And now …

It was 2:30 am Wednesday morning when I headed to bed after a difficult evening watching election returns. Only then did I remember I was scheduled to share a devotion for the Ministerial Alliance. My notes said Thanksgiving, so I looked up the lectionary reading and there found Philippians 4:4-11

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (NRSV)

Immediately I felt some release of fear; I am still concerned for my daughters, grand-daughters, friends of color, non /Christian faiths, and differing life styles. My gleaning is to engage violations of or threats to justice and liberty for all from prayerful, thoughtful, and the peace of God. I suggest this is also a faithful stance for those whose candidates won.

This morning I did as I have done for the last couple of decades, pray by name for my elected leaders including Trump and Pence, simply raising them to God, trusting God guidance. After prayers, I will seek to be prayerful, be peaceful, be thoughtful and be engaged.

 

Here I am. Make it so. Amen.

A sermon for Advent 4

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Canticle 3 or Canticle 15 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, Romans 16: 25-27, Luke 1: 26-38

The Star-Ship Enterprise –D warps through the galaxy exploring new worlds all at the command of Jean-Luc Picard’s “Make it so.” It’s almost like ‘Amen.’ A crew member hands him a Kindle he reads whatever is there, sometimes signs it, and sometimes says “Make it so.”

‘Amen’ comes from the Hebrew meaning to be firm, or truth, or faithfulness; and in some instances “so let it be.” (Orr) Jesus’ often used introductory phrase “I say to you…” is the same Hebrew etymology as ‘amen’ (Holman) so we can see the impetus of “make it so” is similar to the impetus of ‘amen.’ And before you get all excited, no I don’t think the Angel Gabriel is a starship captain out to influence the direction of human development. However, there is a connection with Mary.

The Angel Gabriel brings a message to Mary from God. The short form of the story goes:

Gabriel: Greetings!

No ~ don’t be afraid, God has chosen you, and you will have baby to be named Jesus.

Mary: How can this be – I’m not married yet?

Gabriel: It’s the Holy Spirit!

Mary: “What?”

Gabriel: Nothing is impossible with God, your aunt Elizabeth is pregnant.

Mary: Here I am. Make it so. Amen.

This story is one of my favorite, for more than its Star Trek parallel. It resonates with Isaiah:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

the Old Testament reading for my ordination to the priesthood. Mary answers as Isaiah does “Amen.”

In fact the conversations parallel each other: God calls, either directly or through a messenger, the person objects, God gives assurances, sometimes there are multiple rounds of objections and assurances, the one called  finally sees what God sees in them, (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner) and accepts the calling a form of “let it be,” or “make it so,” or “Amen.” Academics have various names but essentially is a call narrative. Through it Luke associates Mary with biblically significant people like: Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.

There is another list of significant biblical characters Mary is associated with, at least in part, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Elizabeth. Though she is not barren, Mary’s pregnancy is mystical, clearly God is present with her.

It’s important to note Mary hasn’t done anything special, she is simply favored (Lewis) simply blessed. Like all who serve God, God calls first, what some call election; our response to the call has the potential for divine service. (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner) You’ve heard me say it before, most often related to life’s tragedies and troubles; however, it applies to God’s call: life happens, calls come, how we chose to respond, whether we trust God, or not, makes all the difference. Mary’s chooses to trust God.

According to Christian belief, no one will ever again be theotokos, mother of God; which raises the question how else is does Mary serve as an archetypical character for us. Karoline Lewis wants Mary’s witness to take Advent beyond its short season so that God coming to us becomes a way of life, a way of faith. (Lewis) So how is one like Mary and allow the here I am – make it so – Amen to come alive?

Julie Gibeau has limited means. Nonetheless, she sees children who have less, and believes that, especially at Christmas, they need to see and know happiness. So for six months she has been baking banana bread. So far, the 1000 loaves she’s sold, has yielded nearly $3000 she uses to buy toys for kids who otherwise would see little or nothing on Christmas morning. (Noel) And then there is Jarrett who won a tablet at his schools fund raiser. He surprised everyone, when he sold the tablet, and with judicious use of coupons and sales, bought nearly $300 worth of toys for other kids: a blanket to a little girl to stay warm, books for another kid to read, and toy trucks for “someone special.” Jarrett said:

Giving is the right thing to do…because you know that another kid might really, really need it … (Ready)

I expect all of us know similar stories, or folks who have and continue to be quietly kind and generous to others, at Christmas, and throughout the year. In their own way they’ve responded: let it be, make it so, Amen.

Steve’s parish is celebrating their 91st anniversary this week. In one of his blogs he wrote:

We can learn a lot from Mary’s example, but as important as it is to show up and say “here I am,” it is even more important for a community of the faithful to join together in saying “Here we are,”

He is right; as important as it is for individuals to say “here I am” there are some things that only the community can convey as together we “here we are.” Sixty First Ave United Methodist Church is a humble congregation, whose members are generally low income, give of their time and selves. For the last 18 years they have run the Last Minute Toy Store, providing toys to neighborhood kids, 90% of whom qualify for free lunch at school. Last year $200,000 in contributions bought 20,000 toys that were distributed to 4,600 children in 1,400 families. The store draws volunteers from all over town, and many receive toys for their family. It’s exemplary of Rev. Paul Slentz teaching of “ministry with the poor instead of for the poor.” (Fiona)

Some times “here I am” is not associated with Christmas. We all know that last week Australia was victimized by a Muslim terrorist. You may not know the incident increased already heightened anti-Muslim sentiment. Rachel was sitting next to a woman on a train; as it came to a stop she quietly began removing her Hijab, head scarf. Rachel told the woman, “Put it back on, I’ll walk with you.” Michael James heard the story, posted it online which rapidly spread with the hashtag #I’llride withyou. (COHEN)

[pause]

There are many examples of local folks and community actions that tell similar stories. Still, everyday God’s message “You, yes you, my favored one, don’t be afraid, here’s what I’m asking, don’t worry, nothing is impossible.” dances through our lives. Everyday individually and as a community we have the opportunity to stop, to question, to express doubt, to choose to believe, to choose to trust, to choose to say: “Here I am.” “Make it so.” “Amen.”

[pause]

Amen!


Bibliography

Bates, Rev. Dr. J Barrington. Sermons that Work – 4 ADvent. 21 12 2014. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/&gt;.

COHEN, NOAM. “Turning #IllRideWithYou Into Real-World Action.” New York Times (2014). web.

Fiona. The greatest gift. 21 12 2014. <http://www.faithandleadership.com/features/articles/the-greatest-gift&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Luke 1:26-38. 21 12 2014. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php&gt;.

“Holman Bible Dictionary.” WORD – QuickVerse, n.d.

Jaconson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 21 12 2014.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher: Advent as a Way of Life. 21 12 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Advent 2 B: Blessed Like Mary. 21 12 2014. <davidlose.net>.

Noel, Christine C. “Mom who had nothing bakes for month straight to pay it forward.” USA Today (2014). web. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/12/16/inspiration-nation-mom-loaves-bread/20461849/&gt;.

Orr, Jame, ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. WORDsearch, 2004.

Pankey, Rev. Steve. “Here I am. Here we are.” 21 12 2014. Word Press: Draughting Theology. <http://draughtingtheology.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/hereiamhereweare/&gt;.

Powell, Mark Allen. Commentary on Luke 1:2638. 21 12 2014.

Ready, Lauren. “Boy turns winning prize into gifts for needy children.” USA TODAY (2014). web. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/12/15/inspiration-nation-boy-wins-prize-needy-kids/20318809/&gt;.

Elected Saints = Chosen Stewards

Yesterday I wandered into the waters of saints whose memories have faded, and suggested that their influence has not.  Today I’m pondering the relationship between All Saints and stewardship. How do they inform each other. Let’s continue with pondering ‘saint.’ 

Though we explore great verses unknown as a quality of saintliness, there is still a question of Who is a saint? In other words, there is more saintliness than genuine generosity.  Mark Tranvik writes: Our designation as saints comes from our rich inheritance of Christ’s righteousness (Ephesians 1:11). [i]  Our being ‘chosen’ is not the results of our actions nor our morality, it’s of Christ. Tranvik continues: election implies a significant responsibility. One is chosen so that one might be an instrument of God’s purposes in the world.  … God’s purpose and not our own. [ii]  Therefore, whatever quality of saintliness one has is of Christ and imputes a responsibility to be an active agent for God. 

For several years I have shifted my preaching and teaching about stewardship away from time talent and treasure, towards exploring What we are stewards of? The answer is Jesus’ ministry to proclaim the Kingdom of God has come near. Proclaiming the presence of the Kingdom is an aspect of Jesus’ ministry, and he specifically passes that ministry to his followers, to all baptized Christians, to us. [iii]

 So, being an intentional steward of Jesus’ ministry falls within the conception of God’s purpose.  And using a basic mathematical principle [iv] our designation as a steward also comes from our rich inheritance of Christ’s righteousness. and imputes a responsibility to be an active agent for God.

 Stewardship chairs relax; I haven’t really jacked-up the difficulty of teaching stewardship. In truth you, we, should be comforted. Tranvik also writes …election is meant to be comforting. … [our] fear about election is put into proper perspective when we realize that the one coming to judge is the one who was judged for our sin.[v]  So while being a saint or being a steward imputes us with divine responsibility, the final judge of our living into such a calling is with us always, even to the end of the age.

 


[i] Mark Tranvik Working Preacher, 24 after Pentecost, Ephesians, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1634
[ii] ibid
[iii] Matthew 28:16 ff
[iv] a+b=c and c=d then d=a+b
[v] Tranvik, ibid