In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.
Our souls have much to rejoice about in God our Savior even when we may not feel that there is much to rejoice about. I haven’t been in a rejoicing mood of late. I watch too much news and I don’t see anything to happy about going on in our world. Sometimes we need to take a step back. I’m not encouraging us all to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the current sorry state of things. I’m encouraging us all to take a breath. Look around at the beauty and new life of spring. Find one thing for which to be grateful. We can’t sustain activism and resist evil if we lose heart. It’s important to allow ourselves to feel joy and to give thanks to maintain the strength of our spirits. We can turn off the news for a night, and work on creating the beautiful and eye catching signs we’ll carry joyfully with our comrades in resistance at the next march.
“See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.”
Peace is one thing we that we can always bring with us. In stressful situations we can remind ourselves that Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” It can be a grounding reassurance to know that the peace of The Lord is always with us. A mindset of peace can increase the likelihood of our encountering more lambs than wolves in our day to day lives.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.
These are strange times. This is not normal. Keep reminding yourselves of this. Remember that people are decent and good and kind, even though we see a lot of evidence to the contrary. There is indeed something happening to us and we can view it as an opportunity for us to bear witness and to pray and to act. As I write this I’m wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Smoky The Bear with text that reads, “Only You Can Resist Fascist Liars.” It’s of course a play on Smoky’s slogan, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.” Both are true.
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.
We were once a country that was able to eat solid food. We knew good from evil, and though imperfect in many ways, we were better by far than we are today. We have regressed. We are are now in need of milk in place of solid food. We need to relearn what we once knew about decency and respect at least, if not love, for our neighbors. It’s difficult to claim to be a righteous nation, when spoiled children and violent offenders are elected to high office.
You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house. But you, mortal, hear what I say to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. I looked, and a hand was stretched out to me, and a written scroll was in it. He spread it before me; it had writing on the front and on the back, and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe. He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.
If we could obtain understanding of the word of God through ingestion, surely we would receive it as a sacrament.
3. “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? *
and who can stand in his holy place?”
4. “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.
5. They shall receive a blessing from the Lord*
and a just reward from the God of their salvation.”
This portion of psalm 24 seemed to me to be particularly relevant at this time. We hear news every day of more and more lies and deceptions from the current administration. The administration seems to be composed entirely of people who have pledged themselves to falsehood and sworn by what is fraud. The image of Donald Trump at the Western Wall in Jerusalem nauseated me. He is truly a defiler of the Temple.
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.
It’s easy to give thanks and praise when we’re cheerful, and in trying times we might not think to sing songs of praise, but maybe those are the times that expressing praise and thanks are most important. Singing songs of praise, or even just thinking them, empowers us to reclaim a positive outlook in troubled times.
“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”
Why do we expect to be forgiven if we have not forgiven the people who have hurt us? Forgive and you will be forgiven isn’t a quid pro quo. Forgiving others puts us in the right frame of mind to accept forgiveness. It’s hard to acknowledge that we are forgiven if we ourselves are holding grudges or simply not letting go of an old injury caused by another. When we forgive we are setting ourselves free from the power that the person who harmed us has over us. Forgiveness can be a gift to the person who has been forgiven, but it is always a gift to the person doing the forgiving. If we want to be fully able to accept the forgiveness of the Lord we need first to forgive those who have wronged us, if not for them, then for ourselves and for our spiritual wellbeing.
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
There’s an expression which I’ve heard, and even used, the using of which I’m not proud, “You can’t fix stupid.” Well, maybe you can’t fix stupid, but you can fix ignorance, and you can ask God for wisdom. Wisdom, while a gift, isn’t acquired without some participation on our part. What God can and does give us, if we desire it, is a thirst for knowledge. There is really no excuse I can think of for ignorance. God gave us our minds, but to gain wisdom requires work; unfortunately it’s work that many people neglect, which is why we find our country in such an appalling state. Wisdom is unappreciated and knowledge is disdained as elitist. Getting back to James, “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly.”