Sermon for the Celebration of Mary, Mother of Our Lord
for St John United Lutheran Church, Seattle
Almighty God, in choosing the virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son, you made known your gracious regard for the poor, the lowly, and the despised. Grant us grace to receive your word in humility, and so to be made one with your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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I woke up early one morning last week and took a walk to Sunset Hill in Ballard. I did not plan to go that far when I started out, but at some point I got it in my head that I wanted to see the water before I turned back… and then there was no turning back, I had to walk all the way to the bluff. But you’d think I’d have learned by now about Seattle weather.
When I reached the edge of land, I couldn’t see anything beyond the blackberry brambles. It was all shrouded in a thick fog, gray nothingness as far or as near as the eye could see. There really was no line on the horizon. The Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains, the ferries in between, had vanished. I stood there for a moment in disbelief.
And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw them, slowly coming into view: the ships at Shilshole Bay, just visible in the early morning light. There they were, floating in the grey mist, proof of the water beneath them, and witnesses to a reality that existed far beyond what I could see from my solitary perch, high on the bluff.
Dear friends in Christ, the fullness of time has come. At least, it has come again for Chris and I, as we prepare to move for the sixth time in four years. Call us tired. But call us blessed, too. This week, as we have prepared to leave, I have been thinking a lot about all the blessings I’ve received this year, blessings showered from God through you. And as I thought about those blessings, my heart was glad that today we are celebrating Mary, the Mother of Our Lord.
I’ve known Mary for a long time, but I didn’t really get to know her until I went to Mexico. Our digital banner this morning is the image of Mary called the Virgin of Guadalupe. It’s an amazing thing to see Guadalupe up there next to Thorvaldsen’s statue of Christ, because what this image of Christ is for Danes, that image of Mary is for our brothers and sisters from Mexico.
Anyway, when I was in Mexico City, I went to see the original image of la virgen one day, and when I was there, I picked up a little card with this image on it. On the other side of the card is La Magnifica, the Magnificat, the song of Mary. The words of the song on this little card are in Spanish, so at first I needed some help in the translation. I had to read it slowly. And as I did, I started to realize just what it was Mary was singing about.
My soul proclaims your greatness, O God
And my spirit rejoices in you
You have looked with love on your servant here
And blessed me all my life through.
Great and mighty are you O faithful one
Strong is your justice strong your love
How you favor the weak and lowly one
Humbling the proud of heart
You have cast the mighty down from their thrones
And uplifted the humble of heart
You have filled the hungry with wondrous things
And left the wealthy no part.
I remember when I first read those words, really read them, as if for the first time. Does it really say that God favors the weak and the lowly one? Does it really say that God casts the mighty down from their thrones and uplifted the humble? Does it really say that God fills the hungry with wondrous things? These are words that proclaim God’s good news for the poor and the powerless, for the sick and the dying, for the lonely and the left out.
I was amazed… and then immediately skeptical.
Could it really be true? Mary speaks not of some far off future but as if these things have already begun to happen. But that was all rather hard to believe when I picked up the newspaper.
Violence in the neighborhoods of Chicago. Poverty in the shadows of the Gold Coast. Bickering politicians who seemed to care more about scoring points than doing justice and loving kindness. I wanted to preach the good news, but nothing I came up with seemed quite enough to counter the troubles of the world. Like the day last week when I went looking for a view and found only fog, I struggled to see how God could really be at work in this world.
But God was at work, even in a heavy fog, calling me to new places and new faces. From the hills of Southern Indiana to the corners of the Chicago’s South Side to the barrios of Mexico City to the ranchos of Jalisco, I caught glimpses of Christ, present in the people of God. But they were only glimpses, just enough to keep me going, nothing more… or less. And then I came here.
Here I found God gathering God’s people, at breakfast on Saturday morning with the other amateur men, in the delicious desserts of women’s fellowship, and, yes, finally, at Hale’s Ales where we’d talk God stuff over a few pints on cask night.
Here I found God speaking to God’s people, through the kids as they made order out of chaos at the Sunday School Christmas Pageant, through different generations sharing their experiences with each other at adult forum, and through a people willing to proclaim the gospel in a new way through a U2 Sunday and an organist with the grace and the chutzpah to lead us.
Here I found God feeding God’s people, through a parkway somehow transformed into a flourishing garden in part through the donated dung of elephants. (The Lord works in mysterious ways.) The gardeners in this garden were patient enough to teach an intern the difference between a rose and a weed, and the fruits of their labor flowed into a soup kitchen, where faithful women and men served the hungry in a room where the homeless slept.
And here, finally, I found God sending God’s people out into the world, to love and serve their neighbors. They were sent into a myriad of vocations, teachers and researchers, nurses and engineers, lawyers and bankers, volunteers and, of course, the creatively retired. They were sent to homeless shelters and recovery centers, to soup kitchens and food pantries. And they were sent further upriver, too, to dig out the roots of structural sin. On Interfaith Advocacy Day they were sent to advocate in the halls of power where important decisions were being made, and here they spoke up for peace in the face of violence, justice in the face of injustice. They sang Mary’s song in word and deed. And through them, God made her song begin to come true.
Dear people of God, you have taught me so much. But you have done more than that, too. You have restored my hope and my courage. You have been as Mary to me, singing a vision into life and bringing it to birth. You have been as Christ to me, truly. My sisters and brothers, I have seen the body of Christ at work in you. Thanks be to God. And thanks be to you.
As I met with Pastor Carol for the last time week, I told her how hard I was finding it to say goodbye. She smiled. “Yes,” she said, “but we’re all part of the same body.” Throughout the year, my supervisors, Carol and Paul, have taught me how to put passion into practice, how to live the baptized life. And now here they were again, with a final truth to carry with me, here at the end of things. As the gospel hymn goes, we’re all a part of God’s body, a cloud of witnesses throughout space and time, a holy communion of sinner-saints sent out for the life of the whole world, from Seattle to Chicago and far, far beyond, the body of Christ gathering, speaking, feeding, sending.
You see, dear sisters and brothers, there is a neighborhood out there, a city, a planet yearning for the vision of this table, hungry for a world where there is manna and mercy for all. God has work to do, and our hands to do it with. God has a song to sing, and our voices to sing it with.
So let us be gathered, once again, at this table, that God might feed us and make us one, that we might see the vision and live it, that we might, once again, be set free for the life of the world.