Monday, February 2, 2015

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.

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