God Asks Much

Luke 1:39-56

As I read today’s scripture I am struck by several things. This scripture, like my own schedule this week before Christmas, has too much going on. There are so many important lessons in this scripture, or at least possible lessons, that the temptation is to try to wring every bit of meaning and activity out of it. And in the process, I risk doing a poor job at all of them. That is always the risk at this time of year, we try to do so much, to wring every moment of joy, every perfect Christmas activity or experience out of each moment and each day, that we risk not savoring or appreciating any of them. And so I will narrow my focus in this scripture to just a few things.

First, Mary could not face it alone. God had asked much of her—that she would be an unwed mother, who well might lose her fiancé as a result of the pregnancy, that she would be the mother to the Messiah, the long awaited savior of Israel, and that she would allow the babe to grow inside her until the time came for him to be delivered. Facing all of this, Mary could not do it alone. She had to seek out Elizabeth who was facing a similar situation. Elizabeth was not carrying the Messiah, but Elizabeth was carrying a child also long foretold and much awaited. And in the presence of another who understood, Mary sings. Mary’s song of rejoice reflects what the Messiah was supposed to do: to bring down the powerful, lift up the lowly, feed the hungry, and to send the rich away empty. Mary sings of these things as present realities, things that have already happened—God has done them. 

God sometimes asks much of us too. I realize that I am, like Mary, asked to let the Messiah grow inside of me, not as a baby to be born, but to grow inside me so others can see the face of Christ. As a disciple, I am to grow in my faith, to let that part of me that is in the image of God, that part of me that is my place in the body of Christ, to let that part inside me grow and grow, to let Jesus grow inside me, until there is new birth.

And there is much risk. Following God’s will for us requires risking that others will reject us. When we do what God asks of us, instead of what the world expects, we risk rejection even by those closest to us. Being a Christian is counter-cultural. As Christians we are the ones call to bring down the powerful, lift up the lowly, feed the hungry and send the rich away empty. These are not society’s values, they are God’s. Mary sang of radical change as if it had already occurred. But in this Advent 2011, we can see that there is still so much to do. And yet, the babe is growing and preparing to be born, in each of us.

And that brings me back to my first point—Mary could not face it alone. Neither can we. This Advent, put on your list, along with the other many things to do, time to gather with others to sing, to rejoice, to support each other as we prepare for the radical change that comes with carrying the Christ child inside.

***

Rev. Ann Thomas is the senior pastor at Griffith United Methodist Church in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she is working to renew and revitalize this downtown congregation through spiritual renewal, social justice work and missions.  A recent graduate of Claremont School of Theology, Ann practiced law in Las Vegas for 18 years before entering full-time ministry and seeking ordination.  She was commissioned in June 2011 and is seeking full ordination in The United Methodist Church.

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Hey, Jude!

Jude 17-25

So often the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is so consumed with preparing for a visit from that “right jolly old elf” that we must be intentional about making time for Advent as the season of preparation for the arrival of the Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.

Today’s scripture from the Book of Jude reminds us to take the time and the care to prepare ourselves for “the last time.” After exhorting the readers about those among them who are the “grumblers and malcontents; they indulge in their own lust” (v. 16), the author tells the beloved to “build yourselves up on your most holy faith” (v. 20). We must prepare ourselves for the time to come, praying in the Spirit and looking toward the mercy of Jesus that leads to eternal life. One of the most interesting and challenging parts of this scripture is that we are to “keep yourselves in the love of God.”

This is one of the three simple rules of United Methodism, “stay in love with God.” What is most significant is that this is a conscious decision. It requires action on our part, intention, and deliberation. When those around us, especially those in the church, are living worldly lives unconnected to God, we must be intentional about preparing our own lives so that we can “keep ourselves in the love of God.” Jude, this small, often overlooked book, provides guidance to those in the Church to live as Christians in love with God even when those around them, including members of the church, are preparing to live wholly in the world, indulging in all nature of worldly, earthly pursuits. And then the author tells us to have mercy on others, even all those grumblers and malcontents, and even to “snatch them out of the fire” (v. 23).

This letter put me in mind of the Beatle’s song, “Hey Jude.” Beyond the commonality of the name Jude, the letter, like the song, calls us to make it better, to improve a sad and unhealthy situation. Despite the lengthy and somewhat graphic depiction of those who were living lives contrary to Christian teachings, those who are “waterless clouds…autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted…for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever,” (v. 12-13) Jude ends with a word of hope and reconciliation. Even those for whom the darkness has been reserved, the author says to have mercy and save them (v. 22-23).

Hey Jude, don’t make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better

Dear Gracious and Loving God, I give you thanks for this time of preparation, for this opportunity to remember the grace that has been given me. Help me this day to consciously be in love with you. Help me to share that love with others, to show mercy on those who are unsure, and to help those who are struggling. In all things, help me grow ever closer to You. Amen.

***

Rev. Ann Thomas is the senior pastor at Griffith United Methodist Church in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she is working to renew and revitalize this downtown congregation through spiritual renewal, social justice work and missions.  A recent graduate of Claremont School of Theology, Ann practiced law in Las Vegas for 18 years before entering full-time ministry and seeking ordination.  She was commissioned in June 2011 and is seeking full ordination in The United Methodist Church.

Lent: Taking On; Letting Go

A couple of years ago I was challenged by a peer to “take on” rather than “let go” for Lent. Now, as a former Southern Baptist (which I was for almost 25 years) the idea of Lent has always been somewhat foreign to me. However, as I have gotten older and found my way into more of a liturgical community I have found that not only do I find great value in some of these observances, but I enjoy them and feel a sense of renewal in my spiritual life when practiced.

As a hospice chaplain, I can find myself in numerous crisis situations within a day. I may be called to a time of death, a family dispute or some other kind of crisis situation. I am expected to be present and in some way hopefully encourage and educate a family on how to cope. Living and working in crisis can change a person. Some become cynical or “rough around the edges” (I am talking about myself here); others withdraw and isolate from family and friends. Either way most people who are drawn to these kinds of working professions are drawn usually out of desire to “do good.” I am not talking negatively about a desire to do good, but I am suggesting we take caution and continually monitor our own desires.

While in seminary I was warned about the “clergy ego.” The idea that the pastor can do anything and should be able to do anything. I mean, after all, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). As I write this I am rolling my eyes, but that is for another blog on another day. I want to hold this issue of the clergy ego for just a second and discuss how it relates to female clergy. Let’s be honest: women in our culture may have the vote and may be in the work place, but in some ways are still considered second class citizens. Now, please do not think me as a raging feminist who spends her free time burning her bras; in all reality I am very much an egalitarian. I am just pointing out that women are most of the time the caregivers. Think about it who fixes breakfast, who packs the lunches, who does the laundry, the dishes, and who keeps the family calendar, etc. We are taught to “take care” and this transcends our homes, community and work place. So where is the “ego” in this? Are women taught to have ego? Should women even think about ego, or should we just do. Ok, I’ll stop! :0)

I know what you are thinking, how does this relate to Lent? Well, getting back to the challenge of my peer, this year I have decided once again to “take on” for Lent. I am taking on self care of my whole self: mind, body and spirit. Below is a parable I found a few years ago (if I knew who wrote it I would give them credit), but I love this parable. For me it speaks to the gamble we take when we neglect ourselves while taking care of others.

ENJOY…

The Little Girl and the Ungrateful Snake

A young girl was trudging along a mountain path, trying to reach her grandmother’s house. It was bitter cold, and the wind cut like a knife. When she was within sight of her destination, she heard a rustle at her feet.
Looking down, she saw a snake. Before she could move, the snake spoke to her. He said, “I am about to die. It is too cold for me down here, and I am freezing. There is no food in these mountains, and I am starving. Please put me in your basket so I can rest and please take me with you.”
“No,” replied the girl. “I know your kind. You are a rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you will bite me, and your bite is poisonous.”
“No, no,” said the snake. “If you help me, you will be my best friend. I will treat you differently.”
The little girl sat down on a rock for a moment to rest and think things over. She looked at the beautiful markings on the snake and had to admit that it was the most beautiful snake she had ever seen.
Suddenly, she said, “I believe you. I will save you. All living things deserve to be treated with kindness.”
The little girl reached over, picked up the snake gently placing him in her basket and preceded toward her grandmother’s house.
A few minutes later the snake spoke to her again. “Thank you” he said “but if it’s not too much to ask I am cold, can you put me in your coat pocket.” The little girl thought for a moment and decided to grant his request.
Upon reaching her grandmother’s cottage she discovered although her grandmother wasn’t home, there was a fire and plenty of food. The snake popped out from her pocket, “Oh, please little girl, I am still so very cold could you place me in front of the fire? The little girl did what he asked. She then went into the kitchen to make herself a plate of food.
“I know I have asked a lot from you” he said, “but if I could please have one more thing.” What is that she asked, “Could I please have a saucer of milk?” As she leaned over he lunged at her, biting her on the hand.
“How could you do this to me?” she cried. “You promised that you would not bite me if I would protect you from the bitter cold.”
The snake hissed, “You knew what I was when you picked me up,” and slithered away.

May all of us remember the value of self care especially my female clergy friends. Thanks for all you do!