Sermon – Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary
‘Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you’
But: Who was Mary? What does it mean to remember her now; to celebrate her?
All that shapes each of us shaped Mary, for good and ill – nothing intrinsically special. Mary, like the rest of us was a Complex mixture of genetic inheritance, family dynamic and cultural influence: nature and nurture.
Celebrating Mary’s birth – not a celebration of a birth set apart from all of this; born into the world, in a particular family, in a particular time and place.
As with all of us Mary was shaped through a complex mixture of genetics, family and society; working itself out into a unique human being: flawed, fragile and fabulous; fearfully and wonderfully made.
Mary was not some kind of protected human space; a vessel made and kept sanctified and unsullied by the complex messy inheritance and formation that we are all subject to. Paul’s fundamental formulation of faith is that Jesus was born of a woman – a real flesh and blood, child of the earth, a living daughter of Nazareth.
But who she was, what she was like, the kind of person she was is forever elusive: we have very few clues.
So, down the centuries we haven’t been slow to fill in the gaps as we’ve shaped Mary according to our own expectations – often projecting onto her a particular idealised image.
Imagine instead what Mary’s life might have been: cultural constraint and expectation; family – siblings, older cousins; imagine her growing gifts and her limitations; her skills and her wounds; her abilities and disabilities; her joys and her tears; her pleasures and pains; her fears and her hopes; her phobias and traumas; and her longings and desires; imagine how she drew water and cooked bread; how she sweated and slept; how she laughed and how she cried.
It’s not her personality that is described but her gift:
Mary is:
‘Full of Grace’
‘Blessed’ among women
God’s grace and the blessedness God bestows doesn’t over-write or re-programme a personality and character; it doesn’t bi-pass a biography. Mary, the mother of Jesus, remained Mary of Nazareth.
Grace is contained in her life not constrained…
Grace is Expressed in the particularities but not limited by them…
So: Who was Mary? What does it mean to remember her now; to celebrate her?
It means we celebrate the abundance of God’s Grace in the life of one particular, un-extraordinary woman; God’s blessed presence that came to birth in a particular way;
through this Grace God became flesh. And that flesh would have shared the same mix of genetic inheritance and social context: nature and nurture.
In Mary God’s Grace takes a particular shape; as God’s Grace always does. Mary, full of grace, is not the same as Elizabeth full of grace, or me or you, full of grace – the Grace in Mary’s life shapes itself in her and through her; through her gifts and through her wounds.
Why do we remember her; celebrate her? To celebrate grace and blessedness giving birth to God’s presence in an ordinary, fragile and fabulous woman; and so to celebrate the same possibilities of grace and blessedness in our lives, taking the shape of who we are as particular, ordinary, fragile and fabulous women and men.
As we celebrate Mary today we are called to a Honest authenticity – for the church and for ourselves; as for Mary; we are also vessels of grace, with the same calling to welcome God’s presence into our lives in grace and blessedness.
Today we’re thinking about what Cotham is called to be as a church – how God’s graceful presence is made known in and through us; what particular flesh we might give to God’s living word. The fundamental truth to remember is that God’s life and grace best find their home in us when we offer who we really are;
….the idealised self or the artificial self – the self we think we should be – as a church and as individuals – is not a place where God can be at home. Lack of honest authenticity can never be a space for grace. The kind of idealised projections the history of the church has imposed on Mary are also the idealised projections we impose on ourselves; and neither recognise the graceful intersection of God’s presence in human flesh.
That is why as the foundations for exploring who and what we can become I’ve started with who we are: our ethos that celebrates:-
  • a contemplative heart where we seek to give space for God to be God and ourselves as open to encounter;
  • A creativity that gives different form and genre; cadence and rhythm, texture and colour to our multifaceted faith
  • A desire to grow in our faith not through platitude or dogma but through reflection on story and rich tradition; in experience and in mystery.
  • A commitment to human flourishing in justice and peace; and to seeking the wellbeing of creation as God’s first gift and first love;
  • A welcome to all who come and a celebration of each life and story as in their glorious diversities each shows us something of the face of God;
  • And a recognition that we flourish when we flourish together; that being a community is what makes us who we are; and that it is in our lives together that we are the body of Christ, the living enfleshed presence of God’s spirit.
We might see something of this in Mary too:-
  • The contemplative who ponders the mystery of God’s presence in her heart;
  • The creative one gives new voice to an old song through her own story and experience;
  • The reflective one who from crib to cross grows in faith;
  • The justice seeker who dreams and sings of the poor being raised up;
  • The inclusive one who embraces the family of disciples as her own kin;
  • The communal one whose friendship with her cousin magnifies God’s presence within each as the presence of God in each other causes their hearts to leap for joy.
Hail Mary, full of grace;
as the Lord was with you, so God’s spirit is with us. In this Eucharist God meets us in bread and wine, becoming part of our embodied selves as God became part of Mary’s. Her song and all it gives voice to is on our lips and in our hearts. In this healing Eucharist we offer the selves that we are to God; being healed of the false selves that offer no home to God because they make no space for grace.
Blessed are you Mary, and blessed are we, as, with Mary, we believe that there will be a fulfilment of what is spoken to us by the Lord.