This is a sermon given at St. Paul’s Episcopal in San Rafael on March 27, 2022. Although we’re not in the middle of Lent anymore, this whole idea of interruptions always feels rather appropriate if you ask me. Enjoy!
Here’s the truth: double-takes happen.
They happen when we’re walking down the street, and we see a friend we haven’t seen in a decade: is that really her, him, them? Double take.
They happen when the popping beauty of spring catches us by surprise: that lemon tree we planted and replanted no less than three times, that we were convinced is thoroughly dead and needs to be pulled, because the dog is chewing on its leaves, the boys are accidentally using it as a soccer goal post, but are those buds I see popping up? Double take.
They happen when our son’s soccer team, the one I told you about two weeks ago, that’s all heart, but never seems to win a game, drives the ball down the field and does those fancy foot moves and actually, successfully gets balls past the other team’s goalie and actually wins a game. Double take.
So, you’d better believe I did a double take when I sat down with this week’s readings. I mean, for one, they’re kind of all Good News, feel good kind of readings. Double take. And for another, here we are, smack dab in the middle of Lent, reading about the pending birth of a bouncing little boy child who’ll soon be born to an unwed, virgin, teenager named Mary. Super double take.
Today, of course, is the Sunday closest to March 25th. On this day in the liturgical calendar, we celebrate the Annunciation of the Lord.
Annunciation means announcement. It’s the act of instance or pronouncement. It’s a really, really big deal …and it’s no accident that this Sunday, which happens to be mere weeks before Easter Sunday, is also exactly nine months before December 25th. Just as a baby grows inside its mother’s body for nine months, so we begin a gestation period of nine months before Christmas Day.
A writer at Sacred Ordinary Days says this: “The audacious and incomprehensible good news of God made flesh and born into this very world among us, incarnate and dwelling in our midst. The timing of this feast day on March 25th – in the middle of this season in our lives and the church year – feels just as audacious, just as incomprehensible, and just as needful.”
Here, we’re invited into the announcement and into the continuous cycle of the liturgical year. Here we think about how the announcement from an angel to a young girl comes at a time when “we are falling to our knees over a world that can only be made right through Jesus’ death and resurrection.”
Perhaps, is the time we need this double-take of an announcement most: when Covid still looms. When the war in Ukraine and in other spots around the world still festers. When a pending Supreme Court justice with all the credentials in the world can’t be trusted because of skin color and politics alone. When death still seems to mark us, no matter how hard we try and escape its grip.
Still, always, even when we sit in death and darkness, new life blooms and bursts and grows all around us.
Here, the Good News of the Annunciation shouts in our ears like a megaphone. Our hearts overflow with a goodly theme; grace is poured upon our lips; we see that God’s royal scepter is a scepter of equity (or so Psalm 45 reminds us).
Here, we are interrupted in the best way possible, for interruptions are oftentimes the way of God. Interruptions are who God is and the very way God meets us.
Take Luke 1, for example. It’s like Mary’s just hanging out on her front porch when an angel named Gabriel shows up and brings not just one double take of an interruption, but upwards of 15 interruptions in a single conversation.
From angel to teenager:
- You’re favored!
- You’re gonna be pregnant!
- It’s a BOY!
- You’re gonna call him Jesus .
- He’s gonna be super great!
- God’s his daddy!
- He’s also a direct descendant of that super famous guy, David.
- He’s supper gonna be in charge, hashtag #4life.
- And if you’re still not clear how this will happen, Holy Spirit’s gonna help you out!
- God’s gonna be ALL over you, Mary.
- And this baby, he’s gonna be a super holy dude, in case I haven’t made that abundantly clear.
- Nickname’s gonna be Son of God.
- And your cousin Elizabeth’s pregnant too. It’s a boy!
- She’s six months ahead of you, though – congrats, Betty!
- Also? Nothing is impossible with God.
Pure bewilderment. Head-shaking, what just happened? I mean, can I have some time to process?
Sit with this story for a second: remember that double-take interruptions are oftentimes the way of God – that audacious and incomprehensible are God’s DNA, God’s namesake, God’s very identity.
Perhaps nothing should surprise us, nor should anything double-take us when nothing is impossible with God.
Several years ago, my family lived in Seattle. We were only there for twenty months, a short blip between what we called “Oakland, Part I” and “Oakland, Part II” (and now, having moved to our third house in Oakland, we now dwell in “Oakland, Part III”).
In many ways, Seattle was a hard season for my family. The move made sense on paper, but when push came to shove, it wasn’t the best fit: our time was marked by more sadness than joy, by more heartache than happiness.
But it’s also where a lot of beauty and newness happened, where new life started to bloom and burst and grow within us, even if we didn’t realize it right away.
There, I found the Episcopal Church – or should I say, the Episcopal Church found me.
It was an interruption, an announcement, an annunciation of sorts – from God and from the kinds of churches I’d always called home. It was a Thursday morning in the summer of 2017, that much I remember. Our boys were little – not even two-and four-years old at the time, chilling at home with their favorite babysitter, Gadisa.
I, meanwhile, sat in the library at one of the Northeast Seattle branches, a stack of books to my right, my laptop perched on my lap. I was writing an article or a blog, something of that sort, when I was interrupted by a single thought: See if there’s an Episcopal church in your neighborhood.
So, I did. And, there was – and there happened to be a midweek communion service every Thursday at noon, which at that point was set to happen in less than twenty minutes’ time.
Pack up your bags, the interruption said. Go to the service.
So, I did. I met Father Terry and Father Rich, Mother Cherry and Miss Ruby. St Andrew’s Episcopal became my people, that building the first place we went when life fell apart at the seams, when darkness and death surrounded me.
In a way, it all started with an announcement, an annunciation of sorts, a double take kind of moment of God to me and back again.
Is there a moment like that for you?
There weren’t 15 proclamations in a row, as recorded between Gabriel and Mary, but those the couple I heard in the middle of a library – look up a church. Pack up your bags. Go to the service – that was pretty real. That was rather interrupting of God, if you ask me.
As we move forward into the season of Lent, let us not forget the whispers and megaphones, the interruptions and pronouncements of our holy, audacious, incomprehensible God.
Let us not forget the holy ways of our double-take God.
God. That God of ours is such an interrupter at times. How’s God brought a double-take to your life recently?