is common to call the writer of the Gospel of Luke… Luke, which
makes plenty of sense. It isn’t likely to be historically accurate,
but it is pretty simple to remember. Whatever the writer’s real name
was, the person who wrote the Gospel of Luke and its 2nd
the book of Acts, is said to be the best writer in the New Testament.
From my perspective I can tell that Luke does great work with
foreshadowing, telling stories within stories to enrich both stories,
symbolism, and themes. However, the really good stuff, I’m told is in
his Greek vocabulary and syntax which are simply just outstanding.
“Luke” was a VERY well educated person, and a master of the craft
of writing. Given how small the percentage of literate people were at
that time, being so well versed as a writer indicates not only
brilliance and skill but also power and privilege. One simply would
not become that great of a writer without a lot of access to unusual
levels of resources.
is probably my favorite Gospel writer, and I love Luke for his
emphasis on people who are poor, marginalized, and vulnerable, and
because they fit those categories, the women. Luke tells the story of
my faith, presenting Jesus as an ally to those most in need of
rescue, and as an organizer able to help people rescue themselves.
This has a bit of cognitive dissonance to it. Based on WHAT he
writes, Luke is a writer of the people. He is empowering, noticing
those society disregards, and telling the stories that the powerful
don’t want told. Yet, based on HOW he writes, Luke is one of
sounds to me like Luke being a living example of the power of Jesus –
to convince people to work together to build the kindom no matter
where they begin life, to be FOR ALL the people as they grow.
was a prophet, and from what I can tell, a prophet is a speaker for
the people. The Torah set up a society that treated people justly,
and prevented an upper class from ruling over a lower class. Yet,
people being people, power, money, and influence tended to coalesce
at a top and become a burden to the many. God’s prophets spoke out
against it, and called people back to God’s vision of a just, equal,
and equitable lifestyle.
is a long-winded way of saying that we have two passages today that
are “of the people” and yearning for justice. They do so in ways
that can be a little bit uncomfortable. There are not simply passages
that suggest “a rising tide lifts all boats” but rather ones that
talk about REDISTRIBUTION of wealth1.
These are passages that are good news for the poor, the lowly, and
the meek … but not for the rich, the proud, and the powerful. I
find the “rising tide lifts all boats” sort of justice easier to
swallow. This stuff is … harder.
yet, my activist friends assure me that we aren’t going to get to
justice only by being nice. So, let’s examine these texts for wisdom.
This shoot that come from Jesse in Isaiah, have you noticed that it
comes AFTER the tree has been cut down. This is a sign of hope after
destruction and hopelessness. The passage as a whole feels like a
cousin of last week’s passage. In this case, the new offspring of
Jesse (which is to say the new Davidic king) is going to be so
perfectly imbued with the Spirit of God that the new King will rule
as perfectly as God’s own self would.
impact of life as ruled as God would have it ruled is shockingly
different. When God’s spirit is in leadership, and when the people
are following in God’s ways, there will be peace even among animals
who are in each other’s food chains 😉 Safety becomes the center
point of this – the lamb, the kid-goat, the calf, and the human
child are all safe in the presence of those most apt to harm them.
This is another way of talking about not needing to be afraid,
because there is no motivation to do harm. In this case, it is clear
that there are no people oppressing other people, no one is “eating
up” the resources of the weaker people to make themselves stronger.
Security, hope, and peace are the result of God’s Spirit. That’s the
song hits the same notes. Mary is continuing to process that she, who
is lowly by the standards of the world, is now “blessed.” She
attributes this change to God, and notices that this is how God
works. She says it is God’s nature to do great things, to show mercy,
to be strong…. to bring justice. And she names how justice comes.
It is by scattering the proud and bringing down the powerful –
while lifting up the lowly. It is by feeding the hungry but NOT
giving more to those who already have too much. Mary’s song is,
itself, strong and justice seeking. She identifies with the lowly,
who God lifts up. And it is even more interesting to hear that
knowing that the writer of the Gospel probably identifies with the
rich, and wrote her song this way anyway.
we know absolutely nothing about Jesus’s mother with any certainty,
we do know Jesus had a mother. The name Mary was associated with her
a few generations after his death, which isn’t a great reason to
assume it is true, but sort of like “Luke” we can go with it. I
suspect Mary got associated with the name of the mother of Jesus
because Mary is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Miriam. Miriam,
the sister of Moses, has the oldest words in the Bible attributed to
her, and saved her brother so he could save the nation Israel.
Associating Mary with Miriam is A-Ok with me.
conjectures we can make about Mary include: she was Jewish, she was
from Galilee – most likely Nazareth, she was poor, and it is likely
she was young. She may have been a very faithful Jew, as Judean
settlers were intentionally reclaiming Galilee for Judaism around
that time, and the ones who went were often the ones who were
committed to the cause. She also might have been influenced by either
the Roman Empire’s violent destruction of the nearby city of
Sepphoras in her childhood or by the radical Jewish teachers in the
Galilee who taught that the God of liberation was going to liberate
again. In any case, while the leaders of the Temple during her
lifetime were appointed by Rome and the “official” religion had
been compromised, it is possible (probable?) that Mary knew a faith
that was untainted by the influence of power.
is to say, that while Luke wrote the words we hear today, and put
them into Mary’s mouth for our story – they MAY well reflect her
faith itself. At the very least, Mary’s song words as an incredible
foreshadowing of the power of God that people saw in Jesus, and I
believe Jesus’s faith was likely formed by his mother’s.
Mark, Jesus is referred to as Mary’s son which is unusual in that he
was not referred to as his FATHER’S son. With the presence of a
punishing military force nearby, before Jesus’s birth, there are some
particularly awful possibilities about his father. What we know is
that at some point Mary was pregnant, expecting a child, and likely
pretty scared. I say that because maternal mortality rates were high,
infant mortality rates were high, and resources in Nazareth were
scarce. It is very likely that Mary herself was hungry, including
during her pregnancy and while she was breastfeeding Jesus. She had
seen extreme violence from the Empire, and had reason to believe it
could come back at any time. She MAY have been facing the possibility
of being ostracized from her community. Thus, I think it is fair to
assume she was scared.
stripping away most of that, scared seems right. For years, Kevin and
I have struggled with some big questions: is it OK for us to choose
to bring a child into this world knowing the dangers of Global
Climate Change? Is it ok for us to choose to bring a child into this
world when there are other children who need to be parented? How much
capacity do we have to offer care and support for a child given our
long talks, prayer, and good counsel, we decided that our ideal
family would include a child born to us and a child adopted by us. So
we started trying to have a child and…. well, nothing happened.
Eventually we made an appointment with an adoption lawyer, and
decided to try private infant adoption. We filled out paperwork, got
background checked, had a home study, and were ready to sign a court
petition requesting that we be approved to be able to become adoptive
parents when we learned that I was, in biblical phrasing, “with
I live in the 21st
with pretty great access to resources. While our country is weaker
than it should be, particularly in the care of women of color,
compared with ancient Galilee we have low maternal mortality rates,
low infant mortality rates, plenty of food, and low threat of
violence. Yet as an expectant mother, I’m scared. While I find it
excessive to overly identify with “Mother Mary,” preparing to
parent has certainly helped me see why she’s so popular. Also, why
she has every right to be scared. We have been wondering how on earth
will we prepare a child to be kind, compassionate, and moral in this
crazy world? How will we teach them of God in ways that feel relevant
while the world shifts under our feet?
me assure you that we did NOT sign that paperwork and adoption is
officially on hold. Let me also admit to you that being the pregnant
pastor of this church for the past two months hasn’t been the easiest
thing I’ve ever done. I haven’t been puking (WIN) but I have been
constantly nauseated, and instructed to eat every hour. I’ve been
exhausted and my emotional resources have been down. At the same
time, I have experienced significant collateral friendly fire as this
church has worked together on the reality of our budget deficit.
the friendly fire and being less resilient than usual, I have spent
time considering if pastoring this church – or even being a pastor at
all – continues to be the right path for me. Some of this is simply
about parenting: I’m nervous about being away from home 4 nights a
week like I usually am now. Some of this is about ministry’s
demands: what will it mean to have to establish the sort of
boundaries my child will need, and what will I do when the needs of
the church are in conflict, and what will happen when someone feels
that their expectations aren’t being met? Some of it is about our
child and this church. On one hand I can’t imagine any church but
this one being part of raising our child. I love the way children are
cared for during worship. I love our Sunday School and its teachers.
I love the way children are treated here, and I love the ways God is
understood and taught here. However, on the other hand, my stress
level has been sky high, and recently I’ve seen a lot of behavior I
wouldn’t want a child to learn about much less associate with this
church. So I’ve been wondering, is this a safe and secure place for a
child – our child – to learn about God? Will this place fulfill
Isaiah’s vision of a child being able to put their hand in a snake’s
slow, careful deliberation, with conversation, and consultation, and
prayer, and a LOT of obsessing and worrying, I’ve decided not to give
up on ministry just yet. Then, even more slowly, I realized that –
for now – this church is worth the pain. I simply love you all.
Furthermore, I don’t believe that this church IS its worst behaviors.
Dear ones, I believe that this faith community is an expression of
the kindom of God. I believe it is a little bit of Isaiah’s vision,
and has the capacity to build the world into one of peace and
justice. I’m well aware that we have lots of hard times ahead (and I
the boundaries I’m going to have to have as a parent, please be
gentle with me) but I believe you are worth it.
anyway, I see why a prospective parent would be scared. And I am
gaining a new appreciation for the ways in which a new generation
provides new opportunities: 1) for regeneration, 2) for making right
the things we haven’t gotten right yet, and 3) hope for the future.
We are hoping to raise a child to know God’s love, follow Jesus, and
speak with and for the people. And I find myself reflecting on how I
hope this community will continue to exist and teach and raise up
future generations to do the same. Given all this, I see why a
prospective parent would choose to stick with the God of Liberation,
of Hope, and of Peace. And I see why Mary was amazed at her luck in
getting the chance to do so. Being a part of the work of God is a
blessing and a great opportunity. Thanks be to God. Amen
pointed out after worship that a rising tide may lift all boats, but
it doesn’t help people who don’t have boats.