Some of the most magnificent cathedrals and churches in the world are named after St. Mary, the mother of Jesus. In our gospel passage this morning, Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth. Both of these women are with child. When Elizabeth greets Mary, the baby (who will be named John) leaps inside of her. Obviously, the baby recognizes the child in the womb of Mary. The baby not only moved or kicks as baby’s do, but he leaped with joy. Of course I can’t comprehend what that means, but I am sure every mother in this place understands how big of a deal it would be for a baby to leap in your womb. I’m sure that you would just totally freak out. Am I right? Well that’s what happened, the baby inside of Elizabeth not only leaped, but leaped with joy. (Luke 1:39-41)
Elizabeth responds with these words, that fills up so much liturgy of the church: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”. (Luke 1:42) There is a recognition by Elizabeth and her son, yet to be born, John the Baptist, of just how majestic and wonderful this meeting is, and what is in store for these two women.
Mary responds to Elizabeth with this acclamation of praise and thanksgiving: “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. His mercy is for those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever”. (Luke 1:46-55)
Sometimes we miss important and significant things in our readings. Mary did not just come for an afternoon visit, or to stay the night. She stayed in Elizabeth’s home for three months before returning home. Mary and Elizabeth were cousins, and probably their families were close too. We can probably assume that Mary and Joseph and Elizabeth and Zechariah met together, perhaps on their annual trips to Jerusalem or at family reunions. It’s not a stretch to think that their children hung out together, played together like cousins do and got to know each other better at these reunion times.
So, later in life when John the Baptist takes up his calling as a prophet in the wilderness and meets Jesus, it was not the first time that he recognized that Jesus was special, and he knew his whole life that there was something special about Jesus, and now he probably understood it better than ever before when Jesus comes to him and says: “Baptize me John. And, his cousin says, ‘no, you should baptize me. It is not my place to baptize you’. Jesus says it must be done this way, and so Jesus is baptized by John. But, John does say this: “I baptize with water, but he who is coming after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”. Even through these two are cousins, they recognize the spiritual significance of their callings that supersede family connections. (Matthew 3:13-16, Luke 3:16)
Mary and Elizabeth were two young ladies that were going to have babies. That’s an exciting thing, especially if it’s your first. It’s a fearful, wonderful and exciting thing. I know it was for me, and even though I’m not a mother, the development and birth of a child testifies of Gods wonderful design. And, then on top of that to have a special calling. You can imagine the bond that these two ladies had with each other. It was a wonderful and exciting time in their lives, but also a fearful time.
Elizabeth, and especially Mary are saints that teach us how to live our faith with humility and faithfulness. Elizabeth points us toward Mary, and Mary points us toward Jesus. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”. She leads us in our calling, and every one of us has been called by God. The word church means “a group of people called out for a specific reason” We have been called out to follow Christ, and Mary models for us a lifestyle of following Jesus.
Mary begins her exaltation in our reading in Luke with these words: “God looks with favor on the lowly”. The prophet Micah confirms this statement of Mary with these words: “He has showed you what is good and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God”. (Micah 6:8)
You, my brothers and sisters are called, we are the ‘called out’ ones, called out to follow Jesus in a way that can be termed a rule of life, called out to be part of the Church of Jesus Christ who is called the Way, the Truth and the Life. (John 14:6)
Each of us has a part to play in this calling. We are all “called out” to not just learn about this new way of life, but to walk in the light of that knowledge, to ‘walk the walk, not just talk the talk’, As the prophet Isaiah says: “Arise shine for your light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen. His glory is upon you. Lift up your eyes and look around, because your light has come”. (Isaiah 60:1,4)
I am called to be your pastor, a rector in the church. You are called to find your place of ministry in the church as well. One of my lessons in children’s confirmation class is about the “responsibilities and privileges of being a Christin, “a called out person to follow Jesus”. We are responsible to care for one another, to be concerned about the good and welfare of the church, and to do our part to meet the needs of church, not to bear all the responsibility, but to be responsible to bear part of that responsibility.
And, we have privileges. Those privileges include
- Having a voice to share your opinion, vote or complaint.
- To be a part of the decision making of the church by participation in committees, teams and guilds, and participation in vestry meetings, either as a vestry member or as a member of the church
- A freedom to exercise your gifts, abilities, ‘your skill set’.
- Access to free pastoral care
- Active members also are entitled to be married or buried at no expense.
Put your trust in God. Don’t think too much of yourself, and don’t think of yourself as of no importance either. Be who you are, and let God lead you and guide you. Your ministry is important. Your life is valuable. You as a person are important. You are important to God, important to the church, important to me. You are important. You help me to become the kind of person God has called me to be, and my calling is to recognize you as a child of God, to welcome you as a unique child of God, to recognize your gifts and calling, and to aid you into becoming all that God wants you to be. “The gifts of God, for the people of God”.
And may we with St. Elizabeth give special honor today to the Blessed Virgin Mary:
“Holy Mary, mother of God. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus”.
the Reverend Dr. David Madsen