Advent 4C, 2018, December 23, 2018

Micah 5:2-5a, Luke 1:46-55, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-45

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Chinook and Naselle Lutheran Churches, WA

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is a Christmas song that is very popular these days.  I’m sure that you’ve all heard it, and enjoyed it, because it is beautiful and, (unlike most modern Christmas songs) actually talks about Christ and what he means.

Mary, did you know

that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?

Mary, did you know

that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?

Did you know

that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?

This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you?

If you’ve ever heard this song and wondered if Mary knew, well, the Gospel of Luke is quite clear.  She did.  The angel spelled out for her who and what her infant son was going to be, and then she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was filled with the Holy Spirit and confirmed that the baby was going to be special, and Mary responded with the Magnificat, the Song of Praise, which we used as a psalm today.  And then even after Jesus was born, when they took him to the temple, two separate people, Anna and Simeon, prophesied about the baby Jesus and what he was going to grow up to do.  So, yes, Mary knew.  She might not have had everything spelled out with each individual miracle listed, but she knew the general gist of what Jesus was going to come to do.  She knew that Jesus was going to continue God’s saving actions.  She knew he was going to scatter the proud, the greedy rich who let others starve, the powerful who gained power by oppressing others, while at the same time lifting up the lowly, the downtrodden, the hungry, caring for them and making sure they had what they needed to live abundant lives.  She might not have known specifically that he was going to walk on water, but she knew that he was going to save the world by turning it upside down and doing incredible things.

But a lot of the time, simply knowing isn’t enough.  We may know the right thing to do, but that doesn’t mean we’ll do it.  We may know that something hard and difficult is going to be worth it in the end, but that doesn’t mean we’re happy about the hard and difficult bits.  How often do we put off or try to avoid something because, much as we might desire the end result, we really do NOT want to have to go through the process of getting there?  Mary knew who Jesus was going to be and what he was going to do, because the angel told her; but that doesn’t mean she was happy about it or looking forward to it.  I don’t know how she felt about it, but I imagine she was in a lot of shock.  And also, she was probably worried, considering that she wasn’t married and having a child out of wedlock was a huge deal that would change her life and probably make it measurably worse.  And, sure, she probably trusted that God would take care of her and provide what she needed to do the task he had given her … but that doesn’t mean she was happy about it, or looking forward to it.  Knowing isn’t enough.  Most of the time, we need something further to help put knowledge into action.

For Mary, that something was a visit to her cousin Elizabeth.  When the Angel told Mary what was going to happen, she accepted it, but that’s all.  The angel gave its message, Mary said okay, the angel left.  Then she went off to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also expecting a child under unusual circumstances.  Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were both elderly, and they’d been unable to have children.  Now, past the age of childbearing, they had given up hope.  But an angel had come to Zechariah and told them that they would have a child, who would grow up to become a prophet—you know him as John the Baptist.  That’s who Elizabeth was pregnant with when Mary came to visit.

Elizabeth’s baby jumped for joy in her womb, and Elizabeth was blessed with knowledge of who Mary was going to be, and who her child was going to become.  And Elizabeth was thrilled.  She affirmed what the angel had said, and blessed Mary.  And here is where we get Mary’s reaction, her song of praise, in response to the news the angel brought.  Here.  Not while the angel was there, not when she received her call to become the mother of God.  Here, with her cousin.  Who had just finished showering her with love and support.

Human beings aren’t created to be alone.  God did not make us to be solitary creatures.  That’s one of the first things we learn about humans in the Bible … God creates the first human, calls it very good, and then says, “but it is not good for the human to be alone.”  And then God creates the second human being.  Because humans need companionship, and support, and love.  And we get that from God, but we also need it from our fellow human beings.

God was asking Mary to do a hard thing, by asking her to bear and raise Jesus Christ, God-become-flesh.  Partly, that was hard because pregnancy, birth, and child-rearing are hard.  But a lot of it was that people would gossip about her, and shame her, and treat her badly for bearing a child out of wedlock.  It doesn’t matter how much she told them the child was God’s Son and God’s will, they would not have believed her.  If someone told you that God was the father of their baby, would you believe them?  Probably not.  So Mary would be ostracized and alienated from her community because of this thing God was asking her to do.

But God provided her with people to support her, even so.  By giving a child to her cousin Elizabeth, and then giving Elizabeth enough insight to realize what was really going on, God ensured that Mary would not be alone.  No matter what anyone else said, she would have someone in her court, someone who would give her love and support and understanding, which are things all human beings need.  And it is at that point, when Mary knows that despite what society is going to think about her, she is going to have at least one person loving her and not judging her, that‘s when the knowledge of what was going to happen overflowed into praise.  That’s when she began to sing.

None of us are Mary or Elizabeth.  None of us are going to have mystical pregnancies that catapult us into the center of God’s work in the world and redirect our lives with one fell swoop.  But we all have callings from God; we all have a place in God’s work in the world, both individuals and as a community of faith.  Our callings may be smaller than Mary’s call, but they are still important, and still part of God’s work.  Knowing what God is calling us to do is the first step, and without an angelic messenger it usually involves a lot of prayer and study and contemplation.  But the second step is not one we can do alone.  It’s not private.  It’s about coming together as a community to support and encourage one another.  As Elizabeth encouraged Mary, so we too are called to encourage one another, to name God’s gifts when we see them and bless one another.  And that’s especially important when, as in the case of Mary, God calls us to do things that don’t necessarily fit in well with the larger society.  And sometimes what God is calling us to do isn’t necessarily to do the work ourselves, but to support those who do it.  To be there for the people who need us.  To be the arms of God wrapped in love around those who would otherwise be alone or neglected.  May we answer God’s call with joy; may we always have the love and support God desires for us; and may we always share that love and support with those who need it.

Amen

A barn for a home

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014

Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20, John 1:1-14

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

 

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

One thing that struck me, as I was listening to the radio this December, was how many Christmas songs are about being home for the holidays. There’s I’ll be Home for Christmas, There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays, and many others. They’re all very heartwarming, and they really strike a chord with me, because I’m so far from home myself. I, too, am going home for the holidays, but not until tomorrow, obviously. And I can’t wait to see my family and friends, do all the Christmas things my family has postponed until I can get there, have a big ham dinner with all the trimmings.

But let’s not forget that when Joseph and Mary headed to Bethlehem for the first Christmas, that wasn’t the kind of homecoming they were expecting. I mean, obviously, they were Jewish, so they wouldn’t have been eating ham. But even though Bethlehem was Joseph’s home town, the town his family was from, there was no welcome for them there. None of his family opened their arms to the holy family; nobody offered them the guest bedroom or even a spot on the living-room floor. No one invited them in for a big family meal. And so they ended up in the stable. As you’re gathering with family and friends, think of that. Being in your own home town, with nobody to take you in. That’s what happened to Mary and Joseph, and to too many people in this world.

Now, we don’t know why nobody welcomed Mary and Joseph in. Maybe most of the family had moved away from Bethlehem, as Joseph had. Maybe there were only a few of his kin living in town, and they were already full up—although I don’t know about you, but I would imagine that most families, if a family shows up expecting a baby, they find a place for the mom-to-be even if they have to turf out somebody else. But maybe Joseph’s family just didn’t want to make room for them. Maybe they knew that Mary had been pregnant before she and Joseph married, and maybe they were punishing them for the shame and scandal of it. Maybe they didn’t want to associate with those kinds of people, or maybe they didn’t want their kids exposed to that sort of thing. I don’t know why; the Bible doesn’t tell us. But when Joseph and Mary went back to Joseph’s family’s home town, they had to go to the inn. And the innkeeper didn’t have room for them, either. Maybe his inn was bursting at the seams. Maybe he knew about the scandal. Maybe he thought that it would be better for Mary to have some privacy as she was giving birth—privacy she wouldn’t have gotten in an inn where there were probably several families in each room. Whatever the reason, Mary and Joseph ended up in the barn, and that’s where Jesus was born.

People get so wound up about Christmas. Everything has to be perfect: food, presents, goodies, trees, decorations, music. You hear people talk, and you think that anything less than perfection means utter failure. And if you’re not home, with your family, well, that’s horrible, too. We have this picture of what Christmas should be like, and yet, the first Christmas wasn’t like that at all. Mary and Joseph were far from home, among strangers, without even a hotel room to call their own, with no feast, no goodies, no decorations—no nothing. And that’s how Christ was born. In that lonely stable, God became flesh. God became one of us.

God’s very nature is relationship. God is three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—together in a great dance of love. The first letter of John tells us that God is love, so that we can’t know or understand God without loving other people. We are made in God’s image, which means that we are made for relationship, too. We are made for love. It’s imprinted in the DNA in every cell in our body. And yet, when God became flesh, when the Son took form in Mary’s womb and was born as the infant Jesus, he came to a family alone in the world, isolated from friends and family, away from home.

I think he did that on purpose. Because even though we were created for love, there is a lot of hate in the world. Even though we were created for relationship, there is a lot of isolation in the world. We hurt other people and we hurt ourselves. We think that it’s better to rely on our own skills than to reach out for help even when help is deeply needed. There are people, right now, tonight, who feel desperately alone. Some because they are alone, and some because their family or friends treat them badly. It’s possible to be alone in the midst of a crowd—even among family—if those family hurt you and demean you. And all too often, that’s what we do to one another.

When Jesus was born in that stable, the love of God became real flesh and blood. And I think part of the reason he chose that lonely stable was to show the world that God’s love is not just for those who already have loving families close beside them. God’s love is also for the loners, for the outcasts, for the ones who have nobody or whose family and friends are worse than being alone. God’s love is for everyone, in every country, in every village, in every city. For no matter whether we are white or black, Asian or Latino or Native American or Arab or Pacific Islander, no matter what language we speak, we are all children of God. We are all loved by God. And God comes to us, in the mess and problems of life, just as God came to that stable 2,000 years ago.

I pray that you all have loving families and friends around you. I pray that you all share the love of God with one another this Christmas. But whether you are in the midst of your family or alone, God is with you. Thanks Be To God.

Amen.

Don’t Panic!

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B, December 21, 2014

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-28, 46b-55

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

On the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the words DON’T PANIC are inscribed in large friendly letters. I have often thought that if the angels in the Bible were turned into books, they, too, would have “DON’T PANIC” written on their covers. It is, after all, the first thing most of them say when they greet someone. Gabriel was no exception to this trend. He greeted Mary, and said, “Do not be afraid!” Or, in the slightly more poetic words of the King James Version, “Fear not!” But “Don’t Panic!” is actually also not a bad translation.

Which begs the question, why do angels have to go around telling people this, right off the bat? Part of the reason, I think, is that angels are awesome beings in the old meaning of the term: awe-inspiring and terrible and the sort of thing that makes a person realize just how small they are in the grand scheme of things, and how great the angel is. But the other part of the reason, is that anybody who’s read their Bibles and paid much attention to God’s work around them should be afraid whenever God’s messenger shows up with a mission for them. At the very least, we should be nervous. Because think about it: if God wants us to do something we already want to do or are interested in doing, he wouldn’t need to send an angel or a dream or anything like that. We’d already be doing it! And if it’s something mildly inconvenient, a nudge in the right direction can usually get us pointed in the right direction. We only need angels when we God wants something we would never in a million years choose to do on our own. Something hard, and messy, something that will upset our neighbors or make us look bad, something that will take us in directions we don’t want to go.

Take Mary, for example. We know, looking back on things, just what an important part of God’s work she was. We can see the whole sweep of history. We can see what God was doing in and through her, how God had chosen her to be his mother, to bear the Christ child in her womb and bring him into the world, to raise him and care for him until he was old enough to start his ministry, and set himself on the path to be killed so that the world might live. We know, looking back, that God’s salvation is going to come through her in a very literal way. And we know that she will be honored and admired for two thousand years for her faith and her willingness to follow God’s commands.

And all that can blind us to what she was being asked to do. She was being asked to bear a child out of wedlock. And you all know what life in a small town is like. Even if she told people her baby was God’s child, who would have believed her? No, everyone would gossip about what she did. And that gossip wouldn’t just last for a little while and die down. It would last for years. Decades. Even if she later became a respectable wife and mother, you know that people would still talk about her behind her back. Any time her future children did anything wrong people would shrug and say, “well, you know what their mother did.” And that assumes that any man would have been willing to marry her, a known adultress.

That’s the other thing. Mary was engaged, which in those days was a far more solemn and meaningful thing than it is today. The word ‘betrothed’ captures it much better. There was a legal contract between her and Joseph, and to break that contract—that agreement to marry—they would have needed a divorce. Once she and Joseph became betrothed, for either of them to have sex with someone else was considered adultery. Joseph could have divorced her for it, and then she would have been on her own, trying to support and raise a child by herself in a world that was a lot harder on women than our world today is. Not only that, but if Joseph wanted, he could have charged her with a crime: adultery was punishable by stoning. That is, adulterers who were caught were taken to the center of town and people threw rocks at them until they were killed. Now, Joseph was a nice guy, and Mary had to know that he wouldn’t do it—the Gospel of Matthew tells us that he had already decided to divorce her quietly instead of having her stoned, before God told him what to do—but Joseph could have. He would have been well within his rights.

All this pain and heartache, all this trouble and danger, and for what? A special baby. But how special? Sure, we know that salvation for the world would come through that baby; we know that he would be God made flesh. But did Mary? When the angel told her, “hey, this is really important!” could she have imagined just how important it was going to be? I don’t think so. Nobody at the time understood just what Jesus meant; you can see them, all through the Gospels and the Epistles, figuring things out and missing the point half the time before finally getting it right. Think about the disciples—Jesus told them all about his mission, about why he was doing what he was doing, and he told them about his own death and resurrection, but it wasn’t until after his resurrection that they were able to look back at everything he’d told them and go, “Oh, I get it!” And Mary had even less to go on than the disciples did. A few lines from an angel, that’s all, telling her that God is going to use her to do something big and important that will cost her dearly. How could she possibly have understood it all?

So God was going to do something big through her, that’s great. But the consequences were dire. I mean, if I were her, I would have been saying, “No offense God, I’m really honored that you’ve chosen me to do this, but the timing isn’t very good. How about we put it off a year until after the wedding?” How often does God call us to do something, and we say, “Gee, God, the timing isn’t right—it can’t possibly work that way—how about we do something different instead?” Because Mary isn’t the only person who’s ever gotten a tough job from God. A job they didn’t want. Mary questioned it, but in the end she agreed to do it. She would take the consequences; she would do something the world just wouldn’t understand. Something even she doesn’t really understand. But she trusts God to know what he’s doing. She wants the salvation the angel promises. She wants God’s kingdom to come. So she takes the leap of faith even knowing that it’s going to be hard.

When the angel comes to her Mary starts off confused and afraid: first, what God’s talking about seems impossible. After all, babies don’t spontaneously happen. The angel responds by saying God will take care of the details; God’s power will do what God has said. Okay, fine. She accepts that. I think that may be the most surprising thing of all, because even devout Christians doubt God’s power. They feel God calling them to do something, but instead they listen to the little voice in the back of their head that says “well, that would take a miracle—I just don’t think it’s possible,” and so they don’t do anything. Mary had that voice, that doubt, but she didn’t let it drown out her faith.

Then the angel, who has given her this huge mission that’s going to be pretty rough on her, tells her about Elizabeth, her cousin. Elizabeth, who was also going through an unexpected God-given pregnancy. Elizabeth, who could support Mary and give her love and help that the rest of the community wouldn’t. Mary had a special role, Mary had a hard road ahead of her, but she didn’t have to walk it alone. God gave her helpers along the way. Her cousin Elizabeth, her husband Joseph—both got instructions to help Mary, and both would heed that call from God. They would stand by her even when the rest of the world didn’t. God rarely gives us solitary missions. When God calls us to action, when God gives us a task to do, God often provides helpers, confidants, support systems. They may not be the ones we’d choose on our own, but they’re there.

And that’s when Mary says yes. She’s been given her mission, assured that it’s really important and that God will do the heavy lifting, and that she won’t be alone. She may be ostracized in the community but she’ll still have someone with her who believes her and cares for her. And that’s when Mary says yes. Her doubts and fears may still be there—she still doesn’t understand why this is necessary and what it’s going to mean for the world—but she trusts that God will take care of the details. And you know what? He did!

Like Mary, we, too, are called by God, as individuals and as groups. We are given tasks, missions, things to do—it’s part of being a disciple. Sometimes those tasks are small—giving a hug when someone needs it, for example. Sometimes they’re pretty big. Sometimes, we do them without realizing we’re doing God’s work, and sometimes God has to nudge or poke us to get us moving. Sometimes, when it’s really big and really hard, people get angels like Mary did. (And sometimes we don’t recognize those angels for what they really are.) But we are all called by God to be his hands and feet in the world. When you realize God is calling you, take a page from Mary’s book. First, don’t panic. Don’t be afraid. It may be hard, but God will not let you do it alone, and God will help. Second, it’s okay to have doubts and questions. It’s okay to wonder how in the world it’s ever going to happen. Mary did, after all. Third, look for the people God has given you to help support you. Then take a deep breath, and say yes.

Amen.

Are we listening?

Advent 4B, Sunday, December 18, 2011

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:46b-55
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

Preached by Anna C. Haugen, Trinity Lutheran Church, Somerset, PA

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

When I read the lesson from Second Samuel on Tuesday, I was struck by something kind of odd in the first three verses.  David makes a plan.  He tells the prophet Nathan about it.  Neither of them pray.  And Nathan, without praying to God for guidance, tells David to go ahead with his plan because it’s what God wants.  They both assumed they knew what God wanted.  But as it happened, they were wrong.

Here’s some background.  David, with God’s help and guidance, had just finished a civil war against Saul’s son.  David was newly crowned king and was no doubt looking to establish his prestige and position, and what better way to prove his piety and his riches than to build God a temple, a place for God’s people to worship him?  A temple building would help all the day-to-day work of the priests and people in God’s name.  Building a temple would be good for the religious establishment, and it would be good for David’s political career.  Everyone benefits!  So David talks to Nathan, who was the most powerful prophet in Israel, and (without actually asking God if this is what God wants) Nathan gives him the green light to build a temple.

Just about anyone living today would agree.  After all, of course God needs a house!  Building or purchasing a church building is one of the first things new congregations do, once they’re stable and self-supporting.  It’s the expected thing to do, the normal thing to do.  Buildings are very useful things—just look at all the ways Trinity’s building contributes to God’s mission!  It’s a place for worship and study, a place for Christian fellowship, a place to host the Food Pantry and the Toy Drive, a place to care for children and teach them about God.  It’s a tangible symbol that the LORD is with us, a place where we know we can encounter God.  We come here Sunday morning and we hear God’s word, we are taught and inspired, we are strengthened by God’s holy supper and we are sent out into the world.  This building, this house of God, helps us do all that.

So why didn’t God want David to build him a temple, a house of cedar?  It can’t be that God doesn’t like temples in general; a generation later, God told David’s son Solomon to build a temple.  I think it has to do with Nathan and David’s attitude.  They don’t think they need to ask God what God wants them to do; they don’t think they need to pray; they think they already know.  They think that God’s priorities are the same as theirs.  God has given David the kingship, and thus the king’s great and expensive house to live in; now David plans to return the favor.  He’s going to take care of God and build God a big expensive house to live in.  They are so focused on the expected thing, the normal thing, that they can’t see what God actually wants them to be doing.

God points out the error of that attitude.  “Are you the one to build me a house to live in?”  God doesn’t need David or anyone else to take care of him; God can take care of God’s own self, thank you very much.  In fact, things are the exact opposite.  God is the one who takes care of us.  God is the one who guides us.

Like David and Nathan, it’s very easy to assume that we know what God wants us to do, the plans God has for us.  After all, we are God’s people.  We are doing God’s work.  We study God’s word.  Surely, if anyone can figure out God’s plans, it should be us.  And yet, the Bible is filled with stories of faithful people who didn’t understand what God was doing until after it was already done, and explained to them.  Take David, for example: God promised David that his house and his kingdom would be “made sure forever before [God]; [his] throne established forever.”  Do you think David, hearing that, understood that God wasn’t just talking about an earthly kingship over one nation?  God was telling David that the salvation of all the world from the sin and brokenness would come from one of David’s descendants.

God was telling David about a heavenly kingship that is better and greater than any mortal country could hope to be.  And yet David probably only considered God’s words in relation to his and his descendants’ reign over the kingdom of Israel.  He could understand part of God’s plan, that God had claimed Israel as God’s people, and David and his children to play a special role.  But he probably didn’t understand just how special.  How could he?  Even centuries later, after many prophets had spoken, when Jesus came people still didn’t understand his ministry.  Not until after Jesus’ death and resurrection did people look back at all that had been said by the prophets and by Jesus and realize what they had meant.

David and Nathan’s plan to build God a temple wasn’t necessarily a bad plan, it just wasn’t God’s plan.  But they didn’t know that because they didn’t ask.  They didn’t pray.  They just went on about their business as usual, doing the expected thing, the normal thing.  But God wasn’t doing the normal, expected thing.  God was doing something extraordinary, and God wanted David and Nathan to help with God’s work.  As followers of God, we should take note of this lesson: we should never just assume we know what God wants us to do.  Instead, we should be open to what God is calling us to do, even if we don’t exactly know how it’s going to turn out in the end.  Instead of being like David, we should be more like Mary.

God does surprising things all the time.  God does things we wouldn’t expect.  We’re so used to the story of Jesus that we don’t often realize just how strange it would have seemed to the people living it.  They didn’t know how it was going to turn out.  They didn’t understand what God was in the process of doing.  Mary certainly didn’t expect what God called her to do!  And yet, despite not knowing what was going to happen, she followed God’s will for her.

Just imagine being Mary: nobody special, from a backwater region.  Getting ready to live a very ordinary, mundane, predictable life.  And then an angel visited her.  Can you imagine an angel coming to visit you and telling you that the Lord is with you?  It’s no wonder she was afraid and perplexed.  Who wouldn’t be?  Yes, God is with us, we know that … but there’s a difference between knowing God is with us and having divine confirmation of it in the form of an angel telling you directly.

And what God was asking her to do wasn’t something anyone would expect God to do.  After all, in that time and place an unmarried woman found to be pregnant, or any woman found pregnant by someone other than her husband could legally be put to death by stoning, which is a pretty brutal way to go.  At the very least she and her entire family would be shamed, humiliated, in the eyes of their friends and neighbors.  Any plans she had for her life would pretty much be out the window.  After all, how many people would believe that God was the father of her child?  If this happened in our community, would you believe it?  It doesn’t fit into our nice, neat categories.  It doesn’t fit into our expectations.  What God called Mary to do wasn’t easy.  Mary had no way of knowing, then, what this thing God was asking her would lead to.  But the one thing she knew was that life would never be normal again.  Her life would never follow the safe, ordinary, normal pattern she had expected.  But God would be with her, and God would guide her.

Mary chose to listen.  She chose to follow God’s call, even though it would be hard, even though God was calling her to do something out of the ordinary.  Mary trusted God to guide her, even though it would disrupt the plans she had for her own life.  And God used her to bless the whole world through the coming of Jesus Christ our savior.

It’s not always easy to hear God’s call.  Few of us get angelic messengers, and the cares of the world—our own fears and desires—can easily distract us from listening to God.  And yet, God is still speaking to us, calling us to do God’s work in the world.  The question is, are we listening?  Are we praying for guidance?  Are we open to God’s call, even if it’s not easy, or safe, or expected?  Are we willing to let God use us to do extraordinary things?  I hope and pray that we will follow Mary’s example.  Let it be with us according to God’s Word.

Amen.