Sermon: A Performance of Those Things Which Were Told (Luke 1:39-45)

The way we move through life, the way we interact with the world, the way we approach our place in the universe is the way that we dance with God.

 

A Performance of Those Things Which Were Told

The Rev. J. Carl Gregg

Luke 1:39-45

12 December 2010

Broadview Church; Chesapeake Beach, Maryland

broadviewchurch.net

For the first Sunday of Advent, we reflected on the scriptural origins of the prayer “Hail Mary, full of grace,” and I invited you to consider how God may be calling you in these weeks before Christmas to slow down, open your eyes in wonder, and expectantly wait for is already in the process of being born.

Last week, we looked at Mary’s reaction to the angel’s greeting, in particular her response, “Let it be with me as you have said,” and I invited you to consider how it feels to begin to pray an echo of Mary’s open-hearted response to God: “May it be so. Just as you say. Let it be. Let it be. Let it be.”

Next week, for the fourth and final Sunday in Advent, we will turn to one of the fullest expressions of Mary’s response — her song, known as the Magnificat.

For this morning on the third Sunday in Advent, our story continues with Mary’s visitation to her cousin Elizabeth. We see Elisabeth’s response to Mary — “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” — which like Gabriel’s greeting of “Hail Mary, full of grace” has been incorporated over time into the Ave Maria prayer. This morning, however, I want to focus especially on the final verse we heard read this morning, Luke 1:45, which says: Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by God.”

Other translations of this verse read, “Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!” or “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” This verse is one of those cases, where I am drawn to the beauty of the King James Version more than to the often more historically-accurate modern translations, which, however, tend to be more literal and wooden. Rendered in Jacobean English, Luke 1:45 says, “Blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

To say a little more about why I feel drawn to the King James Version in this instance, let’s look at one additional translation. In general, I enjoy consulting Eugene Peteron’s contemporary, colloquial translation, The Message, but this verse is one of many examples of the dangers inherit in using one a lone individual’s idiosyncratic translation. The advantage of free-flowing translations is that they can unlock previously unexplored angles of meaning, but the disadvantage is that you do not have a committee of fellow translations to keep you accountable. The result can miss crucial elements of the verse. For example, Peterson’s translation (“Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!”) focuses too heavily on Mary’s belief in the angel’s words, and completely neglects and the effects and actions that result from these beliefs.

The other two versions of Luke 1:45 that I quoted earlier — the New Revised Standard Version (favored by mainstream scholars) and the New International Version (favored by evangelicals) — pick up this aspect of the results of Mary’s belief when they speak about the “fulfillment” or what “will be accomplished.” But none of these modern translations captures the energy of the King James Version’s dynamic rendering: “there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

The word performance also resonates strongly with the idea of Jesus as the “fruit of thy womb.” What began as the seed of the angel’s visit comes to fruition in time. In our study of Mark’s Gospel we saw one version of the performance that was Jesus life. You could even, in this light, see Jesus’ life as one of many performances, one of many interpretations, one of many incarnations of the play — or the script — variously called the “Kingdom of God,” the “God Movement,” or the “Beloved Community.” This perspective reminds us that we are called, not merely to be spectator’s of Mary’s performance or Jesus’ performance, but also to become performers ourselves.

To consider further the meaning of the promise that “there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from God,” I invite you to listen to the following quote, which is a freely adapted from the writings of theologian Stanley Hauerwas and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams:

God calls us to the divine dance of the universe. We are invited to join in the grace of God’s movements, performing them just as God has taught us, so that we might awaken bodily and fleshly to a graceful performance that God is enacting in us and through us. God repeats a central gesture over and over — carrying us, embracing us. As we watch, we know; our roots grow deeper downwards. We can afford to dance, to dance the useless dance of love for its own sake. Dancing is natural to God; bit by bit dancing becomes natural to us. God can’t help but dance; and, in due course, neither shall we be able to help ourselves from dancing.

There’s a lot to unpack in that quote, and we’ll only have time to address a few aspects this morning. But if the words of the quote were meaningful to you, I invite you to take some time on your own this next week to read them prayerfully a few times and consider their meaning further for yourself.

For now, I will say that I love the idea of that “God calls us to the divine dance of the universe.” To borrow from the field of biology, one name for what this dance looks like is emergence. There are many distinctions and nuances to how the word “emergence” is used technically in various fields and by various scientists.

But one use of the word emergence that I will be using this morning is that the history of the universe is not a completely random process; instead, there seems to be, among other things, an overall trajectory in the direction of increasing complexity. For example, Roman Catholic theologian John F. Haught offers a brief summary of the major evolutionary emergences in eight stages: “pre-atomic, atomic, molecular, unicellular, multi-cellular, vertebrate, primate, and human.”

This directionality of increasing complexity points us toward a divine dance of the universe that is grounded in the rhythms of life, birth, and hope; and the evolving process reminds me of the question we raised last week of the ways that Mary’s open-hearted response and Jesus’ life and birth invite us to ask, “What would Christianity look like if the focus were birth, not death; human flourishing, not suffering; and this world, not the next?”

Last week I offered a partial answer to this question: the children rushing is eager excitement to play with the animals in the Living Nativity is a vital performance of the “Kingdom of God,” the “God Movement” and the “Beloved Community.” Similarly Jesus’ birth and his life of healing, open table fellowship, and inspiring teaching is just as much a

“performance of those thing which were told” as Jesus’ last days of mortality, death, and suffering. If this perspective is accurate, then perhaps Jesus’ saying, “Let the little children come to me” is an equally important example of discipleship and following the way of Jesus as his call to “take up your cross and follow me.”

Along these lines of meaning of emergence for 21st century Christianity, theologian Sallie McFague offers to provocative and profound metaphor of thinking about the universe itself as “God’s Body.” According to this analogy, the way we sometimes think of God as “Spirit” would be the “soul of the universe” — that somewhat unnameable aspect of existence which prompts all things toward birth, life, emergence, and flourishing.

In other words, the way we move through life, the way we interact with the world, the way we approach our place in the universe is the way that we dance with God. This is the performance Mary embraced when she open-heartedly prayed, “May it be so. Just as you say. Let it be. Let it be.” This is the performance we are invited to join each day of our lives: the dance of love for its own sake.

As we live into how God is calling us to be church together in Southern Maryland, we must reflect on what we are rehearsing each Sunday morning in worship and consider what sort of fruit is borne as a result of our shared life together. We must consider what sort of performance we are living individually and collective.

I invite you to listen once more to the quote we heard earlier. Then in the silence that follow, ponder how we are being called to a performance of those things which were told:

God calls us to the divine dance of the universe. We are invited to join in the grace of God’s movements, performing them just as God has taught us, so that we might awaken bodily and fleshly to a graceful performance that God is enacting in us and through us. God repeats a central gesture over and over — carrying us, embracing us. As we watch, we know; our roots grow deeper downwards. We can afford to dance, to dance the useless dance of love for its own sake. Dancing is natural to God; bit by bit dancing becomes natural to us. God can’t help but dance; and, in due course, neither shall we be able to help ourselves from dancing.

For Further Study

 

To explore the idea of “joining the divine dance of the universe,” a free online teleseminar is currently underway titled, “The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity.” The description of the series is, “Join thirty of today’s most inspiring Christian leaders and esteemed scientists for a groundbreaking dialogue on how an evolutionary worldview can enrich your life, deepen your faith, and bless our world.” Join the conversation at evolutionarychristianity.com. If you are interested, I would encourage you to look at the “Speaker Bios and Schedule” to see the presentation in which you may be most interested and begin listened with the talks that most attract your attention.

 

Notes

1 Stanley Hauerwas, Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence, 109

2 For a survey of how emergence is used by scientists, see The Re-Emergence of Emergence: The Emergentist Hypothesis from Science to Religion, edited by by Philip Clayton and Paul Davies. This is a difficult book, however, with many technical details. A more accessible introduction is The Emergence of Everything: How the World Became Complex by Harold J. Morowitz.

3 John F. Haught, “Teilhard de Chardin: Action, Contemplation, and the Cosmos.” Radical Grace: A Publication of the Center for Action and Contemplation 23:2 (April – June 2010), 5. Available online at http://www.cacradicalgrace.org/rg/issues/2010/2/RG_2010_Q2.pdf. See also, Haught’s book Christianity and Science: Toward a Theology of Nature.

4 For a more extended reflection on the directionality of the evolutionary process, see Robert Wright’s books Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny or The Evolution of God. For an introduction and overview, visit www.evolutionofgod.net.

5 Mark 10:14-15 says, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Mark 8:34-35 says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake.”

6 On the metaphor of the universe as “God’s Body,” see chapter four, “Who is God?” in Sallie McFague’s book A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming.

This entry was posted in Sermons. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Sermon: A Performance of Those Things Which Were Told (Luke 1:39-45)

  1. Pingback: Carl Gregg » Living the (Hardest) Questions: What If God Is Not “Fully and Unambiguously Good?”: A Process Theology Sermon

  2. Pingback: Carl Gregg » Progressive Christian Reflections on Advent

  3. Pingback: Carl Gregg » Magnificat! Learning to Sing Mary’s Song (A Progressive Christian Lectionary Commentary on Luke 1:46-55)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>