Friday, February 6, 2015

Smooth The Rough Places

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 7 Dec. 2014, Advent 2

Year B RCL: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Our Gospel from Mark echoes our lesson from Isaiah. Both tell us about making paths straight, transforming uneven ground to be level & making rough places to be smooth.
We transformed ground at Willis Park yesterday with our St. Nicholas Celebration & Blessing of the Toys. People we do not know stopped to listen to God's word. Perhaps that experience smoothed a rough place in someone's life.
Each of us has experience with rough places on paths, uneven ground or highways, so we understand the difference terrain makes as we walk or ride.
I sometimes walked the short distance from our home to Bainbridge College when I worked there. Our street curves gently. It's not a straight path. It is smooth & level. I can walk it in 10 minutes. My first summer at seminary at The University of the South in Sewanee, TN, I walked to classes. The house I lived in is the same distance from the seminary that our home is from the college. The path is straighter, so I expected to walk in less time. Imagine my surprise arriving late the first day. That straight path has rough sidewalks & an incline I hadn't noticed: it took more effort to walk.
The 1st night John & I were in North Carolina this fall, we walked the short distance from our Bed & Breakfast to a favorite restaurant. The walk in the fresh air felt great & we chatted along the way after a long day riding in the car. We didn't think about how the comfortable downhill incline would feel on the way back after a full meal. The return walk took our breath away. We struggled walking what felt like a 90 degree incline! We didn't chat. We stopped to gasp air. Once we could breathe, we laughed at ourselves, hoping we could make it to our room.
Some of you know even a “flat” road can be rough. Those of us who live where the sewer system has recently been installed remember the 9 months of upheaval, driving unpaved stretches with potholes & workers stopping traffic.
I remember returning from Atlanta, expecting to see the street in turmoil & our delight turning onto it & seeing a paved, smooth road. I remember saying: “Isn't that gorgeous? That asphalt is the prettiest thing I've seen!”
A smooth, level road makes a positive difference. Isaiah & Mark remind us that we are called to make a road smooth & level. Why should we do this? The Jewish Study Bible says making the way easier to travel makes it easier for exiled people to return to God1.
God's strength is enduring2 & sets captives free. We humans are still weak3, just like in the days of Isaiah & of John the Baptizer in our Gospel. Through Jesus, God sets captives free. As followers of Jesus, we have work to do for God's kingdom, to make rough places smooth, to lift up the discouraged when life is rough, when headline news is sad, shocking, troubling.
Jesus calls his disciples – us – to share the Good News/the Good Tidings that God loves each human being. Jesus comes to live & die among us to restore our relationship with God so that we can live fully in God's love. Isaiah speaks of the herald of good tidings. Heralds shout out the news.
Isaiah knows that heralds shout out the news of an army coming against people. Today he tells us of a herald who shouts out Good News that “...God arrives as the gentle shepherd, not to destroy but to protect.”4 God sets captives free.
Setting captives free, making the road to God level & smooth take time. For us, time can be a stumbling block, as we learned last week when we pondered God's perspective of time & our limited perspective. In our Advent meditation at home each evening, we take time to light the Advent wreath & say: "Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!" Jesus seems to take a long time returning to us.
Time can be a stumbling block when we consider current events, such as yesterday's thwarted rescue of a captive in Yemen.
God has all of time to wait patiently for captives to return to a relationship with God. As our lesson in 2nd Peter says: “...with the Lord one day is like a thousand years & a thousand years are like one day.”
What would 1,000 years look like?
A huge stack of calendars?

What if one day were like
one grain of salt?5 

Would young helpers come help me with this salt?

Feel the difference in the weight of these 2 salt containers.
How many grains do you think are in each?
Each container can hold 26 ounces - that's 737 grams. The label says a serving size is ¼ teaspoon – that's 1.5 grams.

Can you count how many grains of salt are in ¼ teaspoon? No?

Dip your finger in the water, then the salt &

count how many grains stick to your finger.

So let's pretend each grain is one day, which our lesson says is like a thousand years to God. If 1 grain is 1 day, how many grains make a year? Right: 365 grains of salt. If 365 = 1 year, how many would = 1,000 years? Right! 365,000 grains would make 1,000 years.

As I read about this online in a sermon: “(I)f we counted out 365,000 (grains of salt) we would not have all... the salt (container). ...(I)f you think of all the boxes of salt in one grocery store and...think of all...the grocery stores (in the world), see how little that one grain of salt is compared to all of the salt in the world.
One (grain) of salt in a box is not much, but it is important to that box just like one day is important to you.”6
One day in your life is important not only to you but also to people you love, people who love you & to God. What you do with that one day – with each day – can make a positive difference in God's world. You can make a positive difference in the lives of people who do not know the Good News that Jesus tells us:

God loves each of us.

God loves you!       No exceptions!

Jesus gives us work to do each day as heralds of this Good News. Part of our work is to trust the results of our work to God.
When you put salt on your food, it can remind you what the Bible says about 1 day being like 1,000 years.7 I pray that even 1 grain of salt may encourage you in your work making roads level & rough places smooth.

Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
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: 7 Oct. 2014.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Runk, Wesley T. “A Daze of Days”. From The Giant Book Of Children's Sermons Matthew To Revelation. Accessed: 6 Dec. 2014.
1 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. P. 852.
2 Ibid. P. 861.
3 Note: Concept from Ibid.
4 Ibid. P. 862
5 Note: Idea from Runk, Wesley T. “A Daze of Days”. Accessed: 6 Dec. 2014.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid

Monday, February 2, 2015

Be Ready for Whenever

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 30 Nov. 2014, Advent 1

Year B RCL: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

Happy New Year!
Did you forget today starts a new church year? We have moved from Year A to Year B. Did it slip up on you?
Sometimes time has a way of getting away from us. Do we spend time? Lose time? Waste time? Use time? Let's devote time this morning to consider this gift that God gives us.
Our calendars tell us Christmas is around the corner and so is the new calendar year of 2015.
Calendars tell us many things: when each season starts, what day of the week will your birthday will be on, which day will be July 4th. Liturgical calendars tell us when special days are in the church year, what colors we use (purple, white, red or green), what scriptures to read, the days we remember various saints & what events we focus on in Jesus' life.
The Church year starts with Advent when we prepare to celebrate Jesus' birthday while we await his coming again. That date isn't on any calendar, as Jesus tells us in our Gospel.1
Jesus tells us what is important to know is that we have work to do for God while we are waiting. What do we do in this waiting time? This is in-between time after Jesus has died for us, risen from the dead, & ascended into heaven & it ia while we await his coming again.
If we focus on Jesus' last statement, “Keep awake,” we may work ourselves to death. Notice: before this, Jesus says: Keep alert...It is LIKE a man going on a journey & he puts his slaves in charge “each with his work”. God gives each of us work only we can do.
God gives us all the time we need to do the work God gives us. Time is a precious gift. God makes us stewards of this gift. What is your perspective on time?
The Celtic poem, “Passing Time,” says
To a child a few weeks seem long.
To a youth a few months seem long.
To an adult a few years seem long.
To an old person decades seem short...
To God decades are seconds, Centuries minutes.
To (God) eternity is every moment.
Be patient with yourself: Think like God.2
Think what it would be like to live 3 years just waiting in a line. How patient could you be waiting in line 3 years?
People who live to be 70 have lived 3 years waiting – just waiting!3 Last week in Washington, DC, my husband & I waited for taxis, waited for my brother & sister-in-law to meet us at a restaurant, waited for our meal, waited in line to buy groceries to take to our son's home while he was at work. We saw people waiting in a traffic jam in front of our hotel as we took a walk. I am sure each of us has waited in a doctor's office, waited at a gas pump, waited for our turn to play in a game.
You may remember Dr. Seuss' “Oh, the Places You'll Go” about people in a useless waiting place, people so very different from you. In this Body of Christ, I know you make use of waiting time: reading a book, calling a friend, handling business, knitting or crocheting while you wait. You understand time is a gift from God. You know how to make the most of it. You have the wisdom to know some things are more important than other things. You have wisdom to transform those 3 years of waiting into sacred time like Ruth Hulburt Hamilton says in her “Poem to a Fifth Child”4:
Quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep.
I'm rocking my baby & babies don't keep.5
Some things are more important than a sink full of dishes & bills to pay. Dallas Clayton speaks to this sense of the sacredness of time in his first kid's book for adults: It's Never Too Late, which I took time to buy when we found ourselves near my favorite bookstore in DC.
He says......[read selected portions]

So how will you live the moments of this Advent season of waiting, this time of preparing for Christmas? How will you find joy in the waiting?6

Can you wait

in joyful hope?



Clayton, Dallas. It's Never Too Late. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2013.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Hamilton, Ruth Hulburt. “Lullaby for a Fifth Child.” Accessed: 29 Nov. 2014.
Lectionary Page. Accessed: 7 Oct. 2014.
Ready for His Return”. Accessed: 25 Nov. 2014.
Van de Weyer, Robert. Celtic Praise: A Book of Celtic Devotion, Daily Prayers and Blessings. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1998.
The Waiting Place”. Accessed: 25 Nov. 2014.
1 Note: idea from “Ready for His Return”. Accessed: 25 Nov. 2014.
2 Van de Weyer, Robert. Celtic Praise: A Book of Celtic Devotion, Daily Prayers and Blessings. P. 55.
3 “The Waiting Place”. Accessed: 25 Nov. 2014.
4 As Ladies Home Journal 1958 noted re Ruth Hulburt Hamilton's Lullaby for a Fifth Child. Accessed: 29 Nov. 2014.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid. “The Waiting Place”.

Encourage & Build Up Each Other

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 16 Nov. 2014, Proper 28

Year A RCL: Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

You, Beloved, are not in darkness...

So encourage one another & build up each other, as indeed you are doing.1

Vows require action. English educator & religious writer Hannah Moore, who lived 1745-1833, speaks to this in her poem “Faith and Works Together Grow”2:
“If faith produce no works, I see
That faith is not a living tree: Thus faith and works together grow;
No separate life they e'er can know;
They're soul and body, hand and heart
What God hath joined, let no man part.”3
What God hath joined, let no man part. That last line sounds like the marriage ceremony. This poem helps me see with new eyes the connection of faith & works. Faith & works are like a marriage. The husband & wife have work to do to live their vows. Doing so they build up each other & strengthen their “couple-ness”. All vows require follow-through action that builds up the people involved.
Reading our scriptures regularly & understanding what we read helps us keep our vows to God & each other & to build up each other – a particularly important gift to each other at this time of year with its unique demands & expectations for so many special events, such as our Bazaar & holiday celebrations. How can today's scriptures help us through this time?
Jesus' parable about the 3 slaves given various talents (amounts of money in proportion to each slaves' skill to manage the money) reminds us we have work to do here & now to fulfill our vows to God. Our lesson from Judges says we have work to do here & now to fulfill our vows to God. Judges shows us that God is our deliverer.
God works through humans, using human skills & abilities, to save the people from their oppressors when the people cry to God for help. Like the Israelites, we can forget our promise to live in God's love & to trust God with the results of our work.
Forgetting leads to trouble. The people in Judges forget after Ehud dies. Ehud was their champion whom God raised up to save them from a previous oppressor after they had drifted away from God. They live in right ways & then sin. So they get oppressed again & we come to today's situation with the prophetess Deborah commissioning Barak as army commander4 to work with God to fix this mess.
God will deliver General Sisera into Barak's hands when God draws him out to the Wadi Kishon. This wadi is a branch of the Kishon River, “the most important of the brooks in the Jezreel Valley”.5 The Kishon flows from south-east to north, flowing into the Bay of Haifa in the Mediterranean sea.6
All rivers, brooks & creeks flow in some direction. A favorite creek of mine – and I suspect of some of you – is Honey Creek at our conference center on the Marshes of Glynn. It is beautiful & fascinating to watch the marsh grasses change colors. The creek itself changes as Alice here knows. Alice, will you come share your experience? [She witnessed a neap tide, during which the creek's flow switched directions.]
Alice has a gift of keen observation. She has many other skills that she shares to bless & build up this Body of Christ. You in this Body of Christ have so many gifts, skills, abilities, talents. We see results of some of our gifts on the small altar & throughout the Parish Hall as the Bazaar takes shape.
Think of the Bazaar in terms of Jesus' parable in today's Gospel7: There is work to do for God, whose “slaves” we are. God (through the Episcopal Church Women) assigns to each of us areas of responsibility for the Bazaar. These responsibilities are in proportion to our abilities. Some can do more than others.
We are blessed not to have any wicked, lazy slaves among us. You – we – work hard for the Bazaar & we work together to benefit all of us AND the many who are helped & served by the funds raised. Even though it is ECW's project, you men are very involved in its success.
As we go into the final stretch toward the Bazaar, I pray God to give us the grace to keep our vows, including our Baptismal Covenant to respect the dignity of every human being; to stay alert to respond as the tide changes; to anchor ourselves in the love of Jesus, that self-giving love by which Jesus dies on the cross for each one of us. Jesus dies for each one of our guests who will come to the Bazaar.

You, Beloved, are not in darkness...So encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
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: 7 Oct. 2014.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
The Three Toolboxes”. Accessed: 15 Nov. 2014.
A Woman's Book of Faith: 2,000 Years of Inspirational Writing By and For Women. ED: M. Shawn McGarry. Secaucus, NJ: Carol Publishing Group. 1997.
1 Paraphrase from 1 Thessalonians.
2 A Woman's Book of Faith. ED: M. Shawn McGarry. P. 38.
3 Ibid. A Woman's Book of Faith.
4 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. P. 517.
5 Ibid. P. 518.
7 Idea influenced by “The Three Toolboxes”. Accessed: 15 Nov. 2014.

We are Surrounded . . . . by a Great Cloud of Witnesses

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 2 Nov. 2014, All Saints Sunday

Year A RCL: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-13

Christ, when for us you were baptized, God's Spirit on you came, as peaceful as a dove & yet as urgent as a flame.”1

We hear Mystery in the first stanza of Hymn 121 that I just quoted. The lyrics by the Rev. F. Bland Tucker, who served as a priest in our Diocese, speak of water & fire. Water puts out fire. At Jesus' baptism, after the water pours over him, the urgent flame of the Holy Spirit descends.
We hear Mystery as Revelation tells us the Lamb will be our shepherd. How can a lamb be a shepherd? We know that's poetic language. We know the people of Israel slaughtered lambs as offerings to God. We know Jesus is slaughtered on the cross for us.
Through Jesus' death on the cross, God brings forth abundant new life for us. How is a Mystery.
Our lesson from Revelation gives us another Mystery: each one of those witnesses worshiping God is dressed in white. To make their robes white, they have washed them in the blood of the Lamb. How can blood make something white?
My experience is that if you don't notice blood quickly, it stains a garment & requires effort to get the stain out – IF you can get it out. Other than commercial bleaches, what do you use to get out blood stains? My research found:2 Ammonia, baking soda, club soda, corn starch, lemon juice & salt sitting in the sunshine, talcum powder, vinegar, WD-40! & hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). I learned H2O2 is part of human blood.
In the very nature of Jesus' blood is a cleansing agent that can remove stains. However interesting that fact is, it does not explain the deep Mystery of Jesus' healing death for us. The cleansing property of Jesus' blood is more complex than 2 hydrogen atoms & 2 oxygen atoms working together. The cleansing property of Jesus' blood is part of the deep Mystery of God's unfailing love for us that we accept through Baptism. Jesus suffers so that we can receive God's gift of abundant life & love.
All we have to do is say: “Yes, God, I accept your love that Jesus shows us.” Lucy & Daisy have said “Yes”. To make a formal & public statement of their “Yes” to God, they have asked to be baptized. The Communion of All the Saints will increase by 2 in a few minutes.
Baptism will bring Lucy & Daisy to an end of their lives as unbaptized people. It's a death to the old self & a birth to new life in God's love. Each will have a new relationship with all people on earth & in heaven.
Today we remember ALL the saints: capital letter Saints, such as St. John, & little letter saints, who work or worked as Jesus' hands & feet wherever they/we were or are. We carry on Jesus' work. We carry on the work of our local saints who are in heaven, for example, the work of this parish's saints whose “icons” we see today & for whom we give thanks: Betty Pelton's many ministries included sitting on the front pew so people unfamiliar with our liturgy would know when to stand, sit & kneel. John Casagrande offered holy hospitality in his ministry as an usher. Chuck Elliott joyfully shared his gift of song.
Saints show us many examples of the blessed people Jesus tells us about in today's Gospel. It's easy to know gifts of capital letter Saints: plenty of books tell us about them. F. Bland Tucker, whose hymn I quoted earlier, is remembered in our Diocesan saint book for many gifts, in addition to writing & translating hymns3. Among the Georgia saints are John & Charles Wesley, who have 25 hymns in our hymnal. Bland Tucker has 26. Another Georgia saint is being considered for inclusion in the church's official book of saints: Deaconess Alexander (whose icon is here) was the 1st African-American to be a deacon in the Episcopal Church.4 She worked to educate children in rural Glynn County, founded Good Shepherd Church there. Long before we had Camp Honey Creek, she worked to provide camps for youth.5
God gives each of us special gifts that only we can contribute to the human family. I have glimpsed some of the gifts with which God has endowed Lucy & Daisy: intelligence, creativity, wisdom, curiosity.
Before today's baptisms, let us give God thanks for ALL saints, especially those beloved by us at St. John's. In addition to Betty, John, Chuck, Gean Attaway, Sue Hollis,, Gus Brock, Eunice Knight, & Maria Williams, whose "icons" we see today, we give God thanks for the lives & examples of...[Here follows the litany of saints as requested by parishioners.]
Let us pray:6 Almighty and merciful God, we thank you for surrounding us with a great cloud of witnesses, so that we may rejoice in their fellowship, run with endurance the race that is set before us, and together with them receive the crown of glory that never fades away; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Ashley, Sabrina. “How to Cleanse Blood in the Body”. Accessed: 1 Nov. 2014.
Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal. New York: The Church Hymnal Corp., and The Seabury Press. 1979.
Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. 2nd Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2001.
The Four Translation New Testament. Minneapolis: World Wide Publications. New York: The Iversen Assocs. 1966.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University P
Hydrogen peroxide in the human body.” Accessed: 1 Nov. 2014.
Hydrogen peroxide in human blood.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Accessed: 1 Nov. 2014.
Lectionary Page. Accessed: 7 Oct. 2014.
Louttit, The Right Reverend Henry I. 9th Bishop of Georgia. Our Saints of Georgia. Revised: 2004. Printed by The Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
1 Tucker, F. Bland. Hymn 121. Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal.
2 Note: Options listed are from ' Digest online. Accessed: 1 Nov. 2014.
3 Louttit, The Right Reverend Henry I. 9th Bishop of Georgia. Our Saints of Georgia. Revised: Pp. 21-22.
4 Ibid. Louttit. P. 17-18
5 Ibid. Louttit. P. 17.
6 Note: The following prayer is adapted from BCP P. 380.