God’s Time: Song of Joy 12-20-15

God’s time is coming. God’s time has come. God’s promise is being born and lives among us. God’s time has come – we live into that truth. The tenses in Advent get mixed up. We know the birth has happened and yet we wait for it – a little longer. Today we listen to Mary’s song, the Magnificat, feeling its truth in our bones, confident of a significance as deep and powerful as we can imagine. Listen for God’s word for you today in Mary’s song.

Luke 1:39-55 Within a few days Mary set out and hurried to the hill country to a town of Judah, where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting. the child leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.In a loud voice she exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why am I so favored, that the mother of the Messiah should come to me? The moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who believed that what our God said to her would be accomplished!” Mary said, “My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior. For you have looked with favor upon your lowly servant, and from this day forward all generations will call me blessed. For you, the  Almighty,, have done great things for me, and holy is your Name. Your mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear you. You have shown strength with your arm; you have scattered the proud in their conceit; you have deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places. You have filled the hungry with good things, while you have sent the rich away empty. You have come to the aid of Israel your servant, mindful of your mercy— the promise you made to our ancestors—to Sarah and Abraham and their descendants forever.

Dec. 20, 2015

God’s Time: Song of Joy

Sometimes I don’t know whether people are joking or not when they learn that I’m a pastor and they expect that my prayers can control the weather. They’ll say, “You got a line up there. Make sure it’s a great day for Saturday.“ or “Beautiful day for a game today, Pastor. Thanks.” I don’t mention to them that it poured cats and dogs on the day of my first wedding. Of course they might take that as a sign of God’s disfavor of that first try.

Until I notice that that my prayers have special efficacy, I’ll ask you to pray with me when we really need help – which lately has been pretty often. I find it reassuring that we pray together especially in relation to the recent spate of shootings, disasters and tragedies in our country. Have you noticed an extra level of skepticism lately though about the power of prayer?

After the shooting in San Bernardino, a bunch of politicians responded immediately by tweeting or saying in various ways, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.” The response was so immediate and universal that it began to seem clichèd or shallow. It certainly did not feel like the sentiment came with an authentic feeling that the thoughts and prayers were going to make a real difference.

So much so that the New York Daily News ran a cover with large letters that said “God Isn’t Fixing This.” And this gives pastors all over the country to weigh in on how and whether God acts in relation to these disasters. I have heard a couple of sermons already addressing this topic, the headline in the Daily News, and you may or may not be surprised to know that the pastors I have listened to have generally said pretty unequivocally that just expressing shallow thoughts and prayers are not enough – that our thoughts and prayers have to change us. Our thoughts and prayers are only authentic when they change our hearts and lead us to some kind of action.

 

As I read the first two chapters of the gospel of Luke one of my reactions was that thoughts and prayers might not be enough, but thoughts, prayers and a song just might do it. Let me explain.

The first two chapters of Luke are full of song – significant songs of Elizabeth & Zechariah and Mary – songs that sing out the power of God and the expectation that the singers are active in the song, in God’s work in the world. Mary’s song, the one that we read today and the one that we sing after the sermon today, is the best example.

Nadia Bolz-Weber echoed the feeling of many Protestants when she says that she always felt growing up that Catholics had dibs on Mary and we Protestants couldn’t claim her. But at least once a year, Mary looms large in our services as we read and sing the Magnificat. In this song Mary recognizes that she is more than a meek and mild young woman. She has a part to play in the history of the world.

Time gets mixed up in the song – as we have been noticing all during Lent. Mary sings even before the actual birth that she has already been part of the transformation of the world. By having this baby, she feels that everything has changed. She is confident that everything is changing and she sings with assurance and chutzpah that the poor have been lifted up and the rich and kingly have been laid low. It was more than thoughts and prayer. It was a song of encouragement and engagement. For Mary and her people, nothing would ever be the same again.

 

Here’s another example. Every Monday night was Bible Study night in Leipzig, Germany. Early in the 1980’s people started having Bible study and prayer every Monday in Nicolaikirche, an 800 year old church where Bach had written some of his famous music. Sometimes it was just a few people, sometimes a dozen, sometimes more. Every Monday night they met and prayed, and sang.

Monday after Monday, month after month, year after year they prayed and sang with confidence, fueled by their frustration that they could not travel, could not leave East Germany. They prayed for the liberation of East Germany from the oppressive regime and the brutal Stazi army. They were the largest meetings happening in the country and people started to notice and their And as their numbers grew to a few hundred singing and praying, sometimes thousands. Then they could not all fit in the church.

People noticed and more came. The government noticed too and they jailed the two pastors who were leading the Bible studies and told them to cancel the Monday night sessions. The crackdown in Tiananmen Square in China was happening at the same time, so the threat of violence by the government was real.

When they got out of jail they had to decide what God was calling them to do and the next Monday night, Oct. 9, 8,000 people came to Nicolaikirche and they knew it was only a matter of time before the Berlin Wall would come down. Footage leaked out of East Germany onto TV and the whole country started singing and demonstrating on Monday evenings. They couldn’t all fit inside the church on Monday, Oct. 23rd and the singing spilled out into the streets, and 70,000 to 100,000 people came.  300,000 people came the next week, half of the whole population of Leipzig, – and on Nov. 9th, 1989, the Berlin wall came down.

They knew it would happen. In their hearts, in their thoughts it had already happened when they were just a dozen or so meeting in the church, praying and singing.

And we come together to pray each week in the same way, singing Mary’s song, Tell Out My Soul the greatness of the Lord, praying and singing for an end to gun violence in this country, praying for peace in our streets and singing about food for the poor, and freedom for all who are treated unfairly. We sing with the confidence of Mary, because we know of a child born among us, God with us, Emmanuel. Because of that birth, because of God’s real and realizable presence with us, we sing with confidence that our world will be made whole.

 

Responsive Hymn: 200 Tell Out My Soul