“God’s Revolution,” August 18, 2019, the Rev. Louise Kalemkerian
Sermon preached by the Reverend Louise Kalemkerian
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, an ancient observance of the early church that has no basis in Scripture. But it is a tradition that the early church held onto tightly, and has been passed down through the ages, and still observed in Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. The Orthodox call this feast the Dormition, or falling asleep, of Mary. Our RC and Orthodox brothers and sisters have explanations for how it happened; in our typical Anglican way, we don’t have a definitive answer. This is clear from the introduction of the collect for this day: “O God you have taken to yourself the blessed virgin Mary mother of your incarnate Son.” How Jesus has taken her, we don’t know. What we do proclaim is that Mary is the God-bearer, mother of our Lord, we and honor her for her role in our salvation history.
Mary was a native of Nazareth. The city of Nazareth currently has a population of about 76,000 people, 30% of whom are Palestinian Christians. It is an old city/town with very narrow streets in the oldest section, the part of the town that exists since before Jesus’ time. When Jesus grew up there, it was a hamlet of about 150 people. So you can be sure that every one knew everyone else. And no doubt their business too.
We went to Nazareth on our pilgrimage, staying there three nights. There are two churches of the Annunciation in Nazareth, both claiming to be the site where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, one a Greek Orthodox Church, and the other the RC basilica. Down the hill from the Greek church is what used to be the town’s water source, the village well, where the women of the town would gather to collect water and exchange news. Scripture doesn’t say anything about how Mary and her parents dealt with the fact she was pregnant and unmarried, except to say that she went off to visit her cousin Elizabeth, “in the hill country of Judea.” Basically, to get out of town.
And it’s when she’s visiting Elizabeth that she proclaims the amazing song we call the Magnificat. When I was in seminary years ago, several of my irreverent classmates said that Magnificat was a great name for a feline.
We are singing and reading the Magnificat several times in this service. The words proclaim a different world order than we are used to. The words church and revolution don’t often fit in the same sentence. Yet that’s what the Magnificat is calling for, a revolution, a turning of the world upside down. Perhaps because we’re so used to the words, we don’t recognize how truly world-shattering they are. The Magnificat is a radical song, a proclamation of the way God wants the world to be.
In the Magnificat, God totally changes the order of things. God takes that which is on the bottom; and God turn everything upside down, and puts the bottom on top and the top on the bottom. God transforms the way we think, the way we act, and the way we live. Before God’s revolution, we human beings were impressed with money, power, status and education. We were impressed with beauty, bucks and brains.
But God revolutionizes all of that; God totally changes all of that; God turns it upside down. The poor are put on the top; the rich are put on the bottom. It is a revolution; God’s revolution. The Magnificat clearly tells us of God’s compassion for the economically and psychologically poor; and when God’s Spirit gets inside of Christians, we too have a renewed compassion and action for the poor. Our hearts are to be turned upside down.
Listen carefully to the words of the Magnificat. Not the poetry or loveliness of the words. Listen to the five important verbs. In the Magnificat, God tells us that God regards or respects or looks with favor on the poor, exalts the poor by bringing down the powerful, feeds the poor, helps the poor, remembers the poor.
In the Magnificat, God totally changes the values of life. A revolution totally changes things such as did the computer. In Christian language, before the revolution, we were impressed with the rich. After God’s revolution, we are to be impressed with the poor. Before God’s revolution, we are impressed with bucks and beauty. After God’s revolution, we are to be impressed with paupers and poor people. The Magnificat is revolutionary stuff. There are creative interpretations that try to water down or dismiss the words of the Magnificat. Don’t believe any of them. The revolution is meant to begin in your life, and in mine. This is God’s revolution in our hearts. God’s values are to respect the poor, exalt the poor, feed the poor…within our lives and actions.
Mary reflects God’s own bias toward the lowly, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the undocumented, the mentally ill, the unemployed and underemployed, all those whom the society hardly recognizes, and raises them up to importance, to a place at the Table, to a place in God’s kingdom. Mary reflects God’s own concern for those on the fringes of society because Mary saw that concern expressed for her, a pregnant unmarried woman of very humble origins. Mary makes it clear that God’s plan and desire for humankind is different than that of those who hold power in the world. Mary praises a God for whom mercy and compassion are paramount.
And guess what? It was Mary who taught her son these values. It was Mary who, along with teaching Jesus his aleph, bet, gimmel, taught Jesus that it was God’s will and wish that all persons are valued. She imparted to him that those without resources be housed and fed and clothed, that all persons be respected and honored, that those excluded from the community be included and embraced. That those with power learn that it cannot be built on others’ backs.
How often did Jesus gather around himself the ailing, the unclean, women, children, non-Jews, to the chagrin of the scribes and the religious authorities? He did it all the time. How often did Jesus ally himself with those the society discounted and disrespected? He did it all the time. Mary seemed to know, when she sang her song of praise to God, that the child she was carrying would bring all persons into God’s family, would eliminate the barriers humans had set up among themselves and show mercy to all. When Mary sang her song, she seemed to know the effect of God’s coming for all of God’s people, and was rejoicing in this good news.
Mary’s song reminds us that God’s world still needs righting, that God’s revolution is far from complete. That children are still being separated from their families at our southern border despite court orders to the contrary, that asylum seekers and refugees from violence and hatred are being turned away and imprisoned, that gun violence has taken on a life of its own, that the legacy of slavery and racial animus is still paying dividends 400 years later. And God’s revolution would change all of this.
God needs revolutionaries to turn God’s world upside down. God needs you and me, as God needed Mary, to bring hope and hopefulness to the world. Mary’s story also reflects that God chooses the unlikely, ordinary persons, persons like us, to carry out God’s work of love and redemption; that God calls regular folk to live out God’s love and compassion for all people. In the words of the Baptismal Covenant, “to seek and serve Christ in all persons”, even the unloving, the ungrateful, every day, wherever we find ourselves.
So today we’re called to revolution as heirs of St. Mary, by word and deed, by speaking out, by writing letters to the editor and to our congresspeople, by standing up for the least, the hurting, the left out and demonstrating in our own lives the love and goodness of God.