Sermon preached December 20, 2009
Text: Luke 1:39-55
Play the first verse and chorus of Jimi Hendrix, “The Wind Cries Mary.”
If Bob Dylan can put out a Christmas album, I figure a little Jimi Hendrix might work, though to be honest, I don’t think the Mary to whom he is referring is the Mary from the gospels. She is our focus today. Today, the wind cries “Mary.”
And one of the ways the wind is going to cry “Mary” is through a brief poem. It is called “Nazareth” and it is by a Spanish poet named Rosario Castallanos.
Descending to the cave where the Archangel
made his announcement, I think
of Mary, chosen vase.
Like any cup, easily broken;
like all vessels, too small
for the destiny she must contain.
“Too small for the destiny she must contain.” Mary, too small for her destiny? Mary is a fascinating combination of humility and determination, quietness and courage. In our texts for today, Mary goes to visit her relative Elizabeth. She goes quickly because she is still trying to take in all that has happened to her – an angel’s visit, an announcement that she will become pregnant. Elizabeth affirms Mary, calls her blessed, and Mary sings out. But earlier in the gospel, Mary is perplexed and pondering. In the story we will read on Thursday, Christmas Eve, Mary again will be pondering. Is she wondering if she is too small for the destiny she must contain?
How about us? Are we too small for the destiny we must contain? What is our destiny? That’s an awesome question and cannot be answered in any great detail, but as Christians I think we have a destiny, a task, if you will, that we can describe generally - - - change ourselves and change the world. How’s that for destiny! Maybe we are a little small for that.
Consider the world in which we live. We believe that our destiny is the call of God to us to make the world more loving, more compassionate, more just, more peaceful, more caring; to fill the hungry with good things; to be humble and gentle, yet strong and determined. We are called to be good caretakers of each other and of the earth itself.
The world is not yet where we would like it to be. Every day we hear stories of the hungry and homeless. We hear about the despair of lost jobs and lost health care. We hear about incredible violence person against person. Hatred springs up in the world based on nothing more than skin color, or heritage, or tribe, or sexual orientation. Women are abused and children left unattended. We have yet to figure out how to balance our economic life with care for the planet on which we live – and we often seem afraid to even think deeply about some of those issues. I confess to you that there are days when I simply turn the news off for awhile, take a news break, because the pain and discouragement begins to weigh too profoundly on my soul.
In such a world it is our destiny as God’s people, to make a difference. To make change. To work with God’s Spirit to transform the world.
Maybe we should focus on changing ourselves. That might be easier. Maybe, sometimes, but we are foolish if we think it easy all the time. Think of the stories recently of people caught up in behaviors that have been terribly hurtful and destructive. I am sorry to say all the examples that came to mind are men! I think of Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina whose wife announced this week that she is divorcing him for his infidelity. I think of David Letterman who ended up confessing on television that he had not been faithful in his marriage. Of course, most recently, Tiger Woods whose reputation has been incredibly tarnished, whose marriage has been bruised, whose family has been hurt, because of his behavior. At some point do you think it may have dawned on them that some kind of change was needed in their lives, that maybe they were giving in to desires that needed to be managed differently? Yet change didn’t happen, with tragic results. The story is as old as Joseph and Potipher’s wife or David and Bathsheeba. Inner change is no picnic.
I consider my own life. Thankfully I have no Tiger Woods stories to tell. But I do know of other inner struggles and issues with which I continue to grapple – how an insecurity long past can still bubble up now and again, how amazing I am sometimes at awfulizing – you know, taking some little thing that is not going well and making it the first step to the end of the free world as we know it. Over the years I’ve gotten a little better at stopping the train of thought. I seem to be able to intervene at step 5 rather than step 10, but I would kind of like to get to that place in my life where I don’t even let the awfulizing train leave the station. I know I am not the only person who deals with long-term issues in their lives – anger, impatience, insecurity, bitterness held on to for too long, resentments that cling to the soul. Inner change can be difficult.
Our destiny, our call, as Christians, is to change our lives, with God’s help, and to make a difference in the world, with God’s help. And feeling too small for this seems an appropriate response when you consider all that change might entail.
Yet, like Mary, we are called. Think again about Mary – young, of modest means or even poor, living under difficult circumstances – under an empire that could make you go from one place to the next to “register” – think of Mary, chosen vase. Like any cup, easily broken; like all vessels, too small for the destiny she must contain. Yet Mary said “yes.”
Like Mary we are called. We are called to open our lives to the touch of God’s Spirit, God’s grace, God’s love. We are invited by that Spirit to become kinder, gentler, more genuine, more courageous, more joyous. We are called to live out these qualities in our daily lives. We are called to be open to work with God’s Spirit in making a difference in the world, to change it – to make the world a kinder place, more gentle, more caring, more compassionate, fairer or more just.
That is our call, that is our destiny, and to it we are invited to say “yes” again and again and again. Yet that call always comes in a context. It comes to us where we live. It comes to us as we are, even as it invites us to change. In the movie Forrest Gump, when Forrest was asking his mama about destiny she told him “you have to do the best with what God gave you.” That’s our call and destiny, too, to do the best with what God gives us. The call to inner change and making a difference in the world always comes in our time, in our place, with our gifts and skills. We are to do what we can to change ourselves and change the world. We are not really too small to respond to that call, not with God’s Spirit stirring inside of us.
Yes, this sermon is an invitation and a challenge, but I want to end with celebration. I want to share stories of how we have lived out a bit of our destiny, our calling as persons and as a congregation. Last week I shared with you about a family in need. Our church council had heard about this family, its struggles with cancer and the financial difficulties that has created, and thought we could help. So we put up some paper Christmas stockings on the welcome center and invited people, if they chose to do so, to take one and buy the gift and bring it back here so we could bring it to the family. And it has been an amazing week. I have seen you bring the gifts in and seen the joy and excitement in your eyes and voices. I have heard you ask, “Is this o.k.?” because you care. I have seen little touches added to what was purchased, a child’s watch that wasn’t on the list, but that the buyer thought looked cute and might be appreciated. Your generosity and kindness have been a joy to behold. By week’s end we had more volunteers than gifts to buy. Later in the week another family told me that they, as a family, hoped to adopt a family for Christmas. We found a family on the verge of eviction because of a lost job. One income was not quite enough for this family right now – but now they are being helped with their rent and with some gifts for Christmas. Wednesday night our confirmation class, joined by a host of others shared a little Christmas joy through song at Chris Jensen. For some of the kids, this is very awkward, but even though they might have been uncomfortable, they shared, and the joy on the faces of those at Chris Jensen was delightful. They reacted like we were the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
In some ways church is always about challenge and celebration. We know how much needs changing in our world. We know the work it takes to change our lives. It is understandable to feel small, overwhelmed – yet the call, the challenge from God never disappears. So it is always good to keep before us moments we can celebrate. We hear the wind cry Mary and we think of her, small, yet willing to say “yes” to God. And I cherish in my heart images from this week where I have seen so many say “yes” to God. My spirit rejoices in God and in you. Amen.
The Wind Cries Mary