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 justifying grace
and me, Mary, and “What would Jesus do?”
Luke 1:26-38 - December 6, 2020 - Heartstrings at First United Methodist Church
What WOULD Jesus do?
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…
– In the sanctuary just across the street, at the back, above the sanctuary, is a Tiffany & Company, window. It is beautiful. One of a kind, commissioned piece ((at one point, they asked for it back, and we told them no!))
In the most beautiful, sacred place, with priceless items all around us. Jesus in the space with us, nudges us, calls us, guides us along a Holy Path, but we break something anyway. Surrounding us 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. Jesus covers us up so God cannot see that we are less than perfect. Jesus gives us a list of thing to do… confession, worship, prayer…
What would Jesus do?
Maybe that’s not the right question this week. Maybe the right question this week is “What would WE do?”
What would WE do?
Now, I cannot tell you what you would do, but I can look back over my life and tell you what I’ve done. I don’t know about you, but I can look back over my life and see big moments, small moments, over the top moments, almost hidden moments when I have made a mess of things. I have broken relationships, broken myself… I have been brought to tears trying to do the right thing and not getting anywhere. I have been brought to tears doing the thing that I KNEW was the wrong thing.
What would I do? I would choose, over and over and over again to do it myself! I know best. I can fix it. I don’t need help.
2006 was a really, really hard year for me. You know those years that by the end of the year you feel exhausted, beat up, afraid to wake up in the morning just because the first question that comes to your mind is “what’s going to happen today?” 2006 was one of those years that, by the end, I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
One day, in the middle of the day, I laid down for a nap. And I had a dream. Church people were knocking at my door and I was doing everything in my power to avoid them. I was behaving like a two year old in my attempt to hide.
When I woke up, suddenly and completely, I knew two things. I was being an immature brat in my attempt to hide from Jesus. And two… I NEEDED to go to church.
It was early in 2007 when I went to church, with my friend that brought me, I sat in the middle of the sanctuary on the lectern side, and really, I had NO idea why I was there. I remember, it was the first time that I had ever heard anything other than a really tiny, out of tune choir… I was floored that music in worship could be GOOD! The preaching was fine, I’m sure, I don’t really remember…
24 hours later my husband called. In tears, he was shook… his dad was on the way to the Emergency Room with a head injury and they didn’t know if he was going to make it.
There I was. Standing in the middle of priceless beauty. Broken. Shattered. What would I do? Well, I can tell you in that moment, I got angry. Boiling up from the depths of who I was I was angry at the situation, at the people around me… I was so angry.
The next time I returned to church, was different. I wanted to know why God had me in church. Not really wanted, but demanded that God explain to me why he would call me into church. Why, after the darkest year of my life, he would call me to church and THEN make life hard again? Why me? God, why me? Why me? Why me? WHY ME?
“Then, with the question rattling around in my head, I hear from the somewhere in the sermon a word of Grace… One sentence, “sometimes we refuse to give grace” … In that second I understood that it was not about me… In the Methodist tradition we call that moment Justifying grace. Justifying grace is this moment when we are “justified,” “brought in line with” God’s nudging, calling, guiding… This experience of God’s grace happens over and over in our lives. Sometimes in really big dramatic ways, but usually, in smaller, gentler moments.
For me, it was the moment that I became aware of God’s work in my life. I can look back at that one moment and point to it as the beginning of a decade long, knock down drag out battle with God and myself… where I fought, cried… healed, deeply. Laughed. I wrestled…
Wrestling, refusing God, uncertainty, fear… it’s really common when God shows up in our lives…
What did Mary do?
Mary, when the angel Gabriel showed up… she wrestled, refused… she was uncertain and afraid…
Hear now these words from Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
What would Mary do? Standing there, her world suddenly torn from what it was supposed to be…
Mary was perplexed by the angels GREETING! Favored one… has God… or anyone… ever called you “favored” one and you were just like “HUH?” But it gets more confusing from there… you are going to have a baby. He will be king of the world. Talking about standing amongst the shattered pieces of her life. God was nudging her, pushing her into a life that had to feel overwhelmingly terrifying. To say yes, to what Gabriel was proposing in this moment would change the course of her life. To have a baby would make her an outcast. More than an outcast, to become pregnant by a man, not her soon to-be husband meant she had defiled someone else’s property. Because, you know, her body was not hers. It belonged to her father, and was promised to her soon to be husband. To bear a child was more than not acceptable, it was against the law. It made her an adulteress. To become pregnant could’ve caused her, her life…
No wonder she was uncertain. No wonder she questioned. This path is not for me. There is no way. It is not possible. What you are saying does not make any sense! No.
“Explain it more…”
“Maybe… but I don’t see how…”
Justifying grace. That moment she stops saying no. She leans into God’s work in her life. Her next steps, the path God brought her to.
What would YOU do?
Can you look back over your life? Those moments that you wrestled with God. Told God no? Refused. Were afraid. Uncertain?
What would you do? How do you respond when you see God showing up… nudging, calling, guiding you? Can you look back and see?
What would Jesus do?
What would Jesus do? Jesus and you are in the most beautiful sacred place, your life. There are pricesless 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 nudging you, calling you, guiding you… how do you respond? In what ways do you wrestle with his work in your life? What would Jesus do? Would Jesus do nothing, not pushing himself on us until we say a prayer? Would Jesus cover us up so God cannot see that we are less than perfect? Would Jesus give us a list of thing to do… confession, worship, prayer…
What would Jesus do?