Go Tell: “The Right Story”
Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
Rev. Emily Wilmesherr
Decatur Presbyterian Church
November 27, 2022
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowly state of his servant. Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name;
50 indeed, his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has come to the aid of his child Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
For years the church preschool has put on a highly anticipated Christmas program. The children dress as the holy family, animals, angels, shepherds and wise ones, singing with pure joy all the Christmas favorites. I would say the highlight of the program is “Go Tell it on the Mountain.” A familiar Christmas song, but sung with a new spin. Lori McMahan would teach the children to shout “Go!” followed by sweet singing of the other lyrics. The joyful shout always gets listeners attention and puts a smile on their face. All within earshot of this message were being commanded in the cutest way possible to “go tell the world that Jesus has been born.” You leave feeling inspired to Go and Tell the good news.
Today is the beginning of the new series called “Go Tell.” To “go tell” the good news might sound scary to a group of Presbyterians. It might make you think of “evangelism” or think we are supposed to be televangelists or street corner preachers. The thought of sharing our faith may shut us down. We don’t want to offend or we believe our faith is between us and God. We might think no one really cares. I wonder if we are turned off to sharing the good news because how we see this telling in most places today lacks personal connection between the speaker and the listener.
There are so many different methods of communication these days that take out that personal connection, which make sharing or hearing the good news sound less inviting. We send texts, emails, create flyers and billboards, make social media posts and rarely do we engage in a conversation with another, especially about our faith. It feels easier to turn off the message of written words, it’s easier to ignore the person who wrote it. Walter Ong was a Jesuit priest, professor of English literature, cultural and religious historian, and philosopher. He was most interested in the history of communication from all verbal transmission to mostly printed communications and how it changes human consciousness. He said, “in all of the world of communication, there is nothing more powerful than someone who loves someone else telling them the truth in love.” Many people come to know Jesus because someone else shared their story with them. There are those of us who have come to know Jesus in major life changing moments while others of us who have known Jesus their whole lives. Whatever our experiences, they are worth sharing.
This morning I would like for us to open our hearts and minds to hearing Go Tell as an invitation. I would like for us to set aside any trepidations we might have to “evangelism” or “sharing our faith with others.” Perhaps Go Tell simply means to share what is most meaningful to you in your 3 life of faith. Perhaps it is sharing with others how you have encountered the presence of God in your life and experienced hope beyond your present circumstances. Perhaps it is telling someone we love the truth in love.
Today is also the first Sunday of Advent. Advent means coming or arrival. During Advent, we remember how people watched and waited for God to come through the long awaited Messiah. We too, watch and wait for God to come again. We live in between Jesus’ birth and his second coming, in the “already” and the “not yet.
Mary’s song is spoken as in past tense. “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” God has already turned the world upside down. This is the good news that Jesus came to share. Jesus was born in a time and place of oppression where the promises of a bright future were nowhere to be seen, yet it was this place and time where the Light of the World was born. Jesus was born not in a palace to a wealthy family but to a poor teenage girl who was not yet married. This was what Jesus’ mission and ministry was, to lift up the lowly and bring down the powerful. To call attention and bring in change for systems and structures that are not of God’s making, and we are called to be partners alongside Jesus.
What is the good news we are to share? Good news might sound different depending on who you talk to. For a person battling terminal cancer, it might be that they have a team to support them every step of the way. To the undocumented immigrant it may mean that there are no borders to God’s love and welcome. To a young college student away from home for the first time, it might be that they are not alone on this part of their journey. To an older adult no longer able to get out, good news may be regular contact from pastor’s aides. To a grieving spouse, their good news might be that their loved one now rests with God. In whatever situation, the promise is God has come as Emmanuel, God is with you every step of the way.
In American culture, the boundaries between the Christian story and other stories get blurred. If we are going to live into our call to go tell the good news, we need to be clear on what that good news is. The gospel message often can get watered down to personal contentment, soothing counsel, little pieces of advice and the message of Jesus is turned into sayings on coffee mugs or paintings. When we see the gospel message in this way, we lose sight of how the radical message Jesus proclaims is meant to shake us to our core. Jesus came to turn the world upside 4 down, to reorient people towards God and away from personal gain, to uplift those on the margins of society and employ people to see the humanity of all. This message is not an easy one to digest. And as people who live post resurrection, we can forget how incredibly earth shaking this news is. We see that Jesus’ birth, life, and death were radical. He lived a life so different than anyone had ever seen. He was God in the flesh, living among humanity. That is the already but we are living in the not yet too. God is still working to bring about justice, peace, love, and hope for all people. How can this happen if we keep our stories and encounters with God to ourselves?
We live in a world where our faith stories are so private. It feels uncomfortable to talk about our faith, we think we don’t have anything to share, or we do not want to offend anyone. It is important to share our faith because God did. In the beginning, out of the chaos and darkness, God spoke everything into being. The world began through spoken word. Jesus’ ministry began with speaking, sharing, talking with others, not “doing things”. While participating in good causes like building schools and hospitals and establishing non profits to help those in need are important, we have to start with sharing our stories and how we have seen God working in our lives and the lives of others around us. We have to name the dark places where the Light of the World needs to shine bright. Sharing our stories in this way helps us to connect with others and helps others to know a living God who has already changed the world.
Mary’s song talks about God’s transformation of the world. Turning it into something completely new. A world not only of personal transformation but the transforming of the structures, rules, and laws that lift up some while harming others. The message she is proclaiming sounds like good news for the poor and bad news for the rich. But I believe that Jesus brings the powerful, prideful, and rich down from their thrones is an act of love. When one’s wealth and privilege keep them from seeing other’s humanity, God reorients their lives to what really matters, a life focused on the message of love for all people. Commitment to a life oriented towards God is not only sometimes countercultural but also points us to a transformed world.
We do not get a lot of information on how Mary actually felt after hearing the news of her miraculous pregnancy, but if any of us have been pregnant or know someone who has, there exists both joy and fear. Mary didn’t ask for this to happen to her, she was chosen. This baby that she is now carrying is a complete miracle. But not all miracles come with pure joy. Now this young girl who is engaged to be married is pregnant, and not pregnant with a child of her 5 betrothed. She is likely headed into a time of ridicule from family, friends, and the community. She is probably overwhelmed with questions about what’s next. When Joseph hears this, will he stay or leave? How will she get through this? Who would understand this experience?
Upon hearing that her cousin, Elizabeth had also experienced a miraculous pregnancy in her older age, she goes quickly to be with her and perhaps even escape her reality for only a little while, because if anyone could understand what she was feeling it would be Elizabeth. Mary is immediately greeted with love, excitement, and support from her cousin. There was something about talking to the older woman that left her hopeful. This encounter opens the door to the Magnificat, it was a process.
While Mary had a few questions for the angel she ultimately was ready to accept the invitation to carry the Savior of the world and be his mother. But Mary didn’t immediately leap to joy nor did she overlook the challenges that she would face. She needed to find support from someone else who was living a similar experience. Once she shared her story with Elizabeth and listened to hers, Mary didn’t wait to praise God. She lifted up thanksgiving and adoration before she had a chance to see how everything would play out. How often do we wait to praise God until a situation is resolved or until we feel like a part of our story is complete?
Netflix has completely transformed the way that we experience television. Entire seasons and whole series are available at the click of a button. TV watching rarely involves waiting, you can keep watching as long as you want. They also set it up so that in the last 30 seconds of the show, they give you new information and leave you with a cliffhanger so you keep watching. However, if you have watched a show over the last 5-10 years you know that they end with the famous Hollywood ending, all is well. You don’t need to watch every moment to know everything works out.
Mary is saying this in her song, while she hasn’t seen the end with her own eyes, she knows deep in her soul that it will all be well because she trusts the God whom she serves. She is hopeful for not only her future or the future of her family, but in the future of the world. She doesn’t have to see the details along the way to know that God has and will continue to do great things for all people. She believes the world is about to turn.
We do not have to know how things will play out to sing our praise to God, to hold on to hope. We will experience difficult times, sometimes unimaginable grief and challenge, but when we look back at what God has done in our lives or hear the stories of others we are reminded of Emmanuel, God’s constant presence with us. Mary’s song puts into words the work God has done, is doing, and will continue to do. I think it is so fitting that these words come in the form of a song, because music has a very powerful way of giving us words to say when we don’t know what to say. It also calls us into real experiences and action. When we sing these words of Mary, we are entering into the transforming work of God in the world with Mary, Elizabeth, Jesus and all those who have responded to God’s call with “here I am!”
On the day of my confirmation in 1999, I remember standing to sing the song “Here I Am Lord.” I remember the words brought tears to my eyes and made it hard to sing. The words washed over me as I promised to follow God wherever God may be calling me on that day and beyond. The words I hoarsely sang at the beginning were out of fear of what to expect, then I heard others around me singing the same words and making that same promise. I began to sing with courage and hope for not only what God was going to do in my personal life but how I would get to participate in God’s good work in the world.
My prayer is that we all accept the invitation to go tell the good news from our experience, whatever that may be. Whether our voices are trembling with fear or strong with courage. Believe that God calls you to this work of sharing the gospel with others not only for personal transformation but for the transformation of the world. Leaving behind the brokenness, oppression, and hate that exists now and entering a new world which is of God’s design where all people are loved and welcomed.
May it be so. Amen.
Rev. Emily Wilmesherr
Decatur Presbyterian Church
November, 27, 2022