Sunday, May 29, 2016

We Are Works in Progress!

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, GA; 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 29 May 2016
Proper 4 Year C RCL: 1 Kings 18:20-21 (22-29), 30-39; Psalm 96; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10

What stirs within you when you hear Jesus in our Gospel speak of the profound faith of the Roman centurion, this official of the conquering pagan authority? How do you react?

Answers included: Puzzled. Wondering. Confused. Surprised. Angry over something different.

Yes. Something different can feel threatening & we may react with defensive anger or puzzlement, confusion, surprise.
What amazement we hear Jesus express in our Gospel today! He says: “Not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Ouch! How would you feel to hear that about you & your people?

Think of when Jesus, [in Mark 6] after he preaches in the synagogue in Nazareth his hometown & he can do no deeds of power there except lay hands on a few sick people to cure them. Jesus is amazed at the unbelief. Today we hear him amazed at belief.
What amazing trust & contradictions we hear in our readings!
We hear the ebb & flow of faith & loyalty, of action & stillness.
People follow God, fall away & return to God in the multicultural, polytheistic world of Elijah, Paul, & Jesus.
We live in a multicultural, polytheistic world.
All kinds of people praise God & witness
to God in many ways.
How do we sing a new song to this 21st century world so that all people can ascribe to God / credit God / recognize that God is Creator of all?
God creates all, including the fire & the water that focus the power struggle we see today between the prophet Elijah & the prophets of Baal, god of rain & water1. The land of Israel is in drought. The Israelites support both the God of Israel & Baal. The Jewish Study Bible notes: they do not see this as deserting God.2 Elijah sees this differently.
A “radical monotheist,”3 Elijah asks: “How long will you go limping with 2 different opinions?” He sounds like Paul writing to the Galatians:
I am astonished you are so quickly deserting (God)...”
The Galatians go limping with different opinions.
What challenges make us go limping with different opinions?
When are we like the people in our scriptures who have divided loyalties?
Notice what Paul says: “Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Remember how Paul pleases people early in Acts?
He tends the coats of people stoning Stephen.

Paul has changed for the better & is making a positive difference, working with God for the sake of God's beloved children for whom Jesus willingly died. Paul trusts God in a new way like the faithful centurion.
What does it take for us to believe like the faithful centurion & to trust God will act?

The people Elijah speaks to, the people Paul writes to seem like children learning to walk, holding onto something with each hand, afraid to let go & trust. We can securely hold God's “hand” & let go of what we fearfully grasp, even when it means we have to change: change zip code, change work, change who we have been to be who God calls us to be.

Brothers & Sisters, God is calling us in this Body of Christ that is St. Francis to something new, to grow, to change. As God's beloved children, we are always works in progress, growing in grace.
Notice this perspective from a monk of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Massachusetts: God is always being revealed & the revelation is never complete. The Spirit who leads into all truth continually proceeds both from the divine nature in terms of revelation & from the human nature in terms of reception. There is no end to the process.”4
There is no end to the process.

As works in progress, you & I can understand why people are afraid to let go & trust God’s Good News in Jesus. People are afraid to establish this relationship. Relationships require the hard work of balancing action & stillness.

Elijah does the hard work of balancing action & stillness, waiting for God to act in the challenge with Baal's bunch. Totally trusting God, Elijah prays simple words that contrast with his noisy opponents. His pouring water on everything contradicts what seems logical. You pour water on something you want to burn?!
God sends fire that consumes the drenched offering, the altar AND the extra water. So much for Baal’s power. The people see, believe & turn to God [at least for a while].

We see amazing grace & steadfast faith in Elijah. We see this in the centurion who sends for Jesus & says, “Don’t come all the way to my house, just say the word & let my servant be healed.”
Like Elijah, the centurion is “under authority” & does the bidding of others, & people under his authority do his bidding.
Notice: Elijah says: “O Lord...let it be known...that you are God...that I have done all these things at your bidding...”

Brothers & Sisters, what is God bidding us to do
as the people of St. Francis?

Both Elijah & the centurion show us the balance of action & stillness, quiet trust that waits. The centurion balances active life on active duty in the world & a life of faith in close relationship with the people of God.
Balance requires times of action &
times of stillness.
In our scriptures we see “action springs from stillness”5 This sounds like a contradiction. This kind of contradiction is at the heart of the spirituality of St. Benedict that author Esther de Waal discusses in her book Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality
When we balance working with God & waiting with God, we grow & gain insight for what’s next in active ministry.6  It is hard to hold opposites in balance7.  Yet without this balance, our “(a)ction is more likely to grow out of confusion..., fear or self-interest; it is less likely to be grounded in God.”8
We live in a world limping with different opinions. In this noisy, busy world “that is angry, fear-ridden, distracted...”9, we can live with contradiction.
We can balance action & stillness.
As de Waal says, & I paraphrase parts: (E)ven in...the most busy & active daily life...[we] can...carry a heart of stillness, an awareness of God’s presence...”10
Let's take time now for stillness to ponder:
Even in...the most busy & active daily life,
we can carry a heart of stillness.
We can carry an awareness of God’s presence.


Bibliography
Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press. 1984.
Chittister, Joan. The Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life. www.bluebridgebooks.com: (United Tribes Media Inc.) BlueBridge. 2011.
De Waal, Esther. Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing. 1989.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
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.
Matthews, Victor H. Social World of the Hebrew Prophets. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. Inc. 2001.
Merriam-Webster. Smartphone Dictionary app. Merriam-Webster Inc. 2012.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Eds.: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
Partnoy, Frank. Wait: The Art and Science of Delay. New York: Public Affairs (Perseus Book Group). 2012.
Slade, Herbert Slade, SSJE. http://ssje.org/word/?page_id=11755 Accessed: 27 May 2016.

1 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. P. 714.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid. P. 711.
4 Slade, Herbert Slade, SSJE. http://ssje.org/word/?page_id=11755 Accessed: 27 May 2016.
5 De Waal, Esther. Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality. P. 107.
6 Ibid. P. 105.
7 Ibid. P. 107.
8 Ibid. P. 108.
9 Ibid. P. 112.

10 Ibid.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Doughty or Doubting?

Trinity Sunday Homly By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, G0ldsboro, NC, 22 May 2016
RCL Year C Pentecost 1: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 ; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
Jesus shows us the importance of timing & self-restraint in our interactions. In our Gospel, we hear a man who is steadfast, brave, valiant, strong, determined.
Jesus says there is a time to say things & a time to refrain. His compassion, his love for the disciples, his wisdom about human interactions, his steadfastness lead him to refrain from speaking hard truth at this time.
How do we know the time to speak,
the time to act,
the time to be still?
We have the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us. We receive this gift from the love that out pours on us from the Holy Trinity, the Mystery that is the one God we follow. We know the “three distinct personal expressions of the one, eternally rich God who is love...”
as Daniel Migliore describes in his book,
Faith Seeking Understanding.1
God's outpouring love challenges us, invites us to live deeper into this Mystery, to trust deeply this Mystery that we proclaim in our creeds, this Mystery that loves all of creation, all of us, each of us.
"The doctrine of the Trinity is to explain the range & variety of divine action,"2 says priest, author & scholar Ian Markham, who serves as Dean & President of Virginia Theological Seminary.
Notice: Our Creeds & Scriptures speak of God “concretely & specifically” rather than generally & indefinitely.3  We “...affirm (our) faith in God as sovereign Lord of all creation who has done a new & gracious work in Jesus... & who continues to be active in the world through the power of the Spirit.”4
This Holy Trinity, this Mystery nourishes us in many ways. Foods that nourish us offer glimpses into the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. Think of water: We experience as it as flowing liquid, solid ice, hot steam.
Think of bread: We experience its taste, texture, nourishment.
Think of an egg, as the Sermons4kids website suggests5:  
We see this hard-boiled egg's brown shell. We know is has an egg white. Delve deeper to experience the yellow yolk.
We don't have to know all about how water, bread & eggs nourish us for us to be nourished by them. Babies are nourished without any understanding of how these elements bless their bodies.
The Holy Trinity generously, freely fills us with love, nourishes us & sends us wisdom as a gift. Like any gift, we can accept it, reject it, ignore it. We are wise to embrace God's deep love & God's generous gift of wisdom.
How like wisdom are we [that we hear in our lesson from Proverbs]?
How do we delight in God as God works in our lives?
How often do we notice:
God has a great deal of confidence in us!

We see the confidence Jesus has in the positive difference we can make as he dies for us on the cross & startles us with his resurrection & ascension. We see the confidence the Holy Trinity has in the positive difference we can make individually & together by the power we have with the Holy Spirit active in our lives.
Beloved Brothers & Sisters, God's Love, God's Holy Spirit can embolden us – together & individually – to live boldly, to pray boldly, to proclaim boldly the Good News:
God loves you. No exceptions. All are welcome.
The Holy Trinity shows us – individually & together – the various aspects of life that call us to act or to refrain from acting, to pray specifically, to pray without our agenda, to be open to God's will as we wait & trust God's timing.
As we grow in grace, trusting God & each other, trusting the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we grow away from being doubtful & grow into Jesus' boldness. We see in Jesus what our own Liz Meador describes in her column “Doughty & enduring”: 
The word “doughty” has been in our vocabulary since the year 1030!6 Different from the word “doubtful”, doughty means “steadfast, brave, valiant,” & my dictionary addsstrong, determined”7.
This sounds like an apt description of the Body of Christ that I know as St. Francis Parish. This Body of Christ is steadfast, brave, valiant, strong, determined.
This Body of Christ is one way the Holy Trinity increases the love the world needs now.


Bibliography

Cunningham, David S. “What Do We Mean By God?” Essentials of Christian Theology. ED: William Placher. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. 2003.
Hughes, Robert Davis III. Beloved Dust: Tides of the Spirit in the Christian Life. New York: Continuum. 2008.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Juarez, Laurie. Charles Kirkpatrick. “The Mystery of the Trinity”. Accessed: 19 May 2016. http://www.sermons4kids.com/mystery_of_the_trinity.htm
Markham, Ian S. Understanding Christian Doctrine. Malden, ME: Blackwell Publishing. 2008.
Meadors, Liz. “Language matters: Doughty and enduring”. Goldsboro News-Argus. 8 May 2016.
Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. 2nd Ed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2004.
Placher, William. Editor. Essentials of Christian Theology. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. 2003.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR: The Appreciative Way. 2010. www.appreciativeway.com.


1 Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding. P. 69.
2 Markham, Ian S. Understanding Christian Doctrine. P. 84.
3 Ibid. Migliore. P. 66.
4 Ibid. P. 66.
5 Juarez, Laurie. Charles Kirkpatrick. “The Mystery of the Trinity”. Accessed: 19 May 2016. http://www.sermons4kids.com/mystery_of_the_trinity.htm
6 Meadors, Liz. “Language matters: Doughty and enduring”. Goldsboro News-Argus. 8 May 2016. P. 17A.

7 Ibid. Meadors. And http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary Accessed: 20 May 2016.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Communication Shows us New Reality

Pentecost Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church
G0ldsboro, NC, 15 May 2016
RCL Year C: Acts 2:1-211; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, 25-27
I wonder if Jesus would laugh at the Frank & Ernest cartoon by Bob Thaves that says “Communication Workshop Sometime Tonight in a Room Upstairs”. I wonder if Jesus would say to us: “That’s sooo what happened to me with Philip in today’s Gospel & some reactions you hear my disciples get on Pentecost.”
Beloved Brothers & Sisters, this cartoon reminds us communication can be challenging, especially in a new situation. Please fold your arms as you normally do. Now fold them in a different way [such as left over right or right over left, whichever if different from your norm]. How does that feel? [Different. Uncomfortable. Odd. Difficult.]
Perhaps that’s how the disciples feel hearing Jesus in our Gospel say “I am in the Father & the Father is in me...I will ask the Father, & he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
Perhaps discomfort is how they & some of the crowd feel
as the Holy Spirit becomes active among them
on this 1st Pentecost.
Notice the negative reactions this new experience brings during this very familiar, traditional festival of Pentecost. For centuries on Pentecost God’s people have celebrated the abundance of crops, God’s gifts that nourish us. This festival that comes 50 days after celebrating Passover, which recalls the miracle of God’s saving God’s people enslaved in Egypt, as several sources note1.
Today we celebrate Pentecost as the Birthday of the Church. [That's why we have these red balloons!] On this festive day, how do your soles feel? [Happy? Comfortable? Ready to step out to a new adventure?]
I share joy with you today, yet my soles’ feeling pressured, rough, hardened. This will improve with a good soaking in Epsom salts to relieve my soles that have been through a lot of pressure from all my standing to pack, pack, pack & move stuff & walk up & down, up & down stairs.
Soles – s-o-l-e-s of my feet! You thought s-o-u-l-s, our spirits! Communication is a challenge.
[I set you up for that twist of words.]
My “words” in a text angered our son’s friends after the death of a friend's grandmother. I replied to his text with sympathy, assurance of prayers for all & signed with my usual text brevity: LOL, MOM. His friends felt so angry they threatened to call me & tell me off for being so crass to sign what they read as “Laughing Out Loud” in a situation that was not funny!
Our son knows his MOM & calmed the troubled waters by explaining that to me LOL means “Lots of Love”.
Missionaries have faced the difficulty of speaking the Good News of Jesus’ death for us on the cross, the death of the Lamb of God, his Resurrection & Ascension. Different languages, different cultures have different ways to comprehend the Good News:
God Loves You. No Exceptions. All are welcome.
As I read somewhere long ago, missionaries to Eskimos realized the good news about the sacrifice of the Lamb of God did not speak to souls that had never seen sheep
The sacrifice of the Baby Seal of God spoke volumes.
God has been overcoming our barriers to God’s Love from the beginning, through many ways, many languages, many people.
Our Patron Saint Francis was one of them. He understood this truth & preached by words, by silent prayer, by actions. I am sure his actions, his peaceful trust in God spoke louder than words to that wolf that had been terrorizing their town. That wild creature became a loving, non-threatening member of the community.
Beloved Brothers & Sisters, we know 2 things:
1. What we say to each other can be heard differently.
2. What we say, hear & experience can be challenging, confusing.
How does the Holy Spirit breathe new life, new words into us?
How does the fire of God’s Love, the Love of our Father – our Abba/our Papa – give us Light to see & new, joyful sounds to share?
We hear of powerful wind & fire today. We know the Pentecost story well & may overlook the powerful, yet quiet ways God acts now.
Look at this quiet wind chime my brother & his wife gave us years ago that still delights & soothes us.  How can it work with no wind, no breath blown on it, no hand to move it? [Solar chime demo. See video below.]

It works through the light God has created.
videoGod’s power – God’s fire & Light, God's breathing into & through us – flows in many ways like the solar power that enlivens this "wind" chime. Like tides hitting or caressing the shore, the Spirit flows differently among us & differently in each of us at various times of life, as my Professor of Spirituality at Sewanee, The Rev. Dr. Bob Hughes, describes in his book, Beloved Dust: Tides of the Spirit in the Christian Life.
How do we – how do you – connect with God & respond to God’s gift of the Holy Spirit?
What if Jesus is asking us 21st Century disciples what he asks of Phillip in our Gospel: “Have I been with you all this time & still you do not know me?” Has God’s Holy Spirit been with you all this time & still you do not know?
In her sermon on our Gospel, Jazzy Bostock of Hawaii says: On Pentecost we see: “…God will not be confined by a certain language…[AND] God [meets] us …where we are.”2
Our Gospel challenges us “to be open to seeing the Beloved in new ways. Jesus asks us to open our eyes wider, & see anew where God is in our lives...Sometimes, the new movement of God can be scary... [Even when we see or experience fiery tongues, we can rest in Jesus' words: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled,...do not...be afraid.’ Peace I give to you – my peace I leave with you.’”]3

As we move into a fuller relationship with God & into new relationships in our lives, we can face the challenge of change. 

Knowing, trusting we are enfolded in God's Peace, God's Love, Beloved Brothers & Sisters, we can move forward with confidence into the unknown that awaits us. Together, relying on God's Holy Spirit, we can say: “Bring it on!”


Bibliography

Bostock, Jazzy. “Limiting Love, Day of Pentecost (C) -2016”. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2016/04/29/limiting-love-day-of-pentecost-c-2016/ Accessed: 12 May 2016.

Hughes, Robert Davis III. Beloved Dust: Tides of the Spirit in the Christian Life. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. 2008.


Tenney, Merrill. Handy Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1965. P. 116.

Veal, David. Saints Galore: Character Sketches for the New Calendar of Saints. Cincinnati: Forward Movement Publications. 1972. P. 118.

Words of Worship: A Liturgical Dictionary Compiled by Charles Mortimer Guilbert. New York: The Church Hymnal Corp. 1988. P.50.

1 Tenney, Merrill. Handy Dictionary of the Bible. P. 116. Veal, David. Saints Galore: Character Sketches for the New Calendar of Saints. P. 118. Words of Worship: A Liturgical Dictionary Compiled by Charles Mortimer Guilbert. P.50.
2 Bostock, Jazzy. “Limiting Love, Day of Pentecost (C) -2016”.

3 Ibid.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Refreshment

Stop: Smell the roses...
                 to revive the one wearied
                                                           in life transition