A community of grateful praise

Friday

Colossians 3:15-17

File:Gaudenzio Ferrari 002.jpg

Saronno, Santuario della Beata Vergine dei Miracoli, Concert of Angels, fresco, 1535

With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

We tend to think about ourselves as individuals, but this verse is spoken to a community. There is science to back up the importance of living in gratitude, and it is a valuable practice to make note in a journal or conversation or prayer the things for which we are grateful each day. But our author is speaking to a congregation, an assembly of believers.

With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

Individual gratitude tends to look upon the material realm – gratitude for our children, for friends, for partners, for something good that happened in the day, for a kindness we were able to give or receive, for a reassuring health report, for finding a job, solving a problem, completing a task. All of this is important, but the community is responding to something far different than a good day; it is singing the praise of God for God’s redeeming work in Christ. The community sees not only God’s individual mercies, but God’s cosmic mercies. It sees faithfulness and love written into the fabric of all existence. It sees grace and life as life’s ultimate truth and the creation’s destiny. It hears the harmony of the spheres. It hears the angel choirs. It hears the trees of the forest singing and the sea roaring its praise.

The Christian congregation is a community of grateful praise.

When we come together on that first day of the week in which Mary and the women found the grave empty, we come to sing and dance in the light of creation’s new morning. We come to rejoice that heaven has come near to earth, that the city in the heavens that corresponds to the Jerusalem on earth is “coming down” to earth like a bride adorned. The realm of life is joining this realm on earth where fear and death struggles mightily to reign. When Jesus casts out demons and heals the sick he is not working individual gracious miracles, he is bringing that realm where demons cannot dwell and sorrow and sighing flee away.

I certainly praise God and am full of gratitude for every good thing – the privilege of a morning cup of coffee, the delight of good bread, the goodness of a nice wine, the joy of a family gathering, the warmth of the sun, and the possibility of a hot shower, however brief it may be in a time of drought. This is why Christians have a practice of saying grace with their meals. Even if breakfast is no more than a piece of toast eaten on the run, we give God thanks.

But the most important work of the Christian community is to sing together, to sing with gratitude, to remember and live and bear witness to the grace and life that is the heart of all things.

 

Image: Gaudenzio Ferrari [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Miriam dances

Thursday

Exodus 15:1-21

File:Miriam IMG 28071.JPG

Miriam, The Dormition Church on Mount Zion in Jerusalem

20Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. 21And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

At the beginning of Exodus 15 we read:

1Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.

And at the end of that great song in celebration of their deliverance comes the verse we noted above:

20Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. 21And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

The implication in the text is that worship was men’s work. It was part of Israel’s public life. It’s why we find David’s wife, Michal, watching from the window of the palace rather than participating in the dancing before the LORD. It is why, in the orthodox Jewish synagogue, a service required ten men while the women watched from behind a screen. It is why that same pattern of women in the back watching men perform the public rites is still observed in Islam. And it is why, until a hundred years ago, it was common for men to sit on one side of the church and women on the other.

This is not about sexism; this is an observation about the text that begins with the fact that men and women inhabited different worlds.

But the song of celebration was sung in both worlds.

The song of praise, the joy, the dancing, the recognition that God was deliverer, was sung in both realms.

There is something earth-shatteringly important in this. God is not praised by the men for his service to the male world; God is praised by men and women for his redeeming work for the whole world. God is not honored for his mighty act of power in a man’s world of power; God is honored for setting those in bondage free.

Something profound, that will echo through the centuries, is begun here with this celebration by both men and women of God as the one who delivers from oppression. The God of the exodus can never become a God of the powerful. It is why God throws down the kingdoms of Israel of Judah when they become kingdoms of economic and political injustice. It is why the prophets cry. It is why Lamentations declares God justified for the desolation of Jerusalem. It is why Job refuses to admit guilt; though he has no right to question God, he questions God for thirty-five magnificent chapters.

It is why Genesis 3 declares that the imbalance of power between men and women is the result of human sin, not the design of the creator. It is why God keeps upsetting the applecart, choosing the childless to bear the child of promise, choosing the younger son over the elder, choosing a keeper of sycamore trees as a prophet, choosing the child of Mary, a lowly construction worker, to be the embodiment of light and life. The manger is essential to this story of the God whose praise is song by both the world of men and the world of women. God isn’t a defender of the system; God is bringer of a new ‘system’, a new realm, a new kingdom, a new Jerusalem, a new life, a deliverance from the impossible debt of honor that humanity owes to God for their conduct on earth.

It is why the prophets say that Babylon will fall. It is why Jesus says the temple will fall. It is why the book of Revelation has such horrendous images of social collapse – for the systems we build are not the city of God. But the city of God comes.

When Miriam takes up her tambourine, we can recognize what is truly being said about this God who throws the horse and rider into the sea. Kalashnikovs and nuclear weapons and drones are all destined for the sea.

As is female genital mutilation and human trafficking, the selling of child brides and every glass ceiling.

“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

 

Image: By Radbod Commandeur (1890 – 1955); photo by Deror avi (Own work) [Attribution, CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Created to sing

Watching for the Morning of June 7, 2015

Year B

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 5 / Lectionary 10
A Celebration of Music

File:Singalong 2011 Hannover.jpg

der Neustädter Hof- und Stadtkirche St. Johannis, Hannover am 4. Advent 2011

This Sunday our parish is departing from the assigned texts for June 7 as we focus on a celebration of music. It is not uncommon for congregations to choose a day at the end of the school year to honor its choirs and musicians. This year, however, we wanted to do more – to speak about the importance of music in our spiritual lives.

Song reaches deep into the most primitive parts of the brain. As every parent of a teenager knows, we are very sensitive not just to the words people say, but the tone of voice they use. It evokes a deeply instinctive reaction in us.

It is by song and vocalization that every species communicates fundamental messages. I can hear birds singing as I write this and, however beautiful I may find their song, I know it means “This is my turf” or a seductive “Come hither.” We wouldn’t coo at babies if the sounds themselves didn’t do something to bind adult and child together.

There are times God thunders at Israel, and times he speaks in a deep stillness – but most of what we have of God’s direct speech is poetry. God communicates with us not in the dry data of legislation, but the passionate, poetic imagery of the prophets.

And we speak to God in poetry – in songs of love, songs of anguish, songs of hope, songs of joy. Our communication with the divine is not through text messaging; it is in song.

So this Sunday we will hear Moses and Miriam lead the men and women of Israel in the song of celebration that Egypt’s army is fallen and the people free. We will hear Zechariah sing with joy at God’s faithfulness: through Zechariah’s newborn son John – whom we will come to know as John the Baptist – God is beginning his work of our redemption in Christ Jesus. Paul, or someone in Paul’s name, calls us to abide in God’s word and sing together our praises. And the psalmist calls for all creation – sun and moon and creeping things – to join in a universal song of praise to God.

We were created to sing.

The Prayer for a Celebration of Music, June 7, 2015

Almighty God, before you no one can stand;
yet you lift up the fallen and raise up the broken
and all creation sings your praise.
Grant us confidence in your mercy and joy in our hearts
that we may join the song that resounds into eternity,
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for a Celebration of Music, June 7, 2015

First Reading: Exodus 15:1-21
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” – Delivered from Pharaoh’s army, the people of Israel stand at the far side of the sea singing.

Psalmody: Psalm 148
“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! … Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps.”
– The poet calls all heaven and earth to join in praise of God.

Second Reading: Colossians 3:15-17
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”
– The author calls the Christian community to a common life of joy, praise and song.

Gospel: Luke 1:57-79
“Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God.” – At the naming of his son, John, (John the Baptizer) Zechariah confirms the name John, regains his voice, and sings the “prophecy” we know as the Benedictus: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them…”

 

Binding the strong man

Year B

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 05 / Lectionary 10

File:Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg - The Angel Binding Satan - Google Art Project.jpg

The Angel Binding Satan, Philip James de Loutherbourg

The appointed readings for this Sunday take us back into the dramatic conflict of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus has stormed onto the scene, casting out demons and healing the sick, traveling the countryside announcing the dawning of God’s reign. It is aberrant behavior for a construction worker, in a society that doesn’t tolerate aberrant behavior.

There can be only two explanations for such behavior: Jesus is possessed by the devil or a prophet of God. But prophets are rare and Jesus’ challenge of the Jerusalem leadership guarantees he will be regarded as possessed. So Jesus’ family comes to collect him, to take him home, to silence him and so keep him safe. But Jesus will have none of it. Satan cannot cast out Satan; a house divided will fall. His family is the community of those who do God’s will, who live the kingdom now. And he is the strong man who has bound Satan and plunders his house.

The Prayer for Propers B 5

Eternal God, font of Grace and Mercy,
set us free from all that binds us
and make us faithful to your will,
that we may be counted as members of your household,
now and forever;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The appointed Texts for Propers B 5

First Reading: Genesis 3:8-15
“They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” – God confronts Adam and Eve after they have eaten of the tree that brings the knowledge not only of life’s joys but its sorrows, and condemns to the dust the serpent who poisoned their trust in God.

Psalmody: Psalm 130
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. LORD, hear my voice!”
– The psalmist cries out to God for mercy and declares his confident hope in the LORD’s redeeming.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”
– Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth contains many ups and downs. Though he has been attacked and criticized within the congregation – and suffered trials for the sake of the Gospel – these bearers of the message do not lose heart. The sure promise of the dawning kingdom and their participation in that healed and transformed (resurrected) world sustains them.

Gospel: Mark 3:20-35
“He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” – Jesus is accused of using demonic powers and his family comes to collect him. But Jesus declares that a divided kingdom cannot stand and his true family are those who do the will of God: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

 

Photo: By Buddi1947 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Painting: Philip James de Loutherbourg [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons