Julie Kae Sigars
Numbers 21:4-9 † Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 † Ephesians 2:1-10 † John 23:14-21
My friend Kathy Kelly. Kathy played for NOISE (Northwest Opera In Schools, Etc.) many years ago when I used to sing with them. She then went to the Met, yep, that Met, and is now at the University of Michigan, conducting and playing and coaching singers, as well as playing, coaching, and conducting all over the world.
Kathy’s heart breaks for the world. But she is always on the lookout for those moments that the spirit is moving. She posted a couple of days ago:
“There is so much creativity flowing into and out of the way students shape their recitals. I coached repertoire for one audacious program today, saw another razor-sharp performance come to fruition. Great repertoire speaking through players and vice-versa, with big picture stuff at stake – family, dreams, social justice. These young musicians are using music to say so much, so bravely, and they’re blowing the doors off the way we used to do it. There are earthquakes everywhere these days.
How about this?
The brave students of Stoneman Douglas high school who are tackling a huge system based on violence and money. They are rejecting easy platitudes like thoughts and prayers for loud cries and tears. The students have such big hearts. And they will not be stopped by the systems of this world. And we must know, that is what they are up against. And other students around our country and the world, stepping forward. Some of them are dealing with systems within their own schools, trying to remove their voices.
Our students are calling on their best selves. They are not naïve. No matter what “they/rulers of systems” tell you. There will be mistakes made, I am sure. Because that is also part of being human. But written on their hearts is this idea that there should be freedom from violence, freedom from fear.
In Jeremiah, we hear of this new covenant: written on our hearts. Our outward actions will have an inward truth connected to it. There will be movement between what we do and what we say we believe. And within this new covenant is a new hope. A hope and a promise for the future. Can you feel it?
Jurgen Moltmann: “In the promises, the hidden future already announces itself and exerts its influence on the present through the hope it awakens.” We may not be there yet, but we have hope of what it might be like. Faithful people live by hope.” (Moltmann: Theology of Hope)
And the students get this. Even when they are being taunted and derided and belittled.
OK. David Bowie quote: “And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”
In fighting systems of violence, whether the NRA or political powers, they are fighting for the hope of a future without violence and fear. This is the big Truth to Power moment.
And church, those are our values.
Walter Brueggemann: “The prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair.”
Charles Campbell, Professor of Homiletics at Duke University Divinity School, says more about these systems in context with this particular reading from John. He writes: Ruler of the world is the fallen realm that exists in estrangement from God and is organized in opposition to God’s purposes. The world is a superhuman reality, concretely embodied in structures and institutions, that aggressively shapes human life and seeks to hold human beings captive to its ways. It is the System [with a capital S]. and this System is driven by a spirit or force whose ways are domination, violence, and death. Crucifixion is a form of exorcism where the System is judged and its driving force (the ruler) is cast out by means of the cross.
Campbell asks, What are the primary aspects of the System that hold us captive and take us down the path of death rather than life? Consumerism, domination (winners and losers) The spirit that drives such a System creates the structures and institutions that perpetuate racism, sexism, all the isms. And Violence. Myth of redemptive violence is the primary myth of the System. Think of the arms industry. It depends upon redemptive violence.
Do you see what we are up against? Remember Brueggemann: The prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair.
So here’s the deal. We may feel one way about something--depression about our social political system, worried about how the church is interacting with that--and “click boom” people are calling on their best selves and doing what they can.
Here’s something I saved. Barbara Ehrenreich shares what was going on during the West Virginia teachers’ strike: A lot of children depend on free school lunches, so the West Virginia teachers made food packages for them before going on strike and have continued to try to feed them. This is our dystopian welfare state: severely underpaid teachers trying to keep poverty-stricken kids alive. The System: hunger and domination. The Spirit’s response? The compassionate, open-hearted teachers feeding the students.
Pastor Stephen Montgomery shares this when writing about our Psalm 119 reading:
“How shall young people—or any of us, for that matter—keep our ways pure? How shall we guard them according to the word? We can learn much from base communities of Central America. When great masses of people first began to breathe the air of liberation, small communities were formed that ‘meditated on God’s precepts.’ Rather than beginning their work with Bible study, they adopted an action-reflection model. They acted first, by feeding the hungry, teaching the illiterate, housing the homeless, and tending the sick. Only then did they turn to Scripture to reflect upon their experience. In other words, they heard the word of God through the voices and cries of the poor, and then went to the scriptural word. As a result, they were empowered to be open to God’s future revelation, which led to a genuine hope.”
This sounds familiar to me: Hearing the word of God through the voices and the cries of people, those fighting Systems that cause hunger, homelessness, and violence. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us of Jesus, offering up his prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears. The cries and tears were from the fullness of his humanity, for all of us, as he faced the cross. In worship, we offer up our full selves in sharing our hopes and fears, allowing our solidarity to transform us into church.
I want to end by sharing an experience with one of my students, a lovely young man who studies voice with me. Like most of my students today, he is either working, or in class, or in rehearsal. Always tired. Never enough sleep. Always hard on himself. Worried about debt when he graduates in May.
A week ago was jury day, when private music students perform what they have been working on for the quarter. He performed a beautiful jury. He went up in one small part, but it was beautiful. I actually got misty eyed. As he left, I saw that he looked heart broken. When I later texted him to let him know that it went well, he confessed. He hadn’t slept. He was a mess. And he texted: I wanted so badly to sing for those students in Florida.
And he did. In his mess of a day, always doubting himself, he brought his full humanity and he sang gently and lovingly: [Beautiful City from Godspell] Out of the ruins and rubble, out of the smoke, out of our night of struggle, can we see a ray of hope? One pale thin ray, reaching for the day. We can build a beautiful city, yes we can, yes we can. We can build a beautiful city, not a city of angels, but we can build a city of man. We may not reach the ending, but we can start slowly but truly mending, brick by brick, heart by heart. Now maybe now, we start learning how. We can build a beautiful city, yes we can, yes, we can. We can build a beautiful city, not a city of angels, but we can build a city of man. When your trust is all but shattered, when your faith is all but killed, you can give up, bitter and battered, or you can slowly start to build…a beautiful city, yes, we can, yes, we can. We can build a beautiful city, not a city of angels, but finally, a city of man…
Heart by heart. Even when we are sad or tired or feeling a mess… surrounded by the capital S System, we, church, with the Spirit going where it will, why yes, we can. Thanks be to God.
St. Andrew Sermons