Sermon: Blessing by Rev. K.C. Van Atta-Casebier

December 19, 2021

Good morning and welcome to those just joining us. I hope you will check-in if you haven’t already done so and let us know that you’ve been with us.

Let’s Pray. God, for Your wisdom and revelation and hope, we pray now. Amen.

Well, this is a very embodied story, a story of two pregnant women. While I hope I have done faithful work to make this story both accessible and gentle, I do want to offer this word, keep watch over your heart. Breathe deeply and take breaks if you need to.

Have you ever felt like you just knew something? Call it intuition or spiritual connection or universe electricity or just a well developed gut. Recently I answered a phone call, and I just knew what was waiting on the other end before the other person had spoken a word. I’m sure many of you have had moments where you felt Spirit pointing to something with about a thousand neon lighted arrows. As if to say, RIGHT HERE. This is the thing. This is your next step. Or take this path or this leap. Slow down. Breathe deep.

Occasionally in the noise of it all, that divine voice of inner wisdom can get absorbed into the frequency of our environment. For this reason, I can hear my gut best when I am quiet and still, and when I allow my body to sink into itself. But not only is it difficult to hear, sometimes it can be hard to differentiate between what we are hearing from our inner truth and (I’m going to put this bluntly) downright mind tricks. Dangerous lies. And when my mind dupes me, I cope by spending a lot of time in a hypercritical flurry of preparation - pre-grief, pre-anxiety, pre-leading, pre-stress, pre-organizing, pre-worrying. And while yes, some of these things can be immensely helpful in the event of a crisis, the truth of the matter, even though it may be hard to see it, is that sometimes things work out. Even after you’ve stopped believing, even in the face of all of your preparatory grief or stress. Even if just for a moment. Sometimes, in the most unlikely circumstance what we get instead of a tragedy is a blessing. A humble God, a willingness to learn, a love that wins again and again, healing from trauma - a little bit at a time, survival, an unexpected miracle, a star in the night sky, a brave mother.

A few years ago I was sitting in a surgical waiting room, the kind where every half hour or so a surgeon will come in and announce a name. The family members to whom that name belongs will approach the doctor, and right there in the waiting room they tell you the fate of your loved one. I listened as a surgeon came in, announced the name, “Lisa,” and waited for the family to approach. I saw from across the room, a woman start to gather her things and get up. She comes running over to the doctor. The doctor says, “Are you here for Lisa?” “Yes,” the woman replies. And then I watched as this doctor struggled to make sense of their relationship, all while holding the most precious information of this woman’s life. Are you her friend….or her sister...or an aunt? As he continued to struggle, I saw the pain in her eyes. “No, I’m her wife,” she said quietly. The doctor then told her that her beloved Lisa was going to live, that he had gotten all of the cancer with clean margins. She wept openly as she wandered back to her waiting room seat. 

Something within me said, “Go to her.” I tried to fight this urge with all of my might. I was there for my family. I was not there in any official capacity. But still, the energy stirred. “Go to her,” it said. I could feel my shoulders tense, my abdomen tighten, my breath quicken. Something dared me to move. And it always feels like a dare, really. Because there is always something at stake - even if it’s just our comfort. So I went, but not before I had a tug-of-war in my head or what I have begun to call - indefatigable mind sparring. Eventually, my gut won. And this was clear because before my mind could catch up, I was already walking toward her. I asked if I could give her a hug, and apologized for the doctor. She said, “I’m just so glad she’s okay. And I’m not sure what made you come over here, but I am so glad you did. We drove many miles to come have this complicated surgery done by the best surgeon we could find. I have felt so alone.” She asked why I was in the waiting room and offered kind words of support. We talked until it was time for her to go see Lisa in recovery. Through tears we said goodbye.

“Go to her,” is what I imagine Mary heard from within her. An 80 mile, harrowing journey to look her dear cousin in the eye and say, “me too.” When she arrived, I can only imagine their exchange. Did an angel come to you, too? Was it scary for you, also? Look at us, just a couple of outcasts, seemingly unable or incapable of hosting life…and yet here we are looking into each others eyes and feeling in our bodies the most impossible thing of all…that in the fullness of the unlikelihood of these circumstances…one thing is TRUE. For now, it seems to be working out. Mary and Elizabeth had both a human and divine connection. They really saw each other. The divine within Elizabeth recognizes the divine in Mary. The life within Mary sees the life within Elizabeth. And at that moment, I don’t know this for sure, but I hazard a guess that they weren’t trying to anticipate or help or advise or fix or teach. I think Mary and Elizabeth sat there with their umbilical connection - feeding one another presence and goodness and solidarity and hope.

I think I always thought this story was about the baby, or in this case, babies. I thought that my Mothering and my Motherhood gave me a unique entry point into this story and the Gospel as a whole for that matter. And for many years I have said that it is a shame that we don’t talk about infertility and childbirth and pregnancy in the church….primarily because in the story that is upon us, that is LITERALLY how God comes to us. And in its specificity, it is true. The story is about a young pregnant mother and an older unlikely mother and their babies and exchanges of blessings… but what if that's not the whole story? What if it’s not actually about the baby? At least not yet. The story of the baby is coming soon, but it's not here. And babies and birth are sometimes an inaccessible and painful story for some of us. So, let's not skip ahead. Let’s stay right here with Mary and Elizabeth for now. 

Take a break from the preparation and the “what ifs”, the mind sparring, and all that tinsel. Just sit right here with me for a minute. Listen, women and birthing people. Listen, men and non-birthing people. Listen, those who are struggling with fertility. Listen, those who don’t have kids by choice or by circumstance. What if the blessing isn’t just the baby? What if the good news, the fulfillment of the promise, the blessing… isn’t actually about our ability to bear children at all? What if it’s about our ability to bear God? The kind of bearing where the divine They rests in love and in shared life, all while conjuring our brew of inner knowing. And I have a few questions. If we know we’re all God bearers, can we be kinder to ourselves? Maybe speak to and about ourselves in ways that honor our belovedness? Can we see the blessings kept in us? Can we see them in one another? Can we stop trying to control others' bodies because we’re not really great at controlling our own? Can we stop laying claim to others bodies? Can we know, as Mary did, that we are God bearers? And then can we sing as Mary does, holy and unabashedly?

But not that one song… Mary, did you know? No offense to the Gaithers…or actually definite offense to the Gaithers for writing perhaps the most Biblically unlettered song ever. Did Mary know? Yeah, Mary knew. She knew deep in her soul. She knew with her eyes and her arms and her legs and her abdomen. She knew in her body. And despite what everyone had likely said about her body, it was God’s dwelling place. And the same is true about us. Our bodies are God’s dwelling place. Our insides are remarkably capable to bear not only the name of Christ, but the ACTUAL CHRIST. And it would be great if we continue to speak kindly to them and about them and to create safe space for Emmanuel. And when we feel a holy nudging in our inner knowing, may we follow it, if necessary, all the way to the outskirts of town to find the blessing of human and divine connection so strong that we actually feel God leap within us.