22. December, 2014Sermons No comments

Sermon given by Fr. Jim Gordon on Dec. 21, 2014

If
you want
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy
and say,
“I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart,
my time is so close.”

In the name of God …

That is the opening of a poem by St. John of the Cross, a poem that Chuck shared with the Merton on Monday group last week, and that came his way by one of the daily reflections that are sent out by Richard Rohr.

And I have to say first, that I really like the first three words of the stanza — “If you want.”

If you are willing. If you are open to the idea. If you can say yes. And not everybody can say yes.

Talking about the Virgin Mary makes some Protestants uneasy. I think that’s because of the over-enthusiasm of Marian devotion that occurs in some parts of the Roman Catholic Church, much of which has been turned into doctrine.

But to appreciate Mary and to learn from her, you don’t have to believe that she was born without sin — that’s what the Immaculate Conception is about. You don’t have to believe that she didn’t die but was taken up bodily into heaven — that’s called The Assumption. You don’t have to believe that the reference in Revelation to “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” is talking about Mary.

You don’t have to believe any of those things In order to understand and appreciate Mary’s role in salvation history, and therefore in all of our individual salvation stories. That role, that very human role, began with her yes to God. I almost said “her simple yes,” but there was nothing simple about it.

A pregnant, unmarried woman in the society of the day could be stoned to death — legally. (That, by the way, is still the case in some parts of the world — today). Shielded to some extent by Joseph, Mary still would have been the subject of whispers, rumors and scorn — no minor thing then or now. But Mary, knowing all these things, still said yes to God.

There’s a line about Mary I’ve heard spoken from the pulpit and I’ll wager you have, too. Or if you haven’t, wait long enough and you will. It’s this: Mary was a “simple Jewish girl.”

I rather doubt it. There’s nothing simple about her song, The Magnificat, which we recited this morning. There’s nothing simple about her interaction with her son at the Wedding in Cana as recorded in John — which according to that Gospel led to Jesus’ first miracle, or sign. There’s nothing simple about Mary at all, as far as I can see, other than her trust in God.

That trust in God would bring her more than she could possibly imagine, including a great deal of pain.

Mary represents all mothers — and I would add all fathers — who have to see their children suffer, whether in illness or circumstance. In her case, she watched her son suffer betrayal, injustice, humiliation, terrible pain and death.

But she was also able to watch the transformation of her son’s disciples by their interaction with the Resurrected Jesus. We aren’t told whether Jesus appeared to his mother, but even if he didn’t, Mary would have drunk deeply from all of the disciples’ accounts, and one can only imagine the amazed delight she would have felt at all that they told her.

In the liturgy of the Anglican Communion we refer to Mary not as “ever virgin” — that’s another official Roman Catholic belief — but as “ever blessed.” As in the Hail Mary’s “Blessed are you among all women” and the Magnificat’s “For behold, from henceforth: All generations shall call me blessed.”

And blessed she is. Despite the suffering of her son, despite her own suffering, despite the difficulty of finding shelter that night in Bethlehem and having to give birth in a stable or, more likely, a cold cave.

I’m going to read a bit more of the St. John of the Cross poem. St. John was not only a fine poet — he is considered one of the foremost poets in the Spanish language — he was a mystic and an exceptional theologian and, in fact, is one of the 33 doctors of the Roman Catholic Church. The Anglican Communion also honors him with a feast day — Dec. 14, which, in fact, was last Sunday.

In 16th-century Spain, St. John was a reformer, which means that, he too, suffered, sometimes a great deal. He was flogged by his opponents in the church hierarchy. By their hand, he suffered painful confinement before escaping. Yet some of his greatest poetry was written in that confinement, and he had a special feel for Mary.

Mary, with the Son of God in her womb, came into Bethlehem looking for shelter and was turned away. Each Advent she and her son again seek shelter, but this time not in an inn, but in the deepest part of you. And you can grant them that shelter, the shelter of faith, if you want.

If
you want
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy
and say,
“I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart,
my time is so close.”
Then, under the roof of your soul, you will witness the sublime
intimacy, the divine, the Christ
taking birth
forever,
as she grasps your hand for help, for each of us
is the midwife of God, each of us.
Yes there, under the dome of your being does creation
come into existence externally, through your womb, dear pilgrim—
the sacred womb of your soul,

as God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is
His beloved servant, never far

If you want, the Virgin will come walking
down the street pregnant
with Light and
sing . . .

The birth of belief. The birth of faith, of fidelity, the birth of the possibility of life with God, which is life everlasting.
All this starts with Mary’s yes. For each of us, it starts with our yes, a yes that takes in, enfolds and shelters the salvation story against the world’s disbelief. A yes that mirrors Mary’s amazed joy.
For when we add our yes to hers, all of us can say, with the virgin, “From this day forth, all generations will call me blessed, the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.”
Amen.

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