Tag Archives: Elizabeth

Connection at the Cradle’s Edge [OR Two Women Preaching a Shared Vision] Luke 1:39-55

**sermon art:  The Visitation, James B. Janknegt, 2009, oil on canvas

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on Advent 4, December 23, 2018

Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]  In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

[sermon begins]

Ohhhh, cat fight!  Well, not really.  Not at all actually.  Mary and Elizabeth are two women in it together.  Both have slightly different jobs that work toward the same vision.  After Mary’s surprise pregnancy, she makes haste to the hills to her relative Elizabeth who is already six months pregnant in her old age.  Later we learn her visit to Elizabeth lasted about three months.[1]  Perhaps Mary was there when John was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah – helping her aging relative with a difficult labor and delivery and then heading home as her own belly grew heavy with pregnancy.  This is no small relationship between the two women.  In a world that often pits women against each other, imagining competition where there isn’t any, here we have one of many examples in which competition is simply not the case.  Not only was Mary welcomed by Elizabeth and the baby inside of her.  Mary was celebrated by them.  The baby leaped in Elizabeth’s womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit to proclaim to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  Celebration, indeed.

The celebration continues after Elizabeth’s joyous welcome with Mary’s psalm in response.  Psalms are a form of song in the Bible. They aren’t necessarily a location in one book of the Bible.  Psalm songs in Luke lead us to up to and beyond cradle’s edge.  In addition to Elizabeth and Mary, the priest Zechariah sings of God’s faithfulness after the birth of his son who becomes John the Baptist, the angels sing to shepherds in a field of good news for all people, and the prophets Simeon and Anna praise God’s mercy for all people.[2] Their songs celebrate the faithfulness of God in the One soon to be cradled in a manger and his mother’s arms.  Song is a way to remember. Songs get trapped in our head differently and become available in our minds at times when other words fail us.  Songs of full of faith and Christmas promise can sustain our faith and remind us of what we easily forget in the day – that the world and our connection with other people is to be celebrated by way of God’s imagination not our own imagined state of competition.

In her psalm, Mary praises God for humbling the proud, bringing down the powerful, lifting the lowly, and feeding the hungry.  One reaction to Mary’s psalm might be vengeful if you’re exhausted by oppression and survival. Another reaction to her psalm might be dread if you hear you’re about to lose something.  In a world that often pits people against each other, inciting competition, categorizing winners and losers, Mary’s psalm can be heard as either/or categories – either you’re the powerful at the top waiting to be toppled or you’re the lowly at the bottom waiting for your turn to be at the top.  For God’s sake, we know what happens to that cradled baby Jesus who grows into the ministry celebrated by his mother’s psalm.  The competition perceived by the political and religious powers took Jesus to trial and death on a cross.  But let’s remember for a moment, that the cross was good news both for the criminal who hung next to Jesus and for the Roman centurion nearby who praised God and confessed truth.[3]  Not either/or categories – both/and – all!

Okay, I’ve dabbled at the cross long enough. Let’s return to the cradle’s edge, shall we?  Pregnant expectation is where we’re at with Mary and Elizabeth.  Even the baby in Elizabeth’s belly is jumping for joy.  The women are joyous and hopeful as they greet each other.  Their psalms preach hope and promise, a vision jump-started by the Holy Spirit.  Two women, both preaching, both celebrating new life in the form of a baby but not yet a baby born.  Another word for this is hope.

Hope is my word for the church year. I chose it at the end of November before Advent began.  I chose the word hope as an antidote to the seemingly endless messages of despair.  With a word chosen to focus faith, I have a better shot at seeing life through the lens of God’s imagination and promise rather than human frustration and despair.  I have a better shot at living and sharing the hope that is within us by the power of faith.  Elizabeth and Mary’s moment is a case in point.  Mary left town in a hurry to go see Elizabeth.  She had a lot to fear in town.  Betrothed but not yet married to Joseph, young and pregnant, facing potential backlash from her community, she walks through Zechariah’s front door into safety and celebration with Elizabeth.  I imagine Mary showing up at Elizabeth’s home with the fatigue and nausea common to the first trimester of pregnancy and perhaps with some worry about the future.  Elizabeth’s Holy Spirit welcome is like a fresh breeze that smooths Mary’s furrowed brow and blows the dust off of her traveling feet and inspires Mary’s response in the Magnificat.

If Mary’s response is anything, it’s a word of hope. So much more than greeting card worthy, the Magnificat is bold, rebellious, and full of joy.  It’s hope-filled because, as we’ll hear in a few days, this is good news of great joy for ALL people.[4]  Which means that the mighty cast down and the lowly brought up stand together with each other by the power of Jesus.  It’s not about putting the lowly in the mighty category and the mighty in the low to simply repeat the same bad news.  Mary’s psalm births the possibility that the baby growing inside of her will lead us into love that connects rather than competes.  Not sentimental love where we pat each other on the head and wish each other good luck.  Rather, it’s a love that means seeing each other as human relatives, celebrating each other as Mary and Elizabeth did.  Sometimes it’s a compassionate love that soothes and consoles us within the cradle of Christ’s presence.  Sometimes it’s a convicting love that helps us understand when we are in the wrong from the courage gained by Christ’s cross.  Mary’s psalm afflicts those of us who are comfortable while comforting those of us who are afflicted.  The cradle and the cross reveal a lot about us.

But mostly the cradle and the cross reveal the Christ.  From cradle through cross to new life, Jesus is grace that tells the truth about ourselves and each other, bending fear into courage and transforming hatred into love so that we live as people with hope.

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[1] Luke 1:56

[2] David Lose, Senior Pastor, Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, MN. Commentary on Luke 1:39-55 for December 20, 2009. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=515

[3] Luke 23:39-47

[4] Luke 2:10-12 But the angel said to [shepherds], “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

 

Are You Ready?  [Hang With Me Here – It’s a Personality Test, Not a Scorecard]

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on December 9, 2018 for the second Sunday of Advent

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Luke 3:1-6 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

Luke 1:68-79  “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. 78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

[sermon begins]

“Are you ready?” This question sends our dog Sunny into whirls of delight – 50 pounds of puppy love wrapped in black and brown fur bounding to and fro; warm brown eyes lit up with excitement; mouth hanging open in a big smile.  She doesn’t know what she’s ready to do but she knows that her moment is about to change into something good.  Usually, “are you ready” means a walk is in her immediate future.  If Rob is home, the question sends her racing back and forth between him and me.  Sunny’s looking for signs of preparation to be sure that the right shoes go on and, this time of year, for coats and hats and gloves. Just a glimpse of the fanny pack that holds the special bags for said walk confirms her hopes and solidifies her dreams. “Are you ready?” Such a simple question leading to the delight of watching her joy.  “Are you ready?” Our reaction to that question depends entirely on the circumstances. At this time of year we often hear it as, “Are you ready for Christmas?”

Some of you, I know, are all over it.  Halls decked. Presents wrapped. Cards sent.  Menus planned.  You name it and you’re on it.  You’re like my dog Sunny who delights in readiness.  Some of you, I may have lost altogether when I asked the question, “Are you ready for Christmas?” But I’m going to ask you to stay with me. I promise, there’s no scorecard here. That’s just a personality quiz.  What I want to highlight, though, is something one of my young colleagues talks about and that is one kind of experience of the lights, decorations, and songs of the season.  For my colleague, those experiences are moments of peace, glimmering reminders of God, that give our internal Judgy McJudgersons the boot and shift our Advent waiting and preparation.  I know it did mine when it was everything I could do to hang stockings with care since losing my mother-in-law a week and a half ago.  My colleague’s suggestion to see these cultural symbols of Christmas as reminders of God with us shifted my experience of preparation.

In the Luke reading, John the Baptist calls on people to prepare for the Lord, using the words of the prophet Isaiah. John says:

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

We Coloradans may not like the sound of lowering the mountains or filling valleys.  We may like our trails crooked and rough, thank you very much.  Or we may see the magnitude of the metaphor and think preparing is futile. But John is talking about open access for everyone.  All flesh.  All people seeing what God has done – the saving that God is doing in our transformation before and by God through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The first three chapters of Luke’s Gospel are full of people who are full of the Holy Spirit.

Our psalm today in worship is actually from Luke’s first chapter.  Psalms are a form of song and poetry in the Bible. They aren’t necessarily a location in one book of the Bible.  In our psalm today, Zechariah prophecies by the power of the Holy Spirit. The opening verse to the psalm, verse 67, goes like this, “Then [John’s] father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy…” Zechariah then speaks the psalm chanted in worship today.  Zechariah prophecies while filled with the Holy Spirit.

On the fourth Sunday in Advent, we’ll hear about John’s mother, Elizabeth, verse 41 – “And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry [to Mary], ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’” On that same Sunday, verses 35 and 38 talk about Mary’s obedience to God’s will by the power the Holy Spirit. Then there’s John the Baptist himself, verse 15, “…even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Two of my favorite Bible characters are Simeon and Anna – both elderly prophets in the Jerusalem Temple.  In Luke chapter 2, verses 25 and 27, the Holy Spirit rested on Simeon and he was guided by the Spirit to prophecy as Anna praised God and talked about Jesus to everyone in earshot.

The Holy Spirit is more than a theme in the Gospel of Luke.  The Holy Spirit is a major actor in the story.  The Holy Spirit was filling people up and they had a lot to say about what God was doing for an oblivious world.  One could argue that the Holy Spirit prepared each one of those people and then they said something about God.  It wasn’t always tidy or easy though.  Zechariah, our psalmist and John the Baptist’s father, had a tough time on the way to his prophecy by the power of the Holy Spirit.  He didn’t believe that he and Elizabeth would have the baby John at their advanced age.  The angel Gabriel pushed the mute button on him and Zechariah couldn’t make a peep until John was born.  His first worlds after John’s birth are found in his psalm.

Why does any of this matter?  Because this is the selfsame Spirit that empowers and refines us through the water of baptism.  The selfsame Spirit who feeds us holiness through bread and wine.  The selfsame Spirit who open our eyes to God’s action on our behalf so that we see, talk, and act in the world differently.  The selfsame Spirit who prepares us, who fills valleys, flattens mountains, and who straightens and levels the way – the way of God to us through Jesus.

Preparation by the Spirit who also opens our eyes to see as Zechariah saw as he described it like this:

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Zechariah prophesied in the temple about God’s promises that fill us, transforming our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. The promises of God’s mercy, redemption, holiness, and peace in Jesus.  Zechariah reminds us that as the world gets loud and busy, time together in sacred space allows us to pause together and be prepared by the One for whom we wait.  We are prepared to see light in the darkness and in the shadow of death as our feet are guided into the way of peace.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given eyes to see and ears to listen to Jesus who prepares us by his Spirit whether we’re old and faithful like Simeon and Anna, young and obedient like Mary, joyful and diligent like Elizabeth, dubious and dunderheaded like Zechariah, or wild and outspoken like John.  Jesus prepares us during this time with the power of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God.  And amen.

 

Turning and Re-turning – Luke 2:39-56

 

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church, December 20, 2015

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

Luke 2:39-56 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” 46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”  56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

[sermon begins]

So much in life turns on a single moment.  These turns are defining.  People we meet, plans we make, can take us in a whole new direction.  We play the game in my family occasionally reflecting on those turns.  It’s a game of “what ifs.”  A lot of the what-ifs are benign.  Some of them aren’t.  You know this game.  In one way or another we all do it.  Imagining whatever is happening in life differently because of the turns we make either voluntarily or because something happens to us.

Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary happens a few moments before her departure to the Judean hill country.  She was left perplexed and pondering the angel Gabriel’s greeting.  He reassured her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

Gabriel announces that she is to have a holy child called “Son of God.” Mary receives and accepts the annunciation by saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Then the angel leaves her.  Mary’s life now takes a major turn.  There is no going back to the way things were before.  The what-ifs are futile.

Right away, Mary turns and heads out the door.  “In those days Mary set out and went with haste…”  Why is she in a hurry?  Why make haste?   An easy answer might be that she’s excited.  Gabriel told Mary that her relative Elizabeth is also pregnant.  Mary could simply want to spend some time with her.  But let’s imagine Mary’s situation more thoroughly.  Regardless of her actual age, Mary is likely a very young woman.  She’s newly engaged.  In first century terms, she is as good as married.  Now she’s unexpectedly pregnant.  And she makes haste to Elizabeth.

Gabriel told Mary not to be afraid but who wouldn’t be?  I find that when the Bible pops up with the reassurance not to fear that there’s already something scary happening.  Anyone would be afraid given the circumstances.  It is no different here.  Not only does an angel show up but Mary’s life is at risk.  Whether it’s at risk because someone might hurt her due to her pregnancy or at risk because she could be turned out of her home with very few options.

Mary’s life is at risk.  She goes to Elizabeth.  They greet.  And Mary speaks.  What follows as she speaks is significant theologically for two reasons.  The first has to do with God’s purpose in Jesus.[1] The second is what God brings to bear through Mary herself.

In Jesus, God purpose extends to non-Jews the covenantal promises made long ago through Abraham.[2]  Mary says, “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.”  Culturally, there has been violence carried out against the Jews through the millennia.  The violence has often been supported and instigated by Christians literally leading the march based on one interpretation of the crucifixion of Jesus.   As Anne Lamott says — ‘You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.’  Interpretation matters as the pages of the Bible turn.

Mary’s words in the Magnificat create a pause in which to wonder about anti-Semitic violence supported by supersessionist Christian self-righteousness – a self-righteousness that would attempt to usurp God’s righteous eternal covenants.  Genesis 21 gives a similar pause as we live alongside our cousins of faith in Islam. God’s blesses Ishmael who is Abraham’s son by Hagar.  Ishmael is in the genealogy of Muhammed.[3]  God tells Hagar regarding Ishmael that, “I will make a great nation of him.”  Once again, interpretation matters as the pages of the Bible turn.

On December 8th, Religion News Service ran an article about Orthodox rabbis signing a document acknowledging Christianity as an expansion of God’s covenant with the Jewish people through Abraham.[4]  Here’s a direct quote from the article:

“We understand that there is room in traditional Judaism to see Christianity as part of God’s covenantal plan for humanity, as a development out of Judaism that was willed by God,” said Rabbi Irving Greenberg, a signatory to the statement, titled “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians.”

In the same Religion News article, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, a 20th century Orthodox rabbi held in high esteem, was quoted as having said, “each faith community is unique and entitled to the integrity of its own positions, which are neither negotiable, nor able to be fully understood by people from other faith traditions.”  I’m inclined to agree with Rabbi Soloveitchik. There are such things as religious commitments by way of faith.  But Mary’s words about God who scatters the proud and brings down the powerful from their thrones might challenge us lest we get too high and mighty by way of our own opinion and interpretation.

Mary praises God for calling her to be a God-bearer.  She accepts God’s call at great risk to herself.  Mary turns toward the safety of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home for a while.  Not forever.  The story tells us that she stays there about three months before returning to her home.  The time comes to turn back the way she came.

Advent Adventure was here a couple of weeks ago.  Food, service project, and crafts filled the Fellowship Hall.  I had the chance to tell a story.  My goal was to keep the story short and focused.  I learned my lesson after last year’s book time with kiddos was discombobulated by everything happening around us and the cookies inside of us.  The kids and I talked about what makes an adventure.  We talked about Mary’s Advent adventure and what makes an adventure – Star Wars being one example that came to mind easily for everyone.  Story time was super fun although the word “adventure” doesn’t quite fit.  It’s too romantic of a word for what she goes through on her own to Elizabeth’s home and then with Joseph to Bethlehem and, later, Egypt to escape Herod.  Mary makes tough decisions, determined to live into what God is calling her toward.  She protects herself and her pregnancy by turning toward Elizabeth and she returns home a few months later risking everything.

By baptism, we are God-bearers along with our ancestor in the faith, Mary – the lowly servant and the blessed mother of Jesus.  Like Mary we realize that faith often involves risk over safety.  You see, as Christians, we do not live as people without hope.  As Christians, we get to live as people of good courage as we are turned by God toward the people around us.  Called by God into a life of faith, into this world that God so dearly loves, we turn toward God realizing that God is already turned toward us.  God turned to us in skin and solidarity by way of a blessed mother’s body through the power of the Holy Spirit for the sake of the world and for you – imperfections, gifts, and all.  With Mary, our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior.  For God so loves the world and God so loves you.  Amen.

[1] Robert C. Tannehill.  The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 20-32.

[2] Genesis 15

[3] Rosemary Pennington. “Ishmael and Islam.” Muslim Voices, December 10, 2008. http://muslimvoices.org/ishmael-islam/

[4] Lauren Markoe. “Orthodox rabbis’ statement calls Christianity part of God’s plan.” December 8, 2015.  http://www.religionnews.com/2015/12/08/orthodox-rabbis-letter-calls-christianity-part-gods-plan/

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In response to the sermon, the people sing a song called the Hymn of the Day.  Today’s we sing verses one and two of “Canticle of the Turning” based on Mary’s Magnificat.  Link to full lyrics:

http://www.spiritandsong.com/compositions/30269

 

Canticle of the Turning

  1. My soul cries out with a joyful shout
    that the God of my heart is great,
    And my spirit sings of the wondrous things
    that you bring to the ones who wait.
    You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight,
    and my weakness you did not spurn,
    So from east to west shall my name be blest.
    Could the world be about to turn?Refrain
    My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
    Let the fires of your justice burn.
    Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
    and the world is about to turn!

    2. Though I am small, my God, my all,
    you work great things in me,
    And your mercy will last from the depths of the past
    to the end of the age to be.
    Your very name puts the proud to shame,
    and to those who would for you yearn,
    You will show your might, put the strong to flight,
    for the world is about to turn.