Sermon December 13, 2015
Advent and Christmas are singing seasons. When Zechariah opens his mouth after nine months of silence, he sings a song of God’s goodness. When Mary learns she will have a child, she sings. When God is in the house, we start singing. I love that the writers of the pageant today used songs to tell the story. Even yesterday at the service of comfort and hope, we ended with “How Can I Keep from Singing?” We sing to express our faith, our hope, our longing, our joy, and the fullness our human experience. When I was in seminary, I worked as a youth director and I took my youth group on a mission trip to a rural part of Georgia. We didn’t have to travel far to find people in need. The Georgia Aid Project or G.A.P. as it was nicknamed, paired groups of youth and adults with people in need. We did all kinds of projects around peoples’ homes and fell in love with many people we would never have known otherwise. At night, we would gather and tell stories of our day. We would hear stories of what God was doing in our midst. It was deeply moving to be reminded that what we were doing made a difference and that it was changing us as well. I am thinking about that program this week because each year, we sang the choral anthem, “The First Song of Isaiah” which is essentially, the words that Carolyn read to you today. The phrases from that anthem have bounced around inside me all week:
“Surely it is God who saves me.”
“I will trust and not be afraid.”
“Cry aloud inhabitants of Zion. Ring out your joy.”
This powerful song of God who can be trusted, who cares for us, and who does great things is a reminder that we should not stop singing. It is a beautiful piece of poetry and will not let us forget that we are part of something much larger than ourselves. The people who sang this were in exile and they were anticipating a big homecoming party. There is a call in here for us to look for the day when homecoming will be a reality for all people. This is especially poignant as the Syrian refugees are seeking a place to call home. This week, I heard about a mother of four from Phoenix who is very ill. She moved to Albuquerque with her children. Both she and one of her children were hospitalized. CYFD has taken custody of her children. She needs to return to Phoenix because the altitude is bad for her health. I am thinking of this mother who longs to be reunited with her children and return to Phoenix.
We seem to be growing more polarized by the day in the face of threats and terror. Fear is rampant and when fear dominates, hospitality disappears into the background. I am horrified at the portrayal of our Muslim brothers and sisters as terrorists and threats to our safety. They are us. Today, we have a big card in the Fellowship Hall and ask you to sign it after worship to express your support for this faith community.
Isaiah 12 shows the resiliency of the people who will not be crushed by the present fear and oppression. Instead, they proclaim what God is doing and express their faith that God will continue to bring freedom and salvation for all people.
I have to confess my discomfort with the word salvation. I have seen too many people on street corners shouting, “Are you saved?” That question has always puzzled me as if there is a secret handshake and if you don’t know it you are doomed to eternal torment. But this week, I was given a different understanding of the word. Marcus Borg said, “Salvation is primarily about transformation in this life—of ourselves and of the world—and not primarily about an afterlife.”
We are not collecting stamps on our frequent good behavior card to get into an exclusive club called heaven. God loves us and our actions are a natural product of that love. As people of faith, we sing and we pray to give expression to the movement of God in our lives and in our world.
In an article called “Why We Pray After Mass Shootings”, Rev. Sandy Tice who is the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in San Bernardino, says the point of prayer is often misunderstood. “Prayer does not make things stop,” she says. “I don’t think we pray believing that suddenly the world will be cheery and perfect. Prayer — in my view — is an act of defiance in a situation like this. It’s a way of saying ‘no.’…There is a lot of darkness and I’m not sure I know a way to stop it, but I refuse to stop praying and longing for the light.”
We gather here each week to sing and to pray. We gather to refuse to be defined by fear. We gather to proclaim our hope in a God who will have the last word. We gather to sing of the God who will bring us, all of us, home. May we continue to sing of the God who saves us, who transforms us, because the world needs our songs more than ever before.