Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; 14th Sunday after Pentecost, 21 Aug. 2016
Proper 16 Year C RCL: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1–6; Hebrews 12:18–29; Luke 13:10–17
A 20-year medical study of 76,000 people shows the “possible benefit of going to church [is a] 33% chance of living longer” compared to those who never attended services.1
Published by the American Medical Association & discussed in the May 16th edition of The Washington Post, the article about the 20-year medical study says it shows the “possible benefit of going to church...compared to those who never attended services.”2
I encourage you to read the article by Julie Zauzmer at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/05/16/another-possible-benefit-of-going-to-worship-services-a-33-percent-chance-of-living-longer/
Notice the benefit of going to church that we see in our Gospel: suddenly the woman crippled for 18 years can stand straight! She stands & praises God.
Jesus initiates the interaction. By healing her, Jesus sets things right, sets one small thing in the world back to the way God intends it. She says “thank you” in a big way.
I know we remember to ask God for help. How often do we remember to thank God?
How many remember parents teaching you to say “Please” AND “Thank you”? How well did you/or how well do you do what your mother told you/or tells you to do?
Mark is a 10-year-old living in an Atlanta housing project. He does not do what his mother tells him – and that's a good thing! Mark's mom has told him not to dream.3
Mark's story is one Caroline Westerhoff shares in her book, Make All Things New: Stories of Healing, Reconciliation, & Peace.4
Mark is among the many children of different age levels with whom Ms. Westerhoff interacts. She goes to the after school program for children from the old, large housing project where Mark lives & then to a private church school.
At both places, she meets the young people in their age/grade levels & asks each group to draw pictures of what the world will look like when they grow up. The youngest children present the most positive expectations. The older the children the bleaker their visions, whether they are children of poverty or children of the affluent school.
With his positive expectations, Mark stands out in both groups.
Although his mother tells him not to, Mark dreams of a better world. Mark says: “(My mother) thinks it's useless. But I think we must dream about other ways of living. If we just refuse to fight & treat all people with love & forgive them when they hurt us, we will have peace.”5
These are real words from a real 10-year-old boy living in poverty in Atlanta. Yes, he is “only a boy,” as Jeremiah declares himself to be in our 1st lesson today. The difference is that Jeremiah is trying to refuse God's call6 & Mark is living God's call to change our bad habits – “to pluck up & to pull down” – so that we can “build & plant”.
How many of you see young people as the future of the Church? Why do we say young people are the future? Why do we not see young people ARE the Church now – like you & I are. We ALL are the Church.
Mark is 21st Century proof of what we read in Jeremiah: God calls people of all ages to do God's work. “God's word is a dynamic & vital force, not a static & symbolic figure...”7
The dynamic & vital force of God's word is something Mark understands. He says: “If I were a leader in the world, I would use all my wisdom & with God beside me, convince people to get rid of guns & bombs & stop war & have peace on earth.”8
"Mark's insistence on dreaming (has) opened him to God's revelation of truth. (He expresses) faith in...God whose word finally will prevail, even when it cannot be perceived in the brokenness of the present,” as Mrs. Westerhoff says. She goes on to say, & I paraphrase in parts: Too often we “forget or dismiss” the Holy Spirit’s in-breaking – this powerful influence on children & adults. The word of God proclaims that in spite of all the appearances of doom, there is hope – in God.”10
We hear the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit in the words of hope from young Mark, who keeps himself open to God.
How do you keep open to God's guidance?
Mark grasps what the writer of Hebrews says in our lesson today: “we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken”. How often do we forget this? How often do we forget we have the Holy Spirit to guide us? How readily do we forget that our young people have the Holy Spirit to guide them?
God calls Jeremiah to a special task. God calls us to special work: to BE the Body of Christ. Remember: the body has many parts – old cells & young cells.
Whether old or young, God calls us to BE Jesus' healing hands & confident voice. This can sound scary. Remember God promises: “Do not be afraid...I AM with you.”
God says this to Jeremiah & touches his mouth, putting God's own words into his mouth.
God touches our mouths, including the mouths of young people, at this Holy Table.
With God's grace, as the Body of Christ, we Children of God can do the work God gives us to do like Jeremiah, like young Mark.
Stay open to God's guidance.
Learn openness & trust in God's guidance from Mark, this child, who is “only a boy,”
living in poverty, living in hope.
The Book of Occasional Services 2003. New York: Church Publishing. 2004.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. Gen. 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.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha Expanded Edition. New York: Oxford University Press. 1973.
Westerhoff, Caroline A. Make All Things New: Stories of Healing, Reconciliation, & Peace. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing. 2006.
Zauzmer, Julie. “Another possible benefit of going to church: A 33 percent chance of living longer”. The Washington Post. May 16, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/05/16/another-possible-benefit-of-going-to-worship-services-a-33-percent-chance-of-living-longer/ Accessed: 20 Aug. 2016.
1 Zauzmer, Julie. “Another possible benefit of going to church: A 33 percent chance of living longer”. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/05/16/another-possible-benefit-of-going-to-worship-services-a-33-percent-chance-of-living-longer/
3 Westerhoff, Caroline A. Make All Things New: Stories of Healing, Reconciliation, & Peace. P. 102.
4 Ibid. Pp. 95-103.
6 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. P. 921.
7 New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha Expanded Edition. P. 908.
8 Ibid. Westerhoff. P. 102.