Saturday, December 19, 2015

What Mary Can Teach Contemporary Christians

          This coming Sunday, December 20th, at Christ United Methodist Church we will remember and celebrate Mary, who was the mother of Jesus.  As we hear the familiar story of Mary as narrated in The Gospel of Luke 2, I am going to ask our community of faith to focus on one central question:
         What can Mary teach contemporary Christians about our relationship with God and discipleship?
            Luke begins his story with the angel Gabriel’s visit to Nazareth, where he finds Mary and tells her that she has been chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah.  Mary is described as “a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.” (Luke 2:27)  At this juncture, we need to be careful.  A marriage “engagement” at the time of Mary was significantly different from contemporary customs.  According to the customs in Mary’s time, a bride was already considered legally married at the time of her engagement, even though the bride would continue to live in her parents’ home for a year, following the engagement.  As biblical scholar Alan Culpepper explains in The New Interpreter’s Bible:
       “Although Mary has not yet married, she was betrothed.  According to ancient customs, the marriage would have been arranged by her father.  She would live at home for a year after her betrothal.  Then the groom would come to take her to his home, and the wedding celebration would last for an entire week.  Legally, the marriage was sealed after the engagement.  Thus, if Joseph had died before the wedding, Mary would have been considered a widow.”
            Although as Christians we tend to elevate Mary and put her on a pedestal as the mother of Christ, the reality is that Mary was not a very special person at all.  She was not a powerful queen or rich celebrity or highly educated scientist.  Probably, the most distinctive thing about Mary was how ordinary she actually was.  In fact, Mary underscores how ordinary she is, when she tells her relative, Elizabeth, God “has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”  Further, Mary lived in a small, very ordinary village, far from the financial, cultural, and governmental centers of the age.
            Even though she is just a normal, ordinary teenage girl, God has chosen Mary for a prestigious and awesome role.  This is the first thing that Mary can teach us about our relationship with God and about discipleship:  God chooses ordinary persons for extraordinary tasks.  This is an important truth about our relationship with God.  God works through the lives of ordinary people to establish God’s Reign and fulfill God’s Divine purposes here on Earth.  I believe that all of us “find favor with God.”  That is, I believe that God has a special purpose and goal for each of us in our lives.  Only Mary was chosen to be the mother of Christ, but each of us is chosen by God for some special purpose.
            There is more about being chosen by God for a special task.  When we look at the arc of Mary’s life after her exchange with the angel Gabriel, we realize that “finding favor with God” does not result in prestige or power or wealth or prosperity.  There is a misguided Christian theology, called “prosperity theology,” which teaches that when we are faithful to God and support our church, then God rewards us with material prosperity and power.  However, this theology is not biblically based and is a false teaching.  All we have to do is look at the experience of Mary the mother of Christ.  Rather than wealth and power, “finding favor with God” resulted in added responsibility, extra work, inconvenience and the pain of giving birth.
            The angel Gabriel announces to Mary that God has chosen her to “conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.” ( vv. 31-32)  We can be pretty certain that Mary was not planning on bearing the Messiah.  Afterall, she was engaged to Joseph and they were not yet married and not at all ready to start a family.  Joseph and Mary had made plans to live their lives together as husband and wife, as normal persons with regular jobs.
            This is very important.  Through the angel Gabriel, God asked Mary to go where she had never considered going and to do something which she had never even dreamed of doing.  Yet, after hearing Gabriel, Mary’s response is straightforward:  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  This is the second thing that Mary can teach contemporary Christians about God and discipleship.  Sometimes God asks us to do something which we have never even imagined doing, and faithful disciples respond with the words, “Here am I; send me.”
            After the angel Gabriel departs, Mary decides to go and visit her relative Elizabeth, who lives “in the hill country.”  When Luke describes Mary and Elizabeth greeting one another, he describes a speech which Mary makes to Elizabeth, in which she paraphrases the Hebrew scripture 1 Samuel 2:  1-10.  Known as the “Magnificat” by Christian theologians, in this paraphrased speech Mary proclaims her deep and absolute trust in God, beginning with these words:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
      Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
For the Mighty One has done great things for me,
       And holy is his name.”  ( vv. 46-49)
The third lesson which we learn from Mary is to put our complete trust in God.  Mary trusted God to guide her in a new and unexpected direction.  Mary trusted that God would be with her and that she would not be alone.  Mary trusted that God would give her wisdom and discernment.  Finally, Mary trusted that God would protect her and promote her well-being.
            So, to summarize, Mary offers us three profound lessons about God and our relationship with God:
1.      God achieves amazing accomplishments through normal, ordinary people.  Finding favor with God does not necessarily result in prestige or wealth or power or prosperity, but God has already chosen each of us for some special purpose. 

2.      Sometimes God asks us to do something that we’ve never imagined ourselves doing.  When this happens, faithful followers of Christ respond:  “Here am I; send me.”

3.      We need to put our complete trust in God, who chooses us and calls us to amazing adventures.
Come, join us this Sunday, December 20th, as we celebrate Mary and seek to learn what she can teach us about our relationship with God and about Christian discipleship.  Christ United Methodist Church is located at 4530 A Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our classic worship services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday mornings. 
Also, consider joining us for:

Ø  Blue Christmas Celebration, Monday, December 21st, 6:30 pm. This is a special service of healing & hope for all who are stressed, lonely, grieving, or hurting during the holidays.

Ø  Family Christmas Celebration, Thursday, December 24th, 4:00 pm.  A service designed for families with small children, and concluding candlelight with “Silent Night, Holy Night”.

Ø  Traditional Candlelight Christmas Eve Service, Thursday, December 24th, 7 pm  A traditional service featuring Christ Church Choirs, with my homily entitled “It,” and concluding candlelight with “Silent Night, Holy Night”.

Ø  Moravian “Lovefeast” & Candlelight Service, Thursday, December 24th, 11 pm  A traditional service, featuring the “Moravian Love Feast” and special music ensembles, and concluding candlelight with “Silent Night, Holy Night”.

(For more information about our Christmas services, see our website:

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Blog Hiatus

Since I normally use this blog to work out and introduce my weekly sermons at Christ United Methodist Church, I will not be posting this week or next.  During our next two worship services, we will be led by the Children's Choir (December 6th) and the Chancel Choir (December 13th), as they perform their Christmas cantatas. The blog will resume the week of December 14th.  Please watch for a special posting regarding Christmas.