Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli is a life-long United Methodist who is passionate about sharing the good news of God’s liberating love in Jesus Christ.
In 2014, she became the first woman to serve as Senior Pastor of historic Foundry UMC in Washington, DC. Since Ginger’s appointment, Foundry has re-energized its work for racial justice, become a founding member of the Sanctuary DMV movement, and created a Sacred Resistance Ministry Team to mobilize consistent action in response to troubling current events.
A graduate of Yale Divinity School, Ginger has served a variety of congregations: small and large, urban and suburban in the Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, in addition to an uptown Manhattan and two-point charge in the New York Annual Conference. Ginger has served the Baltimore Washington Conference as Chair of the Board of Discipleship and currently serves on the Board of Ordained Ministry. In addition, she has served as an elected delegate to the 2016 General Conference and the 2019 Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church.
For over 20 years as a pastor-theologian, her ministry has encouraged spiritual growth and engaged discipleship—emphasizing radical hospitality, shared ministry, spiritual practices, and solidarity with the poor and oppressed. With this focus, she has brought depth, health, and growth to every community she has served. Ginger contributed to and served as a general editor for The CEB Women’s Bible (Abingdon, October 2016). Her book, Sacred Resistance: A Practical Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent, was released in May 2018. Ginger is a sought-after preacher, teacher, and facilitator at local, regional, and international events.
She enjoys gardening, yoga, poetry, art, ice cream, travel, hiking, and is married to Dr. Anthony T. Gaines Cirelli, a Catholic theologian, currently serving the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a Director in their Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs office. The Gaines-Cirellis live in Washington, DC with their Persian cat Annie Rose & Clumber Spaniels Harvey and Daisy.
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How should persons of faith respond when government officials and political leaders behave in ways that contradict values long espoused by Christian tradition? How should churches respond? Sacred Resistance: A Practical Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent provides thoughtful guidance for those pondering their answers to those questions.
Now…Nothing Will Be Impossible
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli with Foundry UMC, December 20, 2020, “The Fullness of Time” series.
Text: Luke 1:26-38, 46b-55
“Mary…you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus…And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.”
And NOW…what has seemed impossible will be revealed as… possible? But, seriously, should we be surprised that old Zechariah had some questions when God’s messenger, Gabriel, announced that Elizabeth would conceive a son after all indicators pointed to “past it?” Should we be surprised that it took Mary a minute to catch up with what was happening, that she was “perplexed” at the arrival and greeting of Gabriel? After all, she was a 14 year old girl without flashy pedigree, husband, or cultural agency—she did not live in a time and place where young women were given voice or choice. Pregnancy out of wedlock was a crime and would threaten both hers and the child’s life and her betrothed, well, that was probably over. And yet she is singled out by God with he assurance that the child will not only survive but thrive. She is singled out by God as worthy of being mother of a king. This simply isn’t how things are done. This isn’t how the world works. This isn’t possible. And notice that Gabriel doesn’t just deliver this proclamation and depart, but evidently waits around to see if Mary is in, a signal that Mary was given at least some measure of agency. “Here am I…Let it be with me according to your word.” Gabriel then departs with the good news: “She said yes!”
The angel communicates to Mary that some things “will” take place. “You will conceive”… “He will be great”… “of his kingdom there will be no end”… “The power of the Most High will overshadow you”… “the child to be born will be holy…the Son of God.” It’s all just words at that point…Gabe pulling up saying, “Hey Mary, these impossible things will be…trust me.” And in the bit of the narrative not received aloud today, after her encounter with Gabriel, Mary travels to her six-months-pregnant cousin, Elizabeth, who says of Mary, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Lk 1:45)
It’s among the first of the Christmas wonders, this belief. So much in our world—then and now—might suggest that we choose otherwise. Why did Mary believe when everything about the situation was impossible? Evidently, she knew the stories of her Jewish faith, like the story of Hannah who sang at her long-awaited child Samuel’s birth. Mary’s song echoes her ancestor Hannah and is traditionally called the “Magnificat.” It paints a portrait of a certain kind of God who is merciful, strong, impatient with destructive pride, disruptive of the status quo, a God who overturns the “way things work” so that the hungry and lowly ones receive the good things usually reserved for the rich and powerful.
This is the God Mary knows—and these things are not, in her song, things that “will be,” but are proclaimed as things that are, things that have already taken place. This is the way our God acts, she sings. This is what our God does from generation to generation, she proclaims. And in the song, Mary recognizes that she has been added to God’s mighty acts, that she is now part of God’s revolutionary love story: “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me.”
Throughout this Advent season, our reflections have pulled words from the Gospel texts that highlight the dynamic time-infused nature of the story we tell and point to God’s engagement with the human family throughout time. “After that suffering”… “The beginning of the good news”… “The One who is coming after”… “Now…nothing will be impossible.” Advent is supposed to be a season of waiting and anticipation, a season of trusting the promise that the birth of Jesus, the birth of perfect love, justice, wisdom, compassion, and mercy will be born again in our time. And yet when it comes right down to it—maybe it’s just me—I am weary of waiting…and so wander back into where we began: “How long, O Lord?” If all that justice and stuff are what you do from generation to generation, why not get from “will be” to “now?”
How long, O Lord? How long until the “Proud Boys” are scattered in the racist imaginations of their hearts? How long until those in the halls of government at every level who abuse their power are truly dethroned and their sway dismantled? How long until privilege is not reserved for those with the least melanin in their skin? How long until those brought low by the pandemics of white supremacy and COVID receive good things like debt, rent, and student loan forgiveness, gap pay, reparations, equity in healthcare, and living wages instead of empty promises and crumbs? How long until it would be unthinkable that as one scholar has suggested “America’s billionaires could give everybody in the country a $3000 stimulus check and still be richer than they were before the pandemic?”
We may be tempted to get twisted up in disappointment and cynicism, we may settle for egg nog or cookies or sparkly things as the only sources of joy, giving up the energy it takes to keep hoping the story we receive at Christmas is believable in any way. And I’m not even talking about believing any particular assertion of angelic beings or “a virgin birth,” I’m talking about the belief in a God who actually does act with a mighty arm on behalf of the impoverished and oppressed, the unexpected and simple ones. We can lose our faith in God. That’s an option. Or we might pause and remember that, throughout all of time, God doesn’t lose faith in us even with our miserable track record as a human family.
The story we tell today is a shining example of some humans who were worthy of God’s faith. They recognized that, in order for the things God says will be to occur sooner, they had to do their part now. Mary and Elizabeth respond in their time, their “now,” and bear new life into their generation, new life that flows into every generation to come. Without Elizabeth, there’s no John the Baptizer, no preparer of the Way. Without Mary and her “yes,” there is no Jesus and all the life and hope and saving grace he brings. And regardless of whether Mary had ever had a child, her act of deep faith is itself a source of new life for wavering spirits. In short, what Elizabeth and Mary did in their “now” made possible the promised “will be.” We exist now as this faith community because Mary not only believed that God was able to fulfill the promise of new life, but also said, “Here am I…”
From generation to generation, God gives us what we need to do what is right, to bring healing, to live justly, to share life together such that all have what they need, to let go the need to steal or to overpower or harm others. God helps us recognize that what we already have is enough to do some good in the world with and for others. God has given us everything, promised everything, hung in there with us when we turn up our noses, when we receive a divine message and respond with some version of “That’s asking too much. That’s too expensive. I don’t have time. Someone else will take care of it. I am not equipped. Thanks anyway.” If we all did our part, focusing our energy and resources on responding with a “Here I am!” to God’s call, the moral arc might get bent more quickly. The “How long?” question is partly ours to answer! And this is our now.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of “the fierce urgency of now.” In his brave and deeply controversial speech at Riverside Church, challenging the U.S. war in Vietnam he said, “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” We as Foundry Church have focused a great deal over these past months on our call for “such a time as this.” I have pressed again and again the point that this is our stretch of a long journey toward God’s vision of a truly just and gentle world. Our time is now. In the midst of the pandemics of systemic racism and COVID, deepening political and relational divides, and crises of health, education, employment, environment, and more, there is no time for apathy or complacency or pushing off responsibility onto God as though we couldn’t get something done if we each did our part. What are you doing now for justice, for peace, for love? If Josie Wright Martin at age 11 can raise and contribute over $6000 to Foundry’s work, well…? Pray, befriend, serve, lead, teach, give…
At the end of this challenging year, we look ahead not only to things that will be but to what God is doing and calling US to do right now. We as Foundry are called to participate, to play a role in the mending work of God, to engage and do and dream and share things now and in the months ahead that will be life-changing, life-giving, that will change the world. Some may worry whether we’ll have enough money, commitment, creativity, perseverance to discern, much less do, all we’re given to be and to become. But I believe that everything we need is already present among us, that we are worthy of God’s faith in us, and that, as we respond and make what is present in and through us available to God’s call, as we each do what we can do now, the will be will… BE. For nothing will be impossible with God!
Interfaith Conversation of Forgiveness moderated by David Gregory
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