Sunday, January 7, 2018

Beginnings Are Important * * *

***The following would have been presented today at St. Francis had not wisdom regarding severe winter weather dictated we remain sheltered at home.
We are thankful for the opportunity to have worshiped by phone conference call with
The Rev. Cassandra Burton, Rector, & the good people of Christ Church, Clinton, MD, & our colleague, The Rev. Mary Reese, & members of St. Andrew's, Goldsboro.

Unpreached Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC, 7 Jan., 2018, Epiphany 1, The Baptism of Our Lord
Year B RCL: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Our Gospel shows us lots of action today,
as do our other brief scriptures.

In Genesis we hear: In the beginning...God said...and it was good. A wind from God [also translated God's Spirit] sweeps over the waters.1
In the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, the waters of baptism flow over him, & God's Spirit descends.
In the beginning as Christianity spreads, the waters of Baptism flow over believers in Ephesus, as Acts tells us, & God's Holy Spirit fills them so they can serve God more effectively, just as Apollos has learned to do in the previous chapter [Acts 18:24-28].

This information about Apollos & Paul & other details in our scriptures show us:
our work of sharing the Good News of Jesus & supporting each other as we grow in God's grace continues the work begun in the beginning of Christianity.

Beginnings are important. When we speak of “a good beginning,” we reflect the understanding in the Genesis account of beginnings.
The book we call Genesis is the Greek name for the Hebrew book known by its first word, which means “In the beginning,” as the Jewish Study Bible tells us2.

The people in the world of Genesis consider beginnings very important, reflecting both the origin & the purpose of what has begun.3

The beginning in Ephesus gives a deeper walk with Jesus for the Christians Paul encounters & who gain a new beginning of life as God's people.

Our lived relationship with God & God's people takes precedence over our abstract theology & intellectualism,4 as we change, grow & encounter new beginnings.

Today we encounter the waters of baptism & God's spirit in our scriptures. Mark tells us Jesus stands in solidarity with the people of Isreal5 who are re-dedicating their lives to God.

This Gospel tells us of Jesus' unique status6 when God's Spirit descends like a dove. God says clearly to Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This is a lived relationship with God.

How does it feel when someone says something like this to you? “Great job!” “I admire how you handled that.” “You are special to me.”
I usually see a positive reaction in the lived relationship when a person hears such words.

As we leave Christmas behind & enter Epiphany, we focus more on God's reaching out to us Gentiles. We enter the world of beginnings:
     commissioning our new Vestry today,
     our new expectations for 2018,
     new challenges & insights as we grow in this changing world.

We gain insights in many ways, including our regular study groups:
Our fun, year-long journey with The Year of Living Biblically7  & our weekly study groups, which change regularly.

Our weekly January focus on embracing change [which we had to postpone last week because of drastic weather changes!] looks at Christianity's current changes, part of humanity's regular 500-year cycles of change,8 as author Phyllis Tickle discusses in her book & a 6-session study based on the book.

She speaks of “the Church's Next Rummage Sale” in our study of Embracing Emergence Christianity, based on her book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why.
She delves into differences between doctrine & practice [what we claim to believe & how we actually live]; differences between competition & cooperation as she reminds us of our Christian history which includes the Crusades & the Inquisition.9

New ideas, new cultural norms, new scientific facts may challenge our beliefs. We do not have to run from new ideas, new discoveries, new perspectives.
Jesus does not run from change. The Ephesians do not run from deeper understanding of faith.

Together we can stand firmly on holy ground & walk confidently into the future, knowing change is part of life.
Change can deepen our relationships with God & each other.

Barclay, William. The Acts of the Apostlesk. Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press. 1962.
Barclay, William. The Gospel of Mark. Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1975.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. 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.
Tickle, Phyllis. With Tim Scorer. Embracing Emergence Christianity: Phyllis Tickle on the Church's Next Rummage Sale. Denver: Morehouse Education Rsources, a division of Church Publishing Inc. 2011.
Tickle, Phyllis. The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks. 2008.

1 Note: Examples include Jewish Study Bible. P. 12. Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. P. 1. The New American Bible for Catholics. P. 8.
2 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible. P. 8.
3 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible. P. 8.
4 Note: Adapted from Ibid. Jewish Study Bible.
5 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 986.
6 Ibid.
7 Jacobs, A.J. The Year of Living Biblically.
8 Tickle, Phyllis. The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why.
9 Ibid. Tickle. The Great Emergence. Pp. 58-59.

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