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.

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. (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. 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. 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.

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