A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, December 16, 2012
Opened playing the first three verses of Jeff Buckley's cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah (click to hear)
I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this -- The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah.
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Baby I’ve been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
But Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.
We Christians are a peculiar people.
We love our enemies, and we pray for those who persecute us.
When someone strikes us on one cheek, we turn the other one.
We pledge our lives to a refugee child born in a barn, and we stare down great empires armed with nothing but love.
But perhaps there is nothing more peculiar about us than our song.
And our song is this: Hallelujah.
Now, lots of people sing Hallelujah. Everyone sings it at a birth. Everyone sings it at a wedding. Or a party. Or a reunion of long separated friends and lovers. Hallelujah. Halleljuah. Hallelujah.
What’s peculiar about us is when we sing it. We sing it always.
We sing Hallelujah in life's highest peaks and deepest valleys. We sing Hallelujah on our brightest days and in the middle of our darkest nights. We sing Hallelujah when we've got it all figured out, and we sing Hallelujah when nothing makes sense.
And at the end of life, when we go down to the dust, even at the grave we make our song:
Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
The first Sunday of Advent, we named the world we live in. We named all those things that aren't OK. We said, "God, you want to know how it's going? Well THIS is how it's going!" And we put those things on the altar, and we left the next move to God.
Then last Sunday, the second Sunday of Advent, we heard God’s move. We heard the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Saying that where God wants to be is right in the middle of all that stuff. That God wants to be in that middle seat right in between the face we present to the world and the backstage reality of our life. We named the hope -- the coming of Jesus -- that allows us to be not of this world even while we are in it.
Today is the third Sunday of Advent. It's called Rose Sunday. This Sunday we light the rose colored candle. In the midst of the quiet, even somber preparations of Advent, this Sunday is a spark of celebration, a reminder that even in the night of expectation, the joy of Christ cannot be contained. A reminder that we are people of a song, and that song is Hallelujah.
How do we prepare for the coming of Christ? We sing. We sing our song. We sing the song of a people who know that Christ is coming and is already here. We sing Hallelujah.
One of my heroes of the faith is Louie Crew. Louie grew up in Alabama in the 1940s and 50s, which wasn’t the easiest place to grow up if you’re realizing you’re gay. He came out while at grad school at Auburn and in 1973, met Ernest and they fell in love. Louie was white, Ernest was black. Gay and interracial in Alabama in the 1970s. Not exactly Dale Carnegie's recipe for how to win friends and influence people!
They committed themselves to each other with only them and the Holy Spirit present because there was no church that would bless their union. While on a fellowship at Cal-Berkeley in 1974, Ernest and Louie decided they wanted to meet other gay couples in the church so they called one of the most progressive Episcopal congregations in America, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
“I’m here with my black male lover and we’d like to meet other gay Episcopalians,” Louie said. The person on the other end of the phone … laughed.
The Episcopal Church hung up on Louie that day, but thankfully, Louie did not hang up on the Episcopal Church. He did not despair. He did not give in to anger. Instead he sang “Hallelujah.” For Louie, singing “Hallelujah” meant accepting that blow with his head held high and not running away but dedicating himself to turning those blows into embraces for him and every other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered person who walked into an Episcopal Church. He founded an organization called Integrity, dedicated to the full acceptance of LGBT persons in the life of our church.
That was 1974. Remember 1974? That was back when we were still arguing whether women could be leaders in the church! That was back in a day where sodomy laws still existed in 44 states. Where saying horrible things about LGBT persons was not only tolerated, it was encouraged. And the hate that came Louie's way -- hate from inside his own Episcopal church -- was off the chart.
And yet to every blow, to every slur, to every rock thrown at his house, to every hateful word or death threat, Louie responded with his own version of Hallelujah … a sweet smile and the same two words.
"Joy, anyway" is Louie Crew's mantra. And it is a mantra that has changed the face of the Episcopal Church. "Joy, anyway" means no matter what happens, no matter what you do or say to me, you can not take away my joy, you can not take away the love God has for me, and you can not take away the love I have in Christ for you. You can taunt me, you can beat me, you can kill me. I will still rejoice. I will still be loved. And I will still love you.
"Joy, Anyway." Hallelujah.
And because Louie and Integrity responded to hate with love, responded to anger with joy, a conversion and a transformation happened in the Episcopal Church. A conversion that changed us to a church that can truly say that all are welcome at this table -- a vision that was scarcely imaginable a half-century ago.
That is the power of love. That is the power of “Joy, anyway.” That is the power of Hallelujah.
What Louie and Christians have known throughout the centuries is that our song, our Hallelujah, is our very breath. It is not a victory march but it is our cry of loving defiance in a cold and broken world that tells us that fear and anger and hate are the most powerful forces there are.
In this morning’s Gospel, the crowds are gathered around John the Baptist and they are listening to him talk about the coming of Christ. And they ask him, "What then should we do?"
And he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."
So little has changed since that day in the wilderness. Like then, we still live in a world of fear and anxiety that tells us we need to arm ourselves with insurance and security and stuff because it is our only salvation. This anxious and fearful world tells us there isn’t enough anything to go around – enough stuff, enough time, enough love – so grab what you need for yourself, and then grab even more in case what you have isn’t enough. Because if you run out, you’re out of luck.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we’re not separate from that world. As followers of Jesus Christ, we stand in the middle of that world, feeling all the pain, and we stand there knowing that God is in that middle seat feeling it with us. And so, peculiar people that we are, we defy the logic of the world. We stand in the middle of a world telling us to hoard and instead we give. We look the fear full in the face and we do not bow to it but and we stand up and we lift our heads and we look it dead in the eye and we sing “Hallelujah.”
When Carol Bledsoe was murdered in this Cathedral 10 years ago this week, we could have listened to the voices of fear and closed our doors to those among us who need us the most. But this Cathedral stood at Carol’s grave and sang Hallelujah. And we not only kept these doors open, we named our feeding ministry after her.
And this Sunday, as we’re still reeling from the insanity of 20 children gunned down in an elementary school in Connecticut, as we live with the insanity of the countless young men and women senselessly gunned down each year on the streets of our city, we stand and sing Hallelujah, too.
We sing it through our tears. We sing it through our confusion. We sing it through our anger and our frustration. We sing it not as people who have it all figured out but as people who hardly have any of it figured out. We sing it not out of our wholeness but out of our deep, deep brokenness. It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah. Bit it is an Hallelujah all the same.
Because we sing Hallelujah strongest, when things are darkest. We sing Hallelujah because we know Christ is right here, singing with us. We sing Hallelujah with our lips and with our lives. We sing Hallelujah by giving in the face of scarcity and by loving in the face of fear. We sing Hallelujah by dedicating ourselves to getting the guns off the streets and providing mental health care for everyone who needs it and ending our addiction to violence that history has shown only begets itself again and again and again and again and again.
We sing Hallelujah because until our last breath and beyond, we will be living testaments of hope. Living testaments that death never gets the last word, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
We sing Hallelujah because we Christians are peculiar people, and this is our song, the only song we know.
I opened this morning with the first three verses of Leonard Cohen’s song, Hallelujah. But perhaps Cohen said it best with the last.
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch.
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah