Sermon by Haydon Wilcox 15.08.2021

Sermon by Haydon Wilcox

15.08.2021

 

Today is Mary’s Day, when the Church remembers the mother of Jesus.

The images we have of Mary are often sad ones.  I think of the Michelangelo statue with Jesus on the lap of his mother after the crucifixion and her sorrowful face. She’s also depicted as a lady or as a young woman, with beautiful features.  In so many ways artists have desire to bring out the  virginal and innocent interpretation, so we have been used to visualising Mary in this way.  After the resurrection  she also becomes an absent figure, no longer referred to, like most women from the gospel accounts.  It’s as if she’s done her job and now the men are in charge! In fact, the contribution of many women is overlooked by the writers of the early church – ‘His Story’ is a shaping of historical events, edited by men.

It is only in a late C2nd document called the gospel of James that the perpetual virginity of Mary is mentioned and it’s this source that shaped Marian doctrine for the next 300 years.

My picture of Mary though is more of Greta Thunberg, the teenage environmental activist from Sweden.  She’s now 18 but I suspect Mary was more like 14 when the angel Gabriel spoke to her.  Girls married young in her culture.  She was described as a virgin seemingly because it was more of a description of her youth rather than of her sexual experience. 

She travels to her cousin Elizabeth, but no one really knows why.  The journey would have taken many weeks as Elizabeth lived near to Jerusalem and Mary was from Nazareth and that’s about 90 miles. 

Elizabeth is also pregnant and that arose out of a mysterious happening to her husband and she had conceived in her old age. So, they had lots in common to talk about.  I suppose this was the origin of the Mothers Union!

There’s a lovely description of Elizabeth’s baby, who was to be John the Baptist, leaping in her womb because Jesus was before him, and he was the first to recognise him.  The experience for Elizabeth is that she feels filled with the Holy Spirit and is filled with joy.  So even before his birth Jesus is touching people’s lives. 

Mary though is equally filled with the Holy Spirit because she makes a prophetic statement, which is far more like Greta Thunberg style.  Filled with the Spirit Mary is not this timid young girl, but a strident, confident, and powerful speaker, more reminiscent to Peter when he preached after being filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. 

Her words are to be called the Magnificat or the Song of Mary, and now used in all services of evening prayer.  The Magnificat is what we heard read in today’s gospel reading and it is filled with strident and powerful words, that sounds more like a political manifesto about ushering in the Kingdom of God. Mary claims she is called by God. God does great things and is merciful.  He scatters the proud and brings down the powerful – even kings.  He will raise up the poor, give food to the hungry and the rich will hunger.  These are revolutionary words, and they truly indicate that Jesus will turn the tables of expectations and that the Holy Spirit desires radical change, not only for individuals but for the societies they live in.

So, on this day when we remember Mary, rethink your romantic notions of her.  Rather see her as a prophetess and the challenge of her spirit moved words. 

She calls for the world to change. When we follow Jesus, we too are called into a vocation of change, to change ourselves to reflect more of Christ and to change the world into a better place.  We are called to establish the Kingdom of God. Mary is our primary example who inspires us to say, as she did, ‘Yes’ to God.

I listened recently to some women from Afghanistan, who have grown in confidence and probably will suffer under the reign of the Taliban now that Kabul is taken.  They were saying this is the age of women.  Men they said seek power, they fight, they abuse, they bring terror, they control.  Their ways they said were the old ways and this is the age for women in our society to demonstrate a better way to live.

 

 

There’s something of the character of Mary in their voices for she is not the quiet, compliant, pure woman but the mother of our Lord, chosen, who freely serves and speaks with an authority given to her by God.  As we respect her role in the saving work of God, so we respect all women, hoping that they , like Greta Thunberg, will challenge us to change and act for the interest of all and not just for ourselves.