Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 1 Feb., 2015, Epiphany 4
Year B RCL: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Our Psalm today tells us this fear we have – our reverence1 – for God is a beginning for us from which we gain a good understanding.
Beginnings run through our scriptures today:
Our Gospel tells us of the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, which manifests God's power over evil, suffering & illness.2
Deuteronomy tells us of a new way God will interact with God's people, speaking to them through prophets who will succeed Moses. God's prophets will be different from pagan soothsayers3 who practice divination & magic4.
Pagans cause difficulties for Corinthian Christians in the beginning of their life in Christ.
Having turned from pagan idols, these Brothers & Sisters in Christ face social challenges: Meat offered at social events would have undergone a pagan rite.5 Events range from family celebrations & private associations to clubs & public festivals.6
[In our world, think of civic associations such as the Lions, private places such as the Country Club, public events such as the 4th of July, Rattlesnake Roundup & Swine Time.]
How do Corinthian Christians handle this?
In his wisdom, Paul urges the Corinthians to focus on community-building instead of individual freedom7 to build up Brothers & Sisters in the beginning of their lives as Christians.
What does this look like today in Bainbridge?
What is it like to be a new Christian, the 1st person in your family to accept Jesus as your Lord & Savior?
What if you are a teacher & the only Christian
where you teach?
How would it feel to know some parents are reluctant to send their kids to you
because you are a Christian?
How would it feel to have your dad threaten to burn
your Bible because your Christianity offends
your family members, who just don't understand it?
How hard is it to imagine this situation?
I have just described the situation of a man referred to as “P” in an article in the January issue of Central Florida Episcopalian,8 my husband's home diocese.
P is a member of an ethnic minority in a poor village in China for which Florida Episcopalians are praying. In P's village subsistence farming & school dropouts are the norm. He has had the blessing to leave the village for university studies & returned to the village to teach.
While at university, he learned about Jesus, accepted him as Lord & Savior, & returned to his village as the only person there ever to hear of Jesus.
Like the pagans who have other gods in the days of Moses & the days of the Corinthians, P's people live in fear of spirits that they believe are in all of nature. There is an abundance of altars for offerings to appease the spirits when bad things happen. P's people have the added burden to figure out which spirit they have offended. This can cost subsistence farmers lots of money.
How does P live as a Christian in his village? He is the only Christian. He is a new Christian. He has no Body of Christ to support him as you & I have.
P wants his father to discover how much God loves him & freedom faith in Jesus gives us.
What is P to do? Accept the job offered him in a city where he could be with the 20 others of his minority who are Christians?
Think what it would be like if Tallahassee had 20 Christians & you were the only Christian in Bainbridge where our poverty rate is so high that all our students are eligible for free breakfast & lunch & our dropout rate must relate to our having a low graduation rate. Are we so different from P's village? Would you stay or would you take the job in Tallahassee to be with its 20 Christians?
As the article says, being one of 20 is a whole lot more than being the only one. P knows, if he leaves his village, “he takes away the villagers' only chance to encounter Jesus. P doesn't want to see his fellow people have no choice but to live their lives in fear & die in despair. What should he do?”9
My Brothers & Sisters, Beloved in Christ,
what should he do?
What should you do – we do – to support this new & lone Christian? [Pray]
What should we do for the people in this neighborhood who do not yet know Jesus?
How do we begin to meet the challenge where we are to minister to our brothers & sisters in the human family who do not know Jesus?
Look at the abundant resources we have
here in this room:
We have each other.
Not one of us is the only Christian in Bainbridge!
Dios Habla Hoy: La Biblia. 2da Ed. Nueva York: Sociedad Bíblica Americana. 1983.
Fox, Linda. Central Florida Episcopalian. Vol. 116. No. 11. January 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. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 5 Jan.. 2015.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Expanded Ed. Revised Stantard Version. Eds: Herbert G. May. Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press. 1977.
1 The New American Bible for Catholics. P. 613.
2 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 987.
3 Ibid. New American Bible for Catholics. P. 178.
4 Ibid. Harper’s. P. 226.
5 Ibid. P. 1180.
7 Ibid. New American Bible for Catholics. P. 1238.
8 Central Florida Episcopalian. Vol. 116. No. 11. January 2015. Pp. 1, 7.
9 Ibid. Central Florida Episcopalian. P. 7.