Luke 1: 39-55

A Sermon by Revd Chris Williams  July 2013

I wonder how many of you put posters on your wall when you were young (or maybe you still do): football teams, cars, bands, musicians – people we respect, follow or admire. Well, the church has been doing that for centuries – and we have our own hero, if you like, here in Liss and it’s Mary – the mother of Jesus. We have her picture on our wall and we even name our building after her. Today is the day we specially remember her and you will notice our hymns and our readings will be about Mary – BVM on LL means Blessed Virgin Mary

I often think of this time of year as the beginning of the church year. I know officially we begin the church year in Advent – which is (rather scarily) only 12 weeks away and of course we have New Year, but the summer is a time when many of our groups and clubs close down for a well-earned rest and I always find I have a sense of expectation when I arrive at the first services in September – when you meet people you haven’t seen for a while and we all gear up again for what I hope will be an exciting term. (it is good to see you all this morning!) And I do hope expectation and excitement are characteristics you associate with church – and not just in September!

They should be because both, I think are consequences of the life-giving, creative and empowering God we love and follow.

Now, this is actually sermon number 2. I initially intended to talk to you about some of the changes coming up this term – in particular our plans for new facilities both inside and outside this building and to consider where we are going as a church. But last night, after reading what I had done, I decided I had started at the wrong place. If, as I intimated, September is something of a new start, then building projects and church vision, while crucial, are the result (or should be the result) of something far deeper and altogether more personal.

Today, we remember Mary, the mother of Jesus. There are few things more personal and life-changing than being pregnant: there’s the unavoidable physical reality – there’s the pain of childbirth and then the pain and joy of motherhood – and that pain and joy is there because a mother is so intimately connected to her child.

At the time of our reading today, Mary had all the potential of an unborn child within her and, even though she was so young, I’m sure she knew what it meant – both the good and the bad. She knew she was unmarried, she knew people would talk, she knew the responsibility of bringing up a child, but she knew something else: and that was made clear by Elizabeth’s words to Mary:  “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!” and at that, Mary launched into this wonderful song of excitement and hope and expectation. Mary believed. When Mary said yes to the angel she was saying yes to whatever future God had for her.  And that expectation was realised and Jesus was born – Jesus the son of Mary – Jesus the son of God.  In the same way Mary said ‘yes’ to God – so can we.  In the same way Mary trusted God with her future – so can we.

Every day we open our eyes in the morning we should say ‘yes’ to God. It doesn’t matter what the question is – if God is asking – the answer is ‘yes’. Actually, Mary didn’t say ‘yes’ as such: her words in Luke are: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me according to your word’. Which is still ‘yes’ of course.  Like Mary, What God asks of us may be costly, it may be painful – but I’m sure when Jesus was born Mary never once thought ‘I wish I had said no’. she simply continued to trust God through the good times and through the bad.

I said earlier that there are few things more personal and life-changing than being pregnant. One of those things would be losing a child – something I know people here have experienced and something Mary 33 years later experienced. And that’s why I’m always encouraged to read that Luke records that Mary was there with the disciples on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came. Mary was one of those first disciples out on the streets of Jerusalem at 9 o’clock in the morning – sharing the good news of Jesus, not her son, but God’s son – risen and alive and able to change the lives of any who were prepared to say ‘yes’ to him.  She was in it for the long haul. Now you may say, yes, but it was her child – it was personal. Exactly! It’s personal – and our relationship with Christ is up-close and personal.

How far do we trust God? Are we saying ‘yes’ to God?  And if that is all a bit abstract for you – let me suggest something I know he wants you to do because they are the words of Jesus as related by John:  This is my command: Love each other.  So, saying ‘yes’ to God means loving each other

And Love, is about seeing needs – and meeting them if you are able. John tells us that if we see people in need and don’t help – then the love of God is not in us.

Love is seeing the best in others – talking them up (not down – and sadly too much of that goes on in church life).

Love is about giving your time to those who will benefit from it – time listening, time advising, time working.

Love is giving your skills and talents and abilities for the benefit of others

Love is being generous to others with your money

Love is sharing other people’s pain (and this, like others in this list, assumes we actually spend time with people – allow them into our lives and us into theirs)

Love is encouraging others –  notice how Elizabeth was such an encouragement to Mary. When Mary ran to Elizabeth, E could have said ‘What! You’re pregnant!’ you little hussy, no good will come of this – you’ll see” Instead she said ‘blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear’ and then the words we’ve already heard: ‘“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!” What do you think that did for Mary?

Love is the clearest way of saying ‘yes’ to God.

We are at the beginning of a new term – the busiest term – ending, of course with Christmas. We have a busy programme, we have plenty of needs – we have had a few people volunteer to help with our children’s work (for which we are grateful) but more help is always needed – including with our young people. We have a new organist and choir director (Lucy) who will need our support and encouragement as she enables us in our worship. If you can sing, maybe now is the time to join our lovely choir? And of course, we will be receiving our new organ in a couple of weeks’ time which I hope will help transform our music. We will soon be presenting our not inconsiderable plans for this site which I hope will be received with grace and love. We have a very important initiative coming up on money – something else I hope we can support and encourage. In the short term, Stepping Stones starts again this week and we need someone to help prepare refreshments. We have BTCS on 29th – who will you invite? Every week I ask for people to help with the coffee – wouldn’t it be great if we could see this as just as important an act of love as anything else we could do. Actually, it would be ideal if we didn’t have to ask every week but could have a rota of people willing to do this job – men and women!

And all this is just focussing on this small church community. The needs beyond these walls are infinite, but a faith-filled and loving church can make a real difference.

As a Christian community here in Liss we still have unrealised potential. Some of it may be unlocked through building projects, or changing the organ, or starting new groups, or receiving the money we need to do things, but primarily we fulfil God’s potential for ourselves when we say ‘yes’ to Jesus and allow him Lordship of our lives – when we say: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me according to your word’. When we are following Christ with our whole body, mind and spirit, then the whole community is empowered. All those things I’ve just mentioned will be the result of a committed church – not the cause of it.

In closing, I want to come back to Mary, I love the way she responds to God with thanks and praise. ‘My soul glorifies the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…for the mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name’ And all of that before anything has happened, such is her confidence and faith in God. A confidence and faith we too can have. And a faith that is confirmed by our ‘yes’ to Jesus. And in particular his greatest command – to love each other. And all of this is rolled up, as it were, and offered back to God in worship and thanksgiving – which is itself another ‘yes’ to God – and one we are able to offer this morning.