Sermon 12/8 Listening Together

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 11:1-10 and Luke 1:26-45
Sermon: Listening Together
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Holiday spending among Americans was $1.1 trillion in 2018. [Tampa Bay Times
11/28/19] Does that number surprise you? Do you find it hard to believe? Do you
want more information about how that statistic was arrived at? When we receive
information that we are unsure about, we often look into verifying it, finding out
more, making sure we understand.

In the story we heard this morning from Luke, we are told of Mary being given
some information. The whole scenario is outrageous – an angel, a baby, a throne, a
kingdom, another baby. Doesn’t this angel know that Mary is a nobody peasant
from an insignificant village in a backwater province? We can understand that
Mary is perplexed and ponders. But what can she do to verify the information that
she is given? Mary is told that her elderly relative Elizabeth is pregnant.
Evidently, Mary did not know about this. Is it true? If that part of the message
from Gabriel is true, then maybe there is validity to the rest of his message. So,
after Gabriel’s departure, Mary makes her own hasty departure to visit Elizabeth
and see if there is anything to this vision she has received.

And what does Mary discover in the story? Yes, Elizabeth is pregnant. So there is
something to the message from the angel Gabriel. Not only that, Elizabeth feels
her baby stir in response to Mary’s arrival. So, as promised, Elizabeth’s child is
fulfilling the role assigned to him by God preparing the way for the one to come.
Another part of the message is validated. And Elizabeth is filled with the Holy
Spirit and declares that Mary will be the mother of the one God is sending.
Elizabeth offers a prophetic witness affirming that Mary has willingly offered
herself in service to God’s dream and so Mary becomes the first believer. Mary
looks for verification of the message she has received and she gets it.

God, seen as the supreme ruler of the universe, sends an angel, Gabriel, to Galilee,
a region in Israel, to a town called Nazareth, to a young woman, engaged to Joseph from the house of David, whose name is Mary. The will of the all powerful, all present, supreme one, filters down from the heavenly realm to a specific situation.
To a random every day person. And a woman, no less.

This is so unexpected that it has to be verified. Such important activities of God
would surely involve people of high status, with means, in the center of power. So
this strange thing, this intrusion of God, in an unlikely manner, must be validated.
And in this visit between Mary and Elizabeth, we see that both women have their
suspicions confirmed. Elizabeth’s baby begins his job of preparing the way right
then and there even before being born, and Mary is given the affirmation she needs
from Elizabeth who seems to know the whole story without having been told by
Mary. In this interaction the women come to see more clearly how God is at work.
It’s not that they were skeptical but no one expected God to use weak, vulnerable,
nobodies for such a grand scheme. In the interaction between Mary and Elizabeth,
God’s plans are verified and confirmed. Together they discern the validity of what
God is doing in their lives and in the world. They mutually reinforce the calling of
one another. With this validation, they can trust what is happening. They have
support from each other when perhaps others will question their actions and their
roles. When they are hesitant and need encouragement, they can count on each
other. They are given to each other, their destinies are intertwined, they are
mutually dependent upon one another as well as upon God, so that they can fulfill
their purpose in God’s dreams.

I want you to take a moment and look around at the people who are in this
sanctuary. Some you may know. Some you may know very well. Some you may
not know. It doesn’t matter really. Because in the church we believe that we have
been given to one another to be of mutual support, to be in discernment together, to
affirm and validate each other’s calling. We are here to help each other see God’s
way for our lives and to encourage one another on that journey of faithfulness.
Elder, younger, woman, man, child, new to the church, a person of lifelong faith,
wealthy, homeless, it really doesn’t matter. We have been brought together here to
be of mutual support and encouragement as we seek to discern our calling and live
trusting the presence of Divine Love within us and among us. In the church, we
are here to help and support each other. To be in the process of discernment together. We are here to confirm and reinforce the ways we experience God
working in our lives.

We need each other to help us see how we are being blessed. We need each other
to discern the nature of God’s call in our lives. Like the people of Bible times, we,
too, still want to define being favored by God in terms of wealth, good health, and
social standing. We want to see God at work in our lives manifest as prosperity
and comfort.

Here, the story of Mary and Elizabeth gives us a reality check. Mary is favored by
God. She is blessed. The story tells us that for her this means she will endure the
shame of having a child out of wedlock who will later be executed as a criminal.
It’s no wonder Mary and Elizabeth need each other for support and encouragement.
Experiencing God’s call in your life may not be a cakewalk.

So we, too, need each other to verify and validate God’s intentions for our lives
because what God has in mind may be a far cry from anything we were expecting.
It may be a drastic departure from what we have in mind for our lives. It may be a
radical break from our planned trajectory. So, we need each other to help us stay
open to God’s intrusions and to respond with faith and trust.

Sure, you may get zapped by some seemingly supernatural insight during a
worship service but it’s more likely that you may hear a word from God in a
conversation with someone as you are walking to your car. Or doing dishes after a
potluck. Or in the van on the way home from church. And in that interaction you
may be led to see more clearly who you are, what you are being called to, how you
are needed to serve, and which direction you are to go.

On Sunday a couple of years ago, the congregation was asked about why you
come to church. Why bother on Sunday morning? And I remember one of the
responses was, “One of the reasons I come to church is because someone may need
me. I may be needed.” That’s exactly it. We come here. With the awareness that
someone here may need us, may need to hear what we have to say, may need our perspective, may need our word of support, may need our direction, or help, or
encouragement. Someone may need us. And, the person we need, the message we
need, may be here. Waiting for us. To show us the way. To help us see. How we
are needed to help save the world.

The gospel of Luke tells us of a girl engaged to a carpenter in an insignificant town
in an unimportant province having a child that will be a savior of the world. And
her elderly relative is needed to help that story unfold. Here we are. Every day
people. Not kings, princesses, or Kardashians. Just ordinary folks, like Mary and
Elizabeth. Listening together. Reminding each other that nothing will be
impossible with God. Who knows what might just happen here. When we are
together. Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For
additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

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