And a Soul Felt Its Worth: a Sermon on an Overlooked Miracle

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner

2013-12-8 NBW HFASS Sermon<—-click here to listen along!

 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’* But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’* The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born* will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

(we are working our way through the 1st chapter of Luke over the 4 weeks of Advent – a rare departure form the lectionary for us)

I wasn’t very good as a teenager at paying attention during church.

This week as the snow fell on Denver, a memory from a winter church retreat suddenly came to me – something that I had not thought of for 25 years.

We were at a retreat center somewhere and it was snowing outside, and we kids were all sitting on the cold floor listening to the speaker. I remember staring out at the beautiful snowfall, while the right side of my face was warmed by the fire next to me.  The speaker paced back and forth holding an open Bible in one hand – it’s soft leather cover draping over each side of his hand like a rag. His wet boots leaving dark prints on the wood floor. The reason I remember all these details so well is because I had basically stopped listening to what he as actually saying soon after he started. Because his main point was about how God was waiting to see if we were grateful enough about Jesus’ crucifixion that we would start living in a very particular way. That is to say, waiting to see if we did not use swear words, or lie about anything, or listen to rock music, or have any kind of sexual inclination before we were married to someone of the opposite sex – if we were always cheerful, and never drank alcohol or were snarky then we would become worthy of God’s favor. How would you be living, the man with the floppy bible and wet boots asked us…how would you be living if you really believed

I believed, at least I think I believed, but I just never seemed to be able to make myself into something worthy of God’s favor. Perhaps if I had a personality more naturally predisposed toward clean living and clean speaking and clean thinking I could have pulled it off but as it was I was just me and all the guilt tripping in the world never seemed to change that. So instead I paid attending to the snow and the warmth of my cheek. I tuned out the youth minister in wet boots preaching to me about how my life should look.  Because I just couldn’t say yes to what seemed like God’s conditional maybe toward me.

I mention this because this week as I watched the snowfall around Denver I kept thinking about Mary and the yes she gave to the angel that night he visited her.

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am big on Mary. One of my favorite things about Jesus has always been his mom. She carried God in her womb. She’s the only girl we ever see in nativity sets. Next week we will hear about this completely amazing song she sings about overturning the social order. She is beautiful. She is the queen of heaven. She is blessed among women.

But what the text seems silent on is what exactly she did to earn God’s favor.

We have no idea what Mary was like before this night the angel visited her –  this night she said yes-but here’s what I’m thinking: I seriously doubt that she made herself into a girl which God could favor because she took the advice of her youth rabbi and lived the way she should. I think God looked upon her with favor because it is God’s nature to look upon young peasant girls and prostitutes and tax collectors and adulterous kings and lawyers and prices and fishermen with favor. Because God’s just like that. Read the book!

When we think about the annunciation, this scene between the angel and Mary and how she is the girl who said yes, we think of what faith it took for her to believe that crazy thing that the Holy Spirit would knock her up and that her son… the illegitimate son of a peasant girl would have a throne and a kingdom…. but this week I started to wonder, were I in her place, Which would be harder for me to believe, that part or the part where the angel said I was favored? If an angel came to me and said Greetings favored one – I’d be like, you’ve got the wrong girl.  There’s no way I would trust that the angel meant me.

But here’s where Mary has some real chops. Mary trusted this word form the angel. And maybe that is what made her favored. Because we may feel more comfortable with the idea that we can live a life that can make us worthy of God’s favor, but God’s Word is so much more powerful that our ability to become worthy of God.  I mean, not for nothing, but if God can create the universe through speaking it into existence then I think God can make us into God’s beloved by simply saying it is so.

This, it seems to me,  is an overlooked part of the Annunciation story.

An angel came from god to a town called Nazareth to a woman whose name was Mary the angel said her rejoice o highly favored for god is with you

And her soul felt its worth

And every other word fell silent

One of the amazing things about this story of the girl who trusted God’s word, was that she surly had to tune out a lot of other messages in order to say let it be with me according to THIS word.

I cannot speak to the worthiness of Mary before that night the angel visited her. But what I know is that she is a truster of Gods word. Knowing what little I do about the Bible and how God chooses to operate and who God chooses to operate through, I have to say that I think it was God’s word to her that she was worthy that made her worthy. Her response to the angel was not I will do everything in my power to be who God wants me to be. It was let it be with me according to Gods word. I trust that I am who God says that I am

Here’s where I want to take a page from Mary’s prayer book. Let me be what your word has claimed me to be. Let me become what you have said I am. Your word, oh God, and not the word of the school system or the word of my bank statement or the word of my family or the word of society or the word of the media. But your word O God, let this be what defines me. I will allow you alone to determine my worth.

A couple weeks ago, Steve Ludwig said something that took me a minute to wrap my head around. We were talking about the idea that Christ conquered death so death has no sting. Steve said, “Man, I wonder what my living would look like if I really really believed this. How would my life be different if I was not scared. If I really believed that I am fully and totally loved by god? He said “no wonder we have liturgy and Eucharist every week. I have to hear this at least that often” In other words – don’t be like me when I was a teenager – pay attention in church, people. Listen for God’s word

Because this question Steve asked how would my living look different if I was not afraid and really believed I was loved?” is totally different than the guilt inducting question what would your life look like if you felt sufficiently bad about Jesus having to die that you made yourself sufficiently good enough to be worthy of God’s favor.

When I say this, when I say that perhaps we should let it be with us according to God’s word, to be clear, this is not some Pollyanna high self esteem positive thinking BS.

To let it be with us according to gods word is not us trying to always  remember a nice thought like Jesus loves me – something so abstracted that it frankly can feel meaningless in the face of actual life.  No brothers and sisters. When I say Word of God I mean God’s address to us.  God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining address to us that makes a claim on our lives. God’s yes.

We are used to conditional maybes.

But the faith of advent calls us into saying yes to God’s yes. A yes that created all that is, including us. A yes that underlies all of love. A yes that addressed a girl 2000 years ago a girl who dared to say let it be with her according to God’s word. A yes that walked among us full of grace and truth and who died and on the 3rd day rose again. A yes that is offered to you in bread and wine every week so that you can become what you receive.  It’s is God’s yes toward you and all that is that continues to define you and animate your lives. So when you are trying to decide what to listen to, tune out the static of all other claims. May it be with you only according to God’s will. May your soul feel it’s worth. AMEN

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org

  • Chantal

    Makes me think of this poem by Marie Howe:

    Annunciation

    Even if I don’t see it again — nor ever feel it
    I know it is — and that if once it hailed me
    it ever does –

    And so it is myself I want to turn in that direction
    not as towards a place, but it was a tilting
    within myself,

    as one turns a mirror to flash the light to where
    it isn’t — I was blinded like that — and swam
    in what shone at me

    only able to endure it by being no one and so
    specifically myself I thought I’d die
    from being loved like that.

  • mteston1

    “I trust that I am who God says that I am” Amen!

  • Victor Fleming

    Pastor Nadia, Grats on your book. Can you send me a copy of your sermon of some years ago called “Preaching the Whole Magnificat”? I cannot get to it online, despite best efforts. Thanks. When will you come to Little Rock?

  • http://www.citiesonhilltops.org/ Eddy Hall

    I just preached on this passage the first Sunday of Advent and was struck as never before by the depth of Mary’s faith. That she was ready to say yes–and so quickly–in response to a traumatic intrusion into her life says volumes about her spirit. I suspect that most women would not have been ready to say yes so quickly. I suspect God knew what was in Mary’s heart. God knew the trust and humility that was ready to say yes.

    I was similarly struck by Joseph’s yes to the angel. It was a pretty incredible tale Joseph was asked to believe, and he staked his entire future on believing it. And, it seems, like Mary, he really never considered saying no. I’m guessing both were extraordinary, not in the sense that others would have taken note of them, but in their humility and trust.

  • marty_jones

    Nadia- The other night I was telling a group of people about how often I hear Jesus speaking through you. You, who not all that many years ago, I would never listened to because of the swearing and the tats…You who I would never have listened to, if my beloved daughter had not become a Dresser at drag shows…I love my daughter even though I don’t like her choices; and her choices led me to you. Another miracle.

  • Jonenred

    Defacing your body like that is evil.

    • Ralph Locklin

      Killing someone for no particular reason is evil. How can that compare to a little ink on the skin? I’m sorry, I just do not get it.

  • Mark

    Nadia,
    I know first-hand about what you experienced while hearing the youth minister talk on how one should “look, think, not feel, etc.” It is great that to know that there are homilies of reassurance for those who are struggling.

    The rest of your homily was well thought out and quite good. I am glad you mention about being fully loved by G-d, not just loved only when we get everything right and even then having to wonder.

  • JB Smith

    1NSA and JNLWD are partnering with Virginia State Police and
    local police implanting people with biochips. Read “A Note on Uberveillance” by M. D. Michael. Newport News Police and Virginia State Police had a doctor implant me w/o my knowledge and consent with a biochip. A U. S. Attorney for the NSA/DOJ pretended to be my attorney. It enables torture and thought monitoring. They use it as a sensor and pulse energy projectiles at you. I had a heart attack. It enables voice to skull communication. See LRAD white papers or audio spotlight by Holosonics. Law enforcement believes we will only be safe if they know where we are at all times, what we are doing and what we are thinking! See Safeguards in a World of Ambient Intelligence by Springer page 9. See Mental Health and Terrorism by Amin Gadit. The U. S. has new weapons that mimic mental health symptoms. See Bio Initiative Report 2012. See Forbes and search Brandon Raub. Law enforcement tases citizens into “excited delirium” (see at nij org) to make them act in ways they normally would not. I believe they are directly responsible
    for the Virginia Tech massacre. There are 3 reasons to have it implanted 1)
    mental health, 2) criminal record, and 3) infectious disease. If you don’t meet
    any of those requirements like me, they’ll falsify your records. All the mass
    shootings are the work of law enforcement. They want to take away your right to
    bear arms and make America a police state. People aren’t suddenly going
    crazy, they’re being tortured. I also believe the biochip to be responsible
    for PTSD. Read Brian Castner’s book “A Long Walk”. I have the same ambiguous pains, twitches, heart attack, night mares, day mares, gurgling, etc. I never served in the war. What do we have in common? The biochip. Suicide is one way to get relief. Virginia’s suicide rate is higher than the national average and the military suicide rate is unacceptable! You can check your upper right buttock, upper right shoulder They are just under the skin. The torture has been ongoing for almost six years now. I caught a Virginia State Trooper and a Hampton Uniformed Officer exit my home with a key. They have caused tens of thousands of dollars of damage to my home and stolen tens of thousands of dollars of my personal property to include computers, software, jewelry, cash, power tools, digital camera, and they even took my medications for blood pressure. I got the state trooper’s license plate number. The Newport News Police do nothing. I am in great pain and need help. Please pray for me.

  • Michelle Thomas-Bush

    Thank you of your words that are always inspiring. The post pointed me back to one of my favorite prayers by Walter Brueggemann:

    You are the God who is simple, direct
    clear with us and for us
    You have committed yourself to us
    You have said yes to us in creation
    yes, to us in our birth
    yes to us in our baptism
    yes to us in our awakening this day

    But we are of another kind
    More accustomed to ¨perhaps, maybe,
    we´ll see
    Left in wonderment and ambiguity

    We live our lives not back to your yes
    But out of our endless ¨perhaps¨

    So we pray for your mercy this day
    that we may live yes back to you
    Yes with our time
    Yes with our money
    Yes with our sexuality
    Yes with our strength and with our weakness
    Yes to our neighbor
    Yes and no longer ¨perhaps¨

    In the name of your enfleshed yes to us
    Even Jesus who is our yes into your future. Amen.

  • Lynn Phillips-Gaines

    Why do I feel compelled to write or comment? I guess it is because I have never accepted that God loves me and made me the way I am. I eagerly listen to your sermons, so I can hear the “good news” which sounds much different than most of what I am exposed to here in the south. I wish I could ignite the imaginations of my congregation the way you do for me. Thank you for making this available for all of us to listen. I pray for you Nadia in morning prayer and compline daily.

  • Guest

    I stand in awe of how that one
    selfless act of faith of a young teenage girl changed the course of history. That one
    sentence recorded on a little scrap of parchment by Luke perhaps on a warm
    afternoon in a garden near Jerusalem in the middle of the first century holds the key to the entire
    redemptive history that we are a part of. Make me your doulē
    — do it now.

    Mary rocks!

    https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/can-i-get-back-to-you-on-that

    • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/ Jim Fisher

      Nadia – please delete this comment. Not sure what happened.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/ Jim Fisher

    I stand in awe of how that one selfless act of faith of a young teenage girl changed the course of history. One sentence recorded on a little scrap of parchment by Luke perhaps on a warm afternoon in a garden near Jerusalem in the middle of the first century holds the key to the entire redemptive history that we are a part of. Make me your doulē — do it now.

    Mary rocks!

    https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/can-i-get-back-to-you-on-that

    That one sentence is one I hear during Advent, but pay little attention to. Into the Christmas story pierces the voice of a young girl who had the faith not to wait. Innocently, without knowing its full consequences, she makes the choice, then tells the angel of the Lord, “make it so.” A little Jewish girl had the faith one morning to pray “Lord, here I am. Make me your slave,” and I want to skip right over that and run straight to Bethlehem to adore the baby Jesus along with the shepherds …

    … for it is so much easier for me to watch and enjoy the story than to allow myself to accept a part in it.

  • Daniel Wilcox

    Nadia, I don’t get it.

    I’ve read a number of your blogs and listened to the Wild Goose Interview and your speech at the Lutheran Convention. You speak of God choosing people, of the wonder of baptism, of God saying yes to ‘us’…

    But according to Luther (and the other Reformers), God has ONLY chosen some humans to be saved in/through/via baptism:-(

    All the rest of us billions are without hope…

    At least in that CofC, Baptist, way the rest of us have a chance to accept Christ:-) when we are 10 or so or later…

    And how hopeless is the eternal destination of all not baptized Lutheran or Reformed:-(

    In the Lutheran way all of us not born Lutheran, are born to damnation, foreordained NOT to be loved as Luther, Lutherans, Reformed, and others have never ceased to cram down my throat for many, many years:-(

    I don’t see how you find any hope in the theological determinism of Luther:-(


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