This sermon was given by Rachel Smith at Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship January 1, 2012
My Friends we made it. We are here…. January 1, 2012. While looking over the worship materials it was suggested that theme for this week be “Embracing a wide body.” While I am certain that many of us can identify with that statement after all of the holiday eating; I am inviting you into a different sort of expanse. (While Keith Lehman is not here this morning, I want to compliment him on his dedication to the widening of our church body by promising to buy me chocolates if I presented today) So here goes…
I decided to title my thoughts “A Dream of 2012.” I wanted the title to call out to you the nature of my relationship with what I am about to say. My words are work I have not accomplished. They are a dream. They are a prayer for the parts of my existence that seem well… cracked.
2012 is going to be different right? Right?
Hey, let’s not wish the year away already! After all, it’s only the first day! There is plenty of time to lose 20lbs, calculate our taxes, and learn that elusive 2nd language we have promised ourselves for years we were going to master. Certainly the things that slipped through the cracks last year can be remedied in the next 365-day cycle. January 1st, it’s the great do-over, the mulligan, another chance, the promise of more time to get it right.
Humans have been feeling this way a very long time. Something I stumbled across in my readings this week was a description of the Roman god Janus, January’s namesake. Janus is depicted as a two-headed man. His silhouettes are facing right and left with shared headspace connecting them in the middle. Picture him in your mind. We are going to need this image as we journey through the past, present and future today.
Janus is the god of gates and doors. He represents beginnings and endings. He was celebrated in harvest and planting, marriage, birth, and other important beginnings. He is considered a transitional figure between childhood and adulthood, war and peace, the country and the city, primal and civil life.
Appropriate for January is it not? A superpower that will help us get from point A to point B with success certainly sounds appealing to me.
For Christians, Epiphany is the great beginning. God has become man and is here among us to save us. What has long been promised has finally come.
But I would like to start far away from the epiphany; far away from the realization that the word had become flesh. I want us to hold the Luke scriptures of the Magi’s visit in our mind’s eye and travel back in time to 1 Samuel 1, to Hannah, the first pray-er of Mary’s famous song which was just read in chapter 2.
Growing up I have realized that women in the Bible may not have been exactly like they were portrayed to me by my teachers. Likely, they were much more complicated characters. In my childhood I accepted a sort of Edith Bunker portrayal of Hannah. “Oh Elkanah!” she would lament to her husband “Do you love me as much as you do that Barbie home-wrecker Peninah?” Elkanah in his Archie-style would shoe her away saying “Geez Hannah, ain’t I a better husband than ten sons any day? Shut your mouth already I’m trying to watch my show!”
Inwardly she fretted and suffered while outwardly she did her best to sing at the piano. She was a stand by your man, make lemonade, and suffer in mostly-silence kind of gal. And why wouldn’t she be? As a next-to worthless barren woman she should be glad she had a kind husband who was willing to overlook her inadequacies and lavish her with affection and extra cuts of beef on sacrifice days.
Desperate to know she has any worth in the world. Hannah cries out to God in front of the Eli. She is such an emotional wreck that Eli assumes she is drunk. She prays for a son to fulfill the desperate, empty eternal longing that only a child could fulfill in her. The want is so great she bargains with God that should she conceive, the child will be returned as God’s servant.
As an adult, I now wonder if Hannah’s prayers extended far beyond the simplistic female stereotypes. Did her feelings go deeper than inadequacy, deeper than want or embarrassments? Did they extend into an indescribable longing, a spiritual groan? A longing I suspect resides in each of us; one that begs to hear “This too shall be made right.” Whatever our “this’s” may be.
A friend once told me something that has stuck with me. “Wanting things to be different is a part of grief.”
In Hannah’s community the Jews were wanting their lives to look very different. They were searching for a leader. They were looking for a king. The priests who were guiding them were corrupted. And Eli their father who sat outside the place of worship assuming Hannah was drunk, tells us more about what the community was like than how insane Hannah may have seemed.
I now see Hannah as a person who’s individual, family, and community troubles have aligned. She is not delusional and emotional. She sees the situation clearly. The vessel holding life together is cracked and it is going to burst. There are cracks in her body, her family, and her community.
A favorite song of mine chimes, “Little cracks they escalate, before you know it it’s too late.” Hannah bargains with God for the impossible. A child where there can be none, but not just a child, a son, and not just a son, a servant who can be given to God to come and make things right.
I want to think of Hannah’s anguish as an outpouring of an informed woman. One whose sees and knows herself in light of the greater spiritual world. “It’s me, it’s my family, it’s all of us. Come and fill our cracks. Breathe of heaven hold us together. Save us.” I want to think she prayed the prayers of the feminine, the prayers of a mother, and the prayers of a peace seeker.
Return with me to the present (If you’re thinking of our picture we are somewhere in Janus’s neck area). Did you know there are cracks in everything? Well not exactly cracks but spaces, holes. These holes have a special name: wormholes. Some of you science geeks may be well aquatinted with this term. A recent article I read by physicist Steven Hawking called “How to build a time machine” points out that nothing is flat or solid. All matter has height, width, depth, holes, and wrinkles. It’s a principle of physics.
Now let’s jump to Janus’s other head: the future. In the future many scientists hope that time travel will not be a ridiculous premise on which countless sci-fi movies are fashioned. Scientists hope that in the future we can turn our attention towards “the fourth dimension” that is the measurement of time we consume in space. So now we will have height, width, depth, and length of time in space. (Not good news as most of us are not getting taller, are getting wider, trying to keep any depth we had, and good news/bad news taking up more space in time).
If time gets to be measured that means it has height width and depth. And if it has dimension it has wormholes. And if it has worm holes maybe we could get inside one and travel from one side of time to the other side of time. This would be time travel. In case I lost you, picture something that looks a lot like Janus. This time instead of heads imagine a line on the right and a line on the left. The line on the left represents the past. The line on the right represents the future. The lines are filled with tiny holes we cannot see. A tunnel connects a hole in the past and a hole in the future. If we were small enough we could walk through the hole into the tunnel and out the other hole, landing in the future, or the reverse landing in the past.
We have one big problem though. We are not small enough. You would have to be smaller than a molecule or an atom. You would have to be something so small it doesn’t even appear to be solid. It’s called quantum foam. And here is the thing everyone is trying to figure out… How do we get small enough to get into a crack that size and make it bigger so we can travel through time?
Wait a minute. We are not small enough? Who wants to be small? We are the 99%. Power in numbers! Being big enough to overcome our enemies is the solution isn’t it? If it’s not somebody ought to call Occupy Wall Street! If we can only just stuff ourselves with more of something we will be satisfied…right?
After reading Hannah’s story I have some new advice for Occupy Wall Street. Let’s try this: a national invitation of all the nation’s barren men and women, all of the longers, all of the impotent, the oppressed, the fed up, the exhausted, the un-noticed, the over-noticed, the poor, the sick with wealth, the unsatisfied, the longers who yearn for something small enough to get in our cracks and make right everything that has gone wrong. And we will cease from fighting and police raids and politics and pray. We will pray for someone and something that can infiltrate the smallest cracks and the widest oceans. We cry out with a mother’s anguish for someone who can navigate our holes and walk us out of the tunnel and to a place where the proud are fallen, the humble are lifted, and the hungry are filled; where we are right with ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors in Cincinnati and in every place in the world. . Can I get an Amen?
Last week Joel pointed out a funny image of Mary as the holy mother. It was T-shirt depicting Mary that stated “Abstinence is 99.99% effective.” If we follow the logic, Jesus is a bet on .01%. That’s pretty small. And who knows how far those 9’s extend? It might be even smaller. The chances don’t look good for a pregnancy. But epiphany is where the upside-down kingdom comes roaring in and Janus’s two heads spin. It is the point in time when we say “You know what, my money is on the baby.”
Perhaps this is why after Hannah prayed Mary sang. In right step she transformed the ancient words of longing and anguish into the chorus of the hope filled. Joel has been reminded us of this song all throughout this advent season: “My soul magnifies the Lord.” My soul makes bigger the place for the .01, the quantum foam, the only being able to enter the largest and tiniest of holes of our broken and cracked places.
And so this is my story and this is my song for 2012: That I pay close attention to my longings that I don’t dismiss them or hide them. But that I see them as spaces for something so much smaller and more powerful than I to fill. The one who enlarges and makes right: the one whose breath is life.