In nomine Jesu!
She's come a long way in our esteem. It was less than 40 years ago, with the publication of the Lutheran Book of Worship in 1978, that we were given the propers -- Prayer of the Day, readings and Gospel -- for Mary's day; less than 25 years ago, in 1990, that the international Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue produced a document, One Mediator, Mary and the Saints, on what Lutherans and Roman Catholics can say together about her. As of this very day, it's only been 17 years ago, here at Saint Peter's that we've been commemorating Mary annually on the Sunday closest to August 15; only 15 years - since 1999 - that we've been following the hymn writer's practice of asking in the Prayers of the People, that the "bearer of the Eternal Word" "lead our praises;" and only five years ago, since August 2009, since we began referring to her by her historic, ecumenical title, "Theotokos" or, as we regularly pray it "Mother of God." It was also only five years ago that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America encouraged us to celebrate the December 11 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and only two years, with the arrival of Sion, since we began to keep that observance. It was only eight months ago that our Design Committee approved
the use of this icon in our sanctuary. Last year, our observance, led by Sion, of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe was the third best attended liturgical event of this parish. She's come a long way in our esteem. Before this, she was granted only passing reference, mostly in Advent and at Christmas. Before this, we did name her weekly in the creed, but with something of the same indifference or distain as we named the only other one named, "born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate. In the last 40 years, Lutherans in America have finally gotten over our nearly three and a half hundred years of treating Mary as the poster child of everything we thought was wrong with the Roman Catholic Church and raised her to her proper position; before that, it was as if she were asleep. She's come a long way in our esteem.
There are two potential downsides. The first is our tendency to focus on Mary's "humble obedience" at the price of her self-identity. The Church has done that in times past, partly to keep lay people in their place, but mostly to keep women in their place. The second is equally dangerous: to raise Mary, Mother of God to the status of a god and substitute devotion to her for faith in the Promises of God.
So today, I want to reassert a little "Protestant principle" into midst of our resurgent "catholic substance."
Throughout the Gospel according to Saint Luke and into its sequel, the Book of Acts, Mary is consistently portrayed as the one who -- in every situation -- asks what I have always believed is faith's most important question: What is God doing now?
As the lowest of the low, the most powerless of the powerless; as an unmarried Jewish peasant woman, without rights, without standing, completely and constantly vulnerable in Roman-occupied Judea, she asks this of the angel Gabriel as he announces her pregnancy. "How can this be?" What is God doing?
From the same position, she asks that same question of Joseph; and later, of her kinswoman Elizabeth. She asks it again of her twelve year old son who tarried in Jerusalem's temple and again when Jesus with his motley crew returned to visit his home synagogue. She asked it again the day Jesus entered Jerusalem as a king; and again in the upper room and again at the foot of his cross and again on the great day of resurrection and
again on Pentecost when, as God had promised and in Jesus' absence, the Holy Spirit was sent in power on her and the community of disciples. "Mary kept these things," Luke tells us, "and pondered them in her heart," asking "What is God doing now?" each time things were completely out of control, senselessly coming apart and there was seemingly no way out, sort of like things are with us right now. What is God doing now? is THE question we all need to ask because it is in pondering that question that we are led to trust God, recover our identity and have the courage to act.
What is God doing now in this senseless, out-of-control, no-way-out summer of 2014? What is God doing now? Is a much more helpful question than those currently being asked: Who's to blame? Who's at fault? What's in it for me?
In times like these, when we feel and speak and act as if we are in Mary's former position -- vulnerable, powerless, and easily ignored -- we need to ask Mary's question and, once we figure it out as Mary did, exult in her answer: What is God doing now? In Ferguson, Missouri; Gaza; at our southern borders; in dysfunctional, grid-locked Washington; in the hearts and minds of so many
who are suffering from and finally responding to global climate change; in our own daily lives? What is God doing now? How about Mary's answer: Lifting up the lowly, filling up the hungry, leveling the playing field, keeping the Promise, transforming the world! When Mary figured out that answer she refused to be called powerless; she stopped being a victim; she recognized that her life had meaning purpose; that she would make a difference; that "all generations" would call her "blessed." In thought, word and deed she became what God had called her to be the bearer of God's Promise for the sake of the world."
How about us? How about you?
What is God doing now? What is God doing in such a time as this?
Nothing less than what God has always been doing in times like these: Pouring out the Spirit; implanting the Promise -- through Christ's Body -- into your body and into that Body we call the Church; calling us "blessed;" and making us not so easy to ignore. Mary's come a long way in our estimation. Isn't it time for us to come that same long way in our own estimation? Isn't it time that we can get with God's program of lifting, filling,
healing and transforming the world?
Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
in the City of New York