A Long Sabbath Day

Mark 1:29-39
David A. Davis
February 4, 2024
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The ministry of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark launches with one long sabbath day. One very long sabbath day. Mark tells that right after Jesus calls his new disciples from their nets they go to Capernaum. When the sabbath day comes, Jesus heads to the synagogue to teach. All of the worshippers that sabbath morning are astounded at this teaching and how he commanded the room with such authority. In the midst of his teaching he silences what the bible calls “an unclean spirit” healing a tormented man. People are even more amazed and word spread quickly that very day. When the synagogue service finishes, they go to Simon and Andrew’s house. As soon as they arrived and before brunch, the people in the house tell Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law. Right after Jesus rids her of the fever, she begins to work on the meal. One wonders if they told Jesus about the woman’s illness right away because no one else in the house could cook.

By sundown that long sabbath day, people all over town are talking about what they had seen and heard. A crowd gathers outside on the doorstep of Peter and Andrew’s house. People bring family members and friends who were sick. As Mark puts it, “the whole city was gathered around the door.” That is less of a head count and more of a way of saying “everyone” was there. Healing and casting out, healing and casting out, healing and casting out. It must have taken Jesus well into the night. Morning teaching, an eventful brunch, and evening healing service. By any measure, a long sabbath day.

Sometime way before sunrise, “while it was still very dark”, Jesus gets up and goes out to find a place to be alone and to pray. When the others in the house wake up Jesus is no where to be found. Simon and the other still wet behind the ears disciples go out to find Jesus. They were not just looking for Jesus, they “hunted” for him. It’s strong word with all sorts of connotations. One not at all common in the New Testament. I can’t find another example of the word in the gospels. They hunted for him. Last week Dr. Barreto preached on Luke 15 and Jesus’ parables of lost things. The woman who lost a coin “searched carefully”, she didn’t hunt for it. It’s a different word in Greek. Simon and his companions who had witnessed a long sabbath day full of healing and cleansing and teaching, they went hunting for Jesus until they found him.

“Everyone is searching for you” Everyone. It must have been spoken with a bit exasperation or frustration. Everyone is looking for you Jesus! “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” Jesus then went “throughout Galilee”.  Simon hunted for Jesus until he found him expecting to take him back to the front step crowd waiting for more. Everyone is looking for you Jesus! Jesus stood up, looked at Simon, and after that very long sabbath day in Capernaum, Jesus said “Here we go!” and walked off in the other direction. There is something so relatable here to our encounter with Jesus the Christ, to our journey of faith him, to our questions and our wrestling. Our desire to have this who faith thing figure out. You know there were folks who arrived at dawn back at the house who hadn’t been healed yet. What about them Jesus? Mark says Jesus healed “many” not “all”. Just when everyone in Capernaum thought they had this all figured out, they had him all figured out, Jesus said “Let us go on”.

I have seen more live productions of the musical Godspell than I can count. I know it’s a “my generation, my time period” kind of thing. I know every word of every song. The only live event I have been to more is a Bruce Springsteen concert. A long time ago Cathy and I went to see Godspell in an arts center on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania that used to be a church. The staging of the play was such that it happened all around and in the audience. Audience members were essentially sitting on the stage and part of the production. Near end of the play, the Jesus character starts to offer his goodbyes to the company of followers. They formed a circle around him and the circle included the audience. The Jesus character started to make his way around the circle one by one including several audience members as well.

Each character in the play received a unique goodbye that reflected the persona revealed throughout the play. To the athletic, fitness minded follower, Jesus offered a slap on the back and a fake one-two punch to the belly. To the practical joker in the bunch, it was the start of a handshake before pulling and going for a scratch of the head. To the character who was chronically sad throughout, Jesu put a finger under the chin and with the other hand formed a smile with the corners of the mouth. And to the one who had a bit of questionable reputation and lots of relationship history, the Jesus character went in for a hug and then thought better of it.

The unspoken message was incredibly powerful to me as I found myself in that circle. For one thing, and this was never said on that stage, but we all know what happens after those goodbyes. We all know where Jesus is headed. But even more, was this affirmation that hit me hard that night. A takeaway in a little theater in University City Philadelphia that I still cling to all the time. Jesus meets who we are. Jesus meets us where we are. Just as I am without one plea. His eye is on the sparrow, I know he watches me.  If that Jesus character that night would have greeted me, said good by to me on that stage, I would have lost it. I mean ugly crying, shoulders heaving and all and Cathy rolling her eyes at the crier she married. Jesus knows…me.

But here in Mark, here in our text for this morning, there is difference, a big difference between being known by Jesus, being known by God and thinking we know, that we have it all figured out, this Jesus, this gospel. When Simon and the others went “hunting” for Jesus, the intensity or the negative weightiness of the verb shouldn’t be lost. Most English translations drop it with some version of “they just went looking for Jesus.” The Common English Version doesn’t leans in: “Simon and those with him tracked Jesus down. When they found him, they told him ‘Everyone’s looking for you’. Jesus replied, ‘Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too.”

Simon hunted for and tracked down Jesus on behalf of everyone convinced they had seen and heard and now knew everything about him. He hunted for and tracked down Jesus for all those who wanted to keep Jesus for themselves. Simon hunted for and tracked down Jesus  on behalf of those who were so absolutely sure who Jesus was and what Jesus about and what Jesus could do for them. A careful read of the first day of Jesus’ ministry in Mark is a bit of a cautionary tale for all of us who think we know Jesus, we know Jesus completely, we know Jesus better than the rest. There is a word of caution for any who fall prey to molding and shaping a Jesus of their own making, a Savior of their own liking. It is a red flag for any of us followers of Jesus who come to the conclusion that Jesus always thinks like we do and agrees with us all the time. This long sabbath day in Mark is a rapid fire introduction to the ministry of Jesus that flashed from scene to scene (teacher, spirit remover, healer, crowd attracter, solitary pray-er). And just as Mark seems to be suggesting that this Jesus offers a bit of everything for everyone, just when the crowds are trying to horde Jesus for themselves, Jesus speaks of what he came out to do. Jesus reminds the reader that there’s difference between being known and thinking we know.

“Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” Proclaim the message. That message is what Mark calls “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…….Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying ‘the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.’” (Mk. 1:14) The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near. A kingdom where the lame walk and the sick are healed and the hungry are fed. A kingdom where swords are smashed into plowshares and the most powerful are brought low and dividing walls are town down and outcasts are welcome. Jesus didn’t come to simply be all things for all people. He came to fulfill the very kingdom of God.

Part of the uniqueness of the Gospel Mark, the shortest of the four gospels, what ought to strike you when you take your place on this stage where the gospel plays out all around you, what one should never miss when reading Mark is that you are never far from the ending. No matter where you are in Mark, your close to the end. We all know how this is going to end. So after a long sabbath day right in chapter one, when Simon and his companions hunt down Jesus for all of us who think we have it now and forever figured out, Jesus turns and points. He tells Simon that what he came to do was proclaim the message and he points in the other direction. But he’s not just pointing to the neighboring towns and villages. When Jesus says to Simon, “let’s go on”, Jesus is pointing all the way to the cross. Pointing for the unclean spirits who yell his name, for the followers who try to track him down, for the reader drawn in once again, for all of us who think we know, for all of us, Jesus points all the way to the cross and says “that is what I came out to do.”

When you stand at the foot of the cross trying to comprehend his dying love for you, for you as you are, where you are, who you are?  There comes this overwhelming takeaway to cling to forever. When it comes to Jesus, his gospel, and his love for you, it is something you can never figure out. No. It is much, much more of a gift for you to receive.

Dan + Claudia Zanes Live in Concert at Nassau Presbyterian Church!

We look forward to welcoming folk musicians Dan + Claudia Zanes back to Nassau Church THIS SATURDAY, January 13 at 5 p.m! This special evening supports Arm in Arm. Admission will be one boxed or canned food item per person. Let’s pack the pews, fill the pantry and raise the roof!
Food items to bring include*:
-Canned low-fructose fruit
-Canned low-sodium vegetable
-Canned tuna, salmon, chicken or chili
-Canned beans or 1 lb. bag dried beans
No glass containers please!
Please be sure to check expiration dates.
*Monetary donations to Arm in Arm will also be accepted.

Glory Unadorned

Matthew 1:18-25
David A. Davis
December 24, 2023
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Years and years and years ago, sometime in the weeks leading up to our wedding, one my mother’s best friends said this to her: “You know Jane, the mother of the groom is expected to wear grey and keep her mouth shut!”. I am sure that everyone at the time must have had a good laugh especially since my mother’s friend knew her very well. I would have to look at a picture to see if, in fact, my mother wore grey. I can tell you, however, my mother would never have chosen to be silent. She self-identified in the family as “Jane the Pain” and wore it with pride. Grey? Maybe. Mouth shut? No way. Do you think Joseph wore grey that night out in the barn?

Matthew’s telling of the birth of Jesus offered for your hearing tonight by Pastor Karen, doesn’t offer much fodder for the Christmas pageant. Yes, it is true that Matthew tells of the visit of the Magi in chapter two. The Magi always make it into the Christmas pageant. Matthew also in chapter two of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. Appropriately, not pageant material. As to the birth of Jesus in Matthew, not much. It is Luke who “pageantizes” the Nativity. Zechariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist with the kick, the angel Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, sheep, more angels, the sky all aglow, a heavenly song, and the child lying in the manger. Pretty much everyone but Joseph has a speaking part. Joseph must be wearing grey.

In Matthew, “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.” The gospel of Matthew is like the Christmas story unplugged. Mary and Joseph. An angel appearing in a dream (which is by angel standards, kind of boring). An obligatory quote from Isaiah. Joseph doing what the Lord told him do and not to do and Mary giving birth to the baby. That’s it. Hark the Herald. Joy to the World. We’re done. Let’s go home.

But in Matthew’s understated, unadorned telling of the glorious news of the birth of Jesus, Joseph, at least when compared with Luke, Joseph has something to do. How about a hand for Joseph? Matthew describes Joseph as a “righteous man”. That puts Joseph in some rarified air when it comes to the bible. Noah. Job. The old man Simeon. Joseph of Arimathea. Maybe a few more but not a lot of men called righteous in scripture. Joseph “being a righteous man” was told by the angel that “the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph did as the Lord commanded him. He married Mary and she had the baby. And, according to Matthew, “Joseph named him Jesus.”

            Joseph still doesn’t get a line! But through the narrator, Matthew gives Joseph the last word. His voice comes not in a song like Mary but in the naming. “He named him Jesus.” Call him Jesus for he will save his people from their sins. They shall name him Emmanuel which means God with us. Jesus. He will save. Mary bore a son and Joseph named him Jesus. Maybe it’s not a quote from Joseph. Maybe Joseph doesn’t get line. But it is his faith statement. Joseph’s faith statement. He named him Jesus.  In the telling of the nativity of Jesus, Mary becomes a prophet. The shepherds they become one with the angel choir. Joseph, the righteous man becomes a believer. In his silence, Joseph becomes the proclaimer. He named him “God saves”.

Sometime tonight in a congregation somewhere, the story of the birth of Jesus is being told in pageant form again. You can see it in your imagination better than I can tell it. At the end, the pageant cast strikes that pose that every pageant cast does as the congregation is invited to sing a hymn. Parents are invited to bring their little children up to get a better view of the baby Jesus in Mary’s arms. Well, it is actually Marcus in Cheri’s arms. But for the children and for the congregation for that matter, in the “pageantized” moment of it all, it really doesn’t make much difference. A young dad takes up four year old Bryan whose mom and six week old baby sister stay back in the pew. Dad and Bryan wait patiently to get a closer look of the babe in arms. As Dad gives the sign for them to head back from Bethlehem, Bryan stops next to the pastor now waiting to say the benediction. The pastor leans over because the child clearly has something to say. “Jesus looks just like my baby sister!” he says very proudly. And right then the pastor remember the mentor who said “Never forget that the best sermons come with the fewest words!”

Joseph named the child Jesus.

Sometime tonight in a congregation somewhere, the light from the Christ Candle is starting to spread as “Silent Night” is being sung. A family is sitting together filling an entire pew. It is the pew the grandparents have occupied for more than 55 years. Between the COVID years and just the busyness of life, it has been quite a while since they have all been together for Christmas Eve. The grandfather, who always sits on the end of the pew starts to get weepy. Not just teary but weepy. His shoulders are heaving a bit as he tries to sing. The tears in his eyes glisten in the candlelight as his wife gently pats his leg. At the other end of the pew, the grandson in sixth grade leans forward and looks over at his grandfather who is barely keeping it together. With genuine concern, he leans over to his father in one of those church whispers, “What’s wrong with Poppop?’ “Pop always cries at “Silent Night”. He’s cried at “Silent Night” my whole life.”

Later that night, when for a moment it’s just grandfather and grandson sitting by the fire while everyone else was in the kitchen, it was clear the young one wanted more info on the tears. “Poppop, why do you cry every year during “Silent Night”?” Pop seemed surprised any noticed when in fact the whole congregation notices every year. He is quiet first thinking about how to answer. Then he smiles and heaves a bit of sigh. “You know, no one has ever asked me before, including your grandmother. But I have thought about it a lot over the years; even ask the Good Lord about it once in a while. It’s not just the song. It’s not the candles. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have you and the whole family together again this year. But I cry whether everyone comes home for Christmas or not. Maybe there are no words to explain it? The beauty of it all”

Other family members are trickling in to listen to the conversation and trying hard not to stop it. Pop stops and tilts his head and sort of looks at nothing in particular in the direction of the Christmas tree. The look on his face, its like he is staring into the heart of God. “The beauty of it all” he goes on. “The experience of it all, and that baby, too, to think of that baby.” The grandfather catches himself getting teary again and turns it to a chuckle, “that baby, Jesus, I mean. The baby Jesus.” “Yeah, Poppop, I get that part!”

“Well, I know it probably sounds silly coming from an old guy, but every Christmas Eve, right in that moment, I think about the world, this blasted world that never gets any better in my lifetime, and I think of your grandmother and our family, and that baby, that baby Jesus….It feels like God is telling me again how much God loves me. That baby loves me. Jesus loves me. And I never get tired of hearing it. God sending that baby for me. For you”. That’s when Pop senses the others in the room. So he repeats “for you, for you, for you.”

When it comes to the gospel pageant of life in Christ, every one of us has a part to play.

Joseph named him Jesus. For you. For you. For you.

The Poetry of God’s Glory

Psalm 89:1-4
David A. Davis
December 24, 2023
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During our journey to Bethlehem this Advent, we have been stopping along the way to ponder God’s glory. The First Sunday of Advent it was “Restored by God’s Glory”. The next week it was “Seeing the Glory That Isn’t There”. Last Sunday, “Shouting Glory”. Tonight, at the 5:00 Christmas Eve Service we will finish with the telling of the birth of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel; “Glory Unadorned”. This morning on the 4th Sunday of Advent, we stop to think together about “The Poetry of God’s Glory”. The poetry of God’s glory.

The first scripture lesson this morning will be the first four verses of Psalm 89.

I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
    with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
    your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
    I have sworn to my servant David:
‘I will establish your descendants forever
    and build your throne for all generations.

Your steadfast love is established forever. God’s glory

The Gospel of John, chapter one, verse one. Hear the Word of God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.


He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

The Word became flesh and lived among us. God’s glory.


The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied exultation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
    and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders,
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Great will be his authority,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.


The prophet Isaiah. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us. God’s glory for us.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer writing from his prison cell in Germany 1943. Bonhoeffer on God becoming a child:


“Mighty God” is the name of this Child. The child in the manger is none other than God….God became a child. In the Jesus child of Mary lives the Almighty God. Wait a minute! Don’t speak; stop thinking! Stand still before this statement! God became a child! Here he is, poor like us, miserable and helpless like us, a person of flesh and blood like us…yet he is God and God is might. Where is the divinity, where is the might of this child? In the divine love in which God became like us. His poverty in the manger is his might. In the might of love he overcomes the chasm between God and humankind. He overcomes sin and death, he forgives sin and awakens from the dead. Kneel down before this miserable manger, before this child of poor people, and repeat in faith the stammering words of the of the prophet: “Mighty God!”


The might of love. God’s glory.


Helen Kromer on the Word.

I open my mouth to speak and the Word is there–

form by lips, the tongue, the organ of voice,

Formed by the brain, transmitting the word by breath.


I open my mouth to speak and the word is there,

traveling between us– caught by the organ of hearing, the ear

transmitting the thought to the brain, through the word.


Just so do we communicate, you and I–

the thought leaping from one mind to the other,

given shape and form and substance

so that we know and are known through the word.


But let me speak to a very small child and the words mean nothing

for she does not know my language.

And so I must show her;

“This is your foot”, I say, “and it is meant for walking”

Or I help her up

“This is how you walk”

Until one day, “walking” shapes in her brain,

through the Word.


God has something to say to us,

but the words mean nothing,

for we do not know God’s language.

And so we are shown, “behold the man.”


God says, “this is the image, the thought in my mind

humanity as I mean it, loving and serving.

I have put him in flesh. Now the Word has shape and form and substance

to travel between us.


Let the Christ Child show forth love, until one day loving shapes in your brain

through the Word.


Shape and form and substance. God’s glory.


“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”


Jesus quoting Isaiah in the gospel of Luke. God’s glory.


Howard Thurman

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.


God’s glory. God’s glory. God’s glory.

Shouting Glory

Psalm 126
David A. Davis
December 17, 2023
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Most of us, I imagine, have a member of the family or maybe a friend who loves to be the storyteller. That could be a plus of a minus. It might be an aunt or uncle at the Christmas gathering next week who insists on telling anyone who will listen the same story they tell every year whether anyone wants to hear it or not. It could be the grandparent who just beams when the grandchild asks for them to tell again that one story from a Christmas in the family a long time ago. Maybe it’s the friend who can’t answer a simple question but instead always has to pontificate, editorialize, and tell yet another story which is, of course, about them. Then there is that person you’ve known forever who remarkably tells a story from their life you have never heard before when you thought you had heard it all.

When you stop and think about it, in the whole household of God, in the great cloud of witnesses, in the communion of saints, the psalmist, more often than not, is sort of like a grandparent at the table who never stops telling the same story. Telling some version of the same story over and over again. The story of God and God’s people. No, not in every psalm but in many psalms. Psalms of devotion and prayer, psalms of lament, psalms of praise and adoration, the royal psalms hailing God as king. Time and time again the story of salvation history and the people of God is told. Over and over again the story tucked in a psalm. God created the heavens the earth. God led God’s people out of Egypt, liberated from the captivity of Pharoah. God heard the people’s prayer. God brought water from the rock, manna from heaven. God gave the harvest after the famine. God brought rain after the drought. The Lord’s people learned to sing the Lord’s song in exile in a foreign land. God brought God’s people back. God created. God led. God heard. God restored. God returned. The Lord saved. The storytelling psalmist singing, sometimes weeping, often shouting the salvation history that tells of God and God’s people.

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, ‘the Lord has done great things for them’. The Lord has done great things for us and we rejoiced.” The Lord restored the fortunes of Zion. The Lord brought the people back from exile home in Babylon to Jerusalem. After decades in captivity the people couldn’t believe it. They thought it was all a dream. There was laughing and shouting! God has done great things. God has done great things. Telling all that God has done. The story and the shout. Shouting praise. Shouting joy. Our tongues were filled with shouts of joy.

Last week between worship services, we told a story. Thee story. Our annual Wee Christmas popup pageant with the youngest among us. If you weren’t here, each age group plays a part. So we had two Mary’s each carrying a baby Jesus. One Joseph. I think there were five magi; five wise girls. The youngest were the host of angel with help from their parents who of course wore halos as well. I don’t remember how many shepherds we had but they each had a stuffed sheep to carry. Sheep were carried like never before; not slung over the shoulder but hanging by an ear, maybe a leg. The shepherds seemed a bit shy. Maybe they were off by my sweater wearing attempt to embody Mr. Rogers. They were very hesitant follow the directional cues in the Wee Christmas script that I gave them along the way. You know the bible says the shepherds “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Our shepherds…they weren’t all that sure.

After the shepherds find Mary and Joseph, and babe, lying in the manger (Joseph, Mary(s), and the babes), I am supposed to tell the shepherds to go down the aisle into the congregation telling all they had heard and seen. The action is to go down the aisle with a hand to your mouth pretending to tell. The shepherds were not interested in telling much of anything. To be fair the Gospel of Luke doesn’t say they told anything. It says at that point in the story they glorified and praised. So really, the shepherds shouldn’t go down the aisle in a sort of whisper they should go out into the congregation, out in the world with a shout. “The shepherds returned, GLORIFYING AND PRAISING God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

            There is something a bit odd in Luke’s telling of the shepherds in these verses we know so well. Something odd, easy to miss. When the shepherds arrive in Bethlehem to see “this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us”, after they found the family at the manger, this is what Luke tells us: “When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.” All who heard it. Not Mary and Joseph were amazed but “all”.  All who heard it. Mary, Joseph, and the animals, maybe the innkeeper? But where’s the “all’? Whose the “all”? Tradition tells it was just the three of them and the animals. The Magi weren’t there yet. But ALL who heard it were amazed by what they were told. What the shepherds told ALL was “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  What the shepherds told ALL was gloria! What the shepherds told all was “GLORY” It is as if the shepherds are lifted out of the tense of the sentences, lifted off the page and dropped in a timeless, eternal moment of proclamation and praise. Because you can’t glorify and praise without telling something of the story. You can’t tell something of the story without glorifying and praising. You can’t separate telling and shouting even if Mary is treasuring and pondering in her heart comes in between in Luke!  The shepherds telling salvation history to ALL and shouting glory at the same.

            One of the treasures of my job, of being a pastor, is the gift of hearing all the stories. Not the bible’s stories but the stories of the people of God. Your stories. The stories all run together from the two congregations I have served. The one I was told about the experience of landing on the beach at Normandy. The “yes” to a marriage proposal that was dependent on the fiancé knowing “my mother will always live me and I will always tithe to my church”. A determined spouse getting a driver’s license in their late 60’s after being widowed. The WWII prisoner’s description of all the prisoners singing “Silent Night” in German alongside their captors. The NCAA champion who wrestled for Cornell. A family having an exchange student who became a lifelong part of the family. The professional athletic trainer who would prank rookies by giving them a pill that would turn their urine blue. The person who woke up in the middle of the night, looked out the window of their apartment and saw elephants parading down the street in the middle of Manhattan. The Christmas pageant here at Nassau when the baby Jesus left the building before it was over and all the little ones came forward to an empty manger. The friend from Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church who must be about my age telling of being stopped by police more than once on the way home from elementary school because they had to walk through the white neighborhood to get home. The long-retired pastor who told a banker in the church to quit throwing power around the congregation by telling people their pledge was the largest when the banker’s pledge wasn’t the largest and was, in the pastor’s opinion way too little. The person who snuck money sewn into the lining of a jacket into South Africa to help the fight against Apartheid decades ago. Stories shared in grief, shared in joy, ordinary stories, extraordinary stories, wonderful stories, really hard stories. Life stories.

Part of the wonder, the mystery, and the grace of God is that all those stories that run together in my memory, they are just as much a part of salvation history as the ones the psalmist tells. Glory didn’t just come from the angels in the nativity of Jesus. It came from the shepherds as they told their story. Glory comes from us as we tell our story. Our stories, are lives are part of God’s story, part of salvation history. The stories aren’t just mushed together in my mind. Collectively, the people of God mush all our stories together and we move toward praise. It is what God’s people do. Again and again, we gather them all in again and again, lifting our hearts, together offering to God our GLORY AND PRAISE. Because you can’t tell the story without the shouting glory and you can’t shout glory without telling the story. Yes, glorifying and praising God for “unto to us today a child has been born, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Yes, glorying and praising God because  “The Lord has done great things for us and we rejoiced”.  But also glorifying and praising God for our place in the Savior’s story, in God’s story. In Jesus Christ, God sweeps all of us into salvation history, into that story. And we shout glory! Telling and shouting glory. Telling and shouting glory with our lives. Our lives forever wrapped in God’s glory. Gloria!

The artists John Legend and Common wrote and recorded the award winning song “Glory” for the 2014 film “Selma”. The movie tells the stories of the lives of some of the leaders of the movement for civil rights. The song is a compelling combination of rap and gospel music. The rap tells the story. The gospel music shouts the glory. As you listen to this audio clip, notice how as the song ends, the voice of John Legend weaves with voices of the gospel choir to take the shouts of glory to level that soars. A sort of timeless, eternal shout. Lives forever wrapped in God’s glory.

Seeing the Glory That Isn’t There

Psalm 85
David A. Davis
December 10, 2023
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Some will remember hearing me tell of the time my peer group of pastors were on a tour of the Andrew Wyeth art collection at the Brandywine Museum. The docent that day for our tour was the granddaughter of Andrew Wyeth. At one point we were standing before the very familiar Wyeth painting called “Master Bedroom.” It’s a simple picture that shows a sparse room with a window on the wall just on the other side of the bed. It’s a four-post bed with a white cabled bedspread and a dog curled up and sleeping right in the nook formed by the pillows and the fold of the spread tucked under. We have a print of the painting hanging in our house. I always thought it was called “Dog on A Bed.” But there in the museum it was identified as “Master Bedroom.”

As the granddaughter told us about the painting, she mentioned that she got a kick out of how critics and scholars and visitors tried to read so much into this simple painting: the location, the symbolism, the painter’s motivation, the theme of the window in Wyeth’s art, the importance of the dog in his life. She laughed and shook her head, “Come on” she said, “it’s just a dog on a bed.” I figured I was half right when it came to the name of the painting. “What I want you to notice” she continued, “is the technique in watercolor. Notice the brush strokes, the use of color and the use of negative space.”  She directed our eyes toward the fringe of the bedspread. “The dominant light color of the spread comes from the canvas itself. What is painted here in the fringe, is not the light color cords of material hanging off the spread. What is painted is the shadows of darkness. The empty space there in the fringe.” She was explaining that the color of the bedspread was actually the color of the blank canvas.  When you look close at the original painting there in the museum rather than a framed print reproduction hanging on your wall, you can actually see brushstrokes and the method that Wyeth’s granddaughter described. What the artist painted was not the bedspread but the dark places that formed the folds in the spread and the space between the tassels hanging off the bottom.  “Think of the creative mind of the artist” she said, “who could paint what’s not there”.  An artist painting what is not there.  I would like to invite you join me in reflecting a bit this morning on Mary, the Angel Gabriel, and the psalmist and seeing the glory that isn’t there. Seeing the glory that isn’t there.

When Gabriel appears to Mary, the angel tells her two times that she is “favored”. Gabriel says it twice but doesn’t offer an explanation as to why or what that means. “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” When Elizabeth sees Mary, she invokes a blessing three times. “Blessed are you among women. Blessed is the fruit of your womb” Elizabeth proclaims. “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for you. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”  Blessed are you among women. Blessed is the fruit of your womb. Blessed is she who believed.

The blessing comes from Elizabeth to Mary because Mary believed. Mary believed that “there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Mary believed what Gabriel told her. Mary believed what God said to her through the Angel Gabriel. “Blessed is she that believed.” 

You remember that in her belief she offers her song. The Magnificat. In her belief, Mary sings of the One who has done great things for her. In her belief, she sings of world where the proud are scattered, the powerful made low, and the lowly lifted up.  In her belief, Mary sees a world that isn’t there…yet. In her belief, Mary sings of the mighty acts of God she can’t see… yet.  Like an artist who paints what isn’t there, Mary sees the glory of God that isn’t there…yet. “My soul magnifies the Lord!” Mary’s belief and painting the glory of God that isn’t there….yet.

The psalmist, with the same brush, paints a kingdom not yet seen. “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for God will speak peace to God’s people, to God’s faithful, to those who turn to God in their hearts. Surely God’s salvation is at hand for those who fear the Lord, that God’s glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet, righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.” Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet and righteousness and peace will kiss each other. The psalmist believing, claiming, and holding on to the promise of God that, in the words of the prophet, that one day “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” Seeing the glory that isn’t there.

In his book Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope, biblical theologian Walker Brueggemann argues that the church gathering week in and week out to experience the proclamation of the gospel is a subversive act in the world. A preacher called by God and called by the congregation one serves stands up week in and week out to offer a holy alternative to the version of reality that surrounds and dominates the listeners. Gospel proclamation points to “another way of life in the world” Brueggemann writes, that “is not only possible” but is uniquely mandated by and validated by God. The proclamation of the gospel empowers a community of the followers of Jesus who are “determined to practice their lives according to a different way of imagining.” Put another way, a community determined to see and live and work toward a glory that isn’t there….yet.

A key understanding for preacher and listeners week in and week out, according to Brueggeman, is that we believe “an alternative world is possible. The old world is not a given…Another world is possible- in our imaginations we listen and imagine differently. In our liberation we entertain different realities not yet given.” It is not just in our imaginations, the theologian goes on, it is in our practice. “We are only a few, but we are some” he writes. “We can do little, but something….we begin to enact another world. Foolishly, we enact in obedience to a daring claim, obedience to a possibility; we specialize in cold water and shared bread, in welcome speech, hospitality, sharing, giving, compassion, caring, in small ways, setting the world afresh.” Or in another words, you and I, we can begin to paint just a little of what isn’t there.

Not long ago, my wife Cathy was in the large and crowed waiting area of a local health care provider. In that room, a member of the staff came from behind the counter to give some papers to a patient getting ready to leave after the appointment. The patient was senior who didn’t whisper and had trouble hearing. So despite all HIPA rules about privacy, the entire room could the conversation. The departing patient was a bit flustered trying to get themselves ready to go and was trying to call a cab for ride home. The young healthcare staff member suggested that maybe an Uber or Lyft would be cheaper and easier. Knowing the patient would likely not know how, the young person offered to download the app and input the information, and get things started. It was all a bit clunky and then the patient couldn’t find the credit card and was getting more and more frustrated with themself. Cathy watched as the staff person picked up their own phone and within seconds told the patient a ride would be arriving in three minutes at the front door. The relieved patient pulled out some cash to reimburse the young person for the Uber. The employee of course politely said no and helped the person get their things together and walked them out the door. “You forget these days” Cathy said, “how powerful it is to see someone being unexpectedly kind.”

In small ways, setting the world afresh. Painting just a little of what isn’t there. I once read a sermon from preacher now long gone who described his driving past a farm at the dawn of a new day. “I saw a field so full of pumpkins that it looked like the sun had fallen and broken into smithereens. I saw a silo…that was wearing a halo of birds. I saw the clouds of the night holding on to the dawn….And I saw long lines of the grey trees already beginning to protect the hills that the winder winds have wounded.” I don’t remember much about the sermon but that imagery and use of language has stuck with me. “A field so full of pumpkins that it looked like the sun had fallen and broken into smithereens.” What if the glory of God is sort of like that. Like the sun has fallen into the world and broken into smithereens. Little slices of the glory of  God all around.

Advent is a time in the life of discipleship to remember that our Savior, the Christ Child is calling the Body of Christ that is Nassau Church to practice our lives according to a different way of imagining. We are few but we are some. We can do little, but we can do some. Our Savior, the Christ Child is calling each of us to join the angel Gabriel, Mary the mother of Jesus, and the psalmist in painting a kingdom that isn’t there….yet. Join them in believing that with God, nothing will be impossible. To see with them, the glory of God that isn’t there….yet. For in seeing, painting, and doing, each of us in our own lives can make knoeen, by God’s grace, the smithereens of God’s glory.