Sermon preached at All Saints Church in Pasadena on Sunday, July 9, 2017 by guest preacher Norma Guerra from Church of the Messiah, Santa Ana.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be aligned with your love, O God, our strength, our courage, and our freedom. Amen.
Good morning All Saints! It is wonderful to be here with you and what an honor to be preaching from this pulpit. My heart rejoices and my soul is dancing to God’s tune, as I am standing here, which is by the way one of the messages I hear from our Gospel this morning, dancing to God’s tune.
Let’s hear the beginning of the passage again, “What comparison can I make with this generation? They are like children shouting to others as they sit in the marketplace, ‘We piped you a tune, but you would not dance. We sang you a dirge, but you would not mourn.’” Apparently, Jesus is lamenting that they are unable, both as individuals and as a society to recognize God’s tune. It was true then and it is true now. It seems to me that lately we have been dancing or attempting to dance to our own tunes. Have you danced with a partner that won’t allow you to lead or who is trying to lead but doesn’t have the rhythm or a clue on how to do it? One pulls from one side and the other goes to the other, and inevitable you end up stepping on each other’s foot. It is not graceful and it can be painful.
I believe this applies to our present political situation, where dancing to God’s tune of justice, liberty, equality and peace for all seems to be more difficult than ever. It seems that we as a society are unable to recognize what is worth celebrating and what is worth weeping over, we are becoming numb and unable to hear the loving rhythm of the divine. We are not partners with each other in the dance floor. Perhaps this has been always our struggle as human beings but it seems that lately the struggle has become more evident and more painful to watch.
It makes me wonder, am I not dancing for the right things? Am I not weeping for the right things? Are we as a church, are we dancing to Christ’s songs that lead us into service, into loving each other, into thinking about the wellbeing of our neighbor before ours, into lifting our voices for those who cannot do it themselves, into listening, truly listening to those who think different from us, into feeding each other rather than throwing stones at each other, into showing compassion rather than judgment? Is Christ’s song taking us to the places where no one wants to go or dare to go? Are we mourning over the brokenness of our country, of our world? Are we mourning and doing what is necessary to free the oppressed, the marginalized? Or are we mourning things that are not truly important?
Are we willing to dance to God’s tune? Are you willing to dance to God’s tune? As I think about this, the image of a dear friend, mentor and sister to us all, comes to my mind. When I think of dancing to God’s music, I can see Zelda, dancing her way out, through that hall, with her arms up and waving them from one side to the other, unafraid to show her moves, unafraid to lead the way. She is an embodiment of what it is to dance to the rhythm of God both literally and metaphorically. She is a champion in the dance floor and a wonderful example for us to follow.
And I also recognize that dancing to God’s tune is not easy, we, as members of the Jesus’ movement as our Presiding Bishop calls it, are called to transform this world, we are called to bring this rhythm of love and compassion to everyone we meet, to every corner of the world. The job ahead of us can be overwhelming and it may seem almost impossible. And it is impossible if we attempt to do it on our own. However, in God’s dance floor we are not alone, not only do we have each other but most importantly we have Jesus as our dance partner, and this dance partner knows how to move and how to lead.
At times we may feel overwhelmed and clueless on what to do next. Our lives may be challenged by our own personal difficulties, or the difficulties of those who we love: anxiety, sickness in the family or in the church, loss of direction, the death of a friend or a member of our family, financial struggles, our children trying to find their own voices, our church going through many changes; which by the way is a sentiment that we can feel not only here at All Saints, but also in the Diocese. Just yesterday we participated in the consecration of John H. Taylor as our Bishop Coadjutor. Both this church and the Diocese are having new beginnings. And new beginnings can be scary.
John O’Donohue in his book Benedictus, says the following:
“Beginnings often frighten us because they seem like lonely voyages into the unknown. Yet, in truth, no beginning is empty or isolated. We seem to think that beginning is a setting out from a lonely point along some line direction into the unknown. This is not the case. Shelter and energy come alive when a beginning is embraced. Goethe says that once the commitment is made, destiny conspires with us to support and realize it. We are never as alone in our beginnings as it might seem at the time. A beginning is ultimately an invitation to open towards the gifts and growth that are stored up for us.”
When facing beginnings we must learn to dance the new tune that is presented to us, we must dare to imagine where it will take us and how it will transform us.
And then we also have the more trivial things … which also affect us and can be scary as well. Just yesterday when going back to Irvine after picking up my son from where he stayed while the Consecration Service took place, my car died in the middle of the freeway, thanks be to God we were close to home and thanks be to God for Triple A, who came to rescue us from a very scary spot in the 55 Freeway where the cars passed us very closely and pretty fast. While waiting for the tow truck with my son and my mom in the car, I must admit that my anxiety was overwhelming. I was worried about our safety, and also wondering about today and how I was going to make it here… but obviously I made it…the car did not. My friends, God never leaves us alone, She always sends us angels to watch over us and my angel came in the form of someone from this congregation who picked us up and brought me here today.
Her kindness reminded me that I need to pay better attention to God’s tune and avoid the noise of anxiety. It reminded me of the good news that we hear today in the Gospel. The good news is that Jesus constantly whispers to our ears the following comforting words, which are a wonderful song to follow “Come to me, all you who labor and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Here you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I would like to call your attention to the image of the yoke, the yoke according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (such as oxen) are joined at the heads or necks for working together.” I must admit that at the beginning I didn’t like too much this image as it seemed to me more related to bondage and servitude; and I wondered how could I relate it to the image of the dance floor which is more gracious than this wooden piece in our necks; however, as I reflected more and more on it, I started to like it. Because just as in the case of dancing, it requires working together to a rhythm, you see if one goes to one direction or decides to sit down, it will just not work and what is even more reassuring is that when times get harder and they will get harder, Jesus will not let go his side of the yoke. You see I can imagine Jesus already wearing the yoke and inviting me, inviting you to let him be your partner. Jesus tells us that we bear our burdens together with him. Now I see this image more as a symbol of connection and relationship with God and with each other.
I truly believe that when we come to this holy space and worship together, we are learning what it is to be yoked to each other and to God. Here, around this table, we learn how to see like Jesus, how to hear like Jesus, how to weep like Jesus and how to dance like Jesus.
We are reminded that we don’t need to walk the road ahead of us on our own. We don’t need to carry our burdens, our suffering, and our challenges on our own. We don’t need to face our new beginnings on our own. As a community of faith we have each other and we have God offering us a new song to dance with. We should not be shy about it, and we should try to dance to Jesus’ divine tune. And don’t worry he will teach us how to follow the rhythm, if necessary Jesus will let you step on his feet and he will do the dance with you over and over. As Jay Emerson Johnson says, “The divine composer longs for dance partners, and the music of life is God’s invitation to dance.” My prayer today is that you will join Jesus in the dance floor. Each of us is invited to dance with God. So let’s turn on the music and let’s start dancing.
Now to conclude I would like to leave you with a blessing about a new beginning from John O’Donohue. I know this year has been full of changes and new beginnings for All Saints, as a daughter of this church, and as a person that was sponsored by you all into the Ordained Ministry my heart and my prayers are always with you. Even today as I return I miss seeing the faces of some of the staff in this altar so as I lament with you I also rejoice with you excited to see your new adventure. All Saints let’s keep on dancing!
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.