Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King Sunday 20 Nov. 2016
Year C RCL: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Canticle 4 or 16 [Luke 1:68-79]; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Jesus says: Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.
I am sure the Roman soldiers are sure they know exactly what they are doing. Crucifixion is their job.
Although they haven’t invented crucifixion, according to Biblical Archaeology's website, the Romans have taken it to a new level: from punishment to humiliate slaves to capital punishment, which can leave a person dying in agony for days.1
The Roman soldiers who crucify Jesus know the techniques, how to drive iron nails through human flesh & bones. [A 1968 archeological discovery of bones in a Jerusalem tomb verifies the practice: the foot bones are still nailed together; arm bones show scratches where nails went through.2]
As they crucify Jesus, Roman soldiers know their job. They do not know the greater impact of this job:
Jesus is dying for their sins & ours.
Like the Roman soldiers, we 21st century people think we know what we are doing. Like Adam & Eve deciding to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge, we do things believing we know what we do. Look at the mess in our world. Look at the mess we make with our impatience not to waste time.
In his book, House of Stone, author Anthony Shadid shares hisexperiences in Lebanon, which we know has more than its share of human suffering. He tells of a relative whose studies aren't going well: the student digs a hole in the garden, gathers all his school books & buries them
“to grow a tree of knowledge.”3
I wonder if the shepherds in our reading from Jeremiah think they know what they are doing. These “shepherds” are leaders of the people.
“ 'Shepherds' is often the title for kings in the ancient Near East...”4
How odd it must sound to these shepherd to hear Jeremiah's oracle of woe. “What?! We're scattering God's sheep & neglecting God's people? How can this be? We follow our rules.”
Our rules can be so different from God's rule.
God's command is love.
God's love is not just when we get to heaven.
God's love is now.
Love God with all our heart, mind, & soul now.
Love our neighbor now as we love ourselves.
Our neighbor sits near us at church, lives down our street & across our backyard fence. We look different when we see each other through a fence, whether it's a real fence, a social or cultural divide, or man-made border.
Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. Jesus is our King, our Good Shepherd. Jeremiah says God's Good Shepherd will tend the sheep – all God's sheep.
Our problems today are problems Jeremiah addresses & the letter to the Colossians addresses: leaders lead us astray. Leaders Jeremiah speaks to neglect people’s needs. New Christians in the Colossians' heresy are mostly gentiles being led away from Jesus by false teachers5, who do not teach the love of Jesus' saving grace through his death on the cross.
Our reading from Colossians reminds us to celebrate “Jesus as the unique mediator of creation &…redemption...[Our reading]…affirms the reality of the created world,...stresses [Jesus as]…head of the church..[& as] crucified savior...”6
A crucified savior defies human logic.
In the Tony Award winning puppet musical “Avenue Q”7,a character sings from a human perspective. [By the way, Avenue Q has a parental advisory because of its explicit content.]
The puppet, Kate, is in love with the “boy next door”, who seems interested in her, yet the relationship goes nowhere. She sings:
“There's a fine, fine line . . . between reality & pretend . . . between a fairy tale & a lie . . . between together & not . . .
There's a fine, fine line between love & a waste of time.”
We see a fine, fine line between love & a waste of time. God sees clearly.
God sees no fine line, no waste of time as Jesus dies on the cross, crossing any line, any barrier we put between us & God.
Jesus lays his love on the line for us on the hard wood of the cross.
Jesus sees us – Jesus sees you – as worth the long hours of agony nailed to the cross to restore us / you to God's love. Beloved Brothers, Beloved Sisters, you are worth all of God's time. Celebrate this Good News & share it, using time to seek our lost brothers & sisters.
In a special way today we will reach out in God’s love working together as the Body of Christ, selecting leaders, discussing ideas & next steps at our Annual Meeting.
God sends Jesus to free us & bring us together under God's gracious rule.
Human love comes with barriers.
Jesus' saving grace breaks through our barriers.
Celebrate & share this Good News!
Grenz, Stanley J. David Guretzki. Cherith Fee Nordling. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Downers Grive, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1999.
Handy Dictionary of the Bible. Gen. Ed: Merrill C. Tenney. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1973.
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.
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.
Shadid, Anthony. House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East. New York: Mariner Books Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2012.
“There's a Fine, Fine Line”. Avenue Q: The Musical. Music & Lyrics: Robert Lopez. Jeff Marx.
“A Tomb in Jerusalem Reveals the History of Crucifixion and Roman Crucifixion Methods”. Biblical Archaeology Society Staff. Posted: 22 July 2011. Accessed: 17 Nov. 2016. http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/crucifixion/a-tomb-in-jerusalem-reveals-the-history-of-crucifixion-and-roman-crucifixion-methods/.
1 “A Tomb in Jerusalem Reveals the History of Crucifixion and Roman Crucifixion Methods”. Accessed:17 Nov. 2016.
3 Shadid, Anthony. House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East. P. 26.
4 Jewish Study Bible. P. 972.
5 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 1226.
6 Ibid. P. 1227
7 “There's a Fine, Fine Line”. Avenue Q: The Musical.