Sermon: Feast of the Virgin Mary

A sermon I preached for the Feast of the Virgin Mary:


Sermon: Feast of Mary


13 August, 2006


Tracy E. Longacre


St. John the Evangelist Episcopal
Church, San Francisco

 

Isaiah 61:10-11

Psalm 34


Galatians 4:4-7

Luke 1: 46-55

 

Please be seated.

Good morning. Thank you for having
me. It is a pleasure to be here at St. John’s once again.

This morning we celebrate the Feast
of Saint Mary the Virgin and our gospel reading is her wonderful song of
praise, the Magnificat.

 

In 2005, The Anglican-Roman
Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) considered the question of Mary when
they met together in Seattle. They were seeking to articulate the points where
all Anglicans and Roman Catholics can agree about Mary and I think they did a
great job of affirming the sainthood of Mary without requiring belief in the
papal doctrines of the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption. Here is what
they have to say:

God’s grace calls
for and enables human response. . . The Incarnation and all that it entailed,
including the passion, death and resurrection of Christ and the birth of the Church,
came about by way of Mary’s freely uttered fiat – “let it be done to
me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). We recognize in the event of the
Incarnation God’s gracious ‘Yes’ to humanity as a whole. In this context, Mary’s
fiat can be seen as the supreme instance of a believer’s ‘Amen’ in
response to the ‘Yes’ of God. Her response was not made without profound
questioning, and it issued in a life of joy intermingled with sorrow, taking her
even to the foot of her son’s cross. When Christians join in Mary’s ‘Amen’ to
the ‘Yes’ of God in Christ, they commit themselves to an obedient response to
the Word of God, which leads to a life of prayer and service. Like Mary, they
not only magnify the Lord with their lips: they commit themselves to serve God’s
justice with their lives (cf. Luke 1:46-55).

 

Mary comes to represent us, to
represent humanity’s response to the event of God in Christ in the world. And
we thus become her. And her song becomes our song. It is not simply that her
soul magnifies the Lord, but it is my soul and your soul and your soul that
magnifies the Lord. It is my soul and your soul and your soul that makes God
bigger.

 

The Magnificat is a revolutionary
document. I read one person who compared it to the Magna Carta, which I think
is an apt analogy. The Magna Carta was the original, the first document that
spoke about individual freedom within a society. Later, of course, our own
Declaration of Independence and Constitution took those ideas and began to
create a new society from them. In much the same way, Mary’s song is the first
articulation of the new world order, the ideas from which Jesus took and began
to create a new society. Just as the Magna Carta is a prelude to the American Revolution,
so the Magnificat is a prelude to the whole gospel. And the theme of the whole gospel is that God respects the poor, exalts
the poor, cares for the poor, feeds the poor, remembers the poor, helps the
poor.

 

The Magnificat is also a beautiful
piece of poetry and it is easy to become mesmerized by the beauty of the
language, particularly when we sing it. However, if we listen to the words and
think about what is actually being said, its revolutionary nature is evident.
Mary sings of the powerful being brought down and the lowly being lifted up;
she sings of the poor being filled up and the rich being empty; she sings of God’s
mercy and favor. In short, everything is turned upside down. The bottom is up
and the top is down. And, although we
know Mary as the Mother of God, the bearer of God incarnate, we must remember
that she was a servant girl from the underclass, one of the disregarded of her
society. Her being chosen for the role of God bearer was pretty astonishing. I
think an appropriate modern analogy might be if some addicted homeless woman
was chosen to be the mother of God. That would be quite upsetting to the
current world order. And that is just how revolutionary the Magnificat is. The
radical witness of the Magnificat is that the disregarded become the bearers of
God. And God causes the voiceless to burst into song.

 

In her song, Mary sings both of
what God is doing in her – a personal transformation, and of what God is doing
in the world – a societal transformation. God looks with favor on the lowliness
of his servant and from now on she will be called blessed. She says God does
great things for her. And, of course, even the personal in this instance is
radically political. As ARCIC says: “Mary becomes the one who speaks for all
the poor and oppressed who long for God’s reign of justice to be established.”
And so she sings of the new world order when God will scatter the proud and
show the strength of his arm.

 

And since Mary represents us, I
believe there is a call here, loud and strong, for us also to speak for the
poor and oppressed who long for God’s reign of justice to be established,
particularly for those poor and oppressed who are voiceless. I believe we are
called to do as God did with Mary and cause the voiceless to burst into song.

 

I hope that many of you will stay
after the service today for the forum we have planned. I will be doing a
presentation about my research on homosexuality in Uganda, which is to say that
I will be telling stories of gay and lesbian people I met in Uganda. I know
many of you, particularly those of you “of a certain age,” remember well when
gays and lesbians were truly voiceless in our society. I certainly have been
painfully reminded of that during this time when the Anglican Communion is
using us as a scapegoat in their international power play. I find it utterly
shocking sometimes the extent to which other people are (or think they are)
talking about gays and lesbians or for gays and lesbians, but it never even
seems to occur to them to talk to
gays and lesbians. At best, they do not notice (and at worse, it is
intentional) that all of their chatter is rendering LBGT people voiceless—or
drowning out LBGT voices. The Magnificat calls us to something different.
Mary’s song calls us to sing out and to help other poor and oppressed people to
sing out. So, after the service today, since they could not be here themselves,
I will do my part to help gays and lesbians in Uganda to sing out.

 

I invite you to step into Mary’s
shoes and to sing her song as if it is yours. I invite you to delve into the
experience of how your soul magnifies the Lord. I invite you to see how God has
looked with favor on you and done great things for you. And I invite you to
sing of the new world order. Because, even 2,000 years later, the revolution
starts now.

 

Amen.

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About Seth Longacre

primal health coach, vision fast guide, itinerant discalced Episcopal Deacon, barefoot runner, photographer, spiritual director, yoga teacher, minimalist, pilgrim
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