Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sermon: Mary Sings

Wool Felt, Sheep'S Wool
A Sermon preached in 
Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate

The Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C
20 December 2015
Take our lips, O Lord, and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, take our hearts and set them on fire for you. Amen.

Listen here.

My mother always had a tune under her breath.  She was constantly humming
and occasionally breaking out in song.  As a music major, she studied all the major composers and practiced diligently on the piano, modeling for us how to be disciplined and faithful towards a passion. 

My mother always had a tune under her breath – maybe to change the subject
away from a difficult situation, or maybe to lighten up the mood when things were tense, or maybe just to express her joy.  I thought about her singing habit all week as I would occasionally sing out, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…” Which is, of course …the first line of The Song of Mary, one song in a series of songs offered in the Gospel of Luke.

Mary sings when Elizabeth greets her, Zechariah sings when his son John is born, the angels sing with the multitude of the heavenly host when they bring good news of great joy, and Simeon sings his song of release once he realizes that God has kept God’s promises in Jesus, the Christ child.  Jesus might have even sung his first sermon as he read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”

It seems that many people have a tune under their breath, but why?

Pastor David Lose[1] suggests that it is because singing is an act of resistance
singing is an act of resistance. While singing is an act of joy and a way to share companionship, it can be, and is often, an act of resistance. 

Scientifically speaking, Psychology Professor John Lennon suggests
that singing is an inborn response that fulfills a need to communicate
with the larger Self.[2] (with a capital “S”) Singing is a way to push against, or
to resist the world as we see it from our small self and to bring to bear the More, what is beyond us, the community’s whole Self.

In other words, singing is a body-mind-soul response to re-member our little selves with a larger community – and all of creation. This act of resistance, of pushing against our reality, serves to remind us who we are and whose we are.

American slaves knew this. The spirituals they sang praised God and gave voice to their protest. They sang a protest against their masters who kept them from worshiping, but could not keep them from deliverance as promised in the Bible.

Civil rights leaders knew this too – singing “We Shall Overcome,” when many people did not allow a movement of justice or a triumph of equal rights.

Protesters in Leipzig, Germany (1989) knew this as well, “…for several months
preceding the fall of the Berlin wall, citizens gathered by candlelight …to sing. 

Over two months their numbers grew from a little more than a thousand people to more than three hundred thousand (over half the citizens of the city), singing songs of hope and protest and justice, until their song shook the powers of their nation and changed the world.

(Later, when someone asked one of the East German secret police why they did not crush this protest like they had so many others, the officer replied, “We had no contingency plan for song.”!)”

And Mary and Elizabeth knew this. They must have known how absurd their situation was: Elizabeth, too old to bear a child and Mary too young and not yet married. Yet, (in the hill country of Judea, a long way from any place of power and influence) they were both called to bring God’s promises through their little selves to their larger community, the people of Israel – and all of creation. 

When they looked at the situation squarely in the face, they did not retreat. They did not apologize. They did not despair.  They believed that nothing would be impossible with God.  And what did they do?  They sang.

And the Magnificat – Canticle 15 – (which we say every day at Evening Prayer, here in the chapel, 5pm [won’t you join us?]) The Magnificat is Mary’s answer
to the blessing she received from Elizabeth.

When Mary sang, she did not do so under her breath. She sang out, affirming God’s greatness.  She sang out, proclaiming good news for the poor. She sang out, declaring freedom from systemic injustice.  She sang out, announcing the end of oppression by political rulers. She sang out, beholding God’s redemption of her and her child. 

She sang of God’s redeeming work not as future, but in a voice of prophets, that God’s work was already fulfilled. Such is the confidence of faith in the face of darkness. Such is her prophetic word of liberation, with authority, from her soul. That is how she responded to her lived darkness, of fear, humiliation, oppression.

That is how we can respond to our lived darkness, the darkness that we have faced in recent weeks – the threats of terrorism, the violence to innocent people, the unkind words expressed by politicians, the unexpected death of loved ones – given this darkness that we have faced in recent weeks, what do we do?

We sing.  We sing songs of hope that resist current darkness.  Sing songs of hope that require us to look beyond ourselves for rescue and relief. Songs of hope that give us clear voice and fresh ears for God’s promises God’s promises made to Abraham and all God’s people that God will come among us and be with us, forever.

When the world seems dark, we sing. When God seems distant, we sing. When it seems the powers & principalities are winning, we sing. Why do we sing? 

Because through God’s goodness we resist our small selves in favor of the Self who is More, the Self who is Love, The Self who connects us to each other, to all of creation, in community. 

We sing because we believe in God’s ultimate scandal – that God would enter human life with all it’s depravity, violence and corruption.  We sing because it is our song.

And in our song, we breathe together. For God’s breath fills our hungry hearts with good things, God’s breath lifts up our vocal cords, God’s breath strengthens our whole being. God’s breath arises from our soul to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. God’s breath fills us with light and love to resist the present darkness. That is why we sing.  That is why Mary sang.

My sisters and brothers, this week you might find yourself humming a tune under your breath. Share that tune with your friends and family. Breathe together in joy and love and resistance. And when you do, you will be proclaiming the greatness of the Lord in your life.

Keep this song under your breath, and resist the darkness of our lives. 

God has – and will – do great things for us, and Holy is God’s name.


[1] Inspired by http://bit.ly/1QI0cQJ cited on December 19, 2015
[2] Reported at http://bit.ly/1m63hO4 cited on December 19, 2015

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sermon: When you pray, move your feet

 Step, Feet, Moving, On The Go, Female, Footstep, Health

A Sermon preached in Christ Church, 
Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
The 2nd Sunday of Advent
6 December 2015

Listen to this sermon here

May the words of my mouth
and the meditations of all our hearts
be always acceptable to you O Lord,
our strength and our redeemer.

Early last week, one of my Facebook friends
posted this African proverb:

“When you pray, move your feet.”
Repeat: When you pray, move your feet.
And I’ve been thinking about it ever since. 

As I thought about this relationship
between praying and “moving my feet”,
Wednesday’s violence happened, and
Thursday’s NY Daily News front page read,
“God isn’t fixing this.”[1] God isn’t fixing this

This headline was in response to both
the violence in San Bernardino and
the reply by some politicians,
who had reported that their prayers
were with the victims and families. 
Naming the politicians’ words as just “meaningless platitudes,”
the article flew through the twitterverse
under the hashtag #thoughtsandprayers.

In so doing, paparazzi prayer-shaming began. 
Anger about the shooting was turned
not toward the perpetrators
but toward those who offered prayers.
See, when we pray, we also move our feet.
One contemporary theologian[2] remarked about four implications of this
“insensitive and ridiculous” God isn’t fixing this
He said that either:
1)  God doesn’t care. or
2)  God isn’t willing to act. or
3)  Prayer is useless. or
4)  The politicians are insincere. 
Let’s consider each of these implications
First, God DOES care. 
God cares more than we can imagine,
for God is love and
God weeps when we weep
because of God’s incarnation in Jesus.

Over and over in the gospels,
when Jesus encounters suffering in others,
he has compassion (suffers with) them.
He knows and feels suffering in his guts. 
        *God cares
Second, God does act and is willing to act, through us, and the movement of our feet
… as 15th cty mystic Teresa of Avila offered:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he sees
compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks
to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses
all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
The deep and speechless disgust that
we feel about this violence is
God’s deep and speechless disgust –
and God’s anger and sadness. 
God moves through our hearts
and in our prayers to move our feet.
        *God does act
Third, prayer is not useless.
Prayer changes things.
Prayer softens our souls
as we cry out to God in pain. 
God hears our prayers
not only with comfort to us
but with movement of our feet to action.  God’s prayer moves us toward peace.
        *Prayer matters.
Fourth, it is not for us to judge
sincerity of politicians. 
Too many people have already judged them. 

Our role – our position, as Christians, is
to offer grace and to have empathy
that the politicians, too, are praying. 
Whether we support
someone’s political stance or not,
we can understand human
grief over the deaths from this violence. 
So as politicians offer
their “#thoughtsandprayers”,
God’s prayer may also be moving them,
to act – to move feet.
Moving their feet at last summer’s
Episcopal General Convention,
a group of Episcopal Bishops
identified themselves as
“Bishops Against Gun Violence.”
One of these Bishops
wrote a prayer litany
for next Sunday’s (Dec. 13th)
Sabbath Day from Gun Violence[3].

One of the stanzas prays,
“God of Justice, help us, your church
find our voice.  *Empower us*
to change this broken world AND
to protest the needless deaths
caused by gun violence. 
Give us power
to rise above our fear that nothing can be done
and grant us the conviction
to advocate for change…
Loving God,
make us instruments of your peace. Amen”[4]

In other words, when you pray, move your feet.

Today, we heard the haunting phrase,
“…to guide our feet into the way of peace,”
at the end of Canticle 16. 
This song-prayer is Zechariah’s response
to the birth and naming of John,
his newborn son.[5] 

Some believe that this canticle
was first included in the daily offices
around the 5th century by St. Benedict[6]. 
This canticle of praise,
included in our prayer book (p. 92)
forms a portion of morning prayer
that we say daily at Christ Church,
weekday mornings at 8:30 in the chapel.
(won’t you join us?)

In this canticle, Zechariah found his voice
(and moved his feet)
after being made speechless
by the Angel Gabriel,
some nine months prior. 

You may remember that earlier
In Luke’s gospel,
Zechariah (then an elderly priest)
had been offering incense
in the holy of holies
when Angel Gabriel appeared. 
The angel told Zechariah
how his yet to be conceived son
would be great,
filled with the Holy Spirit power like Elijah and
would soften hearts
to prepare the way for the soon-to-arrive Lord.
Ol’ Zechariah was stunned speechless, until the day when this prophesy would be fulfilled. 

After Elizabeth gave birth to her son,
she and mute Zechariah
brought the boy on the eighth day
to be circumcised and named.
The priests wanted
to name the infant Zechariah,
after his father,
but both parents insisted his name be John. 

Once named John,
the angel’s prophesy was fulfilled.
Zechariah spoke this eloquent prayer-song, surprising everyone present. 

As he spoke, Zechariah
heightened the anticipation
of his son’s important role
for the people of Israel. 
As he prayed, Zechariah announced
that God’s mercy would
break upon the nation like dawn and would give light enough to guide all their feet
into the way of peace. 

The delicate, poetic words of Zechariah
echo the Hebrew Scriptures
of the Israelite people, who ached and longed
for violence to end.
The Israelite people were filled
with disgust and anger and sadness
about the violence. 

They craved
for God’s mercy to break into their lives. 

In this prayer, Zechariah finds his voice – he
connects his son John (and the Lord Jesus)
to the previous promises that God had made
to both David and Abraham. 
The haunting song concludes with a proclamation
that by the mercy of God, light would
…guide their feet into the way of peace.

John prepared his people for the way of peace.
Peace was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.

Some may say that Jesus’ way of peace
was part of what provoked hostility
enough to lead to his death. 
And when Jesus appeared to his disciples
after his death,
his words of greetings
echoed his ultimate purpose,
“Peace be with you.” 

Zechariah reminds us today that
the mercy of God is breaking into our lives.

God is empowering us
to change this broken world and
to protest needless deaths caused by violence. 

Through the mercy of God,
may we prepare our #heartsandprayers for
that coming light of the Christ child,
who accompanies us and
guides our feet into the way of peace. 


[3] Cited at http://marchsabbath.org/ on December 5, 2015
[5] Inspired by the New Interpreter’s Bible, Luke 1:57-80 Commentary, p. 60.