From the District Superintendent

Hidden Grace

Posted 26 March, 2020 by Rev. Kathleen Overby Webster

Thirty-one years ago this month on March 26, 1989, I, along with all the worshippers came inside the fellowship hall following the Easter Sunrise service, which had been held, as all the best ones are, outside. As we entered the warm building we were greeted by the sounds of the men working on their annual big breakfast and by the smells of cooking: including the strong aroma of frying bacon ... it permeated the building ... can't you smell it now?As one woman walked past me down the hall on her way to the meal, she said, "Boy! It's good no one around here is pregnant, that smell would make them sick! It sure was one of the things that always gave me morning sickness!"

She laughed. I laughed. 

I knew, though she didn't, that the next night I was meeting with the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee to tell them that I was pregnant, about 8 weeks along. 

Luke 1:26-38  Common English Bible (CEB)  26 When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, 27 to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David's house. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 When the angel came to her, he said, "Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!" 29 She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said, "Don't be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. 31 Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. 33 He will rule over Jacob's house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom."34 Then Mary said to the angel, "How will this happen since I haven't had sexual relations with a man?"35 The angel replied, "The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God's Son. 36 Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled 'unable to conceive' is now six months pregnant. 37 Nothing is impossible for God."38 Then Mary said, "I am the Lord's servant. Let it be with me just as you have said." Then the angel left her.

I know it is surprising, in Lent, with our focus on the cross up ahead in Jerusalem to hear this unexpected scripture reading (Luke 1:26-38) as we recall the announcement to Mary by the angel Gabriel that she will bear a child, the overshadowing by the Holy Spirit, the decision to walk in faith, to be a disciple.It is so revealing in this season when we look to the cross, the tomb, and beyond to resurrection, to see God already working to bring new life. 

Elizabeth, barren in her fertile years, and now so very old, that the hot flashes had long ago subsided, the change of life was for her as much a memory as were the monthly disappointments: "no child for you" the bloody flow had chided time after time ..., all the passionate acts of love through all the years of possibility had not produced a child ... yet now, beyond belief,  she is already six months along in pregnancy, carrying within her a blessed babe who will grow to be the messenger John the Baptizer, her elderly husband Zechariah struck mute until he can confirm the name (John not Zechariah, Jr) that God has chosen for this miracle child.

Mary herself cannot truly begin to know all that she is accepting, when she responds to the angel, "Yes, I see it all now. I am the Lord's maid, ready to serve, Let it be with me just as you say." (The Message)

Soren Kierkegaard wrote that those whom God blesses God also curses ... it's not hard to think that Mary the Blessed One also felt the shadow side of blessing ...

  • from Joseph's first response to divorce her quietly, 
  • to the whispered gossip that must have spread across the town, 
  • to the uncomfortable travel to Bethlehem, 
  • the unattended birth, the awesome star-shine, rough shepherds and gifting magi,
  • life as a refugee in Egypt (always hearing in her heart a thousand Rachels sobbing for their children killed instead of hers), 
  • her 'tween son lost in Jerusalem during the Passover feast though finally safely found questioning the teachers in the temple, 
  • the ways her grown-up son seemed to deny all earthly ties (even her, whose womb and arms had cradled him), 
  • to finally standing silent and near as he is executed, the sword that pierced his side ripped her heart apart as well.  
  • She may have been among the ones to watch his burial and come on the third day dawn to find him resurrected, reborn to life. 
  • She certainly was the only disciple there at both the manger and the cross.

In our own journeys of discipleship, in the midst of virus pandemic, in our denomination's struggles where is God right now surprisingly at work, catching us off guard, asking if we will be a part of God's activity in the world?Are there places that, if we pause and ponder, where we will see God's hidden grace at work right now, like a pregnancy not yet showing, but new life a-bursting forth? Can we like Mary say,  "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word" and mean it even though the cross looms large before us?

Can we trust that God is with us? Emmanuel: Crucified and Risen ...