Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Gift of Compassion

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis' Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; Holy Name of Jesus, 1 Jan. 2017
Year A RCL: Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:15-21

Garfield the cat [in Dec. 26, 2016, edition of Goldsboro News-Argus] bemoans “Christmas is over already?!” Obviously he's not an Episcopalian! We are celebrating the 12 days of Christmas!

Garfield protests he's not yet “done being merry...” Lazy as he can be, he shows us he's ready for more action. Our scriptures today give us action verbs:
  • The Lord speaks to Moses & gives him a job to do.
  • Galatians tells us God sends his Son so we get adopted & can cry out to God “Abba!” [Daddy / Papa]
  • Our Gospel says the angels go back to heaven. The shepherds go quickly to Bethlehem to see this baby. They tell Mary & Joseph what they experienced. Mary listens, treasures & ponders what she hears. The shepherds leave, glorifying & praising God. After 8 days Jesus is circumcised & receives his name.

Like many of us who are called by names in addition to our given names, we call Jesus “Son of God”, “Incarnate Word” [as we say in one Collect for a Sunday after Christmas].
The Spanish version of “Incarnate Word” has a more immediate sense of action. Instead of “palabra” [which means “word”] our Collect uses the word “Verbo”1, which is the word for “verb” & the word defined as the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity2.
[I am intrigued to see my Spanish dictionary/encyclopedia has as its 1st definition for “verbo” the reference to Jesus & lists its 2nd meaning as an action word.3 I wonder if some cultures are quicker to see God active in the world.]
How readily do we see God active in our lives? How often are we like Garfield & miss God's blessings & love active in our lives?
Dense as I can be, God has helped me recognize God's love in action when it would be so normal for me not to see! For example, enjoying people watching in Washington, DC, I noticed love & unity of families of different cultures, 2 races who not long ago hated, conquered, imprisoned & killed each other. Yet the several generations of these 2 families radiate deep respect, love & great joy, laughing, playing & taking plenty of photos.

Their love surrounds us. You can almost feel it in the air. These families witness the truth: We dwell in the World of God's love. These families shine the Light Jesus brings into the world.

The next morning my husband & I stand on a street corner waiting for the traffic light to change. I just realize I have forgotten to bring cash. I don't usually carry cash, but I like to when we go to DC so I have something for homeless beggars.
Feeling sad about my forgetting, I notice something move in the breeze: two $1 bills wave in the base of a tree.
I pick up these 2 simple pieces of paper & recall telling someone recently: God blesses us in unexpected ways.
Now I have something to give a homeless person. As we walk a few blocks, I wrestle over the gift: Do I give both dollars to the first person? Give one & save one for the next person? Suddenly we encounter a beggar.
I stop, look him in the eye & tell him I don't usually carry cash. “God has blessed us this day,” I say, holding out the 2 bills & explaining how I have them.
You have a choice,” I say. “You can keep both bills as a blessing or you can keep one & leave the other to bless another person who needs it. What do you want to do?”
The man returns my gaze. His eyes tear up. He smiles & says: “I'll take this one. Please bless another person with the other.”

I put my hand on his shoulder & assure him I will & will tell the other person that he has shared God's blessing. Then I ask God to bless him. He grasps my hand & holds it, looks me in the eye & asks God to bless me. We shed tears.
Together we have entered the World of Blessing. Together we experience unmerited grace & the truth of God's blessing: Love that surpasses understanding. God's love is for each human being.

Suddenly I realize Jesus never just drops a coin or a healing into someone's outstretched hand without looking at them4. Jesus always interacts with those seeking help, always engages those seeking his blessing [even the woman who tries to sneak up behind him just to touch the hem of his coat].
God's Love lights the world & breaks through
our darkness to bless us.
Darkness cannot overcome the Light of God's blessing.

A few blocks on sits a toothless, lame man, extending the cup he holds to receive cash. I stop, look him in the eye & repeat my story, adding the detail of the blessing from the other man. With my hand on his shoulder I tell him the generous man down the street is sharing God's blessing. As I give him the dollar, I ask God to bless him.
He tears up, clasps my hand & reaches up to touch my head in a blessing. In this moment, we dwell in the World of Blessing, the World of Unmerited Grace.

This is the world God creates in the beginning. We corrupt this world with self-focus. Jesus restores this world on the cross. Jesus relies on us to continue his work, shining God's Light in the darkness.
Jesus relies on us to work with God in the on-going work of transforming the world.

If two simple pieces of paper can unintentionally

bless people, what can our
intentional evangelism do?5

Bacon, Ed. 8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind. New York: Grand Central Life & Style. Hatchette Book Group 2012.
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.
Handy Dictionary of the Bible. Gen. Ed: Merrill C. Tenney. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1973.
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.
Larousse Diccionario Usual. Novena edición. Ramón García-Peleyo y Gross. México, DF: 2003.
El Libro de Oración Común. New York: Church Publishing. 1989.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1970.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.

1 El Libro de Oración Común. New York: Church Publishing. 1989. Pj. 127.
2 Larousse Diccionario Usual. Novena edición. Ramón García-Peleyo y Gross. México, DF: 2003. Pj. 690.
3 Ibid.
4 Note: Influenced by presentation of Robert J. Voyle, “An introduction to Appreciative Inquiry”. 2013 Clergy Leadership Institute.
5 Question my husband asks.

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