December 16, 2018
Luke 1: 39-56
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’
And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.
I’ve started taking Tuesdays as my Sabbath, and while there’s lots of reasons why I’ve made this shift, one of the biggest is so that I can spend more time hiking. It’s my time to check-in with God. I realized recently that my prayer life has been centering a lot on important things; each of you, your struggles and illnesses, your breakthroughs and growth. My prayers have been veering to thanksgiving of where I see God’s reign of justice, wholeness, and love breaking into a world that can feel cruel and isolating. I’ve found myself praying for others, and I realized I needed to spend some more Sabbath time, checking in with what God is up to in my life, my friendships, and my marriage. I realized I needed to spend some time checking in with my own soul, not just asking for wisdom to care for the souls of those around me.
This realization was months, probably years in the making, but it was magnified, put in stark relief, a few weeks ago when I came to Lectio Divina, led by our own Lori Conway. I got to pray, and invite God to work, not only through my days, but within me. Lori, to me, felt a lot like an Elizabeth, someone who listens to the stirring of Spirit within herself, and then leads others to magnify what God is up to in our world, through the beauty of their souls.
I have to tell you, inviting people, even myself to magnify, is one of my favorite parts of being human. There are thousands of moments where I get to see a spark within you, a passion you have, the dreams you’re just starting to risk to share, the deepest struggles of your life, the pain and numbness you don’t want to just bear anymore, the gifts you most want to live into. In those moments, every so often, something seems to jump within me. I am filled in those moments with hope, peace, and joy, at what beautiful possibilities could be born and live among us. A little more heaven, brought near, through God at work in your soul.
At the end of the day, I want to be an Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is an amazing woman of scripture, an incredible leader, although she is seldom seen that way. The women of the Bible, sadly, are used to that. Most of them aren’t even given names, let alone acknowledged for their leadership.
And yet, like so many women we know, lead she does, not for recognition, but because there is something Holy that needs to get done.
There is something about Elizabeth that, when Mary hears the news about Jesus growing inside her, she knows that Elizabeth is the person to go be with. I imagine that Elizabeth is known to Mary, be the person in town that, when everything falls to pieces, you should make haste too. I know a lot of these women in my life, that when the chips are down, they’re going to get the phone call, the text, the folks I could walk into their home, opening the door, and by the sound of my voice as I enter, they would know to make a pot of coffee, and get a slice of pie, because we’re going to get to the hard realities of life. Elizabeth is someone I imagine like this, who folks flock to, not because she can wave a magic wand and fix everything, not because her Husband can put a good word in with The Big God of Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, But because she’s someone who will look at you and see where God is in your life, even when everything is awful. She’s not someone who will throw platitudes at you, but someone who will welcome you in, with hospitality that reminds you that you are loved.
She’s taken the safety and financial security, made available to her by virtue of being the wife of a member of the royal Priesthood, being the wife of a man vouched for by Rome as not too rebellious, and created a refuge in the midst of oppression and chaos.
I like to think of Elizabeth at work, while her husband is away, creating a subversive home for way wards, using the very tools of her oppression, the constructs of womanhood in her culture, the power of capitol and empire, to speak honest words into the lives of those in her community. Of course the Holy Spirit is poured out on her. It’s no surprise she will be the one to raise John the Rebel, who even In utero can’t help but stir things up.
In our text, Elizabeth’s words, inspired by the Spirit, lead Mary to magnify what God is doing in her world. The Magnificat, it’s both lament and the claim of God’s promises. It’s a story that is deep within us, that flickering candle, sometimes just a spark, a deep sense that the world is not as it should be, and recognition that we might have something to do with changing the way the world is. With an Elizabeth, that spark can be magnified until the light fills Elizabeth’s entry way like the noonday sun.
When I reflect on what our ministry is here at MPC, it occurs to me that we’re a lot like Elizabeth. Our ministry, at the end of the day, It’s not to ponder deep theological truths that are being unveiled, although that’s something we do. Our task isn’t to see where God is in the midst of lives of the oppressed experiencing liberation in our midst, even though that’s a task we undertake. It’s not the crafting artful worship, or hosting social events, we’re not here so that we can decorate our space in a way that draws us closer to God, even though those are descriptions of our actions. Those are things we do, but that’s not really what’s going on here. As hard as it is for me to admit this, church isn’t about kickball games, or developing relationships with young people so they will tell me hilarious jokes at parties.
These are all tools we have to be a part of something much deeper.
Through our ministry and life together, like Elizabeth and Mary, we are in the business of Magnification. Our mission is to do the work of life together in such a way that magnifies, make visible, the nearly invisible spark of the Holy in one another, even risking to do that with our own souls..
And when that happens, the Songs that have been slowly written through our lives can burst forth.
Mary’s song, it’s been being written for a long time by the time she sings it. She’s been writing it as she heard the stories of the Holy One, of the promises made, of her being told “God adopted us as God’s people. You are God’s Beloved.”
And it got its sharpness, maybe the first time she saw a Roman Soldier strike an elder of her synagogue, for standing up for someone who couldn’t pay a new tax, and still care for their neighbors.
Mary’s song grew stronger, was revised, as her mother and her made food to bring to the family down the road who were literally starving. As they walked down the lane, she saw community leaders laughing, drunk in the noon day, celebrating their newest trade, the wealth that just seemed to grow each day, with a little help from the Romans, who made sure debts were paid in full.
Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit, and cry’s out, but Mary? She has been filled with this song by each day of her life.
Beloved, let us be a community Of Elizabeth’s, this Christmas and all year long. Let us be a people who utilize the privilege and resources we have, to be a place where folks come to experience magnification of the sparks and songs, the embers, the gloam of the bright new day, bursting forth within those around us. Let us be a place attending to welcome, but also the Holy Spirit, who can help us discern the songs within those we meet, if only we can sense it within others.
I don’t think Elizabeth only did this once; I think this was her art. And we can learn it too, and practice it in this place.
In January, our Mission Focus will be a new project, called “The Beloved Community: Holy Listening.”
With the help of community organizers in our area, we are going to begin to explore what can happen when we magnify the sparks that exist in each others stories, in our communities, when we fan the flames.
In January, I’m also going to invite you to examine your faith and your doubts, to magnify what it is that life has led you to believe about God, to make bigger ideas and experiences you might have only just barely risked to admit to yourself.
We’re going to begin to explore what can happen when we practice the Elizabethan arts, of seeing what others may barely be able to acknowledge about who they are. We’re going to see what happens when we acknowledge what we sometimes don’t have words to understand.
Beloved, this examination, this exploration, this magnification, what a Revolution of the Beloved Community it can usher in. Let us learn how to be Elizabeth’s, how to summon the Marian Songs that have been written upon one another’s hearts, just waiting for the Holy Spirit to bid our voice come.
As it was for Elizabeth and Mary, may it be for us,
In the Name of the One who was, and is, and Evermore Shall Be,