Sermon delivered to the people of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Germantown on Luke 1: 46-55 on Sunday, August 14th in celebration of the Feast of Saint Mary.
An additional 250 police and paramilitary officers are being brought into the site of the Assumption of Mary in Lourdes, France near the Spanish border. This is the site where St. Bernadette reported to have seen the Virgin Mary 18 times, and every day thousands of Christian pilgrims make their way to this holy site. The site, which has been credited with miraculous healings and visions of Mary, draws more than 6 million visitors a year, and many of those visitors will make their way to the site tomorrow. In many places in the world, situations are tense; the threat of terrorism looms large over many countries, sacred sites, and events. The shrine of the Assumption of Mary is no different; in an attempt to keep the shrine open to pilgrims rather than cancelling the day’s events, police and political leaders are increasing security, making sure that access in and out of the area is controlled, closing nine of the 12 entry points into the holy site, traffic is being restricted, and security checks will happen continually throughout the day. It is an understandable attempt to maintain some sense of security in an insecure and unpredictable time, though Mary’s life was not one that was secure and predictable.
Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of St. Mary, and the refrain that kept coming to me as I prepared this sermon is, Who am I to preach on Mary?
I grew up in a Christian denomination that did not pay due value to the role of Mary in Christ’s life and ministry or to the example she set out for those faithful believers who chose to sing songs of faithfulness despite the unimaginable circumstances, so I struggled this week, when there is so much I still don’t know about her, what will I say? Who am I to preach on the very mother of God? Who am I to bring the light of the life lived by St. Mary to focus? Struggling with my own insecurities, fears, and doubts, I wrestled with these questions.
Because of the life that Mary lived and the power with which we see her movements through Christ’s birth, life, and death, Christianity has come to regard Mary as one of the most holy people to have lived, and we forget that she was not a powerful, all-knowing saint who sailed through life, prepared for all that came her way; we forget that she was a scared young girl pregnant with a son, we forget that she was a mother who had ideas about how her son’s life would unfold, and we forget that she mourned the death of her son too soon. We forget that despite her insecurities, fears, and doubts she answered God’s call, not because she is a saint, but because she was faithful.
Before we hear the Magnificat sung to Elizabeth in Luke’s version of the gospel, which we just heard read, Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel and Jesus’ birth is foretold, and despite all the unanswered, and perhaps, unanswerable questions, Mary responds to the angel not with questions of “Who am I to do such thing?” but rather with “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” She answers God’s call not because she knows that she can do it, but because she has faith in God and finds graciousness in the favor God has bestowed upon her with this miracle.
Mary visits Elizabeth shortly after Gabriel comes to her, and the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaped at the sound of Mary’s voice; Elizabeth consequently comments on the blessedness of Mary and her being chosen by God for such a great and holy task. Mary responds to her in Luke’s narrative with what we now know and call the Magnificat. Mary’s song rings not only of her holiness, but also a picture of how she viewed her life lived in service to God. This is Mary’s song, and in many ways, music reveals who we are. The songs we sing reveal to the world and to ourselves the things that are important to us, music reveals the reality of our history and the hopes of our future. Mary’s song reveals the promises God made to God’s people and the ways in which God is fulfilling those promises. Mary’s song reveals a life steeped in the promises and faithfulness of God. Mary’s song radiates joy and gratitude in all that God has done, is doing, and will continue to do in her life and in the life of God’s people. Mary’s song reveals her faithfulness to God.
Mary responds to the call that God has put upon her life despite the circumstances she may be facing; Mary’s song reveals the reality that answering God’s call faithfully may mean that we do not live the life we had expected, to answer God’s call is to live a life of courage, strength, and vulnerability. When we look and uphold Mary, perhaps we should not focus on the saint, the Theotokos, the bearer of God, but rather we should see the the young girl from Nazareth who bravely and faithfully answered the call put upon her life by God.
When we hold Mary or the other saints above the reality of their circumstance, we forget that we, too, are called by God to do things in this world. We, too, are called by God to know that we are blessed with the bearing the image of God and it is part of our role in this world to bring about the kingdom of God. To bring peace where there is strife, to bring justice where there is injustice, and bring hope where there is none is our call. We are tasked with the responsibility of serving God in this world and answering yes when we are so called. Our call to discipleship is one that requires us to chose to sing songs of faithfulness despite the unimaginable circumstances.
The inherent call of our baptism is the call which Mary answered faithfully and courageously; this call to discipleship is not merely one that does good in the world, but rather one that sees the brokenness of the world, seeks to live a life of faith, and reminds others that God is still present. The call of our baptism is to let the whole of our soul magnify the Lord and to sing songs of faithfulness even in uncertain times. The call of our baptism is answer “Here am I, the servant of the Lord” when God calls upon our lives. To live into the example of faithfulness put before us by the life of Mary is to look into our neighbor’s eyes and express the love of God to them, as our neighborhood, yet again, mourns the loss of a young life taken too soon because of gun violence. To live into Mary’s example is to answer the call of our baptism, remembering that God is mindful of those who serve and love God. To follow Mary’s footsteps is to answer God when called and to be willing to serve even in ways that we may not fully understand. If we follow in Mary’s path, our lives may not be predictable, but they will magnify God’s holy name.