St Mary’s Patronal Feast

Isaiah 61:10-11, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 1:46-55

 

It is fantastic to welcome Joshua and Charles

into the family of faith today at their baptisms.

We commit with their parents and godparents

to pray for them and help them to take a full role eventually,

in the life of the church,

as they grow up

and discover what faith means for them.

 

Today is the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary,

our patron Saint here at St Mary’s Church.

And we’re taking this opportunity

to think a little about who we are.

Specifically, two questions:

what is the Good News we have to share with the world,

and how are we going to put it into practice in our lives,

and make sure people hear it?

 

What is the Good News, or Gospel, that we have to share?

Well, there is no better inspiration, aside from Jesus himself,

for understanding the core nature of the Gospel,

than his mother, Mary, our patron saint.

So let’s look at, what we might call,

the Gospel according to St Mary.

 

Mary did not write a gospel book,

but she is credited with composing the Magnificat,

which we have just heard.

 

Mary’s Magnificat is a song of praise to God.

The name Magnificat

comes from the Latin for its first few words,

my soul magnifies the Lord.

So first of all, it is a song of praise.

Bigging God up, and magnifying him.

Mary is thanking God. She is delighting in God.

She is rapturous, even ecstatic.

She cannot sing God’s praises highly enough.

But why?

 

Well, Mary has been chosen for an incredibly special task.

– to be the mother of Christ,

to carry God’s Son and bring him to birth,

so that God’s purposes can be fulfilled through him.

 

She is amazed that one so humble,

– and insignificant in worldly terms,

could be chosen for such a completely momentous task.

After all, she is just a 15 year old girl,

we can assume, from a poor or working-class background,

who now finds herself pregnant out of wedlock.

Were it not for the wisdom and grace of Joseph her fiancée,

who had been spoken to by God in a dream,

she would have been divorced, destitute and a social outcast.

 

It beggars belief, and Mary was simply blown away by the honour,

by God’s willingness to use such a humble servant.

 

But Mary’s praise was about much more

than the honour of being chosen as mother of the Messiah;

she was also completely thrilled and pumped

because of all that Jesus would accomplish in his earthly life.

And she uses the Magnificat to describe this work – the Gospel,

in very stark terms,

that leave very little wiggle room on interpretation.

 

Let’s listen to her song again:

He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

he has brought down the powerful from their thrones;

he has lifted up the lowly,

filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

 

Make no mistake. This is revolutionary stuff.

The gospel according to St Mary

is overtly political in nature,

and foresees a great shift of social justice

as part of the coming Kingdom of God.

 

Over the years governments have recognised its power,

and have so feared its destabilising influence

that it has been banned from public recitation

for example, in India, Guatemala and Argentina.

 

If you’re a feeling uncomfortable,

you’re probably not the only one.

Many of us here would fall into the bracket of rich,

in comparison to the poverty that Mary

and her oppressed compatriots

in occupied Palestine would have known.

 

Without overlooking or watering down the political implications,

we also need to see that,

whether we’re financially wealthy or not,

part of what is being asked of us

is a willingness to acknowledge our spiritual poverty,

and to come to God in powerlessness and hunger.

What good is poverty to us spiritually,

if our hearts are hardened, and our hands closed.

How can God feed us, spiritually or materially,

if we are not at least spiritually hungry?

 

However, the Magnificat is a great example

of a theme that runs right throughout the Bible,

which theologians have come to call

God’s preferential option for the poor.

What does that mean?

It means, in short, that God takes sides.

Not that he doesn’t love everyone equally, he does,

but that he can generally be found

on the fringes of mainstream society,

with the poor, the outcast, the lonely,

healing, restoring, forgiving.

Simply because that is where he is needed.

So often our material wealth

blinds us to not only our spiritual poverty,

but that of the wider world.

And as Mary says,

God fills the hungry with good things,

not those who are already full

and feel that they have everything they need.

 

So if God does take sides,

and is willing not only to use poor and powerless people like Mary

to further his divine work of reconciliation the world,

but also seeks to relieve their suffering

and redress the injustices and imbalances in society,

through his coming Kingdom,

we have a powerful message of Good News to share

with those who are poor,

with those who are hungry,

with those who have open hands.

 

The Gospel according to St Mary

is a challenge to all of us,

whether wealthy or not,

to join God on the side of the poor,

the hungry, the downtrodden.

 

As you look around the church this morning,

ask yourself, who is missing from our community?

Who might be God calling us,

who might God be calling you, to befriend,

regardless of how different you might seem,

and serve the Christ in them?

 

We at St Mary’s have the Gospel according to St Mary

to share with the world.

Good News that God’s purpose in the world through Christ

is to bring about his Kingdom of justice, mercy and peace

for the whole of creation.

 

But as we launch our rule of life today

we also have a set of practices

that will help us to bring the Gospel alive

in our day to day lives.

 

Pray, read, learn,

tell, serve, give.

 

Like the monks and nuns whose rule of life this is inspired by,

our rule of life is designed

to help us to commit more fully

to the Gospel we have been entrusted with.

We enter into it voluntarily, today,

and no-one is keeping check on who does or does not sign up.

But it is offered as a gift, a tool,

to help to bring the reality of the Good News

to bear on our day to day lives.

 

Today we celebrate the Gospel according to St Mary.

Who was not simply scared and obedient,

or merely a pure and empty vessel for God to use,

but a revolutionary 15 year old,

intent on bringing about a more just and equitable world,

who insisted that God cares about our politics,

our economics, and our social life.

Who encourages us to speak truth to power,

and who understood that God. takes. sides.

and that he can be found on the margins,

of our wealthy, comfortable, not-so-hungry, society.

 

May it be said of us by those who visit

that St Mary’s is a church

that prays, that reads God’s word,

and learns about the faith;

that its people have Good News

about our God and his preferential option for the poor,

which they tell abroad,

as they serve the whole parish,

and give of their time, money and gifts.

 

May all this be said of us,

because if it is true,

then it will also be true

that God’s Kingdom of justice, mercy and peace,

has come among us.

 

AMEN.