Tag Archives: Preaching

The Pregnant Church

My first sermon preached in my new parish: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Atlanta

Advent 4–Listen here.

This week last year, I preached this very Gospel text in a different pulpit.  I’ll admit today’s reading is a favorite of mine.  But preaching this text last year was especially memorable because it was in that sermon that I shared with my then-parish that Jay and I were fourteen weeks pregnant.  This year, instead, I am so excited to share the news: YOU are pregnant.  You are!

One of my favorite mystics, Meister Eckhart, says: We are all called to be mothers of God, for God is always waiting to be born.  Isn’t that a beautiful reality to contemplate?  We are all called to be mothers of God, for God is always waiting to be born.

And with that reality comes this truth as well: You are blessed and highly favored.

Can you imagine a world where every person was treated as if they were blessed and highly favored?  Imagine what it would look like if we treated everyone known and unknown to us as if they were pregnant with God—or even how we might treat ourselves if we truly believed that we too were mothers of a God waiting to be born.

I’m tempted to end my sermon here so we can walk around this sanctuary and practice greeting one another with this truth in our hearts.  [Turn to your neighbor and tell them they are blessed and highly favored]… But first I think some words of context might help this exercise.

First—a word about Mary’s song.

This song that Mary sings might be familiar to you.  The “Magnificat” is often read in our liturgy or sung by our choir.  Indeed the words of Mary’s song have been put to countless tunes in every language.  As familiar as it may be to us, the words were even more commonplace to Mary’s contemporaries.  You see, a very similar song appears in 1 Samuel when Hannah learns she too is with child.  And anyone who studied Hebrew scripture, Mary included, would have found Hannah’s song to be familiar.  God gave Mary the words she needed before she even knew she needed them.

My soul magnifies the Lord.

My spirit rejoices in God my savior.

My God is strong.

My God scatters the proud.

My God is lifting up the lowly.

My God is feeding the hungry.

And surely, Hannah’s words and Mary’s words shaped Jesus—who, like his mother, quoted the Hebrew scripture when in his first public address he said:

The Spirit of God is upon me. 

God is caring for the poor.

God sets the captive free.

God lifts up the lowly.

God is restoring the broken.

With these familiar words in mind, let me return to the thought that God is always waiting to be born.  You know what this means, don’t you?  God is born when the proud are scattered.  God is born with the lowly are uplifted.  God is born when the hungry are fed and the poor are comforted.  God is born when the prisoner is freed and the broken are bound up.  God is born and God is strong—and why?  Because your soul magnifies the Lord.  To magnify—to make bigger.  Our words and actions ought to make God bigger.

Which brings me to my second note of context—a word about peace.

Peace does not mean quiet.  Peace does not me calm tranquility.  Did you hear the world described in the words above?  According to Mary’s song and Jesus’ teachings, peace means turning the world as we know it upside down.  Peace means comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comforted.

Last week when Dennis preached, he reminded us that a voice prepares the way for God incarnate—a voice that refuses to be quiet in the face of injustice.  And I carried this challenge—to be a voice—through the remainder of the service, letting it shape how I heard the Great Thanksgiving of our Holy Eucharist.  At the end of each service, we prayed the post-communion prayer per usual.  But at the words: send us out into the world in peace—I paused.

Send us out into the world in peace.

Grant us strength and courage.

To love you and serve you.

Peace is not quiet. Peace takes strength and courage.  Loving and serving Jesus takes strength and courage.  Being a voice and singing Mary’s song takes strength and courage.  Giving birth to God takes strength and courage.

Which is why I can’t ignore this final word of context—the increasingly familiar violence we face—or perhaps choose not to face.

Three years ago, I preached this same Gospel text days after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Last year I preached this text the morning after two police officers were assassinated in Brooklyn.

And today I am preaching this text on the heals of a Wall Street Journal and NBC News poll finding that 71% of Americans believe that random acts of violence are part of American life.

Unfortunately, Mary’s song is not the only familiar tune.

And yet it is in the face of such violence that we must sing all the louder.

I think it’s easy enough to be inspired by Dennis when he reminds us that a voice prepares the way of the Lord.

I think it’s easy—though different–to consider the possibility that all are called to be mothers of God.

But how do those ideas play out in real life.  How do we move from proclaiming the Gospel to living it?

Sometimes I can walk out of church feeling so energized to do something, but then a few days go by and I find that I haven’t channeled that energy into doing anything new or different.

So in response to Dennis’ sermon last week, and in preparation for my sermon this week, I thought about how to use my voice to sing Mary’s song. And then I wrote my first letter to Governor Deal as a Georgia resident, asking him to reconsider his stance on refugees entering our state. It took all of ten minutes and $0.48.

And no, I don’t think that my letter will singlehandedly open Georgia’s doors to vulnerable families fleeing war. In fact, what usually keeps me from speaking up is the fear that my voice won’t make one bit of difference. That as a person of modest means and little influence, I might as well save my breath. But save my breath for what? God gave us a voice to join God in this song.

How will you give birth to God this week? How will you use your voice to sing Mary’s song? How will you go out into the world in peace?

Will you give more money than you are comfortable giving to ensure the most vulnerable in our city and world are cared for?

Will you bake a loaf of ginger bread for that acquaintance you’re not sure you know well enough to visit but know you should?

Will you sit with a woman who is dying and hold her hand while the pressure of Christmas to-do lists loom large?

Will you write a letter to your representative, or pick up the phone and call, even though you don’t feel knowledgeable or influential enough to do so?

Will you invite someone to your table, knowing it might make dinner uncomfortable for your family or other guests?

Let God scatter your pride this week so that you too can lift up the lowly. Find strength and courage in the meal we are about to share at this table so that you can proclaim peace—loudly and uncomfortably—to the poor.

God is waiting to be born. And St. Luke’s is pregnant with possibilities.

Amen.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Beginning at the End: Jesus in Reverse

First Sunday of Advent, Preached at St. Matthew & St. Timothy Church, New York City

Jeremiah 33:14-16  *  Psalm 25:1-10  *  1 Thessalonians 3:9-13  *  Luke 21:25-26

It’s here!  It’s here!  It’s finally here!  The season we’ve all been longing for—the season, in fact, of longing.  Here we are in the first Sunday of Advent, the start of a new church year.  You might think our Gospel reading would say something along the lines of: get ready—a baby is about to be born who is going to change the world!  Instead we have Jesus speaking, as a grown man, about the end of times.  Why are we starting at the end?  It’s like reading the last page of a book before even looking at Chapter 1.

Here’s the thing about Advent.  We are preparing the way of the Lord.  We are singing, Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.  We are checking our advent calendars in expectation of the coming of Christ (I prefer the kind with different chocolate shapes to eat each day).  But the best way to prepare for the coming of Christ, whether it’s the first coming or the second, is to be present.  Jesus tells us in Luke’s Gospel to live in the present—and those words ring just as true as we prepare for Christmas as they do in preparation for the end of time.

What exactly is this “end of times” notion?  When Jesus says, “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world,” Jesus is speaking of a certain kind of world.  Not just the world in general—the Greek word for that is kosmos.  But the Greek word used here is ouikoumene, which refers more specifically to the economic and political world.  Gosh, you’d almost think that Jesus was right here in this room speaking to us today.  Jesus isn’t shouting, “It’s the end of the world!”  He’s saying, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.”

In Jesus’ time, Rome was the oppressor everyone longed to be free from.  Our reading from Jeremiah likewise points to the various powers of oppression that ruled over Jerusalem.  What is it that oppresses us?  What is it that we long to be freed from?  Is it economic hardship and political unrest, like in Jesus and Jeremiah’s day?  Sure.  What else do we long for?  Social justice and equality?  Healing in our world, church, and bodies?  Restored relationships and love?  Or do we long for something as simple as an extra hour of sleep or a few days to catch up on life and work?

The funny thing about longing is that it never goes away.  Even if we attain what it is we long for, another idea or person or thing soon captures our longing once again.  Two years ago I was preaching during Advent, and I mentioned how I was longing for my boyfriend at the time to ask my hand in marriage.  Well he did, and I went from longing to be engaged to longing to me married.  And now that we’re married I long to have kids.  It’s always something, isn’t it?

It’s hard to be present when there is so much to long for.  Jesus gets that.

Advent is a season of longing.  True.  And we start that season off today with Jesus’ words: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life… Be alert at all times.”  Prepare for tomorrow by paying attention today.  Don’t let your longing for the coming of Christ get in the way of you seeing Christ’s presence in the here and now.

Jesus tells us that the coming of the Lord will be plain as day.  That no one will have to point it out to us, but that we will recognize it for ourselves, just as surely as we know that the buds on the trees signify the coming summer, and the leaves falling off the trees signify the coming winter.

Well… do you? Do you see the signs of Christ present in your life?  Do you see glimpses of the kingdom of God in your every day world?  Or does our longing for what is to come keep us from seeing that which is already here?

That is what Advent is really about.  We are preparing for the end of times even as we prepare for the birth of Christ because we live in that space in between—we live in the tension that spans what has been and what is yet to come.  We live in the present.  And Jesus reminds us and teaches us and exhorts us to live in the present so that we do not miss that which we hope and long for.

You want to be ready?  Well then, “stand up and raise your heads,” Jesus says, “ because your redemption is drawing near.”  Don’t sit there and day dream—stand up and raise your heads.

Have you seen how some of the crosswalks in the city, usually ones on a wider street with a bike path, some of them have the word “LOOK” painted right there in the stripes as you’re stepping off the curb?  Well I imagine these words are meant to grab the attention of people looking down, perhaps texting on their phones as they walk, oblivious of what they might run into or what might run into them.  But I find that the word “LOOK” painted on the crosswalk has the opposite effect on me.  One such crosswalk happens to be on First Avenue, right out in front of Bellevue Hospital where I worked this summer.  On more than one occasion I was nearly hit by a turning car or a cyclist simply because the word “LOOK” grabbed my attention, so that I forgot to actually look up.

Jesus says, “stand up and raise your heads.”  He says,  “you can see for yourselves.”  He says, “be alert at all times.”

Jesus says, “when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”  The kingdom of God is near!  The kingdom of God was present when God became incarnate in the person of Jesus over 2000 years ago.  And the kingdom of God will reign when the world as we know it comes to an end—whenever that will be.  But the kingdom of God is not just way back there in the past or way up there in the future—the kingdom of God is near.  It is right here in the present, right here with us, caught between what has been and what is to come.

We know the beginning of the story—we know the end of the story.  We live in the tension in between, we live in the present, and we live in hope.  Stand up!  Raise your heads! The kingdom of God is near.

Amen.

[Spanish Translation]

Tagged , , , , , , , ,