Friday, November 27, 2020

Hope - Sermon for Week Ending November 27, 2020


Luke 1: 47-55, Mary’s song.
My soul magnifies you, O God, and my spirit rejoices in you, my savior,
For you have looked with favor on the lowliness of your servant.
Surely, from now on, all generations will call me blessed,
For you have done great things for me, and holy is your name.
Your mercy is for those who love you from generation to generation.
You have shown strength in your arm and have
scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
You have brought down the powerful from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
You have filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
You have helped your servant, Israel, in remembrance of your mercy,
According to the promise you made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
from “Here’s why you can’t lose hope,” by pastor and author John Pavlovitz.
I stay hopeful because people of every nationality, religious affiliation, and life circumstance who have preceded us, have experienced all manner of hell during their lifetimes: unspeakable suffering and unthinkable fear, would not relent.  They made the daily, sometimes hourly decision to speak and live and work and love when it proved difficult. We who inhabit this planet have inherited it from them:  people who would not allow themselves to become so despondent or so weary in their present circumstance that they stopped hoping. Now it’s our turn. This is our moment to spend our fragile and fleeting sliver of space and time here, and for the sake of our predecessors in humanity and for our descendants who will be here after we’re gone. We can’t allow our present troubles to overcome us. We cannot be overwhelmed by the pain in our path, to the point where we are no longer willing to feel it or respond to it. We can’t wilt in the face of hateful, fearful people who would make the world less diverse and less equitable. And we can’t become apathetic or stay silent or sidestep the turbulence, because the multitudes whose feet traversed this place previously refused to.


The theme for this first Sunday of Advent is hope, and lord knows, we need it. We have had some dark days.  Covid is surging.  Political transition is lagging. Hate is multiplying. Hope is difficult. Despair is easier. It was even worse for Mary, mother of Jesus. She and her people were living under occupation, as they had so many times in their history. Priorities were upside down. The rich got richer and the poor stayed poor. Since she was a woman, Mary was property, owned by her father until he sold her to a husband. And as an unwed mother, she was an object of shame. But in spite of this, when she thought about the child she was carrying, It gave her hope, hope that tomorrow would be better than today. We see hope throughout the Bible, hope for a chance to start over, hope for the world to right itself.  As Miriam said in Exodus, hope that it would be their turn for a change. Hope is what got the Israelites through the wilderness. Hope is what, earlier, gave Abraham and Sarah  the courage to take that first step.  Hope in the midst of despair is what brought Jacob and his family to Egypt, where they were saved from starvation, and got a chance to start over. Hope is what got the exiles in Babylon through all those lonely years, hope that they would one day be able to go home, home to their people and their god. Hope for the future is what the prophet Isaiah envisioned, a time when the people would be able to choose their own ruler from among them, one who would have “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, who would judge the poor with righteousness and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” Hope is what gave the Jews led by the Maccabees the strength to throw off their bonds, hope that is symbolized in the light of the menorah. They never gave up hope. And here is Mary, as we heard in the reading, singing the same song as the prophets, and Miriam, and Hannah, the song of her ancestors.  A song of hope for her people struggling through yet another season of despair. Mary’s hope is bold. She speaks with confidence, as if what she is hoping for has already happened. She says, “Holy one, you have scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, toppled the ruthless leaders from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” You have turned the world right-side up again. And when she says to God, “My soul magnifies you,” she is declaring herself a partner in the creation of this future, because she knows that in God’s eyes, she is so much more than what society says she is. Mary pinned her hopes on Jesus, who spent his  life trying to upright the world, to bring attention to unjust laws and systems that preyed on the poor and gave tax breaks to the rich.  He did everything to lift up the lowly and call out the powerful for their actions.  Hope gave him courage and determination, and his actions gave those around him hope. And that hope remained even after he was no longer physically with them. His apostles in the book of Acts set up a new order in the communities they served, where everyone was equal. Mary’s hope, Jesus’ hope, was for justice. Ours is too. And we have reasons for hope even in these dark times. There are real signs of positive change in our world today. The protests this summer changed attitudes and laws and impacted the election. Vice President- elect Kamala Harris, is not only the first woman vice president, she is a black woman, of Indian and Jamaican descent. She brings hope to all of us, especially to women and girls of color. As one 14—year-old said, “It just feels like black girls like me can go for the big things in life like she did.” For the first time in America, the majority accepts that racism is real and a reckoning is due. Ideas that once seemed too radical, like universal health care and universal child care, are being discussed and considered. Our young people are leading us. And they are not afraid. They are determined and committed. There is a momentum that I haven’t seen in my lifetime. Even the church is changing, as progressive voices are demanding to be heard. And people are listening. I am not saying that everything is good, because it’s not. We still have far to go.  But these changes we are seeing bring hope for more change. There is even hope for a covid vaccine coming soon. So that we can hug and sing and eat together. So that we can begin to rebuild and restore our communities. As we heard in the reading from John Pavlovitz, we must look to those who came before us, like Mary, who remained hopeful despite her circumstances, who could have given in to despair but didn’t. They must be our examples, so that we are not overwhelmed by our circumstances, so that we don’t give up when hate and injustice and inequality surround us. They have passed the torch to us. It’s our turn now, our responsibility to carry their hope, to keep it alive and then to pass it on to those who will come after us.

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