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Voices Carry

    Date:1/28/18

    Series: Epiphany

    Category: 2018 Sermons

    Passage: Mark 1:21-28

    Speaker: Nicole Trotter

    Voices Carry

    Psalm 111
    Mark 1:21-28

    Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to God with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. That’s verse 1 of the psalm you heard…

    I will give thanks with my whole heart…I don’t know about you, but my whole heart…that is the heart that holds all my feelings….all of them…is deeply personal…because my whole heart holds not only the polite, kind and loving feelings, it also holds fear, doubt, and anger and a myriad of other things…including sometimes even rage.

    The term heart in Hebrew is a person’s whole self…their thoughts and their feelings[1]…remember that Anne Lamont line….if there were loud speakers attached to my thoughts, I’d be in trouble…

    Especially in trouble…because of the second part of that first verse… to bring your whole self into the company of the congregation.

    Congregations tend to be polite and kind and loving…thats what we bring into the church on Sunday…and I’m grateful for that….but part of why I try to be so honest up here, even when it might not reflect me the best light, is because my hope is always that we can bring our whole hearts here…publicly among one another, because this place…this house of worship should be different from every other public gathering space in your life… A place of honesty, transparency, confession. If we belong to God…than there is first of all nothing we can’t say….God gave us these hearts….and if we bring our whole heart….God can work with that…but if we edit, and shame ourselves into thinking we must remain silent, remain invulnerable, putting out there some idea of pious perfection….than we don't leave much room for God to do what God does….

    I will give thanks to God with my whole heart, in the congregation….the personal and the public…

    The personal and the public has been coming up a lot in my preaching this season of Epiphany…Our God is both deeply personal, within us…and completely beyond us, out there in every corner of this world…so big, we can’t wrap our brains around it…it’s what we call the immanence and the transcendence of God…the immanent…close here within, as close as our own breath…our very breath itself…our source of life…our breath….our whole selves….but also beyond us…out there…for every creature…every  piece of the natural world, every star, and galaxy beyond us…it’s awe-inspiring…

    which brings us to the last line of this incredible psalm…The fear of the Lord….the fear of God is not being afraid the way we might think of it…it’s being in awe of God….it’s what we call reverence….and for the psalmist, it is the foundation of wisdom…to be in awe…And for most of us this feeling of reverence tends to happen most easily in nature…observing all that is bigger and greater than any of us, at the ocean, under the stars, on a mountain. But it can also happen by staring long enough at the small, and seemingly insignificant, like a fly, or an acorn…[2]

    Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, an Altar in the World talks about reverence as difficult to define…but you know it when you feel it. She quotes the philosopher Woodruff who says that reverence is to remember our place….our limitations…He writes, “To forget that you are only human…to act as  a God… is the opposite of reverence.” While most of us live in a culture that reveres money, reveres power, reveres education and religion…Woodruff argues that true reverence cannot be anything that human beings can make or manage by ourselves….[3]

    …reverence simply puts us in our place…

    To love God with our whole heart…whole selves…before one another here…with reverence….not a sense of politeness…editing out what we think of as too raw, too ugly, too negative…but precisely the opposite…to come before our God who gives us the capacity to admit all of that before a God who can hold it, hold us, and change it.

    ~~~~

    Enter Jesus…in today's Gospel reading…Jesus enters the congregation in the synagogue in Capernaum…

    And what happens…a man with an unclean spirit confronts him…We don't really have a definition of an unclean spirit….In biblical language impure or unclean means, simply, contrary to the sacred…[4]

    Which is a pretty wide open definition. We got into a wonderful discussion in our Bible study class around this.. because what is contrary to the spirit could be our own thoughts at times….all of those fear-filled, self-critical, judgmental thoughts that we turn inward on ourselves…those voices we carry in our hearts and our minds…they don’t come from God…they live in us…but they don’t serve God and can run contrary to the sacred if the sacred sanctification of God manifests in love and forgiveness…..

    So it makes me wonder if this man who came into the congregation, this public place was doing nothing other then bringing his whole heart to God…just as the psalmist taught…his whole self…the ugly, nasty, parts of his whole self…he brings them before God…knowingly saying…I know who you are…Jesus…Have you come to destroy us…have you come to destroy these voices that carry me into knowing the only self I've ever known…the one I know better than you…the self who tells me I’m wretched, not worthy, don’t deserve love and definitely don’t deserve forgiveness for the things I’ve done…

    ~~~~

    Years ago now, in the women's spirituality group I began when Charlotte was just 4 years old or so….one of the women in the group defined these voices we carry as the devil….this is how she understood the very definition of a demon or devil…that which pulls us away from God….

    Not as a little red man with a pitchfork, but as an impure spirit that is attempting to keep us down, a place so unworthy, we begin to identify and believe that God’s love is for anyone else, but not for us.

    But if we can bring even that before God…publicly held in our whole heart before Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ will confront us…Jesus who speaks with authority, because he is the way of love that wins over self-doubt, fear, criticism, and judgment…This is the way that winds over exclusion, isolation, greed, and power. The only thing standing in our way of living into our God-given capacity is our own unclean thoughts…and if we give it a name outside of ourselves….like the devil…it’s just a little easier to yell back. The voice Jesus uses…with authority….Be silent…get out…is also the voice Jesus teaches us to use…. Be silent…get out…Make room for the same compassion that Christ calls on me to give others, and let me begin by showing it to myself. Let the one who speaks with authority…yell back at those voices that speak in contrast to God…be silent… Jesus is here….And he loves you….and those old voices are getting in the way of what God wants to do with you.

    ~~~~

    This is the season of the epiphany…Epiphanies are awe inspiring…they are the deeply personal experiences of the divine manifestation of God in our lives…now….

    Over 2000 years ago, when the disciples saw Jesus drive out the unclean spirit they were amazed…in awe….and experiencing reverence…for this authority in their lives…

    We are called into amazement…like the disciples…but we are also called into action like Jesus…

    The new teachings, the voice that Jesus uses with authority in here are the ones we are called to carry out into the world….they are ones of love and inclusion, of healing and teaching, of witnessing and proclaiming with authority that Jesus is still with us…in everything we do and everything we say….

    Immediately, at once, right now….that’s what makes Mark’s gospel so wonderful…it’s shorter, more concise and there is a sense of quickness, like I reached last week, no time to overthink this…

    Reverence….allows us this…a constant reminder that we don’t do it…God does it all….we participate in it….

    Yesterday, as I was reading about reverence…awe….and also reading about Mark’s immediacy and Jesus’s words Be silent…little voices of doubt began to creep in…it’s just a story…meant to teach us something…just a story…..and the whole time I’m reading, going on hour two or three, I’m also aware of the background noise going on outside… these incredible overwhelming sounds of these new flock of birds showed up yesterday…they were so loud…and then they would just stop, immediately….at once….and that would get my attention so I would look out…and I'd see them flying in a beautiful close-knit group.. flying so quietly and they'd wrap around and come back to the same trees settle and sing again…for a long time and then they would just stop, and fly again and this repeated itself for hours as I’m reading about reverence and marks immediacy, and Jesus’s words, Be silent… and not at all making any connection to what I'm reading…and to the doubt about it… and to what I’m experiencing…if only I would participate in it…

    and then by the grace of God it hit me…this is what God does….this is not just a story but an awe-inspiring teaching meant to inspire reverence….we are part of this story…called upon to carry this life changing love into the world….

    so I got up from my reading…and decided to video these birds so I might share it with you….and as it turned out… this time…there was a noisy plane nearby….just like the noise in our heads it was competing for the song of praise that these birds were singing…but I decided not to wait…and I’m so glad I didn’t wait… because as it tried out this would be their last song in that tree, after literally hours….they didn’t return…they were singing, and then they stopped and they flew of, but as it turned out, I caught the last flight of the day….and then they were gone, at once…into the world….

    That’s it, that's us…we return here Sunday after Sunday and we sing…and we praise God with our voices and hopefully with our whole selves…and then, at once, we go out and carry that song into the world…and if we're lucky, by the grace of God, those voices we carry, by the authority of Jesus Christ…heals others, takes flight, and is carried further into the world.

    It begins with awe and reverence… we are just one small piece of this God-given life…but we have a place in it and a voice to carry…a song of praise that is louder than any unclean voice that tries to compete with it…our voice os the voice of Jesus Christ…and it sings with the authority of love.

    [1] Feasting on the Word, Anne H. K. Apple

    [2] BBT on Julian of Norwich in her book An Altar in the World.

    [3] An Altar in the World, BBT, 19-21

    [4] Feasting on the Word, Ofelia Ortega