On this day we remember Mary, who spoke up for the lowly. Jesus’ mother modeled humility. Mary considered herself lowly. She said “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. (Luke 1:52-57)
Let’s take another look at our 2nd reading in Romans. This beautiful passage is a rule of life. If you’re struggling for a rule to live by, this is a great one. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly”. (Romans 12:9-16)
Am I acting out the scripture or is it just intellectually observed. Are we contributing to those that have needs? Are we showing hospitality to strangers? I think we have to review, take this passage out, and maybe hang it on our refrigerator or mirror. How do we move forward in humility and keep the ideals of what we see in Romans, and what we see in the life and ministry of Mary, and the teachings of Jesus?
I want to share with you a story about another dear saint that reflected the humility of Mother Mary in her life. When Heidi stood up she could have possibly been all of 5’ tall, and maybe 100 pounds, and full of fearless love and faith. In her younger years she worked as an agent and recruited child actors. She spent most of her time in NYC, and wherever the movie industry required her skills. In her later life she spent several years ministering to mentally and physically challenged people in Cuba. When I met Heidi she was living in Manhattan and auditing a couple classes at General Theological Seminary in Chelsea. I was in the final year of my M.Div. degree at General.
Heidi had recently returned from Cuba very ill. She recovered but then was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease, and of course that made it difficult for her studies and her work as a full time volunteer for Madison Square Park Church, a “church without walls” in the Flatiron district of Manhattan.
Heidi considered herself a pastor to people on the streets and in the parks of NYC. I was the Program Manager for Ecclesia Ministries of NY, a ministry targeting unhoused and marginalized. Heidi traveled with our small group as we made our rounds through the park doing pastoral work, talking, sharing, praying and spending time getting to know people, especially those that came to our Sunday Eucharist services in the park. Eventually Heidi became one of the leaders of our care teams. We worked in teams of at least two, and we always tried to have someone that was new travel with our care team leaders. What I really admired about Heidi was her ‘fearless love’ for everyone. She would not shy away from anyone, even those that came across as combatable. She would simply walk up to everyone and say without fear or trembling: “Hello, would you like a sandwich or a bottle of water (or whatever she was handing out that day) and always follow up with “God loves you, and you are a special child of God”. Sometimes it opened up an avenue for more conversation, and sometimes not.
After a while she seemed to have a following of one or two or more of the “unhoused” from the park congregation when she made her rounds. One of them was Big Joe, who stood well over 6 ‘tall and weighed in maybe at 325 (+). He wore a size 5xLT shirt—not easy to find at clothes pantries. It was an odd sight as the two of them walked through the park together, but they were both comfortable in her role as pastor. I want to share one extremely memorable moment that I was fortunate enough to be there to witness. It was what I call the “divine encounter that included Heidi and Mary”. Mary lived in and around the park. She had a drinking problem, an anger problem and was sometimes totally out of control, and way too often in trouble with park rangers and police.
On this particular Saturday afternoon, Heidi fearlessly walked up to Mary and offered her a sandwich and a bottle of water. Mary replied: “Why are you talking to me I’m a worthless prostitute. I’m a nobody”. “No you’re not Mary”, Heidi says, and then she put her arms around Mary and said: “You’re a child of God. God loves you, and I love you. You’re a child of God”. Mary began to cry, and she melted in Heidi’s arms for what seemed a long time. I believe that experience of fearless love changed Mary’s life. Soon afterwards she entered a detox program, and eventually moved into a programmed home situation, a non-profit organization that we were linked with, and in time was awarded her own apartment in a different part of NYC. Mary came to the “Church without Walls” a couple times to visit, and it was remarkable of the changes in her life. Encounters with Divine Love result in transformed lives.
Not too long after that Heidi came down with pneumonia and passed from this life to the next. I did a eulogy at her funeral which was held at St. Bart’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan, and a number of homeless were there to remember her life and death. Big Joe was especially broken. Heidi spoke up for the lowly, and in her brokenness was able to bring transformation to others. Mary viewed herself as the lowly and in her humility she found healing and a new purpose in life.
Paul says: “Associate with the lowly”. And, when we associate with the lowly who models that better than anyone? On this day we remember again the words from the Blessed Virgin Mary: “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”. He has lifted up the lowly, just as he lifted up Heidi and Mary in their divine love encounter in the park. “He has lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty”. (Luke 1:52-57)
“Show us the way we should go Lord, and help us to walk in your Way, and help us to be humble. Let our love be genuine. Let us hate what is evil in the social structures of our society and do everything we can to make changes”.
God help us to be humble. And, let our love be genuine.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen
Year B 2d Week after Pentecost
Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
June 7, 2015
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church