Monday, December 16, 2013
Help me to sing
Luke 2: 39-56, NT page 57 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. Sermon Something that I’ve learned is that you kind of have to know who you are talking to, before you go and tell them just anything. You need to know about who you are talking to, because, at this point, how you talk about President Barak Obama depends on who you are talking to. How you talk about health care, even what you call it – Obama Care or the Affordable Health Care Act – that depends on who you are talking to, and if you misjudge who you are talking to you may end up not in a conversation but an argument. You know who Paige Chamberlain is – he is one of my favorite members of our community, one of our most well-known and respected – and I went out on a limb the other day and told him that I had recently been to a yoga class. “Yoga?” he said, “That hurts me to hear about.” And that is just reality – if you want to talk about yoga you have to choose wisely who you are going to talk to about yoga or the conversation may end up being even shorter than that. Fortunately, for Paige and for the sake of our lunch together, there are many other things to talk about that spark his interest and mine, and, on which, we can stay on the same wave-length. Over lunch at Christy’s with Bob Towler last Thursday we talked about all kinds of things that interest all three of us – who lived in what house and when, who is still alive and who isn’t, and can you trust Bob Duncan’s account of such and such event or can’t you. While we were talking about this kind of thing we were interrupted, as one often is when it comes to lunch with Paige Chamberlain who taught English to nearly half our community, and there engaging Paige was a man wearing a San Francisco Giants jacket and shorts. “It’s a little cold for shorts isn’t it?” Paige asked him, and then I stopped really listening assuming that a man in a San Francisco Giants jacket and shorts in January might not be talking with Paige about anything that I really wanted to hear about until this man asked Paige whether or not he’d like to go with him and his wife to see the opera. Unlike yoga, Paige loves to talk about the opera, and so they went on talking and talking about Puccini, Strauss, Stravinsky, and whether or not Gershwin qualified. Paige finally came to his senses, reconciling the appearance of this man and his great knowledge of opera. The man seemed to realize this and said, “It’s amazing the music you’ll start to love if you just give it a try.” It was at this point that I introduced myself to Peter Hudson, realizing that the former owner of Sam Hills is much more than meets the eye – but that’s just how it is. We look for people to share ourselves to – we look for people like us – and we trust our likes and dislikes, our passions and hobbies, our politics and our religion, mostly to people who we hope might understand. So Mary goes to Elizabeth. Because Elizabeth is the one who just might understand, after all, she’s pregnant too. You see, they were already whispering about Elizabeth in the streets and at the luncheons. Mary wasn’t the only one who had gotten pregnant when she wasn’t supposed to. “At her age,” they were saying, “at her age people will be mistaking her for this child’s grandmother,” and they were saying that because she was older than she was supposed to be. Zechariah and Elizabeth had been waiting and their barrenness had defined them during those years that normal people start their families and went on defining them far beyond those years, so when an angel came and told Zechariah that Elizabeth would be having a baby he no more believed it than Mary’s mother would have believed that she was still a virgin should Mary have been foolish enough to tell her mother about this pregnancy. And can you imagine that – being pregnant and not being able to tell your own mother for fear of how she would react? Of course you can – it happens all the time. If your father wants you to grow up and be a doctor like he is, then you don’t rush home to tell him that you got the lead in your first off-Broadway play because he will be incapable of giving you the congratulations that you want. If your sister hates him, then guard yourself before you tell her about your engagement. And if your mother will see that pregnant belly and will only think about how you’ve just lost any chance of a proper wedding – how Joseph now has every right to walk away once he finds out – if you’ll want sympathy for your swelling ankles know that all she’ll be able to focus on is the lack of a ring on your finger – if you want her to be happy when she’s afraid that you’ll be stoned for adultery – then you are going to have to go to see someone else – you are just going to have to go and talk to someone else who might understand. So, “in those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Do you know how much that meant to her? Do you have any idea what it must have felt like to finally have someone who wasn’t ashamed to have her in her house, to finally have someone who would believe her story, and to be able to sit down in her kitchen so that Elizabeth might share in Mary’s joy? A large portion of our scripture lessons for this morning is one of the most well-known passages of scripture in the Bible – it’s known as the Magnificat. The Magnificat is Mary’s song of joy, of faithfulness, of hope. She sings: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” It’s important to read this passage in its context, because she doesn’t sing right after the angel comes to see her to tell her about this pregnancy. No, she sings in Elizabeth’s house, and I’ll bet you know exactly why. She sings then, because it’s not always possible to sing when you are alone. In the funeral services at our church we often sing hymns, but rarely is the family able to sing out the words, so overwhelmed by loss and sadness. And I stand here and watch as the congregation carries them, singing with and for mourning families when they’re not able to sing alone. You do the same thing for parents when their children are baptized. I’m standing next to them and I know they’re not singing the words to “Jesus loves me” that we sing after every baptism, and they’re not singing because they aren’t thinking about singing – they’re thinking about finally getting their baby who has been on the brink of crying for the entire service up until this point out and into the nursery where she can have her pacifier and get into some clothes that aren’t family heirlooms, and can cry as loud as she wants. They can’t be expected to sing in that moment – so you sing for them – and they can’t be expected to raise that child on their own either – so through the liturgy of baptism you promise to help them raise their child in the faith as well. And children can’t always be expected to sing either of course. I watch my own daughter stand during the hymns next to Susie Baxter, standing just how Ms. Susie stands, holding her hymnal just like Ms. Susie even though it’s upside down. And Ms. Susie helps her to sing you see. Last Sunday during communion I watched as John Satterwhite walked down the aisle, and he stood right beside Ava Corbin who was serving as an acolyte. I watched as he put his arm around her so they could share her hymnal – and I don’t really know who was helping who to sing, but it was a beautiful image that I won’t soon forget. Mary sings – but Elizabeth is there to help her sing those words when her own mother was tied up in worry as mothers sometimes are. Elizabeth is there for the girl to help her to sing, just as you must be there to help the children of this church sing faithful songs in a world where so much happens that they’ll know neither how to explain nor accept. This world of ours is full of tragedy and miracles, so stand beside one another, and stand especially beside the children and the teenagers who you have promised in their baptism to nurture in the faith – and help them to sing. Help them to sing songs of hope when the world as they know it comes to an end. In that moment help them to sing about God’s constant presence for when the Lord might have seemed to be clearly absent Mary sang, “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” Help them to sing songs of trust when life’s path takes an unexpected turn and everyone it seems is against them for “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” And help them even then to sing songs of joy, for with Elizabeth, Mary sang in what might have been her darkest hour, “He has helped his servant Israel, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” This Christmas give thanks for those who have been Elizabeth to you, and sing, out of praise to God just as Mary did so long ago. Amen.