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.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Overcome Evil with Good

Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 3 Sept. 2017, Proper 17

Year A RCL: Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

What challenges we hear in our scriptures today!
God's words challenge Moses. Paul's words challenge the Romans & us to live differently.
Notice Jesus' perspective & expectations for the disciples.
Remember: We are his disciples.

“To deny oneself is to disown [ourselves] as the center of [our] existence,”1 as The New American Bible for Catholics notes. 
Think of people who are in love: Love is bigger than the individual. Denying self opens us to God's love, which casts out fear.

Remember: Fear is Satan's tool to keep us from doing God's work. Fear argues like Peter & Moses do worrying what might happen.
We must take one step at a time to do God's work, remembering God is with us!
As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says repeatedly: “If you want to change the world, follow Jesus.”2

“If you want to change the world,
follow Jesus.”

God is with us as we work to change the world & do God's work here together. Think of the good work being done together, week by week, ingredient by ingredient, as you prepare food for our annual Christmas In The Forest.

Look at the good work being done together, which we see daily in news coverage of Hurricane Harvey's aftermath. We hear the best of community, which contrasts powerfully to the worst we hear now of people looting & con-artists cheating survivors.

We hear amazing grace in a different news story of a prison community in action, a strong, grace-filled community of prisoners of war in North Vietnam*. The men in large holding cells in Hanoi during the Vietnam War know the truth of our Gospel. These men know the value of living in harmony & live to see good overcome evil.
They hold fast to what is good, are patient in suffering, & persevere in prayer, as we hear Paul tell us to do in Romans.
Without faith in God & trust in each other, how else could these American POWs overcome harsh punishments to gain freedom to pray together in the prison called the Hanoi Hilton?

The year is 1970 & just before Christmas 43 American prisoners seek to have brief worship. The guards prevent it.3 Ultimately, faith in God triumphs.
The New York Times tells this story4 of the test of their unity in community & their faith in God as they resist & endure their captors' harsh treatment:
“After worship is denied, Navy pilot Lt. Commander Edwin [Ned] A. Shuman III creates their resistance plan. He knows he will be the first to be beaten in a torture cell.
He asks the men:
"Are we really committed to having church Sunday? I want to know person by person."
One by one each man says "Yes."
At that moment [Shuman knows] he [will] end up in a torture cell.5

“That Sunday he steps up to lead the Lord's Prayer. The guards hustle him away to his beating. [He spends 17 months in solitary confinement.]
“One by one the next 4 ranking officers step up to lead the prayer & are taken away for beatings.
By then “the guards [are]...hitting P.O.W.s with gun butts & the cell [is] in chaos,”6 says one survivor.
“...[T]he 6th ranking senior officer [says], 'Gentlemen, the Lord's Prayer.'”

This time they finish the prayer.

The guards have yielded. The enemy sees love of God in action, love of community in action.

By their faith in action, these prisoners work with God to change that shameful prison block into holy ground. These men in this faith-filled community stand on holy ground.

Their faith & fearless trust overflow into other cell blocks.
In a different cell block is the 1st American pilot captured in the Vietnam War, Everett Alvarez Jr., captured in 1964, as the NYT article says. He says Shuman's defiance inspires senior officers in other cells to resist:
“It was contagious. By the time it got to the 4th or 5th cell” [the guards] gave up.”
Prisoners were praying & singing patriotic songs.

From that Sunday in 1970 until their release in 1973, the prisoners' right to pray together was established. They held church services each Sunday until their return home.

A pilot from Shuman's cell block, Air Force pilot & Medal of Honor recipient, Leo K. Thorsness says:
“42 men in prison pajamas followed
[Shuman's] lead.
I know I will never see a better example of
pure raw leadership
or ever pray with a better sense of
the meaning of the words [of the Lord's Prayer].”7

Praying these words together sustains the POWs for years. 
Praying these words together sustains us in community.
“Our Father...” God is our father, our “daddy”, “papa”. We are family. We live in community no matter what parts of our lives may be imprisoned.

One man in prison trusts God to BE with him in the harshest of times, denies himself, is patient in suffering, & does not repay evil for evil.
One man, then the next man, then the next lead many to overcome evil with good.
Look what a positive difference one person at a time makes.
Look what a positive difference one cell block community makes to the other cell blocks.
Look at the positive difference one man makes for each of us as he willingly dies on the cross before we ever say “I'm sorry”.

How can we not work to overcome evil with good? How can we possibly miss the connection between working to make the world a better place, our family better, & following Jesus?
How can we fear doing what God calls us to do?

God promises: I AM with you & I WILL BE with you no matter what. No matter how big a hurricane is in our life.

Our faith in God overcomes fear.

God's love wipes out fear.

God's love is great.

Our task is small.

The importance of our task is


Douglas-Klotz, Neil. Prayers of the Cosmos: Reflections on the Original Meaning of Jesus's Words. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 1990.

Farr, Curtis. “Pivoting, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A) – Sept. 3, 2017”. Sermons That Work. Accessed: 28 Aug. 2017.

Goldstein, Richard. “Edwin Shuman, 82, Dies; Defied Hanoi Hilton Guards”. The New York Times.

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.

Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR: The Appreciative Way. 2010.

* The 2014 news of the death of of Ned Shuman at age 82, who led fellow prisoners to defy the "Hanoi Hilton" guards, I used in my 2014 homily on the scriptures we have next Sunday [Proper 18], but found the information fitting for this week's scriptures.

1 The New American Bible for Catholics. P. 1036.

2 Farr, Curtis. “Pivoting...” Sermons That Work. Accessed: 28 Aug. 2017.

3 Goldstein, Richard. “Edwin Shuman, 82, Dies; Defied Hanoi Hilton Guards”. The New York Times. P. A15.

4 Ibid. Goldstein. New York Times.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid. Quotation of Air Force pilot & Medal of Honor recipient, Leo K. Thorsness.

7 Ibid. NYT.