For Us and For Them

December 19, 2021

For Us and For Them

Passage: Luke 1:46-55 "My Soul Magnifies the Lord!"
Service Type:

Last week, I began by quoting John Prine; and today I turn to another song, this one by Mary, the mother of Jesus. We call it The Magnificat because that is the first word in the Latin translation of this poem. These lyrics are at once a splendid introduction to the two-sided gospel. They are also an opportunity to explain all the fuss about Critical Race Theory in the schools. How’s that for covering a lot of ground in one 19-mnute sermon!!


Mary is fresh from her encounter with the angel Gabriel. You have found favor with God, the angel told her. You will conceive and bear a son and you will name him Jesus

With this news Mary goes to see her relative Elizabeth. Mary lives in the north village of Nazareth. Elizabeth lives in the hill country, near Jerusalem. It is a very long walk. When Mary greeted Elizabeth, the baby that Elizabeth was carrying kicked her! Leaped in the womb, is the more polite and religious say of saying it. In this state of pregnancy, Elizabeth is described as full of the spirit.

Mary sings this song. Right in the middle of their encounter, Mary breaks into song. Or so the narrative would lead us to believe. We are accustomed to this, aren’t we? Not in our lives, but on the big screen. In opera and in Broadway musicals, the actors take up a song. Showboat premiered in 1927 but opened again this year on Broadway. The Sound of Music won five academy awards in 1965. Stephen Spielberg just released his remake of West Side Story using a young and unknown actor in her film debut.

Or perhaps Mary just quoted this poem. Perhaps it was a poem she knew or perhaps she composed it on her walk to the hill country. Or it could have been written later and added to the narrative as a way of enriching this story. However it came to be, it appears for us today in the Bible. It will be profitable for us to read it, contemplate it, discuss it, explore it, perhaps even sing it.


This Magnificat describes the work of God we call salvation. It reveals what God is doing in the world and what God is doing in your life and mine. Like every coin in your pocket this poem has two sides, two verses, two stanzas, two stories, two visions, two descriptions.

Let’s look at them this morning.

First, this song reminds us of what God has done for you, and for me. Note these pronouns: My soul. My spirit. God took notice of me. All generations will call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me.

Here is where true religion touches your life. God speaks to you.  The old gospel song has it right:
And God walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am his own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known.

It is hymn 200 in our hymnal. It is popular because it speaks to this personal side of redemption. None other has ever known is surely false. Many have known this.

On the occasion of his conversion, Bill Gaither wrote his famous testimony. Shackled by a heavy burden, ‘neath a load of guilt and shame.
Then the hand of Jesus touched me and Now I am no longer the same.

Many years earlier, the British slave trader John Newton penned the words to the most widely known gospel song in the world:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was long but now am found, was blind but now I see.

Or perhaps you grew up singing that testimony,
I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore,
very deeply stained within sinking to rise no more.
But the master of the sea heard my despairing cry
from the waters lifted me now safe am it.
Love lifted me. Love lifted me. When nothing else could help Love lifted me.

The psalms are filled with this first-person religion.
The Lord is my Shepherd. And: Where shall I flee from you spirit?

Jesus spoke to this reality:
Come unto me, you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.

Saul of Tarsus encountered the Risen Lord and he told it this way:
I was on the road to Damascus. I saw a bright light. I heard a voice.

The personal pronoun is at the center of what God is doing in the world. Many of you here today will give this testimony.

I was indifferent but God got my attention.

I was wicked but God forgave my sin.

I was confused and lost but God found me and saved me.

I was weary but God gave me strength.

I was uncertain which way to go but God pointed me in a new direction.

This past week Anne Rice died. You or your children may have read her books about vampires. She has sold 150 million books! Halfway through her journey she had a profound religious encounter that redirected her life. It was 20 years ago:
My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me.

Maybe you have a testimony. How God came to you, forgave you, strengthened you, saved you, directed you, comforted you, or prepared you for life or death, for opportunity or opposition, for trial or tribulation.

Two weeks ago, I quoted the words of Eric Clapton that described how God rescued him from debauchery and self-destruction.

God is in the business of saving you and me from ourselves, from sin and selfishness, from mistakes and mismanagement, from confusion and inner conflict, from death and damnation. Repent, every one of you, and believe the good news. The rule of God is near!

Simon Peter spoke to the crowd on that famous Pentecost day. He described what God had done in the history of Israel and in the death and resurrection of God. The people listening were moved to respond and asked, What shall we do?

The great apostle said, Turn to God. Be baptized in the name of Jesus. You, yes you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Then he added: This promise is to you and to your children and to all people near and far.

That is the gospel of God. Love loves you. Speaks to you. Forgives you. Redeems you. Calls you to joy and holiness and self-sacrifice.

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart.

Just as I am, without one plea, but that your blood was shed for me, O lamb of God, I come. I come.



I remember when a church member came to me. He sat in my office and talked about his wife. In negative ways!  I remember sitting there thinking, “There’s another side to this story!”  I have often thought that when people come to talk to me. There’s another side to every story.

Mary sings of the other side of this salvation story.

The mighty arm of God has done tremendous things: Scattered the proud and haughty ones, brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble, filled the hungry with good things and sent away the rich.

Here is the social side of God’s purposes in the world. Here is the global dimensions of the salvation of God. Here is the work of God that is deeper, wider, longer, higher than just you and me.

It is the work of justice, of social redemption, of global transformation. It is the rule of God, the reign of God, the kingdom of God. It is what the prophet foretold when he said, every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain be brought low.

It is what the apostle saw when he wrote:

an angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal flowing from the throne of God. It flowed down the center of the street. On each side of the river grows a tree of life. The tree bears twelve crops of fruit. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

It is this vision that inspires the slave to rise up in rebellion, that leads the people to march for voting rights, that compels the senators to vote for health care for people, that inspires citizens to build parks and support hospitals and take in refugees from Afghanistan, that motivates presidents to lead campaigns to save the environment.

The mission of God is the redemption of all people and the renewal of all things!

It is not just about you. It is not just about me.  It is about them, all of them, people of every color and creed, of every station in life in every city of the world.

It is about freedom and justice, about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is about the aspirations of people everywhere to live in safety, to work for a living, to be free of disease and corruption and violence, to sing with the old negro, ‘aint gonna study war no more, aint gonna study war no more.



Marcy sent me a song text this week. It was new to me. It will be new to you. We can all learn it together.

For everyone born, a place at the table, for everyone born clean water and bread, a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing, for everyone born, a star overhead.

And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy compassion and peace. Yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

There are not many hymns in our book about justice, that pick up the words of Amos who called for justice to run down like waters and righteousness like a flowing stream.

We come from a tradition that emphases one side of this coin and not the other. We like the personal salvation but resist the social transformation. We are at home calling the sinner to repent but not demanding our society to change. We acknowledge the individual that needs to repent of greed, pride, and laziness; but we are not sure what to do with the social system that enslaves the black, shackles the poor, ignores the sick, shuts out the refugee, and abuses the environment.

This is the dysfunctional ideology that is pushing back against racial justice in our nation.

This is what is behind and underneath all the resistance to teaching the truth and confessing our sins and changing our ways.

We are stuck in the rut of individualism, with a God who is out to save only me and you, one soul at a time. We need to get out on the highway of social holiness, with a God who re-arranging the whole universe.

In the political world elected officials are passing laws to prevent teachers from teaching the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

In the religious world, influential ministers are accusing already fundamentalist seminaries of looking too kindly on racial justice and teaching too much about the social dimensions of Jesus our Lord.

One wrote this week: Critical Race theory is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus.

They forget that Jesus told this story. When the Son of Man comes into his glory and all the angels with him, he will set upon his throne and all the nations will be gathered in his presence. The Son of Man will put the sheep on the right and the goats on the left.

Did you catch that?

He will gather all the nations!  Not the preachers or the deacons or the church members or those with retirement programs. Not you as an individual and not me as an isolated person.

He will gather us nation by nation, country by country, perhaps even state by state. The Son of Man will bring us all together, as a community, as a people, as a congregation.

What will he say?

I was hungry and you, all of you, gave me something to eat, created a way for everybody to eat, like the Hebrew people who were required to leave the edges of their fields unharvested so as to allow the poor, the widow, and the immigrant to have food to eat.

I was a stranger and you, all of you, the whole nation, took me in, gave me a place to live, gave me a green card and a job. Yes, it was flipping burgers at first, then picking up the garbage later; but it was a job!

I was in prison and you, your judges, your lawyers, your ministers, your guards, and your advocates for imprisoned people everywhere: you not only came to see me and brought me food and stamps and commissary money and clean clothes.

Not only that, you campaigned to change the laws, to upgrade these jails, to find alternative ways to treat people who break the rules. It was you, country after country, senator by senator, who brought some gospel light into the cell where I was destined to spend all of my life.

This is the other side of the gospel that Mary sang about that, spoke about that day, perhaps danced about that day. It was as if she took the right hand of Billy Graham and his call to discipleship and the left hand of Martin Luther King with his demand for social righteousness and linked them together.

It was as if she had stood in the temple and watched Isaiah:

In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord. I saw the Lord, Isaiah later wrote.

The seraphim were singing Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts. Isaiah said, in one of the most electrifying encounters with the living God, “I am a sinful man. I am a man of unclean lips.” The voice came loud and strong, Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” and Isaiah said “Here am I. Send me.”

And God sent him, with this message. It is the 58th chapter of the prophecy of Isaiah. God says,

Here is the kind of worship, prayer, and fasting I want: free those wrongly imprisoned.

 Lighten the burdens of those who work for you let the oppressed go free.

Remove the chains that bind people.

Share your food with the hungry and give shelter to the himself give clothes to those who need them.

Do not hide from relatives who need your help.

Your salvation will be like the dawn. Your godliness will lead you forward…then when you call, the lord will answer. Here am I.

Isaiah inspired Mary.  Isaiah and Mary inspired Jesus.

And Jesus inspires us, and fills us, and calls out to us, Whom will I send, and who will go for us?

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