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The 10th Sunday after Pentecost; (Luke 12:49-56), Luke 1:46-55

The Revised Common Lectionary tells us what the Sunday readings are, and what the “wiggle” room is! Holy Days take over a normal Sunday, if they fall on a Sunday. But also, Holy Days may be transferred, but only to the next Sunday. Tomorrow is an important Holy Day that doesn’t often fall on a Sunday, and because I love to preach about her, I’m going to (sort of) transfer the Holy Day of St. Mary the Virgin backwards to today, and use the Gospel for that day as my text. The two Gospel readings, today’s and tomorrow’s both from Luke, in any case are not that dissimilar. Both are about a not so peaceful future! You may report me to the Lectionary police if you wish! Here is tomorrow’s Gospel!

[Magnificat is played from]

My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. / For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden. / For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. / For he that is mighty hath magnified me; and holy is his Name. / And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations. / He hath shown strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. / He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. / He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. / He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel; / As he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed forever. [Luke 1:46-55 BCP]

That of course is the 1st Canticle of Evensong, the Magnificat, sung to an Anglican Chant setting by William Crotch (1775 – 1847).

Had I read it, even in Elizabethan English, it might not bring as many memories. Cradle Anglicans can probably “hear” it sung to several other settings. The “Song of Mary” has been called the jewel in the crown of Anglican liturgy. It has been set to music by hundreds of composers, and been sung by millions of choirs and congregations. Even now within a 100 miles, tonight and tomorrow, you can find at least a dozen choral Evensongs, and hear the Magnificat sung to a dozen different settings.

In all of that singing, I wonder how many have really listened, and actually heard the radical nature of the salvation that is coming into the world with the son of Mary? He will turn the world upside down! The kingdom of God of Mary’s child will be very, very different from other kingdoms! And that kingdom begins with a simple, human “Yes!”

We don’t know what happened when Gabriel came to Mary and asked her to be the human partner in God’s work of redeeming the world. But Mary knew he/she/it was not from her simple Galilean world. This visitor was wholly Other, from beyond time and space, and asking the seemingly wholly impossible. I doubt she had visions of generations proclaiming her blessed; of armies and navies, legions of soldiers, religious orders, all dedicated to her Name. I doubt she saw herself as Theotokos–God-bearer, Mother of God, Star of the Sea, Queen of Heaven, Morning Star. But, she saw-heard-felt something, someone, that was beyond anything you or I have ever experienced. And, then it was over. The world remained the same. Sun and rain, seed time and harvest, Summer and Winter, the eternal cycle continued around her, as if nothing had happened.

But Mary knew – knew all had changed, nothing would be the same again. She had been asked to offer herself to the will of God, to become a servant, the handmaid of the Lord. She had made her choice, as we all must when God comes to us. She had said “Yes”, fully and freely she had said “Yes”. And for those who say “Yes” to God, nothing is ever the same again.

And now consider where Mary sings her Song; in the Judean hill-country, visiting her cousin Elizabeth. She had left a puzzled Joseph, trusting God, and yet not knowing why it was his life that God had chosen to disturb so greatly. (Simple soul that he was – man that he was(!) – it might never have occurred to Joseph that Mary’s life had been disturbed ever so much more.) She had left the gossips of her village, the righteous ones ever ready to condemn. Perhaps the angel, and the promise of God, had come to seem a little less real, a lot less believable. Perhaps it had been a dream. But the new life in her body was no dream, that was reality, but was it really as the angel had promised?

Then Elizabeth greets her as the mother of her Lord. Her elderly cousin, beyond child-bearing years, whose own coming child (who was to be John the Baptist) was miraculous enough, recognized the greater miracle in the womb of Mary. And suddenly it is real again for Mary, she is the mother of the Messiah who coming. She can’t contain the carefully guarded emotions. The pent-up feelings of months erupt. She searches for words, in songs and scriptures half remembered, and she finds her Song in the song of another woman who had lived in these hills. In the 11th Century BCE Hannah had held her child Samuel, a son she desperately wanted, and yet having been thus blessed, offered him to the service of God at Shiloh with the priest Eli with a song. It is Hannah’s lovely and terrible song that echoes on the lips of Mary.

Almost 40 years ago I worked, as a theological student, with a dying priest. Over his last six months we spend many hours talking about the mystery of life and death, and God’s grace. He taught me that every day we are given opportunities to say “Yes” to God. Again and again we are asked to surrender in trust to God’s ways, to God’s timing, to God’s mystery and love; to God’s grace. If we practice saying “Yes” in small and not so small ways, then when God asks for the ultimate surrender of our very core of existence, our “Yes” can flow easily from our trained lips and heart.

Mary, Madonna, our Lady, gives us a model for this practice of saying “Yes.” Too frequently Mary is put on a pedestal, or worse, a heavenly throne, and presented as not quite real and certainly not totally human. But that removes any possibility of relating her life to our life and struggle. It diminishes Mary’s real human greatness, and making her more than human becomes an easy cop-out for us who are, like her, called to a life of faith and trust in God and Jesus Christ. There is no question that in the history of salvation Mary occupies a special place and was especially graced. But what is significant is that she was open to grace: she actively said her “Yes” in faith and trust in God’s word and promise.

This was not a simple, naive, passive young girl that God simply used. Scripture reveals her to be composed, articulate, sensitive, and intelligent. She asks questions, she discerns, and she makes certain she understands what she is being asked. And yet it is doubtful that even the angel’s promise that her child to come was of God dispelled all mystery, all questions.

Mary’s life was filled with mystery and question. She was asked many times to say “Yes” in faith and trust. There was “Yes” to the circumstances of her child’s birth. There was “Yes” to the strange prophesies of Simeon and Anna in the temple. There was “Yes” to the flight as a refugee into Egypt. And there was “Yes” to teaching her son to say his own “Yes” to God, and then to let him go. Scripture tells us it was not easy for Mary, and yet in the end she let Jesus live out his own “Yes” to ministry; preaching, teaching, healing, and finally “Yes” to death on a cross, a death which Mary witnessed!

Mary was asked to say “Yes” to God often, but only one at a time. That is true for each of our lives. I had, (OK I have) a tendency to worry far into the future. When I felt called by God to priesthood, and said “Maybe Yes” to one, one(!) part-time seminary course, I worried about what might happen years hence. If I finished seminary, if I was ordained, I would have to give up teaching and research. I might have to sell a house, move, lose friends, meet strangers and make new friends. Parishioners might not like me; I might fail. Maybe I couldn’t preach, or lead worship, or sing. Something unplanned could happen! Having listened to my moaning for far too long, a wiser friend said, “You really can’t live tomorrow on today’s grace. It’s one course! That’s not much commitment! And maybe when God wants more, you’ll be given the will and the strength for it!” The same friend, another time of my moaning about really not wanting to give up my life as it was, asked, “How much do you think Jesus wanted to go to Jerusalem?”.

Each “Yes” of Mary strengthened her for the great “Yes” she was asked at the foot of the cross. Here, confronted by evil and the terrible death of her innocent Son, Mary kept faith and trust in a loving God. We are not looking at a weak, timid, passive woman who fell apart after all of this, but at a strong widow, whose son was murdered. What is it she does? After the Ascension of Jesus, in her last scriptural mention, she is gathered with those who had been her son’s friends; she prays with them and waits for the gift of the Holy Spirit in faith. Is it to much to imagine her eating and drinking with the new-born Christian community at the meal which her son had commanded to be done for his remembrance?

We share that same meal today, and because we are in that community called the communion of saints, Mary is at the table with us; Mary, whose first “Yes” to God began the events which twenty centuries later bring you and I here, to this church, today. It is in that sense that theologians call Mary the mother of the Church, and the mother of all Christians. It is in that sense that she is Our Lady.

As you eat and drink with Mary our Mother today, consider what “Yes” God is asking from you. Only you can discern how God is working in your life, but be sure, God is working. You are being asked to say “Yes” to something, something that is part of God’s purpose in bringing about that great vision of radical social justice that we hear in Mary’s song. Great or small, you have a part in that vision, and without your part it will remain imperfect. You, you are a builder of the kingdom of God!

Your answer is Mary’s answer; “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” But only you can say it.

Copyright ©2022 by Gerry Mueller