Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 5th Sunday of Easter, 14 May 2017
Year A RCL Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
We hear stones scattered throughout our scriptures today: stones that kill, stones that protect, stones that build a spiritual house, stones that live.
This stone with its gentle flame reminds us, as we read in 1st Peter: we are called out of darkness into God's marvelous light. The Holy Spirit guides us through & out of darkness.
In his meditation “Risen One”1, Brother Geoffrey Tristram of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist says,
“If the journey seems daunting or overwhelming, (Jesus') resurrection...assures us the Risen One (Jesus) will always be our companion on the Way, & will always go before us to prepare the way.”
This stone a young person decorated with words on 2 sidesreminds me of faith & to trust Jesus. [One side says “Faith”. The other says “Trust in me.”]
Stephen trusts in Jesus. We hear his trust in our lesson from Acts. The words of this 1st Christian martyr echo our Lord Jesus on the cross. As Stephen is being murdered by the enraged crowd throwing stones to kill him, he says:
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them”.
As we murder Jesus on the hard wood of the cross, Jesus says: “Father forgive them.”
Through Jesus' love & sacrifice for us, God equips us to be able to live into the reality of God's far-reaching Love; to find the joy & freedom which come from forgiving those who hurt us; to find the joy & freedom which come from forgiving ourselves.
How easy is it to forgive? How easy is it to follow Jesus? It can be hard to follow Jesus when we have been wronged.
On the Sunday after the Sept. 11th bombings in 2001, an Episcopal priest said this in a sermon:
“The challenge of this life is not to stay alive;
the challenge of this life is to stay in love.”2
What do you expect a priest to say? ? ?
What do you expect a country singer/songwriter to say or a Muslim to say when they have suffered attacks & near death?
Devout Muslim Rais Bhuiyan and “avowed American terrorist Mark Stroman” are the central people in the non-fiction book, TheTrue American: Murder & Mercy in Texas3 by Anand Giridharadas.
On Sept. 20, 2001, Stroman, who after the 911 attacks has already killed at random 2 men he assumes to be Muslims, shoots Rais in the face & leaves him for dead4. Stroman gets sentenced to death row.5
Ten years after he is shot, Rais gets an idea from his Islamic pilgrimage which leads him to forgive Stroman publicly, “in the name of Islam & its notion of mercy.”6 He works “to have his attacker spared from the death penalty.”7
This is amazing grace. . . .
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me . . .
Country music singer/songwriter Sam Baker has quite a perspective on amazing grace & on the sounds he hears in his near death experience before he became a song writer, as I learned listening to Terry Gross' interview with him on NPR's Fresh Air8. You may recall my sharing part of his story & perspective at our Good Friday worship.
Sam, in 1986 a 31-year-old tourist, travels on a passenger train in Peru. He almost dies in the terrorist bombing of the train.
The blast from the bomb in the compartment directly overhead instantly kills a mother & father sitting facing Sam.
Their 7-year-old son takes hours to die.
Sam is helpless to help that child. The blast collapses Sam's lungs, cuts an artery, leaves him deaf, damages his brain. He develops gangrene. He requires more than 15 reconstructive surgeries. Formerly very physically active, climbing & so forth, he lives simply now.
Sam grew up going to church & drifted away. He has renewed perspective & faith, a new sense of purpose he expresses in songs. He recalls coming back from dying & a voice saying:
“You have to do something.”
What he does is teach us about our common humanity. He teaches about Mercy & Grace. “Everyone is at the mercy of another one's dream,” he says in the song, “Angels,” in his album “Mercy”9.
“...If you have a dream of destruction, it's not going to come out well for all of us,”
he says in the NPR interview.
Sam started writing music after his life-altering experience. He has gained faith in humanity, as he says in the interview. One thing which has changed is his perspective on suffering. He knows we all suffer. He has learned empathy.
He sees each person as a sinner & a saint.10
He has gained faith “in us as a group, as humans."
In his album, “Say Grace,” he sings:
“Go in peace. Go in kindness. Go in love. Go in faith... Go in Grace.
Let us go into the dark. Not afraid. Not alone...11”
Sam's perspective of humans as a group echoes what we hear Peter say in our Epistle:
“Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people.”
I assure you, my Beloved Brothers & Sisters,
you are a people.
You /we are a royal priesthood to serve God. You draw others to God so they become God’s people, living stones, fitted into Christ, the cornerstone.
What a difference it is to choose between throwing stones in anger & being living stones fitted into Christ Jesus: the way, the truth, the life.
May we have the mercy & the grace to live as Jesus calls us to & as Sam reminds us to:
“Go in peace. Go in kindness. Go in love. Go in faith. Go in Grace. Let us go into the dark. Not afraid. Not alone...”12
We go into the darkness bearing the Light of Christ.
Barclay, William. The Gospel of John. Vol 2. Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975.
Baker, Sam. BlueLimeStone Publishing. Sambakermusic.com. Produced by Walt Wilkins & Tim Lorsch Bull Creek Productions. 2004.
Giridharadas, Anand. The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2014.
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.
Sam Baker: Finding Grace In The Wake Of Destruction. http://www.npr.org/2014/05/06/310089151/sam-baker-finding-grace-in-the-wake-of-destruction. 6 May 2014.
Tristram, Brother Geoffrey. Society of Saint John the Evangelist. “Risen One” daily meditation for 9 May 2017. Originally published as “Emmaus” at http://ssje.org/ssje/2008/04/06/emmaus/ Accessed 9 May 2017.
Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR: The Appreciative Way. 2010. www.appreciativeway.com.
2 The Rev. Chris Rankin-Williams of California. Quoted by the Rev. Dr. Robert J. Voyles in a Lenten Forgiveness series Introduction P. 5, based on Voyles' Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment.
3 Giridharadas, Anand. The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
4 Ibid. Pp. 26-29.
5 Ibid. P. 109.
6 Ibid. Inside cover flap.
8 Sam Baker: Finding Grace In The Wake Of Destruction. NPR “Fresh Air” Interview with Terry Gross. http://www.npr.org/2014/05/06/310089151/sam-baker-finding-grace-in-the-wake-of-destruction. 6 May 2014.
9 Baker, Sam. BlueLimeStone Publishing. Sambakermusic.com. Produced by Walt Wilkins & Tim Lorsch Bull Creek Productions. 2004.
10 Ibid. Baker. Paraphrase from “Angels." BlueLimeStone Publishing.
11 Baker, Sam. NPR interview. http://www.npr.org/2014/05/06/310089151/sam-baker-finding-grace-in-the-wake-of-destruction. 6 May 2014.
12 Ibid. Baker. NPR interview.