Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 18 June 2017, Pentecost 2, Proper 6
Year A RCL: Genesis 18:1-15; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8
Notice the sense of urgency1 & specific details we hear in our Gospel today &
in our lesson from Genesis.
Notice how Paul's words pouring out to the Church in Rome & to us
complement the hope & trust we hear
in Genesis & in Matthew.
Remember: what we hear in Matthew is before Jesus' death & resurrection. After his resurrection, Jesus broadens the scope of ministry for the disciples / for us to share the Good News of God's Love with all people.
Today we hear hope & trust as Matthew tells of Jesus' positive impact & the huge workload he shares with the disciples / us.
Paul tells us of hope & peace we have through the power of God's love, which we have through the Holy Spirit.
“Hope is not wishful thinking,...
[it is] certainty about the future [and] is grounded in God’s faithfulness to keep [God's] promises,” as one writer says.2
How do we live in hope & not wishful thinking?
Notice how Abraham & Sarah respond to words of hope for promised joy of Abe becoming a father by Sarah. [It is interesting to have this lesson on Father's Day.]
I wonder why we hear laughter so soon after our encountering God's playfulness on Pentecost. Maybe this is God's way to drive home a point:
We need more laughter.
With laughter, we bear up better under the stress of life's demands.
We hear Sarah laugh & then lie, denying she laughed. We sometimes respond to unexpected news by laughing. In Chapter 17 Abe laughs when God says old Sarah will bear him a child. Sarah does bear Isaac, whose name means laughter3.
What is it about us humans that makes it so hard for us to embrace something different,
We acknowledge in our lesson from Romans: life can be tough, yet we speak of peace & hope & how Jesus died for us when we were a hopeless mess. Jesus bore our sins on the cross. Now we have work to share, to bear one another's burden.
Maybe we need to laugh more to lighten our loads.
Maybe it will help our work if we bear in mind a few of the disciples Jesus calls to work with him:
- Matthew the tax collector works for Rome, which rules the people of Israel.
- Simon the Cananaean is a zealot, one who opposes Roman rule4.
- Peter will deny knowing Jesus after Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus.
What is Jesus thinking in calling this bunch of ornery bears?!
Like real bears, the disciples have strengths & gifts, God-given power to do the work Jesus gives to minister to harassed & helpless, people, who are like sheep without a shepherd.
Remember the skills a shepherd needs to protect sheep. Think of when David offers to fight Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 & tells of his experience fighting off & killing lions & bears.
We don't see a lot of lions in North Carolina. We do see bears, which are more positive than we may think. Like us, bears are social creatures5 that can work together & offer us a bit of wisdom for our work as disciples:
Bears don't work 24-7.
They know to rest.
We know we should rest & have “me-time”. You're “smarter than the average bear” [to borrow words from cartoon star Yogi Bear]. You're smart enough to know the wisdom of intentionally giving yourself time to play & rest just as you are intentional in our work of ministry.
Soldiers know the importance of working together & of rest. We see this in a special way in a World War II Polish soldier, Wojtek [pronounced Voytek], whose name means joyful warrior6.
A fellow Polish soldier with the same 1st name, tells BBC News: “I felt like he was my older brother.”7 He “liked play-fighting & boxing...He helped keep up the troops' morale,” serving from the Middle East to Scotland.8 The troops fought with the British 8th Army in Italy.9
As a corporal with the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, Voytek served at the Battle of Monte Cassino, moving crates of ammunition, never dropping one.
“(H)e became a celebrity with visiting Allied generals & statesmen,” as Wikipedia says.10
After the war & out of the army, he lived the rest of his life in Scotland, appeared often on BBC television, was visited by journalists & former Polish soldiers.
Statues in Poland & Scotland & many memorials, including in London's Imperial War Museum, honor this quiet hero, who demonstrated how to live positively in community, sleeping in tents with his fellow soldiers.
His statue in Krakow was unveiled on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino. The monument in Scotland shows Wotjtek walking in peace & unity with a fellow soldier:
Wotjtek walks on all fours . . . . .
as a proper bear often walks. . . .
He's a Siberian brown bear.
[He lived in the Edinburgh Zoo after the was ended & he left military service.]
If a bear can serve in war alongside humans,
if Jesus' mixed group of flawed disciples can make a positive difference in the world,
if Paul who harassed & imprisoned Christians can change into the positive force to advance Christianity,
how can we possibly let anything scare us from our work of ministry here?
Our God is the God of surprises.
As we read in Genesis:
Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?
Boadt, 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.
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-15736812. Accessed: 17 June 2017.
http://www.bearsmart.com/about-bears/general-characteristics/ Accessed: 16 June 2017.
https://www.behindthename.com/name. Accessed 14 June 2017.
https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/bears Accessed 15 June 2017.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wojtek_(bear). Accessed: 15 June 2017.
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary. Accessed: 15 June 2017.
science/ Accessed 14 June 2017.
https://whatismyspiritualanimal.com Accessed: 15 June 2017
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Krehbiel, Robb, “Bears on the Move”. Accessed: 14 June 2017. http://www.vitalground.org/bears-on-the-move/#.WUGRwpLyvIU.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Shively, Elizabeth. “Commentary on Romans 5:1-8”. Accessed 14 June 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3297
Yuckman, Colin H. “Commentary on Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23]. Accessed 14 June 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3299
1 Yuckman, Colin H. “Commentary on Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23]. Accessed 14 June 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3299
2 Shively, Elizabeth. “Commentary on Romans 5:1-8”. Accessed 14 June 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3297
4 Yuckman, Colin H. “Commentary on Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23]. Accessed 14 June 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3299
5 http://www.bearsmart.com/about-bears/general-characteristics/ Accessed: 16 June 2017.
9 Ibid. wikipedia.
10 Ibid. wikipedia.