The Common Good

Proclaiming Souls

Editor's Note: The following is the text of a sermon preached on Oct. 7 at the weekly chapel service at American Baptist Seminary of The West in Berkeley, Calif.

Man overwhelmed by bad news, Joyce Vincent /
Man overwhelmed by bad news, Joyce Vincent /

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Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Has it not been told you from the foundations of the earth?
You shall have a song and gladness of heart.
... and gladness of heart.

A woman struggling with postpartum depression died last week, killed either when her car crashed into the gates of the White House or by the bullets fired upon her by security guards and police. Her child survived without physical injury.

Social media were alive with speculations of terrorism, domestic or international, with connections between this incident and the government shutdown, with any number of theories about gun violence. We were ready for it. Raw and weary before the story even came to light, we were primed for the explosion of speculation and public bewilderment.

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?

It's a terrible story from every angle. We have so many such stories describing what is happening in our nation lately. We have much of ourselves invested in every aspect of the shutdown.

We are raw.
The spiritual noise is deafening.
We are rendered blind by all we see. It is too much.
It is as if the prophets are silenced;
souls have been rendered mute, blind, and deaf.

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?

Events such as these touch a raw place in our souls. Our souls struggle to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. So we turn instead to the sourness of our neighbor. We proclaim their deficits to the highest heaven.

The ethical ambiguity of our economy overwhelms us all.
Those on that side are wrong.
Everybody says that.
They are killing the country.
They are killing the children.
They are killing the mothers.
They are killing the fathers.
They deny.
They prohibit.

We cry out. We call one another names.
And nothing changes.

But what of the prophet's cry?

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit exalts in God, my savior.

But no.
No. We are trapped in a web of woes,
of spiritual deafness, spiritual blindness.
We deny what we know.
We refuse to hear what is true.

To proclaim as Mary does takes a certain kind of seeing,
a certain kind of listening.
A soulful seeing.
A soulful listening.
Mary's soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
her whole being, her deepest desire,
her most vulnerable self.

It is her soul that proclaims.
So could ours.
If we wanted.

That's the trick, isn't it?
We have to want to hear and see this way.
We have to want it and, if I am honest, I don't always want it.


Well, I read the news. My Facebook timeline is full of cries of injustice from both sides of the political spectrum. I have friends all over the planet who have opinions and fears about what is happening in our country.

It's everywhere. We find it entertaining. It's a pastime, really. And it seems that our news networks have figured out that a lot of us like this kind of practice and have crafted their entire industry around the assumption that we all like to call people names and dig deep holes in the ground in which to hide.

You can't turn on the radio.
You can't turn on the television.
You can't check your Twitter feed or your Facebook profile.
Not without seeing.
Not without hearing.
So we respond.
Oh, do I respond.

But when I do, I am not responding from Mary's righteousness or a place of Blessedness. No, I am responding from my own spiritual blindness, from my own spiritual deafness and those words, those resounding prophetic truths fall flat.

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
I don't listen.
So many of us refuse to listen.
It is simply that hard sometimes.

But tonight we are invited to turn to Mary. Listen to Mary. Hear what she hears. Believe in what she knows.

Mary knows how to listen. She knows how to see. She knows how to do so with her soul ... soulfully, willfully eager, clinging to the hope that God provides.

And this is not some opiate as Marx decried. No. This is no "placeholder religion." This is not a faith that keeps certain people in their place. No. Mary is a soul that sees the truth of a world that has already been turned upside down. And she cannot, she will not remain silent. In the face of the news of her own day she sees and she hears and she proclaims. Her soul proclaims!

"the greatness of the Lord ..."

And then the woes become clear to us. Jesus' words from Luke's Gospel, the terrifying judgment in them, I want to close my eyes and make them go away. Yet, Luke is insistent we hear them and remember them. Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke's concerns are different. He begins his Gospel with Mary and then when her son, Jesus, speaks, he insists we hear it all. All of it.

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?

But we have to want to, you see; we have to want it. We have to want to hear. We have to want to see. As true as it is to say that God has reconciled all creation through the cross of Jesus, it is also true to say that we can live in this world as if none of this were true, as if Mary were mute, and Luke's Gospel were some rabbis' aberration.

My soul proclaims ...
woe to you ...
The rich are sent away empty.
The mighty are cast down from their thrones
The poor are lifted up. Blessed.
lifted up, blessed
lifted up, blessed

... in this world and the next.

But not all of us want to hear that word, that song, that prophetic cry. Some of us will stand about seeking "transcendence" when God is seeking "immanence." As if our souls were already in some other place than this one. God is here, my friends. God is here.

We will find excuses for our good fortune.
We will blame people for their poverty.
We will turn willfully away from the suffering
of friend and stranger alike.

But that's not where Jesus is. And it's not where Mary is. They are in this world. They are fully awake to it. They see it all. They hear it all.

God is not providing an escape out of reality,
but a way to dive more deeply into it.
Christ has shown us The Way in.
All creation has been redeemed.
We simply have to want to hear it.
We have to want to see it.
We can heed the prophets' voices.

This is the promise of God: Your souls proclaim the greatness of the Lord.

Your souls proclaim the greatness of the Lord.
Your spirits exalt in God our Savior.

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Has it not been told you from the foundations of the earth?
You shall have a song and gladness of heart.
... and gladness of heart.


Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.orgFollow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist.

Image: Man overwhelmed by bad news, Joyce Vincent /

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