Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Bishop's Message

RSS By: Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

The Rev. Dr. Robert Rimbo shares regular thoughts and reflections about our life together.

We need each other.

May 31, 2013

Luke 1:39-57

Tarrytown, New York 

 

Dear Friends, Sisters and Brothers in Christ, I am so happy to see all of you as we gather for our Synod Assembly. And to prove that, I am going to tell you the point of this sermon in one statement so you can feel free to be distracted, even this early in the assembly, and maybe even take a little nap, even this early in the day, as we anticipate the work ahead of us. Here is what I am going to say to you: We need each other. That’s it. That’s the message at the beginning of our time together. That’s the message of this Gospel on this Day commemorating the Visit of Mary and Elizabeth. We need each other.

 

I imagine Elizabeth felt that way when Mary showed up. After years of unanswered prayers and living with the pain of infertility, suddenly, in her old age – I’m picturing a Palestinian Dame Maggie Smith here – suddenly Elizabeth was pregnant! Nobody but her husband Zechariah knew it, however. Nobody knew that this child, John the Baptist, was to herald the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. 

 

In fact, for five months, Elizabeth had been in seclusion; if you want to check out my sources, read all of Luke, Chapter 1. It’s quite a story. But, in spite of the wonder of her news, and the fact that her husband, Zechariah, who was a member of the clergy unable to speak – what a curse, huh? – Elizabeth was pretty-much alone. See, Zechariah was speechless ever since he received word of the pending birth because he had been reluctant to trust in the promise and the angel Gabriel was a little ticked off about that. So for five months, Elizabeth seldom heard the sound of a human voice. Imagine that! 

 

Imagine how welcome Mary’s visit was! How joyous her arrival! And Elizabeth was a welcome sight to her relative Mary, too. Mary was in the early stages of her unexpected pregnancy, and it wasn’t problem-free either (to say the least). Things were not happening in the order in which things were supposed to happen for a young woman. She was a teenager, promised in marriage to a man named Joseph, but they were not married. So Mary (again, to say the least) was perplexed at the angel’s announcement. There must have been some wind storms with all those angel-wings flying around the country! 

 

"How can this pregnancy be?" she asked. "It’s a God thing," the angel answered! "OK" was pretty much Mary’s response. 

 

But many unanswered questions remained. What will Joseph think? What will the neighbors say? How will I handle morning sickness? Imagine the gossip that will go around when the baby-bump shows? How will she, a young mother, help raise this child who will be called "Son of God"? What did she need to do to help him with his strategic plan, help him get ready for his mission? If her own calling was big, her child’s calling was awesome! This makes Will and Kate’s pregnancy look insignificant. 

 

But Mary did not go into seclusion like her cousin. She didn’t stay home reading, like many Medieval paintings show. She packed a bag and left on a journey of many miles from Galilee to Judea to visit her older, wiser relative, Elizabeth.

 

How good it was to lay eyes on Elizabeth who was kin not only physically but spiritually. Of all people, Elizabeth would understand what was happening to Mary. Elizabeth understood this business of being called by God – and the promises and the problems that come with God’s call.  What a gift it was for Mary and for Elizabeth to have each other!

 

We come together in this assembly, and I look at all of you, and I wonder: How can people manage without a spiritual family, a family of faith? I know I couldn’t do it. Though I have never given birth, never been literally pregnant - though Lois can attest to the fact that I was pretty much a basket case during those months of waiting, I can understand what Mary was reaching out for. You and I know what it’s like to have a community backing us up, prayerfully, and in so many other ways. It’s good to celebrate our joys together. It’s comforting not to have to carry all that sad stuff alone. 

 

Mary’s voice was more than music to Elizabeth’s ears. Just then, before she even saw Mary, just at the sound of her greeting, her baby leaped and the Holy Spirit let loose, and Elizabeth cried out with joy. Something big is happening here! God is up to something! Mary’s eyes met Elizabeth’s eyes, and Elizabeth proclaimed "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." You are blessed, Mary, because you trusted what God said, because you believed in God’s faithfulness, because you grabbed on to the promise. God is doing great things through you, girl! Not exactly what Elizabeth said, but close.

 

Talk about encouragement! Talk about a benediction from an elder, well along on life’s journey and on the journey of faith!

 

And then…then Mary broke out in song, one of the greatest songs of hope in the Scriptures. It comes out of the mouth not of a wealthy ruler but out of one most lowly, an unmarried teenage girl in a society that saw women as property, a song of hope from the mouth of a peasant from a tiny village overshadowed by the most wealthy and powerful empire the world had ever known to that time. 

 

"I magnify God. God has done great things for me. God is lifting up the lowly, the weak, the small, the sick, the hungry, the powerless. God is scattering the proud and the big and the wealthy. God is turning things around, turning my life around, turning the world around." 

 

Mary’s song is good news for us, for everybody who is on the underside, for everybody who is on the outside. 

 

How could she have such hope when the child hadn’t even been born yet, when there was still so much anxious pain around, when the rich and the powerful still seemed to lord it over everybody else? She sang it all in the present tense, as though everything is already fulfilled. How can she do that? I really think it’s pretty simple. 

 

Mary knows the theme of this sermon: We need each other. I don’t think it’s any accident that Mary’s outburst of hope comes right after she gets encouragement and benediction from Elizabeth. What we have here is the very first assembly of the church of Jesus Christ, the very first instance of two people gathering in his name, as he would later put it. Two of the weakest members of society helping one another grasp what God is doing and celebrate it. They are a community of praise. They are a community of hope. Christ is right smack dab in the midst of them, changing both of their lives as hope is born and community is created. 

 

Mary and Elizabeth knew what we know and what we will experience in this assembly: We need each other!

 

Sure, unanswered questions remained. Mary didn’t know all that lay ahead for herself or for her Son. There would be struggle, for sure. But she got a glimpse of where God was going with this plan and these promises. 

 

Sisters and Brothers, hope is born in a community gathered around the promises of God, encouraging and blessing one another. You know that! That’s why you’re here. 

 

Oh, I suspect that some of you got elected as voting members when you left the council meeting to go to the bathroom, but the fact is you know, or you soon will know, what it means to be part of this amazing community of God’s people, the church, seen today in this assembly. You know this! When one person’s hope slips, the others in the community hold on to the hope and they hold on to the person and we all share the power to help one another hang in there. We are a living, breathing benediction to one another and to the world. 

 

That’s why we need each other, why we need to get together again and again in assembly and in our weekly assemblies for worship. That’s why we visit one another and study the Bible together and talk and pray and work and play and sing and even argue with one another. We are waiting for God together. We are clinging to God’s promises together. 

 

We are pregnant, expecting God to act because we have heard the promise of salvation and healing and we have experienced it embodied in Jesus Christ. We need each other. We need help holding on to the promises. We are like Mary and Elizabeth, keeping hope alive by rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep and expecting the presence of the One who promises to be around whenever two or three are gathered in his name. We need each other, to remind each other that God’s love will never, ever, under any circumstances be taken away from us or from the world. Knowing that God’s heart aches for a better day even more than our hearts do, we gather here, meet one another, 

warm and empower one another, bless one another and go on. 

 

Mary hurried to Elizabeth’s side. Dear people of God, let’s do the same with one another: visit, strengthen, comfort, care for each other and hurry because God is waiting for us to sing: "My soul magnifies the Lord."

 

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

 

 
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