Today we are celebrating the feast day of St. Mary the virgin, the mother of Jesus. I have lost track of the number of conversations I have had with people who refuse to believe in God because there is no possible way Mary could have been a virgin and given birth to a child. I have given up arguing and now just say, “you’re just missing the point”. Whether or not Mary was a virgin in the traditional sense has little bearing on whether God exists; though to be clear about where I stand, I do believe that Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit and gave birth as a virgin in the traditional sense and I believe this because I believe that God, the creator of everting that is seen and unseen can do anything. Does my faith rest on the virgin birth of Jesus? Absolutely not and if you are just not sure what to think about it, that’s okay. The wonderful thing about God is that they accept us for who we are, without regard for whether we believe everything we are told or follow every commandment; what matters is that we try and when we fail we repent and try again.
Mary has often been portrayed as a woman of deep faith and that is likely true, but there also seems to be an assumption that she would also have been meek and mild because apparently it isn’t possible to have a deep faith in God and be assertive and passionately vocal about injustice; but when I think about Mary I see a very strong woman. I see a woman who willingly said yes to God, not knowing how it would turn out. I see a woman who stood by and watched her son be ridiculed, beaten, tried, and executed. Did she speak out in his defense? We will never know, but from the little information have it appears that she accepted her son’s fate with grace, which does not mean that she wasn’t upset about it. My point is this, Mary was a strong woman with a deep faith, a faith that does not falter. Frankly she is someone to admire not just because she was the mother of Jesus, but because she modeled what it means to be a person of faith, a person dedicated to her belief and more importantly her trust in God.
Yesterday, I ventured to Dublin, NH to join my friend and fellow deacon Derek, in a voting Right’s march. The march is called the Granny D memorial March. Doris “Granny D” Haddock was a voting rights advocate who between the ages of 88 and 90 walked from Los Angeles to Washington DC to bring awareness to the issue of campaign finance reform. She celebrated two birthdays while on her walk, which took 14 months. After her arrival in DC she stood in the US Capitol and peacefully read the declaration of independence allowed, and act for which she and her companions were arrested for demonstrating in the Capitol building, she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to time served and a fine of $10. She ran for the US senate at the age of 94 because the race was uncontested, and she felt that was not good for democracy to have unopposed political races. She vowed to be a one term senator if she won and planned to invite other senators to debate legislation while playing scrabble. Though she lost the election she continued to speak in defense of voting rights, campaign finance reform and democracy until the day that she died at age 100. In addition to being an advocate she was a lifelong member of the United Methodist Church, a wife, a mother, a grand-mother, a great-grand mother, and an author. Like Mary, Granny D is an excellent example of what it means to live out our faith. Her gift from God was clearly a strong sense of justice mixed with the tenacity it takes to publicly act on it. Mary had a similar level of tenacity, but her strengths came in the form of letting the world have her son.
According to Matthew, Mary said that her soul magnifies the lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” I have never really thought much about these words until now and it was while driving to church this morning that it occurred to me what these words mean. Mary is recognizing that God reaches other people through her. She is recognizing that her faith in God is so strong that when other people meet her or hear about her God’s power, their reach is extended. The rest of the Magnificat goes on to indicate the many ways in which God has shown themselves to the world. So what we are left with is a woman, a mother, whose ministry is not to be a activist, but to be a witness. A witness to the events of her son’s life and a witness to God’s work in the world.
We won’t all develop a faith as deep as Mary, nor are we all as committed to voting rights as Granny D, but as I reflect on their lives, I am inspired. I am inspired to continue the fight for justice around mental illness, and I am inspired to continue to find ways to draw closer to God, so that I too can hopefully be an inspiration to others. As we enter the holy silence I invite you to reflect on what inspires you to do God’s work in the world.