• Vienna McCarthy

Sermon | Black History Month | 25.10.2020 | Ramond Rogers

“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him” (Acts 10: 34-35).


For “there’s plenty good room in my Father’s Kingdom”


May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.


“Do you think about anything other than liturgy and music?”

“Yes.”

“But… it seems like it’s the only thing you care about?

“Well..some days. Yes.”

“Okay, so...why are you so passionate about it?”

“Because my love for liturgy and music pushes me to love God and love my neighbor”


If I had a dollar for the number of times I've had this conversation with friends or family over the past several months, I'd have many dollars. In my coming here to St George’s I have had to tell this story many times. I will not bore you with all the details today but to be fair, they're not wrong to ask. I’ve been trained in a particular field that I consider my vocation and have moved to a country where the job almost does not exist.


With the exception of taking a few months off to move to London, I’ve been working professionally in liturgy and music for most of my life and people often wonder if this passion will ever leave me. Truthfully, I think the answer is probably never/no. But my status as a perma-liturgist and musician isn't the result of a prolonged existential crisis—I didn’t change my major multiple times (or even once) or spend years spinning my wheels trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was lucky but most importantly I was called. A call that was rooted in me from a young age growing up in a predominantly black community in The Bahamas.


In going to church in The Bahamas I was brought up in a Catholic Tradition of African American Sacred Song that consisted of mainly gospel and pentecostal music with a bridging of traditional with varying styles of gospel music. I see the gift of African American sacred songs as important to my journey. From being called the little boys with the tambourine who joyously entered into pentecostal worship with my grandmother, to my horrible and really embarrassing debut singing my first gospel solo, gospel music has changed my life and will forever be a part of who I am.


Few things impact the celebration of the liturgy more concretely than music. Ask any Mass-goer exiting the church to recap the Gospel and he or she may begin to resemble the proverbial deer in the headlights. However, ask that same person to name any hymn sung during the liturgy and you’re not only more likely to receive an actual answer (or even a serenade), but you’re also likely to receive an opinion on the quality of the liturgical music itself. Music quite literally resonates within the hearts of worshipers in a unique way. Whether vocal or instrumental, music has a power to evoke an intellectual or emotional response that cannot be underestimated; therefore, its role in the overall impact of a liturgical celebration also cannot be underestimated. Music clothes our communal prayer in beauty, allowing us truly to “lift up our hearts” to the Lord in a way that simultaneously expresses our unique humanity and our universal desire for communion with God and one another. Given this reality, the question for us her at St George-in-the-East in the face of such a significant responsibility becomes how best to cultivate an understanding of liturgical music not merely as a means of creating a feel-good liturgical experience, but ultimately of inspiring the worshiping community to greater heights of prayer and praise to God.


African American sacred song that has been rooted in my musical journey in worship is something that I don’t take for granted and I enjoy sharing it with others. African men and women brought sacred chants that reminded them of their homelands and that sustained them in separation and captivity, songs to respond to all life’s situations and the ability to create new songs to answer new needs. African Americans in fields and quarters, at work, in secret meetings, in slave festivals, in churches, in camp meets and revivals, wherever they met or congregated, consoled and strengthened themselves and one another with sacred songs, moans, chants, shouts, psalms, hymns, jubilees.


It is this music that has touched deep places within me and transported me to different times. That’s why some people will love a particular hymn even though they may not agree with the theology it expresses. The music resonates with them despite the words, because it carries them back to a childhood memory or a special occasion. When I whip out my tambourine here at St G’s I am immediately taken back to the little boy next to his grandmother in a plastic chair albeit in a very hot church engaging in worship.

Turns out, I keep on being a liturgist—I keep on singing—because that’s one of the ways in which God is drawing me into a relationship with him. I study the liturgy, write, and perform music because its beauty expands my heart and creates room for divine beauty to enter in and make me more beautiful by its coming, and because gospel music in turn enables me to voice my praises and laments in ways words alone cannot. I study, write, and perform theology (for indeed the liturgy is theology in performance) because my faith is constantly seeking greater understanding. I know enough to know that I’ll never know everything—the divine mysteries are ultimately unfathomable, but I yearn to plumb them to their depths anyway. I meet my God in my work as a liturgist and in music and theology, and, far more astoundingly, my God comes to meet me, and draws me “further up and further in” to a relationship of divine love through everything that I learn.


God gifted me with my overactive imagination, my intellectual capacity, my ear for music, my memory, precisely so that we could be in relationship with one another. It’s up to me to develop these gifts as best I can through continual prayer so that they might continue to be a conduit for me in developing my relationship with God. Moreover, God has called me to be in relationship with those around me through these gifts—has given me a mission to serve others through them.


There is a richness in my Black experience that we must share with the entire people of God. These are gifts that are part of an African past. For we have heard with Black ears and have seen with Black eyes, and we have understood with an African heart. I thank God for the gift of my Blackness. In all humility I turn to the whole Church that it might share these gifts so that “our joy may be complete.” To be Catholic is to be universal. To be universal is not to be uniform. It does mean, however, that the gifts of individuals and of particular groups become the common heritage shared by all. Just as we lay claim to the gifts of Blackness, so we share these gifts within the Black community at large and within the Church. This will be our part in the building up of the whole Church.


By song our, my people have called the Spirit into our hearts, homes, churches, and communities. Seeking to enrich our liturgies and our lives with the gift of sacred song we pray:


Why should I feel discouraged?

Why should the shadows come?

Why should my heart be lonely

and long for heaven and home,

when Jesus is my portion?

My constant friend is he:

his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me;

his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me.

Refrain:

I sing because I’m happy, (I’m happy)

I sing because I’m free, (I’m free)

for his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me.

2 “Let not your heart be troubled,”

his tender word I hear,

and resting on his goodness,

I lose my doubts and fears;

though by the path he leadeth

but one step I may see:

his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me;

his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me.


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