Monday, October 19, 2015

Hope Is a Gift

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
Followed by the Blessing of Caps for Infants
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 8 Feb., 2015, Epiphany 5
Year B RCL: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12, 21c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make music to our God upon the harp.
What makes you sing to the LORD with thanksgiving & make music to God? What brings you the kind of joy that makes Snoopy do his happy dance or makes you click up your heels, or skip down the street?

Our Psalmist & Isaiah assure the people they write to – and us – that God is with us. They share the gift of hope that God gives us. “...(H)ope is never generated among us but always given to us.”1 Our Psalmist & Isaiah fan the flames of this gift as they remind us: No matter how hard times seem, God does not abandon us. God knows our situation. God cares for us. God IS with us. We can't hide ourselves from God; even if we look like grasshoppers from God's view from heaven [think of what people on the street below look like from your view in a high-rise building].

God knows the stars & calls them by their names. God knows each of us & calls each of us by our names. God tends & cares for the natural world. God tends & cares for us.2 God loves you. No exceptions. All are welcome.

Even if we feel discouraged like the exiled people Isaiah writes to, we know from Jesus' example that we can trust God is in charge despite how things look – despite outbreaks of violence in Georgia at a high school sports event, the mass murder in Douglasville, the murder of the couple from McRae.

Isaiah says: those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength. Our Psalm shifts our perspective on strength & power: Survivors are not the swiftest or most powerful...3 Survivors are the ones who fear/reverence God.4 Respect for God leads to following God's ways.5
Following God's ways gives us work to do as Paul tells us & as we see in our Gospel. This work can include serving as Jesus' hands to help heal the brokenhearted – “the contrite, the penitent”6
To do this work, we must “wait for”/“trust in”7/”have confidence in”8 God...9 In other words, we must wait with hope. Hope renews energy & gives strength. Worry steals your energy & strength.

This is true for the exiled people of Isaiah's day, who are discouraged because of their circumstances10, and it is true for us & discouraged, broken people in our day: Think how families of massacred soldiers have felt before hearing their loved ones will be honored with the Purple Heart. Think of discouraged, broken people in this neighborhood. We may be that healing agent by which God strengthens the powerless, renews the strength of youths, heals the brokenhearted & binds up their wounds.

We see God bind up the wounds of our sins when we look on as the Roman soldiers bind Jesus onto the hard wood of the cross. We see God bind up the wounds of illness as Jesus reaches out his loving hand to lift Simon Peter's mother who suffers with fever in our Gospel. We see Jesus continue to bind up wounds of many people who crowd at Peter's house. What joy there must have been that day! What joy when illness is cured & demons cast out.

What joy there must have been as Paul becomes all things to all people & helps save some. Notice: Paul is like the prophet Isaiah, each has an obligation to proclaim God's good news to the brokenhearted. Paul does this by adapting how he relates to people: he meets individuals where they are in their lives.
Paul's description of his Gospel work reminds me of a job application. We know that the resume we use for one job may not fit another job, so we adapt our description of our experience to fit more closely the particular job.
I remember seminars to help homemakers who were applying for their first job. Many would say, “I've never worked.” If you've been a homemaker or a mother: YES, you have worked! What skills it takes to handle multiple tasks of home & child!
Think of these essential skills: discipline, organization, time management, scheduling, problem solving, planning, knowledge of nutrition, resource management, financial management, purchasing supplies. Think of people skills: human relations, intermediary, negotiator, peacemaker, counselor, supervisor, teacher [ex: how to tie a shoe lace].
Like Paul, a homemaker, a mom has to be all things to all people, to meet people where they are. We can't expect a toddler to tie shoelaces or to make investments.
Our Gospel shows us how Jesus reaches people where they are. We see another job metaphor in Jesus' casting out demons. Notice: Jesus does not allow the demons to speak even though they know who he is. I've long wondered why; I see it anew in today's combination of scriptures that emphasize the jobs we do.
Think how you filled out a job application's list of references. Whom did you list? People you trust to speak well of you & have a good reputation or demons with bad reputations? Which do you want the company to call to ask about you? Of course Jesus tells demons to be quiet! People learn best about Jesus from a personal encounter & that can be an encounter with one of us as a bearer of God's love in our daily work.
In our Gospel, Mark tells us what's in a day's work for Jesus.11 We heard the first part of this particular day's work last Sunday. How exhausted would you be after a day full of teaching, healing & casting out demons? Or would you be energized?
Notice what Jesus does: He gets up early & goes to a deserted place to pray: To be with God. To hear God. To have a change of pace, time to recharge & gain clarity for the next steps in his work – clarity such as we hear from Isaiah & Paul.
Like Isaiah, our Psalmist, & Paul, Jesus knows, as author Walter Brueggemann says: “The newness from God is the only serious source of energy.”12 This is true whether we are sharing the Good News of God's love with exiles as Isaiah does or with those who do not know God's love through Jesus like Paul does.
Whatever exile from God's love we meet, we must remember these 3 truths13: 1) Our trust as we wait for God's guidance is not passivity. Certainly we see no passivity as Jesus goes to a deserted place to pray. 2) Hope is not self-generated. 3) Hope is a gift.
Where is God calling us to share this gift of hope?
 How do we serve as the conduit of God's gift of hope?
 What does hope look like where we are?
The Blessing of the Caps14
Among our many healing ministries are beautiful hands that carry needed gifts to our brothers & sisters in the human family right here: food & personal items, clothes, & beautiful tiny caps such as these that are for newborns. How these gifts are conduits of hope we may not know. We can trust God that they are.
Reader: Jesus is clothed in majesty and glory. Jesus was born as we are born to teach us how to live. Jesus invited children to come to him.
Let us pray: O God, you revealed you Son clothed in majesty and glory: Accept & bless + these transitory caps for the use of newborns that, being clothed with humility they may show forth Jesus' eternal splendor.
We pray to you for your children, who will wear these caps, and for their families. Support each of them in their successes and in their failures, in their joys and in their sorrows. May they each continue to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ.

May God the Father, who by Baptism adopts us as his children,

grant them grace. 

May God the Son, who sanctified a home at Nazareth,

fill them with love.

May God the Holy Spirit, who has made the Church one family,

keep them in peace.

We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

The Book of Occasional Services: 2003. NewYork: Church Publishing. 2004.
Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. Second Ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2001.
Dios Habla Hoy: La Biblia. 2da Ed. Nueva York: Sociedad Bíblica Americana. 1983.
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: 5 Jan.. 2015.
El Libro de Oración Común. New York: Church Publishing. 1989.
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 Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. P. 79.
2 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. P. 1443.
3 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible. P. 1444.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid. P. 1443.
7 Ibid. P. 864.
8 The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Expanded Ed. P. 871.
9 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible. P. 864.
10 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible. P. 783.
11 The New American Bible for Catholics. P. 1066.
12 Ibid. Brueggemann. Prophetic Imagination. P. 78.
13 Ibid. Brueggemann. Prophetic Imagination. Pp. 78-79.
14 Adapted from The Book of Occasional Services: 2003. P. 210.

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