Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
Today we are celebrating the Feast of St. Mary. It seems that such a celebration would be pretty straight forward – but Mary is one of those characters that have posed some problems for the Church over the years. Questions about her have been the fodder of theological debate for centuries – was she a virgin? Did she actually die or was she “assumed” into heaven in her earthly body? Does she have special efficacy in terms of interceding for us? What kind worship, if any, is she due?
These theological issues have been answered differently by various branches of the Church. From the most “Reformed” traditions, we hear a deafening silence – and from the most Catholic (capital “C”) traditions, we sometimes hear a cacophony of praise and reverence that can also seem deafening.
I must be honest and tell you that I was born and raised in the part of the church that has preferred to remain silent around the subject of Mary. in fact, I’m not sure I ever spent time thinking seriously about her until one day, when Nelleke, my oldest daughter who was about seven at the time, approached me with a question I will never forget. “Mama,” she said, “if God hadn’t chosen Mary to be Jesus’ mom, do you think he would have asked me?”
I have no memory of my verbal response – and who knows what my body was saying – but I do remember thinking, “Who is this child?” “Where did that come from?”
I called Nelleke recently and asked her about this strange question she asked so many years ago. She is 30 now and the mother of a 2 year-old son of her own.
Do you remember when you wondered about being chosen to be the mother of Jesus? I asked. What was that about? Do you remember what you were thinking?
She giggled into the phone – a kind of nervous, self-effacing giggle. Yeah, she said, I remember wondering, “Would God choose anybody? and then wondering – could that anybody be me?”
Would God choose anybody? Could that anybody be me?
These questions posed by Nelleke have been rolling around in my head ever since – they don’t clear up any of the theological issues raised over the centuries regarding Mary, per se, but they do point us in a direction that I think may be helpful as we live into our own call to be in relationship with God.
So, I’ve spent some time thinking about what we know about Mary and her life as Jesus’ mom that might inform our lives today – here at St. Paul’s on the Green – in Norwalk, CT – and I’d like to consider four of them with you this morning.
First, it is clear from scripture that Mary was called by God to do something very specific and very risky. It is also pretty clear that Mary had enough faith to believe that what God wanted was something she could deliver. When the angel approached Mary with that odd proposal, Mary said, “Yes” – agreeing to become an empty vessel into which the Spirit poured new life – and the world was never the same.
Secondly, though references to Mary in scripture vary considerably depending on the author, we might rightly assume that as Jesus’ mother, she had a great influence on him as a child – she met his physical needs for food and shelter, she provided a safe, stable and loving presence for his emotional growth and she nurtured his spiritual life – taking care to see that he was raised with an awareness of God’s goodness and grace as experienced in the lives of the Hebrew people. He knew the scriptures and he knew his Jewish tradition. Mary was a good mother – she took her role as parent seriously and she took her son seriously.
Third, in today’s Gospel lesson, we hear a movement from self-focus to other-focus. While Mary begins her song acknowledging God’s goodness toward herself, her understanding of God’s goodness quickly widens to include all those who are oppressed – all those who have been beaten down – she becomes one more in the long line of prophetic voices that claim inclusion and equality as the desire of God’s heart. She perceives and then proclaims a vision for the world that matches God’s intentions for it.
And finally, we see Mary as one of the few who remained faithful to the bitter end – waiting and watching at the foot of the cross while her son died and then waiting with his friends huddled in the Upper Room for the promised arrival of the Spirit. Mary was a faithful follower – continuing to hope and trust in the face of horrible suffering.
Though it’s only been a month since I began my time with you, I have heard many, many stories about how you as individuals and as a community have already said “Yes!” to a host of God’s invitations. You have been willing to open your hearts and lives to the Spirit – allowing new life to grow – actually “erupt” might be a more accurate term here – you have allowed new life to erupt in and among you!
Last week we celebrated the baptism of Christofer Nikolov. During that liturgy, as Christofer perched in the arms of Fr. Nicholas, we made a vow – we promised Christofer that we would support him in his life as a Child of God. This vow, if we take it seriously, means that we will be “faith-parents” not only to Christofer – but to all the children in our parish family. Like Mary, we must do our best to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the faith of our children to grow and mature. We will pray for them and we will pray with them – we will teach them and we will learn with and we will learn from them. Most importantly, we must love them.
And you, like Mary, have moved from self-focus to focus on the other. Having tasted the goodness of the Lord yourselves, you have chosen to share the good news of God’s love for all people by your unmitigated and radical welcome. You have done very specific things – some of which were pretty risky – and lives have been changed – many lives.
The last thing we identified about Mary was her steadfast faithfulness – her willingness to stick it out to the very bitter end. Some of us have already experienced such ends – times in our lives when it felt like we simply could not go on… disappointment, disillusionment, betrayal even death – yet, with God’s grace, we’ve somehow found a way to continue on – a way to remain faithful to our calling as followers of Jesus.
Mama, if God hadn’t chosen Mary to be Jesus’ mother, do you think he would have asked me?
If Nelleke asked me that question today, my resounding answer would be “Yes!” We’re not all that different from Mary, you see. God has and continues to ask us to open our hearts and to new life. God asks us to be good “faith-parents” to the children he has brought into our lives. God continues to ask us to share the good news of grace and love that we have tasted – and God gives us the grace we need to be faithful – to continue to hope and to continue to trust even when it feels like we can’t possibly go on.
In the end, Mary was welcomed into God’s presence – and that is what we, too, can expect.
Every time we say yes to God, new life is conceived.
Every time we share the good news of God’s – to whomever God introduces us – young or old – new life expands.
Every time we persevere, we are that much closer to living into the fullness of that new life – the eternal Kingdom of God.
Would God choose anybody? Could that anybody be me?
Certainly, Mary has a very special place in the history of salvation. And so do you.
Say yes. Let the Spirit fill you with new life. Share with Mary in the glory of God’s eternal kingdom. Amen.