Thursday, October 29, 2015

“Worth Our Salt”

Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA
27 Sept. 2015 Proper 21 Year B: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22; Psalm 124; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

The disciples see someone casting out demons in Jesus' name, try to stop him & complain about this person who is not in their group. Jesus says:
Have salt in yourselves & be at peace with one another.
You, my good & wise Brothers & Sisters, know how to have salt in yourselves & be at peace with one another. You know when someone is worth their salt, a phrase we get because people have been paid in salt [it was part of a Roman soldier’s pay].1 You know good things about salt: it enhances food, tweaks the sweetness of desserts, helps bread dough rise, & helps preserve food. Salt on icy roads makes them less slippery.
Salt does more than change food & road conditions. It helps fix dye in fabrics: without salt, bright colors wash out quickly. [I use salt, lemon juice & sunshine to get out stains.] Salt is used in making leather, plastic toys & other every day items.2
As the salt of the earth, you have a much greater effect on God's world than you may know. Remember: salt can be used for good or ill.
I learned the value of salt to our diets when I cut it out because my high-pressured work holding down 2 jobs had raised my blood pressure. Without salt, my heart did funny things that were not funny; the doctor said I needed salt back in my diet. It's a matter of balance.
Salt can do good or harm, sustain life or prevent it...3 Jesus says You are the salt of the earth.
But salting the earth is destructive & was warfare's scorched earth tactic before we invented Agent Orange. We see this tactic used in Judges 9:45 when the king puts down a revolt & salts all the fields so that no one forgets he's boss.4
You can take something with a grain of salt to make it easier to swallow or rub salt into a wound to increase pain, which may be what the disciples do in the first part of our Gospel today. How quickly they have forgotten what just happened 20 verses earlier: they couldn't cast out a demon. The father of the afflicted boy comes & asks Jesus for help & asks Jesus to help his unbelief. Jesus rebukes the demon & heals the afflicted child, whose daddy loves him so much.
May this healed child remind us that
God the Father loves us so much.
I wonder if what we hear from the disciples in today's Gospel is from their limited perspective of God's fatherly love. I wonder if they are jealous that someone not in their group can do what they failed to do. Jesus gives us the broader perspective of who works with or against Jesus, with or against God's will for health, wholeness & love in the human family.
In the human family we face the same enemy: despair.
When we cast out the demon of despair we make room for gifts of joy & gladness. When we cast out the demon of despair, it's like adding salt to a recipe. A pinch of salt is enough. We do not have to be big & strong & have large resources to make a positive difference, to be at peace, to be peacemakers.
We hear lack of peace in our news & in our scriptures. We hear about suffering & sins in our lesson from James, who tells us how Christians are to handle the lack of peace life's experiences bring us so that we change from sorrow to gladness.
Notice this: James says when we turn our mourning into a holiday & celebrate & feast with each other we are to give presents to the poor. We are to celebrate AND tend to the needs of others. This is one way we are salt of the earth.
Mahatma Ghandi used the powerful symbol of salt to topple British colonial rule of India, as one preacher says. The British had a monopoly on the salt trade & levied tax on salt. In 1930 Ghandi decided to walk to the ocean, an almost 250-mile, 23-day journey. The procession of people following him stretched 200 miles long. Reaching the water, Gandhi raised a lump of mud & salt & declared: With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire. He boiled it in seawater to make salt, which no Indian could legally produce. Historians see this as a turning point in the movement for India's independence that came 17 years later.5
Achieving the balance of salt & peace in our lives is a life-long journey. We do not journey alone, although at times we feel alone. Our journey calls us to focus on the phrase in our Baptismal Covenant: I will WITH GOD'S HELP.
With God's help in this Body of Christ we find strength to persevere, grace to hear & heed warnings to avoid pitfalls, & to live into God's peace that passes all understanding. Beloved Brothers & Sisters, in this Happening Community where we live God's love, we use our God-given gift of brains; we worship the Triune God who transforms, guides & empowers us to acknowledge: God loves you. No exceptions. All are welcome.
In this Body of Christ, we discover the strength, wisdom, & inspiration to use the gifts God has given us to transform for the good ourselves & the world beyond our red doors.
We know hatred & bitterness are in our world. When you & I share Jesus' love that willingly dies on the cross for us, we are salt of the earth that Jesus calls us to be. Just a pinch of salt does so much to reduce bitterness & to bring peace.
Jesus says: ask & it shall be given you,
seek & you will find.
Ask God to help you to be that "pinch of salt" that flavors the world with peace.
Savor God's love.

Bates, The Rev. Dr. Barrie. “Careful Seasoning”. Proper 21(B). Accessed: 22 Sept. 2015.
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: 22 July 2015. “A Pinch of Salt”. Accessed: 22 July 2015. “Pass the Salt, Please”. Accessed: 22 July 2015.

1 Bates, The Rev. Dr. Barrie. “Careful Seasoning”. Proper 21(B). Accessed: 22 Sept. 2015.
2 “Pass the Salt, Please”. Accessed: 22 July 2015.
3 Ibid. Bates.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.

Who Is Wise & Understanding Among Us?

Who Is Willing to Be a Servant?
Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA
20 Sept. 2015 Proper 20 Year B: Proverbs 31:10-31; Psalm 1; James 3:13-4:3,7-8a; Mark 9:30-37

Our scriptures today are the complementary bookend to our scriptures last Sunday: We hear the continuing themes of wisdom & human confusion.
We hear fear of what if.
We ask God in our Collect to grant us not to be anxious about earthly things & to love things heavenly while we are among things that are passing away. Some passing away things are nuts & bolts items on our property that require repair. These are the kinds of things that bring Junior Warden Ken to his knees – literally last week to repair the office desk.
The property for which we are responsible [for which we are stewards] demands attention: practical response to damage from nature such as broken tree limbs; ordinary light bulb changing; pro-active change such as upgrading our air system's energy-efficiency, which improves our stewardship of the environment & our finances.
As the Body of Christ that is St. John's, we have practical, specific work to do. We have important work in spiritual growth & maturing, in discerning the direction of our work in ministry here & beyond our red doors. Our work of ministry requires a variety of qualities & skills.
In Proverbs we hear qualities & skills of a successful, productive person. The capable person [in this case a capable wife] is more precious than jewels. The gifts & skills God has given you are of greater value than money, than jewels. Beloved Child of God, you are precious to this Body of Christ. Your gifts, experience, skills, perspective are important.
Notice the action verbs of the person in Proverbs: She seeks wool & flax, materials from which she makes things; sells things she makes; brings food from far away & cooks; thinks 1st then buys that field [thinks before she invests]. She makes her arms strong [sounds like she works out at the gym to keep healthy.] She ministers to the poor, speaks wisely, teaches kindly.
And she laughs.
Like this woman who fears the Lord [who relates to God with awe] & whose skills & qualities reflect well on her husband, YOUR skills & qualities – your ministries – reflect well on God.
That's the truth we hear from our community
beyond our red doors.
Like this capable wife, in this Body, we trust you in our hearts. With you in this Body, we have no lack of gain. You do good to your Brothers & Sisters here & not harm.
Why does God give you your particular personality & abilities? What are some of the skills you see among our parish leaders on your Vestry?
One gift is the maturity of a broad perspective beyond self-interest. The disciples on the Vestry interact differently than what we hear of the disciples in our Gospel today. Jesus hears the disciples arguing & asks why. They are playing king-of-the-mountain: who of them is greatest.
The disciples who serve on your Vestry – and you in this Body of Christ – show greater maturity. We do have the advantage of knowing Jesus AFTER his death, resurrection & ascension & the coming of the Holy Spirit to guide us. The disciples are arguing BEFORE these events; their perspective is more limited.
Your Brothers & Sisters – your servants – on Vestry respond to differences with respect for our differences, with maturity that comes from living our Baptismal Covenant, especially the part where we say we will respect the dignity of every human being – with God's help.
We agree to disagree & to keep working together.
The Grace of the Holy Spirit leads your Vestry. Discussing church leadership with clergy when he met with us at St. Margaret's in Moultrie Sept. 12, Bishop Benhase emphasized that parishioners who serve on the Vestry are chosen by the Holy Spirit for this ministry.
It is with God's help that you will elect 3 members to the Vestry next Sunday after worship. They will take office at the annual meeting in January, having 3 months to transition into their leadership roles.
After this homily & before we say the Creed, you will have a time of silence to listen for the Holy Spirit's guidance about whom to suggest to stand for election to Vestry. As you pray & discern who are the people the Holy Spirit is calling: notice what James says in today's lesson:
Notice who among us is wise & understanding, whose good works are done with gentleness that comes from wisdom.
Notice who is peaceable, willing to yield, full of mercy & good fruits, who interacts without partiality or hypocrisy.
What skills do we have need on Vestry? We need a wide range of skills & personalities. Maybe we need your skills & personality. We need variety to balance our work.
Beloved Brothers & Sisters, I believe you have the

courage & the wisdom to ask the hard question:
Is God calling me to serve on Vestry?”
We can understand the disciples' fear of asking Jesus when they do not understand what he is saying. I wonder if they fear getting a fuller explanation from him when he is talking about what will happen to him. I think the answer to that question is scarier than answering: “Yes, I will stand for Vestry election.”
Remember: the Holy Spirit chooses who serves.
This is a form of laying down you life for Jesus. You lay down part of your life for 3-year term. After 3 years, you can be re-elected ONLY after being off the Vestry at least 1 year. We can give thanks for the Episcopal Church's wisdom in requiring that we give leaders a break. Our built-in “term limit” gives us good stewardship of time & talent. It empowers us to hear & be guided by many voices & perspectives.
Which of you is God calling to serve?
Which of you, children of God, is willing to be the servant of all that Jesus talks about in our Gospel?
Who is willing to trust Jesus like a child?
Know this: In biblical thought, a child is a symbol of vulnerability.1 We see Jesus' willing vulnerability.
We see him offer himself to our demands for his death.
How willing are you to offer yourself to Jesus
by serving on the Vestry?
Bishop Benhase says this about our Gospel today: After Jesus asks the disciples why they are arguing, [Jesus] tells “them the true purpose of all human life. It has to do with whom we serve,...not who serves us. Human life isn't about receiving honor or fame or power. So, the Bishop says, the question really can't be avoided:
Whom are we serving these days?”2

Let us pray: Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of your faithful & kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your spirit & we shall be created & you shall renew our Vestry.3 In Jesus' Name we ask that you guide these, your Beloved Children, as they help us discern whom you are calling to serve. Amen.

Benhase, Bishop Scott Anson. “Greatness According to Bob Dylan, Percy Bysshe Shelley, & Jesus”. eCrozier #272. September 18, 2015. Accessed: 19 Sept. 2015.
Jolly, Marshall A. “The Path of Discipleship”. Sermons The Work. Accessed: 17 Sept. 2015.
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.
Lectionary Page. Accessed: 22 July 2015.

1 Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. P. 996.
2 Benhase, Bishop Scott Anson. “Greatness According to Bob Dylan, Percy Bysshe Shelley, & Jesus”. eCrozier #272. Sept. 18, 2015. Accessed: 19 Sept. 2015.
3 Based on Cursillo reunion group prayer.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA
13 Sept. 2015 Proper 19 Year B: Proverbs 1:20-33; Psalm 19; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

One of these containers holds tap water from the kitchen.
The other has water from our backyard fish pond.
Which should I drink?
The clear one or the amber color?
Our scriptures point us to those murky times in our relationships with God & each other, times that seem to involve contradictions in our behavior, in our choices, contradictions between wise & foolish actions. James asks us: Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh & brackish [salty] water?
We know it doesn't. We know the truth of what James tells us in our lesson today: the tongue [is] a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord & Father, & with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God...
Human speech sets us apart from other animals' forms of communication. Yet we know how confusing our communications can be. We hear our human confusion when Peter speaks in our Gospel today: You are the Messiah. Almost immediately, when Jesus says life is going to get tough, Peter rebukes Jesus. 
Notice the contrast between how Jesus & Peter speak.
When Peter says “You are the Messiah Jesus orders the disciples not to tell anyone. Jesus needs real followers, who will grow in grace rather than crowds impressed by the wow-factor of miracles that increase Jesus' crowd-appeal. 
As Jesus' followers, we must be in this holy relationship for the long-haul, in the hard times as well as in the delightful times.
Jesus quite openly tells people life is going to get tough, his popularity is going to go downhill, leaders will reject him, he will be killed & rise after 3 days.
Peter takes Jesus aside for his parking lot talk to rebuke Jesus. Jesus rebukes Peter. The word for rebuke, as one Bible commentary says1, is the same word used when Jesus casts out demons.
Notice: Jesus calls Peter Satan. Remember, Satan means adversary.2 Faithful Peter suddenly turns into an adversary.
It can be hard to judge by appearances. 
Not everything is as clear as it may appear. 

[Sip of non-clear water.] The murky looking water is tap water that I treated with tablets that purify dubious water.
We do not always see clearly. Like Peter, we do not always immediately grasp the truth of God's wide love for all people. Last Sunday we addressed one sin that results from our limited understanding: in our special evening worship we confessed the sin of racism.
I received an email about it from a man, who lives in another city. He writes:
...(A)s a person of color, I admire...your congregation for holding this evening service of
Confession, Repentance, Commitment to End Racism.
 I am hopeful when I see the church engage in the work of anti-racism.
I was surprised by his saying he is a person of color. I had not realized that. I just know him as a fellow Christian, who is dedicated to following Jesus.
His statement has taken me back to my 1st year as a high school teacher – the year integration had worked its way from elementary grades to high school. Periodically, we teachers were required to list our students by race. I had to stop & double check: I simply could not remember who was which race. I could remember students' skills required to succeed in our classes. Their color had no bearing on our learning goals. Having to identify race seemed counter to the goal of treating students without regard to race.
Racism remains an issue. It makes the news: middle eastern extremists, a racist who kills people during Bible study. Names & places change. The cost of our discipleship remains high.
We have to choose whether we will declare with Peter: Jesus is the Messiah, our Lord & Savior. Are we willing to deny self-interest, security & comfort or do we respond like Peter's 2nd statement & make a mess of things? Are we so stuck in human perspective that we forget to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us to wisdom, to lead us through our challenges?
Jesus says clearly: those who lose their life for my sake, & for the sake of the gospel, will save it...what will it profit them to gain the whole world & forfeit their life?
What does it look like to give our life

for Jesus' sake,

for the sake of the Gospel?

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: 22 July 2015.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.

1 Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. Pp. 994-995.
2 Ibid.

Stale Bread Offers Food for Thought

Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA
23 Aug. 2015 Proper 16 Year B: 1 Kings: 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30,4 1-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

If I offer you this piece of stale bread how will you react?

Will you eat this stale bread?
Toss it outside for critters to eat?
Tenderly kiss it in humble reverence?1
The idea of such reverence for a piece of stale bread may be hard to swallow. I am sure it is less hard to swallow than it was for the many disciples to swallow what they hear Jesus say in our Gospel today.
The disciples who leave Jesus have been his followers, have seen miracles, eaten bread & fish Jesus has blessed & shared with thousands of hungry people. Why would they turn away when he says what he does today as he teaches in the synagogue at Capernaum, his base of operation in Galilee2?
How would you react to Jesus saying: “Those who eat my flesh & drink my blood abide in me & I in them”? You & I have a relationship with Jesus. The people who leave Jesus have a relationship with him. He does not force it on them.
All our scriptures today emphasize relationship: “How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts! Happy are they who put their trust in you!” as we read in our Psalm. In Ephesians we hear “Be strong in the Lord...Put on the whole armor of God.” We hear Solomon say “there is no God like you...keeping covenant & steadfast love for your servants...” Abiding with God, we keep our lives closely nestled with God, entrusted to God.
Our scriptures point us to the tension in our relationship with God: the tension between God's freedom & God's accessibility3. It is hard for us humans to understand God's grace that extends beyond tangible fact.
We hear Solomon speak of tangible fact: he has built a house for God – a house that has taken 7 years to build, a house dedicated in that 7th year, a fact that echoes the 7 days of creation, as one Biblical scholar notes4. Wisely Solomon asks: But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven & the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Solomon acknowledges human limitation, the fact that he – we – cannot keep God in a box. Despite the boxes [the aumbry, etc.] we see here in our sanctuary that may have us think that we think otherwise, we know God is beyond any confines we make.
We know God is readily accessible to us in prayer & reaches us through others. We know God in our hearts. We sense God walking beside us, the Holy Spirit whispering to guide us. Sometimes that whisper is in the voice of a friend.
Difficulties, stumbling blocks, arise when we try to put God in a box, when we insist things have to be just this literal way that we can comprehend. May we have the grace to put on the armor of God, which is not literal but spiritual armor for defense, not aggression5, in this battle we have against spiritual evil that is very active on earth. The sword God gives us is speech6: God's Word Jesus, God's words that speak truth, love, hope, words that withstand the evil we face, words that the Holy Spirit will give us when we need them.
Human difficulties from literal thinking turn many away from Jesus in today's Gospel. May we have the grace like Peter does in today's Gospel. May we have the grace to remain in relationship with Jesus.
When Jesus asks, sadness in his eyes, wistfulness in his voice: 'Do you also wish to go away?'7, we know to respond to a question with a question. Like Peter we say:
"Lord, to whom can we go?
You have the words of eternal life...
you are the Holy One of God."
Our relationship with Jesus is grace for the long-haul. Like Jesus' relationship with us, it is a lifelong commitment, not a quick-fix. It is grace to embrace, to trust, to savor. We savor this grace at this holy table, in fellowship, in prayer. We can savor this grace when we feel our relationship with God or another child of God grow stale. This is the grace that inspires a human to kiss stale bread.
Commenting on today's Gospel & the meaning of Bread, author Katarina Whitley, whom some of you remember from the ECW meeting at St. Anne's in Tifton, tells about a poor woman in Greece who kissed stale bread. She had had a very hard life...during...war years and immediately afterward....(T)here were no washing machines, (and) she was trying to survive by washing other people’s clothes. This woman would not allow even a stale piece of bread to be casually discarded; she had such reverence for it that she would kiss it before letting go of it...For her, bread meant both survival and holiness.8
The Bread of Life that we eat at Eucharist
feeds us in ways beyond what we can understand.

Brueggemann, Walter. The Book That Breathes New Life. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2005.
Brueggemann, Walter. Journey to the Common Good. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. 2010.
Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. Second Ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2001.

Galvin, Garrett. Assistant Professor of Sacred Scripture, Franciscan School of Theology, Berkeley, CA. “Commentary on 1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11] 22-30, 41-43”. Accessed: 18 Aug. 2015.

Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971.
Henrich, Sarah. Professor Emeritus of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. “Commentary on Ephesians 6:10-20”. Accessed: 18 Aug. 2015.
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: 22 July 2015.
Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. Minneapolis: Winston Press. 1985.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Whitley, Katarina K. Accessed: 18 Aug. 2015.

1 Whitley, Katarina K. Accessed: 18 Aug. 2015.
2 Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. P. 154.
3 Jewish Study Bible & other resources.
4 Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. P. 143.
5 Henrich, Sarah. “Commentary on Ephesians 6:10-20”. Accessed: 18 Aug. 2015.
6 Ibid. Henrich.
7 Ibid. Whitley.
8 Ibid.