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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Just say, "Yes!"

The Annunciation
Michael Sniffen, M.Div.
St. Peter’s Essex Fells
March 26, 2007

Luke 1:26-38

Note: Michael Sniffen is a candidate for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, and is one of the next generation of leaders in our church. He's young, he's bright, he's creative, and he's not afraid to ruffle feathers. He'll get himself in all sorts of hot baptismal water, but, as you will see, he preaches the gospel the way he lives it: boldly and with confidence. Enjoy!

BTW, this is my favorite image of The Annunciation, by Henry Ossawa Tanner which I first saw in the Philadelphia Museum of Art when we were there for General Convention 1997. It's quite extraordinary, I think. EK+

“Yes,” says Mary in the company of angels as she hears the shocking and unexpected news she is pregnant with the Son of God.

“Just Say No!” says Nancy Reagan on the steps of the White House flanked by 150 children with balloons.

It was the annunciation of Jesus birth - The first news that Christ would come among us and teach us how to love.

It was the kick off of the “Just Say No” campaign to curb drug use in the 80’s and 90’s.

Mary’s “Yes” set into motion a chain of events that changed the course of human history forever – and ushered in a new era of peace and hope.

Nancy’s “no” didn’t have quite the same effect. Although “Just Say No” was an incredibly popular campaign, it just didn’t accomplish what it set out to do. Everyone was “just saying no,” but that was the problem …they were just saying “no.”

The campaign ultimately succeeded in nothing more than launching a popular catchphrase. Recreational drug use actually grew during the time of the campaign. Nancy’s “no,” however well intentioned, did not inspire to action the audience it hoped to transform.

Mary’s “Yes” on the other hand was earth-shatteringly transformative. By saying, “Yes” when it would have been much easier (and perhaps more sensible to run for the hills, Mary participated in a movement of reconciliation and justice that could not be stopped, even by death. She not only said yes – she lived yes.

How did she do it? How did Mary live into such a “Yes” in the face of the unknown.

For that matter, how does anyone find the courage live a life of “Yes” in relationship to God, in a world much more comfortable with just saying “no.”

Most of us are accustomed to being a bit more resistant than Mary. It took Mary only 38 short verses to say, “Yes” to God. It takes most of us the better part of a lifetime. We have the best of intentions, but when push comes to shove, “no,” it’s probably easier to stay with the devil we know. We find it hard to be who God is calling us to be.

Paul struggles along with us when he says in his letter to the Romans, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” The spirit says “Yes,” but the will says, “no!”

We have a hard time following through on what we know is best for us and for the world. We say “no” to our own healing. This resistance to letting go and letting God is sometimes so strong that it cripples our ability to live into the freedom God has feely given each of us.

Clinically speaking, resistance so strong that it keeps us from growing is called “Resistance Syndrome.” The seeds of this exist for many of us in early childhood. We learn to say “no” before we say “yes.” This is not all bad. Saying no is a natural and healthy part of human development. We need to differentiate our own will from that of others to gain a genuine sense of self. This kind of resistance is healthy.

Unfortunately, sometimes this resistance can come to characterize all of life. This is not so healthy. We resist change, we resist controversy, we resist difference, we resist God, we resist ourselves. Resisting becomes something that makes us feel safe and comfortable. We become addicted to resistance. We try to prove to ourselves that ultimately we control our own lives.

This is the kind of resistance Lent helps us to leave behind if we struggle together on this journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem. The truth is, when we resist out of fear of losing control, we allow our own resistance to control us. This is being played out right now in our own Anglican Communion.

In the great Marion tradition of saying, “Yes” to God even in the midst of our uncertainly, and fear - our House of Bishops has released a powerful statement that takes a prophetic stand in favor of justice and the inclusion of all people in the life of the Church. It also takes a stand against the unprecedented control that some foreign bishops have been attempting to exercise over our church.

As you can imagine, this “Yes” statement did not go over well with many powerful bishops in other provinces. Those in positions of high authority are very resistant to the way The Episcopal Church understands the gospel. They have, in fact, tried with all of their might to compel us to cease and desist. They have demanded that we stop doing ministry in the way that we believe is right. They have also asked that we exclude people from our church who they believe to be outside the limits of God’s grace – in particular, women and gay and lesbian people.

The Primates resistance to the inclusive love of God as expressed in the ministry of The Episcopal Church, is causing them to lose sight of the witness we see in today’s Gospel. The witness of Mary’s “Yes.” They are unable to see beyond their own resistance to God’s beautiful and just work of in this part of God’s vineyard. Their resistance has caused them to say “no” to God’s work here.

I am very proud to say that The Episcopal Church is working hard to stand in the noble and difficult tradition of the prophets, and of Abraham and Moses and indeed Mary the mother of God in saying “Yes, God. Let it be to us according to your will.”

It takes serious guts and more than a little faith to stand for radical incusivity in a culture that values the status quo. It’s more than a little unpopular to be about justice and truth in a society that highlights the benefits of conformity and self-promotion.

Saying, “Yes” to God requires a lot from us amid the great sea of “no’s” that seems to surround us.

Mary gives us hope and helps us find the will to say, “Yes” in the midst of our busy and confusing lives. This congregation says, “Yes” to God every day in a number of powerful ways. In the way that Health and Healing takes care for our sick and shut-in parishioners. In the way that the outreach committee finds ways to extend the love of this parish far beyond our walls; in the way the youth of this church involve themselves in mission faithfully every summer. In a hundred small ways every day, we are working hard to say, “Yes” to God - and our actions speak even louder than our words.

Nancy Reagan was on the right track. Saying “no” to the things that harm us is a necessary and important part of life. But that is not the end of the story. If life were as easy as just saying no, we would not be here struggling to find healing for ourselves and our broken world. Our “no” to the things that harm us is, for Christians, always followed by a “Yes” to that which gives us life. This is true repentance. In our “Yes” to God, we find the freedom to be who we are meant to be and the confidence to allow others to be who they are without needing to control them or have them do things our way.

The holy “Yes” is a powerful thing. It was Mary’s “Yes” that brought God down to earth. It was her “Yes” that put flesh and bone on the word of God in our midst. It was Mary’s “Yes” that gave birth to the one who ultimately says “Yes” to us all.
As we draw ever closer to Jerusalem on this Lenten pilgrimage, may we discover a million new ways to say “Yes” to God in our lives.

Yes, we are people of hope
Yes, we are people of peace
Yes, we are people who proclaim the day of the Lord’s favor…

And Yes…we will follow Christ wherever he leads…even in these days when he leads us toward Calvary – because even there, “no” is not the final word!

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