Sunday, October 16, 2016

Expect the Unexpected – Again!

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, 16 Oct. 2016
Proper 24 Year C RCL: Jeremiah 31:27-34; Psalm 119:97-104; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

Why have I titled this sermon
“Expect the Unexpected”?
[Congregation responses included: last week's hurricane & the power outage we had before our 10:30 worship today, which caused us to move worship from the sanctuary to the Parish Hall after our 8:30 a.m. worship!] Yes, we have had the unexpected recently!

Last week's sermon [which Hurricane Matthew prevented you from hearing] is titled “Expect the Unexpected” to emphasize last week's Gospel's message & the unexpected miracle in our life together we were to celebrate.
Today we celebrate so many blessings & this parish's miracle we couldn't celebrate last week, a miracle 30-plus years in the making!
It is hard to know what to expect
when you expect the unexpected!

The judge in our Gospel knows what to expect every day from the determined widow. Like him, we may work to resolve a constant demand for attention. Unlike the judge, we fear God, have a sense of awe of God. Unlike the judge, we may fear the unexpected in life.
Brain studies show we have one neuron to indicate a feeling of peace & 4 neurons to indicate fear.1
This 4:1 ratio makes fear seem more real to us than peace,
as I learned from The Rev. Dr. Robert J. Voyle at a conference.2
Fear numbs our brains' creativity & keeps us stuck in situations.
Yet situations change. Hurricane Matthew has gone. We work creatively, diligently to rebuild & renew. Each week we gather here to rebuild & renew our spiritual lives, to feed on God's holy word & holy gifts at this table.
  • Today we celebrate our survival & blessings of many kinds flowing into our lives & flowing through us as we combat the storm's aftermath.
  • We celebrate the great news we didn't know last Sunday of health for our wonderful Parish Administrator's husband.
  • We celebrate the miracle which frees one stuck in fear for wrong another person did to this Body of Christ years ago. This person now has God's peace, which surpasses our understanding.
We thank & praise God for the great miracle of restoring most unexpectedly the silver Communion items stolen from this Body of Christ in 1983. Today we will use these items made especially for us in England.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God's hands & feet & voice have acted through many individuals in this miracle of restoration that only God could pull off!
We say “THANK YOU, GOD!” in a BIG way for renewed life, for trusting God, God's timing, God’s amazing ways of answering prayers, & our responding to God’s call.
Our responses about the stolen items have included intense prayers for all concerned, especially in the last 3 months, & have helped free those stuck in fear.
[Thank you all who have worked as God's hands, feet, voice & heart to bring about this blessing.]

Why do we fear proclaiming the Good News of God's love for us? Paul tells us in our lesson from 2nd Timothy to proclaim the message. In our Psalm, the message is God's law gives us wisdom to live as we should.
Most of our living is in ordinary times,
not scary times.
Know this: Psalm 119 was composed not for life's big events but for the 90 percent of life that “is uneventful, even monotonous...,”3 as one author says. It gives us a “prolonged contemplation of God's presence.4
Prolonged is right!
With its 176 verses, this is the longest Psalm & the longest chapter in the entire Bible!5 In our Prayer Book, it starts on page 763 & ends on 778.
What we read today is one of 22 stanzas, each with 8 verses. The Hebrew version is written in an acrostic style: each verse in a stanza starts with the same Hebrew letter as the succeeding letters are used. Almost all verses contain the word “law” or its synonym:6 decrees, word, commandment, judgments. 
What creative skill this shows! What discipline!
Within this framework, the writer remains creative & flexible: You can read this psalm in random order & it still makes sense.
You an even read it backward!7  Let's do this!
I'll read the last verse 104, then you read the top verse 97, then I'll read 103, you read, 98 & so on until we meet in the middle!
Priest: 104
Through your commandments I gain understanding;
therefore I hate every lying way.
Congregation: 97
Oh, how I love your law! all the day long it is in my mind.
Priest: 103
How sweet are your words to my taste!
they are sweeter than honey to my mouth.
Congregation: 98
Your commandment has made me wiser than my enemies,
and it is always with me.
Priest: 102
I do not shrink from your judgments,
because you yourself have taught me.
Congregation: 99
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your decrees are my study.
Priest: 101
I restrain my feet from every evil way,
that I may keep your word.
Congregation: 100
I am wiser than the elders,
because I observe your commandments.

Whichever way we read this Psalm, it reminds us God is with us when we move forward, when we move backward, when we are tossed by life's storms. This is a message of hope, like Jeremiah's message of future restoration & reconciliation.
Our hope rests solidly on God's promise to create a new covenant God writes on our hearts so that we can obey.8  We carry God's law in our hearts as a living part of us.
This is the divine spark9 we Christians know to be the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit in us guides us from fear to faith so that we can remain faithful & persistent in prayer, no matter what challenges us.

Jesus asks in our Gospel today: Will the Son of Man find faith on earth?
I assure you: Jesus does find faith on earth. We gather here today because we are faithful & persistent in prayer.
Be faithful & persistent in sharing the Good News we know in Jesus:
God loves you! No exceptions!
God loves you! No exceptions!

Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1975.
The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, Inc. 1986.
Davidson, Robert. The Daily Study Bible Series: Jeremiah Vol. 2 and Lamentations. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1985.
Dios Habla Hoy: La Biblia. 2da Ed. Nueva York: Sociedad Bíblica Americana. 1983.
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.
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.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1970.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha Expanded Edition. New York: Oxford University Press. 1973.
La Sacra Bibbia Versione Riveduta. Dott. Giovanni Luzzi. Roma: Società Biblica Britannica & Forestiera. Libreria Sacre Scritture Roma. 1990.

1 Information from notes taken at conference presentation by The Rev. Dr. Robert J. Voyle.
2 Ibid.
3 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 487.
4 Ibid.
5 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. P. 1415.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid. Harper’s.
8 Ibid. Harper’s. P. 636.

9 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible. P. 991.

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