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 on December 5, 2015
[5] Inspired by the New Interpreter’s Bible, Luke 1:57-80 Commentary, p. 60.

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