Monday, September 25, 2017


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.

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. 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.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Parting the Sea of Resentment

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 17 Sept. 2017, Proper 19

Year A RCL: Exodus 14:19-31; Psalm 114; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35

What tough words we hear from Jesus in the 1st part of our Gospel & the harsh last part about what God will do to each of us if we don't forgive our brother or sister from our hearts.
Jesus tells us in our Gospel to forgive not just 7 times but 77 times.

In the Bible, 7 is the perfect number, completeness like at Creation1 when God calls the world & us into being in 6 days & rests to enjoy this completeness on the 7th day.
We are to have a day to rest & worship to celebrate our completeness in God's love.
Jesus challenges Peter & us to live into our completeness. Forgiveness nourishes it. Jesus expects us to offer an infinite amount of forgiveness2.

How can we do this?!

We hear this also as Paul reminds the Romans & us not to judge anyone. Paul asks: Who are you to judge servants of another?
"We do not live to ourselves,
& we do not die to ourselves...
we are the Lord's.”

With the kind of outcome Jesus tells us to expect if we don't forgive, how can we not forgive?
Know this: Jesus doesn't mean just literal brothers & sisters. We are to forgive our sisters & brothers in the human family. Sometimes this may be hard if they don't “clean up their act.”

It may seem easier to have sea water's part so we can walk on dry land, as we hear in our 1st lesson, than to forgive multiple times.
How easy is it to get something
in nature to part?
 Here's one example with pepper sprinkled on top of water.3

Put my finger in, nothing changes.
A bit of soap on it & it changes the dynamics.
As the science website says, it breaks the tension.

Like soap, forgiveness helps us clean up our act & break the tension.

What about the offender's responsibility for the wrong & to say “I'm sorry” like the debtor does in our Gospel?
Notice: he quickly forgets the blessing he has just received. He doesn't make it out the building before he bullies his fellow debtor.4

Forgiveness frees us. We have to live into our freedom. You may recall what Nelson Mandela has said:

Resentment is like drinking poison
then hoping it will kill your enemies.”5

Resentment takes considerable energy & effort & keeps the person who hurt you near you.6

Although forgiving takes energy, forgiving is worth this energy. When we forgive, we let go of our hold on the past hurt & free ourselves from that hurt.

Forgiving differs from what we know in sports & other games: You get so many outs, so many misses, so many tries & then you're out7.
How long would a game take if there were no outs?!

Thank God that in the game of life,
Jesus shows us how to have no outs,
to offer continuous forgiveness.

Remember the difference between forgiveness & reconciliation. You can forgive a serial killer & keep that murderer locked up for life for the protection of other humans.

More important than asking “How could they do what they did to us?” is this question, which speaks to the heart of our faith in Jesus:
How can Jesus forgive us
– each of us –
as he hangs dying in agony,
nailed to that cross?

On that cross, Jesus provides for our atonement, which is our at-one-ment with God & each other.

Pronouncing it “at-one-ment”, gives us deeper understanding, as we are learning in our new weekly study on the legacy of St. Francis.8

Jesus cries out: Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing. If Jesus can forgive us for doing that, how can we not forgive each other an infinite number of times?

Notice: Jesus says we don't know what we are doing. In other words: We are clueless. Our bad behavior comes from ignorance. Really bad behavior comes from profound ignorance. Our resentment is arguing with ignorance.

You can't win an argument with ignorance.
You can turn to Jesus for strength & guidance on how to forgive. Jesus will walk with you through this.

When the clean waters of your life are peppered with debris, Jesus will work with you to break the tension.

Just hold out your hand & let Jesus drip some “soap” on your finger to break the tension.

Bacon, Ed. 8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind. Boston: Grand Central Life & Style. Grand Central Publishing. 2011. “Pepper and Water Science Trick”. Accessed” 16 Sept. 2017.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971.

Hoffacker, The Rev. Charles. “Corpses in the Corridor, Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 17, 2017”. Sermons That Work. Accessed: 14 Sept. 2017.

Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.

Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Keep On Forgiving”. Accessed: 16 Sept. 2017.

Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. 2nd Ed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2004.

The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.

Over and Over”. Accessed: 16 Sept. 2017.

Parting the Red Sea”. Accessed: 16 Sept. 2017.

Rohr, Richard. Embracing an Alternative Orthodoxy: Richard Rohr on the Legacy of St. Francis. Denver: Morehouse Educational Resources division of Church Publishing Inc. 2014.

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. 2014.

1 Harper's Bible Dictionary. P.711.
2 The New American Bible for Catholics. P. 1039.
3 “Pepper and Water Science Trick”. Idea for web search from “Parting the Red Sea”.
4 Hoffacker, The Rev. Charles. “Corpses in the Corridor...” Sermons That Work. Accessed: 14 Sept. 2017.
5Voyle, Robert J. “The Art of Resolving Resentment”. Forgiveness Forum. P. 54.
6 Ibid. Voyle. P. 57. Note: Paraphrase of his quoting Kare Anderson.
7 Idea from “Keep On Forgiving”. Accessed: 16 Sept. 2017.

8 Rohr, Richard. Embracing an Alternative Orthodoxy. P.15.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Life in Community – It's About Stewardship

Inter-active Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 10 Sept. 2017, Proper 18
Year A RCL: Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-2

Video not yet available, but it is hoped it will be soon!

Here is the link to video that inspired our adaptation for our smaller parish:

Jesus offers us insight today on how
to live in community.
Jesus says if 2 of us agree about anything we ask, it will be done for us. Know this: he's not talking about you & me agreeing to rob a bank. He's talking about how we live in community.
As Harper's Bible Commentary says, he's talking about church discipline1, which is as essential as personal discipline of time, abilities, resources & our very selves.
We know the value of living in unity. Today we experience unity combining our two morning worship times to provide time for Stewardship Leader Jodi to talk about this just once today & for more of us to share in our Ministry Fair to see opportunities to use your/our gifts of time & skills, & to share community in our Pot Luck Lunch.
Notice: what we do echoes what we hear in our 1st lesson. In Genesis God says the whole congregation is to gather to share a feast & celebrate the good news of God's love & be ready for action. When do they do this? The 10th of the month. What day is today?
The 10th of the month!
Sharing a lamb in Genesis shows good stewardship of resources. We are to be good stewards of all our resources. 

How does a person manage a simple asset they've invested in, such as a pair of pantyhose? What to do with a pair that has runs? Stretch the time of their use by wearing them under slacks. What about when the elastic waist gives out? Throw 'em out? No! Apply stewardship!
Wash the worn-out hose & use them to hold up plants in the garden, as one of you does, or in the house to store onions!
Drop an onion in one leg. Tie a knot. Drop in another & tie a knot & so on. When you need an an onion, cut from below the knot above it.
Storing onions apart with air circulating all around, keeps them fresh longer! You save money.

What you save you could give to special ministries, such as our project to create a walkway to our columbarium!
You are good stewards in many ways. Think of the generous time given by you who diligently tend the columbarium, garden & our grounds. Thank you.
I see Mitch & Stan diligently tending our grounds often. Stan also serves on Vestry as Junior Warden, Mitch leads our Usher Team. Thank you.
Mitch: You're welcome. But you need to know, I quit. We just don't have enough help.
Stan: I quit, too. It's expensive. Our Treasurer Gerald asked us to quit so we can save money.
Gerald: Do you know how much money we spend on fuel bills for our big machines? We can hire someone with a push mower or just let it all go for a woodsy look.

Mitch: Hey! We can cut costs for worship! Stop printing bulletins. We know the Prayer Book. Our hymns are on the board. We don't need ushers.
This will save people's time scheduling ushers & serving as ushers. Our congregation doesn't need us to show them how to get from the pew to the altar. This isn't a huge cathedral.
Priest: What about taking up the offering?
Mitch: We have a table to put in the aisle for the offering plate. People can put their offerings in on the way to Communion.

Priest: Uh. Uh.....We do strive to be good stewards of our resources. Thank you, Bob, for monitoring our electrical use & thermostats.
Bob: Oh! I forgot to check today. You know, we have enough natural light here. I think we'd rather have comfortable temperatures than electric light. [Sanctuary lights go off.]

Priest [straining to see words on her notes]: We see stewardship of time & talents in many skills that enhance our worship to celebrate God's love. Thank you for your gifts: Altar Guild, Flower Guild, Acolytes, Sub-deacons, Lectors, Choir, Social Teams, & Schedulers. You gifts only cost time to practice & participate.

Kristine & Barbara: We often buy flowers ourselves. Or we have to drive somewhere to get them or cut them at someone's garden.
David: I cut flowers from someone's garden in August. It was a lot of effort in the heat & not worth my time.
Kristine: We can save time & money with prepared flowers. Some people call them artificial, but they've been improved on and some that look really good.
Barbara: We could use them every week and know exactly what to expect. They won't bother people's allergies & think of how much we'll save on our water bill!
[Barbara & Kristine remove the beautifully arranged flowers & cram small artificial flowers into plastic pots in their places.]

Jill: Altar Guild has a lot of expenses: oil for candles, the wine, buying new linens, tending our Altar hangings, cleaning vestments for Acolytes and Sub-deacons. What if lay servers don't vest?
Jodi & Jenny: I'm all for that. [They remove vestments & give to Jill.]
Jodi: It's hot wearing these vestments in summer AND even in winter!
Jill: What if we use battery operated candles like we do at Wednesday Eucharist in the Library? They certainly are easier to “light”, and there's no worry about spilling oil. They'll save us time and labor. They come in different sizes & can fit in our candle sticks. [Altar tapers are extinguished & removed. 2 small battery operated candles take their places.]

Jenny: I'm all for saving time and labor. I've been thinking how much time I spend making bread for communion. It takes time away from football & knitting. And it costs. I found loaves of bread on sale for a lot less than one loaf I make.
[She brings out 2 loaves of sandwich bread & gives them to the bewildered priest.]

Priest: Jesus says if 2 agree on anything, it will be done. How do these ideas enhance our worship? What about what Paul says to the Romans: make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires? What about love fulfilling the law?
Does our cutting corners, help us live honorably & put on the armor of light?
One thing that adds light to our worship is our wonderful music, which relies on time & talents of our gifted singers & organist. It requires annual tuning of our organ so it sounds lovely.
[Organist/Choir Director Bill, hits horrible sounding note.]

Priest: Bill, will you & the Choir help refocus our attention on the varieties of stewardship?
Choir Member Gerald: Bill's ready to leave on vacation. He's fed up with how long this is taking. But I'll try to get him back..........
OK. He's back.

Priest: Thank you, Bill, & Choir for your extra work rehearsing these 2 hymns. Your rehearsals were longer than the 30 minutes we clergy had to create them at Fresh Start training. These stewardship songs are designed to appeal to the 2 main personality types & were developed by us in groups of the opposite type.
Choir sings.
To tune of Ye watchers & ye holy ones:
Reaching beyond community
care for the world responsibly
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Time, talent, treasure, three in one,
giving our best for Kingdom Come

Give your heart, give your time,
eat the bread, drink the wine

To tune of A mighty fortress is our God:
We need four hundred fifty K
to repair this place to pray
our staff requires regular pay
and funds to train for Godly Play

And where could these funds be?
In pledge and tithes from thee!
If you would so consent,
increase by ten percent
the pledge you offered here last year!

Priest: At the end of the video, which inspired this very different “homily” for today, the priest says:
“Everything you do give powers love”.2
Remember: Everything you do give powers love

Transition to Stewardship Leader Jodi's presentation on  "growing the church",
the follow up to her original presentation in the spring of literally planting seeds &
monthly follow ups,
laying groundwork for today.

The Four Translation New Testament. Minneapolis: World Wide Publications. New York: The Iversen Assocs. 1966.
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.
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.

Note: Interactive dialog inspired by and blatantly adapted to our parish from video from Episcopal Diocese in Colorado. Video of Middle Church was shown at Project Resource, 19 Aug. 2017, at Diocesan House in Kinston. St. Francis' Senior Warden, Junior Warden, Treasurer, Stewardship Leader, and Priest attended the very informative session. Here is link to video of the church, which is much larger physically, in staff and finances than St. Francis:

1 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 971

2 from Episcopal Diocese in Colorado. Video of Middle Church shown at Project Resource, 19 Aug. 2017, at Diocesan House in Kinston.