The Inaugural Address

 Inspired by Luke 4:14-30

This week is a busy week! There is so much going on in the world. Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which couldn’t come at a better time as our nation seeks to come together in unity and repair the damage done by political extremists. Also this week the senate begins another impeachment trial, as if we needed another reason to glue our eyeballs to our screens. And on top of that, we will inaugurate our next president this week. Like I said, this is a busy week, with a lot on the line no matter what your political persuasion may be. Now, as many of you know, I don’t select the Bible readings that we use for worship. They are preselected years in advance in what is known as a lectionary. But as many as you also know, these readings sometimes come at the eeriest, most well placed times. Because today, as theologian Craig Koester pointed out, in the same week that we will hear the inaugural address of a new president, we read this Biblical story of Jesus’ own inaugural address according to the Gospel of Luke. Now, if that ain’t the work of the Holy Spirit I don’t know what is! But the timeliness of this story goes far beyond even that as we will see, so let’s dive in.

Our story begins with Luke telling us that Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus sounds pretty pumped up and if you’re wondering why or where he went to since last week’s story you’ll have to back up a bit to a portion of the chapter that we skipped. You see, just before the story that we just read, Jesus went to the wilderness for forty days of temptation. So, after passing that test with flying colors, he is riding a bit of a high and who could blame him. This is the power of the Spirit that Luke is referring to and this is the frame of mind that Jesus is in as we read this story. Let’s just say that Jesus is feeling quite confident. So, like the good boy that Mary and Joseph raised, Jesus goes to temple on that Sabbath, and he gets chosen as the day’s lector, the one who gets the high honor of reading the scripture for the day. Now, I don’t know if it was a preselected text or not but the text that Jesus reads is a doozie, and his commentary on it was nothing short of jaw-dropping for them I’m sure.

Jesus reads from a passage of Isaiah known as Third Isaiah. It’s the portion of Isaiah that scholars believe was written after the exile, after God’s people have returned from captivity and back to their homeland to pick up the pieces of their lives and rediscover who they are after such a devasting experience. This passage that Jesus read was the author's attempt to give God’s people hope for the future while the chips were down for them, while they were at the lowest point in their lives. As a side note, this is why a basic understanding of the Hebrew scriptures is so necessary to get the most of the Gospels, which is why I love the Narrative Lectionary that we use. So, it’s with all this in mind that Jesus addresses the temple worshipers, his first audience, with this hopeful passage from Isaiah. Now, let’s pause there and remind ourselves of the context here. First, just like a new president’s inaugural address, Jesus here lays out what he plans to do. Second, typically an inaugural address tries to unite, not divide, even if the sole purpose of that unity is to help gain followers and support to move forward on the intended agenda, often promising to throw a bone even to the opponents.

This is where Jesus strays from a typical inaugural address. Not only is his address divisive, but it doesn’t even promise anything to the very people that could have helped raise Jesus to greater power and influence. Oh, it’s full of promises! Jesus promises good news and rescue and health and liberation, all great promises to make in an inaugural address but who does he make these promises to? The poor. The captives. The blind. The oppressed. Not only are these groups of people on the fringe of society, but they are people who have no power, no influence, no ability to make Jesus’ mission any more effective, let alone any resources to support his agenda. From a political perspective, this should be required reading for what not to say in an inaugural address. But as we all know, Jesus was no politician. He would have been impeached in his first year! Because Jesus was clearly not here to make friends in high places, he was here to do work. And the work that he had planned, and by the way the work that Christ is still engaged in, is the work of social justice and equity for all—and that is rarely going to earn you any popularity points, then—or now.

I imagine there were a lot of people scratching their heads after Jesus read this scripture passage and said that this was what he planned to do, that this was who he was about. I imagine there were some that were trying to figure it all out, maybe thinking that Jesus was still talking about them, that this good news was for them. So, Jesus reminds them of two stories, two stories that we have read since starting the Narrative Lectionary over two years ago. The first one he mentions we read just a few months ago, the story of the widow from Zarephath. Remember that one? It was the story of the widow and her son that were about to eat the last of their food and die of starvation. Great story but guess who the people of Zarephath were? Outsiders! Gentiles! Not who they considered to be God’s people! Jesus tells them that there were many Jewish widows in need but God chose to rescue an outsider! Next, Jesus mentions the story of General Naaman, which we read a couple years ago. Naaman was healed of a skin disease by washing in the Jordan River as Elijah instructed him. Guess where Naaman was from? Syria! Also, an outsider! A Gentile! Not who they considered to be God’s people! And Jesus, once again, reminds them that there were many Jewish people with skin diseases but God chose to heal an outsider.

Why did God do these things back then? Because God’s people wouldn’t. Because God’s people continued to ignore the very people that God had intended them to care for: widows, orphans, the poor, the sick, and immigrants seeking refuge. And guess what, Jesus says, you still aren’t, so here I am to continue God’s work that you should all have been doing anyway. As expected, they were furious! And they ran him out of town like a dirty salesman selling snake oil. But all Jesus wanted to do was give out grace to those who needed it most. And so, off he went, into the sunset to do just that, in as many other cities as he could get to. Leaving many enemies behind along the way.

It's a story that examines some of our most basic human behaviors and puts them under a spotlight. Even when offered a gift like grace and mercy, freely given, humans have a tendency to make it all about themselves, even to the point of hoarding these gifts from God, meaning we expect that all of them are for us. The people who threw Jesus out of town were furious because they realized that Jesus wasn’t including them. And Jesus wasn’t including them because they weren’t poor, they weren’t prisoners, they weren’t blind, and they weren’t being oppressed. In other words, they had already received God’s blessings but could not even acknowledge that, and they ended up throwing the savior of the cosmos out of town.

This story is not only a call to continue Christ’s work of justice in this very lopsided world we live in, but it’s also a warning to Christ’s followers. I believe that Luke is warning anyone who chooses to follow Christ, that the ways of Christ will not be a very popular road. In fact, it’s gonna make you some enemies. Just ask any church that has cast away it’s judgmental theologies against the LGBTQ community and made the decision to welcome them fully, out loud, in writing, and God forbid display a rainbow flag! Every single one of those churches can tell you stories of the enemies that made and the members that they lost.

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For me and many others around our nation, it’s a day for us to remember the journey our country has been on toward the work of equality, how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go. Our next hymn has come to be known as the black national anthem. First written as a poem by civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson at the turn of the last century for the celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, it was later set to music by his brother J. Rosamond Johnson. It has been included in Lutheran hymnals since 1978. The rendition that you are about to see and hear is from a Stanford University acapella group. The video has some commentary at the beginning before the hymn is actually sung. My first instinct was to cut the commentary out and just give you the hymn. Why? Because they mention Black Lives Matter and I thought that would be too controversial and offend some people. But now that I have finished writing this sermon, it would be quite disingenuous to do that and so I’ve decided to leave it in. And if I lose some popularity points by doing so, well, I’ll rest easy knowing I’m in good company. Thanks be to God. Amen.


What Should We Do?

 Inspired by Luke 3:1-22

As I write this sermon, it is the morning after insurrectionists stormed and invaded the capitol building of our nation. It was one of the most horrifying sites I have ever watched on television. It’s right up there with 9/11 and every police brutality caught on video. Just when we think we’d seen it all, especially after a year like 2020, we witness our very own capitol be overrun by homegrown terrorists, the very place where we lay our most cherished hopes and dreams for this great nation of ours, the very place where we believe that positive change must come from—desecrated. The news doesn’t often bring tears to my eyes, and I know that’s probably hard to believe cuz y’all know how big of a cry baby I am, but yesterday I was surprised at how quickly tears came as I watched the first images appear on my screen of the mob reaching the senate chamber, and then treating it as if it was their living room, or worse, ransacking it.

There was an image that really hit home for me like a punch to the gut, and I’m not entirely sure why, to be honest, I’m still trying to process all of this, which is probably not the best time to write a sermon but whatcha gonna do. Anyway, it’s this photo of a manchild hanging from a wall in the Senate chamber. When I first saw it, I was utterly disgusted at the disrespect being demonstrated. As I listened to the commentators on the news reflect on what they were seeing, I noticed some interesting words being used, words like desecrate, profane, and defile. Words often used in religious contexts. I found that interesting because, one, those words came to my mind as well, and two, it caused me to question if those were indeed the right words to be using. It caused me to ask myself, what is holy to me? What is sacred? Because my initial reaction to that manchild hanging from that wall was as if he was hanging from the cross in our sanctuary and I have to ask myself if that is the appropriate reaction, and continue to ask myself, what is holy? What is sacred?

Let us allow that to simmer a bit while we turn to our Bible story that we have before us today. I’m not sure if you could have selected a better story after a week like this past week if I had chosen it myself! The passage centers around the baptismal ministry of John the Baptist, with Jesus’ own baptism only occurring in the final two verses, almost as if it’s a footnote to this story. The real star of this show seems to be John, or more precisely, John’s ministry, or even more precisely than that, God’s ministry through John. We don’t know a whole lot about John really. We don’t know what transpired in his life from the last time we saw him, leaping within Elizabeth’s womb when Mary visited, to this moment in his adult life. However, in this passage, we get to know him, we get to know what makes him tick. And we also find out why God chose Elizabeth and Zechariah to be his parents, because what they taught him while they raised him, really shines through in this story.

The story begins with John baptizing people in the Jordan River area, and Luke points out that these baptisms were being done as a sign that the baptized were changing their hearts and lives, and wanted God to forgive their sins. These baptisms weren’t for show. And these baptisms, as a professor once taught me, weren’t fire insurance. Meaning, they weren’t intended to keep people out of the fires of hell, or at least not the way that many have believed in the past. They were an outward sign of what was happening within: a changing of their hearts and lives, with a desire to move beyond their troubled past and forward with God. But what does that look like? I mean, it’s one thing to stand on a riverbank and yell, “Repent! Change your hearts and lives! Seek forgiveness!” But what does that even mean? Again, what does that look like?

That’s when something really interesting happens in the story. Three groups of people show up that quite honestly, surprise John. The first group we’ll call the haves, as in, the “haves and the have-nots.” These were the haves. The second group were tax collectors. And the third group were soldiers. If this story were written today, these groups would probably be the rich, the dishonest businessmen, and the police, because the military was used more like a police force in that day, especially in Roman ruled Judea. Each one of these groups asks the same question, and it’s a question that, after the events at the capitol yesterday, many of us are asking, “What should we do?” When these three groups stroll into John’s baptismal gathering, he gives them a stern lesson on what these baptisms mean, almost as a warning, so that they know what they are getting themselves into. Again, John wants them to know in no uncertain terms, that these baptisms are not for show, this isn’t some kind of production, this ain’t no magic show, and this certainly ain’t no tent revival! What’s happening at these baptisms is real, it’s changing people! And John questions whether these three groups are really ready for this.

And so, in response, each group asks, “What should we do?” In other words, what do we need to do, knowing who we are and what we do, to prove to you that we are ready for this baptism, that we in fact are changing our hearts and lives and want to put our troubled pasts behind us and move forward with your God, John!” His answer to each of them is beautifully, no masterfully simple. In typical John fashion, he doesn’t hold back and hits them where it hurts, plucks their most sensitive nerve. To the haves he says, share what you have with those that don’t. To the tax collectors he says, don’t take more than you're supposed to from people. In other words, just do your job and nothing more. And to the soldiers he says, treat people fairly, don’t harass, and be satisfied with your paycheck. Which is another version of, just do your job and nothing more.

This is some pretty profound stuff here! Notice that none of his answers to them are overtly religious in nature! Sharing, not stealing, being fair, not harassing, going home satisfied with your compensation, this sounds more like a meeting with the HR department! Notice also that he doesn’t say they have to leave their jobs, or become poor themselves. He also doesn’t say things like pray more or worship more or read their Bibles more! None of that. Just go and be decent people for crying out loud! Because in a world filled with indecent people, that’s how the world will know that your baptism is working, that your God is not a fake, and more importantly, that our God is the source of grace and mercy in a world that seems to be lacking.

Which brings us back to where we started, at the capitol on Wednesday, when many of us were asking something like the crowds from our story asked, “What should we do?” What can we do? How can we respond? If we were to ask this question of John the Baptist, our resident teacher for today, I believe he’d respond with something like, “Remember your baptisms.”  Remember your baptisms, is what I think his advice would be, and sound advice it is. It another way of saying, return to the core of who you are. And as baptized Lutheran Christians, the core of who we are is Christ. And if our core is Christ then we are called to live out our baptisms to the best of our ability, knowing that we will often falter in that endeavor and will continually need to fall on the mercies of Christ. But the mercies of Christ do not allow us to give in, do not allow us to surrender to sin, but rather the mercies of Christ call us to persevere in the eternal fight against sin.

What does that look like? Well, remembering John the Baptist’s teaching is a great place to start! Being generous with our sharing. Treating people with equity. Fulfilling our various vocations selflessly. I mean, imagine a world where we all just did those three things! And we haven’t even gotten to Jesus’ teachings yet! Return to our baptisms. Return to the core of who we are. That can be our response to the horrific events at the capitol. Because at the end of the day the core of who we are is not a flag, it’s not a person who holds public office, it’s not a political persuasion, it’s not the constitution, it’s not the Bible, it’s not a church building, and it’s not a federal building. It’s Christ. Christ is who we hold sacred. The ways of Christ are what we proclaim as holy. Thanks be to God. Amen.


That Time Mary & Joseph Lost the Kid - or - Jesus the Brat Child

 Inspired by Luke 2:41-52 

Depending on the day of the week that Christmas falls we don’t always get two Sundays during the twelve days of Christmas but this year we do, and we get this wonderful little story from Jesus’ childhood! I really love this story, for a few reasons. We don’t get much from his childhood in the Bible. In fact, unless you count the visit of the magi, as Jesus may have already past his second birthday by the time of their visit, this is the only story that we get from his childhood. Which is kind of odd if you think about it. For such an important biblical character, you’d think more stories from his early years would have made it into the Bible. Notice I said, “made it into the Bible.” We actually have lots of stories from Jesus’ childhood, they just didn’t make the final cut of the big book, which makes this story all the more important! If you ever get a chance to look up some of those stories, I highly recommend it! They make for some entertaining reading!

My favorite stories from this group of writings, involve Jesus and birds. Maybe because, like me, Jesus really liked birds! There’s one story of him accidentally killing a bird and when he picked it up it came back to life. And there’s another one of him making birds out of mud, which he then made come alive. These are real stories that people were passing around after he died! Then there’s some more, let’s say, unsettling stories from his childhood, like when one day he was playing in a creek and built a damn out of mud to make a pool and one of his friends broke the damn, which led the child Jesus to kill him. Ok, I can see why that didn’t make it into the Bible. But what I like about these stories is how human they make Jesus, which is also probably why they dismissed them. The early church, especially during the time when they were putting the finishing touches on the collection we now know as the New Testament, was still wrestling with who, or more precisely, what Jesus was. Was he a God? Was he a man? Was he both and if so, how does that even work? And since they were wrestling with these questions, they had to be very careful of what they allowed into the Bible. Hence, this one lonely story from his preteen days.

And if there was ever a preteen story, this is it! I’m not sure if I should title this sermon, “That Time Mary and Joseph Lost the Kid” or “Jesus the Brat Child!” So, let’s dig into this story. After leaving the big Passover celebration in Jerusalem at the ripe old age of twelve, Jesus decides he wants to stay and so he does, while everyone, including his parents, leave. Now, I don’t even want to get into how Mary and Joseph could not account for his whereabouts, let’s just say cultural differences? Anywho, they leave their traveling cohort and go back to Jerusalem to find him. Now, let’s pause there and contemplate what this story tells us about Jesus. The traditional view would tell us that Jesus was wise beyond his years, knew who he was, and where he needed to be. My view, Jesus was just a typical brat of the preteen variety. Why not? Centuries ago, we concluded that Jesus was fully God and fully human, even though we don’t know exactly how that works. So, why not just lean into the fully human part for this story?

Which brings us back to why I love this and even those other stories from Jesus’ childhood so much. They humanize Jesus. They ground Jesus. They bring him down to earth, where we dwell. Once they find the brat child Jesus, they begin to scold him, telling him how worried they’ve been. His response? He says, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know I’d by in my Father’s house?” Wait a sec, did he just pull a “didn’t you know” on his own parents! I can’t stand it when I share something with someone and their response is, “Didn’t you know that?” And it doesn’t matter the tone of voice used, it always comes off snotty. Well, of course I didn’t know that! Otherwise I wouldn’t have shared that! Or in Mary’s case, “..otherwise I wouldn’t have been worried sick for three days you snot-nosed little brat!” If there was ever a bratty preteen response, this is it!

But let’s get back to the point I’m trying to make here before I get too worked up. One of my favorite bands is the Foo Fighters and one of my favorite songs of theirs is called My Hero. It’s a song that speaks to the heroes in our lives, but particularly the ones whose power does not come from superhuman abilities, but rather, come from very ordinary humanness. Some of the lyrics go like this:

There goes my hero

Watch him as he goes

There goes my hero

He's ordinary

Don't the best of them bleed it out

While the rest of them peter out?...

There goes my hero

Watch him as he goes

There goes my hero

He's ordinary

It’s a rock song but here’s a more mellow acoustic version that I’d like to share with you.

The last time I used this song in a sermon was at my internship site in Birmingham, Alabama. I remember one member taking me out to lunch after that sermon and part of our conversation that day was about how much he didn’t think Jesus was ordinary. To his surprise, I totally agreed with him! That’s the beautiful mystery of it all! Some days I need a savior that is more like Superman. And other days I need someone who is more like me, even the bratty version of me. I find comfort in knowing that Jesus can relate to us on so many levels, even when we are found lacking. Jesus isn’t my hero just because he’s the ruler of the cosmos! But also because, especially because, he cared enough to experience all that makes a human human, and still loves us unconditionally. That’s a hero in my book. That’s the Jesus that Luke will present to us in this extraordinary Gospel. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Nine Months

 Inspired by Luke 2:1-20

At Easter time, a common saying you will hear is, “A lot can happen in three days.” I’ve always liked that. And I’m thinking at Christmas time we should have a similar phrase, “A lot can happen in nine months.” How does that sound? Nine months before the event that we celebrate tonight, and angel visited Mary to give her some very unexpected news, that she was going to have a baby, even though she wasn’t even married. [Gasp!] Scandalous! Oh, and one other detail, this baby is also going to be the savior of the world. No pressure, right! On the contrary, pressure was probably just one of the plethora of emotions that she was experiencing, and not all of them good emotions! As joyous of an occasion as it was for the rest of humanity, this wasn’t exactly the kind of surprise that she probably would have hoped for at that time in her life. Mary was young, she was engaged but still unmarried, and you can only hide a pregnancy for so long. What was this angel expecting them to do, have a shotgun wedding? This wasn’t exactly good news! This news was going to bring stress, financial burden, societal pressure, let alone shame. This news was going to ruin any plans that they previously had. Not to mention, how in the world do you raise the savior of the world?! Well, a lot can happen in nine months.

Nine months is also quite significant for us as well in our own time, isn’t it. Nine months ago, we got news of a deadly pandemic that had reached our shores. Not the news we were expecting. This pandemic has changed the entire landscape of our lives. Any plans that we had went right out the window. Worshipping together on Easter? Gone. Graduation ceremonies with family and friends. Gone. Vacation travel? Gone. And now, worshipping together in person for a Christmas Eve candlelight service. Gone. And even when these things do come back, it looks like it will be a long time before things go back to the way they were before, if ever. Like Mary’s world, everything has changed this past nine months, and not all of it for the better.

Years from now, when we tell the next generation of our experiences living through a pandemic, we can choose to only tell of what we lost, we can choose to only tell of the struggles, the heartache, how much we hated Zoom, all the things we didn’t get to do. But that’s a choice, and it’s a choice we’ll all get to make, but it’s not the only choice. We can also choose to tell the same pandemic stories, only instead of focusing on what we have lost these past nine months, we can focus on what we have gained. Not that we should ignore what we have lost, but what good will it do to focus our stories there? And more importantly, is that the best way for us to prepare future generations to face their own catastrophes?

That’s not what Mary did. Legend has it that Luke got many of his stories by interviewing Mary herself. I like that legend for a few reasons. Not only does it give legitimacy to Luke’s gospel but I love how it gives us a glimpse into how Mary remembered these events, full of blessings, in spite of their challenges. Who knew better just how much can happen in nine months! When I read this well-known Christmas story, I hear Mary challenging us to focus on the positives, on the blessings, not the negatives. I hear Mary calling us to look forward to what God has in store for us, and not backward on what we have lost. I hear Mary’s excitement at what will be, and excitement that is contagious, and rooted in trust—trust in a loving God who is always working for our good and fighting evil at every turn. I hear Mary’s wisdom, born out of challenging times and a faith in her God.

And so, with Mary as our guide, I ask you, what have you gained, what blessings will you be including in your own pandemic stories? I’m sure there will be a lot of pandemic babies born next year. Maybe a pandemic puppy? How about getting to know people that you otherwise wouldn’t have? Or getting to know people in ways you hadn’t before? What about learning new skills that you never thought possible? Technology that you never thought you’d use but learned anyway because you cared enough to? Spending quality time helping children and grandchildren with their school work, the rewards of which will be reaped for years to come? What blessings will you include in your pandemic stories?

I’ll tell you one story that I’ll never forget. A couple months ago I was at a total loss as to what to do for Christmas Eve. I was feeling the pressure to do something special but had no idea what could be done, let alone safely. Thankfully I wasn’t feeling much pressure to go back to in-person worship but still, I really wanted to do something that made this service stand out from the rest of our Sunday services. And there was the added challenge of not having a music director, but then I remembered that all of our youth love music. They all love to sing or play an instrument. So, I thought, I wonder if they’d like to do something. Nah! They’re all gonna tell me no because they’d be too embarrassed or they’re too busy with school, both totally legitimate reasons. So I just dismissed that crazy idea at first, but it wouldn’t go away. So, I went out on a limb and individually asked them if they’d be interested in singing or playing something for us, as I continued to try and hatch a plan b. Oh me of little faith, because lo and behold, each and every one of them gave me an immediate yes! They didn’t even need some time to think about it! I was floored! And so very thankful. And that, my friends, is the story of how our youth saved a pandemic Christmas.

Nine months after the news of pandemic broke and now we have a vaccine that is in the beginning stages of distribution. It’s going to take a while before we all can get it but it’s yet another example of how a lot can happen in nine months. I wonder what blessings are in store for us this coming year? What blessings will we be thankful for nine months from now? Will we be surprised? Shocked! What challenges will those blessings have to contend with? The future is always unknown. But I can tell you this, God will be with you, full of blessings, in spite of the challenges that are in store for us. And I say, we preemptively begin to focus on that! For we not only have so much to be thankful for now, but we will in the future too. How do I know this? Because of people like Mary, and our youth, who remind us to not only expect the unexpected, but that we never know what blessings will emerge from life’s challenges. Thanks be to God, and Merry Christmas, my friends. Amen.


Mary's Protest Song

 Inspired by Luke 1:26-56

In 1939, Billie Holiday began performing the song Strange Fruit in a New York City nightclub called CafĂ© Society where she was a regular performer. Written initially as a poem a few years earlier by Jewish-American Abel Meeropol, it is known by many as the song that launched what would later be known as the Civil Rights Movement of the U.S. American South. It was inspired by a photo taken at a lynching of two black men in Marion, Indiana, the photo of which I have chosen not to share here but will include a link when I post this for any who choose to view it. If you have the stomach for it I’d encourage you to, as it is certainly a part of our history that we should be ever vigilant of repeating. Billie Holiday and Abel Meeropol, like many in their day, were sickened by the news of how black people in America were being mistreated and so used their influence, talent, and heart to raise awareness and speak out against it. The author used the metaphor of a fruit-bearing tree with powerful effect. I’d like to share the original recording of it with you now.

When Billie Holiday began performing the song she was afraid of retaliation and didn't know how violent it would be. But the song reminded her of her father so she continued to perform it. She would close each of her performances with this song, with the lights turned down except for a spotlight on her face, without an encore. Her record label feared the reaction in the South, and her producer refused to record it for her. She had to get an exception from her recording contract in order to find someone to record and publish it. The song went on to sell over a million copies and became her biggest selling record of her career. However, it is the powerful legacy that this song left on our nation that has lived on, as well as inspired countless activists, and even more importantly, change.

Protest songs have been a part of human cultures since biblical times, probably even earlier but I'm not a historian. The Bible has quite a few notable ones from well-known characters such as Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mom, Miriam, Moses’ sister, Hannah, Samuel’s mom, which we read two months ago, and the one that I read to you today from Mary, the mother of our Lord, known throughout the ages as the Magnificat. The last time I preached on the Magnificat I referred to Mary as a badass, to mixed reviews. As much as some did not like that language used in a sermon, it has become one of my more well-known sermons, and so, mission accomplished. I've even had people ask for the link to that sermon so that they could share it with a friend who needs to hear a different kind of sermon from a different kind of pastor. But don't think for a moment that I use language like that just to get a reaction or to be memorable. In Mary's case, it is done with the utmost honor and respect for her legacy.

She sang this song after a lifetime of living in a broken world, filled with injustices, and she used her influence, talent, and heart to bring awareness to that world, and more importantly, change. She took a look at the world around her, the evils that she had first-hand experience with, and shone a light on them to be seen and heard by all, that has endured for 2000 years. If she wasn't the baddest mother that ever lived I don't know who is! She had just been given the most incredible news the world had ever heard, that the savior of the world would be born through her womb, was asked to make this lifetime commitment to a project in the making since the creation of the world, and her response, is a protest song! I'm at a loss for words, other than, wow! Not to get ahead of ourselves or anything but her son grew up to be the world's most well-known protester and if anyone wonders why, all they have to do is take a look at his momma.

As I sit here and ponder this story, one word comes to mind—commitment. There are a hundred reasons that Mary is worthy of the pedestal that we put her on, and this is the one that is standing out to me now, her commitment. When the angel Gabriel finished sharing his good news to Mary, she could have said no. That was an option on the table for her. And before anyone thinks that God wouldn’t have asked someone that would have said no, you’re missing the point. Saying no to God is always an option for everyone, even Mary. Just ask old Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, about saying no to God and how that worked out for him. There’s a reason why he’s silent in this story! [Did you see what I did there?] Likewise, Mary could have said no, but she didn’t. She said yes!

Not just yes to Gabriel but yes to carrying this savior to full-term, yes to raising this savior through his terrible two’s, through the teenage years, yikes!, yes to caring for this savior for her whole life, yes to all the joys and heartache that was yet to come. It was a yes heard ‘round the world, that still echoes to this day! Who can read this story and not just sit there in awe of this momma to be? Especially us, who sit here on this side of the cross. But, again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves! Can you tell how excited I am to finally be reading from the Gospels again?

As I close out this time with you today, I’d like to invite you to ponder with me, all the people in your life, whose “yes” has had a positive effect on you, whose commitment has changed your life for the better, and most importantly, whose “yes” has allowed God’s “yes” to reach you all the more powerfully. Because at the end of the day, there is no pedestal high enough that we could place Mary upon, that could match the unconditional love, the tireless commitment, the ultimate “yes”, that we have received from God, through Jesus our savior. Mary would be the first one to tell you, that this is where her protest song was pointing from the beginning—to her soon to be baby boy, the savior of the world, Jesus our Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.