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A colleague of mine recently wrote that the last couple of years have been rough on clergy… and teachers… and healthcare workers… and everybody.

One way or another we have all been traumatized by climate change and fascism and the erosion of democracy… by gun violence and racism and the erosion of women’s rights… by global pandemics and broken healthcare systems and so much more.

We have figured out entirely new ways to do things on the fly. We have struggled to fix sinking boats while sailing through storms. We have tried to hold everything together with both hands and a roll of duct tape.

And my colleague tried to say that there have been special pressures on clergy… 

…because clergy have had to learn how to be business managers, and workplace health and safety experts, and human resources managers, and fundraising gurus, and masters of public relations, and all sorts of other things…

…and because clergy take sacred vows to love… and to walk through the struggle… and to be available to… the communities that we serve.

And I think that’s a little bit true.

But I also know that a lot of you who are teachers and healthcare workers and other things… even if you have never stood in front of a congregation and made a series of insane promises… have made vows in your hearts to love… and to walk through the struggle… and to be available to… the communities that you serve.

And I know that we have all been going through the same… stuff.

There’s another side to that. In the middle of all of that trauma, we have also been blessed by new ways to connect… by new people who have come into the world and into our communities… by new skills that we have learned and new talents that we have discovered… by new fires that have been lit in our souls and new passions that have filled our veins.

And there have been moments—for you and for me and for all of us—when everything has been wonderful and terrible and all too much.

And what do we do—what can we do—when everything is wonderful and terrible and all too much?

This summer, we are spending some time with some of the stories about some of the women in the bible. And I have said this a few times, but the world of the Bible—the times and places and cultures that it describes—is deeply patriarchal.

And I want to be clear. It is a world where women are not helpless and where women are not fragile. It is a world where women have important economic, social, political, and religious roles, both at home and in the community. It is a world where women are heroes and villains… saints and sinners… modest and wild… reserved and dangerous… and more… often all at once… all wrapped up in one person who is fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God… loved and worthy of love.

But it is also a world where women live under the authority of men… where women go from their father’s house to their husband’s house… and where a woman’s crowning glory is in the children that she gives to her husband.

And, in our reading today, we meet Mary… who is a dispossessed young woman in an occupied land… engaged and pregnant with a child who is definitely not her fiancé’s.

You see, just a little while ago, an angel appeared to her and told her not to be afraid… that the power of the Most High would overshadow her and that she would conceive… that her son would be called the son of the Most High… that he would sit on the throne of his ancestor David and restore Israel to glory and reign over the house of Jacob forever… and that his kingdom would have no end.

And in her awe and her fear and her hope, she replied, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.”

And now Mary is a dispossessed young woman in an occupied land… engaged and pregnant with a child who is definitely not her fiancé’s… who just might be the one who will save her people.

And it is wonderful… and it is terrible… and it is all too much.

And what Mary does when everything is wonderful and terrible and all too much… is tell her relative Elizabeth and the whole world,

My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior. For my God has looked with favor on the lowly state of their servant; and every generation’s gonna call me blessed.

God has shown strength and scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. God has brought the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. And God has come to the aid of their children, remembering mercy, according to the promise they made to our ancestors.

I don’t quite know how to say this to Mary… but it takes a few minutes of looking around to notice that God has not done those things.

I mean, sure, maybe a handful of the proud have been scattered in the imaginations of their hearts… here and there a powerful one has been brought down from their throne and a lowly one has been lifted up… every now and again, a few of the hungry are filled with good things and a few of the rich are sent away empty.

But… overall… the structures of injustice still stand, and the systems of oppression still work, and the machines if inequity will run. And Mary is still a dispossessed young woman in an occupied land… engaged and pregnant with a child who is definitely not her fiancé’s… who just might be the one who will save her people.

So why is she so sure?

Mary is taking part in a tradition that we see in psalms and in prophets. She is reciting the promises of God as though they have already been fulfilled; she is looking to the reign of God as though it is already here. She is remembering the truth that has been passed down from generation to generation:

That God is with the widow and the orphan and the alien. That God is with the poor and the lowly and the hungry. That God is with the outcast and the oppressed and the marginalized. And that God is with—absolutely, undoubtably, undeniably with—the dispossessed young woman in an occupied land… engaged and pregnant with a child who is definitely not her fiancé’s… who just might be the one who will save her people.

Mary is remembering that, when everything is wonderful and terrible and all too much, God is right here with her, and God is working to remake the world—to scatter the proud and lift up the lowly and fill the hungry—for the sake of their children.

But I need to be careful here…

There is the temptation to believe in a kind of therapeutic deism right here. There is the temptation to believe that God is with me when I am having a hard day… working to make my hard day easier… and to give me some comfort in a world of inconveniences.

And I am not saying that is not true. But…

The reason that Mary can recite the promise is because she is among the lowly. And I… am not.

And, let’s be honest, many of us… are not.

And what do we do—what can we do—when everything is wonderful and terrible and all too much?

One of the things that colleague wrote is that most people think of the church as a product that exists to meet their needs. And that most people have forgotten that the church is not a service provider, but a spiritual community that calls its members to love and service and care… for each other and for the wider world… and especially for the poor and the lowly… the oppressed and the marginalized.

And the truth is that when everything is wonderful and terrible and all too much… when I am starting to feel the burnout that comes from being a business manager, and a workplace health and safety expert, and a human resources manager, and a fundraising guru, and a master of public relations, and so many other things…

…I return to that promise that God is with the poor and the lowly… that God is among the oppressed and the marginalized… that God is in every pleading face and outstretched hand…

…and I return to the work that the church—not the institution of the church or the organization of the church, but the community of church—is called to: loving… and serving… and caring.

And there I find the source of my being, who scatters my pride, and lifts up my lowliness, and feeds my hungry soul.

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