O.M.G. Mary - Sermon for 8/17/14 (Mary, Mother of God A)

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Sermon delivered to St. Francis Lutheran Church-San Francisco
August 17, 2014 - Mary, Mother of God
"O.M.G. Mary" - Text from Luke 1:39-56





Greetings to you, my family in Christ, sisters and brothers, saints and sinners.

Cary Bass-Deschenes at the pulpit.jpg

How many of you have dealt with teenagers in your life? To be caught up in the hormones and the melodrama, particularly as limited world around you seems to be the entire world itself. Don't get me wrong, I think teenagers are some really awesome people, but I remember what it was like from 13 to 17 years old, and while I relish the opportunity laid out before me, I certainly would not want to live again with intensity of feelings I had at that time of life.

What is it like to be truly blessed by God? What does it mean to be a person who is chosen by God to make a specific event happen, to be a vessel of his plans in the world's future.

Unless we have a particularly inflated sense of ego, it is hard enough to discern even the most basic instructions that God provides us on a day to day basis. We can pray daily, we can meditate, listen to the world around us and to the voices that arise from our subconscious, but there are not a lot of us who can be absolutely certain of what it is that God wants us to do.

And to be a teenager and have all of that on your shoulder that... Forgive me if I seem a little insensitive to the inner teenager that nevertheless still exists in many of us. I cannot help but imagine what this young woman named Mary must have been going through, and what it would be like today.

Imagine this young woman, lying on her bed and listening to whoever it is that young women listening to Justin Beiber on her earpad and at the same time she's sending a Snapchat picture of herself laughing to her cousin Elizabeth who lives down the road.

Suddenly, the angel of God appears in her room. She's going to be, "like what?" when he starts to explain exactly what's going to happen "O.M.G.". And Mary, teenager, now pregnant through no fault of her own or anyone around her, now has this huge burden to bear and not many resources to do it.

Now I know it might be extreme to imagine today's reader of Tiger Beat (is that still a thing?) who is way beyond Facebook as capable of handling the commitment that God placed on the virgin, but in all honesty, the human race has basically the same DNA and composition that they did 2,000 years ago, and, if anything, people develop faster now than they did in Mary's time.

So this Jewish Palestinian child, descended from the house of Aaron, encounters an angel telling her she is going to be giving birth to a son, despite never having lain with a man, I cannot help but imagine that her reaction would have, by all rights, exhibited the same level of immaturity that my young Mary from today may have exhibited. A teenage girl, surprised and at the same time scared, thrust into the middle of a story that doesn't belong to her, destined to bring forth the savior of her people, the messiah, the child of God.

And this child is the woman we are celebrating today. Today, is later bookend of our summer of Mary which began last month with Mary Magdalene, today it is all about the blessed Virgin Mary. While our Lutheran day is Mary Mother of God, the feast originally commemorated and continues in the Roman Catholic church to commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into heaven. Being Lutherans as we are, it becomes difficult to single Mary out as particularly more holy or more sacred or more special and deserving of God's grace than anyone else, but in truth, our very own Martin Luther had, in fact, a rather high Marian theology.

Luther, from whom we get the doctrine of sola scriptura, meaning scripture along, believed that Mary was born, unlike other human beings, entirely without sin. While he did not subscribe to the idea of immaculate conception, Luther theorized that the Holy Spirit surrounded her at birth and made her a sinless vessel from the very beginning.

Luther believed in Mary's perpetual virginity, that those we refer to as the brothers of Jesus in the gospel were in fact cousins, and not the children of Mary herself. That while Mary and Joseph were married their bed remained unstained with the marital blood and that throughout his life, Joseph served as a protector of the mother of God, not acting as a husband in any sexual manner.

Luther also gave Mary the title of Mother of God, God-bearer and Theotokos, a belief which was sealed as doctrine into our Formula of Concord, a foundation of Lutheran doctrine. He also called her, throughout his lifetime, the Queen of Heaven, although he cautioned against using the title overmuch lest our focus be against the center of our belief, that of the Trinitarian God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While early on, Luther subscribed to a view of Mary as mediator, it was a belief that waned as his theology developed.

And while he acknowledged that the Assumption was not at all a biblical account, we have some evidence pointing to the fact that Martin Luther subscribed to the belief that Mary had been, in fact, raised into heaven at her deathbed, a doctrine that would not even be official in the Roman Catholic Church until some five hundred years later.

In 1531 at Christmas, Martin Luther wrote, "[She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after

Christ...She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures." Later he wrote, "No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sarah, blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity.

And so, this was the way it was nearly five hundred years ago. This was Luther's account of the blessed virgin, Theotokos, Queen of Heaven. For a lifelong Lutheran like myself, discovering Luther's devotion to the Virgin Mary came as somewhat of a shock. While the Lutheran Church in America was not so concerned with being anti-Papist in the 1970s when my Christian formation began, Catholicism was still something of an alien religion to me, and doctrines that were peculiar to Catholicism always felt outside and wrong in my church. Devotion to Mary was not something that was reconcilable to Lutheranism in my viewpoint.

And so, I struggle with Marian veneration of a Catholic style as I approach scripture like our passage from Luke today. Because here I want to draw out the human element. I want to make Mary into a figure that I can relate to. Mary is a teenage girl who by all accounts should be frightened by the prospect of having a child out of wedlock, knowing the repercussions in her society should this take place. She went with haste to visit her cousin's family where Elizabeth, who is about to give birth to John the Baptist, greets her with joy. And the child within Elizabeth leaps for joy at the encounter with the child who will soon be born to Mary.

But when I read this passage I want to look at a young woman who is scared and lonely and acts human, and there is nothing in this passage from Luke that gives me anyone except a woman of great faith, a woman of great devotion and a woman who is blessed beyond belief from her encounter with God.

So, do our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters have the right of it? Is the Virgin Mary someone set above the rest of humanity, set aside for special veneration and adulation? Should we have kept to Martin Luther's particular devotion? Or is she an ordinary young girl and then woman, put into this world for a special single solitary purpose, but lived and died as any other of the early believers?

Her cousin, Elizabeth has some words of wisdom in this text: "Blessed is the one who believes." And whatever it is that brings us closer to living with Christ to living a life as Jesus taught us to live, to bing the loving children God wants us to be, and to be his people of God, bringing his kingdom on earth while we await the glorious kingdom in heaven; it is what God wants us to know.

Mary carried God into this world, and she, blessed among women, gave humanity to that man who would become for us the faith that would brings us hope, grace, and everlasting life.

Whether as a normal, healthy teenage Jewish Palestinian girl, Mary was chosen by God to carry the child Jesus to term, or whether she was put on this world from birth as a sanctified vessel to give life to God, she was the one who was singled out among people, to bring forth a life that would grant eternal life to all humankind.

But there it is, my sisters and brothers. For while Mary was chosen with purpose by God, the purpose that God gave her was one which would bring forth the ultimate expression of God's love for all of us. There is a son and he is Emmanuel... God with us.

Through his sacrifice we are all of us saved. Whether or not the mother of Jesus is entitled to a special place in heaven, our place in heaven is assured. Whether or not she is sinless, our sins have been washed away. And while Mary is blessed among all people, we are each of us blessed with purpose to guide and comfort and bring forth the love of God to each other.

This, my family in Christ, is the good news of our God who was born human of a virgin, a woman that cried on his cross and who witnessed his resurrection, that is the good news of a God who gives us the means to bring Christ into the world today and to raise up into his kingdom to come.

Amen.

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on August 17, 2014 3:57 PM.

Dreams of Flying - Sermon for 8/10/14 (Pentecost +9 A) was the previous entry in this blog.

Waiting for a Haircut - Sermon for 9/21/14 (Pentecost +15 A) is the next entry in this blog.

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