November 26: At the End of the Day
One of the best things about attending Princeton Theological Seminary was its proximity to NYC and Broadway. I love Broadway musicals, and one of my favorites is Les Miserables. It is a powerful story of despair, forgiveness, repentance, and hope. One of my favorite songs from the show is “At the End of the Day.” It is sung by the ensemble of the poor people of Montreuil-sur-Mer. They sing that at the end of the day they have spent, another day ignored, another day fighting for the basic necessities of life. They are another day colder another day closer to death. Such was and is often the life of the poor.
At the end of the day, we may think nothing better will come tomorrow, that life is just an endless string of similar days with their struggles, routines, and trivialities.
I wonder what Mary thought at the end of her days before the angel Gabriel appeared to her. She was one of the poor of Nazareth, struggling to get by every day. At the end of the day, what were Mary’s hope and dreams?
I don’t know what Mary sang about at the end of the day before she met the heavenly messenger, but I do know what she sang about afterwards. Unlike the bitterness, anger, and despair of “At the End of the Day,” Mary’s song, typically called the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) for the first word of the Latin translation, is one of hope and change. It is one of the few times Mary speaks in the Gospels, and, she sings.
She sings of what God is doing: lifting up the lowly, scattering the proud, filling the hungry, and sending the rich away empty. She sings in the present tense, but none of those things were happening right then. Rulers weren’t being pulled from their thrones, and the world wasn’t being turned on its head. Mary is not singing about what is happening right now but about what is sure to happen even now. She sings a song of certain hope.
Mary knows what it’s like to be at the bottom, to be poor, to be looked down upon and judged, and she will know what it is like to have a sword pierce her soul. Mary did not have an easy life, and she wasn’t being promised one either. Yet, at the end of the day she still sings because she knows God is with her even in the midst of pain and struggle, just as God has always been with the people of Israel. She knows God fulfils God’s promises. Her song isn’t about finding the silver lining or about putting a good face on a bad situation. The situation may remain bad, and things may even get worse at the end of the day, but she sings out of a certain hope. Her song is about a certain future in which God takes an active role and works God’s purposes out. She sings in the present because she knows the future: God will end oppression, God will feed the poor, and God will lift up the lowly.
At the end of the day, Mary sings of a new day. This is what Advent is really all about — a turning point. A promised new day of God with us, reigning in our hearts and reigning in the world as the Kingdom of Heaven breaks into our lives.
This Advent, our sermon series is “God Breaks In.” We’ll look at the ways God has, does, and will break into our world and in our lives. God is still breaking and entering into our world to bring hope, peace, joy and love. So let’s make Mary’s song our song this Advent. Let’s sing of God’s faithfulness, promises, and God’s new day that is and is yet to be.
In common calling,
November 19: Come, Ye Thankful People Come
Regina had tried for many years to have a child, but after numerous attempts all she had was heartache and frustration. Regina grew up in a church-going family, but hadn’t been back for many years. There were the usual excuses: lack of time, didn’t like the music, not enough people her age. Worship just wasn’t a priority for her. Then she became pregnant, and began to pray every day for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Ten months later she came to church with little Nicholas. Why? She said, “Every time I leaned over the crib to care for him, I realized I just had to have someone to thank.”
Gratitude is the natural response when we receive what we don’t necessarily deserve. Why are we the lucky ones? Why did the fire miss my house? Why did I not get sick? Why have I always had good health? Why did I marry into this wonderful family?
All of us have received gifts and good fortunes that are not entirely of our own doing. Sometimes are choices and skills have a role to play, but often there are situations, circumstances, and support from outside of ourselves that help account for our blessings. I’m lucky to have born into a family that valued education, that could meet my needs, and allowed me luxuries of travel, books, and toys. I didn’t earn those things, but I received them.
When we stop are really think about all we have, all we are able to do, and really consider why we are in this position, we have to realize we didn’t make it on our own.
So what do we do? Sometimes we just need some one to thank. It’s one of the reasons we are drawn to worship. The worship invitation is always “Come, ye thankful people come.” We can come and give thanks to God, every Sunday at worship. We can come and give thanks to God any place and any time. Sometimes we just have to have some one to thank. The good news: there is someone to thank: the God who is with us and for us in Jesus Christ.
Come, ye thankful people come. Come and worship. Come and give thanks, and then go and share the blessings. When prosperity is shared, abundance overflows.
In common calling,
November 5: Mission and Vision -- Your Responses
I want to thank everyone who took the time to respond to the brief questionnaire we sent out to help us consider new mission and vision statements for Derry. Your feedback has helped us consider who we are and who we want to be.
When asked to consider why Derry church exists, you overwhelmingly responded in various forms that Derry exists to worship God, reach out to others with God’s love through mission work and evangelization, and provide a place for Christians to grow in faith together.
We asked you to think about why you invest your life into Derry and the most common responses were because Derry has given you so much: community, support, love and hope. You said you believe Derry is able to do good and important things and that you want to be a part of the work Derry does through and for Christ.
You shared how Derry fills needs in your life like the need for spiritual growth and formation. You responded that Derry provides meaningful relationships of care, support, and fun. You talked about inspiring music, opportunities to do good in the world, and a place to be yourself where you are loved. Your answers show that Derry isn’t just a place to come to out of routine, but a needed place in our community and in your lives for so many reasons.
Finally, we asked what hopes you have for Derry. Many of you hoped for continued growth, especially among young people. You hope that Derry continues on for another 300 years. One of the most common responses was that Derry become more diverse and inclusive in its membership. You hope that we increase our missional engagement and support. It is great that you have so many hopes for our church; it means we have a bright future ahead of us.
We are working on new mission and vision statements for the church that reflect what you shared. Our mission statement should summarize Derry’s reason for existence or what we’re supposed to be doing. The statement answers the question what are we here to do and why?
Our vision statement should articulate where we want to go as church in the future. It describes what the organization should look like if we’re living out our mission statement and being who we feel called to be. Our vision is what we want our church to be even if we aren’t quite there yet. Mission defines the overall strategy, while vision pictures a specific future.
A small working group of Elders who serve on the Long-Range Planning Committee and on the Communications & Technology Committee are working on statements to present to Session this month for discussion and we look forward to sharing with you our progress and the proposed statements.
Thank you for being a part of this process as we help plan our path forward as Derry Church together.
In common calling,
Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker