Tag Archive: TEDTalk


This was the homily I preached this morning based on Psalm 118:14-29 and Benjamin Britten’s cantata “Rejoice in the Lamb.”

There are images circulating around the internet right now that I’ve seen seminary pals posting on Facebook that say, “what do you mean Easter is over?!  Easter lasts 50 days!”  But it’s easy to forget after all the glorious celebration of Easter Sunday that we get to continue the party.  And part of this means being able to rock out the “hallelujahs” again!

The Lenten ban on “hallelujahs” or “alleluias” is something that I really try to uphold, but it gets hard because I love music.  Even with pop music, I’ll be singing along in the car, feeling the music, bopping along, and then I realize that I’ve let the forbidden word slip.  Oops.  One of these songs is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which has been covered by everyone and their brother.  You’d think that with a title like “Hallelujah” I’d be able to see it coming and restrain myself, but it’s still really hard because it’s a great song!  It is, however, a melancholy kind of song – the kind of song that makes me well up and want to let out all the emotion in my soul.

Music can do that to you.  It can carry you away so that you say “hallelujah” even in the middle of Lent or it can move you to tears.  And speaking of great music, we’re going to hear some fantastic music in just a few minutes.  In reading over the text of Benjamin Britten’s piece, which is printed in the bulletin and was written by Christopher Smart, I was at first a wee bit baffled by the lyrics.  But as Gerry and I discussed the piece, I became really moved by what it was saying.  One part of it that really caught me were these lines:

“Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah from the heart of God,
And from the hand of the artist inimitable,
And from the echo of the heavenly harp
In sweetness magnifical and mighty.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.”

First of all, Christopher Smart’s poetry is mysterious and beautiful.  Second, I was hooked by this idea of a “hallelujah from the heart of God.”  What does that mean?

Hallelujah is a Hebrew word.  Well, actually, if we want to get technical, it’s two words – “Hallelu” and “jah.”  And this phrase is a command that means “you all praise God!”  So when we shout “hallelujah,” we’re really saying “ya’ll praise God now!”  It’s an exclamation – something that is not just for us, but that is meant to draw others in.  “You all praise God” so that we can join our voices together in praising and worshiping God, just like a choir.

But what would “hallelujah from the heart of God” mean?  I think it means something incredibly profound.  I think it means our praise of God doesn’t start with us.  It starts with God.   This may sound like a really foreign concept for us, but it shows up in the psalms as well.  “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.  By the LORD has this been done; it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. … You are my God, and I will thank you; you are my God, and I will exalt you, Give thanks to the LORD, for the LORD is good; God’s mercy endures forever.”

Psalm 118 is part of the praise psalms whose primary purpose is to praise and glorify God.  And the writers and singers of these psalms praise because God is who God is.  They give thanks and exalt the Lord because of who they know God to be and because of what God has done.  They give praise and bear witness to how God has been active in their lives in order to point to God and to share the goodness of God.   They shout “hallelujah” and command “praise God,” inviting others to join the song of praise.  They invite them to be a part of the chorus of hallelujahs by sharing with others what God has done for them.

We even see this in the Gospel of John: “now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  All that we hear in this Gospel is written down so that we may come to believe in and worship Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.  All these amazing things about Jesus’ life, miracles or signs, death and resurrection have been written down in order to invite us to believe.  All these things that have come from the loving heart of God and have been graciously and generously given to us – these things invite a hallelujah.  What we’ve experienced as the goodness and mercy from God’s own heart should evoke a hallelujah – our praise of God.

In all of this, the question is this: do we give praise and shout hallelujah in order that we, as well as others, might believe?

When I am struggling with unbelief, or doubt, or missing out on that encounter with God, I recall what God has done in my life and in the lives of those I know.  I listen to the stories of others who are praising and bearing witness to God’s action in their lives.  This hearing and remembering what God has done helps to spark gratitude and praise in my life.  It helps me to continue believing – and as we hear in the Gospel of John, it’s through this believing that we have life to the full in the name of Christ.

On Wednesday, I watched a TEDxChange event that was put on by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  TEDTalks are devoted to “ideas worth spreading” – sharing ideas in order to make a difference in the world.  At Wednesday’s event, several speakers and poets took the stage, but the topic all were focusing upon was “positive disruption.”  The speakers spoke about ways of positively disrupting the world in order to make a difference – whether through better health care for women, contraceptives, or famine relief.

But I love that phrase “positive disruption.”  I think that’s what “hallelujah” is in our lives.  It’s a shout.  It’s a word you want to blurt out.  It’s a positive disruption or interruption in our lives in that it shakes up our doubts, sorrows, and difficulties and fills us again with gratitude, praise and joy.  It’s the word that bursts the tomb and offers us Christ, standing before us saying “peace be with you.”  It’s the word that causes us to think about what God has done.  It’s the word uttered from another’s lips that causes us to remember God’s goodness even when we feel far from God.  It’s the word that energizes us and helps us remember that we are invited to live our lives as responses to God’s love.

Today, may we let our hallelujahs burst forth in our words, prayers and songs.  May we let the Spirit stir up in us those hallelujahs that were born in the heart of God.  May we, with our hallelujahs, invite others to praise God.  And may we continue the celebration of Easter all our days.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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With Open Arms

This was yesterday’s sermon on the parable of the prodigal son, delivered at Christ Lutheran Church, Washington, DC.

Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3So he told them this parable: 11b“There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ‘ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe — the best one — and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32
But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'”

The story we just heard this morning is one of the most beloved stories in the Bible.  And for good reason!  I mean who hasn’t identified at some point in their life as the younger son who goes out, makes a big mistake and needs forgiveness or redemption?  Or who hasn’t felt like the older son who is rightfully irritated that his father is throwing a party for his irresponsible brother while he’s been working hard?  Who hasn’t felt like the father who waits expectantly for his beloved son to return, and is so overjoyed that he can’t help but throw a party?  Yes, this is a classic story.  And I think the more we read it, ask questions of it and experience similar moments in our lives, the more we appreciate it.

But today, I want to focus specifically on the father.  I would say that of the three main characters we hear about in Jesus’ story, this is the hardest one to relate to.  When the younger son comes to his dad asking for his share of the property, it’s equivalent to wishing his father dead.  And yet the father gives him the inheritance money and allows him to go off to a distant country.  Then, to make matters worse, this kid goes off and wastes all his money, lands on hard times, and is forced to take a job working for a Gentile pig farmer.  All of this has got to reflect poorly on dear old dad.  After all, what will the neighbors say?

After a while of this rough life, the younger son realizes that he’s hungry and his dad’s hired hands have always had enough to eat.  “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’”  What’s interesting is that we don’t know if he is actually remorseful, or if he’s just figuring out that being at home is better off than being among the pigs! So he heads home, hoping beyond hope that things will work out.

Then we have this really beautiful line that has jumped out at me in rereading this story: “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.”  The image of this father, running as fast as he can toward his son is so moving to me.  He’s been waiting, heart aching as he hears rumors about what his son has been up to.  He’s been sad knowing that his son has had to hire himself out to a Gentile in order to survive.  He’s been watching the horizon, day after day, praying that his beloved son would come walking back down that dirt road.  And then he sees him!  And all his aches and pains can’t stop him from setting off at a dead run to embrace the son who he thought he might never see again.

He doesn’t even listen to the son’s apology because he’s too busy shouting to the slaves: “’Quickly, bring out a robe — the best one — and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’”

This father is quite the character.  What are the neighbors going to say?  Is he going to be laughed at for his extravagant welcome of his wayward son?  They might say, “He’s a fool!  He’s a sucker!  He’s a sap!”  But what if God is, too?

And I think that’s Jesus point in telling this story.  Jesus is sitting there speaking and he’s got quite a crowd.  This isn’t a polite group listening to a theology lecture.  No, this crowd includes all the tax collectors who have been working for the Roman oppressors and squeezing the Jewish people for every dime they have.  There are also sinners in this group – people whose actions disrupt the fabric of society.  It’s a seedy and unpopular bunch, basically the prodigal sons and daughters of the day, and so, it’s no wonder that people are grumbling about how “this fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Jesus is hanging out with the wrong crowd.

Listening to the song “Painted Red” by one of my favorite artists, JJ Heller, helped to put this into perspective for me.  She sings: “Hope means holding on to you…Grace means you’re holding me too.”  The younger son was ready to go back and beg his father for forgiveness, hoping that all would work out.  He hoped that he would indeed be forgiven or that, at the very least, he’d have food and shelter.

But what he actually receives is far greater.  Instead, there’s this incredible grace.  The father bolts from his waiting place and takes on shame and foolishness to embrace his sinful son, not even knowing the son’s true intentions.

When I think about God, I imagine open arms, like that of the father in the parable.  Arms that welcome and embrace us as we are.  Arms that welcome us to the waters of baptism and invite us to the table.  Arms outstretched in the epitome of love on the cross.  This God of grace and open arms is the opposite of the judgmental and condemnatory God we so often hear spoken about.  Instead of a finger pointing at us in condemnation, we receive the loving embrace of our Heavenly parent.

But in case we forget, there’s still the older son.  I imagine the older brother standing with his arms crossed, closed off to the possibilities, refusing to go to the welcome home party.  What do our arms look like? Are they extravagantly open to others? Or are they firmly crossed, refusing to show grace, compassion and love?

On Friday, I watched a Ted Talk video about a man named Jeremy Courtney.  Sitting in a café in Iraq in 2007, talking to his waiter, Jeremy became aware of a terrible problem: tons of kids were being born with fatal heart defects and there were no hospitals in the country to give the children the crucial heart surgeries they needed.  Hearing, this, Jeremy decided that he needed to do something and so he jumped in, trying to find out why so many kids had heart defects.

He found out that there were three reasons for the soaring rates of birth defects.  First, Saddam Hussein’s use of mustard gas against his own people.  Second, the US led sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s that led to the healthcare services falling apart and, as a result, the malnourishment of many pregnant women.  Third, American soldiers also noted that they had children with birth defects and the cause was found to be due to the US and British forces’ use of depleted uranium munitions which vaporized upon contact with the ground.

Jeremy was beginning to come to a new understanding of violence – the understanding that “violence unmakes the world.”  But he also believed that there was something able to stand against this destructive violence.  He called this “preemptive love.”  As Jeremy explains,  “Now, unlike a preemptive strike where I seek to get you before you get me, preemptive love is where I jump forward to love you, before you love me.  I jump forward to trust you before perhaps you’ve trusted me, because we all know that violence unmakes the world.  But preemptive love unmakes violence.  Preemptive love remakes the world through healing.”

With this hope in his heart, he created the Preemptive Love Coalition with his wife and others in order to get kids the lifesaving heart surgeries they needed.  And one of the stories that Jeremy tells in his Ted Talk is about a young boy named Shad and his father.  Shad’s father was a Kurdish taxi driver from one of the northern cities of Iraq who was willing to do anything to help his son get the help he needed.  But when Jeremy suggested that they go to neighboring Turkey to get help from the doctors there, he was a little leery.  You see, there’s a long-standing conflict between the Kurds and the Turks and so the very idea was terrifying to Shad’s father – that he should take his dear son to the enemy to seek healing.  What would his family think? And what would the neighbors say? But this was the last resort and a Turkish doctor was the only one willing to put his reputation on the line to try to save this boy’s life.

And so they took Shad and his father to Istanbul, and after a lot of diagnostic tests to see if they could or should operate, late at night they received the news that they would get the surgery.  Shad’s father and Jeremy were ecstatic! Shad went through surgery and then, after a few days he was released back to his room.  But then, a blood clot went through his artery and after a third and fourth surgery, Shad died.  Jeremy got dressed and went into the hospital to be with Shad’s father who was mourning and wondering what to do – what to say to the family back home.

And then Jeremy started to think, “oh no, the inevitable blame game will set in because a Kurdish boy has died in the hands of the Turkish enemy.  Shad’s father is going to blame the Turks and this circle of violence will again unmake everything we’ve tried to do here.”  But instead, something amazing happened.  Instead of pointing a finger in blame, Shad’s father walked around to every doctor and nurse and looked them in the eye and said “thank you.  Thank you.  I know you’re sad.  I know you didn’t want my son to die.  You gave us a chance.  Thank you.”  Jeremy spoke about how incredibly healing it was for everyone.  He realized that little by little, they were all remaking the world through preemptive love and through healing.  And after that, 35 children were able to go to Istanbul to get the life-saving surgeries they needed.

In the stories of the prodigal son and Shad’s father, we hear about two fathers who would do anything for their sons – who would bear shame, become fools, and cross boundaries to help their children.  Two fathers, choose love and grace, forgiveness and compassion, and transform the world and set forth a different way of living.

That’s the kind of God we have.  A God who foolishly chooses to welcome people who continue to fall short.  A God, who would do anything, even become human and die on a cross, for the sake of God’s beloved children.  A God with arms flung wide open, who runs to meet us, embraces us and celebrates our return lavishly.  A God who is transforming and remaking the world, showing us that there is a different way of living in the world – a way that involves embracing others, lavishing love on those we encounter, and forgiving, even if it seems foolish.  A God who calls us open our arms and our hearts in order to transform the world by sharing the outrageous love and forgiveness we’ve received.  Thanks be to God! Amen.
© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.
For those interested, here is the original TEDx Talk by Jeremy Courtney.

Community in Christ

This is the sermon I delivered on Sunday morning at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC.

As the semester draws to a close and senior graduation creeps closer, I have been thinking a lot about my fellow students and life on Seminary Ridge in Gettysburg.  I’ve been thinking about the experiences we’ve all shared – both good and bad.  And I’ve been thinking about where we will all be in the coming months, whether in first call congregations, doing Clinical Pastoral Education and serving as chaplain interns, or beginning internship around the country.  Seminary has a way of bringing people together in community only to send them back out again.

And I’ve also been thinking about my upcoming trip to Munich to live in an intentional ecumenical community while I study at the university.  I’ve been reflecting on what it means to live in relationship with others from sometimes vastly different backgrounds.  In short, I’ve had community on my mind!

The author of 1 John also had community on his mind.     His community was going through conflict and strife, differing on theology and church practice.  And so he was writing to encourage his community to “…love one another, because love is from God.”  The reading we have for this morning uses some variation of the word “love” 27 times and the word “God” 21 times – that’s quite a bit of repetition and emphasis, so these must be important words!

Love comes from God and, as 1 John explains, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  Everything begins and flows from in God’s loving action toward and for us.  Through Jesus’ death, he has restored our relationship with God the Father.  And what’s more, Christ’s death has enabled us to love one another.

Now, we participate in all different types of communities: our families, our groups of friends, sports groups, music groups, book groups, academic or professional groups, theater and arts communities, and religious communities.  And, through social media, we participate in online communities.

And we all know that life in community is not always…how shall I put this…pretty.  We all sin, make mistakes, say things that aren’t very nice – we have all been there and done that.  As it says earlier in the letter of 1 John, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  So when our human imperfection and sin happen in community, people get hurt, angry and upset.  It’s a vicious cycle that’s easy to get trapped in.

I’ve been taking pottery lessons in Gettysburg for about three months now.  Besides being something I’ve always wanted to do, I’ve found the classes to be a wonderful stress release.  There’s just something about getting messy with clay that is incredibly freeing.  If you mess up, you can usually fix it with a bit of water and some elbow grease.  Or, if it’s really bad, you can ball it up and begin again.  Some of the best pieces I’ve made have come about through mistakes.  I’ve only had to take a step back to rethink what was happening and remain open to inspiration.

Life in community is kind of like pottery.  It’s not clean, simple or perfect.  It’s messy.  But it’s wonderful.  Just like with pottery, some beautiful things can emerge from the messiness and struggle of life in relationship with others.

For example, our recent conversations surrounding what we can do about economic disparity may be difficult conversations to have, but the Holy Spirit is at work, bringing about good fruit, even if we can’t imagine what that will look like right now.

God’s love as shown to us in Jesus’ death and resurrection restores our relationship with God.  And knowing and abiding in that overwhelmingly beautiful and powerful love, we are to love one another.  The author of 1 John even takes this a step further, saying that, “no one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”  It is through loving one another, that God’s love is perfected or fulfilled in us.  In practicing loving others, we come to know and understand more about the God who is love.

The church community, drawn together by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, is where we should be able to let our hair down and be ourselves.  It’s the place where we should be able to be vulnerable with one another.  It’s the place we should be able to come and say, “I’m struggling with this and I need prayer.”  It’s also the place we should be able to say, “God has done something amazing!  Let’s celebrate together!”

But I fear that maybe because of our experiences in the world the other six days of the week, we may be less likely to embrace the church as the loving, forgiving, encouraging community it is.  The world prizes individualism and self-sufficiency.  The one who shows no weakness is the one who is valued as a strong person.

But the gospel flies in the face of all of this.  We proclaim that we rely on the undeserved grace of God.  We follow a savior went willingly to a cross for us – we didn’t do anything.  We are called to abide in Jesus – to draw our strength, hope and our very lives from him.  And we are called to live in community.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic work on community, Life Together: “Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray.  You are not alone, even in death, and on the Last Day you will be only one member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ.”

In baptism, we are welcomed into the body of Christ where we find support for our lives and faith journeys.  And in Holy Communion, we are fed together at Christ’s table in a meal that connects us not only with God, but with each other and all Christians, past, present and future, around the world.  I love Communion – it’s a such an important part of worship for me.  And part of it is being able to witness people receiving communion – it’s the communal aspect that helps to make it powerful for me.

I once thought that I could be a Christian on my own, but I ended up really missing the community of believers.  I missed being able to worship God with others – to sing, pray, and to receive communion with fellow believers.  I wanted a place that I could explore the faith and learn more from mature Christians.  But that was only going to happen in community with others.

This community in Christ is an incredible blessing that I think we may take for granted.  With texting, the Internet and social media, people are constantly “connected,” but these connections are not actually helping people to form or grow relationships.  Instead, they are making us more lonely and less connected to actual human beings.

As Sherry Turkle, Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, explains in a TEDTalk: “Human relationships are rich, and they’re messy and they’re demanding, and we clean them up with technology.  And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. … That feeling that ‘no one is listening to me’ is very important in our relationships to technology.  That’s why it’s so appealing to have a Facebook page, or a Twitter feed – so many automatic listeners.  And the feeling that ‘no one is listening to me’ makes us want to spend time with machines that seem to care about us. … We expect more from technology and less from each other.”

People are hungry for connections to others, but we’re tricking ourselves into thinking that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MySpace, Google+, FourSquare or Pinterest will suffice.  And don’t get me wrong – I’m on many of them!  But people are longing for others to actually listen to them – to be present with them in the midst of what they’re going through.  People are desperately yearning to be themselves, and to be welcomed and accepted for who they are.  People desire real connection, but they are scared to death of intimacy.

Now people do post some important things on Facebook – things that they might not have the courage to say in person.  Things that can be as simple as “please pray for me as I go through this difficult situation.”  However, it’s one thing to be on Facebook and type something or respond to someone’s post – it’s another to walk up to a human being and be with them – to sit with them, listen to them, talk with them, and pray with them.  We have been drawn together by the Holy Spirit into community – to pray for one another, listen to one another, learn from one another, encourage one another, share our joys and how God has been at work, as well as to share our sorrows, needs and shortcomings.  The church is the place for people to be vulnerable and to learn to be themselves with one another.  This means that we risk being hurt, but it also means that we have tremendous opportunity to grow closer to each other.  And by being so open and vulnerable, we open the door and welcome others to be themselves.  People are looking for real community where they can encounter God present in the faces of those around them.   People are looking for a place where they can discover who God is calling them to be.

We have a priceless gift in the gospel and in our community that worships and bears witness to God together.  “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…  We love because he first loved us.”  This gift is not something to keep to ourselves.  It is something that is meant to be shared with others.  If fear of others’ judgment is holding us back from connecting with people, or being vulnerable with them, or inviting them to check out the community that means something to us, then may we look to God’s love – that perfect love that drives out fear.  Drawing from God’s love, we, too, can love one another with all boldness.

How can you really connect with others in the coming weeks?  Does this mean changing how much time you spend online in favor of spending time with people instead?  How can you reach out to people longing for God and for real community?  How can you welcome others into the community of faith?  How can you support others in their lives and their faith?

Look around – look at the faces of the saints around you.  These are your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Let us take a moment to give thanks and to pray for this community that we may be filled with the love of God and strengthened by the Holy Spirit to welcome others into the body of Christ.  Amen.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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