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A sermon on Luke 1:39-55
Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church
19 December 2021

From 2010 through 2016, I served as the director of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.

Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church

Memories of precious people, painful international events, and amazing happenings swirl in my heart and mind.

Among my favorite memory is the moment I have come to call the good night ritual.                   .

Each night, I shut off my computer,
turned out the light,
and left the office.
I walked down the hall to the elevator
and pushed the call button.
When the cab arrived, I pushed “1” to go downstairs.
Hector would be there to see me out.
Always.
And always we spoke.
Sometimes we talked about weather or family.
Often, we talked sports. Conversations got interesting the week my Steelers beat Hector’s Jets.
After some conversation, I made for the door,
As I stepped across the hallway, I heard Hector’s final words:
always the same words,
always in the same, kind voice:
“Good night, Marko.
Get home safe.”

In Advent and Christmas, we think of home in many ways.

“Please Come Home for Christmas,” sings Aaron Neville.

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” sings Oscar Peterson.[i]

Spoiler alert. If you have forgotten the ending of A Christmas Carol; if you have never seen It’s a Wonderful Life, I invite you to plug your ears for a moment. I will let you know when the spoilers are done.

After the visits of three ghosts in A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge sends a feast to Bob Cratchit’s home and then travels to celebrate at his nephew’s home.

After the visit of one rather ordinary angel second class, in the climactic moment of George Bailey’s renewal, he makes his way home. 

I see places I have lived at different times when I hear the word “home”.

Unique sights, smells, and sounds.

Home also recalls people. Beloved people. Family. Friends. Chosen family. Different in different homes. But always people.       

Home is a place.
123 Sesame St.
80 Main St., Apt. 23D

Home is people.

Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri observes that as a poor, unwed teenager, Mary was surrounded by dangers and uncertainty – both physical and societal. When she learned of her pregnancy, Mary sought a haven, a sanctuary, home.[ii]

Home for Mary was a place. The house of her relative Elizabeth.  Home was people. Zechariah was there. Silent, but there. More importantly, Elizabeth and the baby in her womb, were present.

They welcome and affirm Mary. And in a moment that Stephen Sondheim could have written, Mary breaks into a song. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” The Magnificat. A song that has been set in many ways over the centuries, including the Canticle of the Turning which we will sing shortly.

The Magnificat holds together the grittiness of life on the margins, the resilient hope of those who trust in God, and the power to image a new way of living.

My friend the Rev. Margaret Aymer suggests that we need to revise our view of Mary. Rather than gentle Mary, meek and mild, Margaret says Mary is better seen as Jesus’ radical Jewish Mama. A woman full of strength and courage and hope. An alternative vision fires her imagination. God’s vision of justice, equity, and peace. This vision, sung in Mary’s song, no doubt found its way into the lullabies she sang to Jesus and the stories she told him. It shaped him. It guided his living. His words and deeds exemplify his mama’s song.[iii]

Consider, church: the Triune God – Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit or whatever formula you use – exists in relationship.

Made in God’s image, we are made for relationships. The late bell hooks reminds us of this when she says that healing is an act of communion. Rarely, if ever, she says, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing comes through relationships. Life comes through relationships.[iv]

We are made for each other. We are made for relationships of integrity, compassion, justice, equity, solidarity, accountability, responsibility, and love. We are made to be home to one another.

The village of Le Chambon in France provided sanctuary and home to Jews during the Second World War. Fleeing the monstrous, sinful evil of the Nazis, Jews would arrive in this Huguenot village. They made their way to the building we Presbyterians would call the manse. They knocked and were usually greeted by Magda Trocme with the words, “Welcome. Come in.” The process of creating home began. Years later, asked why their village and people became a sanctuary of home, Magda replied, “They knocked. What else could we do?”[v]

This theology – that God has made us and called us to be home for one another –  was shared by those who ran the Underground Railroad. It is shared by those who welcome refugees, who support citizens returning from incarceration, and who offer sanctuary to individuals and families at risk of deportation to the violence-filled places they have fled.

Whether they are running for their lives or they are buffeted and battered by life, we will encounter people in need of refuge, haven, and sanctuary. Through Jesus Christ, God who is love, God who is our sanctuary and home, empowers us to say, “Welcome. Come in.”

Part of what allows us to create home is God’s gift of imagination. Our shared humanity allows us to imagine the pain and the fear of people in need.

More importantly, our faith allows us to imagine our relatedness to the entire human family. Each child is our child. Every person created and loved by God is a person to whom we are bound by the unbreakable cords of God’s love.

Imagination is an act of faithful subversion in a world that tells us nothing will change. Things will always be the same. There is nothing we can do about it.

Not so, says imagination. Not so. There can be, there is, another way. Imagination is the root of joy. Imagination is the source of hope. When we dare to imagine that Jesus just might be on to something when he tells us to love one another; we take the first steps toward loving one another.

At home with Elizabeth, Mary’s imagination inspired her to break into song about what God has done, what God will do, and what God is doing. Mary’s song, Rachel Held Evans reminds us, declares that God has chosen sides. [vi]

God has chosen not narcissistic rulers or leaders, but an un-wed, un-believed teenage girl for the holy task of birthing, nursing, and nurturing God.

God has chosen not the powerful, but the humble.

Not the rich, but the poor.

Not the occupying force, but people pushed to the margins.  

God has made a home. That home, Jesus reveals, is among the people the world casts aside. Women. Children. The poor. Lepers. Samaritans. Tax collectors. Sinners. God’s home includes people of every sexual orientation and every gender identity, people living on the streets, people whose immigration papers do not match the government standards, people battling addiction, people dealing with mental illness, and anyone pushed aside by the culture of domination.

Any time we human creatures seek to keep some of God’s children out and we draw a line to exclude and we say, “you do not belong,” God wipes the line aside. “Hold my beer,” the Holy Spirit says, and she begins the patient, careful work of removing the line and welcoming all God’s children home.

Church, we know that does not happen quickly enough. We know people, too many precious people, are wounded in the time it takes God to erase the lines. That grieves us and God. But we also know that patiently, persistently God is at work. And God invites us to join that work.

In her defiant, prophetic, imaginative song, Mary—a dark-skinned woman who would become a refugee, a member of a religious minority in an occupied land—names this reality: God makes a home for and with those who have been driven to the margins by the powerful. And we are invited to meet God there on the margins and be welcomed home.  

During Advent, we journey home.

During Advent, we work to create home.

During Advent and always, may we journey and work with the stubborn, unsentimental hope of Jesus’ radical Jewish Mama – a woman so convinced the baby inside her would change everything, she proclaimed that:

The powerful have already been humbled;

The vulnerable have already been lifted up;

The world is turning;

And it is turning toward home.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


[i] Many artists have recorded both songs. The versions by Aaron Neville and Oscar Peterson were the first to appear in my iTunes Library.            

[ii] This comes from Vilmarie’s commentary on Luke 1:39-55 in the Sanctified Art Close to Home Sermon Planning Guide for this Sunday.

[iii] I found this image from the Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer a couple years ago. I can no longer find the source.

[iv] https://www.uua.org/worship/words/quote/healing-act-communion.

[v] The story of Le Chambon is told by Philip Haille in Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Chambon-sur-Lignon.

[vi] https://rachelheldevans.com/blog/unsentimental-advent.

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A prayer for Ozzy

God who loves us each,
on this night when snow is forecast for Louisville,
I pray for your beloved child Ozzy.
I am sure you know him, but just in case …
he has his name tattooed on the fingers of his left hand
and he is wearing the Steelers hat that Eric knit for me.
I pray for Ozzy.
May he have a warm and safe place
to spend this night.
May he make the connections he needs
for warmth and safety on the days ahead.
I pray for all the Ozzys –
each of your precious children
wherever they may be.
May they find safe, warm places
to stay this night and
to call home every night.
I pray for myself.
May I act in ways beyond
conversation, fist bumps, and giving a hat
to ensure safe homes for Ozzy and all your children.
In the name of Jesus, who had no place to lay his head.
Amen.

– based on a conversation today with John, “Call me Ozzy,” he said several times as he showed me his tattooed hand

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11 Dec #Grow #AdventWord 2018

11 Dec #Grow

It’s the house where it happened; the home where they grew.
Sean was two when we moved in;
it is the only place Eric lived until he went to college.
This was taken on the day we scattered.
We still own the home atlthough none of us live there any more..
Tricia is in Louisville.
Sean and I are in diferent parts of Manhattan.
Eric and Essie are in Ann Arbor.

 

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Once home

IMG-6537

photo – 30 October 2017
arrived September 1985
departed late October 2017

now rented by a friend
Cleveland Heights, Ohio

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Homes

Thoughts of home have filled my last few days.

Or perhaps I should say thoughts about the many homes I know.

video showing clips of movies filmed in Pittsburgh and a photo posted by my friend Mihee Kim-Kort about her family’s recent road trip, reminded me of the home where I grew: Neville Island.

I realized that no matter how much I like New York, where I now live; no matter how much I like Louisville where I spent ten years and where I make many trips for work; no matter how much I like Cleveland Heights where Tricia lives now and we raised our family; no matter how much, and most days how much means a great deal, I will always, always, always bleed black and gold.

S is for SnowBut this week also saw our ministry host a group from First Presbyterian Church of Albuquerque, New Mexico. And in our conversations I found myself longing for Ghost Ranch and Northern New Mexico, the home of my soul, the place where, every time I visit, I know I belong in a way like I belong in no other place on the planet.

Home of my childhood.

Home of my family.

Home of transition.

Home of the present.

Home of my soul.

All precious places. All blur together.

I give thanks for my homes and I pray and work for the day when all people have a safe place to call home.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Cleveland Heights, Family, Louisville, New York

Be: 20 May 2014

UNCHR tent - I hope (800x450)

To exist
to have a place
to live in safety

to be.

2 June 2011
United Nations Headquarters
Manhattan, New York

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Filed under New York, Photo, Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, United Nations

Scouring the Shire, part II

Shire

10:04:54

15 February 2014

Physically exhausted,

emotionally drained,

the scouring continues.

After a nap.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Friends, New York, Photo

Scouring the Shire

photo (59)09:58:34

15 February 2014

Snow blankets the Shire, powdered sugar on pastry.

The aroma of coffee, strong coffee, fills the air.

A friend comes to visit soon,

no mark on the door needed for me to know.

Time to prepare, to make ready, to clean.

photo (58)Enthusiasm seizes me, energy surges through me,

the scouring begins.

See you along the Trail.

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Home

Thanks to a friend, I will always know when I am home.

Shire

 

May everyone have reminders of safe places they can call home.

See you along the Trail.

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Home

This originally appeared on Facebook as a response to a friend who asked:

What is home? How do you create a sense of home inside you?

After some reflection, I respond:

Home is the place where I belong, truly belong. I may find myself belonging in several places: Pittsburgh, where I grew up; Cleveland Heights where my wife lives and my children grew up; New York, where I live now. But home is the place (and it is not on that list) where my sense of belonging is strongest and most clear. It is the place I yearn for in times of stress and sorrow; it is the place that feeds my spirit and my soul even when I am not there. For me, I knew it was home the first time I arrived there.

Home are the people, past and present, who nurture and mentor me; challenge and infuriate me; love me.

Home is the place that awaits me.

Home is the journey. It is the Trail, in the language of this blog.

Home is a gift.

How would you answer?

See you along the Trail.

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