Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Preach One: On the feast day of Saint Mary the Virgin

Preached in the chapel at St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral at the noonday service.

Isaiah 61:10-11; Psalm 34:1-9; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 1:46-55

One of the first things I was told when I moved to Mississippi was that I should never speak badly of a person to someone else, because there's a pretty good chance they're kin to each other.  I've found this is only a slight exaggeration - the classic six degrees of separation are reduced to only one or two degrees in this state, and the classic concept of kin is expanded here to include all sorts of people, whether or not they figure into your family tree.

Wherever we come from, there's no better way to put someone on the defensive than to speak badly of their family.  And there's no better way to put someone on the offensive than to speak badly of their mother.

In her time, perhaps people had some choice words about Mary.  I wonder if Jesus ever had to rise to her defense when some kid on the playground pressed him about her tendency to see angels, and whether or not Joseph was his real dad.  In Jewish society it would have been easy to speak badly of Mary, who should have been tossed into the street at best and stoned to death at worst for turning up pregnant before she turned up married.

In our time, though, it is impossible to speak badly of her, whose faith and obedience and courage are compelling still.  We wonder with Mary at the appearance of that angel.  We marvel with her at the invitation God offered.  We breathlessly await her yes.  We joyfully sing her song, my soul magnifies the Lord...

We don't know whether Mary ever lost her temper, even just a little, when Jesus and his brothers and sisters ran through the house and toppled her favorite cooking pot.  We don't know whether she ever told them a little white lie about just how many vegetables were cooked into the stew.  We don't know whether she ever doubted God's goodness when she said goodbye to her son.

But we wouldn't speak badly of her if she did.  She's somebody's mother, after all.  And because in this life of faith we are all of us kin, she's our mother, too, for we are the living body of Christ.  We bear into the world the same life that she did, a life devoted to mercy and strength and lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things.

On this, Mary's feast day, may our souls magnify the Lord.  May our spirits rejoice in God our Savior.  Amen.

Artwork: "Magnificat," by Virginia Wieringa