Friday, January 26, 2007

Sermon: Mary and Elizabeth

(I liked this sermon, so I share it with you.)

Sermon 12/24/06
4 Advent C Luke 1:39-55

It is an amazing thing to be a woman.
Women have the ability to grow a child,
survive delivery of that child,
nourish and care for a child.
Some see this as a burden or punishment
(remember that story of Eve, Adam, the fruit, the garden?)
But by the time we get to Elizabeth and Mary,
motherhood has risen in status and importance.
These 2 women are ecstatic about being pregnant,
even though the circumstances are not ideal.
Elizabeth is, well, old!
We don’t know how old; she is “past childbearing years”,
but not past child longing years.
She has longed for a child, and now she and Zechariah,
both old enough to know better, will have a son!
And Mary? She’s so young.
In contrast to Elizabeth, she’s barely old enough to have a child,
and she isn’t married yet—what will the neighbors think?

Being pregnant together creates a bond between women
that other people who are not pregnant just can’t get into.
I love the way Elizabeth and Mary are into each other.
They are so excited to see one another, and they recognize that their bumps are not just "any old baby".
They are carrying children ordained by God--
not just that God “opened their wombs” and sent them a child, but their children will go down in history.
They recognize this in each other, and celebrate.

Who knows what kind of reception their news has gotten in other circles?
I mean, really.
They’re too old, too young; not ready, past ready;
why would either want a child at this point in her life?
What do their husbands think?
How did they explain it to them?
All the questioning, the skepticism—
they get none of that with each other, only acceptance and celebration.
In their joy, they seem to know things that are simply unknowable:
Elizabeth greets Mary as “the mother of my Lord”,
and Mary sings of wonderful things that will happen
because of her yet-unborn child.
Maybe it’s women’s intuition, and maybe it’s faith—
faith in a promise that they know God will make come true.

That’s what really strikes me about this story:
how much trust Elizabeth and Mary both have.
They trust each other, and spend these 3 months together.
They trust themselves, letting God work these miracles through them.
And they trust God and that God is behind all this;
how else could they explain it?
God’s word has come to them from an angel, a word they longed to hear,
even though it is frightening.
(That’s why angels always say, “Don’t be afraid!”)
And now they trust that will indeed happen, in their bodies, in their lives,
and all the world will know and remember.

Elizabeth and Mary were just two women before God talked to them,
before God called their names and chose them
to carry these babies into the world.
Ever since then, though, they are not just “some women”;
they are extraordinary people because of their faith and their lives.

This room seems to me to be filled with people like Elizabeth and Mary—
just ordinary people, until God intervenes in our lives and shows us the wonders of God’s love.
For I believe that Elizabeth and Mary are our “mothers in the faith”—
women whose example we are invited, called, to follow.
I believe that God wants us, like them,
to carry the Word of God into the world.
It is a Living Word, bringing life and salvation to all people.
And if we are going to be so bold to call ourselves “Living Word Lutheran Church”, well, we’d better live up to the name.
This congregation is pregnant with the word of God—
sometimes we feel it moving inside us, sometimes it kicks.
It comes to birth at many times and places in our ministry together—
when we share bread or pain or joy;
when we welcome someone who gets nothing but questions and skepticism in other places;
when we participate in God’s upturning of the universe through advocacy and social action;
when we see another of God’s chosen people and rejoice at how God is present in their life.
Yes, God is calling us to do what Mary and Elizabeth did—
make God’s love real, wrap it up in flesh and sweat so people can see it, nurture it so it grows well and strong.
It may be inconvenient.
We may not be qualified.
It will be hard.
But we have each other, and we have God, real, alive, present with us, so we can trust one another.
We can trust ourselves.
We can trust God to tie all the loose ends together and see us through.

This is our good news: God trusts us to carry the Christ child into the world!
In our words and deeds, thoughts and actions, throughout our lives,
we give this greatest gift of all to all of creation.

I am ready for Christmas,
ready for God to be present in a way we can’t miss.
Let the love of God be born in us, that we may say,
with Elizabeth and Mary, “Here I am!”
Let God use us to make God’s love real,
at Christmas and all our lives.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Can Prayer Change ANYTHING?

If you believe it can, please join me and hundreds of others in a prayer vigil starting right now (Friday, Jan. 19).

In Atlanta, an ELCA pastor is on trial for loving someone, again. Bradley Schmeling has served several years as a pastor, and his congregation loves him and he, them. He also loves Darin, his partner and a pastor who is no longer serving in the ELCA.

The ecclesiastical trial began this morning, Jan. 19, and will continue through Monday, Jan. 22. During this time, we who are concerned about the pastor, the congregation, the policy, the process, the church, are invited to join together in a prayer vigil in support of Pr. Schmeling and St. John Lutheran Church in Atlanta.

I have read the long list of those already committed to pray, and am on the verge of tears as I recognize friends and colleagues from all over the country who are setting aside time and fear to be able to "come out" and pray. What is not in question is whether or not Pr. Schmeling has "kept the guidelines"--no, he has not. What is also not in question is whether he is a good and faithful pastor; many will testify that he is (whether they're allowed in the courtroom or not remains to be seen). What IS in question, in my not-so-humble-opinion, is whether the guideline serves the mission of the church, or is a deterrent to it. Scripture tells us not to be a stumbling block to our neighbor's faith; the ELCA keeps falling down over this one.

If you would like to add your name to the list, please go to

right now and do it. You may do so anonymously if you choose. You may pray without signing up, of course, but if you do sign up, all those involved will know you are praying, and what a difference it can make to know you're being prayed for when you're under fire.

Thanks. For more info, go to or

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Icing on the...everything

Snowed in, in Texas.

We've been home together for 3 days now, Phil, me, two kids, two dogs, two grandparents who were lucky enough to make it here from Iowa before the storm. Enough togetherness, already!

I love snow. It revives my soul; it makes me feel "real" somehow--it's refreshing and invigorating and quiet and beautiful. Last March, the snow fell from the sky (which was rather close to us, in the mountains) at Holden Village, and landed on my soul.

But we're in Texas. Gimme a break. This is not snow, anyway--it's ice. Started as rain, turned to sleet, now is ice, threatening to break my tender little front-yard tree in half, its branches bent to the ground. My plants look plastic, perfectly formed and frozen in place.

This morning I had a graveside funeral service. The visitation last night was canceled, due to weather, so today was it. The 10 minutes it takes to say a prayer and read a lesson beside the hole in the ground, that's all this family got. Third funeral in this congregation's history, and it only lasted 10 minutes. We'll be doing a memorial service, I think soon, but the weather has gotten in the way of my role in the family's grief. Perhaps they notice it less than I do, but I don't feel that I've "done my job" for them (although I was rather impressed by the 40+ who showed up at the cemetary!). I'm accustomed to winter funerals, ground that is too hard for digging, feeling a bit self-conscious about wearing slacks to a funeral, wind howling around the church reminding you that you seriously do NOT want to leave your loved one out in that weather. But Texans are not used to wintry funerals, so we kept it simple and got back in our trucks. The roses will be frozen by now, beautifully preserved for a few hours until the thaw promised by tomorrow; then they, too, will be left on the ground.

And the miracle that is Texas meteorology and weather will bring us sunshine, 50 degrees, and a new outlook in only a couple of days. Hopefully that miracle will warm the hearts of a grieving family, as it will melt the leaves of my frozen tree. And maybe by then this grandpa will have received the balloon his great-grandchildren sent him today, floating up to heaven, through the icy sky.