Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; 17th Sunday after Pentecost, 11 Sept. 2016
Proper 19 Year C RCL: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1:12–17; Luke 15:1–10
Jesus says: “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
It took a storm at sea to help slave ship captain John Newton to see that what we do matters, to see himself as a lost sheep & to repent.God used the fierce storm & the religious classic, Imitation of Christ, which Newton was reading on board, to help him see anew.1
He tells us of God's amazing grace in the hymn he wrote in 1773.2
How sweet the sound that saved
a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
was blind but now I see.”3
Now I see differently his words about this sweet sound4.
As a ship captain, the “sweet sound” may not be a sound he hears. A sound may be an inlet he sees in the sea5, a safe harbor in the storm.
This amazing grace lets Newton see with new eyes that how he was living6 separated him from God, despite its being acceptable in his day.
God uses many ways to find & save the lost. We may help the lost one. We may misplace something valuable, like the lost coin, putting it where it accidentally falls into a dark corner. We may be the sheep mindlessly, merrily munching grass & getting lost. However unintentionally our lost-ness may happen, what we do matters – individually & to our brothers & sisters in the human family.
God uses people, including St. Paul, to help the blind to see. St. Paul sees with new eyes after his dramatic encounter with Jesus literally blinds him. He has been violently persecuting his fellow Jews who follow Jesus. Paul struggles to keep them in line with God's law – as he understands it.
When Paul sees with new eyes, he repents & returns to God in a new way. All Paul's learning, knowledge of scripture, devotion to God are transformed & useful in his new work teaching God's Good News of Jesus' saving life, death & resurrection.
We hear this Good News in Jesus' parable: God cherishes being in holy relationship with us. God seeks us for holy relationship. God holds back from breaking our relationship.
In our 1st lesson, Jeremiah’s poetic description of disaster may sound like hyperbole describing ancient troubles far away. Think of current news & pictures of earthquakes in Italy, Peru, Oklahoma & of destruction in Syria. Remember images from 15 years ago on Sept. 11th.
Remember the joy, the relief of learning someone special to you has survived a tough situation, perhaps missed it entirely by not being there, such as missing a flight that crashes. Think of people late for work & not in the Pentagon or the Twin Towers on 911.
I know the relief of learning loved ones in DC are safe & the grief colleagues in New York shared of friends who did go to work in the Towers & their own fear as they ran to safety in the city under those clouds of smoke.
I remember our joy of being returned to relationship when the earthquake in Mexico City separated my family & me when I was a child asleep upstairs & my family were downstairs playing. When the shaking stopped, Daddy tested the stairs, quickly gathered his scared lost sheep & returned me to the family.
Think of the joy we have seen as survivors have been pulled to safety from rubble in Italy’s recent earthquakes.
Imagine the delight when Romeo, the golden retriever, was rescued 9 days after the quake & the cat, Pietro, was pulled free 15 days after the quake.7
Such stories may help us understand what Jesus says about “joy...over one sinner who repents.”
If we feel such joy over the rescue of pets, maybe we have some idea of the joy in heaven when one more beloved child of God in the human family is pulled from separation in the rubble of sin & returns to full relationship.
Whether our choices are deliberate or inadvertent, God is ready to redeem us. “God seeks healing & wholeness [for us]...,not an end to (our) relationship.”8
God extends grace to us AND through us.
God calls Jeremiah & Paul in their days. Now God calls you & me to find the lost sheep.
You & I are among the 99 sheep the Good Shepherd can leave. We are safe. We are in community. In this holy relationship, we help & protect each other. We promise this in our Baptismal Covenant. We are asked: “Will you...do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” We promise: “We will.”9
All in our power includes our prayers, our wisdom, sharing, listening, caring. This is stewardship, giving of our time, our abilities, our resources. We offer this in many ways, for example at the Soup Kitchen where we speak with our guests, & offering gifts to Dillard School, some of which we will bless today.
We know divisions exist, including in Goldsboro. Remembering the deaths & destruction on 911 & seeing continuing destruction & violence in in many places [including Goldsboro, Raleigh, Durham & Fayetteville] remind us of our divisions, anger, hate, prejudice.
Children who lost a parent on 911 & loved ones of people around the world killed by violence may help us overcome divisions.
These young people participate in a camp [part of Project Common Bond begun in 2008] at Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania.10
Participants who shared their stories & insights this year include:
◦ a Palestinian,
◦ an Israeli,
◦ a Muslim girl dressed in hijab,
◦ an American teen, son of a first responder who died at the Twin Towers,
◦ a war weary Middle East participant who wants to work for peace but feels discouraged,
◦ a participant from Northern Ireland says: “Don't give up...we've gotten there. It's not perfect; we didn't think it was going to happen but it did.”11
A therapist at the camp says, “sharing their stories & seeing across cultural divides” leads to better understanding to help “break the cycle of anger & violence.”12
Understanding someone more fully, we can think differently about them.13
“[These young people] recoil every time there is news of another bombing, another massacre...They weather each attack with empathy & wisdom. And a visceral desire to build a more peaceful world.”14
A participant posted on a bulletin board this note about peace:
“It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things & still be calm in your heart.”15
Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work.
Peace means to be in the midst of those things
still be calm in your heart.
“Another deadly quake hits northern Italy”. Accessed: 09 Sept. 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/worldnews/9297715/Another-deadly-earthquake-hits-northern-Italy.html
The American College Dictionary. ED-in-Chief: C.L. Barnhart. New York: Random House. 1966.
Basu, Moni. Wayne Drash. “ Camp for young people touched by terror”. CNN Updated 12:20 PM ET, 8 Sept. 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/06/world/children-of-terror-camp/ Accessed: 9 Sept. 2016
Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday. 1997.
Brueggemann, Walter. Journey to the Common Good. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. 2010.
Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. 2nd Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2001.
http://earthquaketrack.com/quakes/2016-09-10-10-08-19-utc-6-0-114 Accessed: 10 Sept. 2016.
Eberhart, Christian A. “Commentary on 1 Timothy 1:12-17”. Accessed: 08 Sept. 2016. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1768.
Hallelujah: The Poetry of Classic Hymns. ED: Anna Marlis Burgard. Berkley: Celestial Arts. 2005.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed: James L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
The Hymnal 1982. New York: Church Publishing, Inc. 1985.
Jacobo, Julia, “Cat Pulled From Rubble 15 Days After Italy Earthquake”. Accessed: 9 Sept. 2016. http://abcnews.go.com/International/cat-pulled-rubble-15-days-italy-earthquake/story?id=41959208
Macpherson, James. “'Our cause is just,' says tribal leader in protest”. The News & Observer. 4 Sept. 2016.
Malcolm, Lois. “Commentary on Luke 15:1-10”. Accessed: 8 Sept. 2016. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1782.
Miller, Ken. “Quake opens new doubts on fracking”. The News & Observer. 4 Sept. 2016.
Wines, Alphonetta. “Commentary on Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28”. Accessed: 8 Sept. 2016. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1763.
1 Hallelujah: The Poetry of Classic Hymns. ED: Anna Marlis Burgard. P. 38.
2 Newton, John. Hymn #671. The Hymnal 1982. New York: Church Publishing, Inc. 1985. Note: Idea re this hymn for this week's lesson is from Christian A. Eberhart's “Commentary on 1 Timothy 1:12-17”. Accessed: 8 Sept. 2016. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1768.
4 Note: This perspective I discovered in a Daughters of the King study when we delved into the different meanings of familiar words.
5 The American College Dictionary. ED-in-Chief: C.L. Barnhart. P.1154.
6 Ibid. Hallelujah.
7 Jacobo, Julia, “Cat Pulled From Rubble 15 Days After Italy Earthquake”. Accessed: 9 Sept. 2016. http://abcnews.go.com/International/cat-pulled-rubble-15-days-italy-earthquake/story?id=41959208
8 Wines, Alphonetta. “Commentary on Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28”. Accessed: 8 Sept. 2016. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1763.
9 The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, Inc. 1986. P. 303.
10 Basu, Moni. Wayne Drash. “ Camp for young people touched by terror”. CNN Updated 12:20 PM ET, 8 Sept. 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/06/world/children-of-terror-camp/ Accessed: 9 Sept. 2016.