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Mary Mother Of Our Lord Sermon
Luke 1: 46-55
August 15, 2021

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Every few months we receive our subscription of the Celebrate Inserts - pages with the weekly assigned scripture, psalm and prayers printed along with comments or an introduction to the readings and theme of the day. Sometimes, like today, I choose to veer off the regular path of the Revised Common Lectionary to commemorate one of the saints or special days of the liturgical year. Churches have this option, and I generally go with whatever the Celebrate insert for the day is. For today, August 15, instead of the scripture, prayers, etc. for Pentecost 12, the focus is on the optional commemoration of Mary, Mother of our Lord. So today, our worship will center on the witness of this woman who bore Christ, and believed the promises that he would be the one to save the world.

The picture on the front of your bulletin is a fresco uncovered in 1999, along with frescoes of other scenes from Mary and Jesus’ lives, at the cathedral in Sienna, Italy. It is from approximately 1280, and the artist is unknown. It was hidden away for about 700 years before being re-discovered. It depicts Mary and Elizabeth, sharing the joy of the Magnificat - the song which comprises our Gospel reading from Luke this morning.

Our protestant commemoration of Mary today is based on one of the oldest Roman Catholic holy days, which they call, “The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” In the east, churches call this day, “The Feast of the Domition of the Theotokos,” or “the falling asleep of the Mother of God.” There is a printed document written in the fourth century entitled, “The Falling Asleep of the Holy Mother of God,” written in the voice of the Apostle John, to whom Jesus had entrusted the care of his mother while he hung on the cross. It recounts the death, laying in the tomb and assumption of Mary into heaven. There are two traditional sites of her death - one says it was in Jerusalem, and the other in Ephesus, where John spent his final years. I have seen the churches built at both cities to remember this faithful woman.

Now, we Lutherans don’t get into some of the debates that our Catholic and Orthodox siblings do … like if Mary was truly already dead when her body was assumed into heaven, of if God granted her to skip death and enter directly into the heavenly realm. We don’t even really place a significant emphasis on believing that Mary was assumed in this way at all. We do remember that she fell asleep when this life was over, and we know that by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, she now resides with all of the saints in heaven. Like other saints, including our loved ones and you and me, it is not our good works that earn a quick trip to heaven; it is the grace-filled love and mercy of God.

Having said that, it is good to remember the life and the ministry of Mary and that she is afforded a special day for us to do this. As the introduction on the Celebrate states, we Lutherans know that Mary’s role was much more than giving birth to Jesus and mothering him in his childhood and being with him at the wedding at Cana and other occasions in his life. She stands by the cross at his death; she is among the women who go to the tomb and find it empty; she is among the disciples when they receive the gift of the spirit. Through all that happened she continued to see how God was a work through her son, keeping the ancient promises to her ancestors, brushing aside the rich and powerful, and focusing on those who were as poor and powerless as she herself was.

I think that the church has tended to make Mary into some rich, stately woman figure, like Queen Elizabeth or a US First Lady. The fact of the matter is, she was probably in her teens - fourteen or fifteen years old - and was pretty much told to do everything. She would have little to no influence on her own household, let alone her neighborhood or town. Most people probably only knew her as “the daughter of Joachim and Ann” in Nazareth … and eventually the disgraced daughter of these two folks when news spread that she was pregnant and not yet married. She was on the bottom looking up. So, when she hears news of the impending birth of Jesus, you can imagine how overjoyed she must have been… not only for herself, but for all who share her status in life. She literally sings when she visits her cousin Elizabeth - “My soul MAGNIFIES the Lord … and my spirit REJOICES in God my Savior!” She considers herself blessed and favored by God; she celebrates God’s mercy shown to her and to all people who fear God as she does. We cannot help but simultaneously rejoice with her, and share compassion for her, as we know what will happen to her son. Simeon speaks for us when Jesus is presented at the Temple, and he warns Mary that the child will be destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel … and that a sword will pierce her soul too. But for now, we rejoice.
The second half of her song speaks of her faith and hope in what God has promised to do through the expected savior. It is not welcome news to all … there will be some who are scattered in their proud thoughts, brought down from their powerful thrones, and sent away, emptied of their riches. We really should identify with the people on this side of the verses and not with those who will be filled with good things or will be lifted up. All of us, in our capitalistic, democratic republic nation should be concerned about what this means for us. Clearly these saving acts are good news for the poor and lowly, but what does Mary’s song mean for the wealthy and privileged? Is there nothing but judgement for them? While there is judgement for them - and I would say, for US - judgement and salvation go hand in hand. Those who stand in awe only of themselves and their own power and riches are and will be judged. Yet, if the wealthy and powerful can see and understand this privileged position in life, God, by humbling them and emptying them, IS saving them. When we turn our gaze from ourselves and our own accomplishments, when our awe is directed to God - like Mary’s is in this song - then there is mercy for all, even those on the upper parts of the socioeconomic spectrum.
When God empties the rich of their excess and fills the hungry with good things, the result is not social reversal, with the powerless and the powerful changing places. It is more of a social leveling where the rich and powerful are stripped of their arrogance and taught to love their neighbors as much as they love themselves and their way of life. Thus, God provides for the poor and honors the humiliated. When our arrogance is shattered and our power brought down, we all have access to enough to be satisfied in life. As a result, every person has dignity and respect, and no one uses power to harm others.

Indeed, God loves us all - the poor, the rich, the hungry and those who are filled, the proud and lowly. Mary’s song reminds us that God also does not leave us as we are in these classifications. We are all blessed, just as Mary, the mother of our Lord was blessed. We witness to the love of God in our lives in many and various ways, and we see sickness, healing, death and new life all around us. It is a cross-shaped blessing that costs nothing and yet demands our everything. It is a song of God’s justice, not ours, and we can do nothing less than sing our praises along with Mary as we pray for God’s blessings and mercy to make a difference in our sinful world. Amen.