- August 13, 2017
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for August 13, 2017 (Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: 1 Corinthians 1:25-31; Psalm 34:1-9; Luke 1:46-55
Title: A God-bearer
“God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
My dear friends: it is good for us to be here together on this day to remember Mary the mother of our Lord, to celebrate her life, and to honor her death.
We recognize in Mary what is also true about ourselves, what the apostle Paul commended about the saints in Corinth:
“God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:28-29).
A poor, uneducated, unskilled young woman from a backwater part of the world – THIS is the one chosen by God to be the tabernacle of the Word, to be the true bearer of God into the world.
It is amazing to consider, not only for us today, but even for the earliest disciples.
The oldest surviving prayer to Mary was discovered in Egypt one hundred years ago – in 1917. It contains one of the earliest references to Mary as the God-bearer, and it was probably written at the end of the second century – about one hundred years after the Gospel of John was written. Here is a modern English translation of this prayer:
We turn to you for protection, holy Theotokos (the God-bearer).
Listen to our prayers and help us in our needs.
Save us from every danger, glorious and blessed Virgin.
(Hail Mary: A Marian Book of Hours, Ave Maria Press, 2002: p.10).
In those first few centuries, as the church meditated on the meaning of Mary as the one chosen to bring the Son of God into the world, they settled on one primary title to describe her role in salvation history: Theotokos. God-bearer.
Yes. Mary is the God-bearer. There is only one! Only once in the history of planet earth was there an event like the birth of Jesus as Messiah, and only once was there a Mother like Mary. The God-bearer.
We do not know what it was like to be Mary. Her experience is beyond our ability to comprehend.
But we recognize her body as the one “that received the complete fullness of God’s Word, who rules all things” (Andrew of Crete, Dormition Homily III, para. 12).
You see, in former times, in ancient times, the presence of God was identified in special places or special buildings. On certain mountains, in sacred temples.
But now, it has been revealed that the one holy tabernacle of all time, the one dwelling place of God is not a place nor a building, but a person. A woman.
The body of a woman received, held, carried and gave birth to “all the fullness of God” (Colossians 1:19).
Can you conceive of what that means? No, no one can. For no one can ever be compared to Mary, and no birth can ever be compared to the one that she went through. It is good and right for us to honor this unique Woman.
And yet, while all of this is true, at the same time, we are not called simply to applaud Mary for what she did, only to call her blessed. No, we are to learn from her what it means to do what she did.
Foolish, weak and lowly, we might be, but the truth is that we also are called to be God-bearers. Not in exactly the same way, of course, but in the way particular to our unique time and to our unique life.
And so, my friends, this is the question that each of us needs to hear and to wrestle with on this day: what does it mean for you, for me, to be a God-bearer? And what does it mean for us together to bear God into the world around us?
Perhaps you have never thought about yourself in this way before. I wonder what it would be like if you woke up every morning and said to yourself (aloud so that the world could know), “Today, I am a God-bearer! God has given me THIS day so that God can bring grace into the world through me!” Would that change your perspective on things?
There is a powerful psychological effect that happens when we claim a new sense of identity, and when we claim it with confidence and boldness.
To claim your identity as a God-bearer might change how you see your life.
So think about the movements of your typical day. Who is it that you interact with? Where are you moving? In and through what places? What are the words that typically come out of your mouth? What movements do you make with your hands? What kind of look is often on your face? What do you do with your eyes?
Except for extreme circumstances, there is no limitation upon anyone being a God-bearer. To be alive means that you are interacting with the world each day – making decisions about what to think about others, how to speak about others, what to say to others, whether you stop and pick up that piece of trash on the ground or whether you step over it and keep on going.
Each one of us has an enormous impact on the world. No one is exempt from this call to live and act as a God-bearer. It is not a calling designed for special people, for the well-educated or the well-to-do, not for the theologically trained or the officially ordained, not for the socially-connected or the naturally-gifted.
No one is left out of this calling to be a God-bearer! That’s the message in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians.
So, knowing that you also are not exempt from this remarkable calling, I want each of you to take a few minutes and turn to your neighbor and explain to them how you are going to live and act as God-bearer in the days, weeks and months to come.
How will you bear witness to this calling upon your life? Please share this with your neighbor now and I will call us back together in a few minutes.
How will you live and act as a God-bearer in the days, weeks and months to come? Perhaps your answer to this question came easily: it is clear, and you know exactly how God is calling you to manifest this.
Perhaps some of you struggle to see this calling in your life. If this is you, have no fear!
Thankfully, your calling to serve as a God-bearer is not dependent upon your ability to understand these things clearly and to communicated them clearly. All of this is a gift of God’s grace. It is not dependent upon us and upon our level on understanding. If it did, we would all be in deep trouble!
A wise professor who taught me at seminary once described the job of disciples as serving as “midwives of grace”. After all, truth be told, we are not the ones giving birth. But we are right there, holding the hand of the one who needs to be saved, who needs to be healed, who needs to be delivered, the one who needs hope. And we stay right there, holding that hand until God’s grace is born in their lives, until new life comes forth and a new life begins.
On this day, we remember Mary and the unique role that she played as the God-bearer whose cooperation with God changed the course of human history. And we remember the truth that our cooperation with God can also change the world in ways we can hardly imagine.
It may not be heroic. It may never be remembered by generations after our death. Our calling to bring God’s grace to others may never even extend beyond the confines of our household.
None of that matters. What matters is that we are open, like Mary, to the will of God and ready to be part of what God wants to do in the world, rather than simply chasing after our own hopes and dreams.
For Christ has become our “wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
And so the question remains: how will we serve, like Mary, as God-bearers, as servants through whom the grace of God enters into the world around us?
Claim that identity for yourselves, and know with clarity that there is nothing we could possibly do with our lives that could matter more than this!
God, give us courage to say yes to your call and to bear you in all of our words and actions. Amen.
SCRIPTURE: New Testament
OCCASION: Saint Mary the Virgin