Saturday, January 26, 2013

Making the Familiar Strange

RCL Epiphany 3C
27 January 2013

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

To hear the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. Eucharist at Saint Faith's, please click here.

In October of 1963 my family returned to the United States after three years abroad in England and Germany.  We had left the front lines of the Cold War only to enter into the front lines of a new conflict:  the civil rights movement of the sixties.

At first my life was quite insulated from the turmoil that was occurring elsewhere in the country.  Colorado Springs was a military town, so I was accustomed to having classmates who were Afro-Americans and Latino-Americans.  But I was too young to understand the more subtle dimensions of prejudice.

For example, no one I knew studied Spanish.  Colorado's first European settlers were Spanish colonists who had moved north from Mexico and settled in southwestern Colorado.  But among my peers in the 'Highly Academically Talented Students' cohort, none of us were encouraged to take Spanish.  We were directed towards the study of French, German or Latin.

Although there were many Afro-American students in my elementary, junior high and senior high schools, I cannot remember any who were in my classes.  No one ever made any overt racist remarks, but now that I look back over the distance of fifty years, it is the absence of Afro-Americans in those courses that I remember.

It was 1965 that I became more aware of the growing tensions within my country and within my own city.  On the 14th of August a young man, Jonathan Myrick Daniels, was shot and killed in Hayneville, Alabama.  He had left his school in Cambridge, Massachusetts in response to Martin Luther King's call for young Northerners to come south and help register Afro-Americans as voters.  Daniels died shielding a young Afro-American woman from an attack by an unemployed highway workers.

Now you need to know that I am a Myrick.  My father's mother was a Myrick and our family is spread all over what is now northern New York and the New England states.  Although we never met, Jonathan Myrick Daniels was surely kin to me given that he came from a small town in New Hampshire, a hop, skip and a jump from the Myrick home region.

When asked why he was going to help in the voter registration movement, Daniels wrote that he had been strengthened by the singing of Mary's song in Evening Prayer:  "'He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek.  He hath filled the hungry with good things.'  I knew that I must go to Selma.  The Virgin's song was to grow more and more dear to me in the weeks ahead." (Holy Women, Holy Men, p. 526)

Now Mary's song is familiar to many Anglicans.  It has been a regular fixture in our forms of evening prayer since 1549.  In our three-year lectionary it appears frequently during Advent and there are some of us who know it, in one version or another, by heart.  On the one hand, it is a familiar text; but on the other hand, it has extraordinary implications for us.  For Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Mary's song sustained him on his path to unexpected martyrdom.

It is the possibility of the familiar to become unfamiliar and extraordinary that I find at the heart of today's reading from the gospel according to Luke.  Although we do not know a great deal about the synagogue liturgy at the time of Jesus, I think that I can say this:  Jesus did not choose the text; the text chose Jesus.  Jesus had arrived in the synagogue in Nazareth and, as was the custom, was given the opportunity to read and to comment on one of the regularly-scheduled readings.  When the attendant gave the scroll to Jesus, the attendant had already unrolled it to the reading specific to that Sabbath.  What we hear today is the unleashing of the familiar to change our lives.

I have now served as a priest through ten cycles of the three-year lectionary.  My actual experience of the lectionary actually reaches back to 1970, so I have heard these readings fourteen times before.  But I am aware that I do not always listen to the readings.  I do not come expecting to be surprised, expecting to be summoned from my daily routine into unexplored country, expecting to hear God speaking directly to me through the words spoken by the day's reader.

But Jonathan Myrick Daniels seems to have done so and he went south 'to proclaim release to the captives' and 'to let the oppressed go free'.

Let us not be lulled into inattention by the familiar.  Let us come to worship expectantly and prepared to hear God speak to us through the words that God has used for so many millennia to summon the people of God to action.  Let us come to worship in the confidence that God's word will speak what we need to hear to heal our lives, to comfort our woes and to lead us into paths unknown.  For surely the Spirit of the Lord is here and the familiar words and actions still have power to transform us.  Amen.

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