Friday, December 21, 2012

Freed Into God's Song, Advent 4C

What follows is a draft of the sermon I plan on preaching this Sunday at Saint Peter's Jazz Vespers Service. It's on the week's gospel text, Luke 1: 39 - 56. Would love to hear some input from folks... I'm especially concerned that the whole freed to live into God's justice part isn't in the right place.  Should I strength the last couple sentences?

To put it quite frankly, it’s been one heck of a year. In addition to whatever’s been going on in our own lives and the lives of our families and friends, we’ve collectively been hit by crisis after crisis… the threat of Eurozone debt spiraling out of control and our own “fiscal cliff” turning us back from a fragile economic recovery toward another deep recession… ongoing unrest, violence and civil war in the wake of the Arab Spring, as well as in countries like Mali and the Congo… the uncertainty and stress of a critical and seemingly close presidential election season… firm red lines with Iran and fighting in the Gaza Strip… destruction, death and ongoing suffering following Hurricane Sandy. A few weeks ago after Thanksgiving I remember talking with folks, some right here at Saint Peter’s, about how it finally felt like things were starting to get back to normal… and then of course, in the midst of the holiday season, a time we’re told is supposed to be filled with peace and light, we heard the horrific news of twenty first graders and six of their teachers killed by a young man with a high-powered rifle in Newtown, CT. President Obama put it best, I think, when trying to hold back the tears, he said that our hearts are broken. Indeed, our hearts are broken, and burned out from exhaustion, beaten down by the storms gathered round us, we claw for shelter, wondering what we can do in the face of such adversity… we wonder what we can do.

My sisters and brothers, tonight, and in fact at every Jazz Vespers, we are provided with a very powerful model of what can be done in such a situation through the story of two remarkable women, one young and one old. Mary, upon hearing the news of her pregnancy with Jesus, goes with haste to visit Elizabeth, her cousin who is miraculously six months pregnant with John the Baptizer. Mary, in stark contrast to the judgment and distain that was likely to greet her in the coming months as she began to show as an unwed woman, is greeted with joy by Elizabeth, who filled with the Holy Spirit, amazingly exclaims “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Even more amazingly, Mary, Mother of God responds with one of the most beloved and powerful songs of the Christian canon: the Magnificat, or Mary’s Song… the song we sing during healing at every Jazz Vespers… “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

From what I’ve heard, through many other changes, singing the Magnificat has always been a part of Jazz Vespers at Saint Peter’s… and furthermore, it’s been a part of liturgical tradition throughout most of the Church’s history. Since at least the second century, it was sung daily at Evening Prayer, and still is to this day in many of the Western churches. In the Eastern, or what many of us might know as “Orthodox” churches, it’s appointed as part of Morning Prayer. Why though, you might ask, is it sung so frequently… why do we sing it every Sunday… how can it serve as such a powerful model for us, in this place, in this city, in these most troubled of times? The reason, my sisters and brothers, that Mary’s song is so powerful is simply because it’s not really about what she, or any of us, are really doing at all… it’s about what God is doing.

You see, Mary begins her song with a two-line parallelism, a common element of Hebrew prose that provides an important clarification… “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” The Magnificat is not just a song of Mary’s own soul, her own inner self, but also the song of the pneuma, the Holy Spirit, the very Breath of God upon her that gives voice to the amazing things that God has done, is doing, and will continue doing till the end of the age. And listen to what some of those amazing things are… casting the powerful down from their thrones… lifting up the lowly… filling the hungry with wondrous things… and most importantly, fulfilling promises. In preparing for tonight’s sermon I stumbled upon the amazing story of poor peasants in Nicaragua, campesinos, writing out Mary’s song and wearing it as a sort of amulet during the by the US backed violence of the Contras during the 1980s. Interviewed about the meaning of Mary’s words in 1987, one peasant woman states “Mary calls God 'Savior' because she knows that the Son that he has given her is going to bring liberation… She's full of joy. We women are also that way, because in our community the Messiah is born too, the liberator."

What a powerful message… “We are full of joy, because in our community, the Messiah is born too, the liberator.” You see my sisters and brothers, much like Mary, much like the campesinos in Nicaragua, we too are invited into God’s song. Not just at Christmas, and not just when singing the Magnificat, but each time we gather to worship and sing, and to play and dance to the song of God, through bread and wine, through water, through God’s Word and through community with others, Christ, the Messiah, the Liberator, comes into our midst. Christ comes into our midst; liberating us from the powers sin, death and darkness. Yes, Christ liberates us, freeing us to sing God’s song, freeing us to live into the promise of God’s justice whether it is by sheltering to the needy, standing up for marriage equality, or welcoming in all peoples into our community and country, whether or not they have the right piece of paper. Especially after the recent catastrophe in Connecticut, we’re freed to enter into a conversation where we collectively confess as a country that we have to do more to prevent gun violence, especially against our children and freed to bravely confess that such action does not include bringing more guns in our schools, even if they’re in the hands of the “good guys.” But most importantly my sisters and brothers, we’re freed to sing the song of a God that has promised to forgive us, care for us and nurture us and love us no matter what… a God that we know keeps Her promises.

God's peace,

  Dustin is currently a vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan, having recently completed his second year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice building in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

1 comment:

  1. beautifully written, dustin. i would love to have heard you preach it!