Monthly Archives: December 2014

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Silent Night, Holy Night
Luke 2:8-20
A sermon by
Dr. Gorman Houston

Before 9:00 there was already a line waiting to come into the bank, and the line would continue uninterrupted until the bank closed at noon.  It was Christmas Eve.  I was a college student, home for the holidays, and I was a teller at the little bank in Eufaula.  It was a wonderful job.  In a day before automatic teller machines and electronic funds transfers, the bank was a regular stop for almost everyone, particularly during the holidays.

On this Christmas Eve, we could not have been busier – cashing checks for those who were travelling out of town and for those who wanted crisp new 5, 10, 20, even 100 dollar bills to be given as presents.  A few people wanted to purchase savings bonds to give to grandchildren.  Several people were buying travelers checks to take with them on their holiday journeys.  The lines seemed endless.

And of course, for the tellers I worked beside noon could not come quickly enough.  Their real work would begin when the work day at the bank ended – grocery shopping, present wrapping, meal preparing.  Between customers, we conversed about what everyone would be doing when we left the bank.

As noon approached, the lines grew even longer – lots of people stopping by at the last minute.  About 5 minutes ‘til 12, an unknown man stepped up to my teller window.  He presented a $100 check and asked me if I could cash it for him.  It was a personal check, written on his bank in Kearney, Nebraska. I asked him for identification.  He had none.  He told me that he was on his way from Kearney to visit his family in Jacksonville, Florida, and when he stopped for gas outside Tupelo, Mississippi, his wallet had either been lost or stolen. He had driven as far as he could, but now he was almost of gas and had no money.

There was a sign clearly posted on the teller window which stated that two forms of identification were required to cash checks for anyone who did not have an account with the bank.  So, why couldn’t I just turn him away?  Instead, I told him that if he would have a seat in one of the chairs across the lobby until the bank closed, we would see if we could help him.

When the lines of customers finally came to an end and the door was locked, I asked the teller next to me to come over with me to talk to our Nebraska visitor.  Perhaps out of curiosity, the whole line of tellers joined us as we talked to the stranger.  We asked again about identification.  He told us his story. We asked him if he had a credit card – back then we called them Mastercharge and Bankamericard.  The card he had was in his missing wallet.  We asked him if he knew anyone in Eufaula – we knew that was unlikely, but it was worth a try. One teller took his check and went to call his bank in Kearney, Nebraska.  There was no answer… only a holiday greeting.

The bank policy was clear.  We were not to cash his check. So why could none of us tell him no?  Was it because it was Christmas Eve?  Finally, one teller said, “Let’s cash the check.”  As we walked back to our teller windows, I took the check, put my teller stamp on it, counted out $100 in twenties, gave the stranger his money, wished him merry Christmas, and the weary but relieved traveler was on his way.  As soon as he left and the lobby door was again locked, the other tellers came over.  “We all want to initial the check,” they said.  “If it is returned, we want it clear that we all approved it.”

Something strange was happening that Christmas Eve day.  We all felt it.  We were simply caught up in it, and even though we were not following the strict rules, we felt that we were doing exactly the right thing.

And Luke the evangelist writes, “There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

Sometimes the images on Christmas Cards can cause us to think of shepherds as being sweet little boys or upstanding men of status, perhaps like farmers in our day.  But most scholars tell us that these men were most likely hired hands working the late shift.  At least that’s what Jesus calls them in John’s Gospel (John 10:12).  We might call them minimum wage workers, unskilled labor.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that.  That was just who they were.  These shepherds had little influence; they could bring little bargaining power to the table. They were men who most likely lived on the margins of life. They were working late night on Christmas Eve, for crying out loud.  Who works late night on Christmas Eve but convenience store clerks and Waffle House servers and shepherd hirelings?

And in the midst of the shift, they were interrupted by a complete stranger – someone not from their village.  Luke tells us plainly that it was “an angel of the Lord (who) stood before them,” and not only that, “the glory of the Lord shone around them.”  It must have been an understatement for Luke to write, “they were sore afraid.”

The scriptures do not tell us if the shepherds were frightened by the sight of angels or if they were frightened simply by the idea that someone of stature and importance had come to them.  Maybe they had learned to be fearful of people with power, that almost always when someone of wealth or importance wanted to talk with them, it was bad news. Either way, the Bible is clear that they were terrified.

But the angel assured them they had nothing to fear and everything to celebrate. “”Do not be afraid;” the angel said, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  And perhaps what was most incredible for the shepherds was that the angel told them, this King was born, not as nobility to rule over and against them, but as one of them.  He was a baby, diapered and lying in a cow’s manger. We don’t know if the Shepherds were particularly devout people, but it did not matter.  They were naturally excited by such supernatural events, delivered in such a personal and powerful way. Music was heard over those lonely fields outside Bethlehem, the voices of angels singing to God’s glory.

Their long work night had been interrupted by God’s grace.  I guess none of us is the same after we experience God’s grace. The Shepherds decided right then and there that they would leave their flock in the field and go to Bethlehem and see this thing, which the Lord had made known to them.  Of course, doing so would violate their work rules.  The shepherds knew they were not to leave their sheep.  The flock owners were clear about their instructions.  They knew the rules, so why were they willing to take a risk and break them?  Why did everything within them want to ignore the rules and hurry into Bethlehem?  And Luke tells us that they all “went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.”

I think those shepherds left their flocks in the fleld and hastened to Bethlehem, because they had experienced God’s surprising grace in a most-surprising place, and they were simply caught up in it.  They were nobodies, caught up in the mighty movement of God, of the only one who matters. And they went with haste.

It was that same grace, of course, in which Mary was caught up that caused her to abandon reason and violate societal norms, and give up her carefully scripted plans to become a maidservant of the Lord, the same grace in which Joseph was caught up that caused him not to abandon Mary but to risk ridicule and rejection to serve as the provider for our Lord.  And it’s not just in the Christmas story – not just in the nativity account that we find this grace.  It was that same grace in which years later Simon Peter and James and John were caught up which caused them to leave their boats and nets and fish and lives and follow the Nazarene.  It was that same grace in which Mary Magdalene was caught up which freed her from her past and opened to her a new life of acceptance and love.  It was that same grace in which a thief on a cross was caught up and in his dying moments found an offer of life with Christ Jesus in paradise.  It was that same grace in which the Apostle Paul was caught up which caused him to turn away from his pursuit of persecution and join this mighty movement to share God’s grace with all the world.

And as preposterous as it sounds, I think that’s exactly why a group of tellers simply could not follow the bank guidelines and turn away a wearied, poor traveler who showed up at closing time on Christmas Eve nearly forty years ago.  In that homely event, we did experience a form of grace – God’s grace – which simply caused us to want to risk reprimands and offer aid.

When we experience the grace of God, it seems we find ourselves wanting to take risks, to do what we otherwise would never do.  It is as if we come under a higher law, a greater law, a law which binds us to God’s very movement of grace and peace, which transcends our lowly estate, our sense of propriety, our natural inclinations to play it safe.  We want to sing, we want to dance, we want to embrace, we want to love, we want to give, we want to believe the world can be a better place, and we suddenly want to do all we can do to make it so.

Don’t we see it?  I mean who ever thought up paying off the Christmas lay away for a total stranger who could not afford to pay the balance?  Who ever thought up going out in the cold dark night to sing a carol to a lonely person on Christmas Eve?  Who ever thought up greeting strangers with a blessing, “The Lord be with you,” and the reply, “And also with you.”

Perhaps you have experienced that same grace – not in a predictable place or a choreographed moment, but maybe in the midst of your perfectly planned life, when you have known exactly what the next thing to do would be.  Then, someone uninvited or something unwelcomed interrupted your plans and you just got caught up in God’s grace.  It simply changed everything…. But more than that, it simply changed you.

Isn’t that what we find when we experience God’s grace in such a personal way, when “for you is born a savior which is Christ the Lord?”  And isn’t that why we continue to look to a rustic feeding trough in an overlooked part of the little town of Bethlehem?  Isn’t that really why we are here tonight?  Tonight we long not so much for the order and constancy of life as for that grace which captures us and causes us to do things we never even thought about before – little things through which the kingdom of God breaks into our hearts and into the world.

It is nothing short of the grace of God which we long to experience, which we celebrate at Christmas, and through which we find faith and hope and love.

Perhaps you read in last Sunday’s Tuscaloosa News the events that transpired 100 years ago tonight on a bleak battlefield in Belgium, during the first winter of the First World War. The battle had been raging, with German and British soldiers in muddy trenches on opposite sides of Flanders Fields, famous for its poppies and poem.  In December 1914 there were no poppies, just hard, cruel warfare.  Hundreds of men had been killed in the incessant trench fighting, and there was gunfire 100 years ago tonight, soldiers brave but also fearful held watch through the night.  Around midnight the gunfire was silenced.  And the British soldiers heard an unexpected sound coming from across the field, across what had become no-man’s land.

What they heard was singing.  They recognized it as a song written almost exactly 100 years before, and first performed on Christmas Eve.  If you know the story, you know these men heard the German soldiers singing:

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wach

And the British soldiers replied by singing the familiar song in their own language, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.”  The singing of carols continued, replacing gunfire throughout the night.  And not just at Flanders field, but up and down the front lines for an estimated 50 miles.  Then at dawn on Christmas Day, something even more amazing happened, a German called out, “All good.  We no shoot.”  And the soldier, held up his hands to show he was unarmed and walked out onto “no-mans land.”   His brave act, inspired other soldiers from both sides to follow.  It was completely against orders, a total violation of both armies’ rules of engagement.  But from both sides, soldiers emerged from the muddy trenches – apprehensive at first – then excitedly.  On the battlefield in the midst of World War, enemy soldiers greeted each other on Christmas morning and there was a truce – an unofficial Christmas truce.  As Private Henry Williamson of the London Rifle Brigade wrote, “Yes, all day Christmas Day (the truce lasted) and as I write.  Marvelous, isn’t it?”  The cease-fire allowed the soldiers to reclaim the bodies of their soldiers who had been killed in the fierce fighting so they could be buried.  It also allowed opportunity for goodwill, the soldiers from opposing armies showed each other pictures of their families, girlfriends, children – they even exchanged some small gifts with their enemies, and a monument attests to this day, a friendly game of football – of soccer – was played on the battlefield that day.

Oh, it was strictly against orders.  When British officers heard about the informal Christmas truce, they were furious, according to Captain Robert Hamilton’s report, but as he added the officers “were powerless to stop it.”  The soldiers were simply caught up in something bigger than they were.  They simply got caught up in God’s grace and, of all places, on a battlefield during war.  And when they experienced that grace, they simply could not fight; gosh, I bet they could not even hate.  That’s what happens when we experience pure grace like that.  So, like the angels of yore, they sang songs to the glory of God over the battlefield, and as the light bathed the field at dawn, they joyously extended hospitality, and they lived and played in peace.

They got caught up in the grace of God, and they stopped the horrid war – oh just for a day – just for Christmas Day, but don’t you imagine the angels sang that day. “Glory to God in the Highest!  And on earth peace, goodwill to men.”  Absolutely – and I bet over that field the angel’s song was heard in both German and English.

Oh, the grace of God – birthed in a manger in Bethlehem.  Experienced and celebrated through lives it touches, producing over and again risky expressions of peace on earth and goodwill.

The message never loses its power. Grace never loses its effect. So on this Christmas Eve we hear it again, “For you is born this day in the City of David a babe, who is Christ the Lord.”

Let us pray:

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth

See the story dramatized in this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWF2JBb1bvM

Read about the story in The Tuscaloosa News article, December 21, 2014: http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/20141220/WIRE/141229971/0/search

Christmas Truce

 

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Monday, December 22, 2014 – When Christmas Breaks In…

8 And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 ”Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” – Luke 2:8-14

Nearly every year we may experience a feeling of awkwardness as we begin our Christmas celebration.  There is something that feels inappropriate about festively enjoying merry moments with family and friends while many people – both nearby and far away – experience extreme heartbreak and tragedy.  While this is a joyous time of year for many, there are no days more difficult or depressing than these for others. There is no question that war, death, disease, depression, and extreme disappointment take no holiday.  Many people who are in the midst of hurt simply have neither the energy nor the desire to decorate their doors or lift their spirits.

Two years ago when a gunman took the lives of twenty school children and eight adults in Newtown, Connecticut, on a December morning, many of the residents of that town took down their Christmas decorations.  Theirs was a season of mourning, not a season of celebration.  Nevertheless, not the even intense, complicated grief of the town could silence the Christmas message of hope.  You may remember that the Newtown Post Office was inundated with cards, letters, and gifts for the residents.  In addition, thousands of toys were sent to the town to assure the children in Newtown that the world is not a frightening, evil place.  The truth we come to know is that the message of Christmas invades the darkness and despair of life, promising “peace on earth” and “goodwill” in the midst of our sorrow and suffering.

Back on December 26, 1942, The Saturday Evening Post cover featured a Norman Rockwell Christmas painting of a man reading the desperately depressing news of the events of World War II, and bursting through the newspaper was a red-mittened Santa Claus with the simple message, “Merry Christmas.”  That’s the way Christmas breaks into our lives again and again. We celebrate, not because all is well, but because we are in God’s faithful care and keeping. Aching anxiety, financial uncertainty, weird weather patterns, threats of terror, personal loss, disease, death, disappointment, and difficulty  rob our lives of joy and peace.  But greater than any of these concerns is God’s great gift of Christ Jesus.

A baby’s cry broke through the silence of the night when Jesus was born, and angels burst on the scene to sing God’s glory to a group of unsuspecting shepherds.  So too God’s grace breaks through our guilt, God’s truth breaks open our error, God’s love breaks into our loneliness, God’s light breaks into our darkness.  Celebrating Christmas may seem a bit awkward with heavy hearts for any number of reasons, but Christ Jesus has a way of breaking into unexpected places, undeserving lives, and unsuspecting hearts.  Let us simply rejoice with the angels and give glory to God in the highest.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

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Sermon – The Household of Mary

The Household of Mary – A Willing Servant
A sermon by
Gorman Houston
Luke 1:26-39

Preached at First United Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa, December 7, 2014

Do you know the blessing of having a servant’s heart?  Do you know the great meaning that comes from being completely caught up in the mighty movement of God?  Do you know the thrill of pouring God’s grace onto an open wound?

As John Buchanan from Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago reminds us, Mary is the one person in all of history who knew Jesus every day of his life. She carried him in her womb. She gave birth to him in much the same way babies are born today – labor and pain…, blood, a first breath and a cry. Mary held him, nursed him, cradled him, bathed him, sang songs to him. Mary prepared food for him, fed him.  It was Mary who showed him how to drink from a cup, use a spoon, Mary who held his hand as he took his first step. Mary smoothed his garment and hair, as he went with his father to the synagogue on the Sabbath. It was Mary who created a loving household, where Jesus was nurtured, where he grew to adulthood, where he learned his father’s trade in Nazareth.

Years later, when Jesus tried to explain to his mother how he had an increasingly urgent sense that God had something for him to do, that he was going to leave home and follow this call, to teach and bring healing and proclaim the good news of God’s love, it must have been troubling.

Just imagine if your child— a child who was destined for medical school, destined for leadership, destined for greatness—told you that she was going to give all of that up to tell people about God.  What would you say?  Surely you would protest.  Surely Mary must have protested.  “So your plan is to walk away from a steady income, a roof over your head and food on the table, to go walk around Galilee with no means of support and just talk about God? Where’s the future, son?  Where is the security in that?” The Bible doesn’t tell us, but surely she must have thought that.

And just as soon as the thought formed, another thought must have invaded her mind.  She must have chuckled and thought, “Oh my goodness, I sound just like Mama!”  And she must have remembered the day a mysterious messenger from God came and invited her to become a part of God’s mighty movement.  She was ready to risk everything.  Why?  Because deep in her heart – in fact more in her heart than in her mind – she knew that God was up to something.  And in that moment this girl – far too young, far too female, far too unmarried, far too poor to be taken seriously by anyone – this girl was ready to break every tie that had to be broken to join God’s mighty movement.  She was ready to say no to everything else, just to say yes to God. She remembered well her response that day, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

How could she be so bold as to trust God above her own ordered plans, so bold as to trust God above her cultural expectations, so bold as to trust God above her binding contract, so bold as to trust God above her parents’ wisdom and harsh demands, so bold as to trust God above common sense?  How could she as a teenager have been so bold, so certain, so absolutely convinced that she was so right to trust God above all else, and now deny her own son the same self-discovery?  She simply would not stand in his way.

Jesus, of course, didn’t want to leave without her blessing.  It was important to him.  He didn’t want to leave badly.  So, remembering that same excitement, that same awe, that same fear, that same certainty which she had felt three decades before, she placed her hands on his head, kissed his brow, and repeated the prayer over him, which she prayed when she learned he was to be born, ”My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”

Mary was a willing servant…. Mary bore a willing servant… Mary nurtured a willing servant… and now Mary blessed a willing servant.

Do you know the blessing of having a servant’s heart?  Do you know the incredible meaning that comes from being completely caught up in the mighty movement of God?  Do you know the thrill of pouring God’s grace onto an open wound?

I can’t help thinking in all of this of Teresa Hsu.  Do you know Teresa Hsu?  She died three years ago this week at the age of 113.  At her death she was the oldest living person in Singapore.  Several months before her death she spoke to a conference about healthy living and said, “My secrets of longevity are simple: I stay positive, I contribute, I eat a healthy diet, and every morning I do yoga,”  Wow!  113 years old and doing yoga.  But that she lived to such an old age was just about the least significant thing about this amazing woman.  What made Teresa Hsu special was that she was a willing servant.

She was born in the late 19th century into unimaginable poverty in China.  Her mother cared well for her, but that does not that they always had enough food.  Her mother taught her well.  She created a loving household, a place of caring and peace and service in spite of their great needs.  One day when Teresa was just a young child, she and her mother were about to eat the meager meal they had mustered up from digging in the ground – a sweet potato and some bamboo shoots.  At that moment, a total stranger and her young child came up to them, and the mother said, “Please help us, we have not eaten in two days.”  Teresa said her mother invited them in and gave them the food she had prepared.  She told her daughter later, “They had not eaten in two days.  We had food yesterday.  They had a greater right to the food than we did.”  Teresa never forgot that lesson.  She became a servant of the poor.

All her life she simply embodied generosity.  Her daily sacrifices for the poor and the desperate became her worship.  Her mission was not complicated.  If she saw someone hungrier than she was, she would give her bowl of rice to them. If she saw someone who was equally as hungry as she, she would still give them half her bowl of rice.

Teresa was a Buddhist with a little Roman Catholicism intermingled, and she was caught up in the mighty mission of God.  She loved her life.  She loved the meaning of her life.  She gave away all she had to become all God called her to be.  She was a willing servant.

Do you know the blessing of having a servant’s heart?  Do you know the incredible meaning that comes from being completely caught up in the mighty movement of God?  Do you know the thrill of pouring God’s grace onto an open wound?

Mary, the mother of our Lord, was a willing servant, she bore a willing servant, she nurtured a willing servant, she blessed a willing servant.  That’s just about all we know about Mary from the scriptures.  The Bible doesn’t tell us where Mary was born.  The Bible doesn’t tell us the names of Mary’s parents.  The Bible doesn’t tell us how old Mary was when she was married or gave birth to Jesus.  The Bible doesn’t make it clear if Mary had other children.  The Bible doesn’t tell us if Mary was widowed before Jesus’ death.  The Bible doesn’t tell us how old Mary was when she died.  The Bible doesn’t tell us where Mary is buried.  The Bible doesn’t tell us much about Mary.  We see her in the first two chapters of the gospels of Luke and Matthew and in the last two chapters of all the gospels.  We get a glimpse of her at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and a glimpse when she came to find Jesus both as a child in Jerusalem and as an adult in Galilee.  And that’s about it.  We don’t know how Mary got to Jerusalem for Passover… did she travel with Jesus?  We don’t know.  We just know that she was there at the foot of the cross and she watched as the child she bore and blessed, breathed his last.

There is much about Mary that we do not know, but we know enough.  We know that she was a willing servant – she gave herself, and she did not withhold even her own son.

The Bible is clear that Mary gave her life over to serving God and I rather imagine that her service permeated every part of her household in Nazareth.  Perhaps Jesus’ concern for the poor and compassion for sinners and empathy for the desperate and desire to help the infirmed seemed to be almost natural developments from being reared in Mary’s household.

We don’t find it in the scriptures, but don’t you imagine that Jesus saw his mother welcome the poor at their table?  We don’t find it in the scriptures, but don’t you imagine Jesus saw his mother rub balm in the pains of the hurting and bruised?  We don’t find it in the scriptures, but don’t you imagine Jesus saw his mother kneel before travelers whom she welcomed in their home to wash their tired feet?  We don’t find it in the scriptures, but don’t you imagine Jesus accompanied his mother as she took bread to the jail for the prisoners?  We don’t find it in the scriptures, but don’t you imagine Jesus knew his mother’s warm smile as she offered wisdom, forgiveness, guidance and poured grace upon grace on him, assuring him that nothing he could do could ever separate him from her love?  We don’t find it in the scriptures, but don’t you imagine that Jesus heard Mary making her regular prayers – not the prescribed prayers of the faith, but personal prayers, so intimate it was as if she was talking with her father?  Surely Jesus must have known his mother’s servant heart from childhood.

Do you know what I bet?  I bet that when Jesus as an adult spoke words of hospitality and love, as he reached out to welcome the needy – to feed their hungry bellies or to soothe their aching bodies, or to wash their tired feet, I bet Jesus must have chuckled and thought, “Oh my goodness, I sound just like mama.”

How surprised could Mary have been when she heard Jesus talk about going to follow God’s call, leaving home to tell the world about the mighty movement of God, reaching out to those near and far alike to extend the love and compassion of God.  He called it the kingdom of God, but to him it may have seemed to be an extension of the household of Mary.

Jesus’ understanding of how life should be in God’s kingdom must have been shaped by growing up in the household of a willing servant.

What difference did it make that Jesus grew up in Mary’s household?  It makes all the difference in the world – then and now.

In the political world of Jesus’ day and ours, we see the difference.  Whether we are considering King Herod or the Alabama legislature, our petty office politics or church power structures, we often see a style of leadership fashioned by grasping power and posturing that power such that adversaries are eclipsed, exposed, and eliminated,  such that access to information and resources is limited, such that pecking orders are developed and strictly enforced.  Don’t we see that kind of jockeying for power…Oh, but not in Mary’s household.  In Mary’s household power is freely shared, enemies are reconciled, relationships are honored, the first are last and the last are first.  That’s what Jesus learned in Mary’s household.  Do you remember her words, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.”

What difference did it make that Jesus grew up in Mary’s household?  It makes all the difference in the world – then and now.

In the economic order of Jesus’ day and ours we see the difference.  Whether it is in palaces in Palestine or among the insanely wealthy on Wall Street – we see how business is conducted,  cold and shrewd, fiercely competitive, in which bottom lines rule, wealth is protected, money is hoarded, and none of it is shared unless there is personal gain, plenteous goodwill and recognition.  But not so in Mary’s household.  In Mary’s household we find a different economy in which hospitality is extended, resources are shared, the poor are welcomed, everyone who asks, receives, no one is turned away.  Blessings, freely received, are freely given.  That’s what Jesus learned in Mary’s household.  Do you remember her words, “he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

What difference did it make that Jesus grew up in Mary’s household?  It makes all the difference in the world – then and now.

Among the keepers of the faith in Jesus’ day and ours we see the difference.  Whether it is zealots from the fanatical fringe of a foreign faith or the overtly righteous from our own traditions who falsely claim exclusive rights to the ways of the Lord and emphatically condemn all who dare to differ.  But not so in Mary’s household.  In Mary’s household justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, mercy bathes the pains of injustice, worship is expressed through everyday sacrifices for the least of these brothers and sisters, truth is pursued, thanksgiving is heart-felt, God is glorified.  That’s what Jesus learned in Mary’s household.  Do you remember her words, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior… for the Mighty One has done great things… and holy is his name.”

It must have been something to grow up in Mary’s household, the household which nurtured Jesus.  When he left home, he went forth with Mary’s blessing.  He went forth from his childhood experience to envision a new world, a new way of being in the world, to challenge the conventional, established order of things, to do what Mary had always done – to side with outsiders, to care for people, to welcome outcasts, to offer love and forgiveness, grace and truth, and, in the process, to establish an alternative worldview. The kingdom of God – the household of Mary.

Some theologians posit that we find in Mary the very image God has of his church .  When from the cross, Jesus says to Mary, “Behold your son,” and to John, “Behold your mother,” that what Jesus is doing on the cross is creating the Mother church.  That’s why there are so many churches and cathedrals named for Mary—the most famous of all would be Notre Dame.  We see in the household of Mary God’s plan for the church.  Of course, we tend to make the church complicated with layered bureaucracies, complex theologies, confusing creeds and sacraments and rituals—all of which are invested with meaning but also serve to divide the people of God. But what if we were a different kind of church?  Just imagine with me for a minute how the church would look if we understood ourselves less like a kingdom and more like a household.  What if those of us who follow Jesus simply sought to live out the household of Mary.  Can you imagine how powerful the mighty movement of God would be if we simply understood ourselves to be an extension of the household of Mary?  In the way we handle power and in the way we deal with possessions and in the way we live out faith, what if we looked and sounded and acted like willing servants who had been birthed and nurtured and blessed both by and into the household of Mary?

It just seems to me that if we were to be that kind of church, we would be a source of great delight to our Heavenly Father.  And do you know what else?  It seems to me that if were that kind of church, we would cause Jesus to chuckle.  Yes, he would chuckle and say, “Oh my goodness, you sound just like Mama!”

Do you know the blessing of having a servant’s heart?  Do you know the great meaning that comes from being completely caught up in the mighty movement of God?  Do you know the thrill of pouring God’s grace onto an open wound?