Posted in Sermons

Sermons preached by Pastor Hannah and guest speakers at West Concord Union Church.

Repeat the Sounding Joy

Luke 2:1-20

The story of the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke is a story full of holy messengers and holy messages.

An angel visits a priest named Zechariah to announce the coming of a child named John, who will turn many people towards God. An angel visits a young woman named Mary to announce the coming of a child named Jesus, whose holiness and power will be greater than any who have come before.  Angels visits shepherds, bringing good news of great joy for all people, announcing the birth of a longed for Messiah, a baby who bears God within.

These holy messages of our Christmas story began spreading over two thousand years ago. Once a year, we gather to heed them again.  

We gather tonight to receive the holy messages of Christmas in scripture, and perhaps even more, in song. Hymns and Carols are such an important part of what it means to celebrate this feast. Perhaps the most famous Christmas Hymn is Joy to the World, this year celebrating its 300th anniversary.

Joy to the World was written by the prolific English hymn writer Isaac Watts. Watts draws on Psalm 98 and several other pieces of scripture to share his exuberant belief that through Jesus, God brings about righteousness and equity in the world.  This is such good news, that he encourages all of creation to break into song. Let heaven and nature sing! Let fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains, repeat the sounding joy!

Set later to a tune that echoes Handel’s Messiah, this hymn returns each year to proclaim: Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

We gather tonight to receive holy messages in scripture and in song. What will we make of them? These messages are very familiar to some of us; but familiar or not, they are quite strange.  How could the birth of one baby, or even two, change the world so very much? How could the presence and person of Jesus somehow liberate us from all that is evil? If these events so long ago were really so momentous, wouldn’t things be different today?

For, of course, though we are all cleaned up for the holiday, there are some here among us tonight who are bearing great loss or pain. There are so many with unmet needs around us. Every nation and culture and community on this earth struggles to live in justice and peace.  Creation itself is groaning due to the destructive acts of humankind. Where is the righteousness and equity in our world today? Where is the joy? Where is our God?

We may long for a quick fix Christmas, for s sudden holy intervention, setting everything aright. But Christmas has never been about a quick fix.  Contrary to what we often pretend, Christmas is not about “be cheerful, no matter what” or “pull up your bootstraps” or “just pretend that everything is fine,” either. Instead, on this holiday, on this night, we gather to ponder the mystery of how holiness can dwell even in humanity; how hope can coexist with oppression and pain; how good can slowly emerge even in the most difficult circumstances. 

When those first holy messages of Christmas arrived, the human recipients didn’t jump for joy.  Zechariah, Mary, and the Shepherds all reacted with uncertainty at first, if not terror.  The invitation to holy hope in the midst of our everyday realities can be scary. It is only with time, with companionship, with prayer, that those the angels visit begin to trust in the holy messages they have received, and then share them with others.

Perhaps it is as if a great, beautiful bell was struck all those years ago, on that night when angels were thick in the air; when a baby was born to Mary by the Holy Spirit; when that baby was wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger.  A great, beautiful bell was struck, to drive out fear, and to offer hope, and to make way for change. The vibrations of this bell hummed in the hearts of those around the manger in Bethlehem. The tremors were so great, the rumbling even reached people in far distant places. 

The echo of that first bell is dim, now, but also pervasive, diversified. So many have received and shared its sound, again and again, over time and through space, that it shimmers around us now in wondrous harmonies.  If we open our hearts to prepare Christ room, we may find that it begins to pulse with sounding joy; with the whisper that Love is real and present among us; with the murmur that a different way of life is possible.

We are here to receive holy messages tonight, and We, too, can be holy messengers; instruments in the great orchestra of God’s creation; part of the praise band; part of the bell choir. Tonight, may the clarion call of God’s wondrous love born into this everyday world reverberate in you, driving out fear and despair, making room for healing and hope. Perhaps, in time, we will each find a way to join in the chorus, to magnify the message, to swell the song that bursts into our broken world again tonight, proclaiming glory and peace. May it be so.

A Visit with the Holy Family

  • December 23, 2019

Psalm 80:1-3

How shall we receive the Holy family as they come into our midst this week? The brief lines of their biblical stories have been layered over by so much art, so many hymns, so much tradition, that we may forget what is actually written there.  The story that we think we know has become so familiar, it may not feel like something that could touch and change our lives today.

But we long now, as folks have longed for generation upon generation, for God to come close to us, and to change our world.  The psalmist cries: “Stir up your might, and come to save us!… Let your face shine, that we may be saved.” Christians are invited to find God’s response to this longing in the events of this week.  Let us make our hearts ready to receive God, shining and saving, arriving in the form of a human child.

Luke 1:26-38

We know very little about Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus: but that hasn’t stopped us from celebrating her.  There are so few women with names in scripture; so few who speak; so few who are portrayed as taking an active role in making way for God’s work on earth.  And so, Mary has become in our traditions almost everything we can imagine a woman to be, and particularly those things that our cultures have desired women to be, even when that contradicts the biblical record.

Mary is almost always portrayed as beautiful, though the scriptures make no reference to her appearance. Mary is, all too frequently, portrayed as white, when we know her skin must have been some shade of beautiful brown.  Mary is cherished as an example of a strict sense of morality; though she would have been, at the time, a great scandal: an unwed teenage mother.  Mary is treasured as an example of female docility, meek and mild; when her brief appearances in scripture point to instead to bravery. Mary talks with an angel; she agrees to take on an overwhelming task of being the mother of God; she survives brutal gossip. According to one gospel, Mary travels while pregnant, and gives birth in a stable, all because of the dictates of colonial bureaucracy. According to another gospel, Mary travels post-partum with an infant, and becomes a refugee in Egypt, in order to escape the brutal violence of a tyrant.  Mary raises a son who leaves his family to become a traveling preacher, risking his life in open defiance of political and religious authorities. She accompanies her son through his execution.

Mary’s story is not glamorous.  I can’t imagine that she could have survived it without deep faith and unbelievable courage.  But perhaps the best proof of Mary’s character we get in scripture is in her longest speech, proclaimed to her cousin, Elizabeth. This outpouring of faith is known as the Magnificat because it begins, I magnify the Lord.  The words of the Magnificat are truly revolutionary; and that is beautifully captured in the version of it made by Rory Cooney; let’s sing together, the Canticle of the Turning.

Matthew 1:18-25

Joseph is the neglected member of the holy family. We hardly remember he was there. When we set up our nativity sets, he’s usually somewhere in the back, holding a staff, looking solemn. There’s only one hymn in our hymnal that has much to do with him; that’s the one we’re singing.

But Joseph, like Mary, must have been a remarkable person. He is visited by an angel in a dream, and decides to believe that holy message, and marry an already pregnant woman, despite the scandal.  He has an incredible lineage, including King David and traceable all the way back to Abraham and Sarah.  We can only imagine that he must have been proud of that.  Still, he accepts that his firstborn son will be adopted: that love is more important than genealogy.  Joseph goes on those same journeys as Mary, supporting her, pregnant on the way to Bethlehem; supporting her and the child Jesus on the way to Egypt, and back again.  And in Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph is the one who receives all the angelic visits and instructions: the one charged by God to keep this little family safe.  Like Mary, Joseph does not really fulfill his stereotype as a perfectly “traditional” dad.  He is something better, a partner and parent who is brave, flexible, self-sacrificing.

Let’s sing together, Gentle Joseph, Joseph Dear.

Isaiah 7:10-15

When we try to imagine who Jesus is, we often turn to the Hebrew Scriptures.  This is strange, of course, because we share the Hebrew Scriptures with many who do not understand Jesus as the realizations of Hebrew Scriptures depictions of a coming king, a suffering servant, a sign for the nations, Emmanuel, God-with-us.

But the gospels do not tell us what Jesus was like, especially as a child.  A hymn assures us that “no crying he made” but really, Jesus could have had colic, or been one of those babies that just had to be held and jiggled all day. Did Jesus get diaper rash?  Was he fussy about eating, prone to spitting up? Was he a toddler full of laughter, or maybe, instead, an old soul with a deep seriousness only certain two-year-olds can muster?

We know more about Jesus as an adult, but even then, he’s still a bit of a mystery.  We don’t know much about what he looked like. We don’t know whether he had a romantic partner – plenty of commentary on that one, especially in popular culture, but no real answers. We get only tiny glimpses from the gospel of how Jesus felt, or what he needed. We are witnesses of Jesus’ public face: his wisdom, his stories, his questions, his final public protest and execution.

But Jesus was human, as well as divine. He was, once, a child: born poor in a little village, in somewhat questionable circumstances, in dangerous times.  He was loved and cared for, and grew up brave: ready to bring the best of himself out into a complicated world, and let it shine.  He was God, with flesh on; God among us, knowing human life and death: God with us, our Emmanuel.

Let’s sing Born, in the night, Mary’s Child, giving thanks for God’s gift of Jesus.

Singing Our Faith, Part 4

An image of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth from the community of Taize.

This year we have been taking one Sunday of each month to explore the music we sing together.  So far it’s been an extremely condensed historical survey, considering the Hebrew psalms, ancient Christian canticles, and the birth of hymnody as we know it during the Protestant Reformation.  In the years that followed the Reformation, more and more folks embraced its musical impetus. Congregations around the world sang in their native languages, with music that fit their cultures, and that was easy to sing all together.  We could spend a lot of time exploring all this music. But today, I invite you to jump another 500 years or so, to the mid-20th century, to another era of great religious, political, and musical change.

As nations faced the consequences of first one, and then two world wars, Christians of many denominations and nationalities became impatient with the divisions among them. There was a desire for unity and common mission in a broken world.  At the same time, many Christians began to feel dissatisfied with their modes of worship. Much of Catholic worship was, for some, too antiquated and formalized, disconnected from modern people and from everyday life. Much of Protestant worship was, for some, too prosaic and intellectual, disconnected from the senses, from ritual, from a sense of holy mystery. The division of the Western Church in the Reformation had led both Catholic and Protestant branches to dismiss those forms of worship that they characterized as belonging to the other. But now, after a break of about 500 years, they were curious about each other’s gifts, and about the gifts of even more ancient Christian worship, their common ancestor.

In the midst of all of this came the second Vatican council, or Vatican II.  This international conference of the Catholic church, held in several sessions during the years 1962-1965, marked a major shift in Catholic practice. For the first time, the mass could be held in the vernacular, not only in Latin.  There was greater openness to lay leadership and ecumenical partnership. A few women were invited to attend the conference – a small gesture, but a significant one.  Most relevant for our discussion today, this Council called on church musicians to adapt Latin hymns into vernacular languages, compose new texts and melodies, and create church music with contemporary musical styles.  This call generated the folk music still used in many Catholic settings, some of which has crossed over into Protestant use as well.

The opening of Catholic tradition to Protestant collaboration led to extraordinary developments.  A shared lectionary was designed, with readings for each Sunday of the church year, for use in Catholic settings as well as many Protestant ones.  New conversations revealed that we don’t disagree as much about the sacraments as we thought we did.  Denominations began to recognize each other’s processes of ordination and baptism. Christians across denomination began to explore the importance of worship space, sacred seasons, and the order of worship.

These innovations happened in local congregations, and at seminaries, and in denominational bodies. There were particular storms of creativity in special Christian communities around the world that don’t fit into any of these categories.  Today we’re sampling musical gifts from three of those special communities: the Iona Community in Scotland, the Taize Community in France, and Holden Village, a retreat center in Washington State.  All three have cultivated the development of innovative forms of music and prayer which reflect a fascinating mix of denominational, historical, and geographical influences.

We started worship today with a hymn from Iona (Who Would Thank That What Was Needed).  This community was founded in 1938 by a pastor in the Scottish Reform tradition.  The Iona Community is famous for its retreat center on Iona Island, but also for its publishing house, Wild Goose Publications, as well as one of its most prominent musicians, John Bell.  Through the generosity of Helen Sayles, we were able to host John Bell here several years ago. We sing music from this community throughout the year, such as: Halle, Halle, Halle; Cloth for the Cradle; and The Summons.  Iona has become a center for musical renewal in the church. Its music includes unexpectedly modern language set to traditional tunes from Scotland and the British Isles, as well as short worship songs gathered from around the world.

The Taize community in France was founded just two years later than Iona, in 1940, by a Catholic man who became known as Brother Roger. This community welcomed refugees during World War II and offered hospitality to orphans after it was over. Taize has become an interdenominational Christian monastic community of men which has a particular calling to nurture spiritual growth in youth and young adults, who often make pilgrimage there. Their worship style includes periods of silence and simple, evocative prayers, as well as repetitive chants, set to music. Much of Taize music was written by one brother, Jacques Berthier.  Both the brothers of Taize, and their worship style, have travelled around the world and blessed many other communities. Let’s sing together a chant from Taize, In the Lord I’ll be Ever Thankful. (Here’s a video for those who weren’t there to experience this!)

The third community I mentioned, Holden Village, is by far the most recent, and least well known of the three. It was founded in the 1960s, and is rooted in the Lutheran tradition.  I mention it not only because I went there last summer, but because it has developed music and worship that is similar, yet distinct, from the other two communities; right here in the United States. The most well-known of its musicians is Marty Haugen, a Lutheran who grew up to join the UCC and who also composes for Catholic congregations.  Marty Haugen writes hymns, call-and-response litanies, and full mass settings, as well as the evening prayer setting that we are using pieces of throughout our worship in Advent. We’ll sing another one of his pieces together, in a moment.

But first, I want to take a moment to reflect on the significance of the shifts in sacred musical development that these three communities and their artists represent.  I find in this music, and the theology of worship that undergirds it, a weaving together of head and heart, of ancient and new, of high and low liturgical styles, with a profound emphasis on accessibility and participation.  This is music whose DNA and whose goal is a unification of Christians with one another, with our common history, with our common faith, and with God herself. I give thanks for this music, and all those who have made and shared it with us, and to the God who inspired it.

Let’s sing, then, a piece from Marty Haugen. This is a version of the O Antiphons, the calling of many names of Jesus, to come among us, in this season of Advent.

Wake Up to Hope

The season of Advent, this season of preparation for Christmas, begins with Prophets. Prophets are people who have a special ability to understand God’s longing for our world.  Prophets are people who are willing to share God’s longing for our world with others: to share it loud, to share it strong, no matter what the consequences.  The Prophet Isaiah says:

God will make justice among the people, and they will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4)

No one will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9)

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. (Isaiah 35:1-2)

Isaiah was a prophet. He also spoke of another prophet who would come after him, someone who would be a voice crying out in the wilderness, saying, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Some people think the prophet Isaiah described was a man we call John the Baptist. He preached and baptized out by the Jordan River, saying:

Turn around, change your ways, for God’s heavenly way has come near. (Matthew 3:2)

Many people feel that John’s work made way for the ministry of Jesus.

Another person who bears witness to God’s truth in this season, and who makes way for Jesus, is Mary of Nazareth.  Mary accepts a frightening invitation from an angel and agrees to bear a special child. She says:

O God, your mercy is for those who fear you from generation to generation. You show your strength and scatter the proud. You bring down the powerful from their thrones, and lift up the lowly. You fill the hungry with good things, and send the rich away empty. You help your people, remembering to be merciful, as you promised our ancestors. (Luke 1:50-55)

I wonder if you can think of people today who bravely share their ideas about how our world should be, how our world could be, how God longs for our world to be.

This season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are so many ways that we could use our time and energy. If we listen to our television, and our email inbox, and our postal mail, and our calendar, they may tell us to do things like:

  • Make a list of all the things that we wish we had.
  • Spend lots of time and money shopping for things we think other people might like to have.
  • Stay up late and attend lots of parties
  • Get really busy with planning and wrapping and travelling and cleaning and cooking
  • Eat lots and lots of things, including lots of sugar
  • Drink lots and lots of things, including lots of alcohol (for the adults).

Now I’m sure that many of us will do many of the things on that list. Most of them can be fun in moderation for most of us.  They can also provide some distraction from the fact that it’s cold outside, and dark at 4:30 p.m..

But the season of Advent, and the prophets in it, invite us to include something different in this season. They invite us to:

  • Find a moment to get quiet: by ourselves, or with a few people we really care about.
  • If it’s already dark, to light a candle.
  • Breathe in and out, and become aware of the moment we are living in.
  • Be honest about what is difficult or painful in our lives, and in the life of the world, not trying to cover it up.
  • Wake up our sense of hope for healing, for change.
  • Pay attention, to all those who are working for beautiful change around us.
  • Begin to imagine how we could be a very small part of that great big beautiful change.

I hope you’ll get some resources from this church to help you do these things, this season; or that you’ll spend some time today considering how you might make this a season of holy preparation, of spiritual nourishment.

At the service, we went on to learn a new (to us) version of Mary’s Magnificat by Ray Makeever, complete with motions learned at Holden Village!


A Reformation of Worship Music

Psalm 100, Philippians 4:4-9

This year we have been exploring the history of the music we sing in worship. So far, however, we have mostly discussed the music sung by choirs. During the first fifteen hundred years of the Western church, singing was mostly for select groups and cantors, and sung in Latin. Hymns for all to sing were only used outside the central worship service, where they existed at all.

This story changes during the Protestant Reformation.  In fact, many of the theological heroes of the reformation were also musical innovators and champions of congregational singing. As Christians began to read the Bible in their own common languages for the first time, as they began to understand themselves as part of a universal priesthood, it seemed only natural for them to begin to share in making worship music.

The earliest hymn books during the Reformation were mostly Psalters: collections of psalms translated into metrical vernacular, to be sung to simple tunes. The first was the Genevan Psalter of 1539, written in French. It was produced by John Calvin, who wrote:  “it is a thing most expedient for the edification of the church to sing some psalms in the form of public prayers … so that the hearts of all may be roused and stimulated to make similar prayers and to render similar praises and thanks to God with a common love.” Another famous early Psalter is the Bay Psalm book of 1640, the first book printed in what was known by many as British North America. 

As songs for congregational singing became more popular, both their form and content began to develop. Some were translated from existing Latin songs, often with additional verses added to emphasize the theological points most important to reformers. Other hymns were new scripture paraphrases set to popular secular tunes. Although this was a clever idea for spreading the faith, these combinations didn’t always work; Martin Luther reported that some songs just had to be given back to the devil. Some Reformation hymns were entirely new, in both text and tune. 

These songs were designed to be easily sung by anyone. This fact alone shaped how they were written and revised, and which became most popular. Much of the new hymnody had rhyming verse, which was catchier, more memorable. Over time, more and more tunes had a set and predictable rhythm, so that they was easier for many people to sing them together.  One fun bit of trivia: at first, the melody line of a hymn was most often located in the tenor part.  It was only after 1586 that giving it to the sopranos became standard practice. Techniques of harmonization also developed over time, enriching earlier melodies, thanks in large part to J.S. Bach.

Some reformation-era hymns are still among the best-known in many of our churches. They form a significant portion of many hymn books, including the Pilgrim Hymnal.  With an original copyright of 1931, the Pilgrim hymnal claims as its source texts the Geneva Psalters and the Bay Psalm book, as well as Isaac Watts, often known as the father of English hymnody.  The Pilgrim hymnal was originally made for Congregational and Christian churches, predecessors to the current United Church of Christ.  Later revisions of this hymnal, like the 1958 version that we have, are claimed by the then new United Church of Christ, and added some music from the ancient church, and a wider range of denominational sources.

But perhaps a better way to tell this story is by exploring the music itself.  Let’s take a brief tour through a few hymns.

Our opening hymn today was Our God, Our Help in Ages Past, the first hymn in the Pilgrim Hymnal and a defining one. This is perhaps the greatest hymn written by Isaac Watts (as I just mentioned, the father of English hymnody).  The British were latecomers to the Reformation hymn-writing party. Isaac Watts did his best to make up for that, writing hundreds of hymns in English. This hymn was written in 1714, a time when there was anxiety about the royal succession.  It was later played on BBC radio as soon as WWII was declared, and speaks to the theme of faith as a source of stability in times of uncertainty.

At the end of the service we will sing “Now Thank We All Our God,” which was also formed by a context of conflict.  The text’s author, Martin Rinkart, served as pastor in a small walled city in Germany called Eilenberg. Eilenberg became a refuge for those fleeing violence and plague during the 30 years war. Eventually, Rinkart was the only pastor left there, burying as many as 40 or 50 people a day, including, eventually, his wife.  This context makes a striking background for Rinkart to celebrate the wondrous things God does.  This became a defining hymn in Germany, and is sung for days of national thanksgiving there. The tune, written by Johann Cruger, was used by J.S. Bach in his Reformation cantata.

I can’t talk about this time period in the formation of our hymnody without mentioning the OLD HUNDREDTH, perhaps the best known and most widely used of all psalm tunes. It was first published in the Geneva Psalter of 1551, oddly enough as the tune for Psalm 134.  We don’t know it as the Old 134th, however, because its first English words were a translation of Psalm 100 in 1561. Many of us know this tune best with still more recent words, but we’ll sing a version of this first English setting today during the blessing of our offerings.

One thing that surprised me over and over in learning about these hymns is how many versions they often went through before becoming the classics we now recognize. One such adaptation occurs in the hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” The text was originally written by Bernard of Clairvaux, in Latin, in 1153.  Like other beloved texts, it was translated during the Reformation and set to music that was popular at the time. In this case, it was a secular piece by Hans Leo Hassler. He wrote it in 1601 and it had been unsuccessfully paired with several hymn texts before being matched with this one in 1656. This tune is also found in Bach’s works, and we borrow the current harmonization from him. Let’s sing v. 1&3, Pilgrim (Red) Hymnal #170.

We can’t talk about this time period without including Charles Wesley, an Anglican priest who helped to spread the Methodist movement founded by his brother John. He wrote the words to over 6,000 hymns.  In 1747, he published a pamphlet titled: “Hymns for those that seek and those that have Redemption in the Blood of Jesus Christ.”  One of those hymns was “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” arguably one of his best. The tune we know wasn’t written until 1870, 120 years later, by a German-born man named John Zundel. Zundel served as church organist for 28 years in the Brooklyn church where Henry Ward Beecher was minister. Thus, this popular tune is most commonly (and quite unfairly) known as BEECHER. Let’s sing Pilgrim Hymnal #228, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling: 1st & 4th verses.

Perhaps the most famous hymn writer of the reformation was Martin Luther. A theological and political leader, Luther also loved music from childhood. He worked with musicians to create new music for Christians in the common language. His most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” written in in 1529, is a paraphrase of Psalm 46.  Unlike many other famous writers I have mentioned, Luther wrote both text and tune. Reflecting on this hymn again, I was struck by the similarities of the theme it expresses to others we are singing today.  During the Reformation, a time of great religious and political conflict and change, the steadiness and strength of God was a particular focus of hymnody. Perhaps it is not surprising that these same hymns rang true for those forming and revising the Pilgrim Hymnal, following the first and second world Wars.

This beloved hymn has been translated from German to English many times. It has also changed in both rhythm and harmonization over time; you can find both old and new versions next to each other in the New Century Hymnal. In a moment, Jim will play the tune in the old way, then I invite you to rise and sing the form familiar to us.

But, before we sing, after all that information, I invite you to take a deep breath. Consider the gift we have received, in the faith and artistry of so many writers and musicians, and the bravery of Christians living through so many challenges.  Through the grace and inspiration of God, and the labor of many, we have music to share together that people of faith have been singing in many different forms for 3, or 4, or 500 years. Thanks be to God.

Worthy of Repair

A guest sermon from the Rev. Laura Everett, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches. Learn more about Rev. Everett’s mending work here.

Colossians 3:12-17

I bring you the blessings and greetings of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, a network of individuals, congregations and 18 denominations convinced that what binds us together in Jesus Christ is stronger than anything that might divided us. Anything that might divide us. Anything. We are bound together, knit together, sometimes patched and mended together. When so much threatens to tear apart the Church at the seams, the Massachusetts  Council of Churches is in the business of repair.

Let us pray: Gracious God, I am bold to stand before your people and proclaim your good word. Send your Spirit among us that we might so we might receive the Word you have for our lives this day, in this place. I claim you again, my rock and my redeemer.

Did you ever feel the power of new clothes? A whole new world seemed possible with a first day of school outfit. My Girl Scout uniform proudly proclaimed with patches that I can tie knots and blaze trail. I think of the black suit jacket my mother bought for me at the store Express in the Rockaway Townsquare Mall in suburban NJ.  The shoulders are too big, the fabric likely flammable, but somehow it felt possible that I could be someone different, someone professional, someone who could get a job.

For some of us who grew up poor, new clothes mostly just mean new to us. Those new clothes had been broken in by others, older siblings handing down, or strangers who left behind a butterscotch candy and a crumpled tissue in the pocket by the time we found their old coat at Goodwill.

New clothing, wherever it comes from, signals a change: the white cotton of a baptismal gown, the pale blue silk tie of a wedding day. New clothes for a job interview, a sports jersey, a work uniform, dress military uniform, a jail uniform, a hospital gown, a burial shroud. Often, something big has changed, more than just our exterior when we put on new clothes.

St. Paul turns to this idea of clothing to explain how the Christian community should act. He writes “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” What I love about this metaphor is the ability to become something new. Put it on. Try on something different. Right before this passage, St. Paul tells the Church in Colossae (koh-LA-see) to “strip off the old self” of its practices of malice, slander and wrath, and to clothe yourself in the new image of your Creator. This is a powerful idea- we can behave differently. Take off your anger choking at your neck like a collar that’s buttoned too tight. Instead, put on the soft, handmade, well-fitting sweater of love.

Clothing would have functioned very differently in the ancient world of this text. People would have had only a few items of clothing- a tunic, a cloak, a belt, sandals. Clothing was precious, which is why the soldiers cast lots for Jesus cloak.  When Jesus tells the disciples to “take nothing for the journey,” not even a second tunic or pair of sandals, rest assured these disciples did not have a closet full of extra tunics. When the woman reached out to touch the hem of Jesus’s cloak, she likely felt wool or linen. Clothing was homegrown, homespun, home woven, hand dyed and hand sewn. And so, Paul’s command to take off the garments of your former self and clothe yourself anew is an invitation to major change of that one garment you’ve been wearing all the time. Beloved, if there’s an ill fitting garment you’ve been wearing for too long, you do not have to wear it any more.

To this Christian community in Colossae, Paul is pointing to a new way to be in the world. The thing about clothing is that it’s visible. These are not private virtues, but visible to the world. When we are clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, others will see it. They will know we are Christians by our clothes. In a way, yes. This is the promise of the Christian life, in our baptismal gowns, we are all clothed in a new garment. We can wear our love like heaven. We can be different than what we’ve been. We can clothe ourselves in love.

A 19th C Baptist minister in Manchester, England wrote, “It takes a lifetime to fathom Jesus; it takes a lifetime to appropriate Jesus; it takes a lifetime to be clothed with Jesus. And the question comes to each of us… Are we daily, as sure as we put on our clothes in the morning, putting on Christ the Lord?” (Wearing God, p40)

And yet, and yet, even as Paul tells the Church to clothe ourselves in love, even as we’re asked if we’re putting on Christ as we put on our clothes each morning, we know that some of us are not able to dress ourselves. Some hands can’t manipulate fiddly buttons. Some eyes can’t see the tiny clasps. Young and old and everything in between, we rely on others to assist in clothing us, to get to that zipper all the way in the back. And much of what has been draped on our bodies are not the garments of heaven but things that constrain, cover, denigrate and deny.

The writer Lauren Winner puts it this way: “On Paul’s terms, Jesus is not the kind of clothing that creates social divisions, but the kind of clothing that undoes them. Jesus is not a Vineyard Vines dress or a Barbour jacket; He is the school uniform that erases boundaries between people.” (Wearing God, pg 50)

When it’s at its best, Church is where we clothe one another in love. Here is where we put on Christ, together.  When we’re tangled up in that sweater that’s too small, when we’re drowning in that suit jacket that’s too big, we come here and get right-sized.  We come to Church together so that sometimes, someone else can remind us that however banged up and scuffed up and torn up we feel, we are clothed in Christ. Every Sunday we can come in frayed, and aim to leave wrapped in the garments of God.

And this is why you are giving generously to this church. West Concord Union Church has a beautiful reputation of being a place where everyone, regardless of ability, is clothed in love. We give because we believe in this work and witness. To the Church, Paul writes “clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” When we’re all clothed in love, we are bound together.

I see how you’ve been weaving in this season. Over the past 5 years, I’ve been learning how to mend textiles. I’m trying to learn with my hands what I long for in my life and in the church: repair. Because so much is broken, and the threads of community and country feel like they are coming apart.

Well- loved clothes wear out. The things we wear all the time become threadbare. Seams start to fray. Moths break in. Places of regular use and friction need reinforcement.

And this is what I’ve come to know, Church: mending is an affirmation. We do not mend what we do not value. We repair what we cherish, what we love, what is precious in our sight.  When I patch the hole in my wife’s pants, I’m showing my care for the garment and the one who is clothed by it.

This has become one of my most prized possessions- a wool scarf I’ve been mending for years. All those orange bits are darned with wool. With every stitch, ever act of repair, it becomes more valuable to me, not less. This is what your giving to Church does, you mend.  Your repair what you love.

The longer I’ve sat in on my couch with a darning egg and some orange wool and my scarf in my hands, the longer I know this to be true: This is our God, the repairer, the healer, the mender.

God longs for our healing, in our messy, human bodies and in our messy, human community. God longs for us to be clothed in beauty, in compassion, in tenderness and glory. God is a mender.

Maybe it is like this:  Maybe God makes a cup of tea and tucks a quilt around. Maybe, God takes our brokenness in her hands and slowly stitches us back together. Attentive, precise, tender. God takes what the world considers disposable and mends so that we might clothe ourselves, clothe one in love, be clothed in Christ.

Mending is an act of devotion, and affirmation of worth. And you, beloved kin of Christ, are worthy of repair. Clothe yourselves in love.

Money Problems

Luke 18:9-14

Image by Jesus Mafa

The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, according to our scriptures (1 Timothy 6:10). I wonder if you can remember a time when money has been the cause of evil in your life: when money has caused a problem for you.

There are so many different kinds of money problems.  There are personal money problems; we may experience a conflict between our income and our needs, or our income and our wants. There are relational money problems; differing amounts of money, differing approaches to money can cause tension with family and friends. Money can divide us politically, as we argue about how it should be taxed and spent by our government.  Our wealth also divides us socially, and is used to reinforce racial divisions, granting or denying us access to neighborhoods, to schools, to careers.  And there’s at least one other sort of money problem. According to Jesus, money can cause problems in our relationship with God.

In the parable Jesus tells today, two people go up to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray.  Both are at odds with God because of money.  One is a tax collector, a collaborator with the Roman Government. Like Zachhaeus, whose story we heard last week, this person has taken advantage of others, charging them more than what is owed. Through avarice and greed, this person has divided themselves from both God and neighbor.

The other person is a Pharisee, someone who carefully follows the guidance of Torah. This one observes righteous practices, such as fasting and giving away a tenth of their income.  Knowing this, we might assume that they are at peace with God and beloved in their community. However, the scripture story is quick to destroy that idea.  Apparently this person stands apart from everyone else, and prays what can only be called an obnoxious prayer: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people!” For this person, generosity has led to self-satisfaction and contempt for others. They are also divided  from both God and neighbor.  

Every year in this season we reflect on issues of money.  In part, that’s because we ask you to consider making a giving commitment to the church. But that’s not the whole story.  Jesus talks about money all the time – more than just about anything else. According to Jesus, money is one of the biggest barriers that we face when trying to get close to God. We have to talk about money in church, if we’re going to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus.

Everyone’s relationship with money is different, depending on our background, our experiences, and our current bank balance. But most of us struggle somehow in this area. We are plagued by pride or shame, privilege or want, jealousy, or some confusing combination of these feelings. Few of us may have reached the extremes of greed or self-satisfaction illustrated by Jesus’ parable.  Still, we may find ourselves fairly mixed-up about what a faithful way might be to spend, to save, and to share what we have.

I must confess to you that this is something I continue to struggle with.  Living in Concord, I am oddly aware of all the things that my family doesn’t have: fancy vacations; unlimited extracurricular activities, high fashion, club memberships, constantly new electronics. This environment encourages me to view my own means as quite moderate. It teaches me to protect my income for the use of myself, my children, my retirement.  On the other hand, I have only to pay closer attention to the world around me, even right here in this geographic area, to remember that my family’s means are not only sufficient, but extravagant.  Just the fact that we don’t need to worry about money (as long as we plan a little) is an extraordinary privilege.  Add to that a beautiful neighborhood, an extraordinary school system, the ability to afford daycare, access to good produce; connection to the arts… I could go on and on.

For many years now I have shared my own giving habits with you.  I am fortunate to be able to continue dedicating ten percent of my income towards this church.  It has become a habit, something that our family’s finances are structured around.  Some of you have heard the story of how this happened: how my spouse’s giving spurred me on to greater generosity. I admit to still struggling over how to prioritize my other giving: how much it should be, and where it should it go. Pray for me, as we make the transition out of daycare bills this year, as I continue to discern how God is calling us to be stewards of what comes into our hands.

No matter where we are on the spectrum of wealth, and no matter where we are in our practice of generosity towards others, our practices about money belong in our prayer life.  There are so many conflicting messages within and around us concerning money, that only with God’s help can we make some peace in our divided hearts.

But once we open ourselves to God’s help, then the Spirit really starts to move. For the amazing thing about money is that it not only causes problems and divides us from one another; it can connect us, too.  Think of what money makes possible, when it is used for good.  Money can buy food and fuel social transformation. Money can support the arts and make reparations for injustice.  Money can connect us to people right next door or around the world in common cause.  And when we give with peaceful and humble hearts, money can also connect us with God, who fills us with power and purpose and joy.

And I have to say: it is a joy for me to use the money that has come into my care to help fuel this congregation, and to witness you doing the same.  To hear the stories of those who need this place, and whose lives have changed because of their encounters here with God and with all of you, because of your generosity. In music, care, service, prayer, personal growth, deep sharing: this community binds up hearts, and reaches out to facilitate connections far beyond our walls.

Beloved, how is your relationship with money, right now? Is it a source of stress, or pride, or shame, or all of the above, or something else entirely? How do the ways that you use your money separate you from and connect you with God and your neighbor? Jesus invites us to pray on these things with humility; to seek ever greater alignment of our conscience and our practice, for our own sake, and for the sake of others.

Those two people in the parable came to the temple with their money problems; and we come here, to church; because at least some part of us longs to worship God, instead of wealth.  The good news is that God offers abundant grace to all of us: the penniless, and the over-privileged; the generous, and the grudging; the self-satisfied, and those who are ashamed.  God offers us grace, and invites us to try again, and again. Each day the next breath, the next choice, a bit more freedom, peace, and gratitude. May it be so for each of us. Amen.

Invited In

Luke 19:1-10

I love this story. I hope you were listening closely. What do we know about Zachhaeus, what kind of job does he have?

Zachhaeus is a Jewish tax collector for the Roman government.  We can understand, maybe, why he isn’t wildly popular.  Most of his fellow Jewish community is not fond of the Roman Empire that is ruling over them.  Many folks don’t like taxes, either, especially taxation without representation, oppressive taxation, which is what the Jewish people have under the Romans.

But Zachhaeus doesn’t just have a job that people love to hate. He’s not just collaborating with the enemy. What else does Zachhaeus do that might make him unpopular? Zachhaeus takes advantage of his position. He charges people more than they owe, and he keeps that money for himself.

Now, if you had never heard this story, and you found out about Zachhaeus, and his job, and what he’s been up to, what would you expect to happen to him? This seems like the perfect set-up for a downfall.  Surely someone is going to catch Zachhaeus red handed, and then throw him into jail or out of town, or, at the very least, shame him publicly.

But – that’s not what happens to Zachhaeus.

Zachhaeus, we discover, is not a one-dimensional character. His whole heart and mind are not entirely taken up with greed.  There is something else inside of him, something we might call… curiosity. Zachhaeus hears that a famous rabbi named Jesus is coming through town, and Zachhaeus wants to see him.

Zachhaeus wants to see Jesus — not just a little. He really wants to catch a glimpse. So when he discovers that, being a short person, he can’t see over the crowds (Zachhaeus, I feel your pain!); when he discovers that the crowds won’t let him in; what does he do?  He runs down the street, and up into a tree, to get a glimpse. A grown man, clambering up a Sycamore tree.

It turns out that whatever curiosity, longing, loneliness drives Zachhaeus into the tree, Jesus is ready to meet it.  Jesus sees this adult man in fancy clothes, this wealthy man who has climbed up into a tree to see him, and Jesus knows: this is the person I need to have dinner with tonight. So Jesus invites himself over to Zachhaeus’ house for a meal. Jesus talks to Zacchaeus like a friend.  And as they talk, Zachhaeus confesses what he has done, and promises to change his ways.

Maybe you know what it feels like to be Zachhaeus: stranded on the outside, wishing you were in.  Sometimes we’re excluded because of mistakes that we make, because of bad choices, like Zachhaeus was.  Sometimes we’re excluded because of who we are: what we look like, who we love, our history.  Sometimes we just find ourselves the odd one out, for no particular reason at all.  No matter how it happens, it doesn’t feel good, to be the one no one talks to, the one no one makes room for, the one no one invites over for dinner.

The good news is that God has a special care for those on the outside.  God’s always searching for folks who are curious, who are longing, who are lonely.  God specializes in offering unexpected invitations. Are you weighed down with guilt? God says, Come unburden yourself.  Have you been made to feel that you are not an infinitely precious child of God, just as you are?  God says, come receive my blessing.  Are you just lonely, tired, in need of a little grace?  God says, There is room at my table for you. Come, rest awhile, and have something to eat.

As followers of Jesus, as church, we have the opportunity to both receive God’s invitations, and to offer them to one another. It takes all of us, drawing the strands in and out, to make the weaving of our holy community come together.  I am so grateful that in God’s wisdom, they chose to weave each of you into the fabric of this particular cloth. I am so grateful, to be bound together with all of you, and for the binding together that you do among us, through God’s grace, week to week.

So let’s praise God, that we are not alone this morning, on the outside, wishing we were in.  God is our host here, and that means everyone is home, even if we’re still working on feeling that way.  And let’s praise God that we get to become bound together more closely in love with everyone here this morning, and with a few folks who have chosen to become members of our community today.

Ancient Christian Songs and Canticles

The music listed in this sermon (and more!) can be found in this Spotify Playlist.

John 1:1-5

This year we’re taking one Sunday each month to explore the music we sing together.  The music we share in worship is such a central part of our life together; this is a chance to learn about its history, and consider what we wish to sing today. We started, last month, with the Hebrew psalms, a scriptural book of songs. Today we’ll move to ancient songs, canticles, and hymns from the early era of the church.

Much of the most ancient Christian music we have is part of the liturgy of the mass, music for worship services including communion.  During special music Sundays, we often get to hear a whole mass setting; we will hear another in December. In our worship here, you are more likely to hear a small piece of a mass, such as a gloria, an alleluia, or the sanctus (holy, holy, holy). Like so many ancient songs, we do not know the tunes that were originally used with these pieces of the mass, but settings abound. One familiar hymn that finds its source in a mass is Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (NCH 345). The words, originally in Greek, are ascribed to St. James the Less, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, and were used while bread and cup were brought to the table.

Other ancient Christian music finds it source in other worship services: the liturgy of the hours, short prayer services held throughout the day.  This is where we find the canticles: songs of praise that take their text directly from the Bible, but not from the psalms.  A few of you may remember some of these canticles from the summer series on Songs of the Bible a year and a half ago, such as the victory song of Moses and Miriam in the book of Exodus. The most famous of the canticles, however, are from the birth narrative in the beginning of the gospel of Luke: Mary’s song, the Magnificat, which we sang as our opening hymn; the song of Zechariah, known as the Benedictus; and the Song of Simeon, known as the Nunc Dimittis, which we’ll sing as our closing hymn.

One canticle you may never have heard of is the Canticle of the Three Holy Children, also known by its Latin name: Benedicte omnia opera.  This canticle comes from the book of Daniel, although the passage is not included in most Protestant bibles. It’s a song of praise lifted up by Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego, after they are freed from the fiery furnace. Like all the ancient canticles, you can find many different versions of this to listen to.  I thought it might be interesting to sing it together as it might be traditionally sung in a liturgy of the hours. So, I invite you to imagine that you have just been freed from a fiery furnace and are full of gratitude to God; or that you’re sitting in a monastery, at vespers…

Our scripture reading today was from the beginning of the gospel of John. These are the words of a Greek song of praise to Jesus that precedes the recording of the scriptures. Unfortunately, we don’t know how it was originally sung, but translations and musical settings of this text abound. One of the most famous is a Latin text written by Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, a Spanish monastic, in the 5th century. Most of us know it (if we know it at all) by the title, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” When I saw that the translation in our New Century Hymnal was “Of the Parent’s Heart Begotten,” I assumed this was an attempt of the hymnal editors to be more inclusive in their imagery for God.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the original Latin is Corde natus ex parentis, born from the heart of the parent. Somehow, in the 19th century this was translated from Latin to English variously as “Of the Father sole begotten,” “Born of the Father’s bosom” “Of the Father’s will begotten” “Son eternal of the Father,” and “Yea! From the Almighty mind He sprung.” It’s a fascinating example of patriarchal bias being perhaps stronger in modern times than it was in the early church.  At any rate, our hymnal’s editors chose to commission an entirely new translation from the Latin. Let’s sing it together, Black Hymnal # 118, first and last verses.

Before we leave early Christian music, after an entirely too brief visit, I have to tell you one of the more fascinating stories I learned in my research.  As you may recall, almost all early Christian music is designed for choirs to sing, not congregations. One early exception is O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright, a Latin hymn from the 4th Century.

The story of this hymn begins with Saint Ambrose, bishop of Milan.  Ambrose was particularly passionate in defending the church against what eventually became known as the heresy of Arianism. Arianism is the idea that Jesus, while coming from God, is not as great as God, or made of the same stuff as God. If you are inclined to Arianism yourself (I know you’re out there), or if you can’t see what difference it makes either way, trust me: this was a major dispute within the church for centuries. Things got so hot in Milan between the Arians and the non-Arians that the churches led by Ambrose came under siege.  In one telling, Ambrose and his followers locked themselves inside a church for safety, and kept cheerful by writing hymns proclaiming the divinity of Christ.  Ambrose carefully crafted his songs with rhyme and meter so as to be easy for anyone to sing: a great strategy for spreading trinitarianism.

So let’s sing one of the very first congregational hymns of the church, one of the very first protest songs of the church.

I encourage you to take some time exploring Masses and Canticles and early hymns there and beyond.  Let’s give thanks, for those early Jesus-followers who knew that words were not enough, but used music to enrich our worship life together, and to inform our theology. Let’s give thanks, to the God who inspired it all. Amen.

White Fragility

  • October 15, 2019

Luke 17:5-10, Habakkuk 1:2-4, 2:1-4

I will never forget the day I visited the Voortrekker monument in South Africa.  This monument celebrates those of Dutch descent who travelled from the Cape Colony on the tip of the continent to settle further east. Like many monuments, this one is imposing: set on a hill, with a great bank of steps leading up to the door. As I entered the building, I was surrounded by yellow light, and the biggest marble frieze in the world.  It was beautiful — until I got a closer look.  The frieze was full if images of conquest. Some were gruesome in and of themselves. Others were gutting because I knew what they led to: the collapse of the Zulu empire, a nation of Apartheid, and a modern South Africa of unspeakable inequality. This monument marks the beginning of it all. Worse, it celebrates that beginning. It is constructed so that once a year, a beam of light shines directly on the center of the monument, symbolizing God’s blessing on the Voortrekkers and their achievements.

Just being in the room made me nauseous. How could anyone build such a monument? How could anyone leave it standing? I walked out into the sunshine and sat down on the great steps, full of self-righteous disgust for the white peoples of South Africa. Then, suddenly, my world turned upside down.

I thought about the pilgrims and pioneers who we so often celebrate in New England. I thought of the indigenous communities who were systematically cheated and destroyed here. I thought about the African peoples and their descendants who have endured 246 years of enslavement, followed by racial segregation, and continuing disparities in incarceration, health, wealth, and so much more. Of course, I had known about all of this history before; this was just the first time that I realized it had anything to do with me. Witnessing the price of white dominance somewhere else, I began to grasp the cost of my own racial privilege.

You may wonder, what does the bible have to say about race and racism? That’s a complicated question.  It’s important to remember that our scriptures contain passages like the one we heard today from the gospel of Luke, where Jesus equates discipleship with slavery.  By doing so, Jesus implicitly condones the institution of slavery. Now, slavery in Jesus’ time and place was not exclusively based on race.  Still, Jesus’ implicit approval is deeply problematic. Biblical passages accepting or even promoting slavery have been one brutally effective tool in the effort to legitimize slavery and other forms of racism in our country.

At the same time, our scriptures speak strongly against violence and injustice, and champion those who are excluded or vulnerable.  The Prophet Habbakuk, who testified to God’s word in Jerusalem around 600 bce, is so overcome by the injustice of his time and place, that he offers a rare prophetic challenge to God: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you do not listen? Or cry to you “Violence” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.  The wicked surround the righteous – therefore judgement comes forth perverted.”

Today we begin discussing the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.  DiAngelo invites us to a new level of awareness of racism as “a far-reaching system that functions independently from the intentions or self-images of individual actors.”  Those of us who are white have been carefully taught to think of racial injustice as somebody else’s problem. It’s the problem of folks who are on the receiving end of discrimination. It’s the problem of folks who speak and act viciously, out of hate.  Yet those of us who consider ourselves both white and well-meaning are integral to this pervasive system of institutionalized bias. We are the ones who benefit from it, and we are the ones who uphold it – consciously or not. 

Put away all your excuses, Robin DiAngelo tells us. Maybe you have a great education, unique personal experiences, or family ties that persuade you that you cannot possibly be party to this vast and often subtle system of racial oppression. Do not believe it. Racism is not the sin of a few scattered extremists. Racism is not even a matter of personal intention.  Racism is a natural consequence of socialization.  None of us can escape the disease. Therefore, to deny the diagnosis, and to refuse treatment, is to doom the whole body of society to graver illness.

So what do we do?  If racism is an integral part of our history, a part of our country, a part of our scriptures, and even a part of us – what can we do?

One step is to shift our dominant historical narrative.  This season marks the 400th anniversary of chattel slavery in the United States. There has been some great journalism exploring the impact of that history. The Massachusetts Council of Churches chose to mark the event by celebrating Black Resiliency in our commonwealth. They remembered the writer Phillis Wheatley; and the first woman of African descent allowed to purchase a house in Boston, Zipporah Potter Atkins. They remembered children who rode busses to unfamiliar school districts, and youth who marched to protest police brutality. They remembered Belinda Sutton, who was enslaved in Medford, who petitioned the Massachusetts General Court again and again for her back pay. They remembered Prince Estabrook, who though enslaved, fought with the Lexington Militia in the Revolutionary war. They remembered Lucy Foster of South Church in Andover, who ran a tavern as well as a stop on the Underground Railroad. They celebrated so many folks who have lived with courage and determination through these 400 years.  Why isn’t that part of the story I learned in school, a part of the story we tell ourselves, this legacy that includes both white injustice and black strength?

Another step is to change our monuments. On the cover of your bulletin is a photograph of Kahinde Wiley’s new statue, Rumors of War. Standing 27 feet high and 16 feet wide, it was inspired by equestrian statues of Confederate generals in Richmond, VA. Instead of a Conferederate General, however, it features a young man of African descent, with dreadlocks, a hoodie, and ripped jeans.  At the unveiling, the artist described his experience of seeing the Confederate monuments: “I’m looking up at those things that give me a sense of dread and fear… Today,” he said, “we say yes to something that looks like us. We say yes to inclusivity. We say yes to broader notions of what it means to be an American.” Soon this statue will join the others in Richmond.

There is so much that we can do, so much that we need to do.  We can change our historical narrative, our monuments, our holidays.  We can challenge our scriptures and shift our policies.  All of this, though, will only be possible if we stop lying to ourselves about the pervasive, pernicious nature of white supremacy.  It will only be possible if we develop both deep curiosity and deep humility, about how white supremacy operates in our lives, and in the world around us.

The prophet Habakkuk, surrounded by wrong-doing, does finally receive word from God. She says: there is still a vision for the appointed time. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come. Until then, live by faith; put your trust in God. Later, Habakkuk writes: Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines… yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17a, 18).

We may not always recognize the vision that will transform our troubled time. We may not always find fruits of righteousness in the world around us, or even in ourselves. Still, it is our duty and our joy to rejoice in the God of our salvation. For it is this God who invites us into freedom from every falsehood, and forgiveness for every error.  The One who led the Israelites up out of slavery in Egypt will not abandon us to the injustices around and within us today. Thanks be to God.