Monday, August 16, 2010

Magnify the Lord with Me

Sermon for St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord, August 15, 2010.

    Some Lutherans might think it odd to be remembering Mary, the Mother of our Lord – as if the Reformation did away with all of this.  Take a gander at Luther's commentary on the Magnificat of Mary and you get a whole other idea about her.  We call Mary not simply Mother of our Lord but "Theotokos" or Mother of God – for God chose her to carry His Son in her womb, to give Him birth in flesh and blood, to care for Him as His mother, and to receive the rich grace which He came to bestow upon her and upon all who will receive Him.  She is not Mother merely to His flesh and blood but to the Son of the Most High God who is incarnate in her womb and born of the Father’s will.
    But Mary is also our Mother.  She is the first real Christian – the one to whom God spoke that the prophetic word would be fulfilled in her womb, of the Word made flesh to dwell among us, full of grace and truth.  It is Mary who first heard this Word, who pondered in her heart this and all the Words of the Lord and who was there at all the events of Christ's life and death and resurrection.  It is Mary who consented to God's Word that it may be to her as God said – her faith and trust in God is what we struggle to emulate today.
    Mary was chosen by God not for her greatness but for her humility.  She is chosen of God not for who she is but for the grace of God that would shine through her.  When the greeting of the angel came, it began with grace.  “Hail, Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with you.”  It was grace that singled her out and grace that gave her glory and grace that she clung to in faith.  In this way, we are no different than she is – chosen of God not because of our glory but for His glory and by His grace.
    She is exemplary not because she is without sin or some perfect incarnation of humanity – only Jesus is this.  There is no need to magnify her in death beyond what her own words and life say.  It is her faith that singles her out – her faith in the Word of God, her faith in the grace of God, and her faith in the Son of God.  She shows us what it means to believe in Jesus Christ – not as an idea but the flesh and blood of God’s Son who is her Savior and ours through the cross and empty tomb.
    Mary is clothed with grace.  She sees only her sinful character and freely admits her humble estate.  But God in His grace lifts her up to be a means of His grace, placing in her womb His Son, give Him to her to care for as His mother, and tying her life to the life of Jesus – through the agony of the cross and to the joyful triumph of His resurrection.  She is not merely the mother of Jesus' humanity for to make distinction – as if we would separate the Jesus who is the Son of God and the Jesus who is the Son of Mary – not this would divide His being and turn Him into some schizophrenic freak.  She is the chosen vessel of God in which humanity and divinity become the one Jesus.
    It was God's grace that was her glory, the sustaining power of her life, that on which she pondered and treasured in her heart day after day.  To remember her today is to recall this all sufficient grace that enabled her to believe the unbelievable promise of the angel and to give her faithful consent to the unknown of the Father's will.  It is here most of all that we are bidden to join her in magnifying the Lord – with faith and trust.
    Her response to God's grace is the model and example of our own faith and faithful believing.  "Let it be to me as You have said," she answers the call of the Lord.  The grace of God bore in her the fruit of faith not only to believe in what the angel said but to consent to His saving will being lived out within her own very life.  From her we learn what it means to trust in God's will.
    How can this be?" she answers the Lord.  This is not the dismissal of God's Word as too incredible to be believed but the humble vantage point of faith that admits with us nothing is possible but with the Lord all things are possible.  It is by these words that she defers to God's wisdom, will, and power.  It is in these words that we learn what it means to keep the faith, prompted by the Spirit to leave submit our minds and hearts to the Lord.
    What can we learn from her?  This is the question of the faithful today.  What can we learn from Mary whom the Father set apart to be the bearer of His Son and His Mother?  The answer is all about grace – the grace sufficient for all our needs, powerful enough to accomplish our salvation, big enough to be incarnate in Jesus Christ.
    The proud who come full of themselves, the Lord sends empty away.  But those who come with humble faith and trust are filled beyond measure.  In them, as in Mary, the light of Christ shines as the glory of God’s people of old and the light of the Gentiles.  Mary is not the source of this light but reflects this borrowed light of Christ – just as you and I do.
    When Mary sings her song of joy, she invites us to magnify the Lord with her.  This is not merely an invitation to sing her words but to proclaim the power of God's grace to bring forgiveness to the sinner, comfort to the distressed, healing to the wounded, hope to the downtrodden, and life to the dying.  We magnify the Lord with her not by mouthing her words but following her example of faith and faithfulness.
    The world is all about me.  What we see in Mary is all about Jesus.  Mary’s role and purpose are to point us to Christ. When our own hearts seek the easy path without challenge or cost, Mary points us to Christ.  When it seems that all we have from God is just words and we feel so very alone, Mary points us to Christ.  When nothing is working out and it seems that life has left us only with impossibility, Mary points us to Christ.  When we find ourselves tempted by our doubts and captive to our fears, Mary points us to Christ.  When we face all the dead ends in our path and the ultimate dead end of the grave, Mary points us to Christ.  Glorify the Lord with me... she sings... believe with me that all of these are answered in Jesus Christ... she sings.
    We remember her and call her blessed because she points us to Christ.  In our own age and in our time, we would seek to be the Marys of this generation – pointing to Jesus, believing and trusting in Him.  The Light of Christ shone through her, and, today, we pray, that in some small way, Jesus may shine through us as well and as brightly.  Today we pray that grace would be our hope and foundation as it was for her, that we might trust in God and welcome His will as she trusted in Him and consented to His will and purpose so long ago.  The saints of old are not lights to shine on themselves but beacons of borrowed light that point to Christ.  This is Mary, Virgin Mother of God and the one whom all generations have and will called blessed; whom we remember today with the prayer that we would be like her in faith, trust, witness, and confession.   Amen!


ErnestO said...

Pastor Peters:

Thanks for the lesson on our Mother of God (Theotokos).

I think your title "Magnify the Lord with Me" is perfect. First I must focus on the grace of God and then do I begin to understand why the humble and ever faithful Mary was chosen to bring His Son into the world.

"A commemoration of Mary is not so much about Mary as it is about the mighty acts of the triune God who accomplished our salvation ("

After reading your posting I had to look up

Mary's Song of Praise:
The Magnificat
Luke 1: 46-55 (ESV)

46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Chris said...

Pr. Peters,

Not to be nitpicky, but just so your readers are clear, Theotokos and Mother of God are NOT synonymous. Theotokos, rightly translated, means "birth-giver of God." A woman can be a mother and not have given birth, e.g. adoptive mothers. They are mothers, all the same, but Theotokos is a more powerful term which really centralizes the incarnation as the greatest gift God could have given us, that God became Man.

Chris said...

Look at the EO icons and you never see Mary pictured alone, but always embracing her son or bowing in supplication to her (such as on deisis icons). There is one particular icon series in particular called Directress. There are several renditions. But in those, Mary is holding her son and our God and pointing (i.e. directing) us towards him. Here's one:

As our icons are revealed and are part of our holy tradition, and I know you said NOTHING about this, but there is no possible way anyone can honestly call the EO idolaters with regards to Mary when she is so clear in directing us to her son.

Nonetheless, liked your post. The magnificat is one of the great gems of the church. From a liturgical perspective, it's interesting that on a great feast, whehter for her or for her son, the 9th Ode (which is the Magnificat) is never chanted, but is always chanted on all other days (the other Biblical canticles are not chanted save for great lent).

Anonymous said...

So, it was YOU who was looking over my shoulder as I composed my sermon for yesterday!

Well done, and not just because mine was very similar.

God bless, Pr. Peters...we need to meet in person some day!

Pastor Peters said...

Chris, while there is some technical truth to your words, there is another side and that is the nearly universal history of rendering Theotokos as Mother of God. Read this from Wiki:

Translating the word Theotokos While some languages used by various Orthodox churches often have a single native word for Theotokos, it gets translated into English in a number of ways. The most common is Mother of God, though God-bearer and Birth-giver to God are also fairly common. There are difficulties with all these translations, however. The most literally correct one is Birth-giver to God, though God-bearer comes close. Theophoros (Θεοφορος) is the Greek term usually and more correctly translated as God-bearer, so using God-bearer for Theotokos in some sense "orphans" Theophoros when it comes time to translate that term (for St. Ignatius of Antioch, for instance). The main difficulties with both these translations for Theotokos is that they are a bit awkward and difficult to sing.

The most popular translation, Mother of God, is accurate to a point, but the difficulty with that one is that Mother of God is the literal translation of another Greek phrase which is found on nearly all icons of the Theotokos: Μητηρ Θεου (Meter Theou), usually in the standard iconographic abbreviation of ΜΡ ΘΥ. Additionally, a number of hymns employ both Theotokos and Meter Theou—translating both as Mother of God can yield some rather nonsensical language, and it destroys the distinction that the hymnographer intended.

The usage that seems to be dominant in English-speaking Orthodox churches in North America is to adopt the original term itself into English (something English speakers have traditionally done with foreign words almost since the earliest known history of the language), transliterating it simply as Theotokos. British usage gives preference to translating Theotokos as Mother of God.

Pastor Peters said...

Should have noted "Orthodox" Wiki

Chris said...

Pr. Peters,

I am well aware of the linguistic difficulty caused by Theotokos. However, I know of no problem it causes in singing/chanting. We use Byzantine chant which fits the natural stresses of Greek and Arabic quite well, which is why I prefer to chant in Greek but, unfortunately, I am constrained to use English. Theotokos flows more naturally when sung than Mother of God and having chanted A LOT of services, that is not a good argument for its abandonment in our hymns whether at the Hours or the Divine Liturgy.