Our Anthem – Sermon on Luke 1.46b-55

Here it basically is:

Played Mission impossible theme

That music, it’s the theme to what show, movies?
Mission Impossible.
It was also the music played at the start of the marathon I ran in Greece last month.
Mission Impossible? Really?
What a buzzkill. Is it really all that inspiring and motivating? It’s not what I was expecting to hear. I had been looking forward to hearing the Greek National Anthem. I’m pretty sure that “dnn’t, dnnt, dunt dunt dunt’” is not it.

Later while running down the road, I mentioned to another runner how I was surprised that they did not play the Greek National anthem. The other marathons I’ve done here in The States all began with the Star Spangled Banner. The response I remember hearing from that person is, “ well this isn’t the USA”.

No it wasn’t. Obviously I was in a different country—with different language, customs, food, and music. I wanted to hear Greece’s anthem, not one of Hollywood . Aren’t national anthems supposed to be special. Aren’t they supposed to inspire feelings of national pride? I wanted to hear music that captures and communicates the spirit of the people of the country. The music of the Greek people.

Like today. Like what we heard today in worship. It could be said that today we have heard the songs of God’s people.
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;

Word’s from the prophet Isaiah, and then words owned and claimed by Jesus as he began, kicked-off not a marathon, but his ministry.
And then we heard from Jesus’ Mother, the song of Mary, also known as the Magnificat. You know it’s not too much of a stretch to call these our anthems. These words declare what God does, what God does for and with God’s people. But first they are Mary’s words.
Mary is a young woman, not much more than a girl, with her whole life ahead of her. It was a life that would have been typical, a life of marriage, children, cooking, cleaning, caring for her family. Promised, in what could have been an arranged marriage, to a man named Joseph. But still just a normal girl, not a queen, not a princes, nobody special.
And one day, the Lord God’s own messenger comes, with a life changing, life rattling, life upending word. Through her, God would birth the savior of her people, the savior of humanity, the savior of the world. I don’t know about you but my mind would be blown. If that were me, I’d have a whole new bunch of reasons to question my own sanity.
This new reality will not only stretch her belly, but her faith, her relationship with God and all those around her. Who would believe her? Who would listen to her? Young and pregnant before her wedding –to her family, neighbors, friends she’s just another girl who got as some say “knocked up”, got into trouble, just another single mom. From Matthew’s story we learn that Even Joseph her soon to be husband was planning to quietly divorce her. Surrounded by whispers, shame, heartache and pain.
It is no wonder, Mary goes to see her cousin Elizabeth, she doesn’t just post this on facebook; Mary’s getting out of town, and it is to Elizabeth that Mary sings these words we heard today. Given her situation, given what’s happened in her life– improbable and impossible words, My soul proclaims the greatness | of the Lord,
47my spirit rejoices in | God my Savior,
48for you, Lord, have looked with favor on your | lowly servant
From this day all generations will | call me blessed;
49you, the Almighty, have done great | things for me,
and holy | is your name.

Elizabeth listens, Elizabeth hears the song and really hears the singer. Now why would she do that? It is because Elizabeth knows the power of God doesn’t fit within the, does not fit within our lines we draw about what is right, what is proper. Because Elizabeth is expecting—a miracle– a child as well. She believes that God’s blessings are not what the world, culture, even our laws allow. She is expecting God.
Elizabeth will give birth to that voice in the wilderness, to John, the voice of repentance.
50You have mercy on | those who fear you,
from generation to | generation. R
51You have shown strength | with your arm;
and scattered the proud in | their conceit,
52casting down the mighty | from their thrones
and lifting | up the lowly.

From just a whisper in Mary’s heart, to a duet with old Elizabeth, to the song of God’s people. These words….are not just Mary’s, they come from the stories of the Bible, of women and men, ordinary, regular, lowly people lifted up, rescued, redeemed and realigned.
3You have filled the hungry | with good things,
and sent the rich | away empty.
54You have come to the aid of your | servant Israel,
to remember the prom- | ise of mercy,

Within Mary’s song we hear the cries of slaves in Egypt, the shouts as they are liberated. We hear the laws that institutionalize care for the poor—for example Leviticus 19: 9When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. Over and over again the lives and words of the prophets call the people, the leaders, the rich to turn from injustice, to not sell the poor, to not cheat, but to provide for the widow, the orphan, the alien/the stranger. For hundreds and hundreds of years, from one grandfather to another, this is the God that has been handed down.
he promise made | to our forebears,
to Abraham and his chil- | dren forever.

Handed down to us, as this song becomes not just Mary’s, not just Mary and Elizabeth, but all. We add our voices to it we are the children God promises—these words lift up our spirits, filling those who are emptied by the sin of this world to be filled with hope, the hope of God’s promise to re-order our world away from the powerful and privileged, away from gold, guns, and guile. This is our song as we though a small people struggle to voice the presence God here where so many, where our culture, our society does not expect it. listen to the voices of protestors.  Our own struggle, and in a place where too many have been just ignored and turned away, judged to be not good enough. Here we add our voice to that of our neighbors who can’t sing the siren song of financial security and suburban safety and white standards. We sing God’s anthem as we could and should very well call this our anthem. Perhaps these words should go with us, not recycled in a basket in the back, but folded up, rolled up put in your purse or pocket. Ready to pulled out when someone thinks the Bible is about blessings of business wealth, success, and military might. Instead of corporate jingles and jingoistic anthems this is our song. It is not shame and pain; it is not despair and death; it is not weakness and resignation.

We will listen to Mary and the Mary’s of today, with the cries of anger, screams of pain and despair. No longer will the noise of things like Fox news, of mean spirited politicians, the bangs of guns, the marching boots of warriors, of anger and resentment, of racism and fear. We will not let those sounds drown out this song, Mary’s song because it is our anthem. In it we have hope.
It may feel like an impossible task, but it is our mission to add voices to those who are not heard, because God is here. And as we listen, and as we read and sing, and pray, we trust that God is lifting up the lowly, lifting us up and our souls will, our souls do proclaim the greatness | of the Lord, our spirits will from now on rejoice in | God our Savior. Amen.

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2013 Advent Devotion I

Devotion for Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013

based upon the Narrative Lectionary daily reading

 

Daniel 2.20-23

 

20Daniel said: “Blessed be the name of God from age to age, for wisdom and power are his. 21He changes times and seasons, deposes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. 22He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with him. 23To you, O God of my ancestors, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and power, and have now revealed to me what we asked of you, for you have revealed to us what the king ordered.”

 

 

 

My boys are in that wonderful age when they still enjoy listening to family stories.  Since both my parents died several years ago, my sons don’t get to know them.  I think that is why they really like hearing the escapades of my parents, “the Winzers”.  Micah and Nathan only know these grandparents through the stories we tell them.  It is these family stories that connect one generation to another, from age to age. 

 

 The biblical prophet Daniel had heard the stories of his spiritual ancestors.  He’d heard the stories how God promised to be with them, how God saved them from slavery, brought them through the wilderness to the promised land, sought their love and justice for all the people. These could have just been nice stories, but Daniel knew the connection went deeper. The God of his ancestors was real for him.  That God was present to him, and had blessed him with knowledge.  In these verses, Daniel is giving thanks that God was present and still is.

 

 When we worship, when we hear and read the stories of the Bible, we open our hearts to the connection that faith gives us.  Within these stories we find our ancestors.  Through these stories we learn faith in the God who lives, who loves, who forgives from age to age.  The connection isn’t by blood or name but this faith in God.  We believe that God is present even today in our struggles, our joys, our stories.

 

 

 

Faith in action: share or listen to a story of God in your life with a friend or relative.  Think about what it feels like to share this story.

 

 

 

Prayer:  God of the ages, help us to give praise and thanks to you for your faithfulness.  Give us the curiosity to immerse ourselves in the stories of our ancestors.  May we feel connected to our spiritual ancestors of the past, connected to family of faith in the present, and connected to your faithfulness into the future.  Amen.

Sermon for Advent 1

The signs are all around us. Take this one for example. I

a. danger crack in road
b. danger high voltage
c. danger lightning ahead

ran across this sign at the ripe old age of 16. I was taking the written portion of the Pennsylvania driver’s test. I saw this sign and the possible multiple choice answers much like you see this morning. Well, I wasn’t exactly certain what this sign was trying to tell me, so using a test taking strategy I chose “C”. Lightning ahead, and well I was wrong, and I failed my drivers exam.
Of course, a sign is only as good as our ability to read and interpret it. So I immediately went home and started studying. I wanted to know that sign, and all the others not just for the sake of the sign itself, although that is a good thing, but I wanted to be able to get behind the wheel and drive. I wanted all that comes with that, the power, the freedom. I wanted to enter the world of adulthood.
Now in our Gospel reading from Luke this morning, Jesus is not talking about traffic signs and signals. The signs we are called to watch, to pay attention to are different. And doing so will change our lives more than just getting a driver’s license. The thing is wars, natural disasters, fiscal cliffs, don’t come with a handy poster or a study guide.
How many times, how often have we heard someone or done it ourselves, list off the most current catastrophes and proceed to point blame or think about the end of the world, or “C” do both? The problem with this kind of thinking is that it tends to make us afraid, stressed, paralyzed feeling powerless, which all too often leads to well dissipation—doing unhealthy stuff because, well the worlds going to somewhere in a handbasket, so I might as well go along—you know that kind of thinking.
That is one way of reacting to all that’s going on and going wrong in the world. And it makes sense if life for you is basically working out—you got a job, a roof over your head, health care, health, an intact family, money to pay the bills. Well the thought of all of that going away—that’s downright scary.
But try to imagine if all or most of that is isn’t your reality—no job, not one that you can support a family anyway, no real home of your own, living day in and day out afraid of violence, disease, suffering and death. The promise that all this will end, well that actually can begin to sound like good news.
Reading the signs, and how you do that matters. For Jesus, watching the signs isn’t meant to throw us into some panic, to frighten us, but to move us to a certain way of living with, around, and through the signs.
One example of this is Ellie, and her life became an example. Ellie was an elderly lady, a widow, who eventually wasn’t able drive to her part time job, then she wasn’t able to stay in her own home. So she moved into an assisted living facility, where she was excited to meet new people. Her children had moved away and lived one on the east coast and one on the west, Ellie was thrilled to learn to use skype to see and talk to her grandchildren. Fickle her Jack Russell terrier died, she found the perfect volunteer job walking dogs and cleaning the cages at the animal shelter. Life went on like that for about five years. Then the kicker came she lost the use of her legs, she couldn’t walk. Lots of folks would just give up, this obviously is a sign to pack it in. But Ellie didn’t think that way, when asked to sit in a part of the kennel with the most fearful, timid, shy, wounded dogs, she answered the call. And so she sat in these little rooms talking to these wounded animals, and slowly a dog may approach her and allow her to touch him, to pet him, to scratch behind the ears. Six days a week she would do what she could. She read the signs in her life and she decided to live
.
Stay alert for when the worst happens—don’t panic—pray.
Stay alert for when the worst happens—don’t give up – stand up.
Stay alert for when the worst happens—don’t hide –lift up your head.
When the worst happens in our world, in our life don’t panic, live God’s kingdom way, because when you live it like it’s near, that means it’s here. Amen.

Illustration of Ellie provided by Maren C. Tirabassi, from Stillspeaking Daily Devotional – UCC

OMG – Advent Devotion

Gospel Luke 1:26–38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

OMG!
I can’t think of a better way to say it. If you are unfamiliar with “OMG”, in the world of texting, tweeting, emailing, facebooking, and even contemporary speaking it means “Oh my God!”. If there were anything deserving an OMG, this passage from Luke qualifies. The girl Mary is told that she will be the mother of the Lord of lords and King of kings. With that news, I’m pretty sure that Mary didn’t jump to contemplating all the implications of the incarnation. Her life went from the ordinary to the extreme of out-of-ordinary. The pattern of life she had previously envisioned for herself suddenly shifted. She now would know uncertainties, joys, and pains beyond the usual. Yet, to some degree her life continued on. She wasn’t magically transported to some palace. The child she would bear would need feeding, clothing, changing, holding, kissing, teaching. On one hand, everything stayed the same. That is the message and power of God’s incarnation. In that it doesn’t somehow rise out of and away from the everyday stuff of life. Instead the Divine One dives right into real life, Mary’s life, my life, and your life. There’s probably no better way to say and share the message of Advent of God’s coming than, OMG.

OLOG – O Lord Our God, we give thanks for your profound love. We give thanks that you sent Jesus to be born of the woman Mary, into a family. We give thanks that Mary is like us a person with fears, hopes, joys, pains. Open our hearts, that your gift of Love will be continually born in our very ordinary lives.

Suggested Action – Look for ways in your ordinary days to share the good news of God’s presence in our world. How can you “translate” this message in your life? What words will you use? What will you do to call those around you out of fear and into faith in the God for whom nothing is impossible? Share these ideas, attempts, etc. with your church.

Not another Christmas Sweater

Advent 3 – Isaiah 61:1–4, 8–11

“Oh no, not another Christmas sweater”.
I never said those words out loud, but that’s what went through my mind. If you know me or more accurately my wardrobe choices you can probably tell that I don’t wear Christmas sweaters. Now don’t get offended; it’s not that I don’t like them. Some are really pretty and festive, but they just don’t work for me. You see, I like to have a sweater that I can wear from December all the way through November. Yes, I am sometimes so cold I’ll pull out a light sweater in the summer months. I like to think of myself as a very practical gal looking for nice utilitarian gifts. I want to get a lot of good use out my wardrobe.
I think that is what God is aiming at in these words from Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11. These are words that are to be used over and over again. In verse 10, God’s “garment of salvation” that we are given isn’t some pretty and delicate thing to be pulled out only for special occasions. God is fitting us for life—a life of good news to the oppressed, a life of binding up the brokenhearted, repairing ruined cities, doing God’s justice, a life of righteousness and praise for all others to see.

Prayer:
O Lord God, send your Spirit upon me. Help me to put on your faith, to put on your strength, to put on your joy. Help me to wear it everywhere I go. Help me to share it with all your children.

Suggested Action:
Using masking tape, a label, or even fabric marker write on your coat (perhaps the inside) these words “garment of salvation” and/or “robe of righteousness”. Every time you put on your coat pray that you may remember to show, share, an work for God’s gift of mercy for all. At the end of the week see how this may have impacted your life and your faith.

I Want One – Forever Lazy


I want one!
Forever Lazy. It’s a soft fleece lie around, lounge around, full-body lazy wear. This thing looks soo warm and comfortable. It’s just the thing for me. I want it. No, I NEED this.
Isn’t the goal in life to be more comfortable? At least that’s what merchandisers and some politicians preach. We are told we shouldn’t have to go without the latest gadgets and gizmos. We are told we shouldn’t be concerned with the common good and instead focus on our own wants, our own desires, our own comforts.
Compare that message with the words we hear from Mark’s Gospel for the 2nd Sunday in Advent:
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,'”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed words that made people wince. He named their sin—out loud.
John’s message of repentance is not about being or feeling comfortable. Repentance is turning away from our sin and brokenness. This is usually uncomfortably hard work. It is easier just to ignore our shortcomings, our weakness. It’s easier to ignore the evils at work in our economic systems. It’s easier to go with the flow, but that is not God’s intention for us and this world. God is loving us into being the people God intends us to be. That is why noted preacher and faith leader William Sloan Coffin is quoted as saying, “I’m not OK, you’re not Ok, and that’s OK”. Sin is not OK, but God’s love is more than OK.

Prayer: God who is beyond forever. Through your love, give me the strength to see myself honestly. Open my eyes not only to my own faults, those of others and those of our world, but to your presence in me and in the world. Help me to feel your forgiveness; help me to forgive. Amen.

Suggested Action: This week practice forgiveness. Look deeply and honestly at yourself. Spend time thinking and praying about your words, your thoughts, your actions. Pick one thing; name it, and write it down. Accept God’s forgiveness; forgive yourself, and take real steps to change.