Based on Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:16- 28 and Luke 1:26-38
This past week, I opened a brown envelope with a letter informing me that my medical premiums were going to increase, yet again, by $2.75 per month starting in January. I went on a bit of a rant – How dare they! It just keeps going up and up! Why should we get so many increases? The next piece of mail I opened was a Christmas letter from my niece Alisha. She wrote, the year started with “… my father undergoing surgery for prostate cancer, with the assistance of a robotic device called the da Vinci surgical system. All in all, the process seems to have gone about as excellently as one could hope! I’m so grateful to live in Canada where we have access to excellent medical benefits.”
Her father is my big brother Earl and he is precious to me. Her letter quickly silenced my ranting about higher premiums. I too am very grateful to live in Canada where we have access to excellent medical benefits!
“Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks for everything” writes Paul to the church in Thessalonica. Here is a treasure of seldom heeded wisdom about giving thanks, about trusting God, about not stifling or quenching the Spirit; about discernment of what is of God, and how to keep clear of the stuff that is not. Here Paul offers a prayer for wholeness – spirit, soul and body.
Franciscan Priest, and wise teacher Richard Rohr says that “to finally surrender ourselves to healing, we have to have three spaces opened up within us—and all at the same time: our opinionated head, our closed-down heart, and our defensive and defended body.” He says that’s hard spiritual work, but it is “also the work of “a Power greater than ourselves,” and it will lead to a great luminosity and depth of seeing. That is why true faith is one of the most holistic and free actions a human can perform. It leads to such broad and deep perception that most traditions would just call it “light.”
This is what the apostle Paul prays for the church. He goes on to proclaim, “The One who calls us is trustworthy”, and then adds, “…sisters and brothers, pray for us.”
There’s something going on in all three readings today, something about trust and receptivity that is foreign to much of our way of being in the world.
The gospel story of Mary’s visitation by the angel, read each year around this time, is familiar, yet extraordinary. As the song we sang earlier this morning says “And did she dream about a son? And did he speak, the angel one? We only know God’s will was done, in the son of dreaming Mary.” It’s tidied up into a lovely story here, but we will never know what Mary went through to come to the point of saying `Yes’ – yes to God being at work in her life, in her circumstances, in her bearing a child outside the acceptable honour code of her people. She knew, or came to believe at a deep and crucial level, that as Paul said, “the One who calls us is trustworthy…” and so she was fertile ground for the unquenchable Spirit of life.
In the reading from Isaiah, so familiar and well loved, I have been so taken with the first part of the reading over the years, “The Spirit of God is upon me…” that I’ve never really paid attention to the last verse. This time it caught my eye, like some flicker of a burning bush in the desert.
Vs 11 reads, “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and a garden brings its seeds to blossom, so God makes justice sprout, and praise spring up before all nations.” (x2)
So… what happens when we let God’s spirit grow in us; when we discern what is not of God, and weed it out, and what is of God, and nurture it through worship and prayer, through action and community?
I want to stress the importance of community. Back to Paul’s letter to the church he writes: “Sisters and brothers pray for us. Greet all the sisters and brothers with a holy kiss.”
For those of you who were not here last Sunday, I told the congregation that while Kris ably led worship here on November 30th, Jim and I took a long drive to St. David’s by the Lake, in Celista. It has a sanctuary about half the size of ours, and including Jim and I there were at least 42 people there. I wondered why. The music was no better. The theology was no better – though I expect most of us would have felt comfortable there. But there were a few things that I hadn’t seen in many other congregations. They hold hands and pray at the end of each service. And they have a potluck lunch together after every service.
I was talking with my wise Catholic friend Catherine about this phenomenon. Somehow in the simple act of taking time to eat with one another, they interact with one another at a different level, I noted. At this point Catherine got quite excited, and told me she had recently heard a doctor who said each cell in the body has its own particular job to do, but it is the interaction between the cells that brings life – when they stop interacting – they die. This interaction, Catherine said, we call `spirit’.
It has not escaped my notice that I have been with you for nearly one and a half years, and because of the diminishing health of a few, and the worship style preference of a couple others, we are not exactly flourishing numerically, despite the wonderful addition of Miss Georgia Elsie Marie, born last Monday.
So…how do we become more fertile ground for the unquenchable Spirit of life? Notice I said, more fertile, because I believe we already are – the ministry that happens in this community and beyond, because of the work and vision of Sicamous UC is real and it is wonderful. But I believe we can be more vital, without wearing ourselves out – that’ just depleting the soil of our souls, not cultivating it.
Back to Paul’s letter and his words “Brothers and sisters pray for us.” Community is key. The Spirit is the energy of our interactions. We all have to eat – can we eat together after worship Sunday by Sunday, so that we may get to know each other at a deeper level? If that’s too much, can we do a monthly potluck – no agenda but to care for one another and anyone else who wanders in, Sunday by Sunday?
Mary, the mother of Jesus, at some level, had a choice – if not about her pregnancy, then about her attitude, her commitment that this child would grow knowing that God was trustworthy and good, and would live his life in response to that. And that would change the world.
That choice is ours – it’s ours every day. Brothers and sisters, indeed, let us pray for one another, and may our love change the world. Amen.