Tag Archive: Singing


Listening to Each Other

I love to sing! And lately, singing Christmas carols and other music with family and friends, I’ve been having a blast. A friend has also started up a women’s a cappella group at the seminary, which has been fun and challenging. With all this music, I’ve found myself listening very carefully – not only for my own part or my own notes, but also to what others are singing. In order to keep the song moving in harmony and in sync, I need to listen to the other singers or instruments (when there are any!). In addition, I just started watching “The Sing Off,” which is awesome! These various a cappella groups are making harmonics and music arranging cool and for that, I thank them!

With all of this music, I’ve been thinking about how important it is to listen to each other even when we’re not singing. A classmate of mine gave a presentation yesterday about pastoral care and led us in an exercise to teach us about listening. In this exercise, one person was to tell a second person something about which he/she is passionate and the second person was to listen intently. Then, we did it again, with the second person not paying attention at all. It really drove home the importance of listening to people wholeheartedly.

So often, I find myself multitasking and not paying as close attention as I should be to those around me. I really think, however, that one of the most important things we have to give each other is our time. Life is so short and time so precious, why do we let ourselves be distracted from that which is so important? I think this also extends to ourselves. Do we really take quality time to listen to ourselves and our own needs? For example, like when our bodies are yelling at us, “you need sleep! No more caffeine – real sleep!” Do we actually listen? Furthermore, do we take quality quiet time to sit and listen for God in our lives? I know that it’s very easy for me to make excuses for not paying attention to those around me, to my own needs and for not carving out time for listening for God.

I hope, however, my recent musical experiences will help remind me of the importance of listening and being fully present.

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

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This is the sermon I preached this morning at Trinity Lutheran Church in North Bethesda, Maryland for the Feast of Mary, Mother of Our Lord.

Luke 1:46–55
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

In order to get to the seminary in Gettysburg, I drive up Rt. 15, a pretty drive through farmland and over the Catoctin Mountains. About 40 minutes into my drive, I usually reach Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland just before crossing over the border into Pennsylvania. For those of you who haven’t been out that way, behind the University on a hill and reaching over the trees on an 80-foot tall bell tower is a gleaming gold statue of the Virgin Mary with her arms in a welcoming gesture. Each morning, I can’t help but look up at this statue to see how the sun is hitting it or how the morning fog is drifting around the mountains. Looking at this gorgeous golden statue, it’s almost hard to imagine Mary’s earthly life.

Mary’s own words in the Magnificat, our Gospel reading for today, sum up her life best: she sings that God looked on the “lowliness of his servant.” Mary was a poor, young Jewish girl, recently engaged to Joseph when she received the unexpected and life-changing news that she was to bear a son. This was not just any son either, but, as the angel Gabriel explained, a holy child, a child who would be known as the “Son of the Most High” and the “Son of God,” whose kingdom would have no end. Mary bears the son who shows us that God is indeed with us.

In her song, Mary sings exuberantly about the great deeds of God – actions affecting both the world and her own personal life. In fact, it is due to God’s work in her life that she declares that all generations will call her blessed. This is very odd considering that God’s work in her life almost certainly would have caused people to whisper about and look down on this pregnant, unmarried girl. Yet, even with these thoughts, Mary recognized that what God was doing in her was important and that she was chosen for a great task, and she joyfully responded to God’s call, trusting Gabriel’s message that “nothing will be impossible with God.”

Instead of choosing the rich or powerful, the ones society esteems, God calls and raises up the ordinary. Again and again, God’s stunning and gracious theme of lifting up the lowly is repeated in Scripture. Joseph, once a slave and prisoner in Egypt, is given tremendous power in the Pharaoh’s court. The shepherd boy David crushes the mighty Goliath and becomes a king who will be honored throughout time. God selects a poor, young woman from Nazareth to bring about the incarnation. And it is in the shame and humiliation of the cross that God’s incredible love for all of humanity, each and every one of us, is made visible.

As Mary sings, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” In the Magnificat, Mary sings about the God who cares for the poor and hungry, once more giving them a name and a place in society. In the early church, Mary was given the name “Theotokos” a word which literally means “God-bearer.” While Mary’s specific calling was to physically bear God to the world, amazingly enough, God has also called us to be God-bearers – those who share the love of God with the world.

Our lives bear witness to the God who has been at work in them. Think about it – the word “Christian” indicates that we are to share Christ with one another and with the world. This title we carry is a sign, pointing to the one we follow. Like a sort of holy graffiti spelling out “God is here,” our lives should proclaim the work of the living and active God. But how do we bear the love of Christ to others?

This task may seem too big for us. I know some days it certainly feels that way to me! We say, “I can’t do what God is calling me to do. I’m not good enough” or “I don’t have the skills needed” or “I’m too afraid” or “what will I say?” But Mary, a young girl, uneducated and of low-ranking status in society, shows us that God doesn’t necessarily call those we would choose. Instead, God calls each one of us to be a part of the extraordinary work God is doing – to be a part of the kingdom of God, already here and still not quite fully realized.

Sadly, instead of following Mary’s example, we often construct barriers and walls to keep God out, when all God asks is that we become open to hearing how God is calling us. As Martin Luther pointed out when discussing the three miracles of Christmas, “the virgin birth is a mere trifle for God; that God should become man is a greater miracle; but most amazing of all is that this maiden should credit the announcement that she, rather than some other virgin, had been chosen to be mother of God. She held fast to the word of the angel because she had become a new creature. Even so must we be transformed and renewed in heart from day-to-day. Otherwise, Christ is born in vain.”

Just like Mary, the mother of our Lord, God asks us to be receptive to the work God longs to do in us and through us. Moreover, we must actually believe that God can and will do what God promises. Otherwise, as Luther argued, what is the point of Jesus coming into the world if we are not transformed by his love or refuse to heed his call or to share his love with those around us? In those moments when we believe and hold fast to the promises of God and allow God to work through us, we become God-bearers to those around us, even if we can’t always see the fruits of our labor.

This summer, I was a chaplain during my Clinical Pastoral Education internship. When I first began, I had this nervous feeling that people would be asking difficult theological questions of me – maybe even questions I wasn’t prepared to answer. Talk about intimidated! However, after a few weeks of visits, I realized, much to my surprise, that, more than anything, people wanted someone to listen, someone to whom they could explain their sorrows, fears, hope and dreams. Yes, above all, people wanted a compassionate ear, someone who would patiently and empathetically listen.

I found that as a chaplain, I was called to share the love of Christ with others by being with them in their struggles and loneliness. I came to realize that it wasn’t always in the words we say, but in how we open ourselves to receive others’ stories and to be with others that we bear God to those around us.

There is incredible good news in the lessons I learned this summer, as well as in the shining example Mary gives us. Both remind us that all are capable of bearing God to the world. It definitely doesn’t take a seminarian or a chaplain to listen or to be with others in their difficulties. Remember, Mary didn’t have any seminary training in order to be a God-bearer! Instead, Mary’s story and her song ask us to remember that each and every one of us, no matter how ordinary we think we are, has been called to show the love, mercy and compassion of God to others.

Within the church, people can respond to God’s call by being Stephen Ministers – people trained to be empathetic listeners – or by participating in other ministries. But it’s crucial to remember that God’s love is not confined inside the walls of the church. This spring, I was strengthened and encouraged in my faith by a Muslim woman. This young woman spoke of the difficulties one sometimes faces as a person of faith, but that these hardships only made her feel closer to God. This conversation reminded me that God is with us in all of our sufferings and trials and gave me energy to finish out the spring semester.

And, more recently, a friend of mine witnessed to the love of God by helping his neighbors. After hearing that they were grieving and going through a difficult time, he listened to their story, helped them bring groceries inside and offered his help if they needed it in the future. As Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and prolific spiritual writer explained, “we are called to witness, always with our lives and sometimes with our words, to the great things God has done for us.” Sometimes simple gestures of patience, compassion and kindness are all people need to break through the darkness and remind them that there are people who care and a God who loves them.

There is a song by Brandon Heath entitled “Give Me Your Eyes” which has become a moving prayer for me. The lyrics are as follows:

“Give me your eyes for just one second,
Give me your eyes so I can see,
Everything that I keep missing,
Give me your love for humanity.
Give me your arms for the broken-hearted,
The ones that are far beyond my reach,
Give me you heart for the ones forgotten,
Give me your eyes so I can see…”

If we, like Mary, are open to listening to God and to what God is calling us to, we will indeed be given everything we need to reach out to others. Just as God kept the promises made to Abraham and the promise that a Savior would be born, God will be faithful and grant us what we need to reach out in love, mercy and service to others.

And, if we keep our eyes and, most importantly, our hearts open, we will find that there are plenty of people who could use a listening ear, a kind word or a shoulder to cry on. Moreover, we, like Mary in her song, can share the joy we have in knowing God and the freedom of forgiveness with a world weary and weighed down with violence, bad news and hurt. There are so many hungry people waiting to be filled with good things, whether that means food, a safe place to stay or hope for the future. How can we share God with them so that they also might be filled with good things?

Both CPE and Mary’s story have taught me that there is a beautiful ebb and flow to all of this. Mary is open to God’s frightening call to bring a Savior into the world, even though it might have meant ridicule and persecution for her. The disciples were open to Jesus’ call to follow and were empowered to spread the news of the kingdom of God. Jesus was open to life as one of us – open to suffering and death on a cruel cross in order to bring light, forgiveness and new life to every corner of the world. What if any of them hadn’t been open to God’s call or had said “no?”

This ebb and flow is crucial in our lives as followers of Christ. Daily, we remember our baptisms in which we have died with Christ and been raised to new life in him. Week after week we gather around the Lord’s Table to receive God and be nourished so that we can be sent back into the world to witness to God’s work in our lives. We must listen to others in order to know what they are going through in their lives so we can help bear their burdens. And, we ourselves, must be able to receive assistance from friends, neighbors and even strangers, so that, once again, we may be ready to tackle the tasks we have been given.

As Albert Schweitzer, a theologian, renowned organist and philanthropist of the 20th century encouraged, “Impart as much as you can of your spiritual being to those who are on the road with you, and accept as something precious what comes back to you from them.” We must learn to give and receive in our walk with Christ. We must spend time being filled up with the Spirit of God in worship, prayer, hearing the Word, in Communion and in fellowship with others so that we might reach out in love.

Each of us has an integral and irreplaceable part to play in this holy rhythm – this sacred dance. Are we open to what God is calling us to do or where God is calling us to be? Are we open to serving those God is calling us to serve? Do we take the time to listen to the still voice of God instead of plowing forward with our own agendas? Are we, like Mary, able to trust God and the work God wants to do in our lives? And, like Mary, can we sing out in joy and thanksgiving about the great things God has done for us and all people?

Mary’s song, the Magnificat, not only reminds us of the miraculous acts of God, but it serves as a witness to us that we are also called to be “God-bearers,” to use the gifts we have been given to share the love and forgiveness of God with the world. A young girl once listened to and trusted in the call of God to give birth to a child – a child who would grow up and change the world forever. If you listen closely, what is God calling you to do? Amen.

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Sharing in Paul’s Joy

This is the sermon I preached at Trinity Lutheran Church in Greencastle, PA today.

Philippians 3:4b-14:
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

As I began preparing for this sermon, I started by reading over the texts for the day. And as I read, I found myself being drawn to the reading from Philippians. So far, so good. But, oddly enough, as I read it again and again, songs kept popping into my head. And not hymns or contemporary Christian music, but a song from Disney’s Hercules movie and a song from the musical Hairspray. Weird. And as I tried to figure why this was happening, I began to think – what would it be like if Paul had put this passage to music?

(to the tune of “Without Love” from Hairspray)
Once I was a Pharisee
Who never broke the rules
Never looked inside myself
But on the outside, I looked good!

Then we met and you made me
The man I am today
Jesus, I will follow you
On your holy way

‘Cause
Without you
I consider all things a loss
Without you
How could I ever bear my cross?

Jesus, I’ll be yours forever
‘Cause
I never wanna be
Without you…
Jesus, you have set me free
No, I ain’t lyin’
You have set me free
Oh, oh, oh!

Perhaps it would have sounded something like that – well, if Paul was influenced by 1960s rock-n-roll and showtunes.

In any case, I think the joyful and upbeat tune conveys Paul’s message to the church in Philippi very well. This passage is a fairly well-known one, but I think that sometimes it’s hard to hear the joy, hope and appreciation in Paul’s voice when he says he considers all things rubbish for the sake of Christ.

Before we get there though, let’s take a look at how Paul arrived at this statement about rubbish. Paul starts by listing his inherited traits, including his Jewish ancestry and the traditions he participated in from his early life – like circumcision on the eighth day. Next, he moves on to describe what he himself had accomplished, saying, “as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Now, up until this point, it seems that Paul is almost boasting about his accomplishments. He was a Pharisee, one skilled in interpreting and explaining the Law of Moses. And not only could he interpret and explain it, but he followed it carefully as a way of life – an incredibly admirable endeavor. In addition, to show how devout he was, Paul even mentions his persecution of the church. One can almost see him sort of shaking his head as he admits this to his fellow Christians.

And then comes the twist. Paul says, “yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish…” In fact, Paul’s wording here is very strong – think of the strongest word for rubbish or filth you can find and that’s what Paul is getting at. Yes, Paul has a potty mouth here!

What would this statement sound like in our context? Imagine being born into a good family and then having a wonderful opportunity to go to an Ivy League school where you excel in everything you are doing. You graduate and achieve all you ever wanted – an amazing job, a sweet sports car and all the honor and prestige you could ever desire. Then, you have a life-changing encounter with the living God and tell your friends, “I count all that I had as nothing because of Christ. Actually, everything I’ve ever known and the opportunities I’ve had, have been nothing compared to experiencing Christ. I’ve even lost my six-figure job, my corner office and my amazing house and I consider them all garbage now because I have Jesus in my life.” Anyone who heard you say that would probably think you were in some sort of incredible denial, unwilling to admit that you had failed or fallen from where you were. It’d be a huge shock to hear those words coming out of someone’s mouth today and it was most likely a huge shock for Paul’s readers to hear him describe where he had been and how his life had changed.

Paul does not stop here, however. He says he wants nothing more than to be found in Christ – to be found following Jesus, no matter what the cost. It is at this moment that Paul declares that all his works and blameless adherence to the law don’t mean anything without faith. As he explains, it is through this faith in Christ that he, that is Paul, and we too, have righteousness that comes from God. God does not look at us and see our works, judging whether or not we have been “good enough” or judging whether or not we have measured up. Nor does God look at us and see our sins piling up around us.

This is where the love for God and the joy and hope I was speaking about earlier enter into the picture. Paul’s love for God stems out of his overflowing gratitude for what Christ has done for us on the cross. Because of the cross, when God looks at us, God sees the righteousness of Christ. Instead of the multitude of sins, God sees Christ’s perfection and the loving obedience that brought him to the cross on Calvary. God sees us covered over in mercy and grace. It is through Jesus that we have been made righteous – that we are able to stand before God. That, my friends, is grace. It is that precious gift, freely bestowed by a loving God. It is not something that we attain through clinging tightly to the law or by living perfectly. Otherwise, we wouldn’t make it – we would all be judged under the law and found wanting. As Casey Novak, Assistant District Attorney on the hit television show Law and Order: SVU pointed out, “No one is above the law.” As someone slightly more credible than Ms. Novak, namely Martin Luther, put it “…we let God alone work in us and in all our powers do we do nothing of our own.”

It is with this in mind, that Paul continues his letter passionately, saying that he wants to know Christ, to experience him and the power of the resurrection. It would be easy to see why one would want to experience the resurrection with its redemptive glory and invitation to new life, but Paul also states that part of the experience of knowing Christ is sharing in his sufferings. Here, Paul is saying that he wants to die to sin and experience new and abundant life with Christ. This is what we are to do every day in living out our baptism. Daily, we die to the old person and we are raised again, loved and forgiven to go out and serve.

Lest we become frustrated when we feel like we continue falling short and sinning far too much, Paul assures us that we are to keep on moving forward. We can do so because Christ has made us his own. This phrase “Christ Jesus has made me his own” is interesting because it can be translated as “I have been won by Christ Jesus.” Jesus has won us in the fight against sin, the powers of the world and the Devil – the very things we renounce in baptism. Jesus is with us, strengthening and encouraging us to continue following him. No matter how many times we stumble or fall, Christ has already won us and nothing can remove his victory. The key is to keep trying, no matter how difficult it seems. To keep moving forward, even when it may seem like you’ve done something unforgivable or when you feel there is no hope.

Paul reassures the Philippians and us that he is by no means perfect yet, but that he is also journeying “toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” That’s an awful wordy sentence, but I think we can break it down and make it a bit easier to understand.

A few weeks ago, many of us, myself included, were glued to the television watching the Winter Olympics. We cheered for the United States and for those who had overcome so much to make it all the way to the medal podium. We teared up over those touching stories the announcers presented between all the action. We were absorbed in what happened in Vancouver. With all of this in mind, however, I couldn’t help but think about the athletes’ lives after the Olympics finished. They have spent their whole lives straining toward the Olympic prize, trying to beat incredible odds to attain that one glorious, shining moment on the winners’ podium. But what happens when they have achieved that?

In his letter, Paul writes, “not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s goal isn’t an Olympic medal, but rather life in God through Christ. In fact, the Greek phrasing Paul uses can be translated as “the prize of the upward invitation of God in Christ Jesus.” God is inviting us to a whole new life and a new way of thinking. Our goal is not one that we can achieve, like putting a check mark on a to-do list, but the goal is rather the invitation to a whole new way of life. It’s only the beginning of the adventure that lies ahead of us.

Life with Christ is just that – an adventure. It’s dying to our old selves and discovering our new identities as people living in and walking with Jesus. It’s picking up our crosses and following our Lord. It’s failing and falling, and getting back up, knowing that Christ is with us and will not let us go. It’s looking at life through the eyes of Jesus and realizing that, thankfully, we don’t have to be perfect to be loved by God! It’s struggles and joys, fears and hopes, death and resurrection. It is an adventure, but it is one we are by no means traveling through alone. God is with us and will remain with us. Moreover, our brothers and sisters in faith are our companions on the trip.

It is this journey we experience on a smaller scale during the Lenten season. We began on Ash Wednesday, confessing our sins and with the reminder that we are dust and to dust we will return. As we journey, maybe we have given up something or taken up a new spiritual discipline in order to try to focus more on our relationship with God. Next week will be Palm Sunday and then, Holy Week. Good Friday will bring the crucifixion and with it, the reminder of the heavy price Christ paid for us on the cross. But the Easter Vigil and Sunday will once again remind us of the Resurrection and the hope and joy Jesus’ rising brings to us.

I believe it is with this joy that Paul writes. He has come to realize through his encounter with Christ that it is not about him and how well he can uphold the law or obey the rules, but rather about the beautiful and unmerited gift of grace and forgiveness that God gives us. Take a moment. Think about that. That’s freedom. It’s freedom from the frustration and despair that comes from falling short of what we should be. It’s freedom from the exhaustion we feel when we are trying to live up to other peoples’ standards or trying to be all things for all the people around us. It’s freedom in which God says “I have done this for you – rest in this grace and know that I love you.” Paul’s joy is one of liberation and his hope is one of hearing the invitation of God and setting out to join God on the adventure.

Yes, God is with us through it all, sustaining us through the Holy Spirit, and encouraging us by reassuring us that Christ has already made us righteous before God. How amazing to have a God who loves us so much! Thinking of this, let us share in Paul’s joy and hope. And, knowing this love and the freedom and righteousness we have through Christ, how can we keep from singing? Amen.

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

A Most Beautiful Sight

A poem I wrote on the Metro one day in May…

I have wondered at the peaks of Alps,
Viewed from the sky high above.
I have marveled at breath-taking cathedrals,
Built from blocks of stone and love.

I have stood before the mysterious Sphinx,
Staring back into his regal eyes.
I have hiked at night the Black Forest,
Darker than the darkest of all the dyes.

These wonders that I’ve seen,
I count as blessings from on high,
but I ponder what I’ll see,
In the moment after I die.

When I encounter the One
I’ve longed for, face-to-face,
What “on earth” will I do
Consumed by overwhelming grace?

Will I kneel as a servant of a liege
As in days of yore?
Or will I run to meet Him,
Unable to fight the allure?

Or will I cast down my eyes,
Unable to meet His gaze,
Thinking of all those many times,
I failed to follow in His ways?

Or instead, will I rest
In His loving embrace,
Knowing that I have indeed
Finished the greatest race?

Do I dare reach out and touch
The scars upon His hands,
Feeling at once that which freed me
From these iron bands?

Do I speak or stand in awe,
At last without remark?
Or do I burst forth in all my joy,
Singing like a lark?

The answer is, “I do not know”
Nor shall I e’er while I’m here,
Instead, I shall await a glimpse,
Of Him, where in this life He should appear.

In the face of the man begging,
Too poor to buy something to eat.
In the weary face of a woman on the Metro,
Who waits to sit and rest her feet.

In the laughter and smile of a child,
There does His joy shine through.
Among the poor, the weak, the broken-hearted –
They are His unlikely crew.

Yes, it is not only in the Kingdom to come
That we can glance upon our King.
It is also in the everyday,
Every mundane and earthy thing.

Though I await eagerly that day,
When my precious Savior I behold,
It is my most fervent prayer,
That I may serve, be I young or old.

That I might look for Christ in those,
I encounter along my way,
Seeking to act well my part
In this divinely-appointed play.

© 2009. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Sun Streaming Through St. Peter's Basilica in Rome

Sun Streaming Through St. Peter's Basilica in Rome

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