Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; 2 Advent, 4 Dec. 2016
Year A RCL: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
You viper's brood!
Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?!
I can't preach like John the Baptist, the fiery outdoor prophet. I preach in our climate-controlled building!
Even wearing this woolly-looking jacket, the white*1 alb underneath looks very different from what our Gospel says John wears: camel's hair clothing, a leather belt around his waist.
What would he look like today?
Can you see him with long, unruly hair? Around his waist he wears a burlap bag tied with twine. As he strides down this center aisle to sit down front, you read the slogan scrawled on the back of his denim jacket:
If this distinctive person comes in here & sits on your row will you bear fruit worthy of repentance, which we seek at Eucharist so we can live new lives? Will you welcome this strange stranger?
Will you, Beloved Little Child of God, welcome this lion to eat with us at this Holy Table? Will you put out your hand at the peace to shake his – like a child putting its hand over the adder's den, as Isaiah describes of the peaceable kingdom?
Will you, as Paul encourages us to do in our lesson from Romans, welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed you? If you do, then we can with one voice glorify God. This one voice is a harmony of many voices.
Paul reminds the Romans & us of this fact: With God's help we can live in harmony with one another. Harmony has many parts, many sounds. It is much richer than a monotone: all sounding exactly alike.
Our many voices blending together speak God's love & unite into a glorious chorus of praise to God.
I am convinced you/we have such great unity, the ability to live in harmony. Paul says in our lesson: “May the God of hope fill you [us] with all joy & peace in believing, so you [we] may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Abounding in hope & by the power of the Holy Spirit, yes, you would do as Paul encourages us to do. You do welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you. You will welcome a John the Baptist here as he marches down the center aisle in his burlap bag.
I am convinced you can reflect the unity we know of God's Mystery. This Unity is Holy Community, the Holy Trinity: 3 in One, One in 3 – Unity which welcomes all sorts & conditions of people.
I am convinced of this because I have seen you welcome strangers. This is not new to you. Beloved Brothers & Sisters, in the 7 months I've been with this beautiful Body of Christ, I have seen your grace & purposeful unity in stressful times.
I am convinced of this also because my husband & I have witnessed such an encounter among Episcopalians in another church. We remember the Sunday when the lessons we have today have just been read. The lay preacher has just started her sermon, focusing on John the Baptist.
In walks this burlap bag guy wearing the denim
“Jesus Saves” jacket. He strides toward the front.
Most of us think he's helping illustrate her sermon, the preacher's prop, a theater student from the college across the street where she teaches.
We think this until we smell the scent of body odor trailing him like incense lingers after a procession. We see people shift away uncomfortably.
After the sermon, one woman on the pew scoots closer to him & opens the Prayer Book to the Creed for him. He doesn't use it. He knows the Creed by heart. He knows when to stand, sit & kneel. We learn later he's an Episcopalian. He has drifted into our community off his medications & far from his home in a state far away.
He becomes part of parish worship & fellowship. He chastises us for throwing out food left on plates after the parish supper & rescues it from the trash for his next meal. He chastises me for shaking crumbs from table cloths into the yard; however, he stops picking them up when I remind him they are for the ants & the birds.
This Beloved Child of God teaches us much & gives us new perspectives. God has put him among us for us to learn from him, & for us to bless him. The head of mental health happens to be a parishioner & eventually locates his family, gets him the medicines he needs & helps him return home.
When we see someone who is different or someone who irritates us, what assumptions do we make? The burlap bag man assumed I was thoughtlessly wasting food when, in fact, I was careful not to throw crumbs into the trash but was feeding God's creatures outside.
Jesus meets us where we are. Our scriptures tell us of “the knowledge of the Lord”, which some translate as “devotion”2 to the Lord. They tell us of “fear of the Lord”, which some translate as “reverence.”3 Our scriptures remind us: God constantly reaches out to us in love, peace, mercy. Sometimes God wears a burlap bag to do this.
God does this to bring us into closer relationship with God & into fullness of life.
We know Jesus dies for each of us before we ever ask forgiveness. This knowledge should create devotion in us & replace fear with reverence & gratitude.
Jesus dies for each of us while we are still trailing the odor of our sins, while we are “off our meds” & have no idea where we are, where we come from, where we're going.
Jesus dies for us while we are still a disheveled mess.
Jesus reaches out his hand to us while we are a brood of vipers & lets us bite his hand over & over.
Eventually we will run out of venom.
Eventually we will curl up in peace, wrapping ourselves around Jesus, hearing his heart beating, beating, beating in harmony with God's love.
Jesus does this just because. . . .
. . . . just because God loves you.
Beloved Child, God invites YOU to feast in peace & unity in God's Holy Community of Love.
Share this feast.
Share this feast.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General 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.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1970.
1 * An alb is white! So I am being redundant.
2 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. P. 808.
3 Ibid. P. 807. Note: The New American Bible for Catholics translates it as “piety.” P. 756.