Aug. 15, 2021 (Mary, Mother of our Lord)

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, in choosing the virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son, you made known your gracious regard for the poor, the lowly, and the despised. Grant us grace to receive your word in humility, and so to be made one with your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.

Isaiah 61:7-11

7Because [the] shame [of God’s people] was double,
  and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot,
 therefore they shall possess a double portion;
  everlasting joy shall be theirs.

8For I the Lord love justice,
  I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
 I will faithfully give them their recompense,
  and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
9Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
  and their offspring among the peoples;
 all who see them shall acknowledge
  that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
  my whole being shall exult in my God;
 for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
  he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
 as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
  and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
  and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
 so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
  to spring up before all the nations.

Psalm 34:1-9

1I will bless the Lord| at all times;
  the praise of God shall ever be | in my mouth.
2I will glory | in the Lord;
  let the lowly hear | and rejoice.
3Proclaim with me the greatness | of the Lord;
  let us exalt God’s | name together.
4I sought the Lord, who | answered me
  and delivered me from | all my terrors. 
5Look upon the Lord| and be radiant,
  and let not your faces | be ashamed.
6I called in my affliction, and | the Lord heard me
  and saved me from | all my troubles.
7The angel of the Lord encamps around those who | fear the Lord
  and de- | livers them.
8Taste and see that the | Lord is good;
  happy are they who take ref- | uge in God!
9Fear the Lord, you saints | of the Lord,
  for those who fear the | Lord lack nothing. 

Galatians 4:4-7

4When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30″

Luke 1:46-55

46Mary said, 
 “My soul magnifies the Lord,
  47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
  and holy is his name.
50His mercy is for those who fear him
  from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm;
  he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
  and lifted up the lowly;
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
  and sent the rich away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
  in remembrance of his mercy,
55according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
  to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The other day I ran across a magnifying ruler in my desk–something I picked up at a vendor table several years ago. It read, “Attorney General says, ‘read the fine print and be consumer smart.” The further I get into my 40s the more appreciative I am for such magnifying tools. They have a way of both magnifying and illuminating what was blurry or almost hidden. 

The glad song Mary sings functions in a similar way. It illumines. The song makes it possible to understand something that was there all the time but was difficult to see without an aid.  

That Luke created or preserved traditions regarding Mary was inspired, considering how infrequently she otherwise appears in the New Testament.  The gospel writer Mark skips the birth of Jesus altogether, and Mark’s Jesus seems indifferent to his mother when she shows up with his brothers.  

As for Matthew, his Mary is mute. Not a word leaves her lips. She is present, but silent as the night in a certain beloved carol. For his part, the Apostle Paul thinks it worth remarking that God’s Son was “born of a woman,” but he never bothers to mention her name. But Luke remembers her name, and his Mary does not keep silence in our churches. Luke’s Mary has something, and someone, to sing about.

In Mary’s song, which we call the Magnificat for all that she magnifies, she tells of her Savior who has “looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”  Lowliness.  The Greek behind our English word is not talking simply about humility, but about poverty. Mary is poor — dirt poor. She is poor and pregnant and unmarried. She is in a mess. But she sings! Why? Because Luke knows — from the vantage of the end of the narrative– that this lowly one, this wretched one, this woman, God raises up. Mary, despised and rejected by the world, is favored by God and will bring the Messiah to birth. And so, she sings.

What is more, Mary sings not just a solo aria about her own destiny. She sings a freedom song on behalf of all the faithful poor in the land. She sings a song of freedom for all who, in their poverty and their wretchedness, still believe that God will make a way where there is no way, that God will continue to be faithful.

Like John the Baptist, Mary prophesies deliverance. She prophesies about a way that is coming in the wilderness of injustice. She sings of a God who “has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts”; who “has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly”; who “has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” She exults in the God of Abraham; she exalts the God of Jesus Christ. Here at the beginning, Mary rejoices in God’s vision — for her, and for a world turned upside down.

A day celebrating Mary, Mother of our Lord might better be celebrated as Mary, Bearer of God. It is a slight shift, but an important one. Let me first talk about the various ways the church has thought about Mary. To do that, we have to cover, of all topics, original sin. 

There are at least two different traditions about the nature of original sin. In our Lutheran heritage, we have experienced both, particularly in the words we have used in confession at the beginning of worship. Some of you might remember the old red hymnal (the SBH). Using them we confessed, “We are by nature sinful and unclean.” But now we say, “We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.”

Martin Luther would be more comfortable with the words we use today. If we are by nature sinful and unclean, then Mary needs to be superhuman in order to be the mother of our Lord. She found favor with God because she was a better person than we are. Indeed, she was not by nature sinful and unclean.

This idea led the Roman Catholic Church to affirm the doctrines like the Immaculate Conception (Mary was also immaculately conceived) and the Assumption of Mary (Mary did not di but was assumed into heaven). On the other hand, if we are captive to sin, it is only by grace that Mary can say, “Let it be.” Mary’s trust in God’s promise of a son, who would free us from the power of death and the devil, empowered her to become a bearer of God. With the words “Let it be,” Mary became a new Eve and a bearer of a new creation, which begins in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What then of the Incarnation? The Word became flesh. God comes and lives with us. Mary the Mother of our Lord, up on a pedestal, has a position that can no longer be filled because the Son of God has been born. The job has been completed. The only thing we can do with her is put her on a pedestal and honor her. 

However, Mary the Bearer of God is someone a bit different. Mary the Bearer of God becomes the first of what we all can be, how God enters our world and speaks a word of grace and mercy, forgiveness and peace, life and hope. In our own baptism into Jesus Christ, our old, captive self is drowned, and a new self rises out of the water. The new self joins Mary as a bearer of God in this new creation.

A God who becomes one of requires a new set of eyes. Instead of raising Mary on a pedestal as one who is special and near to God, Mary the Bearer of God reveals the truth that God comes down to us, all of us. An Orthodox scholar [Nicholas Zernov] put it this way, “In all the mysteries of his condescension, God approaches man from below; and man must be ready to stoop to meet him.”

Consider how this is revealed in Mary’s song. She sees herself as a lowly servant. The proud are scattered. The powerful are brought down, and the lowly are lifted up. The hungry are filled, and the rich are sent away empty. As a bearer of God, Mary rejoices in salvation, the freedom from captivity to death and the devil. As a bearer of God, Mary brings our eyes down to see God hidden in the least and lowest, the unlikely and unexpected, even in a piece of bread and a sip of wine. As a bearer of God, Mary teaches us to stoop down and reminds us that there are all kinds of job openings in the God-bearing business.

The problems of the world are overwhelming. They always have been but this latest chapter has taken everything to a new level, at least for me. We have to learn to live with this virus and love our neighbor and show kindness daily and try to make the systems we live in more just and merciful. The reign of God which Mary prophecies so clearly is still breaking in. But how can we mere mortals be part of something so big?

And yet God has always chosen the most unlikely to be God bearers. Mary Bearer of God is only one among many of the unusual and unlikely. We also are among them: imperfect David, not so good with public speaking Moses, foreigner Ruth, seeking power disciples James and John, denier Peter, and the list goes on. Some of the people who have heeded God’s call have had big stages and others are faithful in small circles and local contexts and neighborhoods. All of them echoed Mary’s, “Let it be” and then the Holy Spirit empowered them.

As you come to the Lord’s Table, you too are graced and empowered by God. Like the ordinary people God has called throughout the ages, God uses the very ordinary to strengthen and nourish. We do not understand the mechanics of the meal, but we trust that God keeps promises–that God is present and grants forgiveness and new life in ordinary bread and wine, along with the words, “given for you.” As you receive Christ’s body and blood through bread and wine, Jesus enters you to forgive your sin and makes you a new creation. As we gather together into this holy communion, you also become a bearer of God. 

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

Rooted in Christ and sustained by the Spirit, we offer our prayers for the church, the world, and all of creation.

A brief silence.You have revealed your love for people overlooked and cast aside, sending your son to be born among the humble and poor. Send your church to proclaim good news to those who feel abandoned, despised, or rejected and make our congregations places of genuine welcome and hospitality. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

All creation longs for healing and restoration. Thwart the destruction of plant and animal habitats and amplify the voices of those who advocate for wise stewardship of the earth’s resources. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We remember your promise to our ancestors and look to you for justice. Expose pride, greed, and exploitation wherever it is found and raise up humble leaders who act on behalf of those who are poor, oppressed, or in other need. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Your Spirit lives in our hearts and makes us heirs of salvation. Rescue us from shame and dishonor. Lift up the lowly, fill the hungry with good things, and have mercy on those who turn to you for help (especially). God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Mary’s song of praise and amazement echoes through this assembly. Attend to those in this congregation expecting a child and console those struggling to conceive. Come to the aid of those enduring a difficult pregnancy and those who have experienced a miscarriage. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.We give thanks for the saints who have found refuge in you, O God (especially Mary, mother of Jesus). As you have delivered them from all their afflictions, so save us from all our earthly troubles until that day when we sing your praise together in heaven. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We lift these and all our prayers to you, O God, confident in the promise of your saving love; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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