In pm's words
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December 21, 2015, 9:00 AM

there's something about Mary...


Sermon from December 20, 2015

Text: Luke 1: 39-55

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and savior who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

As many of y’all know – I was a camp counselor at Lutheridge in Arden, NC. I love that place. It is my personal – happiest place on earth. The ability to be in the midst of God’s creation while surrounded by the community of God there is amazing. I was blessed, humbled, and honored to have served for two summers there. Though, I usually joke that the only reason that I was hired was because I’m A) a guy and B) I have a pulse.

While working there, I was also blessed to be a counselor to a particular type of individual that loves camp. I was a mentally challenged counselor! Or, as I soon learned – I guess I should tell people that I was a Counselor for the Mentally Challenged. I loved the weeks that I was able to be at camp with those who were differently abled in their minds and bodies. It was an absolute blast and I am filled with stories that I love to share with those around me. Some of those stories are better suited – and probably more appropriate – in a space that isn’t the pulpit. But, they are good stories.

What I love most about those I was blessed to be a counselor for was the immense faith that they possessed. It always amazed me how much they proclaimed and shared in their faith with others. There is more faith in their pinky than I seem to possess in my entire body. The immense amount of trust and strength these wonderful friends of mine have is awe-inspiring.

Of course, some of them are not able to verbalize their thoughts either completely or at all, but the ones that can amaze me at their ability to proclaim the gospel and God’s presence with them. Whether they were born with Down’s Syndrome, they are on the more severe end of the Autism Spectrum, or they were in a car accident that left them mentally impaired each of them are able to convey – in their own way – who and whose they are. They are able to proclaim their trust and faith in a God that loves them fully and completely – even as the world around them might try to tell them that that can’t be possible because they aren’t like everyone else.

Whenever I think of those wonderful people that I got to spend two of my summers with, I begin to think of Mary and particularly the whole story surrounding our Gospel reading this morning.

Mary – unfortunately – doesn’t hold the same place of honor and grace within our tradition of the church as she does in others; namely how our sisters and brothers in the Catholic Church celebrate her. And, I find that a little sad. Even Luther wanted her placed in higher esteem than she eventually was placed within the Lutheran tradition. What we lose when we don’t talk and remember Mary – a part from this time of year – is the absolute amazing faith that she possesses. Then we remember that she was more than likely between the ages of 12 and 16 that we are blown away even more.

Where we pick-up with Mary’s story this morning is right after the angel Gabriel tells her that she is pregnant.

A young teenager – not married – still living at home – is told that she is pregnant. I’ve asked some of our confirmation students how’d they respond if they were given that news and they all responded in the way you’d think – the same way I think we’d all respond. A lot of shock. A lot of grief. Scared out of their minds. Wondering why God did this to me.

I don’t think we’d fault Mary at all if those were some of the words and thoughts she expressed within our scriptures. It’d be totally understandable if she showed some trepidation towards living into the call and mantle that is placed upon her shoulders. I imagine it is pretty anxiety inducing to be told, “Hey – just so you know you’re going to bear God to the world!”

Even where we see her this morning as she is traveling to be with her cousin Elizabeth – who herself has received some startling news that she is pregnant even after years and years of not being able to conceive a child – you’d think that she’d go and cry with her cousin about what has happened to them.

Mary and Elizabeth respond to God’s call in such surprising and refreshing ways than what we’ve seen from those called by God throughout our scriptures. Any other time that God has reached down to tell someone that they have been set apart in some fashion, the people that God speaks with usually aren’t dancing and singing. No – usually they are scared and frightened men who try to find every conceivable way to not follow God’s call for them. Making excuse upon excuse why they aren’t the one that God is looking for. Hoping upon hope that they can wave their hands in front of God’s face like a Jedi to perform a mind trick while saying, “I’m not the guy you’re looking for…”

Neither Mary nor Elizabeth respond in that manner. In fact, their response is the exact opposite and a model of faith for each of us. They both have been given startling and unexpected news. They both are pregnant – one for sure in the most ‘non-traditional’ way possible. Both have been told that their children are special. Not just special to them – but, special to the world. They receive this news and instead of crying shoulder to shoulder together – commiserating in their ‘lot’ in life – they join in celebration with one another. In fact – even Mary breaks out in song, reminding us of another woman in scripture who praised God through song – Miriam when the nation of Israel was let go by pharaoh.

Mary’s words are a beautiful poem and song proclaiming God’s presence in her life and her faith and trust in where God is calling her and guiding her.

I’m sure in the back of her mind she knows she’ll be looked at differently. There will those who scoff at her story and try to call her any number of unsavory names and labels – all the labels even we know that have been horribly placed upon those who are unwed teenage moms. There is probably even the thought that because of this – she will be abandoned – by her fiancé, her family, her friends, her community.

Yet, she is able – as Marty Haugen writes it in Holden Evening Prayer – to sing, “My soul proclaims your greatness O God, and my spirit rejoices in you. You have looked with on your servant here and blessed me all my life through.” That is faith and trust.

Even Elizabeth is able to rejoice for the one who she carries within her womb is the one who will point to Jesus through his words and actions to the people of Israel.

As we approach this time of year and continually look towards the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord later this week, we know that this time of year doesn’t bring always bring up the most pleasant and happy memories. There are many who will be and who are very sad during this time of year. Someone they loved is no longer here. The community and relationships they have are strained to breaking points. The stress of this hectic season continues to build up as there are more meetings, get togethers, commitments, and obligations than ever before. There are the expectations to ‘do better’ than last year, and to somehow be present in seemingly a million places at once.

This time of year can be hard. It can be extremely difficult. Add to the fact that where we live the days grow short and the nights are longer. The length of the night – the darkness – has been continually getting longer and longer and will reach its peak in just a few short days.

Yet, in those moments of stress and times of exasperation we can and we do look towards Mary and Elizabeth. Two women who at a time when women were not treated fairly, with love, grace, and honor walked in faith in spite of what others might say and do. They trusted in hope that they were set a part and that they were not alone.

For me – that is the huge takeaway from this text and this story of Mary.

In our day an age – and I know I can talk to a few of you about this who have inside knowledge of these sorts of things – when someone is young, really young and is given the news that they are pregnant – there is a lot of fear of what will happen to those around them. That they’ll be alone, abandoned, having to resort to potentially drastic perhaps even deadly decisions to ‘fix’ themselves of a ‘problem.’ 

What we learn from Mary’s story is that it isn’t that her family pulls away during this time, but that they cling closer together. Elizabeth greets her warmly and so does the child in her womb. We read in the Gospel of Matthew that Joseph pulls her closer.

Space is made for her and for the one she carries for the world.

What would life look like for us – for the entire world – that when the unexpected happen – when life throws your curveballs and surprises that we banded together? During this time of year when so manh people feel alone and outside because of something that has happened in their life or how others treat them because of who they are – what would it look like if instead of pushing folks away, we held them tighter in embrace.

Reminding them – and us – again and again that God is here. That God is made known through the love and words that we share together with one another. That we are not abandoned and forgotten. Where space is made for the ones the world puts on the outside – on the outskirts?

I remember very often my time at Lutheridge with those very special campers. The one who seem to have more faith than I could ever possibly imagine to possess. And I see the light of Christ shining within them and then I see the community that surrounds them. Their families, friends, those who oversee their care. And I see that I am and was a part of that too.

That their faith is strong – as was Mary’s – as is ours – because they are surrounded by a community who bands together, who together looks to the one who has set us apart. The one who comes to dwell among us. The one who is to be born to the world and for the world.

We can be strong because we have the models of faith around us who are strong. Those models of faith who have lived before our time and who live with us now. The ones who continually point to God’s presence in their life and can see the presence of God at work among the people around them.

As Holden Evening Prayer calls to us again – the light shines in the darkness – and the darkness has not and will not overcome it. Amen!

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