Thank you to the people of St John’s, North Holmwood for their hospitality today. You can hear my sermon on their website (including special guest appearance from Bridget, aged 5, and some enthusiastic participation from the whole congregation):
On my holiday recently I played a new game. It’s called the Yes No Game, and the basic idea is that all you can say in answer to a series of questions is either “yes” or “no” – with hilarious results!
We’re going to try a version of that this morning, but this is the Yes Yes Game – whatever I ask you, you have to answer “Yes”. Are you ready?
[Invite volunteers to front. Ask them a few silly questions]
Now, for the next round I want everyone to join in:
Do you believe yourselves to be the people of God?
Do you believe God has a plan for you?
Do you want to be part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world?
Are you prepared to tell people about Jesus?
Are you ready to serve people in whatever ways they need?
Are you willing to welcome everyone, even the people who make you feel uncomfortable?
Will you do what God asks you to do?
Will you go where God asks you to go?
Are you prepared to risk everything for the sake of God’s kingdom?
I wonder if some of those were harder to say “yes” to than others? Some “yeses” are very hard to say indeed. Others are easier.
In our gospel reading today, we heard the beautiful words of the Magnificat, which Mary says in response to the news that she is to be the mother of God’s son, God himself, Jesus. It’s a rich, joyous response, one which has resonated with the church through the centuries. But at its heart, it is one long, praise-filled, joyful “yes”. Mary says “yes” to one of the biggest, riskiest, most important tasks in human history, and she not only says “yes”, but says it with words of joy, hope and praise.
“Let it be to me according to your word”, Mary says, in the passage just before this one. It’s an unconditional “yes” – a “yes” to whatever God asks. It’s a momentous thing to say. It’s also the motto of the convent where I have been staying on retreat this week. And in that context it takes on another layer of meaning – “let it be to me according to your word” say the Sisters daily, women who have given up their whole lives to the worship of God. That’s another kind of big “yes”.
While I was at the convent, we celebrated the feast of Maximillian Kolbe, a Polish priest who was sent to Auschwitz and there offered his own life in order to save another man, by dying in his place. “Greater love has no-one than this” says Jesus, but it’s an awfully big “yes” to give.
Now, most of us aren’t considering entering a convent, and none of us is likely to be asked to bear the son of God, nor – please God – to be required to give up our lives for others, so what do these “big yeses” have to say to us? All of us in our lives face choices. Some of them are big choices: where to live, what job to do, who to marry, which school to go to, or to send our children to. Some are small choices: whether to give to a particular charity appeal, how to respond to people begging in the street, how much time to devote to prayer, and when and how.
In all these things we have choice. And how do we make those choices? We probably weigh up various factors, gather the relevant information, ask the opinions of people we trust. And hopefully we also pray – ask for God’s guidance. And when we ask God to show us what God wants, God does – although rarely in the way or at the time we expected. But that guidance is no use to us unless we are prepared to say “yes” to God’s way.
And that can be a daunting thing. What if I ask God what I should do, and then I don’t like the answer? What if what God wants me to do seems too big an ask, or too unlikely, or makes me think – as Mary surely must have done – “who, me?!” Maybe some of that rings true for you too.
Well, it comes down to trust, to faith in the faithfulness of God. We know what God is like. We know from the Bible and our own experience and the experience of others. We know that God loves us and calls us by name. We know that God so longs for our salvation that God sent Jesus to live and die and rise again so that we can enjoy eternal life with God. We know that God has a plan for each and every one of us, a plan to give us hope and a future.
And so we step out in faith. We say “yes”, even when we’re not sure quite what we’re saying yes to. And sometimes those “yeses” are scary. Sometimes we wrestle with them. Sometimes we need to say “maybe” for a while before we’re ready to say “yes”. And so we need to ask God not only to show us what God wants of us, what God’s word is to us, but also to ask God for the grace and courage to say “yes”.