Thursday, December 11, 2014

Awakening 3: the second Sunday in Advent, Comfort Ye


We’re going to try it differently this week.  Our guest artist Stephanie Johnstone will participate with us during our regular service. Her choir will join us during worship. They will join us during the service, do their special music and then we’ll all conclude together.  Our theme for this week’s Awakening is : Comfort my people

We begin our service with the words of  O COME, O COME EMMANUEL as rewritten by Barbara Lundblad.
 O come, O come, Immanuel                                                       
And Melt ev’ry weapon crafted for war
Bring peace upon the earth for evermore
Rejoice, rejoice! Take heart and do not fear,
God’s chosen one, Immanuel, draws near.

 O come green shoot of Jesse, free
Your people from despair and apathy
Forge justice for the poor and meek
Grant safety for the young ones and the weak.
Rejoice, rejoice! Take heart and do not fear,
God’s chosen one, Immanuel, draws near.

As we light the Advent candle this week, again, our words fit the events of the week:

One: Our brothers and sisters are not yet free. Like captives and exiles in their own land, they mourn the loss of children with inconsolable grief.
All: We light this candle in solidarity. We light this candle to light the path from lament to hope. To the day of true emancipation when all will live in freedom.
One: Words like ‘Ferguson”, names like Michael Brown, Hands Up, Don’t Shoot, I can’t breathe make our days, resound in our nights. Bridges, highways, subways close. There is pain that goes beyond words, and the unbelievable that is only all too believable.
All: In such a world, the prophet cries Comfort, comfort my peopleprepare the way a new day is cominga new day will come.

Our first lesson is from the prophet Isaiah:
1   Comfort, O comfort my people, 
          says your God. 
2   Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, 
          and cry to her 
     that she has served her term, 
          that her penalty is paid, 
     that she has received from the Lord”s hand 
          double for all her sins.
3   A voice cries out: 
     “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, 
          make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 
4   Every valley shall be lifted up, 
          and every mountain and hill be made low; 
     the uneven ground shall become level, 
          and the rough places a plain. 
5   Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, 
          and all people shall see it together, 
          for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
6   A voice says, “Cry out!” 
          And I said, “What shall I cry?” 
     All people are grass, 
          their constancy is like the flower of the field. 
7   The grass withers, the flower fades, 
          when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; 
          surely the people are grass. 
8   The grass withers, the flower fades; 
          but the word of our God will stand forever. 
9   Get you up to a high mountain, 
          O Zion, herald of good tidings; 
     lift up your voice with strength, 
          O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, 
          lift it up, do not fear; 
     say to the cities of Judah, 
          “Here is your God!” 
10  See, the Lord GOD comes with might, 
          and his arm rules for him; 
     his reward is with him, 
          and his recompense before him. 
11  He will feed his flock like a shepherd; 
          he will gather the lambs in his arms, 
     and carry them in his bosom, 
          and gently lead the mother sheep.

Jeremy follows the prophetic words with  I Can See Clearly Now by Jimmy Cliff.

And Jeremy had written an new setting for a response to Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13:
O come Lord, come; restore and save us now.

The Gospel reading is Mark 1: 1-8:
1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2As it is written in he prophet Isaiah, 
     “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, 
          who will prepare your way; 
3   the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 
          ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, 
          make his paths straight,’” 
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.5And 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. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And these are my reflections:

It’s been yet another  painful and difficult week. We are supposed to have a word of Comfort this week….comfort my people……There is in the scripture a sense that the people were somehow responsible for what had happened to them and that is now over…their penalty has been paid. It’s an idea not appropriate to the experience of those so in need of comfort at this time. But more it is the suffering of the innocent.

We can’t help but hear these words, Comfort ye in the clear voice of Handel’s Messiah…They were the inspiration for a project of the same name, a project begun here 20 years ago when the brightest lights of the Metropolitan and City Operas would come together in a concert to benefit the homeless.
The message of the prophets was always consistent, it was always failure to do justice that destroyed and weakened a society from the inside making defeat and exile inevitable wrought from forces from the outside.…but now this exiled people gets to come home…

What are the images we are presented with?  In the desert,  a highway….a straight road…no more detours, no curves, no delays, no roadblocks …a straight path…

Mountains laid low, valleys lifted up…if you think about it, these are images of restitution, of setting things straight, of  evening things out… of ending disparity and inequity.

I’m thinking….people need comfort after this week…but not soothing words…maybe in order to get the road cleared for real progress , to build a straight highway, we need a season of blocking roads, highways, bridges …of stopping business as usual….maybe that’s what it takes…

After the Ferguson decision, our PCUSA denominational leaders asked for calm and prayer…my son emailed me, Seriously?

A voice cries in the wilderness….cries out…not whispers, murmurs or soothing tones…cries out…

The work of comfort is the work of lifting up the valleys, taking down the mountains…dealing with the realities of mass incarceration and income inequity….
An inequality greater than South Africa at the peak of apartheit….

The very first words of the gospel of Mark…are subversive…the word evangelion, gospel before this time always announced Roman military victories…another triumph of the empire…to say that this is the gospel of Jesus Christ was an act of rebellion…an act of sedition…an announcement that an alternative order was coming into being …

That is how we give comfort…both by engaging in the struggle that is outside….highways, valleys, and all….and by building communities that become visible signs of a new order….

We are called to make that announcement…to be the voice that cries…that stops business as usual…and seek to build an outpost of a new kingdom, a new kindom, a liberated space that already exists as it comforts us and sustains us in the continuing struggle…

We make our prayers, singing: Healer of our every ill., light of each tomorrow,Give us peace beyond our fear and hope beyond our sorrow.
And for our offertory, Jeremy plays Three Little Birds by Bob Marley. Every little thing gonna be all right
And then sing the doxology to the tune of O Come, O come, Emmanuel. Then we share a EUCHARIST. Stephanie’s choir members joining us.  And then they share their performance. The first song an extended piece where we all join in, Stephanie  and  Jeremy leading us.
Jeremy and Stephanie lead us
Their second piece shows clearly Stephanie’s theatre training as an extended parable of two women speaks to the realities of our day, spoken word story over a chorus.
We end with a reprise of last week’s CLOSING SONG: Ella’s Song, still as painfully accurate as the day it was first sung:

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes
Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers' sons
That which touches me most is that I had a chance to work with people
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me
To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail
And if I can but shed some light as they carry us through the gale
The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on
Is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm
Not needing to clutch for power, not needing the light just to shine on me
I need to be one in the number as we stand against tyranny
Struggling myself don't mean a whole lot, I've come to realize
That teaching others to stand up and fight is the only way my struggle survives
I'm a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard
At times I can be quite difficult, I'll bow to no man's word
We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Our closing circle

The Movement Against Mass Incarceration  has called a meeting to discuss plans for a week of expressing rage over the Eric Garner decision.  Stephanie and her choir are in the gym recording so the group begins to gather in the sanctuary. They’ve reserved Mc Alpin , Hall expecting maybe 50-75 people. When I come back from my break, the room is completely filled, with people lining the stairs up and down. Leila and I scramble around opening up new rooms for break out groups. I haven’t seen anything like this since Occupy was here. Over 200 people have answered the call. Something new is happening...

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