Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Festival of Homiletics Reflections: Grace Imathiu, Sweet Honey in the Rock

The last preacher at the Festival of Homiletics was Rev. Grace Imathiu, who, in my opinion, was the best preacher with the most moving message of the entire event. She didn't get a standing ovation, like many of the other preachers, and I'm not sure why, except that perhaps she had too many people in tears to be ready to stand up. Or maybe we were more moved by the content of her sermon, as opposed to being moved by the persona of the preacher, which is as it should be, right? Anyway, I can count on my hands the number of times I've been moved to tears by preaching, and this was one of them. (The other that immediately comes to mind is a time in seminary when a woman preached as part a chapel service sponsored by the Drew Hispanic Caucus - I can't remember her name. But I still remember exactly the image she was conveying and when I remember, it still makes me tear up. That is powerful preaching.)

Imathiu preached on Ezekiel 37:1-4, the passage about the Valley of the Dry Bones. I didn't take as many notes as with other preachers, but I remember more! Imathiu is a storyteller, and she immediately draws you in. She began with an African tale that she said was unrelated to her sermon - just a story she wanted to tell. Of course, by the end, the story tied right in after all. The story was about a monster whose name you could never speak. Eventually the monster swallows up everyone and everything except one child, who seeks to kill the monster. He finds many other animals, but never the monster. Finally, when he finds the monster, and kills it, everyone and everything is set free again. (That's missing a lot of details, but it is the gist.)

Imathiu asked, "How does a priest function when they are stripped of traditions, robes, when being a priest is more than just keeping the status quo?" talking about Ezekil. "A priest in exile is a priest without safety of liturgy, office, family, class. That priest is Ezekiel. Whenever there is a crisis in the life of a priest, there is the opportunity for God to break in and the priest to be transformed into a prophet. A prophet is one who is able to see life with the eyes of God, who can see further than the horizon right through to life eternal, one who puts on God’s eyes."

“Prophet school.” – for us that is a difficult appointment, an unsupportive family, etc.

"Can these bones live?" God asks. Ezekiel's response: I have no hopes for these bones. God asks us. We ask God. God says “Prophesy to these bones.” Ezekiel/We are armed only with words.

She old us the story about Helen Keller learning from Anne Sullivan - the breakthrough moment in her learning when Sullivan ran water from the pump over Helen's hand while fingerspelling w-a-t-e-r onto her palm. Suddenly, everything in the world had a name, and there was a world for her. Helen immediately exhausted Ann, asking for names for everything. Without language in her first six years, she could not order her experience.

Imathiu connected this to say it is like writing b-a-p-t-i-s-m over and over again until someone gets it. And getting, they ask relentless questions: What is this? What is this? Bread. Cup of salvation. Brother. Sister.

That’s what prophetic preaching is, she said. Being like Anne Sullivan to Helen Keller.

One day, the monster is brought down, and the world is let loose. Martin Luther King – it seemed he was preaching to a dead-end, but he made an opening.

"Do we speak words aloud? Or are we afraid of being swallowed up?" she concluded.

Ah, this summary doesn't do justice to this awesome preaching experience.

***

I also wanted to mention that on Wednesday at the Festival, we got to hear Sweet Honey in the Rock. I'd never heard them before - missed them when they came to OWU. They were fabulous - the music, the styles, the range, the content of the songs. Spectacular. Standout: Ysaye Barnwell. Actually, others too, had particularly excellent solos, but Barnwell's awesome range was so noticeable. I feel like I should write more about them, but the best thing I can say is: buy their music, or better yet, go here them live!
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