- Forms | Resources
- About Us
- Give / Donate
Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
December 19, 2021
Grace to you and peace from God, our creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Heidi Neumark is pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan. A large number of people that her congregation serves live in poverty, and many are experiencing homelessness.
At one of their Bible studies, Pastor Heidi shared that they read Mary’s song as part of it, and when the woman reading it got to the line “God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty,” she looked up and said, “Thank God!”
For a lot of people, Mary’s story is the high point of the Advent readings, and the lectionary makes us wait until the last Sunday to hear it – which is today. We are told that after the angel Gabriel leaves, Mary runs “with haste” until she reaches the home of Elizabeth, her cousin, who is also pregnant.
And when Elizabeth welcomes her, Mary bursts into song. It wasn’t one that was new – she’d heard the words while growing up because they’d been sung throughout history by her ancestors. And it most closely echoes the song of Hannah, Samuel’s mother.
And like Hannah, when Mary sang, she sang of God’s activity and God’s presence in the world and in her life, and the way her life had been blessed by God and that it would make God’s presence visible in the world.
She also sang of God’s mercy and that she, an ordinary girl, received it.
The dictionary defines mercy as kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly; it’s also kindness or help given to people who are in a very bad or desperate situation. It’s interwoven with forgiveness and grace, and it’s what Mary needed most in her situation.
For all intents and purposes, she should have been overlooked, dismissed from her community, disbelieved, and doubted. She should have been set aside as one not worthy of God’s love, and as one not trusted to testify to God’s love for people who are outcasts.
And that’s what makes her song all the more important. She gave witness to how much God’s mercy matters and the difference it made for her. God’s mercy for Mary meant that she was seen and cared for and called and lifted up.
But God’s mercy didn’t stop with Mary. Her identity around what God did for her, and her witness to it, has inspired countless other ordinary people throughout history to claim that they also have received God’s mercy and that, like Mary, their lives make God’s mercy visible in the world.
We also are ordinary people who have received God’s mercy. God extends it to each one of us without exception and without question. We ask God for it here in the confession and forgiveness each week, and at least once a day at home or work. And God extends it to each of us over and over again.
It’s what gives us the confidence and strength to live without fear of what may or may not happen, to bear witness to what God has done in our lives, and to sing Mary’s song for ourselves and make God’s mercy visible in the world. And it’s as important for us to do this as it was for Mary.
Because when we look around our world, mercy seems like it’s in short supply these days.
Over the last several years, our society has become increasingly more polarized. People are either at one end or the other in their way of seeing the world and there seem to be very few people left in the middle.
With that comes the tendency to believe the worst about other people and to not question negative labels about them. And it seems that the more radical the negative, the more inclined people are to believe it. So it spins more and more out of control.
There are so many ways we can respond to this. There are quotes and bible verses that can articulate God’s ways when the ways of the world seem to have taken over.
But starting with mercy makes a lasting difference.
The issues of homelessness and affordable housing are long-lasting ones in King County, as we well know, right? Imagine Housing is still very much a part of who we are as a congregation. It has changed the lives of thousands of people since its inception. But we know there’s still more work to be done.
A recent Seattle Times article reports that 221 homeless people have died in Seattle and King County since last winter. Every year for more than a decade, St. James Cathedral has held a worship service to remember the people in our county who have died while homeless.
At the end of the service, laypeople from the congregation read the names of the dead from the previous November to the current one. For each name, the bells of the cathedral ring and a candle is lit. At this year’s service, there were more bells and candles than they had ever marked before.
People who are on the outside looking in will often say that people are homeless because it’s their fault – they struggle with substance abuse or they’re mentally ill. That they didn’t make the right choices or they aren’t working hard enough. Some will even say it’s because they choose to be homeless, and some people do choose that.
But in the flurry to place blame and avoid responsibility is the fact that people are dying because they don’t have a safe place to live.
And regardless of the reason they don’t have a place to live, their deaths are senseless. As people of faith, we are called to respond to situations like these with mercy.
There are countless ways we could respond. But we know that starting with mercy makes a lasting difference.
We are ordinary people who have received God’s mercy. And God extends it to each of us without exception and without question. We know how important that is in our lives. It’s what gives us the confidence and strength to live without fear of what may or may not happen, and to bear witness to what God has done in our lives.
And you know where I’m going with this – because we have received God’s mercy, God calls us to extend it to one another. More specifically, God calls us to respond with mercy automatically.
We usually experience it most tangibly with our family and friends When our lives get out of balance, and we put more time and effort into work or other things than into our personal relationships. We receive mercy from them during these times, and we extend it to them as we recognize and acknowledge how hard it is on them.
But we also experience it in the grocery store, standing in line at the post office, in Fellowship Hall on a Sunday morning, or at a meeting. Wherever. Extending mercy is how we’re supposed to be with each other.
It means being patient with someone whose life at home is utter chaos and they’re doing the best they can to keep things going. It means being open to the ideas of someone who is from a different generation or culture. It means being encouraging with people who speak a different language.
It means forgiving someone who has overstepped their bounds. It means taking the time to listen to someone with whom you disagree…the list is long.
Today is the last Sunday of Advent, and we’ve been reminded of the joy, peace, expectation, hope, and love that this season holds. But Mary’s witness reminds us that Advent is also about God’s promise of mercy.
It’s what gives us the confidence and courage to bear witness to what God has done in our lives. And God extends it to each one of us without exception and without question. Thanks be to God! Amen.