13th Sunday after Pentecost
August 18, 2013
The Rev. Elizabeth A. B. Tesi
Readings for the Feast Day of St. Mary the Virgin
Isaiah 61:10-11; Psalm 34:1-9; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 1:46-55.
Growing up, my home church had no pictures or celebrations of saints. Because we never learned what made holy women and holy men so special, Mary was a boring saint to me, mooning over a baby in a cradle, blonde and white and wearing blue. We never learned the fun side of the saints, never got to sing the saints' songs or do fun things like wear sparkly blue converse sneakers on Mary Sunday. As I grew in faith, I began to learn about holy people who formed our church, who were giants in faith, and why they matter. I've grown fond of Mary, over time. Mary, as one of our Holy Women, is important. She is a strong woman, who made a choice to say yes. We are fortunate indeed to have her as our name saint.
We do have plenty of images of Mary around our parish: we have Les Briedenthal's sculpture in the back, Mary looking up and caught in the act of saying "yes" to bearing Christ. We have Mary as the Virgin of Guadalupe over near the candlestand, and also in a quilt near the upstairs offices. She is a quiet face in the columbarium. She is in some of the stations of the Cross. But one of my favorite is the simple one that Claire Elam painted in the Sunday school room, of the Nativity. I love that Claire chose to paint a Mary with darker skin, and a Mary who seems genuinely delighted with her child. Her Mary is not a solemn, pale, white Mary, but a joyfilled woman alive with color. She is active and present in her choice to have this relationship with God incarnate.
Mary is a holy woman, and we celebrate holy women and holy men in our church. Mary is special because she said yes, and through her, we were shown a God who desires us, respects us, and who wants a relationship with us. Because of Mary's agreement, God was able to reveal Godself as love in a way that has changed our universe.
Mary was asked to bear God's son, Emmanuel, into an uncertain life, and she said yes. A friend shared with me that some Orthodox believe that when Mary was asked to bear Jesus, that she could have said no. And if Mary had said no, then she would have been allowed to go on her way, and would not have borne Christ. I love that. I love the idea that if she had said no, God would not have forced Godself on her will. God would have backed off, and gone on to the next person. We could have been the St. Samantha Church, if Mary had said no. The first great transformation in our new covenanted relationship with God is that agreement. True love is mutual. It doesn't force itself on the unwilling. We must agree to love and be loved if the relationship will survive. When Mary said yes, God was able to be in relationship with us in an entirely new way. Today we celebrate that she exercised her free will and her choice and she said yes. We celebrate that God wants our whole selves and our free will and active minds to be part of Gods plan for salvation.
Because she said yes, and because God wants our whole selves, we are adopted as God's own children. Galatians speaks of adopting us as children and as heirs. This is a hugely powerful statement. Not every child has a birthright. Not everyone is born lucky. God chose Mary and Jesus was brought into this world, and we are adopted as God's heirs. This statement- that because Mary said yes- means that God's idea of luck and blessing are so different than ours. God needed a woman, acting freely, to help bring God's plan into being. For us women, that is hugely empowering. God needed Joseph to protect and care for Mary. For you men, that is a huge trust. God chose a regular couple, maybe a little poor. For the poor people, that is a great equalizer. God chose us all through adoption, putting on equal footing. That is grace filled. For the people who have had faith all their lives, God names them as children. That is comforting. For the people who came late to faith or who fell away and returned, God claims them as adopted and equal heirs. That is so gracious.
All this because of Mary. We worship God in a church named for the saint who embodied God's wish to love us radically. That is the namesake we carry.
In this era of recession, it's easy for many of us to look at our peers and think that some people are just born lucky. Some people never had an illness or a medical problem affect their ability to earn a decent living. Some people never had a job loss that made finances so tight they squeak. Yes, some people are born luckier, and as the recession drags on, it would be easy to feel as though the rest of us are not as beloved. Believe me- after the luck I have had with cars these past 12 months, it would be easy to imagine that i was being punished! When you are in the middle of a streak of bad luck, it is easy to wonder whether God doesn't really like you all that much.
The gift of Mary's life is that God chooses us freely out of love, and that God took the great risk of sending his own Son so that we might know equality.
Yes, some people are luckier than others. And all those lucky people: God has chosen them and loves them to the ends of the world. Other people will have a few years of bad luck. They'll face debt, chronic illness that destroys their life, loneliness, accident. When we celebrate Mary's choice, we whisper a vision of God's grace that reaches beyond our joys and sadness. God has chosen every atom of the stuff that makes us who we are, and marked his as his own for his love. That is what we celebrate when we celebrate a saint's day, like Mary's. Thanks be to God.