Sermon for Mary, the Mother of our Lord -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
Reading or watching or listening to the news, it is easy to become discouraged. At least it is for me.
Much of what I see and read is discouraging at best, seemingly hopeless at worst:
- Race relations, especially White to Black and Black to White, appear to be worsening in this county;
- ISIS and Taliban radicals, basing their beliefs on perverted Islam, appear to be winning around the world, at least in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan;
- Global warming is here and coming and coming faster than anyone expected and possible solutions are controversial and complicated and expensive;
- Here in the US, income inequality appears to be on the rise with the rich only getting richer and the poor only getting poorer;
- Mass shootings appear to be on the rise and there appears to be no political will to do anything about it.
- The capper for me was the recent mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, at a Bible Study, with the racist Confederate flag waving shooter a member of one of our Lutheran congregations and two of the victims graduates of one of our Lutheran seminaries.
Okay, that’s my list and I am just getting started. Your list might be similar to mine or even very different, but probably equally discouraging. And even mixed with a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness.
And, I am a bit hesitant to admit this, but I even find myself, not often, but sometimes, saying to myself that, well, I am old enough now that these problems will have to be dealt with by someone else, someone younger than me! For me, that is the ultimate discouragement, giving up!
And then there is today’s gospel lesson, a lesson that includes the words of what we Christians call “The Magnificat,” the song Mary, the Mother of Jesus, sings as she meets with her cousin, Elizabeth, Elizabeth who tells Mary that she is blessed among all women and will soon be the Mother of the Lord!
Shortly before meeting with Elizabeth, Mary has had a visit from the angel Gabriel who told her of God’s plan to send his Son to earth and that this plan includes God’s Son, Jesus Christ, being born from Mary’s womb!
We know very little about Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Today’s text, and the one preceding it with the angel Gabriel, are the most we read of Mary in the New Testament, and the major time we hear her speak directly. She appears in the stories of Jesus birth, when Jesus is age 12 and teaching in the Temple, at Jesus’ first miracle, turning the water into wine, where she says, “they have no wine” and, to the servants, “do whatever he, Jesus, tells you.” Mary also appears at the cross. The Gospels suggest that Mary becomes, after some initial hesitation, one of Jesus’ followers.
But this text is the most we hear directly from Mary.
Now, think about today’s text a minute – Mary, it seems to me, would have a lot to be discouraged about. She is very young, perhaps as young as 13 or 14 years old. She is unmarried, living with her parents, engaged (betrothed in older language) to a man many years older than she, a man she does not yet know well, if at all. Her poverty makes this engagement necessary and inevitable.
And now on top of everything else, Mary is pregnant and unwed. Something that certainly would be seen as scandalous in her family and community. And not only is Mary pregnant, but now she is told that her baby will be God’s Son, the Messiah long awaited by the Jewish people!
Mary is a pregnant, unwed, poverty stricken, middle-school aged young woman who is engaged to an old man she has recently just met. Her life is one big discouragement. Looks pretty hopeless to me.
And yet, this is what Mary sings: “My soul magnifies God, I rejoice – God is my savior. God has looked with favor on me and has done great things for me.”
And, more than this, Mary sings about the world, the world that God loves so much that he is sending his son to earth to save it, to save us. And, in God’s world, things are destined to be different:
- The powerful will fall, the lowly will be lifted up and
- The hungry filled with good things, the rich sent away empty.
And, in God’s kingdom, mercy will rule.
And, this is God’s promise, forever.
This is Mary’s dream and God’s dream.
In the face of a life that looks to be and will be filled with poverty and disappointment and grief, Mary sings of a different life, a life in God’s time and not hers, or ours.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King preached famous words about his dreams for his children and our country. King’s “I have a dream” words are perhaps his best known. And Dr. King also said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Mary’s song reminds us of this. We are reminded not to be dragged down by what the world appears to be, but to walk by faith in peace and hope, no matter what life brings. Moreover, Mary’s song reminds us that, despite any setbacks we, and this world, may have, God has not forgotten us. Mary helps us remember God’s gift of his Son, Jesus the Christ, a gift for Mary and for all of us. With Christ, anything that can and does make us low has already been conquered. And God always keeps God’s promises – all of the trials and tribulations of this life will be turned upside down, are turned upside down, by God. God’s mercy is on all and for all.
One of the scholars I read this week noted that the biggest struggle in this world is not between believers and non-believers or even between Christians and non-Christians but rather the biggest struggle in this world may be between cynicism and hope.
Cynicism says – “You cannot change the way things are so get used to the evil in this world. Be realistic because evil, injustice and wrongdoing will always be with us.
In contrast, hope says, “Things can change. Not only can God bring an end to evil, injustice and wrongdoing in this world, but God’s day is coming.” Hope says that our efforts for good are worth it and that, despite any news to the contrary, we can make a difference for good in this world.
I love this quote from the Talmud which is the central text of rabbinic Judaism:
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
So, we are not to be discouraged. We are not to give up trying to make this world a better place for all people, to share the love of God with all people, to seek the best in all people. God’s day is coming. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
The lowly will be lifted up. The hungry will be filled. The powerful will be brought down. This is God’s promise through Mary to us all.
Our call is not to be discouraged, not to give up but to believe and work for justice in this part of God’s kingdom. To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Like Mary.
Justice, mercy, love, hope, help and salvation – God’s promise to us forever.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
God’s Dreams for Us
Sermon for Mary, the Mother of our Lord
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
August 15 / 16, 2015
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California