A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
There was a time, not so very long ago, when speak-ins and teach-ins and hootenannies were a big part of life on American college campuses. As ubiquitous as tweets and instagrams were lightly colored fliers announcing the latest speak-in or inviting people to a hootenanny. Fliers inviting people to speak out against the injustice of the day. Fliers inviting people into song. Fliers inviting people to listen deeply to their world and to speak and sing a new world into being.
There were always a few songs you could count on singing:
“If I Had a Hammer”
“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”
“To Everything There Is a Season” with its haunting yet hopeful last words:
“I swear its not too late”
And the song that began and ended almost every hootenanny, teach-in, sit-in, march and demonstration, “We Shall Overcome.” Every one of those songs was written or adapted by one person. A person who knew deep in his heart that his job was “to show people that there is a lot of good music in this world and (that) if used right it may help to save the planet”(Pete Seeger, New York Times, 2009). The work of a prophet. The work of Pete Seeger who died last Monday.
Prophets like Pete Seeger—and we could add Bono, Joan Baez, Dylan and Bruce Springsteen—can change the world through the songs they sing. Offering words of hope and challenge they comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. No wonder powers and principalities are so often aligned against them. No wonder there are times when they are marginalized. Times when they are silenced. Times when they, like the widow Anna almost disappear from view.
Anna. A woman who spent the bulk of her long life a widow. Anna pushed to the margins of her world. Like the woman standing there before her, Anna married young.
Like many women in her time and place, Anna had been widowed young as well. Unlike so many of her sisters, Anna had no man to whom she could turn for help. No father to take her back into his fold. No uncle, cousin, kin to take her in. No brother-in-laws she could count on marrying. Anna was alone. Nowhere for her to go. No place for her to flee. A woman on the margins of her world.
And yet there’s so much more to Anna than just her shadow on the margins of her world. Old Anna is a prophet or so we’re told. But that leaves me with a host of questions: Where’s her song? Where’s her speech? Where are her stirring words? A voice for the voiceless strangely silent.
It makes me wonder what might be the song that Anna sang? Do you think she sang a song of freedom from oppression? A song for widows, orphans and those that others overlooked? Was hers a song of challenge? Was hers a song of hope? Luke tells us that after she saw the baby Jesus and his parents, she told all who came within her sphere about the child who offered redemption to Jerusalem.
And yet Luke stills Anna’s voice. Luke silences Anna’s song. We hear not her voice but his. We hear about the words she speaks. We don’t hear the words themselves. And that makes all the difference in the world. Like the singers, songwriters and prophets who follow in her wake, she was silenced by the powers of her day. Like those who live in the shadows of our world, the prophet Anna goes unheard and almost unseen.
You and I, we live in a world where new voices are silenced every day. We live in a world of shadows where folks are pushed aside. A world where those in deepest need are often ignored or overlooked. A world where many voices go unheard.
And yet you and I—and Anna too—are children of a God who said, “Let there be light” and there was light. You and I—and Anna too—are made in the image of God who spoke the world into being. You and I, we follow the one who spoke the words “Talitha cum” and in those words raised a young girl to new life.
We are children of a God who listens as well as speaks. A God who says, “I have heard my children cry.” A God who searches for Adam and Eve when he can’t find them in the garden. We follow the One who seeks to hear the stories of those he encounters on his way. We walk in the footsteps of the One who listens to people on the margins of his world and who is changed by what he hears.
You and I, we are members of the Body of Christ. We are the church. As Theresa of Avila said, “Christ has no hands but yours.” We might add, “Christ has no voice but yours.” And yet I wonder…. “What is the song we are singing?” “What are the words we are speaking?” “What are the voices we are hearing?” “What are the voices we are silencing?”
There are so many voiceless ones in the worlds in which we live. It’s tempting to speak for them. It’s tempting to follow in Luke’s path, to put words in the mouths of the Annas of our time. And sometimes we must speak. For who will speak for monarch butterflies losing their habitats to gmo modified crops or penguins losing their habitat to climate change? Sometimes our role is to listen—to listen to the cries coming from the margins of our world. And sometimes our work is to call forth the voices of the voiceless ones.
In a sermon preached not long before he died, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about being a drum major for justice. Like drum majors everywhere, drum majors for justice both rally the band and keep the beat—the beat of justice, the rhythm of God’s work in the world. Drum majors play no instrument. Their voices are never heard, but drum majors make it possible for the band to march across the field. You and I, sometimes we are called to be drum majors for God, drum majors for the voiceless ones—drum majors enabling others to keep the justice beat.
And, as Oscar Romero reminded us shortly before his death, sometimes we are called to be God’s microphones speaking God’s word of truth to the tone deaf ears of the powerful ones.
On the front of most UCC churches in our country, you can see a red banner. The words stenciled on that banner are, “God Is Still Speaking.” I know that we could add another banner with the words “God Is Still Listening” stenciled across the front. Do you think we could add a third banner, “And So Is the Church”?