If you want a spirited conversation between Protestants and Roman Catholics, start talking about Mary, and her role in faith and piety… Indeed, one of the things that have hurt ecumenical conversations- official conversations between Lutherans and the Roman Catholic Church over the years has been this very issue. There are those who have spoken openly about declaring that Mary shared with Jesus in redeeming the world.
But on the other side of the conversation, we who call ourselves evangelical have tended to ignore Mary, and that is just as wrong! We have been too nervous about the Mother of our Lord- the woman who has properly been given the title, “Mother of God” by the Christian Church throughout the centuries.
Martin Luther held Mary in the highest regard, the prayer I began with is one of his, in fact, it is how he opens his commentary on The Magnificat- the Song of Mary, which is our Gospel reading today- and which we are singing in several of our hymns.
Let’s remember who Mary is…of all the young women in the world, God chose her to be the mother of the Savior of the World!
The question I ask whenever I read the Mary stories in the Bible is why did God choose Mary to be the mother of Jesus. Surely God chose her for a reason; surely God had a purpose in working with her…
And the Church over the years developed a huge mythology to answer that very question: Mary, sweet and pure, herself conceived without sin, her life spent in prayer and preparation for what God was going to do.
I love the window in our south transept: Mary in the center, Jesus enthroned on her lap, when the sun hits the window just right, Mary explodes in brilliance. And there’s Joseph on her right, certainly not her equal, at the same level as the shepherd. How did that window get into our church???
Because we have no evidence for any of those Mary traditions in the Bible, in fact, we know very little about her. We know she was young, most likely a teenager.
We know her story begins with reluctance: when the angel Gabriel first appears to her in Luke 1, the Bible says she was “much perplexed…”
But the Greek word translated “perplexed” is the one we get “petrified” from. Mary is scared to death! And yet God used her to do the most wonderful of all miracles in history, to become one of us in the person of Jesus.
Mary’s purpose was to be Jesus’ mother!
And we can learn from her story to see how God can use us- how God’s purpose can be realized in our lives, and as with Mary, with life-changing, life transforming results because each and every one of us has a God-given purpose. Each and every one of us can be used by God.
That’s what being a disciple is: growing in your faith, being used by God to change our world, making a difference in the world for Jesus’ sake!
Mary’s story identifies several characteristics of people who are used by God. Ask God to build them into your life, practice them, and you will see God using you! You will see your gifts being used in marvelous ways!
First, God uses people who desire to do God’s will.
God has a plan for you, but you can miss it; it’s not automatic! Mary could have said, “NO!” Mary could have sent the angel away- or gone running in the opposite direction! Can you imagine what she thought?
How can this be? What will happen? What will everyone think? How can I handle this? How will this change my life?
Mary could have said, “Find someone else! I have my plans, my dreams, and this isn’t it! It’s truly not convenient right now!” And yet, not only did she not say no, she chose to do it!
Mary sings in our Gospel reading: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” God uses people who are enthusiastic! (Greek again: en “in,” Theos, “God!” To be “in God” is to be enthusiastic! This is much more than passive acceptance!
God uses people who are humble: Mary says to the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord!” She doesn’t say, “So what took you so long, I’ve been waiting…! (Not one of us deserves to be used by God- the wonder of God’s love and grace is that God wants to use you and me.)
God uses people who desire to do God’s will: David is described as a “man of God’s own heart, and says in Psalm 48:8 “I desire to do your will, o my God!”
St. Paul says, “Our only desire is to please God…”
And you say to me, “How can I know what God desires?” And my answer is, “Listen!” Do a search on “God’s Will” in the New Testament! You can learn it! And as I say all the time, we all need a time of quiet, of reading scripture, of prayer, of listening to God! It’s time I need more and more, time I depend on, and I miss it when I don’t do it- I miss God!
The Bible teaches us to seek God first, to trust in God to meet your needs, and He promises our needs will be met! God uses people who desire to be used!
Then: God uses people who decide to pay the cost.
If you say, “Lord, for the rest of 2016 and on, I want to be closer to you, to be used by you,” you need to know there is a cost. You will have to trust God more than ever!
Mary was willing to pay the cost: In the Living Bible paraphrase of Luke 1: 38, Mary says “I am the Lord’s servant, and I will do whatever the Lord wants…”
Not “whatever,” but what ever- anything!
The cost to Mary was her reputation: pregnant and single. What would her parents and friends say? It literally put her in danger of losing her life! And what about Joseph??? “I’m pregnant. You’re not the father, but I haven’t been unfaithful- The father of this child is God… really…”
There will be people who misunderstand you and criticize you for following Jesus.
It cost Mary her comfort: Nine months pregnant and traveling from Galilee to Bethlehem? First child born with no family, no midwife, only Joseph, himself a teenager, and how much help do you think he was???
When you follow Jesus, it may not be comfortable; that has never been the promise! Jesus is upfront with that! He uses words we don’t like to be reminded of. In Luke 14: 27-28, and I’m paraphrasing slightly, “Whoever does not bear their cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost!”
Ask yourself: What am I willing to give up? Am I willing to be changed: to give up habits, or friendships that I KNOW are not helpful? Am I willing to set aside my plans and dreams so that God can use me?
God uses people who decide to pay the cost.
Last, God uses people who trust in God’s promises!
Mary asked the question “How can this be?” when told she would become the mother of Jesus. The angel told her, and finished by saying, “for, with God, nothing will be impossible!”
Mary trusted and acted: “Let it be to me according to your will…”
What courage! Courage is not the absence of fear, Mary must have been scared. But courage is moving ahead in the face of your fear!
Mary didn’t have all the answers, but she knew who did! Our Gospel today- Mary’s Song, the Magnificat- what a witness! She had every reason to worry, but instead, she worshiped! Instead of panicking, Mary prayed, she praised and she prophesied!
When you are afraid, remember the promise! When Jesus was in agony, dying on the cross, in the face of the ultimately lonely terror of death, he prayed, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit!”
Nothing in our lives- nothing in our following of Jesus can take him- or God’s promise from us. We can hold fast to that promise- and know Jesus is holding fast to us- through our entire life. And because Jesus was raised from the dead, we know that he holds us through death and through all eternity!
Mary trusted in God’s promises, and look what God did with her!
What might God do with you- and with me- if we were to act the same way? How might God use us?
One of my favorite Bethlehem stories came from just after the launching of Spirit Garage, our outreach to unchurched young adults in Uptown. One of our members in a Bible Study commented: “Sure, we took a risk with Spirit Garage- maybe 10% of our budget. But look at the disciples- at Mary- they were willing to risk everything, and look what God accomplished through them! What might God to with us, if we were willing to risk everything…”
People at this church keep saying things I wish I had said first!
I look out at this congregation and see enormous spiritual potential. What might God do with you, if you, like Mary, were to say, “Use me, Lord- use my time, my energy, my money, my talent- everything I have and am, to serve you!”
I know that is frightening- but we focus on what we know: God loves you; you matter to God, and God wants what is best for you!
The last we hear of Mary is in the Book of Acts, praying, thanking God for the gift of Jesus Christ. She is there in the Upper Room of the Day of Pentecost, filled with the Spirit of her son. Tradition tells us that she went with the Disciple John- the Beloved Disciple to Antioch in Syria, traveled on with him to Ephesus, and then she died. Died, and was made new in the fullness of her son and her God.
Thanks be to God for the one who said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on, all generations will call me blessed…”
She is! We do! Thanks be to God for the Blessed Mary, the Mother of our Lord! In Jesus’ Name, Amen!