The Pastor’s Pen – December 31, 2017

tessa-rampersad-346634

turning…

December 31, 2017

 

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Canticle of the Turning

(by Gary Daigle, Rory Cooney & Theresa Donohoo)

  • My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great, and my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait. You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight, and my weakness you did not spurn, so from east to west shall my name be blest. Could the world be about to turn?

(Refrain) My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn!

  • Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me, And your mercy will last from the depths of the past to the end of the age to be. Your very name puts the proud to shame, and to those who would for you yearn, you will show your might, put the strong to flight, for the world is about to turn.
  • From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone. Let the king beware for your justice tears every tyrant from his throne. The hungry poor shall weep no more, for the food they can never earn; There are tables spread, every mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn.
  • Though the nations rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast: God’s mercy must deliver us from the conqueror’s crushing grasp. This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which holds us bound, ’til the spear and rod can be crushed by God, who is turning the world around.

 

As we gather on the last day of this year, I thought it might be a good moment to reflect on where we have been in the past year and where we would like to go in the year to come…and at the outset let me say that personally I have great hope for us going forward…both in our church and in our community, as well as in the greater family of God all together.

This past week I received a Christmas greeting email from Hudson River Presbytery which shared the lyrics to the song ‘Canticle of the Turning’ which we opened with this morning.  I found the song intriguing and as I looked into its background I found that the composer Rory Cooney had based it on the Song of Mary.  This is an ancient Christian hymn found in the gospel of Luke and embodies Mary’s response to her cousin Elizabeth’s greeting when she traveled to see her after hearing she would bear a child by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The song, better known as the ‘Magnificat’ is named after the first words Mary spoke after her cousin’s greeting which in English translates as ‘magnify’, as in ‘My soul magnifies the Lord’.  And as I pondered the idea of ‘turning’ as well as ‘magnify’ I thought that perhaps there was something there we could consider today.

The words of Mary’s prayer speak of change…radical change at the hand of God.  Specifically the prayer speaks of change that brings about justice as governments and kingdoms of oppression are brought low by the power of the Lord.  Drawn from Mary’s prayer, this idea of turning or divinely inspired change also brings to mind the notion of ‘repentance’ which begins to tell us that perhaps there is personal change we can make as well in order to bring us closer to God and God’s ways.

In a post titled ‘Song stories’, Rory Cooney speaks of what he had in mind when he composed the song saying, The idea of “turning” in the title was both a nod to the inner conceit of “revolution,” (derived from the Latin “volvere,” which means “to turn”) and to the message of Jesus’s preaching in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the core message of which was, “Repent, and believe the good news.”

“Repent” translates a Greek verb the noun form of which is ‘metanoia’, that is to say, a complete change of the self, of mind and heart, which might also be rendered as “turn around.” The idea, of course, is that we are all walking a particular course dictated by the gods of “this world”. 

For Jesus and his countrymen, that god’s name was Caesar. Jesus was saying, “Look, how is that working out for you? Happy? Well, I have good news: a God with another idea, and his name is Abba. Let’s “turn around” and walk in another direction.” So the “revolution” is both interior (a change of heart-self) and corporate and visible (a new way of living together). It is, in fact, set against the prevailing set of values in society’, however Cooney also notes that it is ‘a peaceful and loving revolution.’

So…how is it that we ourselves might ‘turn’ and go in a different direction this year than the one we walked in 2017?  What might we do differently that would be both true to the practice of our faith and closer to the notion of ‘magnifying’ the Lord in the process.  How can we better live our lives such that God is pleased and God’s will moves forward through us?  Especially given the fact that the world does not seem terribly open right now to the notion of great change, of real repentance, or even of ‘faith’ in general?

You know…in spite of the fact that there are …

Those who honestly believe that absolutely everything we know and rely upon needs to fall down before a social and cultural reset can allow for it to begin to be built back up…

And in spite of the fact that there are…

Those who say ‘why bother to be concerned whatsoever’…for all your concern comes to nothing with the ruling forces of all stripes and persuasions rendering the individual powerless while seemingly governing solely for their own enrichment…

And in spite of the fact that…

Justice seems increasingly rare across much of our society as the rich keep getting richer and the gap between those who have and those who do not have grows ever wider…

And in spite of…

The steady decline of the power of the church to influence and shape the lives of many in any significant way…

Still…

Still there are those who continue to have faith in the innate goodness of the human spirit and the resiliency of the impulse to be willing to sacrifice for the sake of another in need…

And still…

There are those who believe deeply that if we simply all decide to reach out and to care more, to listen more attentively, and to seek to find ways in which we can hold differing opinions and still love one another…then we will have moved a step closer to realizing the brother and sisterhood of the kingdom of our God.

So…

Repentance is good and right…both personally as we each work to be more open, more loving, and more engaged with the welfare of each of our brothers and sisters…and as a people and a nation as the cumbersome machines of government are moved to change by our unrelenting insistence on greater justice for all and a more compassionate system of governance which makes room for and celebrates the gifts of every child of God.

Personal inner change…and…active and vocal insistence on more compassionate leadership of our nation and the world…that is the change we need to begin to work for and to see in 2018.  Each one of us has something to offer in making our church, our community, and our nation stronger and healthier.

You all know I believe deeply that the Day of our Lord is a goal worthy of our deepest efforts and a goal that is achievable in our lifetimes.  And also, that each one of us has a part to play in bringing about this day and time of true peace and harmony.  I am one who feels that the words of scripture which speak of this day of worldwide goodness and cooperation are not just empty promises from thousands of years ago, but rather words that reflect the desires of our God set in place at the very dawn of Creation.

However I think that far too often we find ourselves in a place of feeling that these seemingly larger issues of communal peace and cooperation are far above and beyond our abilities, as though it is all we can do to take care of our own and perhaps our family’s day to day responsibilities.

But to focus solely inward on our own needs is to ignore the fact that we are all together a family…we are all children of one God, brothers and sisters all having received the same blessing and responsibility to care for each other and for Creation.

Over many past millennia Creation has been able to adjust to our excesses and to heal itself of our occasional moments of ignorance or uncaring…however the time has now arrived when just a few are capable of breaking and disrupting the whole for everyone.  We are now at a moment in time when the future of God’s dreams for us is in serious jeopardy of being thwarted if not totally destroyed.

Never before has there been as great a need to stand and to pull together in order to draw nearer to the amazing potential God has put in place before us…to draw nearer to that day of grace and goodness wherein all peoples are recognized as co-bearers one with another of that incredibly beautiful and diverse image of God in which we were created and which we still reflect.

Desmond Tutu, in giving a talk to a group of university students quoted St. Augustine when he said, ‘We, without God…cannot.  God without us…will not’. ‘We, without God…cannot.  God without us…will not’…

And I feel that statement is as true for us as it was almost 1600 years ago when Augustine first uttered it. Change…true and lasting change is possible in 2018…goodness is possible in 2018…God’s expressed will can begin to be realized in 2018…if

…if we all covenant together to be the will, the voice, the energy, the feet, arms, and hearts committed to bringing about a better day for all of humanity.  If we all repent…if we all turn and agree to become more involved in initiating, sharing, and insisting that goodness and compassion must be our primary way of interacting one with another.

It is never too late to trust that the Lord knows best how we must live and act to bring about positive and healthy change.  It is never too late to decide to be bold in insisting that justice and fairness be a guiding principle of all social discourse and action and of political decision and policy making in particular.

Each of us has been graced with a relationship with our Lord…the one who desires, no, the one who insists that we live out our faith openly and without fear, standing for one another and against all that would separate or divide us.  As Isaiah told us…I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…for as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations…

…come let us turn and begin to seek the kingdom together……amen

Photo by Tessa Rampersad on Unsplash

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