Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA
24 Jan. 2016, Epiphany 3 Year C: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-105, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21
This late-arriving Christmas card looks like much of our mail1.
A much different looking piece of mail arrived last week. I'll share it with you in a bit.
Most items we receive in the mail share the same purpose: to communicate with us. Our scriptures share this purpose. Unlike our personal mail, we share our scriptures in community when we come together to hear what God has to communicate to us.
In a public event, people hear Ezra read the scroll in our 1st lesson. Paul sends his letter to be read when the Corinthians are together. Jesus reads aloud to the community at Sabbath worship.
Notice: We hear our scriptures in English instead of the languages of the original hearers. Someone interpreted them for us. We use our sound system to help us hear. We use these raised platforms to help voices carry. Ezra reads from a wooden tower built for this occasion at the Water Gate opposite the Temple.2
In our 1st lesson, we hear the leaders strive to communicate with all people who can understand. On this special day they hear Hebrew words in the newly discovered scroll that we read about in 2nd Kings.3 The words tell the Sinai event when Moses speaks to his people, ancestors of the recent exiles to whom Ezra reads. Since many do not understand Hebrew, the leaders have people translate what Ezra reads.4 Notice: when the people weep, the leaders say: celebrate “the joy of the Lord [that] is your strength.” God's promise is sure & something to celebrate.
Notice the encouragement Paul offers the Corinthians to see their oneness as the Body of Christ, the wealth of their many resources: their gifts from the Holy Spirit that make the Body strong, gifted, able to spread the Good News of God's abundant Love. We have this gift. This Good News brings great joy – the kind of joy active here & in our ECW as was obvious at yesterday's meeting.
Jesus reads the Good News of God's word at public worship & explains that the prophecy has been fulfilled. The Good News is still being fulfilled in us & through us as the Body of Christ. Central to the Good News that we know through Jesus is that God keeps the promises God makes.
We all make promises.5 When we buy something with a credit card, we are promising to pay the bill.6 As my favorite children's sermon website notes: The stamp the Postal Service sells us “represents [the Postal Service's] promise to deliver [what we mail] to the person to whom [it] is addressed.”
I hold this proof that the Postal Service strives to fulfill its promise to deliver a stamped item – or at least as much of it as possible. My husband found this partial envelope with 4 stamps on it in our mailbox. The message imprinted in red reads:
Damaged in handling.
Indeed.....Perhaps this is a visual metaphor of our human brokenness & the great efforts we humans make to deliver God's words of Love & healing despite our brokenness. This work can take great effort.
Look at the brokenness the postal employee had to work through with admirable due diligence to deliver this half-envelope: the house number & half our street name are torn off, as is the most of the word Bainbridge. ZIP Codes do help interpret. Our last name does show. Someone made the connection. What connections can you make in this broken world through the power of the Holy Spirit?
[What was inside the envelop remains a mystery.] This mystery reminds me of our human brokenness & our call to live God's reconciling love that restores relationships, unity, wholeness.
This mystery is like the need for deeper understanding that we hear in our scriptures as interpreters explain what Ezra reads, as Paul gives insights to the Corinthians about the essence of unity of the Body of Christ, as we hear Jesus say: the meaning of the scripture he reads is fulfilled. How do we hear Jesus?
Jesus speaks through the Holy Spirit in our hearts & through our Brothers & Sisters in this Body of Christ & beyond. The Holy Spirit inspires this happening community to live God's love.
The abundance of God's Love guides us despite our continuing human sin. God's Love gives us grace to move beyond anger, hurt, brokenness. God's grace opens us to compassion, unity, wholeness. Gods love flows to make us a healthy Body of Christ. God's Love frees us to savor the Mystery of God's Love that unfolds sometimes at glacier speed, a metaphor one of you recently used.
God's Love active in this Body blesses us with abundant gifts of the Spirit to equip us for our work of ministry, our healing, reconciling work. We can bring good news to the poor in what we say & do. You do this in many ways. Your generosity & love overflow. Example: one of you did this very efficiently & simply last week helping 2 homeless men get help from the Salvation Army.
In this Body of Christ we embrace the wisdom Paul shares: no one can say “I have no need of you”. God's Love reveals itself uniquely in each of you, Beloved Brothers & Sisters.
Your Vestry focuses on this in our Responsive Litany7, part of which we use at our Annual Meeting, which we will read now. Your part is in bold.
Our bodies have many different parts. God created us that way. Even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. God created us that way. If one part hurts, we hurt all over; and if one part does well, the whole body benefits. God created us that way. Our group is like a body. Each part is important. God calls us to work together. And to care about each other. The world is like a body. Each part is important. God calls us to work together. And to care about each other. Dear God, Help us to work together, to see how important we are to one another & to value our ministry together in this place. In Jesus’ name. Let the words of our mouths & the whispering of our hearts be according to your will, O God. Amen.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: Jams. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
http://vicarbill.wordpress.com/2009/06/11/devotions-for-congregation-leadership/ Accessed: 6 Dec. 2013.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Kesselus, The Rev. Ken. “Parts of the whole, Epiphany 3 (C) – 2016”. Accessed: 22 Jan. 2016. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2016/01/06/parts-of-the-whole-epiphany-3-c-2016/
“Promises Fulfilled”. “http://www.sermons4kids.com/promises_fulfilled.htm. Accessed:21 Jan. 2016.
1 Idea from “Promises Fulfilled”. http://www.sermons4kids.com/promises_fulfilled.htm Accessed: 22 Jan. 2016.
2 Jewish Study Bible. P. 1699.
4 Ibid. P. 1700.
5 Ibid. “Promises Fulfilled”.
7 http://vicarbill.wordpress.com/2009/06/11/devotions-for-congregation-leadership/ Accessed: 6 Dec. 2013.