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The Work of the People

Rev. Daniel A. Smith
Sun, Dec 13

Texts: Isaiah 12:2 and Luke 3:1-6

Let’s return to our words from Isaiah:

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation…
1Sing praises to God…
Shout aloud and sing for joy…

Will you pray with me please?

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O God, Our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Let me begin with a story of one of the most entertaining wedding toasts I ever heard. The crowd at the reception was a mix of rowdy young adults, middle aged parents and elderly grandmothers, including some especially dainty ones. The couple, who were dear college friends, had developed a reputation for their frequent and often frisky P.D.A.’s, or public displays of affection. Apparently, they were so in love they just couldn't help themselves! Well, concerned that there be some semblance of decorum at the reception, the Best Man/MC for the reception decided it was his job, his duty even, to establish some ground rules for what was to follow. He took the mic, and in lieu of his own toast, he proceeded to declare a list of topics strictly off-limits and untouchable for anyone giving roasts or toasts on such a happy occasion.

The list was a top ten of the couple’s most embarrassing moments. First, he declared, “we will not be talking about what happened between the couple in the third floor stacks at Olin Library.” He went on. “We will not be hearing anything about what happened between them in the New Haven bus station. And, under no circumstances will anyone speak of the time when, after a day at the beach, the couple decided to rinse off in the outdoor shower… together…at Dan’s mom’s house…while Dan’s mom was hanging clothes on the line.” By the time he had finished, most of us were in stitches. The couple was moderately mortified but they played along. Meanwhile, most of the elders barely knew what had hit them. Whether confused or perhaps mildly amused, most just shook their heads. It was clear they had heard all they needed to hear and they did not need to hear anymore!

I was reminded of this while preparing this reflection. It’s that feeling of there being things that we both do and don’t need to talk about, if only because some of us have heard enough! So here goes. For the rest of this short reflection, here's what we are not going to talk about today. Ready?

We are not going to talk about Donald Trump or his dangerous, incendiary and entirely misguided call to bar Muslims from entering our country.
We’re not going to talk about the rise of physical and spiritual violence against Muslims in recent days, about the hostile confrontations on subways, the tearing off of hijabs, the vandalism and protests at mosques.

We’re not going to talk about what the Mayor of Chicago chose not to talk about for way too long, about his administration’s withholding footage of Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald full of 14 bullets!

We’re definitely not going to talk about the seemingly impossible fact that gun sales have risen dramatically, even and especially in recent weeks, since Oregon, since San Bernandino! We can talk about that after church, at our gun violence forum, but not now, and here’s why.

As people of faith, we are by all means called to bear witness to injustice, tragedy, suffering and painfully appalling political realities. We are called to act together and to do the work of justice, no question. But, as people of faith, we’re also called to a different kind work that can be even harder, that can require even more courage and countercultural resistance. It's the work that is before us when we come to worship. No matter how dry the ground may seem on the surface, in the words of Isaiah, we are called to draw water from the wells of salvation. What’s more, we are called to sing praises to God. And even more challenging, given all those things that we are not talking about, we are called to sing for joy!

You may think I was kidding about this being work. The word for liturgy, which is what carries us through worship, what’s printed in your bulletin and what our liturgist reads, that word liturgy, comes from the Greek. Leito ourgies. Leito, root for the word Laity, means people. Ourgies, root for ergometer, means work. Liturgy, translated literally, means “work”; it means “the work of the people!”

Our liturgical tradition appoints this third Sunday of Advent as Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday. Its why we light a rose colored candle! Amidst the 4 weeks of this otherwise penitential and somber season of Advent preparation, today the “work of the people” assigned to us is to rejoice. And today, our work is to sing songs of praise, in joyful anticipation that God’s love is on the way!

Have you ever thought that you have a job to do when you come to church? I’m not talking about committee work. I’m talking about this work of the people that happens in liturgy and in which we all have a role to play, the work of responding to the gifts of God’s grace, of praising God in all circumstances, of holding onto hope and faith and joy and love. No matter how bleak things may seem, consider: it’s our job to dig deep into those well and to haul up that water of life and joy, of the salvation that comes through our connection to God. No matter how counterintuitive it may be, it’s ours to respond with grateful and even irrational joy, to hear and sing those songs of praise, in the midst of a nation’s darkest hour!

Do you think it was any different in the times of Isaiah? When the words which we heard were shared in the context of a people’s homelessness and exile after their temple had been turned to rubble?

Do you think it was different for John the Baptist, surrounded as he was by people whose necks were under the boot of a brutal regime and who were often persecuted because of their religion?

Do you think it was different for that migrant holy family, looking for sanctuary, looking for shelter, at a time of violent occupation, amidst a sweeping government census? All those names in the beginning of the passage I read from Luke? They are evidence of the layers upon layers of power that were constraining their God-given dignity and freedom.

The work of the people, then as now, was to defy the ways of despair, to rebuff the broadcasting of hatred and fear, and instead to sing out, to proclaim and indeed to broadcast the good news of God’s love and justice that was being made real through the prophets and through Jesus. It's the work of digging deep into the ground beneath our feet, beneath the ever present narratives of fear and violence, and to find there, week after week, the good news that our salvation and loving transformation is closer than we might think!

I bet the choir already knows they have a job to do when they come to church. They have their work cut out for them, especially today. Fortunately, they know it so well it may rarely if ever feel like work! Bach knew it too. The work we are about to hear, a selection from two of his Cantata’s, was first played in Weimar on an Advent Sunday, December 2, 1714, just over 300 years ago. Hear this good work now. Hear in this music and in the singing, the good news of God’s beauty and wisdom and grace. Hear it and receive it. As we do, may God work and rest in each of us, that we too may be the bearers of good news and great joy, for all God’s people! Amen.

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