Delievered at Advent Lutheran Church, March 13, 2013, 7pm.
Two weeks ago ‚Äì Pastor Brown brought some of the scripture stories that our Lenten bible studies are looking at. We’re participating in a pilot program of the wider church to help congregations be intentional about finding their story and their story in scripture. Last time, we heard a part of Jonah’s experience ‚Äì his song in the belly of the whale ‚Äì and we heard about Peter’s experience with the picnic blanket that came down from the sky. We heard stories of grace ‚Äì stories of God breaking through the barriers we set up ‚Äì and God not letting our ideas of partiality interfere with the abundance and reality of God’s grace.
So, tonight, I’m going to continue that trend of bringing, into worship, stories our studies are looking at ‚Äì and I’m bringing you a prophet, a widow, and two pregnant cousins.
It sounds like maybe the beginning of a joke right? I mean, we’re taking two scripture stories and completely removing them not only from their context in the Bible ‚Äì but also from their context with our wider cycle of worship. Mary’s song is from, well, that’s read during Advent and is about Christmas ‚Äì and the widow of Zarepeth, we read in the fall, at the end of the church year ‚Äì not right now, before Easter. We’re engaged with a…well, with a mashup of sort. By having these two stories side by side, we’re forced to experience scripture differently. We see Ahab, and Jezebel ‚Äì the king and queen that the writer of Kings loves to hate ‚Äì in conflict with Elijah ‚Äì the prophet of the Northern Kingdom of Israel ‚Äì who runs away after he confronts Ahab. And he runs into the desert where he’s fed by ravens ‚Äì like he’s Amy Adams in Enchanted ‚Äì and then he’s told by God to go into the heartland of the enemy ‚Äì to go to Jezebel’s home country ‚Äì and, there, show the power of God ‚Äì show God’s global and universal reach ‚Äì in the smallest of events ‚Äì in the simple sharing of a meal ‚Äì a meal that does not go out.
And the visit of Mary and Elizabeth ‚Äì two pregnant cousins of very different ages ‚Äì they are brought together in a common experience ‚Äì the experience of carrying a child. And in their meeting, they are caught up in the Holy Spirit and they praise God. They praise God in awesome ways ‚Äì a God who raises up the lowly and brings down the mighty from their thrones ‚Äì when Mary’s voice is held up to Elijah’s actions ‚Äì what we get is kinda like a God spirit rally. Like, we’re on some sports team ‚Äì and this is the message we share to pump us up ‚Äì to get us excited about God. God’s power ‚Äì God’s awesomeness ‚Äì God’s amazing gifts and God’s amazing story ‚Äì this is a scripture mashup that ends up not sounding very Lenten to me.
Because ‚Äì where’s the self-reflection ‚Äì the confession ‚Äì the temptation? Where’s the call for my need to repent ‚Äì to change ‚Äì to be brought back to God? Because it looks like these stories are about people caught up in the act of living out their faith. They’re living out what it means to know God, to be in relationship to God, to listen to God. And in that living out ‚Äì they do. The widow of Zarepth isn’t a member of the chosen people ‚Äì she shouldn’t be able to recognize that Elijah is a prophet from God ‚Äì but she does ‚Äì and she never doubts what he says. She just…she just does. And Elijah just goes. He goes where God tells him to go. And when Mary speaks, the boy in Elizabeth’s belly jumps ‚Äì and they can do nothing but sing God’s praise. I don’t see the call for my personal repentance here ‚Äì when these stories are mashed together, I see a lived out faith that can’t do anything but listen and praise God. But maybe the content of these stories aren’t our Lenten mirror ‚Äì maybe seeing these characters live out their faith is ‚Äì because when we hold these stories up to our faces ‚Äì we end up seeing not only ourselves, but these characters staring back at us. It’s like a reflection in the widow on the side of a bus as it goes by. Standing on the sidewalk, the traffic zooming by, the bus comes near and we see ourselves looking back ‚Äì but we can see the people inside the bus looking back at us. Instead of seeing a reflection for just a moment ‚Äì we’re caught hearing and absorbing these stories ‚Äì these stories are spoken and they linger ‚Äì linger in the air ‚Äì and what they reflect isn’t just our good looks or what we’re wearing today ‚Äì they reflect our stories. In the mashup of scripture with us, we meet God’s story with our story.
Each of us are going to have a different experience when these stories meet our story. Each of us are going to have a personal moment ‚Äì a moment that belongs only to us ‚Äì because our stories are personal stories; stories of reflection; loss; pain; love; doubt; confusion; and hope. The stories that scripture shares are stories between people ‚Äì between people caught in the act of sharing their story with us. In a way, living out faith is living out stories ‚Äì and not being afraid to tell our story ‚Äì not being afraid to see an invitation in God’s Word that our story is worth being known. In a moment, we’re going to gather around the altar. We’re going to gather together and share communion with each other. We’ll hear part of Jesus’ story ‚Äì of Jesus’ welcoming of other people to his table, to break bread with him, to drink with him ‚Äì to be caught in the act of intimacy that meals can bring ‚Äì because this is the place where stories are shared, known, and told. As we gather together at the Lord’s table ‚Äì and then, later, at the table on the side for cookies and refreshments ‚Äì know that your story is worth telling; that your story is worth knowing; and that God is in the constant creative act of knowing us ‚Äì and being made known to us. It is in the act of gathering that leads to the sharing of our stories, of God’s stories, and the story of Jesus on the Cross, who came not to hide our stories ‚Äì but to open our personal, private, public, and intimate stories to God’s eternal story ‚Äì a story of love.