Monday, October 16, 2017

How Do We Respond to God's Invitation?

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 15 Oct. 2017, Proper 23

Year A RCL: Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

“Many are called, but few are chosen.”
What a challenge we hear in our Gospel!

Our Gospel's challenge reminds me of the confrontation in our 1st lesson. [Did you notice how God says to Moses “YOUR people” & Moses says to God “YOUR people”?] You'd think by now the people with Moses would understand God is with them & will take care of them. But we humans worry, focus on what we lack, give into fear & make a mess.

If I were to ask you to stop by our house & check on our Mercedes & Jaguar [if we had them] while we're out of town, where would you expect to find them? [Both congregations' responses: The garage!]
Former neighbors asked us to stop by their new house to check on their Mercedes & Jaguar. We hadn't noticed fancy cars when they lived in the condo above us. So I ask about a key to the garage. The wife says:
“Use the front door key. They'll be in the living room.”
It's been years since the
Mercedes & Jaguar
encounter, so our cats
will substitute. 
My mind races....Cars? Living room? She says check their water... Huh? ...& food. Huh??
Mercedes & Jaguar are their cats!
How had we lived so near & not known this?

What are the Mercedes & Jaguar Jesus wants us to check on in our Gospel so they can feed & water us?

I wonder if our Gospel reflects how people with Moses so quickly get out of touch with the hope & miracles they have experienced.
The excuses we hear in Jesus' wedding parable may seem believable. Yet, in Jesus' time people were invited to a wedding not knowing the date, so these invitees don't take seriously God's invitation to a joyful relationship.

Jesus makes it clear: more than our work, our life in relationship with God our King is important. The invitees miss living the fuller life we know in Jesus, the Son, whose bride, the Church, is us!

Notice what Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians: “beloved, whatever is honorable,...just,...pure,... pleasing, ...commendable,...any excellence,...anything worthy of praise, think about these things” & do the positive things you have learned, received, heard, seen.
This is how to have the God of peace with us. This is how to have what the people with Moses fear they don't have.
As one of my seminary professors1 says in her sermon about our lesson from Exodus: “...that thing we have made from Egypt’s gold...may symbolize strength & power...But as close as we draw to it, as much as we celebrate it & place it at the center of our lives, it did not lead us to freedom & will not lead us to our promised inheritance. It will tether us to slavery, to a worldview in which people are expendable, interchangeable commodities. It will moor us in the impatience of our ignorance & fear....”2
Trusting in Jesus, we can overcome ignorance & fear & have courage to do what he tells us to:
Invite others to share the fuller life he offers.
God sends an open invitation to everyone.
God's open door3 policy lets everyone come celebrate with God & God's Son. As Bible commentator William Barclay says: God invites us to join the celebration of joy4 & abundant life.
This is reason for rejoicing.

Like some invitees, we can get distracted & forget to rejoice. May we have grace to remember “God's gracious invitation needs to be met by our committed response.”5  “[We] can be so busy making a living...[we fail] to make a life; [we] can be so busy [organizing] life...[we forget to live] life...”6
What's important in Jesus' parable is not how we will be punished but “what we will miss.”7 
“This parable has nothing to do with the clothes...[&] everything to do with the spirit in which we [live & worship God].”8
God loves us. God loves you.
No exceptions.
God's love never goes away.
It is always with us.

We get a taste of it at this Holy Table.
By Jesus' dying for us, we receive a wedding robe so that we can come to this banquet, robed in the Light of Christ's Love.


Bibliography
Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew: Vol. 2 . Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1975.
Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. 2nd Ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2001.
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.
Hughes, Rover Davis III. Beloved Dust: Tides of the Spirit in the Christian Life. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group. 2008.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
McKenzie, Alyce M. Interpretation Bible Studies: Matthew. Louisville: Geneva Press. 1998.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Ortberg, John. If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2001.
Portier-Young, Anathea. “Commentary on Exodus 32:1-14.” Accessed: 17 Oct. 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3442 Note: Dr. Poitier-Young, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Duke Divinity School, Durham, NC., taught the class on Old Testament Prophets, which I took at The School of Theology, The University of the South, Sewanee, TN.
Troeger, Thomas H. Ten Strategies for Preaching in a Multi Media Culture. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1996.

1 Dr. Anathea Poitier-Young, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Duke Divinity School in Durham, taught class on Old Testament Prophets I took at The School of Theology, The University of the South, Sewanee, TN. 1st lesson. Commentary at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3442.
2 Ibid.
3 Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew: Vol. 2 . P. 270.
4 Ibid. Pp. 267-268.
5 McKenzie, Alyce M. Interpretation Bible Studies: Matthew. P. 80.
6 Ibid. Barclay. P. 268.
7 Ibid.

8 Ibid. P. 270.

Monday, October 9, 2017

What Kind of Stewards Are We?

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 8 Oct. 2017, Proper 22

Year A RCL: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46

The kingdom of God will be given to people who produce the fruits of the kingdom.
What are the fruits of God's kingdom? Love. Joy. Peace. Justice. Mercy. Unity. Wholeness.
Notice these fruits in the 10 commandments in our reading from Exodus: One God: unity; sabbath rest: peace; honor parents: love; no murder, adultery, stealing, lying: justice & mercy; no coveting: wholeness & joy.

What do you notice about punishment? [People at both worship services search the text & discover...] There is NO mention of punishment! [….except re God not acquitting us for misusing God's name].
The 10 statements, as they are also called, as the term Decalogue indicates1 & as the Jewish Study Bible notes, are about right relationships.

When we focus on relationship with God, other relationships can be positive. Our unity & wholeness reflect the Unity of God the Holy Trinity.
In our Gospel, we see people fail in relationship. Jesus shows us the essence of God's kingdom is deeper than just following rules.
Living the statements in all aspects of our lives is a form of stewardship, keeping our day-to-day living centered on God.

Jesus tells this parable to teach people [who think they have it made & are comfortable ignoring needs of other people] that relationship with God is part of all aspects of our lives. 
Think how familiar we are with electric lights. We may not think much about them, as Sermons4Kids points out. 
My husband & I are more aware now because we have so many where we live now & have broken some.2 We don't fret. We get another bulb.
This wasn't always simple for people, as this story about Thomas Edison tells us:3

Edison's inventing the light bulb required a team working 24 hours to create just one bulb. When finished, Edison “gave [the bulb] to a young boy to carry upstairs. Step by careful step he carried it, afraid...he might drop this priceless piece of work.”4 He reaches the top step & drops it! It takes the team another 24 hours to make a new bulb.
Tired & ready for a break, Edison is ready to have this new bulb taken upstairs to test. He gives it to the same boy!
What forgiveness!
What opportunity to redeem a mistake!5
What grace!
God offers us this kind of forgiveness.

Edison shows the difference between our living in the dollar-for-work-kingdom & our living in relationship in God's kingdom, where Love, Joy, Peace, Justice, Mercy, Unity, Wholeness, are gifts God gives us.
We don't earn them like we earn when we sell our time & skills in the workplace.
Offering a person such grace is a form of stewardship.
Our relationships are to be honest, open, God-centered in all aspects of our lives, including our $. God calls us to be a people who produce fruits of the kingdom.

Our financial contributions & stewardship of our assets are essential to producing fruit.
Like the young boy facing a challenge, we are a young congregation without a large financial endowment to offset cash shortfalls. We do see this challenge in our Vestry financial updates. We do practice good stewardship here, caring for our physical & financial assets.6

Living in wholeness means I have to be like a monk in an article I read7 & frankly ask for money for this Body of Christ at this time of our annual giving campaign, which helps us have a sound financial plan to live by in 2018.

Unlike congregations which have been around a long time & have strong legacy funds to rely on in a shortfall, we are young & have fewer years of building up financial resources. In our 53 years, we have been responsible & wise caring for our assets.

Our stewardship requires wisdom, discipline & trust to meet practical expenses for lights & water & light bulbs, & support of our Diocese through which we serve Jesus beyond our county lines.
Stewardship helps us deepen our relationship with God.

What price do you put on your church?8 What value do you put on your relationship here? As the monk asked, I ask you: 
“Please pray to God, &
between you & God figure out 
what is right for you.
Thank you."



Bibliography
Coats, James. “God’s Economy.” http://www.ecfvp.org/vestrypapers/sharing-our-gifts/gods-economy/. Accessed: 6 Oct. 2017.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Howard, Ken. “An Experiment: Year Round Stewardship”. Accessed: 6 Oct. 2017. http://www.ecfvp.org/vestrypapers/sharing-our-gifts/an-experiment-year-round-stewardship/
http://www.ssje.org/  Accessed: 6 Oct. 2017.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation.New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Last of All He Sent His Son”. https://www.sermons4kids.com/ Accessed: 5 Oct. 2017.
Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. Minneapolis: Winston Press. 1985.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.

1 Jewish Study Bible. P. 148.
2 Idea from “Last of All He Sent His Son”. https://www.sermons4kids.com/ Accessed: 5 Oct. 2017.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Note: Influenced by James Coats article, “God’s Economy.” http://www.ecfvp.org/vestrypapers/sharing-our-gifts/gods-economy/. Accessed: 6 Oct. 2017.
7 Ibid.

8 Ibid. Paraphrase.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Questions, Questions, Questions!

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 1 Oct 2017, Proper 21

Year A RCL: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

Notice: Community leaders ask Jesus who has given him authority to do what he does,
& Jesus answers their question with a question.

Our lesson in Exodus & in our Gospel ask 5 questions each. Here’s a question about St. Francis, whose feast day we celebrate today: Since he is considered the most popular & admired saint, as we read in Lesser Feasts & Fasts1, why do so few follow his example to live simply & identify with the poor & suffering, which is what Jesus does?

Again this week we hear suffering & complaining in Exodus. People are thirsty. The solution to the problem is in plain sight. They just don't see it.
What do you expect to get when you strike a stone?
Water or a spark? Would you expect to get wrapping paper?

Notice the differences in these rolls of wrapping paper. [Color, feel/rough & smooth]
What do we usually use to make paper? [Wood; recycled paper.]
The brown paper is recycled paper. [Pink is papyrus.] The white paper is made from stone.
We use God's natural gifts to make paper. We can use God's natural gift to get water from a rock.

God has Moses access nature's gift in the Wilderness of Sin [pronounced SEEN2], which is Egyptian for the fortress which was there & is mentioned in ancient Egyptian texts.3 Its limestone rocks drip water. Hitting the rock's soft surface exposes the porous inside holding the water.4

It is easier to get water from a rock than to get people to stay faithful & trust God. This is hard in the Wilderness of Sin & in the wilderness of sin, which isn't a place but a way we live.
The wilderness of sin is a stronghold separating us from God & each other. In this stronghold we are likely to complain & forget the unmerited grace God continually offers.

We see St. Francis embrace & live fully into this unmerited grace.
We hear grace in our Psalm, which declares God is faithful despite our sin. God's love overcomes our rebelliousness.
Paul reminds us & the Philippians: God is at work in us.

God constantly reaches out to bring us into right relationship with God & into unity with each other. God's love reaches out to all people. This confuses the leaders in Jesus' day.

You & I are blessed to know God gives Jesus the authority. We declare this each time we say the Nicene Creed & the Apostles Creed.

We can thank God for sending us Jesus to do what he does to make life whole & beautiful & to help us live in holy unity as God wants us to live.

Our life in holy community reflects the beautiful unity of God the Holy Trinity. Our unity is important, as we read in Philippians. Our unity is important since we claim to love Jesus, who dies for us so we may live. Our unity is important for the lives we touch.

We strengthen our unity at this holy table. God nourishes us with Jesus' Body & Blood, which come from natural substances in bread & wine. God gives us these gifts to help us be strong like a rock & open to God.
Here we gain strength, confidence & wisdom to serve Jesus where we are, to reach beyond ourselves to our brothers & sisters in the human family.
Think of our brothers & sisters in our afternoon congregation with whom we can interact more if we put forth even a small effort.

Think how St. Francis interacted simply even with birds & other beings in nature as we see depicted on the kneeler here at the front. [Thank you, Altar Guild, for placing it where we can notice it.]

God’s grace does come unexpectedly like water from a rock. God fills us with grace. We just have to make an effort to notice.

Our scriptures tell us God wants us to be faithful in our relationship with God.5  Our Psalm tells us of the history of God’s redemption of us... 6 and assures us: God has acted in the past. We can trust God in the present & with the future.7

Share this is Good News!
Jesus died for the love of us.

How do you respond in God's love? How do you/we respond in situations like Moses & Jesus face when people challenge them?

What will help you remember to
trust God
 &
ask God for help?




Bibliography
Book of Common Prayer. New York: The Church Hymnal Corp., and The Seabury Press. 1979.
Broadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press. 1984.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971S.
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.
Lesser Feasts & Fasts. New York: Church Publishing, Inc. 2003.
Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. Minneapolis: Winston Press. 1985.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
Scott-Craig, T.S.K. A Guide to Pronouncing Biblical Names. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing. 1982.
Yes or No? A Parable of Two Sons” and “Jesus Asks a Riddle”. Sermons4Kids. Accessed: 29 Sept. 2017. http://www.sermons4kids.com/.


1 Lesser Feasts & Fasts. P. 392. We’ll celebrate his official feast day Wednesday at Noon Eucharist.
2 Scott-Craig, T.S.K. A Guide to Pronouncing Biblical Names. P. 87.
3 Harper’s Bible Dictionary. P. 955.
4 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation P. 142.
5 Broadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. P. 175.
6 Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. P. 146.

7 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 469.

Monday, September 25, 2017

What???!!!

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, Parish Retreat at
Trinity Center, Pine Knoll Shores, NC
24 Sept. 2017, Proper 20 Year A RCL
Exodus 1 6:2-15; Psalm 105: 1-6, 37-45; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16

Notice: our scriptures point us to love of God & peace versus anxiety & anger.
Know this: “If you hug to yourself any resentment against anybody else, you destroy the bridge by which God would come to you,”[1] as Peter Marshall tells us.
When we get off balance in our relationship with God & each other, we complain.
Like the people in Exodus, we may focus our complaint on an individual. When we do like they do, we are complaining against God, who gives us life & relationships to share.

Think of the difference we see between familiar characters in stories of Winnie the Pooh, created by A. A. Milne: We see upbeat 
Tigger, who leaps into action, 
expecting the best J,  &


downbeat Eeyore, who holds back, expecting the worst L.

Know this: The human family & the church have both characters. AND each of us has both. Depending on our situation & the people in it, we may tend to be more Eeyore or more Tigger.

We see Tigger & Eeyore as we encounter A.J. Jacobs in his book, The Year of Living Biblically. What we read during our Parish Retreat [& in our conversations about his unique year have heard & will hear in our on-going conversations this year about the book] is a range of emotions, responses, & what sound like contradictions.
Notice what A.J. says about his secular family with Jewish heritage on the 2nd page of his Introduction:

“The closest my family came to observing Judaism was...[putting] a Star of David on top of our Christmas tree.”[2]

The Bible is new to him. Like him & the people in Exodus who see manna for the 1st time, we may see a gift of God's grace & respond with wonder & ask: “What is it?”

In Hebrew “manna”[3] means “What is it?” The people have not seen this flaky stuff “still called 'manna ' in Arabic” & which Bedouins use...It comes from insects which ingest tree sap & excrete it on branches where it crystallizes into solids which fall to the ground.[4]

Using another natural phenomena, God sends quail in the Sinai.[5] The difference in birds & bread for the people in Exodus is they come in the quantities needed & times of year in addition to the usual months they are there[6].

As The Jewish Study Bible notes: great numbers of quail migrate between Africa & Europe; exhausted, some drop to the ground where people easily collect them.[7]

The Creator of all uses natural processes to provide people what they need. Is it any less of a miracle & blessing from God when what we need comes from a natural phenomena?
Will you miss seeing the miracle if an employer hires you, has trouble paying what was promised & later pays you more?
How do you have grace to let go resentment & open your eyes to see God at work?
How can you open yourself to be a willing instrument of God's grace?
How can you live more biblically?

By the 7th month of living biblically, A.J. speaks of his prayer life with his spiritual adviser, Yossi. An ordained Orthodox rabbi, who never served as such, Yossi tells A.J.:

“Stop looking at the Bible as a self-help book...It's about serving God.”[8]

Yossi tells about 2 men regularly saying their daily required prayers while at work & describes each one's habit. Asked who prays better, A.J. says the man who prays in his closed office 20 minutes.[9]

Yossi says the better praying is by the man who ducks into a supply closet & grabs 5 minutes for prayers between phone calls. He “was doing it only for God. He was sacrificing his time. There was no benefit to himself.”[10]

Notice what we hear Paul tell the Philippians & us about living in the flesh, fruitful labor, & having the same struggles. How do we balance our lives between the earthly & the heavenly things?
Standing “firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel” helps us shift our perspective beyond self. It helps us see as Jesus sees in our Gospel instead of seeing like the early-rising workers expecting more.

Jesus tells us the love with which we do God's work counts more than the amount of work we do.[11] The “payment” we receive is God's grace, a free gift we cannot earn.[12]

Like A.J. learns about prayer by practicing it, we practice & hone our abilities in our work as the Body of Christ. This essential work keeps us embraced in this holy fellowship, centered in God's love.

Whether we are Eeyore or Tigger, God's love feeds us like manna in the wilderness. God invites us to share God's Love with our brothers & sisters in the human family.
As Christians we serve God by
serving others.



Bibliography
Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew: Vol. 2 . Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1975.
Book of Common Prayer. New York: The Church Hymnal Corp., and The Seabury Press. 1979.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jacobs, A.J. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2007.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Voyle, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR: The Appreciative Way. 2010.
Voyle, Robert J. “The Art of Resolving Resentment”. Forgiveness Forum: Teach Your Congrgation How to Forgive. www.appreciativeway.com. 2014.




[1] Quoted by Robert J. Voyle in “The Art of Resolving Resentment”. P. 73.
[2] Jacobs, A.J. The Year of Living Biblically. P. 4.
[3] Jewish Study Bible. P. 140.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid. Jacobs. P. 93-94; 208.
[9] Ibid. 208
[10] Ibid. P. 208.
[11] Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew: Vol. 2 . P. 226.
[12] Ibid.