Scripture - Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38
Matthew 1:18-25 (The Message)
18-19 The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.
20-23 While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:
Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).
24-25 Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.
Luke 1:26-38 (The Message)
26-28 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.
29-33 She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.
He will be great,
be called ‘Son of the Highest.’
The Lord God will give him
the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob’s house forever--
no end, ever, to his kingdom.”
34 Mary said to the angel, “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.”
35 The angel answered,
The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
the power of the Highest hover over you;
Therefore, the child you bring to birth
will be called Holy, Son of God.
36-38 “And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”
And Mary said,
Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me
just as you say.
Then the angel left her.
One: The Word of Life. All: Thanks be to God.
(Loved, Cherished, Valued, Worthy, Beautiful, Holy, Sacred, Blessed, Treasured, Precious)
Mary and Joseph - ordinary people who did something extraordinary for God. The twelve disciples - ordinary people who did something extraordinary for God. John and Charles Wesley - ordinary people who did something extraordinary for God. Those of you who were at last week’s discernment session heard other names mentioned as well - people like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke, Richard Allen -- all ordinary people who did something extraordinary for God.
It’s easy to think of these people - and others in the Bible like King David or the Apostle Paul or named throughout Christian history, like Saint Francis of Assisi or Mother Theresa or Dorothy Day or Martin Luther King Jr. - as sacred people; We think - of course they are holy - and we ascribe that holiness to the fact that they must have been extra special or worthy or somehow more loved by God than the rest of us. After all, they are still remembered today - some even generations later. Some may have changed the course of history, the ripple effects of their life still felt today.
But the truth is - God doesn’t love Mother Theresa - or Mother Mary - any less or more than God loves you or me. There’s nothing more special about them as people in their inherent worth as children of God. What does, however, set them apart - what allows us to easily see as sacred people - is their willingness to say yes to God - their willingness to make God’s love known - their willingness to usher in God’s kingdom.
There’s nothing special about Mary and Joseph - first of all, Joseph is mentioned because he was engaged to Mary and decided to marry her anyway despite already being pregnant - cooperating with God’s command to not be afraid to take her as his wife. Joseph says yes to God. As for Mary, we have all these assumptions that she must have been especially pious or meek and mild - when in actuality, do you realize how much guts it takes to say yes to being an unwed mother in a society that stoned women for such behavior? That takes courage, boldness, grace - but she isn’t more special than any other person. What makes her worthy of notice is that she says yes...she says yes to the angel. “I am the Lord’s servant, Let it be with me just as you have said.” She decides to bear this holy child for God’s bold agenda of a kingdom of righteousness and peace, of love and hope for all.
There is truth when we say we are all loved equally by God - that we are all God’s children. The person you see in the grocery store, the homeless panhandler in Portland, the children you see at the mall, the bank teller who cashes your check - even the person you sit next to in church. However, what makes you and me sacred isn’t merely our belovedness, but our willingness to be used by God - to be present for someone who needs company, to stand up for those who are hurting in our world, to advocate for the poor or the hungry, to cross the lines that divide us to love and listen to those with whom we disagree -- and when that happens, when you open yourself to God’s love to take root in your heart, when you offer yourself to God’s use in the world, you realize that maybe there isn’t this division of people after all - that even those who we would label as “Other” - those who are very different from us or those who are marginalized by our society or those whom we unintentionally tend to devalue….that their belovedness makes them sacred too as we see God’s love for humankind reflected within them.
One way to understand this is through the Christian practice of icons. Icons aren’t merely religious artwork or pictures of saints - but icons bear witness to the reality of God’s presence with us in the mystery of faith. Much like some of us experience God’s presence with us as we contemplate the sunrise or when we walk through the woods - or how some of us feel close to God after a conversation with a friend - icons serve as a means for experiencing the Kingdom of God and as a way for us to be present to that kingdom.
As we consider Sacred People in this season, I’m reminded of the story of Ryan Klinck, who is part of the Missional Wisdom Foundation - which is an organization that is reenvisioning forms of Christian community - experimenting with monastic models where people live together in urban or rural settings and share prayer and ministry together or supporting churches using community development models for neighborhood enrichment, and so much more. The work of these communities often takes people out to the fringes - the fringes of their neighborhoods, their comfort zones, their previous experiences -- and it is there that they encounter God and partner with what God is already doing out in the world.
Ryan Klinck lived in Bonhoeffer House for several years - a house in East Dallas that lived and journeyed alongside people who were homeless or homesick - and many of these folks lived in community together - sharing a house, sharing resources, and being in ministry with one another and their neighborhood. As he was living and working there, he was beginning to see the divine goodness in his homeless friends and their giftedness and began to wonder what it would look like to see his neighbors, friends, and people in his community as saints. He did this because so often the world overlooks those who are homeless - beyond just bypassing them on the street, there’s a tendency to devalue their gifts, their stories, their wisdom - devaluing their very humanity. So Ryan and his friend Josh decided to show the world and lift these folks up to say, these are saints, just like all of us are called to be saints - and invite people to see them as God sees them.
He took pictures of his friends - many of them homeless, others who were living in the house - and his friend Josh turned them into icons - you can see on the screen - as a reminder that we need each other to be transfigured into sainthood.
Because here’s the thing - when we start to see ourselves as beloved children of God, as people worthy of God’s love even despite all our growing edges, our mistakes, our sins, the things we don’t have together in our lives - if God loves us even with all our faults and failings and we are willing to say yes to God, imperfect though we are…..if there is sacredness and holiness in that….then that sacredness extends to others who are also imperfect...and also beloved.
We recognize each other as sacred people -- that doesn’t mean we have it all together, it doesn’t mean our lives are perfect -- but it does mean we are willing to encounter God in the other, we are willing to say yes to God’s life of hope and love, we are willing to usher in the presence of the kingdom by being open to the presence of the Holy Spirit among us. But that starts with seeing ourselves that way.
To help us with that - we have a mirror here. I was talking with Deb when we were putting together the bulletin on Thursday and she mentioned that she didn’t like the bulletin image - and I asked why, and she said “because nobody likes looking at themselves in the mirror.” So you can blame Deb for giving me the seed for this idea. It made me think about how so many self-help books or programs have you do self-affirmations in front of a mirror - like “I am a strong and capable person” or “I can do hard things” or whatever else it might be. And there’s value in that because it helps change our perception of ourselves. What I want to suggest, though, is that even though we say we know that God loves us personally and that we are people of sacred worth...do we really believe that on the deepest levels of our being? Do we truly acknowledge our own belovedness, our own worthiness, do we believe we are sacred people - not in spite of our imperfections, but as human beings on this journey toward wholeness and union with God?
So as you are led - come forward and take a look in the mirror. It doesn’t have to be a long look - but when you are there, take one of these markers and write one of the words we have up here...loved, cherished, valued, sacred...there are a whole bunch. And then take another look - maybe repeat that word a few times to yourself silently or out loud - as a way of reminding yourself that you are a sacred person -- and that together - we are sacred people on a journey with God to usher in God’s love and peace in this place and beyond. Come forward as you are moved to do so.
I’m reminded of a sentence in our welcoming statement. It reads, No matter who you are or where you are on your journey, you are loved and a child of God. These are words we all need to take to heart -- for others, yes….but also for ourselves...that we are sacred people together.
I want to close with a quote from Desmond Tutu, archbishop of South Africa, who talks about this beautiful word from the Bantu language - Ubuntu. It roughly translates as “I am because we are.” He says, “Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity and for recognizing everything and everyone as sacred.”
May we in this season recognize everything and everyone - including ourselves - as sacred -- so that in our belovedness, we may make God’s love known in our lives for the sake of God’s glory...for the sake of others who need to be reminded of their own sacredness...for the sake of this world which God loves so much. Let us be willing to be used by God for this time...this place...and this people. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and three year old son, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.