A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Let It Be With Me Sermon on the Annunciation Luke 1 December 18, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Dec. 20, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 16
Luke 1: 46-55
Luke 1: 26-38

“How can this be?” is a question I’ve asked nearly everyday in 2020. Sometimes I’ve whispered it in fear or sorrow, sometimes I’ve expressed it in relief or acknowledgment of my relative safety and security, sometimes I’ve said it between clenched teeth of anger and incredulity. My emotions have run the gamut, as I’m sure yours have, as well. “How can this be?” pretty much sums up most of the world right now. How can it be we be losing over 3,000 people a day to COVID19 in this country? How can it be that racism and white supremacy are rampant, how can it be that we still be fighting over the basic human rights of people of color, women and LBGTQIA, how can we be this divided as a people trying to live together? How can it be that working people can’t afford housing and food, the basics of life, in the richest country in the world? How can it be that I haven’t seen any family for over a year? How can it be that while so many are struggling, I’m actually doing ok? How can it be that I’ve avoided this virus so far? How can it be that I’m so tired and perplexed?

This question on the lips of Mary in our Luke 1 text is a beloved passage known as the Annunciation. The announcement from the angel Gabriel is that God finds favor with this young, unwed, lowly woman from nowhere Nazareth. An announcement that she is so favored with God that the most dangerous thing that can happen to a first century Palestinian woman is about to take place: pregnancy. And not just any pregnancy, but out of wedlock pregnancy of God’s son. “How can this be?” is the kindest way for Mary to question the wisdom of this. Mary knows that she could be stoned to death for pregnancy out of wedlock. She knows that the maternal and infant mortality rate is at least 50% as more than likely she has witnessed women and babies dying. She knows how physically and socially vulnerable she is about to be.

The fact that we have this story at all should lead us to ask, “How can this be?” Luke is the only gospel writer to let Mary tell her own story in God’s story of redemption and salvation. John barely mentions Mary the mother of Jesus, and Matthew and Mark, talk about Mary, but never let her speak for herself. It is very typical in a highly patriarchal society for the stories of women to be ignored and forgotten. Mary’s only status is attached to her father, her husband, or her son. So, the fact that the writer of Luke gives such extensive space to not only Mary, but Elizabeth, is remarkable. Luke’s very gospel gives insight as to what God is up to in and through Jesus Christ. God is upending the structures and societal norms of the world and uncovers the truth behind our questions of “How can this be?” The truth of how it should be and how it will be in God’s kin-dom, if we let it.

Gabriel responds to Mary, “nothing will be impossible with God,” and Mary’s perspective shifted. In that moment, Mary could see beyond her own questions, her own legitimate worries and fears, and enter into the mystery of life with God. She realized that whatever God was up to needed to start with her. I like to think that it wasn’t that she was no longer afraid but was afraid and said yes anyway. Mary isn’t braver than we are, or more intuitive. I really don’t think she’s that different from us. What makes Mary the exemplar of discipleship, is that she shows us what simply taking the next faithful step looks like, even when you don’t have all the information or you are afraid. Mary takes her “How can this be?” and turns it into “Let it be with me.” In her response of “let it be with me,” Mary is opening herself up to the possibilities of God’s past actions of liberation and redemption breaking into the world again. Mary’s “Let it be with me” is an acknowledgment of all that she doesn’t know and understand about God’s vision for the world but her willingness to be moved forward. Her “let it be with me” is followed by her song of praise, the Magnificat, where she names what God has done before and will do again to right the world for justice, peace, equity and wholeness. Mary’s “let it be with me,” is rooted in her faith in God’s promises from the past and for the future.

“Let it be with me,” is not often a phrase that falls from my mouth. I get stuck in the “how can this be?” and find it hard to move forward. I want to simply rail against the structures and systems that cause me to ask the “how can it be?” and forget that I’m part of those structures and systems. I don’t stop and look for what God is up to, to trust that “nothing will be impossible with God.” What would happen if I shifted and prayed, “Let it be with me”? How does that change my perspective to see that I am enough to make a difference in the world? How does that move me forward to participate in God’s kin-dom?

So God, let it be with me that I speak out for those being harmed by economic disparities. Let it be with me to stand against greed and consumerism. Let it me with me to give generously what I have. Let it be with me to offer grace when I’m feeling uncharitable. Let it be with me to trust you even when I don’t. Let it be with me to take the next faithful step when I’m feeling vulnerable. Let it be with me to step aside for other voices to be heard. Let it be with me to not be sucked into pettiness and fear. Let it be with me for your mercy and grace flood the world. Let it be with me for hate, bigotry and anger to be no more. Let it be with me to love people how you do, completely and fully, just as they are. Let it be with me to be moved by your love. So God, let it be with me. Amen.

 

All Wrapped Up Together in a Not So Neat Christmas Bow, Advent 4, Dec. 21st, 2014 December 21, 2014

Mary had been given news that invoked both fear and joy within her. I think that the fear part is obvious: pregnant, unwed mother, by the “Holy Spirit” (yeah right!) and oh, by the by, your child will be the most holy Son of God. No biggie. I guess we don’t know for sure if the thought of motherhood was joyful to her, but we can extrapolate that she would have been joyful for the pending motherhood of her relative Elizabeth, who had been unable to at this point, have a child. The impossible, a barren woman having a child, was happening, so maybe the other stuff that Gabriel said about Mary was possible too? What if the messiah was really coming through her? What if God was really about to do something amazing through a poor teenage girl and an old woman? What if the angel’s praising of God that all will be ok was true?
Some of the historians point out that Mary may have hastily gone to see Elizabeth out of fear of being stoned or burned for pregnancy out of wedlock, but know from personal experience I know that she would have had 2-3 months before that would be obvious. Luke writes that Mary stayed with Elizabeth three months, so Mary returned to her home just when would have been unable to hide her pregnancy anymore. And some of us have the experience of going to maternity clothes about 10 seconds after two blue lines appear. It’s safe to say that she went to the person with whom she could share her joy, her fears and compare notes. Would Elizabeth affirm what Gabriel had said God was doing through Mary? The instant that Elizabeth and Mary greeted one another, it was revealed for the other that God was indeed up to something new, not just in their lives, but in the world, and that they were participants, however unlikely. Neither of the women knew exactly what lay ahead for them nor their children, (did they have an inkling of their impending heartbreak of the death of both of their sons?) but they did have the sense that God had ushered them into something bigger and beyond them. In some ways, this activity of God had nothing to do with them and yet had everything to do with them. Life was changing for these two women, they didn’t understand all of the details but they would never be the same and it seemed too good to be true. But together they could praise God and dwell in the mystery of God’s work in the world no matter what was to come.
I have to admit to you that I’m not feeling very much like praising God or super excited about dwelling in the mystery of what God is doing in the world right now. And neither is much of my family. The Advent season has been one not of anticipation and waiting for new life but for death. Maybe some of you are experiencing that sentiment in the midst of the holiday season too. I know, from past experiences of God in my life, that God is present and that God IS creating the world new each and every second, and that new life is exactly what my mother in law has claimed, but I’m having a hard time recognizing it or seeing how I could possibly with my doubts and apathy be a part of that creation with God. Like Mary, I have sought out friends and family with whom to talk, who are willing to walk with me in my questioning and are not afraid to wrestle with me in the unknown of grief and yet the hope of resurrection. And these friends, like Elizabeth, have reminded me to praise God in the midst of uncertainty and change. They have listened to my questions of: How could God be doing anything through me or any of the pain and grief of the last few weeks? Really? They have offered me their own experiences, reminded me of what I know to be true and praised God for me when I just don’t have the capacity in this moment. They pull me along in our mutual faith journey with them, despite myself.
Just as Mary needed Gabriel and Elizabeth to praise God for her and with her in the face of her questions and uncertainty, Elizabeth, too, needed Mary’s words of what Mary knew to be true of the God of Israel. It seems that for everyone, even one most favored, this walk with God is messy, not linear, not one way or another but its fear, uncertainty, doubt, joy, and faith all wrapped up together in not so neat Christmas bow. It’s why Mary immediately went to Elizabeth, why we seek out companions on our journey and why we gather as often as possible as the people of God. Community, worship, and gathering are not about coming together and sharing the good news when we have it all figured out and can only praise God, it’s coming together because we don’t have it all figured out. We gather to praise God on days when we can and to allow others around us to praise God for us on the days that we can’t. We gather to be reminded that we are part of what God is doing in the world to reveal love, mercy, grace and forgiveness and that our whole lives are to reflect God’s activity. We gather to be reminded of our baptisms and to be fed at God’s table, the bread and wine that proclaims Christ’s real presence now and always. Mary proclaims to us in her song of praise what God has come to do among us and, just as she is a part of that work in the world, so are we. It’s not about us at all and yet it’s all about us as the people of God.
Our God is about relationships. God with us, Emmanuel, God incarnate in Jesus Christ is God smack dab in the midst of our messy and uncertain lives and in the midst of our doubt. God came to not only draw us to her and to proclaim that nothing will ever separate us from God no matter what, but that the coming of God draws us to one another. In our friends, family member and neighbor we see and experience the living Christ. We experience what it is to be connected to something beyond ourselves and what we can see. We live in the mystery of what God has done, is doing and will do, with pieces of that mystery and that work being revealed by and through each other. We need each other to work through what we know of God in our lives and what we might yet need to discover.
Not one of us has this completely figured out and no one can journey in faith alone. None of us know what is to come next in our lives but we can journey together. We can proclaim to one another that Christ has come, Christ is present and Christ will come again. We dwell together in the reality and the mystery of God’s presence, love, grace, and forgiveness for us and for all. We praise God together and proclaim thanks be to God!