Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hope Serves as Balm to Heal Despair

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; 18th Sunday after Pentecost, 18 Sept. 2016
Proper 20 Year C RCL: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; Psalm 79:1-9; 1 Timothy 2:1–7; Luke 16:1–13
Despair & hope, virtue & dishonor speak to us in our scriptures today.
We hear what sounds like despair when the dishonest manager in our Gospel learns he will lose his job. In an odd way we hear hope in God's lament in Jeremiah: “Is there no balm in Gilead?”....
....Yes, there is! God knows this!
Gilead is known for its trees which produce oils & medicinal resin1, which are processed to become this balm to soothe aches & pains. East of the Jordan River & south of the Golan Heights,2 Gilead is known for the major trade route through it3 on which caravans carried balm from Gilead.4
What is this balm like? My internet research reveals it has a sweet, heavenly aroma reminiscent of spring.5 Here are 3 kinds of balm I use for various aches. How heavenly & sweet do they smell? [Time for congregation to test & respond.]
We’ll be able to evaluate for ourselves how lovely balm of Gilead is after my order arrives this week! I held onto hope of finding it in Goldsboro to have it here today, but I have to wait, trusting it will arrive.
Life challenges God's people who have to wait, trusting healing balm will arrive in our lives in dire situations.
Despite the dire situation in Jeremiah's prophecy, God whispers hope for healing. In desperation about losing his job, the dishonest manager in our Gospel makes an honest analysis of his abilities & trusts for a positive result. Quickly he uses his craftiness to secure his future. What seems like despair turns into hope.
It's easy to overlook the virtue of the dishonest manager's honest self analysis. He admits he's too weak to do physical labor & too proud to beg. Being too proud to beg may be a virtue: His self-respect demands that he use his skill to earn a living.
In his case, his skill is manipulating the business world!
Notice: he's not the only one manipulating the system. The debtors make no protest about shaving something off their bills.6 As one Bible commentator says:
This “is a story about as choice a set of rascals as one could meet...”7
Jesus commends the cheat in our Gospel to teach the disciples [& you & me] about devotion. We are what we practice. We are where our hearts are. What we are devoted to reveals our values, our virtues.

Jesus tells us to look clearly & honestly at what we do with what we value, to look honestly at our relationships, including our relationship with wealth, with our material resources.
We cannot serve God & wealth.
We can reverse this & have our wealth – our resources – serve God.
As this poem in Celtic Praise says:

When I give alms to the poor,
Let me not congratulate myself.
Let there be no pride in my act.
The wealth I possess is on loan;
God has made me its steward.
I am (God's) hands & (God's) heart...
Let my alms be received as (God's) gift.”8

Our priorities matter. Where our devotion lies matters. So many people try to serve two masters. (I know this. I've done it!) We earn our livings at 8-5 jobs, yet our devotion lies in the passion which comes alive on weekends, at night, in spare time as we play in a band, play with family, belly dance, travel, garden, create art, cook, work in the soup kitchen.9
In the parable about the dishonest manager, Jesus teaches us to commit to how we will live. As we center our devotion on God, we grow into a deeper relationship with God. We grow more grounded in God's love, which we know through Jesus' self-giving on the cross.
We do not deserve this gift.
God gives us this gift because God sees us as
beloved children.
As members of the Body of Christ, our prayers are mighty to transform bad into good, despair into hope, just as Jesus transforms us. When things don't seem to change from bad into good & we want to give up, we must see with God's eyes, see God's perspective, which we hear in Jeremiah.
Although it sounds like despair, Jeremiah expresses hope. He affirms God's love. We hear a whisper of God's hope when God says: “Is there no balm in Gilead?” God speaks this hope for healing, hope which grows louder as God says: “O that my head were a spring of water, & my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day & night...” God does not want to give up on us. Crying means there is hope.
Where there are no tears, people have given up, as we hear in this story Tom Long quotes in What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering & the Crisis of Faith. He shares this story of children in a psychiatric hospital:10

"[It] was a kind of warehouse of human misery. Hundreds of children with severe disabilities were lying neglected, on their cots. There was a deadly silence. Not one of them was crying. When they realize that nobody cares, that nobody will answer them, children no longer cry. It takes too much energy. We cry out only when there is hope that someone may hear us."11
We cry out only when there is hope
that someone may hear us.

God cries out in Jeremiah.

God KNOWS somewhere on earth someone

WILL hear.

God knows YOU will hear. YOU will respond.

You will provide balm from Gilead.

You will BE healing balm from Gilead.


Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Luke Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1975.
Dios Habla Hoy: La Biblia. 2da Ed. Nueva York: Sociedad BĂ­blica Americana. 1983.
Fonseca, Isabel. Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1995.
The Four Translation New Testament. Minneapolis: World Wide Publications. New York: The Iversen Assocs. 1966.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed: James L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Harper's Bible Dictionary. Gen. Ed: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers. 1985.
The New Complete Works of Josephus. Revised and Expanded Edition. Translator: William Whiston. Commentator: Paul L. Maier. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications.n1999.
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.
Long, Thomas G. What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2011.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha Expanded Edition. New York: Oxford University Press. 1973.
Van de Weyer, Robert. Celtic Praise: A Book of Celtic Devotion, Daily Prayers and Blessings. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1998.
Websites checked re Balm of Gilead & listed in order accessed 16 Sept. 2016 are as follows: Make Balm of Gilead / Cottonwood Oil”. LearningHerbs. John Gallagher. Copyright © 2016 Accessed 16 Sept. 2016. “How to Make Cottonwood Salve”. Jason Knight. of Gilead: The “Do-It-All” Poplar Salve {it’s spring in a jar!}”. Wardee Harmon.

1 Harper's Bible Dictionary. General ED: Paul J. Achtemeier. P. 90.
2 Jewish Study Bible: Tanakh Translation. P. 943.
3 Harper's Bible Dictionary. P. 348.
4 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible. P. 943.
5 Note: See sites listed in Bibliography.
6 Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Luke Revised Ed. P. 207-208.
7 Ibid. P. 207.
8 Van de Weyer, Robert. “Wealth As Loan.” Celtic Praise: A Book of Celtic Devotion, Daily Prayers and Blessings. P. 13.
9 Note: Perspective influenced by Barclay. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Luke. Pp. 209-210.
10 Long, Thomas G. What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith. P. 147. Note: Long shares this experience described by Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche communities.

11 Ibid. Long quotes from Vanier’s Becoming Human. Toronto: House of Anansi Press. 1998. P. 9. Emphasis mine on is.

No comments:

Post a Comment