Mary's Magnificat

August 13, 2017

It's a real delight and pleasure to welcome Honor Jane who is to be baptised this morning. And of course to welcome your mum and dad and some of your family and friends.

To your mum and dad I want to say, good on you for wanting to associate your lovely child with this rather cranky organisation the Church! I know that you wouldn't want to join up your daughter to an organisation which doesn't reflect beliefs and values that you believe are good and worthwhile. So here you are. And it is because of the statements that you and Honor's God parents say today shortly, that we baptise Honor and make her a member of the world wider Church. For you will shape her understanding as she grows; you will offer her your values and your guidelines for living a life of meaning, value and purpose, as she grows into her own personhood.

In our churchy language, what do these statements that you will make and we will join in with you say….well very simply that we believe and you believe that life is stronger than death and love is stronger than hate.

That's the core of the Christian faith. This simple and yet profound statement expresses the values that we seek to live by. With all the faults and failings that we have as a church, with all our human frailties that get in the way of God and of God's vision for the world as God's love would have it be, at our best we believe our task is to seek out what the God of Love is doing in our families, our communities and our world - role up our sleeves and join in. For we are the Easter people and believe that all that separates and injures and destroys is overcome by unites and heals and creates. In a world where we seem to be stepping deeper and deeper into violence and tragedy, we wish to stand alongside people of other faiths, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, indeed all faiths and those who have no religious faith who like us believe in the values and the vision we share as human beings. For we humans are spiritual beings and we each yearn for what can give true meaning, value and purpose in our lives. And so sadly, so often we fall short!

Today we celebrate a feast day of Mary, the mother of Jesus, after whom this cathedral church was named. Our Gospel from Luke records what we know as the Magnificat, Mary's song. An American hymn writer Rory Cooney in his version of it, has this chorus:

“My heart shall sing of the day you bring.  Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn.”

It is clear that Mary’s anthem is a bold song of liberation.  the Mary of Luke’s gospel sings of her deep confidence in the transforming power of God to turn the world upside down—the power of God to bring justice to all poor and oppressed.  She is truly the first disciple.

It’s a woman’s song, first expressed by Hannah in the Old Testament first book of Samuel. This song is the voice of marginalized women who see the world as it was and as it is, radically unequal, stratified, violent, and still claim the possibility of transformation. When Luke takes this song from the lips of Hannah and places it on the tongue of Mary, he asserts that the promise of liberation expressed in the Hebrew scriptures, is renewed in the ministry of Jesus.

It’s a woman’s song and I wonder if it was also a song that Mary sang to her son as he grew up. Mary of course, like any mother, is her child's first teacher, who helps shapes her child's understandings and values. I can imagine the little Jesus saying to his mum - “Mummy sing it to me again.” ”God has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:51-52).  When Jesus stands in the temple a few chapters later in Luke, beginning his public ministry with those words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captive, recovery of sight for the blind, to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18), when he connects his ministry, his identity, to the task of liberation, I reckon he had his mother’s song in his ear.

“My heart shall sing of the day you bring.  Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn.”

Before I wrote this sermon I looked at several commentaries on this Bible passage, and every single commentator used the word, “revolutionary,” to describe the Magnificat. It is though a revolution of love, and it is Jesus who shows us what love looks like in action.

E. Stanley Jones said that the Magnificat is “the most revolutionary document in the world.” Barclay, an English theologian, says that the Magnificat is “a bombshell.” He goes on to say that people have read it so often that they have forgotten its “revolutionary terror.” It takes “the standards of the world and turns them upside down.” Barclay teaches that in the Magnificat, there are three revolutions: “an economic revolution; a political revolution; and a moral revolution.”  Martin Luther says that the Magnificat “comforts the lowly and terrifies the rich.” Gilmore said that the Magnificat “fosters revolutionaries in our churches.”  He says that “the Church needs the leaven of discontent, and the Magnifcat makes the church restive against poverty and wretchedness.” It is so powerful a statement, that in some countries it was banned from being read by the governing regime.

Wow, Honor, that's the organisation that you are joining today. We have a vision and a hope that will not be denied. Human beings are made out of love and for love, and that spirit will not be denied. We are about revolutionary love.

For us here at this St Mary's Cathedral we are embracing a watershed moment as we seek to live out God's call to peace, justice and reconciliation, as we embrace the future of our what our cathedral community and life can be, as a Gospel based, Treaty focussed community. I'm proud that the patron of our cathedral is St Mary and I'm sure that her prayers and her inspiration are part of the sense of the Spirit of God which is guiding us into our future. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

“My heart shall sing of the day you bring.  Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn.”

And when I feel weary in our shared commitment to justice, when I feel scared and discouraged by unimaginable violence, whether in one day or over centuries, I claim the passion of Mary, of those whose confidence in the power of our transforming God knows no bounds.   We are here to help each other live out the impossible change of the resurrected Christ  We are here to help each other hold on to the hope that is at the heart of reconciliation.  We are here to help each other put shoulder to the wheel, turning hearts inside out and lives and worlds upside down, until God’s dream of justice and peace is fulfilled, here and now.  How do I do this – these are the words of John Wesley, who while he remained an Anglican until his death, was the founder of the Methodist Church in England, when he wrote in “Revival and Revolution.”, his rule for Christian living: “Do All the Good You Can, By All the Means You Can, In All the Ways You Can, In All the Places You Can, At All the Times You Can, To All the People You Can, As long as Ever ... You Can!”


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