Monday, February 2, 2015

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.

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