How Can It Be?
God did not tell Mary to be like other teenage girls. It wasn’t enough to be engaged, move into her husband’s father’s house and raise children in the normal way. No. God chose Mary for something special. God chose Mary to give birth to the Son of God, Jesus Christ. That was no easy request. Giving birth to the Son of God would be no easy task. According to Levitical law unwed pregnant girls are supposed to be drug before the city gates and stoned to death (Lev 20:10). Just being a pregnant teenage girl without a husband put Mary in danger for her life. Bearing the Son of God into the world was no easy task.
Similarly, we the church are called to bare the light of Christ into the world. We are called to be a counter cultural force for God at a very difficult time in world history. The Pandemic has closed churches for worship. The lack of funds coming from Sunday morning offerings has forced some churches to lay off their staff. The lack of funds has caused some churches to close all together. The fear of closure has caused some churches to rush back inside to worship too soon and without enough precautions. I give thanks to God First Baptist church is back open for worship. I ask for God’s protection for those at Summerville Baptist Church. I heard a story about a Methodist church this week who is meeting inside for worship, refusing to wear masks and the congregation is singing hymns. The word is spreading around the community about their refusal to take precautions and now people will not come to that church because they are afraid of Covid. We have come to a place were being cautious is an evangelism tool, and congregations are more scared of closing their churches than they are of the Pandemic. So you might say the church today has a lot in common with Mary. We are both afraid, and we are both called to do something different.
At first Mary was confused. What did the angel mean she would become pregnant? Mary was still a young girl. Mary had never been with a man. Mary is not doubting what the angel, Gabriel is saying. Mary is struggling to understand, “How does that work?” Gabriel’s response is perhaps unexpected. “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 called holy – the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The angel said, The Holy Spirit will make it possible. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
Today, we the Church, are called to do extraordinary things. We are NOT called to be like everybody else. We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ in the middle of a pandemic. The Church has a long history of this kind of thing. There are historical records from the time of the Black Plague. When the death toll and infection rate became too high the doctors and nurses would run for the hills, literally run for the hills, and get out of town because they had seen what the Black Plague was doing. It was Christians who stayed and tended to the poor, the sick and the dying. The sick and the families of the sick saw courage, and observed Christian faith in action. Instead of the church shrinking from the death toll, the big “C” church grew. They did not grow because they continued to go through the motions. They grew because they recognized the world needed God’s hands and feet to share God’s love and grace with everyone. So, the church mobilized and served.
I have heard pastors rail from their pulpits about how they are not going to live in fear and how they are not going to bow down to the government. I have heard them say they are not afraid and they are going to continue to worship as they have. I have heard of congregations pushing and bullying their pastor to go ahead and have worship inside. I am not going to do any of those things. I am going to ask you, church, is that courage? Is it courage to push for what we want over and above what God is asking us to do, with our hands and feet?
In Matthew 11 John the Baptist sends messengers to Jesus to ask,
“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?
And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matt 11:3-6).
During a pandemic where so many are struggling to find and afford food. During a pandemic when in January the moratorium on evictions expires. During a pandemic when people are out of work because their parents are staying home taking care of children who are attending school virtually, what do you think it will look like when the Holy Spirit is at work in the life of the church?
Worship is important. The worship of God is EXTREMELY important. However, righteousness is about loving God and loving our neighbor. During a pandemic showing our love for God comes in the form of feeding ministries and food drive by’s and food pantries. When the people ask how our church didn’t fold up and die when the North Carolina Governor, the Bishop and the Cabinet of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church said shut your doors for worship, what should we say? (pause) We should say, Go and tell others what you see and what you hear. The hungry are fed. The lonely are reached and connected. Our budget is balanced and our apportionments are paid. The members of our congregation are engaged in each others lives and serving the needs of those in this community. Like Mary we are not being asked to do an easy thing. We are being asked to do an impossible thing. Praise the Lord, this impossible thing of being the hands of feet of Christ is being done. How are we doing it? We are listening and responding to the work of the Holy Spirit. Praise be to God that we have been set apart. Praise be to God for the work God is doing here and now through this church. Praise be to God for the work of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of God’s son Jesus Christ; Emmanuel, God with us. May we continue to share God with others.
In the name of Jesus Christ,