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Reflection December 17, 2017
Reflections on The Visitation by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
A most touching parable found in the opening chapter of Luke’s Gospel is Mary’s visitation to her cousin, Elizabeth. I spoke about this story this past Sunday, December 10. I wish to place a few of my sermon reflections in this week’s Advance. I will not “walk thru” the story as I did on Sunday but will jump to the “heart” of the story.
Christian de Cherge was a Trappist monk and abbot who was martyred by militant Muslims in Algeria in 1996. He, along with six fellow monks, were beheaded. The 2010 French movie, Of Gods and Men, recounts the story of these courageous men of God.
Christian believed that the image of Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth was vitally important. As recounted in an article by the spiritual writer, Ronald Rolheiser, the Visitation is the key to how “Christians are meant to meet other religions in the world.
“Christianity is carrying Christ and other religions are also carrying something divine, a divine ‘cousin’ … We need each other, everyone on this planet, Christians and non-Christians, Jews and Muslims, Protestants and Roman Catholics, Evangelicals and Unitarians, sincere agnostics and atheists; we need each other to understand (the fullness of) God’s revelation. Nobody understands fully without the other. Thus our interrelations with each other should be born not only out of enthusiasm for the truth we have been given, but it should issue forth too from our lack of the other. Without the other, without recognizing that the other too is carrying the divine, we will, as Christian de Cherge asserts, be unable to truly release our own Magnificat.”
Just as Mary, on the way to Elizabeth, is carrying Christ within her, so we are likewise called to carry Christ through our wounded and divided world. Christ entered us when we gave our lives over to him. But, unfortunately, we, Christians, have failed to carry Christ well. Many Christians have “weaponized” Christianity. The faith is used as a weapon to attack those who do not agree with them.
Too many Christians proclaim themselves as “the saved” over against “the damned.” Our country’s current political climate clearly shows the “fruit” of such Christian seeds of judgment and condemnation - never mind bringing other faiths into this distorted picture!
Main line Christianity - all the established denominations - have largely failed in helping its adherents be touched by the divine, be touched by God, be touched by the Christ. Because of this failure, what the denominations proclaim is a dullish dogma: “Live a moral life, do good deeds, and maybe then you can get to heaven.” Not much there there!
If we come to church to learn how to be good people, good citizens, there may be some value found in such a project. But our young will (and mostly already have) reject such a lame project. If we do not help our young actually experience the Christ - the Christ who entered us when we accepted him - then our religion is hollow. Our faith then is hollow.
Our faith is not what we believe - the stuff that fills our heads. Faith is what fills our hearts (“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matt 6:21) Faith is, for me, the willingness to be touched by God, touched primarily by those who carry God into our world.
How does God work in our world? Almost always, God works in our world through us. But most of us keep waiting for the Angel Gabriel to show up! We want God to be showy! But God is almost never showy! Angel annunciations are rare yet one never knows whether one is sitting next to an angel in church or not!
During the week before I preached on the Visitation, I was touched a few times. One evening, by accident (?), I came across a concert by Yusuf/Cat Stevens. Cat Stevens was one of my favorite singers in the early 1970’s. Many of us recall his songs such as “Morning Has Broken” and “Peace Train.”
During the concert, Yusuf/Cat Stevens told a story about how world-wide fame pushed him into becoming a recluse. In 1975, he was swimming off the coast of Brazil. He got caught in a current and was pushed very far from shore. He knew he could not survive. He called out to God to save him with the promise of spending the rest of his life in service to God. A wave pushed him gradually back to shore and he kept to his promise. Did God “save” Cat Stevens? Who is to know except God alone. Yet the story touched me deeply.
This past Saturday, I accidentally (?) watched the last hour or so of the 2016 wonderful movie, “Hidden Figures.” This is a movie everyone should see if they have not already done so. I first saw it with my son, Mark, last January in Boston.
Watching it again, I was touched by the courage and dedication of the African-American women who had such an impact on our country’s space program. The movie brought tears to my eyes. This is how God works within us and among us!
Each of us - you and I - are carrying Christ. We are pregnant with Christ. We are pregnant with the divine. But most of us just don’t know it!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister