Children’s Message: “Hannah: A Woman Who Kept Her Promise to God”, from Great Men and Women of the Bible. (If you're playing along at home, any version of the story of Hannah will do. It can be found in 1 Samuel 1.)
Scripture: 1 Samuel 2:1-10
Hannah prayed and said,
My heart rejoices in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in my God.
I'm laughing at those who mock me,
because I rejoice in my salvation.
Nothing and no one is holy like God,
no rock mountain like our God.
Don’t dare talk pretentiously—
not a word of boasting, ever!
For God knows what’s going on.
He takes the measure of everything that happens.
The weapons of the strong are smashed to pieces,
while the weak are infused with fresh strength.
The well-fed are out begging in the streets for crusts,
while the hungry are getting second helpings.
The barren woman has a houseful of children,
while the mother of many is bereft.
God brings death and God brings life,
brings down to the grave and raises up.
God brings poverty and God brings wealth;
he lowers, he also lifts up.
He puts poor people on their feet again;
he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope,
Restoring dignity and respect to their lives—
a place in the sun!
For the very structures of earth are God’s;
he has laid out his operations on a firm foundation.
He protectively cares for his faithful friends, step by step,
but leaves the wicked to stumble in the dark.
No one makes it in this life by sheer muscle!
God’s enemies will be blasted out of the sky,
crashed in a heap and burned.
God will set things right all over the earth,
he’ll give strength to his king,
he’ll set his anointed on top of the world!
------------------- Sermon -------------------
Last week I told you all that we would be working through the gospel of Luke this summer. I told you that we would be reading through the “special stories” of Luke, the stories that can only be found in Luke’s gospel. I told you we would be exploring these “special stories” to learn more about who Jesus is and what that means for us.
Well, I lied. [Laughter] Because today we are reading a story from First Samuel, one of the books of the Old Testament, long before the gospel of Luke was written. So we are not reading from the gospel of Luke today. But I promise there is a reason!
Last week we read the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, how they were discussing Jesus’ death and the rumors of his resurrection, and how Jesus appeared as a stranger and walked with them. They puzzled, and argued, and grieved, and wondered, and he said: “‘Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”
The explanation of who Jesus is, and what he has done for us, doesn’t start in the gospel of Luke. Promises and prophecies of the Messiah, the Anointed One, go far back in the Old Testament. So just like Jesus, we begin with Moses and all the prophets.
This especially makes sense when we read the gospel of Luke. We will spend the rest of June reading stories from the first two chapters in Luke. And these first two chapters act a little bit like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz: they point both forward [cross right arm to point left] and backward [crossing left arm to point right]. Luke writes these first two chapters both to pick up on themes from the Old Testament, and to point us towards who Jesus is going to be.
And the first two chapters of Luke are like the scarecrow in another way: they sing. This is the Andrew Lloyd Webber version of the gospels. In the next few weeks we will hear about Jesus presented in the temple, how a righteous and devout man named Simeon takes him into his arms and sings, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word.” This is a song that the church for centuries has used in evening services and at funerals, at the close of the day: [sung] “O Lord, now let your servant depart in heav’nly peace, For I have seen the glory of your redeeming grace.”
In the next few weeks we will hear the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, an how at his son’s birth he sings: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David.” This is a song that the church has picked up and used in Advent, in the time of preparing for the birth of Jesus and the proclamations of John the Baptist: [sung] “Blessed be the God of Israel, who comes to set us free; who raises up new hope for us, a branch from David’s tree.”
And today we hear Hannah’s song: “My heart rejoices in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God.” Does it sound familiar? It’s a song we sing in Advent, too: “An angel went from God to a town called Nazareth, to a woman whose name was Mary. The angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, O highly favored, for God is with you. You shall bear a child, and his name shall be Jesus, the chosen one of God most high.’ And Mary said, ‘I am the servant of my God; I live to do your will. [sung] My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, and my spirit rejoices in you...’” Hannah’s song and Mary’s song begin with the same words.
See, Luke is a musician. By writing down the songs of Simeon and Zechariah and Mary, he plays on music that reverberate throughout the Old Testament. The people of God have been singing for a long, long time. Mary’s song is not an original -- it’s a reprise. It’s the musical Wicked playing to an audience that has all see the Wizard of Oz. Luke is playing on themes that echo through the Old Testament: that when something particularly miraculous has happened, we sing.
Of course there are plenty of miracles in the gospel of Luke. There are miracles everywhere when Jesus is around. There will be a miraculous catch of fish when Jesus calls the first disciples. There is a miraculous raising of a dead young man. There will be a woman, crippled and bent over for eighteen years, freed from her ailment by Jesus’ touch and words. These are the miracles we are used to. They are unexplainable, almost unbelievable. Something has happened that cannot be scientifically or physically or chemically explained. Food multiplies, illness is healed, death turns to resurrection. The impossible takes place. This is what happens when the power of God comes to earth: suddenly the rules do not apply.
Luke writes down these miracles. He promises, in the first chapter of his gospel, to give an “orderly account” of everything, after he has investigated and considered all the stories from the very beginning. But Luke isn’t only interested in recording the physical miracles, the unexplainable healings, the miraculous multiplying of fish and of loaves. What Luke makes sure to put before us is the miraculous healing of the heart.
See what Hannah sings: “God brings death and God brings life, brings down to the grave and raises up. God brings poverty and God brings wealth; he lowers, he also lifts up. He puts poor people on their feet again; he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope, restoring dignity and respect to their lives—a place in the sun!”
And hear Mary’s song: “God knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.”
Is this a miracle? We could say it depends on who you ask. But I don’t think a single person who has known what it is like to be hungry -- or downtrodden, or hurting, or broken, or in need of mercy piled high -- none of us would say that it is anything less.
Luke paints for us a Jesus who has come to turn the world around. Who has come, as Hannah sang, to infuse the weak with fresh strength. Jesus declares it himself, when he appears in Nazareth and reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus comes to restore the broken. To lift up the lowly. To fill what is empty. To free those who are bound up in slavery or in oppression or trapped by life in a hundred different ways. To find what is longing for healing and wholeness and to mend it, with words of love and forgiveness and hope. Jesus has come because God is like a woman searching her house for a lost coin, like a shepherd tracking down one lost sheep. Is this anything less than a miracle? See what Hannah sings: “God will set things right all over the earth.”
And see where Hannah sings. Unlike Simeon, she does not sing when a baby is placed in her arms. Unlike Zechariah, she does not sing at the birth of her son. Unlike Mary, she does not sing when her child is first conceived. Hannah sings as she is walking away from the temple. She made a promise to God, that if God gave her a son, that she would give him back -- that he would be consecrated to God, and serve God in the temple all his days. And so she has come, bringing the three-year-old Samuel, and left him, for the rest of his life, in the temple of the Lord, to belong to another family and to serve God.
And as she walks away from her little boy, her only child, she sings: “My heart rejoices in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God.”
This is so, so not me.
In the face of her worst grief, she sings praise. And this is the irritating thing, about starting with Moses and all the prophets. It is irritating and annoying and downright hard that right when we are at our breaking point is when God likes to show up. That right at the narrowest and darkest part of rock bottom can be where we find peace. That today’s psalm, praising God for turning our mourning into dancing -- it is called a psalm of David. David. The boy who slays the giant Goliath by the power of God. David the mighty king. But also David the adulterer, and David the murderer. David the anointed, who flees before his rival King Saul, whose corrupt son Absalom usurps the throne. When David says “Weeping may linger for the night,” he knows exactly how long that tearful night is.
The story says that Hannah had been crying her heart out to God. And without knowing what she’d asked for, the priest Eli knelt beside her and said, “Lord God of heaven and earth, fill this woman’s heart with Your peace.”
Hannah has no way of knowing that in a year she’ll have baby Samuel in her arms. And no way of knowing that, in the years after she has given Samuel back to God, she will have three more sons and two daughters. All Hannah has is the tears running down her face and Eli’s benediction that she might go in peace. And that was enough.
If God is all about turning the world around, this is one of the hardest turns. That things can hurt this much and yet God shows up. Instead of God protecting us from all the pain of life, God shows up and offers abundant mercy and grace and peace instead of just fixing it. [Laughter]
This is a radical turn. To give us peace. To give us strength and courage and comfort to face whatever is empty in us. And to give us a way through instead of a way out. To mend our brokenness not with a touch or a word but with the miraculous, world-turning, life-changing act of forgiveness and grace.
That is the only reason that Hannah can sing. That is the only reason that Hannah can walk away from her three-year-old son, never to take him home again, and sing: “My heart rejoices in the Lord.” Because there is a miracle going on here that is greater than a barren woman finally conceiving. There is the radical miracle of peace. An unexplainable belief that everything is actually going to be okay, despite all past experiences and present circumstances. A crazy sense that God is actually here, actually present, offering piles of mercy and overabundant love, rekindling burnt-out lives with fresh hope. For me. For you. For all of us.
------------------- Canticle of the Turning, Rory Cooney -------------------
1. My soul cries out with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things
that you bring to the ones who wait.
You fixed your sight on your servant's plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?
My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn!
2. Though I am small, my God, my all,
you work great things in me,
And your mercy will last from the depths of the past
to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame,
and to those who would for you yearn,
You will show your might, put the strong to flight,
for the world is about to turn.
3. From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
ev'ry tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
There are tables spread, ev'ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.
4. Though the nations rage from age to age,
we remember who holds us fast:
God's mercy must deliver us
from the conqueror's crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forebears heard
is the promise which holds us bound,
'Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God,
who is turning the world around.
Sunday, June 9, 2013
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
I crossed paths with a college friend last summer, at a mutual friend’s wedding; I was officiating, Noelle was photographing. We got to chat and catch up a bit, and to delight in each other’s successes, that five years after graduation we were chasing our dreams.
A few months later, Noelle contacted an assortment of her friends with the following proposal: would we be willing to be photographed for a local project called The Beauty Collective?
You can read about the first installment of the Beauty Collective on her blog (and I highly recommend that you do - Athena explains it so beautifully).
In short – as women, we have all experienced insecurities about our appearance at one time or another, and as a photographer, I come across this in every. single. session I shoot. I am constantly told how unphotogenic someone thinks they are, and every time, I find that it is quite the opposite.
My goal with the collective is to get a group of women together – no more than 5-7 – and I would like to create portraits that empower them and show them that they ARE beautiful.After several months of weather-caused delays, four of us got to hang out at the Q’arma Building in Northeast, and Noelle worked her magic.
There was something terrifying about being photographed with no promise of filter, of touch-up, of Photoshop to save me from the scars on my chin. I specifically asked that my hands not be photographed, because I’ve never loved them, and of course Noelle got them involved in a third of the photos, because that’s the whole point of the project.
And you know what?
It was amazing. And I feel beautiful, in a way I have not felt in a long time. Even without good lipstick and perfect concealer. Even with my hands showing and my hair askew.
So if you are reading this, I implore you: let yourself be beautiful, today.
Sunday, June 2, 2013
I had a wooden box full of Easter eggs. Easter eggs! But Easter was nine weeks ago! Today is the 9th Sunday after Easter. But today we are going back in time to Easter, the story we are telling today is the road to Emmaus -- that happened the very same day that Jesus rose from the dead! Open up your eggs. What's inside? (I passed out the eggs. They shook them. Then they opened them. Dinosaurs!!) Yes! Dinosaurs! Because today we are going back in time. Not quite as far back as dinosaurs. We're going back to Easter morning two thousand years ago.
This is how we tell stories in the church. We go back in time. We tell stories about things that happened a long time ago. That's because they are stories that tell us very important things. They tell us who Jesus is, and they tell us who we are. So we tell these stories again and again.
So for the rest of the summer, we will be starting from the beginning with the gospel of Luke. We’ll be telling the special stories that are unique to Luke -- stories like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. We’ll be going through these stories to hear who Luke says Jesus is and what that means for us.
This summer, we're going back in time.
Scripture: Luke 24:13-35
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?"
They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?"
He asked them, "What things?"
They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him."
Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?"
That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Sermon on the Walk to Emmaus: “A Homily”
Good morning! Happy Easter! [Laughter] That's where we are today -- back at Easter morning. The last eight weeks we've been going forward from Easter morning, working through the stories of the resurrection of Jesus and the life of the early church. But today we go back in time and start at the beginning -- not the very beginning but the beginning of our Christian hope. The beginning of a world turned upside down by a risen Savior. We're back to Easter morning, except no one knows it's Easter yet. For the followers of Jesus, today's story is taking place on a day full of grief. A week ago Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem. And then the chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and crucified him.
All Saturday the disciples have been lamenting and grieving, asking Why? and How? and What Now?. And now today a bunch of women have come forward with an incredible tale. They claim to have seen a vision of angels who say that Jesus is alive. Now women are not reliable witnesses in first-century culture. They aren't allowed to testify in court. They can't go into the innermost part of the temple. They can't be priests or scribes or teachers. So when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women who travelled with Jesus show up on Sunday morning and say "He is risen!" the apostles don't believe it. They go check the tomb, which is certainly empty but there's no angels or visions. And they call the women's story "an idle tale". Which is a very Minnesotan way of putting it. It's a pointless story, it's gossip, it's garbage.
And so Cleopas and his fellow follower are walking to Emmaus, talking over all these things. They are talking about the life of Jesus. About his mighty deeds and words. How they had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel. How he was handed over by their own religious leaders to be condemned and crucified. And now the astonishing story of the women, that a vision of angels has said that he is risen.
Cleopas and his friend, who has no name -- we don't even know if they were male or female -- are talking over these things. "Talking," here, in verses 14 and 15, is a verb used very little in the New Testament -- it appears only here, and then twice in the book of Acts. The root is ὁμιλέω, "homileo," from which we get "homily." If you grew up Catholic, or Episcopal like me, you know this word as another word for "sermon". These two followers are sermonating with each other. But this is no monologue. They are talking with each other, reasoning things out, trying to understand what has happened in the past few days and months of their lives. They are homileo-ing -- not talking to or at each other, but with.
And maybe not even nicely. In verse 15 it says they are "talking and discussing." "Discussing" is another lesser-used verb, συζητέω, "sudzeto." Here is it is translated "discuss", which is another very Minnesotan way of putting it. See Mark's gospel uses "sudzeto" in more confrontational encounters, for arguments and debates with the Pharisees and scribes. Luke uses it in 22:23, when the disciples "discuss" who it could be that will betray Jesus. This is not a word for a lighthearted chat.
So they are arguing and questioning and debating and discussing, and this stranger shows up and asks: "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" The word for discussing is yet another verb -- ἀντιβάλλετε, “antiballete”. Literally, he asks, "What are these words you are tossing about with each other?" Which is a great metaphor for discussion -- tossing words back and forth. Just off the first few verses, the story of Emmaus is painting a fascinating picture of what happens when we talk with each other about things. It turns out that a homily is not a sermon. It’s a talking over. It’s discussing. It’s wrestling with the hard questions.
So what are the hard questions? Well: who is Jesus? What do his deeds and words of power mean? Is he the one to redeem Israel? Why did he die? Is he really risen? And: what does that mean for us? What do we do now, living in the days after that astonishing Easter morning?
Luke, the writer of today's gospel, has answers to both of those. We’re spending some time with Luke for the rest of the summer. We're going to journey, like these two followers on the way to Emmaus, talking over these things. We’ll discover some of the answers the gospel of Luke gives us.
Like: Who is Jesus?
1. Jesus is the Savior -- today. Luke calls Jesus “Savior” on the day of his birth -- remember the angels? "To you is born in the city of David a savior, who is the Lord." For Luke our salvation is not just about the future but also about today. “Today” a Savior is born. When Jesus reads from Isaiah about bringing release to the captives and sight to the blind, he concludes, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." When the despised tax collector Zacchaeus invites Jesus into his home and promises to give half his possessions to the poor and to pay back anything he has stolen four times over, Jesus declares "Today salvation has come to this house." And on the cross, when the criminal turns to Jesus and says "Remember me when you come into your kingdom," Jesus says "Today you will be with me in paradise." Today. Today salvation has come and is here, right here, right now.
2. Jesus as the Savior is a healer & a liberator. Especially for Luke, the salvation that comes today is not only about spiritual freedom from sin. It is about a blind man receiving sight and a leper made clean. It is about the weary receiving peace and the outcast receiving forgiveness. For Luke, physical and spiritual and social salvation are all the same. In fact the Greek word for “to save” is the same word as “to heal”: σῴζω, “sodzo.” To bind up, to mend, to bridge, to bring back together -- to save and to heal are all the same. Grace is about more than the spiritual. The physical and social need just as much healing, just as much salvation. Jesus comes to offer healing and salvation and freedom for every part of our broken lives.
3. Jesus is unafraid of crossing lines. In Luke's gospel Jesus spends time with people on the edges of society. Jesus specifically names his mission as "to bring good news to the poor", and he tells stories of banquets and wedding feasts where all get to eat. Jesus tells the story of a Samaritan, a man religiously and racially outside the people of God who shows radical love and mercy towards a stranger left for dead. And Luke gives a voice to these "people on the edge" throughout the gospel stories. Mary sings of a God who looks with favor on the lowly. Elizabeth and Anna's stories are told. A sinful woman is forgiven, a widow's son raised. Jesus eats at the home of Mary and Martha. In Luke's gospel the people who are usually voiceless get a voice, because Jesus is unafraid of going to the edges of society to proclaim the good news.
So for Luke, Jesus is 1. the Savior, today, 2. of more than our souls 3. and especially of those on the margins and edges.
What does this mean for us?
1. We pray. Especially in Luke's gospel Jesus is into prayer. He prays before his baptism and his transfiguration. He prays before he chooses his disciples and before he predicts Peter's denial. Jesus in Luke’s gospel is kind of an introvert -- often going off by himself to pray. Jesus models a life of prayer, of time for rest and renewal. And he encourages his disciples -- and that means us, too -- to pray. To come to God again and again with our hopes and our worries and our fears and our dreams.
2. We sing. The first two chapters of Luke's gospel are full of beautifully written hymns -- Mary's song when she visits Elizabeth, Zechariah's song of prophecy at his son John's birth, the song of the angels to the shepherds, Simeon's song of praise in the temple. It's the Andrew Lloyd Webber version of the gospels. And in writing down those songs, Luke sets up important themes for the rest of the gospel: about justice and mercy, about a coming time when God will turn the world around, when all those cast down will be lifted up and all those excluded will hear the radical welcome of God's love. And so like Luke we come together to sing. We come together to praise and to tell each other of the mighty deeds and words of God.
3. We tell the story well. Luke is a skilled writer. He takes the stories of Mark's gospel and tidies up the grammar, adding flourishes and making transitions clearer. When Luke begins his gospel, he makes note of who was in power and where, giving a clear context to the story. In his writing Luke shows that he is familiar with both Hebrew scriptures and Greek philosophers. He is a good writer. But more importantly he knows this story. He is excited about this story. So we come together to tell the story, to hear the old stories again and to hear the new story taking place in each of our lives.
4. We eat together. Jesus eats nineteen meals in the gospel of Luke, tells parables about banquets, and is even scolded for eating with the wrong people. Food is important in the gospel of Luke. And in today’s scripture, back on Easter morning, Jesus is revealed in the breaking of the bread.
So we pray, we sing, we tell stories, we eat. We come together in our joy and our sorrow. We come together when we don't understand what has happened. We come together when we wonder what we do next. We come together to try to understand who this God is. And the promise is that Jesus shows up. Jesus shows up in the midst of our talking, and our wondering, and even our grieving.
Jesus shows up. As a friend. As a stranger. As someone who loves us. As a lucky break. As a word of forgiveness. Jeremy Mann has even told me that sometimes Jesus shows up on a fishing boat.
Jesus shows up to be with us no matter where we are. To set our hearts on fire. To open up the Scriptures. To make us long for something more.
Sometimes we have to believe this despite all evidence to the contrary. Sometimes it's the only thing we believe in at all. Sometimes all we have left is to cling to the promise that right in the middle of this mess is where Jesus is. This is the audacity of grace: that in our barrenness, our brokenness, our grief, that is where Jesus shows up.
I don't like this. I would like Jesus to show up when the house is clean and my life is in order. But Jesus doesn't show up because we do things right -- or wrong. Jesus doesn't show up because we deserve it, or even because we need it. Jesus shows up because that's what he promised to do. To be with us, every moment, every barren time when we are full of sadness and confusion and wandering down a long and lonely road.
So we come together, over and over. To tell the story again. To go back in time. To sing and to pray. And then we break bread. Not because we are hungry for the food, but because this is a place that Jesus promised, over and over, to show up, to be among us, and to feed us with words that would set our hearts on fire.