Category Archives: Sermon

Mary Advent ~ Meditation

”Mary Advent”

Luke 1:46-55

Soul Café     December 19, 2012

©Rev. Cynthia Langston Kirk



Our greetings during this time of year often miss the mark.


How many times a day to we utter or receive a Merry Christmas greeting, perhaps accompanied with a hug and kiss?


But, as pastors, some of us want to encourage the fact that it is Advent. Wait. Prepare. The trees are up, decorated and lit, but the journey is in progress.


Then we hear the rebuttal. But the carols are playing on the radio and often in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. The Nativity sets on tables and in yards and they include baby Jesus and often the wise people.


But it is really the season of expectancy and preparation. Advent is a time of pregnancy with all the elation and struggles that brings.



Sometimes our greetings miss the mark – Merry Christmas we say and the person responds or wants to respond What’s so merry about it?


Many people experience this time of year with dread and gloom and the bright lights and peppy songs only exacerbate their depressed feelings. Many people, perhaps all people this year, are filled with grief.  The songs and bells do little to assuage their feelings.


Worship helps. Many churches have Longest Night services that give voice to overwhelming sadness or loneliness. Perhaps your congregation will offer such a time of worship on the 21st. Or you have advertised which nearby congregation  does.


As hard as it seems, this is the Season of overcoming perceived odds, of hoping in the face of seemingly lost causes.


Some of you may have watched the UA- Nevada football game last Sat. or seen a replay or two.  Here’s how the last 1:51 went.


1:51 left – Nevada scored a field goal putting them up 2 touchdowns – some in the crowd may have gathered their belongings to leave. It was the picture of hopeless causes.


1:38 – series of passes toward receiver on near sideline so he could catch the ball and step out of bounds, stopping the clock because AZ had no time outs left.


:43 – AZ scored


:42 – AZ made their extra point


:40 onsides kick, fumble and AZ recovered the ball


:37 pass to 55 yd line


:22 – pass to 8 yd line


:20 – TD


:19 – extra point making it 49 – 48 in favor of AZ


:15 – AZ intercepted Nevada’s first pass


:13 – Coach Rodriquez spoke to Matt Scott, could only see Scott’s face, but the coach must have said something like, Just catch the ball and take a knee. Scott smiled knowing what he needed to do.


They had prepared to this game

For fully participating in an often grueling situation


To communicate and know what to do even with no time outs left


To be heads up in order to intercept a pass or recover a fumble


To be poised in the face of what seemed hopeless


As fun and exhilarating as it is, remember it is just a football game and what happened in the last two minutes cannot measure against what God can do in bleak situations.


Oh, we all need to hear and read that this week.


And so I wish you a Mary Advent – M-A-R-Y


Real, nauseating, full of wonder, full of fear


Real, raw, laid bare, grueling, the unsanitized version


A journey that is paved with hope not wishful thinking

Marrow deep hope that has been experienced and witnessed for generation


Not magical thinking, finger-crossed, eager for Santa-down-the-chimney approach


It is the hope that Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Hannah, Simeon lived waiting for Incarnational Love.


And it was Mary’s yes that moved beyond willingness to participate to her naming needs and ways of being in service. This week we remember Mary, the singer, whose Magnificat was a call to justice.


As Joan Chittister wrote “the definition of justice I most often use is this: justice is love expressed in terms of sheer human need: food, water, clothes, shelter, medicine and health care, education, human rights and freedom, hope for a future for one’s children, freedom from fear and violence, the dignity of work, and participation in society and history. “


Eastern church’s name for Mary Theotokos “the God – bearer. And that is the crux of the matter: we are all called to be God-bearers, to say yes to Emmanuel, the Incarnate One, to give birth to peace and justice throughout the world.


When we are confronted with such a possibility our body language and questions may be the same as Corrine Peters’ Annunciation Mary simultaneously the quizzical look and pointing to self with one hand “me?” “how can this be?”and, with the other hand, touching our bellies in deep reverence for new life and new possibilities already begun.


Years ago I read a story of a man and his wife taking their grown daughter to the airport to see her off to the Peace Corps. They all knew the potential dangers of disease and political unheaval, but still she had insisted that this was her path. He said, “Waiting in that airport, it became crystal clear to me that all her life I raised her to be a good Christian and the call she was answering was to be a real Christian.”


Do you think that is how Mary’s mother must have felt? I raised her to be a good Jew and she wants to be a real Jew who follows God in spite of assaults on her reputation, even if the path is unmarked and unsettling, even if the way is dirty and demanding. She wants to give birth to the Holy and teach us how to do likewise. And she can remind us that, through it all, God goes with each of us.


Thanks be to God. Amen.

Epiphany Sermon ~ January 3, 2010 ~ Isaiah 60:1-6 and Matthew 2:1-12

Light One Candle

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”  This quote is listed as a Chinese proverb and also attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt or perhaps Eleanor Roosevelt quoting a Chinese proverb. No matter the source, this is our image for the first Sunday of 2010.

The first Sunday of Advent we lit a candle, then one more each week during the season, candles

to help us anticipate

to bring light as we waited

to represent hope, joy, peace and love that did come and are coming into the world

And now we arrive near the culmination of the Christmas season and we go hog wild with candles. Not just one a week, or five, but enough candles to symbolize that God illuminates our lives with aha moments filled with meaning and hope and it is ours for the receiving. All we have to do is stay awake. Be watchful. And if we are any kin to those first disciples that is not an easy task.

Christmas Day Les and I were to fly out of Des Moines in the early evening. As we waited for news of whether our flight would leave and, if so, with enough time to make our connection in Dallas, I decided it would be a good time to delete emails on my phone. As much as I enjoy watching people, I could have easily stayed in my delete mode when a group of people got off the plane coming from Dallas.  Several people filed down the main path and I looked up in time to see a familiar face. “Nate!” I cried loud enough to break the library silence of the people waiting.

Nate and Aimee, also from Tucson, are this precious couple whose wedding I was honored to officiate. Now beautiful four-month old Ottilie has increased their family and everyone’s joy. We were supposed to see them at a party just before we came to Des Moines, but illness precluded that.  It was an elated, unexpected meeting with hugs and smiles.

Our spiritual journeys are just like that: focus on useless information and miss witnessing enough light for every room, enough hope to assuage any darkness and enough joy to send our hearts singing.

“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”  Sage wisdom.

Perhaps this is one pearl that the wise men learned when they visited the holy family.  Just like January 3, 2010 there was plenty of darkness to go around as the wise men made their way to Jerusalem then Bethlehem.

King Herod, so powerful yet so full of fear, saw to that.

We have no idea how many wise men visited Jesus or how old the child was when they arrive. There have been songs and paintings and prose that have given us an enriched picture of who the visitors might have been.  We sing of kings and the Bible mentions wise men. Somewhere along the 2,000 years we settled on the number three – number of gifts named – reminds us of the Trinity. Any more men and camels and a crèche might not be manageable on our coffee tables or in a chancel – and certainly would give greater pause to having a live nativity.  The important part of the story is that they were wise enough to seek Jesus.

If we look more closely, perhaps there were more than three gifts. And perhaps these gifts of wisdom are gifts to us as well as we start this New Year.

First of all, they paid attention. They noticed a star and were propelled/ called to seek its fuller meaning. We could argue that if a star was big enough and bright enough we would also be inclined to leave everything and follow. But we have no proof that the star that shone that season was any more powerful than the ways God breaks into our lives today. The primary difference is whether we are awake to such possibilities.

And so we light one candle to help us stay alert.

These camel riding sages were thoughtful. They brought gifts. Much has been made of the meaning of the gifts, but when you look at the presents – gold, frankincense and myrrh – these are not exactly what Mary would have registered for at Babies R Us.

Did you receive a gift or two at Christmas that we not exactly what you asked for or for which you would ever ask? No need to raise your hand. Our task in those moments is to remember the giver – the care, money, planning  – the thoughtfulness that went into the gift.  Even if the gift gives us pause, we can savor the consideration that went into the gift giving and we light a candle for thoughtfulness for, in this world, there can never be an over abundance of thougtfulness.

Awe and reverence are something we can easily comprehend when we stand at the Grand Canyon as it reminds us of how tiny we are in the overall picture. The wise men knelt before Jesus in awe and reverence knowing, at least in part, that they stood before someone who had the power and potential to transform life for the good. They also knelt in awe before someone much smaller and more fragile than them. Their gift to us is the model and invitation to stand in awe at the big things and the little things: a canyon that is grand, the petal of a daisy, an ant building its home, the babbling of a baby for awe and reverence have too often been numbed by technical bombardment and “pressing” responsibilities. In this new year let’s make the time and space to experience awe and light a candle (literally and symbolically) each time we do.

Don’t you imagine the wise men were filled with gratitude? They were probably filled with gratitude for the starlit invitation, gratitude for their journey together, gratitude that Mary and Joseph allowed them to see the baby, gratitude that Love Incarnate received and blessed them. In the coming days may each of us realize and name that for which we are grateful. Perhaps you will want to light a candle of gratitude each evening as you reflect on your day.

Do we ever return to our old ways if we’ve had a life changing experience with the Holy? Yes. That is our humanity. We can easily return to our old ways even by another way, but the memory of that encounter is there and can always lead us back to God who fills us with a deep sense of purpose.  The wise men went home by another way, but I think they stayed connected to their profound sense of purpose that they discovered in a Bethlehem stable because we still tell their story today. They must have told it often and lived it fully and generations are still invited to do likewise.

Sometimes life seems so overwhelming in a multitude of ways that lighting a cylinder of wax seems like fluff.  Issues in the world and in our lives appear as if they could not hold a candle to the darkness. Yet that is exactly our Christian faith – the knowledge that God’s hope, love, mercy, purpose far outshine the most devastating and difficult matters.

How does one person approach monumental matters such as education, livelihood, health care, war and peace, environmental destruction, and religious differences that have such far- reaching ramifications? How does one congregation?

By lighting one candle at a time.

Each of you who are involved with Nash Elementary are making a difference in education and more importantly in the lives of little boys or girls. You are also making a difference in the lives of teachers who give so fully of their time and care.

Each time you and or your family make a decision to use less water, share rides, insulate your home, or recycle you make a tiny difference to the environment. It is lighting one little candle, but if each of us light one candle then another, and another, and encourage others to do the same, we can make an impact.

Religious beliefs different from our own have become so divisive and have led and lead to much violence in the world.  It is sometimes hard for a congregation or larger body of any denomination to engage in civil, respectful dialogue much less engaging in dialogue with people of other faith traditions.

I’ve just begun reading a book called The Faith Club written by a Christian, a Muslim and a Jewish woman. After 9-11 these three women were searching for ways of explaining and guiding children through the often-rough waters of religious differences. In their search, they banded together to honestly discuss their religious beliefs, find any common grounds or beliefs and to do so with reverence for each other as human beings. The book contains instructions for how any person could start their own faith club that could shed light on prejudices and differences, but also offer opportunities to learn from one another and stand in awe of God who created us all.

These are just a few of the monumental matters that go with us into 2010, but remember this: Just as with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men, God goes with us to guide us, comfort us, challenge us, transform us in amazing ways.

And, if we choose, we take the gifts of being watchful, being thoughtful, of gratitude, awe, and purpose.

Thanks be to God. Amen.