She was born into a family
of not very much means,
but what the family lacked in earthy possessions and stature,
it more than made up for
in fortitude and in exceeding every civic duty
for no other reason than honorable pride.

Like many women in those days,
her mother's greatest achievement in life
was her children.
An achievement many great women
who have done many great things
would consider their greatest achievement, too.

Her father worked hard.
Sought employment wherever he could.
Even moved the family homestead.

In all things they were diligent.
Because they knew that what they did in life
would benefit not only their family,
but their neighbors near and far.
A whole society.

She didn't grow up in the big city.
But in its shadow.
And that was more than good enough for her.
She still knew its streets like the back of her hand.

Her hometown was filled with interesting people.
Like her, many had family trees
with roots in some other place.
Their accents might have been a little different.
Their clothes.
Their language.
Their skin color.
Sort of like any metropolis.

What set her apart
was her interest in these people,
counting those who were most different from her,
among her innermost circle of friends.
If she stumbled over customs
or used language we'd find troubling today,
she'd be the first to admit it.
Because the people some considered "others,"
she called "hers."

This was no more true than with her best friend.
Untolerated and demeaned,
marked for condemnation
by the powerful in the land,
she took this friend as her own family.
Sharing food.
And stories.
Common convictions.
Others took notice.
Some sneered.
While still more saw the real beauty of the relationship.
Shared in it, too.

Its not that she wasn't loved by her parents.
Or that she didn't love them.
Their love was deep and strong and wide.
But her closest relative was a cherished aunt.
They'd travel long distances to see one another.
Do anything for a warm embrace.
Go anywhere to be in the presence of the other's listening ear.
Give anything for trusted advice.

When she faced what everyone thought would be
an insurmountable challenge,
her companion,
—he another sort-of stranger in the land—
generously raised
what a prayer calls the "fruit of her womb,"
raised what certainly was not his own,
as his own.
Though she had little to no say
in the government that surrounded her,
she had much to say about it.

Meager in many things since birth,
my did she have a voice, always singing.
She could raise a child with the best of them.
Always seemed to have enough food and drink
for unexpected company.
Exceedingly glad, she'd share her joy with anyone she'd meet.
So much so they'd tell of it years after she took her last breath.

She was beloved in life.
And is still more beloved in eternal life.

She was my grandmother.
Her parents called her Arlene.
Owing to her many grand, great- and great-great- grandchildren,
her friends,
her neighbors,
her own children,
everyone,
—yes, even her cat—
called her "gram."
You might have thought her story as I told it
to be Mary's story.

Its not a bad thing if you did.
In fact, its exactly right.

Our mothers' and our grandmothers' stories.
Our fathers' and our grandfathers' stories.
Our ancestors' stories.
Are stories of lives that point to God's love for all people
in Christ Jesus.
God's love through any number of obstacles,
amidst all sorts of perils.
In delightful moments.
And in challenging moments.

Theirs are stories of faith.

Of confidence in truths passed down
from one generation to another.
Passed down with wisdom good enough,
views long enough,
grace broad enough,
and hope deep enough
for today and tomorrow.

Stories of life falling apart
and people turning their backs,
but staying the course,
knowing that God wouldn't condemn or abandon,
and sharing that conviction with others.

I came to know this faith manifest in my grandmother's life,
as she told stories of her brother dying in the First World War,
and of her becoming a garment worker during the Second.

Told stories of taking the train
between Allentown and New York
to visit her aunt.
And later, her children taking the very same trip.
The fare?
A nickel.
Which doesn't seem like much today.
But sure was a lot back then.

I saw the breadth of her faith in her own home.
Experienced it at her kitchen table,
where her best friend, Becky,
a Mexican immigrant,
taught us how to make tortillas
and other foods from her native land.
And with her companion,
the man I considered my grandfather—
a refugee fleeing communism in Czechoslovakia
who came into this country
by crossing the Canadian border.
He considered her seven children,
and the generations that followed,
his own.

That's our holy family.
Their flight to Egypt.
Becky, her Mary Magdalene.
Aunt Mable, her Aunt Elizabeth.
Jersey City is her Nazareth.
And New York her Jerusalem.
Her black classmates
were the Gentiles or the Samaritans of her day.

The reason we tell of Mary's story.
Is the very same reason we tell of all our own beloveds' stories.
They point us time and time and time again
to God and,
by the power of the Holy Spirit,
to God's work in them.
Faith being stirred up in them.
And if in them,
the promise that faith is alive and stirred up in us.

As we are want to do any time Mary's name is uttered,
we could get ourselves lost in debates over doctrine and dogma.
Generations of theological reflection and depictions of it.
But if we don't have an appreciation
for this most basic
and even more profound understanding
of the faith of our ancestors,
the importance of Mary will be entirely lost on us.

Which is why,
when we come to appreciate her through them,
we will have discovered treasure beyond words.

Treasure shared with our Latino sisters and brothers,
who take this journey in inverse.
Where those of us who are Anglo come to appreciate
Mary through our ancestors,
they seek to appreciate their ancestors through her.
Which is treasure just as rich.

Because it is treasure none other than God in Christ Jesus.

Christ Jesus who pulls us together
when others would try to pull us apart.

Christ Jesus who calls us beloved just as we are,
when its so easy to fall into the trap of thinking we
have to be more or must have more
to get right with God.

Christ Jesus who will not abide seeking greatness
at the expense of the marginalized.

Christ Jesus who, on the cross,
dispels any notion that
God doesn't care about the lowly,
or the vulnerable,
the powerless,
or the poor
and that we shouldn't care about them either.
Or care about ourselves.

When we tell our ancestors' stories,
we tell Christ's very own promise of faith.
Faith found no more closely this side of the grave
than at the Table.

At Table where we gather with these.
With Mary.
With Arlene.
With all our beloved.

Who proclaim to us that the least of these matter most.
Who proclaim to us that children of any and all background
are their children and her children, too.
Because we are all God's children, together.

Here at the Table
we receive the joy of being God's people together
as a gift from God.
A gift stretching across time and place.
A gift stretching even across death itself.

A gift binding us into bread of finest wheat.
And forming us as the very body of Christ.
Because we keep this feast with the very best of company.

It's a promise lived by our ancestors.
And a promise we, too, by God's grace,
are privileged to receive,
entrusted with,
are heirs of,
today.

A promise fulfilled,
and also a promise which will reach greater fullness
in our children and our children's children.
And then theirs.
For all time to come.

Here at the Table
we grow more and more into that great story of faith.
Find ourselves more deeply connected
to those who are part of it.
And live in greater and greater abundance
the very life faith gives.

Life in God.
Now and forever.

Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York
MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
August 14, 2016
Isaiah 61:7-11
Psalm 34:1-9
Galatians 4:4-7
Saint Luke 1:46-55