Sermon December 20, 2015
Messengers of Love By Rev. June Fothergill scripture: Luke 1: 39-55
I heard the jingle for AAA memberships on the radio the other day. Their tag line is Give a member ship to AAA- give peace of mind, give life. When Mary went to see Elizabeth she risked such a long journey alone because she was looking for the support that would save her life. After hearing such a strange, wonderful and dangerous word from the angel that she would have God’s baby, she needed the love that that the angel’s word had pointed her toward- “and your kinswoman, Elizabeth who was barren is also with child.” Mary and Elizabeth’s experience together show us AAA’s of what it means to love one another. NO it’s not about cars and roadside assistance. It’s about affection, affirmation and advocacy.
When Mary arrived at her door, and surely she couldn’t have phoned ahead in those days, they greet each other and it is clear that Elizabeth will provide hospitality to Mary. In fact she stays with them for 6 months Luke tells us. We imagine that they greeted each other with the usual affection of two kinswomen. But for Elizabeth there is more. The Spirit of God moved in her to see Mary not just as a kinswoman but as blessed.
Showing affection for someone is one of the ways we show them our love or positive regard. Different cultures show affection in different ways, but many include some form of safe touch that says- I care about you. Showing affection is harder for some people than others but it is a choice we can all make in our interactions with others. I remember my Daddy was not a very demonstrative person. He would say nice things to us but he rarely would hug when we were little. But he had three daughters and as we grew up we went to camp and youth group and got other ideas about giving affection. We discovered hugs or as we called them then “warm fuzzies.” So my father was bit by bit converted by his daughters to become a hugger- a giver of warm fuzzies. As you may imagine we delighted in this transformation.
Affection in the case of Mary and Elizabeth also had a deeper, more risky aspect, being willing to provide hospitality. It was a norm of that society that giving hospitality to others was a high value. Yet, it had its risks. Mary was unexpectedly and mysteriously pregnant- could that possible shame reflect on her hosts? We know that in other Biblical stories like that of Rahab the brave woman who housed Israelite spies, offering hospitality has its risks. Yet, mutual affection and hospitality are the glue that holds together families and communities. It is this care for one another that allows us to love as God calls us to love. Today you have been given a little greeting card. And there are several down in front ready to be sent to folks who have not been to our worship for some time. They are simply a way for us to say – we are thinking of you, we want to show you some affection. I invite you to sign the cards before you leave today and to take and use the card given you to pass on some affection to someone else.
Show affection is not all that is involved in the AAA’s of loving.
Mary and Elizabeth show us that loving also means to affirm one another. Elizabeth looked at Mary and the baby in her womb leapt with joy. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, saw and affirmed the gift Mary had been given. She was blessed to be the mother of the Lord. Loving one another also means affirming the dignity and worth and gifts of each other.
I remember on time leading an after school campfire club program for a group of low income 4th and 5th graders. They were a rather scrappy bunch. They had learned the art of the “put down.” So I decided they needed to learn how to give compliments. “It’s simple, I said, “Just look at the person, smile, find something you like about them and tell them about it.” So we went around the circle and tried it out. I discovered they were quite good at complimenting each other’s clothing. Well it was a start!
Giving affirmation does not just mean giving compliments. It can also mean affirming the dignity and worth of someone by speaking the truth to them. It can be a tough love, which listens and cares but also notices when someone is hurting themselves and others and finds ways to help the person see that truth. It means valuing them enough, seeing their potential enough, to help them find a more healthy path. In AA circles it can be an intervention. This is Jesus pointing out to his friends and comrades the Pharisees the ways they were being hypocritical in their practices. It is John the Baptist valuing the people who came out to him enough to tell them to share with others. We try to do it with affection and honesty, but sometimes affirmation means giving the tough feedback.
I remember one time when a Professor that I trusted and knew cared about me took me aside and suggested that I needed to let go of my judgmental attitude toward my fellow student travelers. He asked me to try to understand rather than judge them. It was not an easy word to hear but I have always been grateful for how much he cared/ loved me to be willing to share a word of truth I needed. He affirmed me not only through affirmation of my academic gifts but through seeing me as a whole, person capable of growth.
Finally, the last A of our AAA‘s of loving is what I call Advocacy. This is shown to us in the song Mary sings to Elizabeth. It is a song about what God has done and will do for his people. God is the one who teaches us how to love one another. In the song Mary says that God has brought up the lowly and taken down the proud. God has provided for the needs of the hungry and sent those who have all they need and more, away empty. This loves on a bigger stage – this is love and acts of justice for Mary’s people and for the world. God loves by attending to the well being of his people.
This is advocacy. Not just giving a hug or affirming a gift but also standing beside someone when times are tough or speaking up for their needs and rights in the public square or making sure that the institutions of the community are truly addressing their needs. This is what a parent of a special needs child does every time he or she goes to a meeting with the teachers. This is what we do when we write a letter of call our legislators and ask them to make housing and adequate food for all people in our community a priority of our national funds. This is what we do when we not only provide a meal to the community but work to make it one where each person is treated with dignity and feels safe and part of something bigger than themselves.
One small way I plan to live out this advocacy loving is by signing a letter that has been drafted by the Interfaith Clergy United group in our area. It was drafted by our local rabbi and another pastor and states that we disagree with the hate speech and actions being directed against our Muslim neighbors and the rise in fear based rhetoric. I have a copy of the letter here if anyone would like to see it before it is published in the Eugene Register Guard. I will always remember my 95 year old friend Ilene who told me after 9/11 as she was leaving Canyonville UIMC – “June I pray that we will not repeat history, that we don’t repeat what we did to the Japanese Americans.” I sign the letter in her honor and as a small act of love for this world.
So these are the AAA’s of loving for today thanks to Mary and Elizabeth and Luke who told their story. I hope that as you enjoy the Christmas week ahead that you will remember and ask God’s help to practice the AAA’s of Loving: Affection, Affirmation and Advocacy.