Sermons are preached. They are not writing. So, above is the sermon. Below is the sermon “plan”. (Unedited, all my mistakes kept!)
Advent sermon on sanctifying grace
and Mary, Mother of Jesus, and “What would Jesus do?”
Luke 1:39-45 - December 13, 2020 - Heartstrings at First United Methodist Church
It was March of 2007. My family was in the midst of chaos, my father-in-law in a coma from a head injury, and I was angry. So angry, broken, priceless pieces of my life laying at my feet. I was sitting in the pew three rows back, demanding that God explain to me why he forced me to go to church. And the preacher, toward the end of the sermon, says something about grace and how we sometimes refuse to give it… and in that moment, everything shifted. The anger was lifted from my shoulders, and the world looked so new. I quit outright refusing God in my life. I opened the door just a crack, open to the possibility that maybe, just maybe God could work with me…. Even me! And you know what Jesus did???
Let’s back up for just a moment:
Here’s the question and the scenario again: What would Jesus do? You…and Jesus… are in the most beautiful sacred place you can think of. In this place there are priceless items. Maybe that irreplaceable jar that your great grandmother made by hand. Maybe it is a stained-glass window… Jesus in the space with you, nudges you, calls you, guides you along a Holy Path (in the Methodist tradition we call that prevenient Grace – God at work in our lives before we know it before we can see it.) Even with Jesus nudging you and guiding you, you break one of these priceless things. Surrounding you are broken bits of priceless beauty, and you are broken and bleeding…
What would Jesus do? Almost all theologians and Christian communities wrestle with that question or something similar and they come up with a wide variety of answers… Jesus does nothing, not pushing himself on us until we say a prayer. Does Jesus cover us up so God cannot see that we are less than perfect? Does Jesus gives us a list of thing to do… confession, worship, prayer…?
What would Jesus do?
Sitting in that pew, with clarity over how priceless life is, as we stood, as a family, in the midst of broken, shattered, priceless pieces of what used to be… Jesus helping as much and as often as I would let him, but me refusing, “I have this, I don’t need you.” Then me giving him just a little bit, just an inch… You know what Jesus did? Everything I would let him do to bring healing. I’ve always sort of imagined Jesus work in my life at that moment like an ER doctor during a trauma… only for my soul. We call this Justifying Grace. The moments in our lives that we stop turning Jesus away, and invite him into our lives. For me Jesus stopped the profound bleeding. He didn’t push me for more than I was ready for. He didn’t demand anything of me. He didn’t bring instant or miraculous healing, instead he brought comfort and assurance…
And he invited me to be part of my healing. Invited me to be part of what was next. Invited me into a journey, a Holy Journey of love, and grace and hope…What came next for me in my life, changed everything. When I listen to Mary’s story, I can see my story too. Will you listen with me, to this word from Luke 1:39-45?
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 leaped 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 leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
The angel Gabriel visits Mary, and the second he is gone, she takes off for confirmation of what she just heard. How else can you respond to God showing up in your life but to go with haste to find out more. I struggled with this question of what just happened to me? Is this normal? Am I the only one? I was so hungry for more knowledge. So curious. I threw myself into listening to sermons, day after day, all day. I needed to know more. I searched the core beliefs of every denomination I could think of… what felt true? What beliefs flooded my body with warm reassurance of truth? What put my guard up and made me defensive? Mary set out, with haste. Something just happened in her life and she was going to find out more. What would Jesus do? He brings us healing, and then invites us to examine our lives in a new way, invites us to question, doubt, learn, explore with him…
Something happened… when Mary got there, there was someone waiting for her, Elizabeth. It brings tears to my eyes when I think of those early days in my new life. I remember United Methodist Women have a class on Thursday mornings. We sat around a big table, studied the bible, talked about life, and challenged one another… sometimes intensely… I remember getting a little gift with a scripture attached one week… it was from the story of the woman at the well. I remember reading those words, as if for the first time (literally, it might’ve been for the first time), and the promise of eternal life bubbling up from her like a fountain and tears came to my eyes. “That’s it, that’s what it feels like,” I said. “Yes. It is and I can see that in you,” came the reply.
Or one day after class, leaving Todd’s office, him looking in my eye, “I see something in you.” Sitting with Chuck Stephens in Stephen ministry training, “I see something in you.”
Elizabeth, sees Mary, and knows with everything she is that Mary is blessed. What would Jesus do? (He knows that we are likely to slam the door and run away after the shock wears off…) Jesus surrounds us with people to reflect back to us confirmation of our calling and to assure us that we are on a Holy Path… until we can see it in ourselves.
There is something else too, something so much harder to name. Elizabeth calls it joy. The child in her womb leaped for joy.
There I was, standing amongst the shattered, priceless pieces of the life we had been leading. My father-in-law in a coma. Uncertainty, fear part of our every thought, even as he improved day by day. Now, something was different, inside me. So deep, so unnamable. Even in the midst of all of the chaos, there was a joy, a peace that washed through me, day after day. I carried with me a sense of hope, that no matter what happened, Jesus was there. Guiding me, calling me, nudging me. And this time I was listening. I had the strength to sit with my family as tears wracked their being. I was able to sit with my father-in-law for hours, and as he got better and more aware, take him to the window so he could see Pikes Peak. I could give of myself without anger, in a way that felt so pure, like God was working through me, with me. And the people around me saw it too. Felt a calm. A peace. A hope that I did not have before.
What would Jesus do?
Jesus and you are in the most beautiful sacred place, your life. There are priceless things in your life… priceless relationships. Priceless moments. Treasures beyond measure. Jesus IS walking in your life with you… nudging you, calling you, guiding you… in ways you can see, in ways you can’t see, in ways that you can sense in the moments of stillness and quiet. And still you break things. We all break things. We bring ourselves and our loved ones pain. We make choices that are not grounded in love but fear. In our lives we are surrounded by broken, priceless pieces of our story. We are broken. Bleeding.
Jesus offers to help. He is there, knocking, showing up… but we say no, we decide we got this… If we stop saying no. If we open the door, Jesus does all he can to get us onto a path of healing… and then, as we continue to heal, he invites us, to start mending those things that are broken. He teaches us about peace and forgiveness and joy… as we repair and heal we learn, and as we learn we see that other people have learned too, and together, we work to bring healing, and reconciliation and wholeness… a new wholeness, a true healing, to the brokenness we find in the world. This walking together, learning together, growing in faith and courage… we call it sanctifying grace.
So, let me ask you… What do you think? What do you think Jesus would do?