Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 31 Aug. 2014, Proper 17
Year A RCL: Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
What changes a Rock like Peter into a stumbling block?
Remember Peter last week boldly declaring that Jesus is the Son of the Living God? Jesus calls Peter the rock on which Jesus will build the church. So how does that rock turn into this stumbling block that Jesus calls Satan!
Fear is Satan's tool to keep us from doing God's work.
Fear argues. Fear quibbles.
Peter argues with Jesus like Moses quibbles at the burning bush. Both react from fear about possible problems. They are at Point A & worry about Point Z. They forget to take one step at a time to do God's work.
They do learn to take one step at a time because God IS with them & WILL BE with them. Like Moses & Peter, we can learn to deny ourselves of worry because of Who IS with us & Will BE with us as we do God's work here together.
“To deny oneself is to disown (ourselves) as the center of (our) existence.”1 It's like being in love. To love something – a book, a golf score, a painting is a small love. Being in love is BIG. Being in love is bigger than the individual: It opens the individual to God's love.
Being in love lights up your life.
Our candles remind us of the fire of God's great love. They can remind us of the burning bush, which gives us insight into what God is like2: We know fire exists. We know it is unsubstantial, not solid, but strong. We can feel its presence. We can't hold it. It gives us light to see by.
It is powerful, dangerous, & purifying.
Fire helps us. Fire changes things, as Paul tells us in Romans. Paul's imagery of burning coals that we heap on an enemy's head refers to an Egyptian ritual of carrying a bowl of lighted coals on one's head for repentance.3
The person has changed.
We light the fire of love when we show kindness to enemies. Just as God calls Moses & Peter, God calls us to be change agents to increase God's love in the world, to burn off hatred & make way for new life, to turn a stumbling block like Peter into a rock that builds up the Church – the community of God's love.
When we work with fire we handle it with respect – like we do when we build a campfire or do a control burn. I am fascinated as I drive by burning forests & drive by later & see new green growth.
Fire purifies & makes way for new life.
New life is what we receive through Jesus. God's love constantly offers us new life. God's love accepts us unconditionally. We know this because Jesus dies on the cross for us before we ever say “I am sorry.”
As Rob Voyles says4: God's love is irrepressible. No matter what happens, God keeps giving life throughout the world.
It is amazing that after all the horrors & murders at Auschwitz & the other concentration & extermination camps where Hitler's culture of death ruled the grass started growing after the surviving prisoners were freed.
No matter what atrocities we inflict, life keeps springing up. Life does not give up & abandon the places of our atrocities.
God's will IS life. Good WILL triumph over evil. We know this because of Jesus' death, Resurrection & the Holy Spirit's whispering the fire of God's Love in our hearts.
How can we fear doing what God calls us to do? We know God promises: I AM with you & I WILL BE with you no matter what.
Our faith in God overcomes fear. God's love wipes out fear. God calls us to trust that our labor of love will bear fruit.
Look at the example of Mother Teresa of Calcutta: She worked long years, trusting the outcome to God. Among the insights she has left us is this:
“We cannot do great things on the Earth,
only small things with great love.”5
God's love is great. Our task is small.
The importance of our work IS HUGE.
BibliographyHarper’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.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 4 Aug. 2014.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR: The Appreciative Way. 2010.
1 The New American Bible for Catholics. P. 1036.
2 Note: Paraphrase of Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. P.110.
3 Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. P. 1162.
4 Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. P. 60.
5 Quoted P. 68 by Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment.