appreciativeway.com.
1 Giridharadas, Anand. The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
2 Ibid. Pp. 26-29.
3 Ibid. P. 109.
4 Ibid. Inside cover flap.
6 Sam Baker: Finding Grace In The Wake Of Destruction. NPR “Fresh Air” Interview with Terry Gross. http://www.npr.org/2014/05/06/310089151/sam-baker-finding-grace-in-the-wake-of-destruction. 6 May 2014.
7 Baker, Sam. BlueLimeStone Publishing. Sambakermusic.com. Produced by Walt Wilkins & Tim Lorsch Bull Creek Productions. 2004.
8 Ibid. Baker. Paraphrase from “Angels." BlueLimeStone Publishing.
9 Baker, Sam. NPR interview. http://www.npr.org/2014/05/06/310089151/sam-baker-finding-grace-in-the-wake-of-destruction. 6 May 2014.
10 Ibid. Baker. NPR interview.