Sunday, 19 February 2017

What Kind of Love is this?

sermon for 19th February Luke 7:36-50

The final part of chapter seven in Luke’s gospel describes a scenario which has become familiar; it, or a version of it, is recorded in each of the gospels, happening at a variety of times in Jesus’ ministry.
And, apart from the fact that we still don’t expect to see people weeping and using the tears to wipe dirt away, it is not now terribly shocking. We know the story; we can probably picture the scene more or less. We know that there are a number of people gathered; we know the host is a Pharisee; Luke doesn’t tell us who this woman is – all he offers is that she is a sinner. A sinner. Oh my goodness! What does that mean to us now? And to them, when this was first recorded. A sinner.
That descriptor: sinner; is not so fashionable nowadays is it? we don’t talk about sin. Ugly, dark, life-sapping sin. We prefer softer words; mistake; missing the mark; if someone tend to misbehaviour we wouldn’t want to tar them with that name – sinner. It seems far too judgemental; far too harsh. Yet, for Luke it tripped of the pen with no problem at all.
The Pharisee, Simon, was not kind; at least, he was not a welcoming host to Jesus, even though he invited him to come. He was not invited as an honoured guest; more likely as a spectacle for his friends and other guests – see I have the preacher, the healer here in my house. I’m sure his other guests were welcomed in the usual manner, in the correct manner; a foot washing to get rid of the dust of the road; a welcome embrace and kiss; oil for anointing; each was merely common courtesy, not special treatment. Jesus was there as a guest; but not necessarily as an equal.
The woman. Ah yes! The woman is nothing less than an interloper; she would never have been invited into the Pharisee’s house, sinner or not; it was simply not done to invite an unescorted woman into your home unless she was a relative. Nor was it acceptable to speak with her, let alone allow her to embrace you, wash you, kiss you, anoint you. Her behaviour was outrageous. Nothing less than scandalous.

The conjunction of these three people in this house is, on the face of it, simply wrong. And yet, here they are, and their actions and words are considered to tell of something of such importance that each of the four gospel writers felt compelled to record it.
So, what is it? what is so important that we hear it again and again; we know it; all the multiple layers gleaned from hearing each of the versions; what is it that we must hear, and know, and take on board?
Love.
Love is the thing
Love is the essence of it all.
Our English language is so limited when it comes to that simple four lettered word: L O V E
In Greek there are four different words; all depending upon how it is used; what relationship is being described.
Food – love roast lamb!
Family – love my sister
Action – love walking out in the countryside
Passion – love my husband
The woman; the sinner she loved Jesus with gratitude for all he had done, could do for her. She had seen and heard him; probably in among the crowd, witnessing his kindness, his compassion, his gifts of healing, listening to him explain that God seeks us out; each one of us. Seeks to know and love us; whoever, wherever, whenever, whatever. Because of that she dared to hope, dared to dream of a new life, a fresh start, she was led to act on it, show it, demonstrate for all to see.
She did not care who saw her; what they thought; the only important thing was to be there, to offer him whatever she had.
She was a determined, persistent woman.
She will have had to force her way in
She will have needed to remain in the shadows until the right moment. Uncovering her hair was sinful; touching a man who was not family or husband was sinful; being in the company of so many men… sinful. She did not care, she had nothing more to lose.
She was going to see Jesus; she was going to give him her greatest gift – her love and devotion. It was all for him.
All for Jesus
And still now, all these millennia later we remember her.
May we also learn from her: to show love; to be kind; to offer what we can, when we can.
May we also learn from the Pharisee: that Jesus knows our inner thoughts, can see through our outer veneer. Privately he thought to himself, if Jesus was really a prophet… and no sooner was the thought out there, Jesus called him on it; taught him through it; showed him, real love, real compassion, real generosity, in his home, but not at his hand.
Wherever we are; we can choose to be kind, or not
We can choose to speak out, or not
We can choose to act for good, or not

We know what the woman, sinful though she was, chose
She persisted
She acted
She loved

May we too, choose those ways. 


Sunday, 5 February 2017

Healing and Faith - sermon for 5th February

Luke 7: 1-17 

Some things are inevitable.
We are born, we will die.
Some things come when least expected, least wanted, least anticipated.

The Roman centurion we are told considers his servant to be precious, beloved. 
He is attached to the servant, and cannot bear to be parted. Knowing how ill he is, that he is indeed literally at death's door, he sends local friends, Jews, to plead on his behalf, to ask that the prophet, the teacher, this miraculous man should help. 
The Roman is a foreigner, an oppressor, he may be fair and righteous, but that doesn't stop him from still being a foreigner. Why should Jesus help? He is not Jewish; he is not one of Gods people... Or is he?

The widow, it is important to understand that her status as a widow is precarious, widows are status less, they are at the mercy of relatives to look kindly on them. She had been blessed to have a son to take care of her on the death of her husband, but now, her son dead, she is bereft, broken, anguished, for she understands what is to come. She will be left alone in the world... With nothing. The widow, wrapped up in her grief, in her despair. Did she even know Jesus was in town? Did she even know who he was? As he approached the funeral procession, did her heart leap with a tiny spark of hopefulness? Or was she unaware of his presence?
It is difficult for us to know. She certainly didn't ask Jesus to help, nor it seems did she have any expectation. Yet Jesus, seeing her, is moved.

The centurion, having sent his friends along, thinks better of his request. Who is he to ask this? It seems unlikely that he felt humility or lacked confidence. Rather, he was aware that Jesus was on a mission, he seems to be aware that the detour would stop Jesus from attending to other, more worthy causes. So he instead turns his plea for help into an amazing statement of faith.
Lord. I am not worthy to receive you, but say the word, and my servant will be healed! Assurance. Confidence. Propriety. All should be done in the good and proper way. Jesus, hearing this is moved.

Jesus, hearing of great faith
Jesus witnessing overwhelming grief.
Jesus moved to marvel and to compassion.
These two stories carry important markers; important elements of Gods plan for humanity.
These two miracles are confirmation that Jesus’ message was for all. All people. All humanity.
Even the foreigners. Even the marginalised. Even women and slaves. Foreigners and outcast. Jews and non-Jews. 
Jesus is taken aback. He cannot quite believe that a foreigner has such faith, such confidence in his ability. Not only is his request granted, but Jesus proclaims that this faith is greater than he has ever witnessed before.

Out in our world, it seems that faith is in scant supply. The world wants us all to rely on our own strength, to look after our own interests, to look inward, to be self-reliant, and unyielding. This could not be further from Jesus message of love, compassion and hope, Jesus’ command to look after the outcast and stranger was not new, it came from the prophets, it came from God's instruction to look after the widows and orphans, to care for those who are in need, to bring hope to the hopeless.
And, that message, that instruction is as powerful and important today as it was then. Maybe even more so. Our generation has lost sight of it; our generation has become self-sufficient; our generation does not like to ask for help or rely on others. We have become insular.
As you know, I have just returned from America. My friends are witnessing turbulent days; there is an air of anxiety and mistrust I have not seen before. People are angry. Angry about many things, but most of all, about the extreme views and opinions that have suddenly become acceptable, and thus are being put into action. Angry voices fill media streams. Reaction and consequences – marches peaceful and heartening. Followed by ugly name calling and veiled threats. There is a tangible sense of anxious anticipation among my colleagues and friends that this will not end well. That something will give and then – well, then who knows what will happen.
The phrases, “fake news” and “alternative facts” appear light and comedic at first; until you realise they are not joking; that there is indeed a version of facts, a version of the news that seems to be based not in fact but invention. And, those who call it out – who name the lies are made vulnerable in ways we, they, hoped never to see again. History is being written as we watch from the side-lines.
Jesus marvelled at the faith of the centurion – a foreigner who was aware of the thing he was witnessing.
Jesus felt compassion for the widow and her son – reaching out and touching them in their misery and fear.
Jesus is all too aware of what can happen when people challenge injustice and prejudice – but he did it anyway.
As we spend these weeks following Jesus’ journey as told to Luke, and shared for us to see and understand, we cannot just sit back and wait. Jesus calls us to action. To live as he lived. To react as he reacted.
When we witness injustice, or faith, or inequality we have a choice.
We can watch and do nothing
Or we can speak out. Stand up. Be counted.
Spread the news about Jesus – be people of faith in action.
For the world needs to hear and know that God’s love and compassion is here. And we are charged with sharing it – living it – knowing it.

Today! 

Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Penny Drops - sermon for 22 January

The Penny Drops ~ Extreme Fishing
 Luke 5:1-11

When I was a girl every summer my family went on holiday; and every year we went to the same house, in the same village in North Wales and for the same fortnight; and every year we met up with the same families. There were as far as I can remember 6 families who all went at that same time. Between us we had a selection of dinghies and canoes and we loved to swim in the Irish Sea!!
It was here that I learned to swim, and to handle a canoe, and indeed to fish... I grew up loving the sea, and loving to go fishing, mostly trailing off the back of the boat, but also with a rod off the rocks.

One summer when I was 14 or 15 years old had been particularly hot; for some reason there were very few fish being caught... in fact the dads were a little frustrated – for by the middle weekend they hadn’t actually caught anything at all. My friend Liz and I asked if we could take the big canoe out and do a little fishing ourselves... and so we did.
This was a big wooden Canadian Canoe, wide bodied, very stable and ideal for trailing spinners and feathers. Out we went, into deep water and around the quiet cliffs and bays along the coast – it was truly idyllic... to our surprise after just a few minutes we realised we had caught something... and to our even greater surprise when we pulled the lines in we had each caught a couple of beautiful fat mackerel!!

We put the lines out again and repeated the manoeuvre and once again brought up mackerel... our excitement was tempered by the effort it took to stun them, but we carried on for a little while before turning and making our way back to the beach. The incredulity from our fathers, and indeed all of the men and brothers in our families was joy to see!! And within minutes the beach was void of men as they leapt into their own boats and canoes and headed out – really not wanting to be outdone by two girls!! The men did not catch anything that day – but the mackerel was delicious!!

Fishing is a combination of skill and luck – if the fish are there a good fisherman will make a catch, but if they are away somewhere else it doesn’t matter how skilled you are... Jesus was a craftsman - a carpenter; his undoubted skill was not really transferable to fishing, nevertheless this did not stop him from offering advice to the fishermen out in their boats.
Timing though makes all the difference.

Peter and his brothers and friends had already met Jesus. They had listened to Jesus speaking... listened to Jesus teaching – had witnessed Jesus healing. They knew this man was different. So when he approached their boat they were ready, they were ripe for the catch.
I suspect that a couthy old fisherman like Peter would not have responded so favourably to his suggestion had Jesus not been known; because fishermen know their trade, know how to read the water and know the right and wrong time of day – fish do not bite in the middle of the day – they come up to the shore region at evening when the water insects are at their most active so to put out and lower the nets at this time of day really was ludicrous.

For Peter – still at this point Simon of course – this was a pivotal moment – Jesus had been in the region for some time, teaching and doing amazing things and Simon had most likely been on the periphery for a while;
Then Jesus came to his home;
And Jesus healed his mother-in-law;
Jesus had healed many others too
For this stubborn old man life was about to change forever.

I am sure that it was no accident that it was Simon’s boat Jesus chose

Jesus – God,  knows each of us better than we know ourselves
God puts people, opportunities, events and experiences into our lives and it is up to us whether or not we respond

In God’s terms we are all fishers:
We can go out to life’s big ocean expecting nothing
Or hoping for that elusive catch against all the odds

The catch?
Well the catch could be another person; or an unexpected opportunity
It could be a second chance
Or a conversation that blesses and encourages

Truth is we don’t know until we take up the challenge
Take a risk
Step out in faith – uncertain of what it is we let ourselves in for
And when we do, life can change, realisation dawn – the penny drops.

Simon would become Jesus right hand man
And becoming one of God’s fishermen doesn’t mean you need to suddenly turn into a preacher or teacher – Simon Peter certainly didn’t! it took him years, and years to get to that point.
God’s fishers take up the opportunity to show God’s love
To share Jesus Good News
And make a difference – and we do it all the time without ever realising
We bring our children for baptism
We share our joy and our hope
We tell the stories of our faith
We will not always know the impact we have had – but God will know

The boat is our lives
Jesus asks to use our lives
To teach, to show, to challenge and to accept
To love, to care, to simply be;
Jesus comes in many guises
God sends people into our lives, for a moment, for a short time and for a lifetime
We may lose touch
We may never leave them
We may remember and we may forget
That is life
But when our paths cross things will happen...

It is for us to use those opportunities
To allow God into every conversation
To help others realise
For the penny to drop
Because when Jesus invites us to cast our nets wide
God knows what will happen!




Sunday, 15 January 2017

Teacher Rejected - Sermon 15th January


Luke 4:14-30
Sometimes, the sermon appears, almost unbidden. The ideas come and the words flow.
Sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter how much reading, praying, contemplating and reflecting I do, the sermon stubbornly refuses to be written.

Today’s reading is tricky.
It is very challenging to us as listeners. And the challenge is hidden and easily missed.
On first read: Jesus has arrived in Nazareth; tales of his mission, his actions, his teaching had gone before him, and the people were delighted to welcome him home.
This was one of their own, coming home, his kudos would extend to them; his cachet would rub off on them. This was a time of civic pride in one of their own made good.
The shock comes not when he chooses to read from Isaiah, and then claim that the prophecy has been fulfilled. But after that, when he tells them in no uncertain terms that they were not fit to receive the blessing; not chosen to receive God’s chosen; not good enough for a blessing.
It really was outrageous.
It was like me standing here and telling you, there was going to be a great spiritual revival but that God was going to pass over Earlston because none of us is chosen. (I’m not saying that… not at all!)

I have been trying to work out what it was that Jesus said that triggered such a violent response; why were they so outraged? Why did their response lead to such an aggressive reaction? What did he say that so disturbed them? And what did they do to provoke Jesus’ challenge?
It is frustrating, because the text is sparse, and so much is subliminal, unwritten.
The first thing we need to remember is when and for whom this gospel was written. Luke is writing for the new “Christians” the majority of whom are Gentiles; he is writing from the perspective of one who has investigated thoroughly, interviewed witnesses and gathered as many of the stories as he can. And Luke, whoever he was, has not been a first-hand witness, he did not know Jesus, follow Jesus, hear Jesus for himself.
Luke is writing for these new Christians, the ones who come from other traditions, the ones who were not Jewish from birth. So, when Jesus reads from Isaiah, and then exclaims the scripture is being fulfilled the Nazarenes are cast as the unacceptable.
It is important to note that when it says Jesus sat down – this is because he is about to teach. The tradition was to stand to read scripture and then the teacher would sit to explain and expound on the scriptures.
The next part of his teaching is this: remember that when God was with Elijah, he sent him to the Gentile widow not the Israelites to feed them during the famine; when God was with Elisha, he sent him to the gentile king to heal him, not to any Jews who had skin diseases; when God sends me to teach and heal and work miracles, it is not to you, but to everyone else – you will not hear me and believe.
And this is why they were so mad!!
The implication is that God is sending him not to Nazareth, but from there to the rest of the “world” – the Isaiah reading is basically Jesus’ manifesto for the rest of his mission on earth… the time of grace, of jubilee is announced; but these first ones to hear it are rejected. It’s no wonder they were outraged, scandalised. And it is no wonder that the rising fury led to a mob of people determined to drive him away, out of their lives and out of their town, and more, to drive him out of life all together.
The image of the mob, pushing, shoving, closing ranks, moving like a tidal wave up the hill, hemming him in, ready to throw him off the cliff – is tangible, the atmosphere tense, the mood disturbed… and suddenly he’s gone!
No longer at the head of the crowd being carried along; suddenly he slips away, escapes, never to set foot in his home town again.
So, how do we, with the gift of hindsight and the distance of all those years, respond to this? What must we do to be sure we hear and act? How do we fulfil Jesus’ manifesto right now in our 21st century community?
That manifesto again:
Preach the Good News to the poor
Proclaim release to captives
Bring sight to the blind
Liberate the oppressed
Proclaim the year of Jubilee – God’s favour.

In our 21st century world; the rich get richer; the poor lose out; the land is over used; the forests burned; the air polluted; and God’s little ones are overlooked at best and abused and disadvantaged
What are we to do about it? because it all feels too big; too much; too impossible for us to tackle the reality.
We are not called to fix the whole world
We are called to fix our own small part. Because if everyone did just that, and truly cared for everyone they came across, the world would be a far better place.
The people of Jesus’ home had become complacent; they followed the rules and thought that was enough. They had become self-satisfied.
We cannot do everything; but we can do something.
What can you do?
We have many different ministries in our church: from coffee fellowship on a Sunday morning; to praying through prayer requests; to helping with worship or joining the Wednesday morning cafĂ©; and, in future when we have other events or projects or start new things, come along – bring a friend, help us to grow.
I have been doing a lot of reflecting this past few weeks as we approach my sixth anniversary it is a good time for me to take stock, and for us to work together to begin to grow our church; time to consider new ways to reach out to those who do not have a live church connection.
We know there are plenty folks who feel a connection, but don’t actually do anything about it… so I want to look at ways of reaching them.
Also, they are many, many folks who have lost touch, who find Sunday morning isn’t the right time for them – and I’m wondering what we might do for those too.

I can’t do it all by myself; but I can be a catalyst for new things; for God-given inspirations that come in many shapes and sizes.
The Spirit of God is alive and working in and through each of us
The Spirit proclaims once more the year of God’s favour – it is for us now to hear and act.
It is for us to be God’s Church – alive and well in our community and beyond.
Those who heard Jesus had a choice – to respond or to reject.
And so do we – what will it be?
Do we respond and answer God’s call; can we build God’s church anew for our time and for our people?
 God’s manifesto of justice and grace is the mandate that stands the test of time
And it is for us to act and respond to that call
Today
Right now in 2017. We can be God’s chosen ones!






Saturday, 7 January 2017

Wildman and Carpenter sermon 8 January

The Wildman and the Carpenter sermon for 8th January 2017 
 Luke 3:1-22
They were cousins; their mothers were cousins too, and close; close enough that Jesus’ mother had visited her cousin and stayed to help out while she was pregnant.
On that visit, before he was born, Elizabeth’s son had reacted with joy to the presence of his cousin – Mary’s boy, long before anyone knew anything for sure about either one of them.
These two boys were both miracle babies; born in unusual circumstances; their impending births foretold by angels, their lives mapped out for them long before they were born, let alone grown.

John has taken to a life of desert wanderer; he follows God; is inspired by God and seeks to bring God as reality to the people who are wandering in a different sort of desert; alone seeking God in their spiritual wilderness. A feeling that I am sure we can all identify with from time to time.

Into this time of seeking; these wilderness years comes a new teacher; one who is very different; one who does not pander to them but rather tells them a few home truths. This new style of teaching is so dynamic, so attractive that people flock to hear more; and they seek more than just a spectacle, they ask again and again, “what shall we do?”  
The teaching pulls no punches:
Do not cheat
Share with others
Be fair in your business dealings
Be satisfied with what you have
And then he called them to repentance, to be ready, to be prepared, and he baptised them.
They sought, they wondered, they hoped – “is this the one?!” “is this the Messiah?!” “Is now the time?!”
And he assured them, no, not yet, but soon, be ready, listen to me, I am making the path clear, I am leading the way forward… one is coming.

John was distinctive; the other gospel writers describe his appearance and clothing, as wild, camel hair, locusts and wild honey – it is a stirring image.  Yet, for us so far removed from those events; so far removed from that hand to mouth existence, it is really hard to hear those words and really feel their impact.
We hear those exhortations, do not cheat, share with others, be fair in your business dealings, be satisfied with what you have; and it’s a simple faith-justice mantra, we can identify with it; know it, agree with it.
Of course we will! Of course we don’t cheat; we do our best to share our resources, and be fair; and we try to be satisfied with what we have. So how can we hear these things again and actually have them impact our lives? How do we make a difference?

I am going to leave that question hanging for a moment. And take you to the end of today’s reading. Two short verses to tell us, almost as an afterthought, Jesus was baptised.
It doesn’t even tell us that he was baptised by John – in fact, it almost implies Jesus baptism happened after John was in prison.
The other gospels give us much more information. But I am not going to go explore other gospels today; we are going to be working through Luke’s telling of Jesus story over the next few weeks, and there will be many times we see such contradictions, or differences.
Luke’s portrayal is simple, pared back.
Jesus is baptised; the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit comes down like a dove, and a voice from heaven declares, “You are my own dear son. I am pleased with you.”
Here is a wonderful commitment from God. Jesus hasn’t actually done anything yet. No healing, no teaching, no miracles… just baptism. His belovedness, like our own, is not a reward for righteous living, it’s simply grace.

There is much we can learn from this. Much we can do. Or try to do. Much we can hope for even when we are
Stuck in a spiritual wilderness
Seeking a right and just way of living faithfully
And feeling that it is all a tall order, beyond our capabilities.
How can we be the difference?
How do we respond today, to John’s exhortations?
All we need to do is remember that John called the people to repent, to turn again, to start over – all good and helpful things, especially at the start of a new year.
And, at the same time remember that Jesus too sough baptism, sought direction, and received much, much more, showing us, reminding us again, that we are God’s beloved children, before we do anything at all.
So we strive to be better, in the full knowledge that God looks at us, knows us, loves us – before we do anything at all.
We strive to be better, because of love.
We are better, because of love.
We are better, because God sees us, knows us, loves us.
You are my own dear child. With you I am pleased.
Amen
The Desert of Judah (c) JRen2012




Saturday, 31 December 2016

Ring out the old...

Well, 2016, what a year!! 

Over on the RevGals Facebook Group yesterday's Friday Five asked us to list five stand out moments from 2016 - a year that the world is damning as the worst ever. The five things did not need to be all good, or all bad either, just things which will stand out when we look back.
My five things were pretty easy, having gained two grandchildren, finally celebrated my wedding, and got a darling new puppy there have been highlights aplenty. 

Back in January, in my congregation we had once again taken Star Words - a word for the year, a word to view the year by; for me the word did not sit well at all, right from the moment it chose me when I dipped into the bag, the word has created dissonance. what was it?!

ACCLAIM. 
Acclaim. I did not want it. Acclaim - what do I do with it? It's not the same as affirmation - which I could happily have taken. Nor is it praise. It is something else all together. And it discomfitted me. 
I wrote about it here
Acclaim is loud and brash and over enthusiastic, and I am not. 
In fact the older I get, the quieter, shyer and more introverted I seem to become.

2016 was loud and brash; sometimes discordant; sometimes shocking; often tragic; frequently grief stricken.
Many of my heroes have died. Musicians, actors, broadcasters; people who I grew up listening to and watching; people often who were far too close to me in age than I was comfortable with. This has absolutely added to the feeling of 2016 being an "Annus horribilis" 

But. In all things it is so important to have balance.
Yes - we have Brexit; We have Trump. 
Yes, we lost... David, Alan, Victoria, Caroline, Leonard, Terry, Rick, Prince, George. And there were many more, but these I admired most. They made me laugh, they made me sing, they made me think, they made me. 
But I gained also: wonderful international friends - spending a few days at the beginning of the year on a cruise ship has become, after just two occasions something which I both look forward to and yearn for. Friendship with like-minded women, where we are able to laugh and sing, and share and be. 
Two darling grandchildren: first we Maggie in January - the second granddaughter to my beloved, and mine through him. And then, just days before Christmas, wee Callum, firstborn son of my own firstborn son. His story is messy and complicated and not how any of us would have planned it, but nevertheless this beloved babe is a joy and a blessing. 
My own dear beloved; after a complicated and tortuous process, he was finally free to marry. And so we did! Twice!! We had a civil wedding with a handful of friends in June; and then in August a great, big, wonderful, noisy, wedding blessing in my own church with family and friends. 
And, finally we gained a new four-legged friend in the shape of a Sprocker Spaniel puppy, born on Easter Monday, she came to live with us at the end of May, and is now a beautiful young dog. 

So, 2016; you did your worst, and it was bad. It really was.
But you also threw in some moments of joy, and glimpses of glory; you managed to shine through those dark days, wee shafts of light penetrating the mire.
And as you draw to a close - just seven hours left as I write, I will not damn you forever, I will acclaim - praise with enthusiasm - the joyful times we have shared. 
Acclaim them as my own.

And, 2017, when you arrive, you'd better take care, the world is waiting with bated breath to see what on earth you will do with the mess your younger sibling left behind. 




Sunday, 11 December 2016

Song of Joy - sermon for third Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:26-55


When you think of Mary do you have a particular image in your head?
Is she young, innocent, demure, quiet, willing, obedient, meek and mild?

When you think of Elizabeth, what do you see? And old woman, beyond her prime, perhaps slow on her feet?
When you think of an unmarried mother; do you shrug to yourself? Do you simply put it down to experience and move on?

In our generation a number of things have happened; well actually many, many things have happened; the world has changed beyond all recognition.
Who would have imagined women choosing to have a baby alone; no man required, just an appointment at a clinic. Who would have thought that women in their sixties could become pregnant by the application of science? It’s preposterous really isn’t it?
Yet. These things are now possible. It’s not a miracle, (though maybe it is?) it’s the progression of scientific research. It means fertility can be extended and the natural order disrupted.
The Victorians have a lots to answer for – the images of sweet innocent child mother Mary; the perpetuation of the demure young woman, weak and acquiescent… are far from the reality of what really happened.
Scripture of course doesn’t help us much; there is sparse detail; we have to fill in the gaps for ourselves. There is an assumption that we know what’s missing. That we can fill in the gaps from our own experiences.

But. Let me disabuse you of some of these notions.
Mary – sweet, demure and innocent; weak and mild.
She, as a devout Jewess would have known the punishment for being pregnant outside of marriage: the sentence could be death.
It would be a huge scandal. She would be outcast; she would be ostracised; and likely abandoned by her intended, who would not want to have anything to do with her if she were pregnant not by him.
Mary’s “yes” was brave and bold; it was rebellious and strong;  by saying yes, she was accepting the risks that  came with it. and she was stepping out into the unknown.

Now. If you had been met by an angel; told that you were to become pregnant; accepted all that that would bring – what would you do next?
Would you call your loved ones and explain? Would you perhaps see about bring the wedding forward so that no one would know?
Or would you undertake a perilous journey from one end of the country to the other to visit your cousin who it seems is also miraculously pregnant.

Of course! that’s exactly what you would do!! Of course, maybe the very fact that it was the angel who told you that your cousin was pregnant prompted this particular response. But to gain a little perspective, the journey from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea, which is around Jerusalem is anything between 80 and 100 miles.
Having done some research, we can estimate the journey took her between 3 and five days depending on whether she joined a caravan or did entirely on foot.
On foot. Pregnant. Alone. On roads where travellers were frequently set upon by robbers and bandits. weak, timid? I don't think so!

Elizabeth’s baby is also a miracle – she is barren and beyond child bearing. I’d like to point out that this doesn’t necessarily mean she was ancient. She could have been in her fifties. Whatever for her to suddenly conceive after all those years was nothing other than a miracle.
The first person to recognise that Mary’s baby was indeed holy was Elizabeth’s baby – she felt him jump in her womb as Mary approached.
The phrases announcing Mary’s condition, and responding to this first encounter are combined to make the Roman Catholic prayer “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” and “Blessed art though among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb”
The Holy Spirit reveals this to Elizabeth. How else could she know? Mary hasn’t told anyone at home yet; all of that is still to come.
To me, it seems, Mary needed the comfort and companionship of another woman who would understand and not be angry with her. She was brave and bold; she was strong and determined.
And, her response when Elizabeth greeted her is this wondrous song of praise, known universally as the Magnificat and immortalised in the song – “Tell out my Soul” which we shall song to close our worship today.
This song of joy praises God; but more than that it acknowledges that Mary knows absolutely what is happening and what will happen. That her son is God; that her son will save the world. She also underlines all that God has done throughout history – it is truly magnificent.

Mary – strong, determined, faithful servant of God

Never underestimate the power of a determined woman!