Mary agreed to carry God into the world of men. Is this all Mary should be credited with in understanding God with us? Was all womankind's role in bearing God simply about the 9 months and that final labor and birth?
I was reading chapter 10 in John Dorhauer's book "Beyond Resistance" this week. (Say something about this "all church" read here) Dorhauer speaks of an encounter with a young mother who had been crushed by the "mighty fortress" that is our church. She literally had a break down on her way from avid church-goer to what's now categorized as a "religious none." This young woman in the face of the worst behaviors of church people in our day, still remained a seeker, still nurturing a calling to explore the deeper nature of the holy in her life. Over time she wondered if there were others who felt like she did. She began to talk to friends and acquaintances, and their friends and acquaintances. Soon some 40 people were meeting regularly in her home to explore how God could be experienced without the - and please forgive my bluntness - without the burden of wrote prayers, set responses, stale Bible talk, standard hymns, and condescending clergy.
Tired of having been told at an early age she must "color between the lines," whether at Kindergarten or at home or in church or simply as a woman she decided it was time to explore how she felt and what those feelings had to say to her about the nature of God. Now, I already know the hardest part about opening our minds and hearts to the ideas presented by our General Minister and President for many of us gets stuck on the idea that worship can be something other than wrote, structured, and repetitive. Many of us church folk like the comfort of the structure of Sunday worship. There's a sense that in a world that gets further and further out of control we can count on the refuge of the sanctuary every Sunday. I understand.
Mary provides so many layers to the emergent story of the church that no single sermon could do them all justice. But regarding the duel church identities of worship and acting out of that worship, Mary was the first to declare "Yes" when God asked her to color outside the lines.
The life of woman in Gospel times was pretty lousy. It was a man's world, and in religion doubly so. If men could've figured out a way to conceive and give birth, I've no doubt women would've been replaced altogether. So here's this teenage girl from a nobody family, unwed and without much in the way of prospects beyond getting married to some older guy, tending his house, and having his babies. She's chosen by her God to be the vessel to birth a new way to bring color to this drab and dreary world. It had to be a woman. Yes, women were the only ones who can give birth, so there's that. But more, Mary herself would later be seen by some as a "bad girl of the Bible." "Bad" because she's a nobody in her world, defying both gender and social norms. God impregnates her? "Sure, he did," say the leaders of men. From this unwanted and unworthy person comes the perfect "delivery girl" for the Holy Light to burst onto the scene. After centuries of attempts to "teach" men to recognize another authority over life and living besides whichever one of them was in charge, God decided what was needed was to come down here and start offering private and group lessons.
Mary definitely defied all convention. She also risked a lot in the process. She'd have a target on her from the moment King Herod caught wind of the child she carried. Her husband would have every right to kick her to the curb (if there were any curbs back then) and she'd be the worse off of people - destitute, homeless, female, unwed, and a mother. Yet, her song of praise we read today doesn't sound at all like the words of a woman burdened by her situation. In her "God is magnified." She "rejoices in a God who rescues her" along with all people. She feels "favored" and not cursed by her circumstances. It is the "Mighty One who has done great things" for her in giving her the honor of carrying this child into such an unjust and inhospitable world for women, let alone into poverty. Unlike the greedy and self-possessed world ruled by men who lift up their own greatness over that of the God whom they claim to honor, Mary doesn't regard herself as important. Her name isn't lifted up, but God's. "Holy is God's name," she proclaims. Then she catalogs all the things such a God has already done and will do again: Mercy, Strength, Standing for the Little Ones and scattering the big shots, Feeding the hungry and pushing out the rich, and most important, this Holy One's word is worth something. Our God has integrity and stands on what's promised.
Mary would take her umbilical crayon and draw an image so radical that her name would never be forgotten. Here's the hardest teaching for us to embrace today. Church as we know it once more is in need of a radical makeover. Do we have faith in God's promises; the integrity of the Holy to deliver a new day and a new way? Or will we stubbornly stand firm in our insistence to be church in only the way we see fit? Will we open our minds and hearts to people of all stations in life who seek a new way to experience God in community? Or will we turn away with a million and one reasons to disagree?
Church, I'm not asking you to do anything in particular. But I am asking you to be God bearers in our moment in time. To hear God calling us as vessels of Good News today and to have the courage to say "Yes."
"My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior." I don't care how many good deeds we do or how many dollars we put out there in charitable pursuits or how much our worship is reverent and moving for us, if we can't declare our relationship to God in as glowing and exuberant terms as does Mary, then something's wrong.
God's calling us Lake Edge, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you...Do not be afraid...You'll take your crayon and conceive a new way of church for a new day, and it will be overshadowed by the Holy and the offspring of this moment will be called the child of the most high God."
Can you color such a picture with your God? Are you ready to say, "Yes?" Pick up your crayons and let's get to work.