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The Rest of Her Children

  • August 11, 2019
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for 11 August 2019 (Feast of Holy Mary the Theotokos)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Revelation 12.1-17; Psalm 34.1-9; Luke 1.46-55

Title:               The Rest of Her Children

“So the dragon was furious with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, on those who keep God’s commandments and hold firmly to the witness of Jesus” (Revelation 12.17).

My dear friends: Who is this woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head? And what could it mean for us if we are among the rest of her children?

Today we are marking the Feast of Holy Mary the Virgin, formally and officially known in the Church by the title of Theotokos: the God-bearer.

This is our pátronal feast, or as they like to say across the pond in England, it is our patrónal feast. Pátronal, patrónal – by either pronunciation, it is our time each August to celebrate our patron and to remind ourselves why it matters – why we even have a patron saint, and why this fact matters at all.

Back in 1890, our founders chose to dedicate this place, and everything that happens here, to the glory of God, and to the care and memory of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer.

But let’s back up a minute and remember why we do this at all. Why do we have patrons for our local parish communities? Why not do what most Protestant congregations do and come up with a location-specific name, like “Falmouth Congregational Church”? Or why not follow the current trend and come up with a cool and hip name like “The Rock Church” or “Reality Church”?

That’s a real name, by the way! On Friday, friends told me of a church attended by their son in Southern California, and true to California style, it is called “Reality Church”!

So why not do the trendy thing like that? Why do we follow the old-fashioned practice of having a patron saint?

It’s a small thing, perhaps, but it speaks volumes about our understanding of who we are as the church, and what it means to be part of the Body of Christ.

My friends, we have a patron saint, because – at the most fundamental level – we need one another. We can never walk in the way of Christ alone, by ourselves.

Because we owe everything to the saints who have gone before us. Because we are acutely aware that we are surrounded at all times by a great cloud of witnesses. Because we never stand alone, but always on the shoulders of those who persevered and cleared the way before us, and on those who support us today in the Body of Christ.

And so our patron is Mary the God-bearer, the woman clothed with the sun who gave birth to the child destined to rule the nations.

What do you think about this vision from the Revelation to John? It’s kind of interesting, isn’t it? And quite odd, of course, as are ALL the visions in this final book of the Bible.

Over time, the Church has come to see this un-named woman as Mary, the Mother of Christ. You can see this tradition represented in the image on the cover of today’s bulletin.

Do you know this image? It is the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron of Mexico, often referred to in that land as the Queen of Mexico and the Empress of America. You can see the rays of sunlight coming from her and the crescent moon under her feet.

This window on the north side of the Nave is dedicated to Mary as Our Lady of Victory. Look at the very top – it may be hard to see – but look at the very top scene, and you will see Mary being crowned by her Son as Queen of heaven.

What do you think of that idea? And what could it possibly mean for Mary to wear a crown of twelve stars on her head? To be the Queen of heaven? Well, I promise you that it’s not what it sounds like!

The great Thomas Merton, a Roman Catholic monk who died in 1968, explains it this way: “Mary’s chief glory is her nothingness.”

Did you catch that? He goes on to say: “This is precisely Mary’s greatest glory: that having nothing of her own, retaining nothing of a ‘self’ that could glory in anything for her own sake, she placed no obstacle to the mercy of God and in no way resisted God’s love and will” (New Seeds of Contemplation, p.170-171, New Directions, 1961).

Mary’s glory is in having no self! No ego that stands apart from God. Mary’s glory is in giving everything for the love and the will of God!

And that glory continues, because she is alive today in that great cloud of witnesses which surrounds us always.

Pope Francis has said this, “Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world. Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for all the creatures of this world laid waste by human power” (Laudato Sí, para. 241).

Suffering, destruction, a great struggle between the forces of life and death – isn’t that what we see in this vision from the Revelation to John?

The woman represents life and goodness, the mother giving birth to a son, protected by the angels of God and even by the earth itself.

But the dragon represents death and chaos, ready to devour the child, fighting the angels of God, making war on the children of God.

“So the dragon was furious with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, on those who keep God’s commandments and hold firmly to the witness of Jesus” (Revelation 12.17).

My friends, what does it mean for us to be among the rest of Mary’s children?

It means we are among those who keep God’s commandments.

It means we are among those who hold firmly to the witness of Jesus.

It means we are among those who are not led astray by the deceiver of the whole world, that old snake, who is always whispering to us and inviting us to greed, to pride, to self-centeredness, to anger, to hatred, to violence.

As children of Mary, we can see right through all of those lies. We even laugh at them, because we know what it means to be truly alive, to be free, to live in harmony with God and one another. So we laugh at the foolishness of the world.

It means that we can also soar with her on the two wings of the great eagle! The early church understood this to mean the two greatest commandments of the Lord – the love of God and the love of neighbor. Carried aloft by these two, the people of Christ soar high above the small-mindedness and the pettiness of ordinary society.

To be the children of Mary means we know with certainty that we are never alone. We are one tiny part of a vast body encompassing all places and all generations, all those who have looked to God in hope.

My friends, having Mary as our patron reminds us that we need one another. It is so tempting to think that we can just handle things on our own. I AM tempted to think this way all the time. But it is just not true.

On the level of biology, every breath I take is directly due to the countless generations of ancestors who worked and struggled to launch the next generation into the world. If any one of them gave up, or quit the struggle, then I would not be here today. MY life is entirely because of those who went before me.

It is the same in the spiritual realm. We would have nothing without the generations who went before us. We would have no Bible to read, no hymns to sing, no psalms to chant, no prayers and collects to pray, no sacraments to celebrate, no beautiful space in which to celebrate them! We would have nothing spiritually, if the people before us had ever given up, if they had quit the struggle.

And so we are always, every day, standing on the shoulders of the saints. And especially is this true when we turn to our patron, Mary the God-bearer.

There is NO Body of Christ without her! Where did the Body of Christ come from? It came from her!

Without Mary, there is no Body of Christ that suffered on the cross.

Without Mary, there is no Body of Christ that we receive in Communion.

Without Mary, there is no Body of Christ into which we are baptized.

To be clear, it is THAT Body of Christ which matters above all else, but where would that Body be without the Mother who gave it birth?

And so, to say that we are The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary is to say that we owe everything to those who have gone before us.

And it is to declare that we need one another – that we have been woven into this amazing Body of Christ where all are inter-connected and where all are ready to give everything, like Mary, for the love of God and the will of God.

May it always be so among us. Amen.

 

 

 

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