The Rector’s sermon for March 4, 2018 


A Lenten Preaching Series:  THY WILL BE DONE

4 of 9:  God’s Will and My Identity


Today is the fourth sermon in our Lenten preaching series entitled Thy Will Be Done.  The theme for today is God’s Will and My Identity, and the key verse is from the Gospel of Luke (1:38):  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”


This passage needs little identification.  Anyone who has ever heard the story of the birth of Jesus knows this passage and who spoke those words.  It was Mary, the mother of Jesus.  When Mary first comes on the scene in the New Testament, she is often mistakenly called a “woman.”  I supposed being pregnant qualified her for that title, making it easy to forget how old she was.  She was a young teenager, possibly even as young as fourteen, when she answered God’s call to become the mother of His Son.  But today, this Mary will tell her story from the perspective of a mother sometime after that terrible day when her Son was taken away from her…


 “ ‘Lord, let it be to me according to your word.’…  It feels like I’ve been praying that prayer most of my life.  It should be getting easier, shouldn’t it?...”


 “I know you’ve heard the story.  There was an actual angel; he even had a name:  Gabriel.  He said the power of the Most High would overshadow me… Poor dear Joseph!  We could laugh about it years later, but at the time…not so much!  After the angel left, I thought it would be the hardest thing I would ever be asked to do—to face family and friends who just wouldn’t understand.  But it was such an honor, to be chosen, to be an instrument, to be the mother of God’s own Son… and so I answered:  ‘I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’”


 “Over the years, that became my prayer and I grew to understand more and more.  When Joseph and I took our new baby to the Temple, Simeon confirmed the promise made by Gabriel.  He held my little Son in his arms, looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘A sword shall pierce your heart.’  Oh, he spoke hope and promise and glory, but it all came through suffering…when our family had to run and hide out in Egypt; when we were told to go back home, just as Joseph was starting to get business to support us; when my son the carpenter went out into the wilderness for forty days and came back…changed—time and time again as life unfolded, again I had to pray, ‘Lord, let it be to me according to your word.  You made a promise.  I don’t understand right now, but you are in control.  I am your servant.  My life is yours,  Let it be to me as you have said.’”


 “I remember when we lost him…in the crowd…we all went up for the festival.  Same trip each year.  Family and friends were around.  All the kids would play and chase each other.  No need to worry…until we couldn’t remember the last time we saw him.  Joseph thought I had him; I thought Joseph had him.  We both lost him.  And then we ran…all the way back to Jerusalem.  We retraced our steps, but he wasn’t at any of the usual places.  So we checked places he wasn’t allowed to go; the pool of Bethesda, where the sick and diseased gathered, and the fortress where Roman troops were quartered. Of course he should know better than to hang out in either place; it’s dangerous to touch a leper or get on the bad side of a Roman soldier!  But we had to look!  And we couldn’t find him anywhere!  We even searched for him among the tombs…”


 “When we had no place left to look, we went to the Temple to pray.  We asked God to lead us, to give us another Simeon or Gabriel, someone to show us the way…and the old, familiar words were on my lips again.  But it was harder than ever to pray.  Because I knew my own will:  I want my Son back—safe and sound—now!  Still, I prayed, “Let it be to me according to your word..”


 “We ended up finding him there in the Temple, not far from where Simeon stood years before.  We found him teaching and asking questions and leaving everyone amazed, just like always.  He even wondered why we were scared... ‘Didn’t you know?’ he said… yes, I should have known…  Indeed, I should have known!  I didn’t understand him at the wedding at Cana, but it didn’t matter; the servants did as he asked, and the wine flowed.  But it didn’t get any easier after that.  If anything, it got more difficult to understand.”


 “I remember, once, early on, I went to put my foot down.  He had been saying some pretty unbelievable things.  And rumors of miracles had gotten the whole neighborhood in an uproar.  Joseph had been gone about twelve years by then, so the rest of us went to bring Jesus home and talk some sense into him.  I knew he was supposed to do something special, but it wasn’t supposed to look like this… and do you know what he said?... We were standing outside some ridiculous house packed with people who were whispering the word Messiah, and he just sat there…teaching!”


 “Messiah is a dangerous word.  It can get you in trouble.  And my son had important things to do for God, so I passed the word through the crowd of people—I couldn’t push my way inside—and after a couple of minutes, Jesus knew we were there, and he said something that hurt my heart.  He said that anyone who hears the Word of God and lives it out were supposed to be his mother and father and brothers.  All the way home I was angry and hurt and that night it was so hard to pray, ‘Lord, let it be according to your word…’  I thought this was the prophesy that Simeon had told me…a sword will pierce your heart…but I was wrong.”


 “Miracles kept happening.  The Roman authorities were becoming more and more frightened of hearing the word Messiah.  They needed to do something to stop him.  More and more people were following him, listening to him, trusting him to bring Rome’s tyranny to an end.  Was this the promise of glory that the angel had spoken of?”


 “I didn’t see him again until the day he died.  I heard of all that had occurred the night before, the garden incident, the arrest, the early morning meeting before Pilate.  And then I couldn’t believe my eyes:  my son, dirty and bloody, almost naked, walking through the streets of the city, carrying a cross.  I knew what was to happen; they were leading him outside the city walls, to the scaffolding that the Romans had built many years before.  That’s where they hung criminals to die.  Their intention was to deter others from committing crimes against the state.  But my Son?  I didn’t understand.  He was to be crucified like a common criminal!  How could this be?”


 “As I stood at the foot of the cross, I was oblivious to John standing at my side.  I watched as they drove the nail through his feet, and I thought about the first steps he took as a toddler on the sand in Egypt.  In his terrible state, he said he was thirsty and a Roman soldier took his sword, dipped it in sour wine and lifted it to his lips, and I remembered those words, ‘and a sword will pierce your own heart.’  None of it felt like the salvation the Lord had prepared before the face of all people.  No light for the Gentiles.  No glory for Israel; only darkness…and death.”


 “I stood there, trying to pray those words, ‘Be it done unto me…Thy will be done,’ when Jesus spoke to me.  ‘Woman, here is your son.’  I was confused for a moment, until he made eye contact with John and said, ‘Son, behold your mother.’  Only then did I realize that Jesus wanted me to lean on the strong arm of John, that John would help me through this terrible ordeal.  It was at that moment that I realized the depth of Jesus’ love…for me…and for all of us.  Even in his death, he was caring for those he loved.”


 “It didn’t take long for it all to be over.  One minute he was on the cross; the next, he was dead, in my arms.  He was taken away quickly before the sun was setting and burial preparation would have to wait.  But I was left with questions and grief.  Jesus, you are the Son of God.  How could this happen?  Answers would have to wait…until sunrise on the third day.”

+ + +


Today we gave Mary the human characteristic that is sometimes absent in the teaches of the ancient Church.  Even Scripture gives us no detail about her feelings—something that is indeed so human.  After all, God gave all of us feelings!  Did Mary understand the depth of her Son’s mission?  No.  Was she sometimes hurt by the way Jesus responded to her?  Of course, she was.   Did Mary experience all the same things any parent experiences raising a child whose direction in life doesn’t seem to make sense?  Certainly she did, but she trusted and hung on to the prayer she said as a teenager in response to the Angel Gabriel:  Be it done unto me according to your will… whatever you want, Lord… your will be done. Mary wasn’t given any special incite into the mission of her son.  Mary had no supernatural powers, but her lack of supernatural power is exactly where her power lay:  in her humanness…just like you and me. The power is showing us exactly how to be an “all-in” follower of Jesus.  She points us to what it means to submit our whole life to God’s plan.  I think we could learn something from Mary; God chose her, but he also chose you and me to follow him, no matter where the path may lead.


Let us pray:
  Make my faith a little more like Mary’s, Lord; I want to be ready to do your will.  I want to see my life through the lens of your eternal Kingdom.  I want to trust your promise so much that I am willing to risk shame and uncertainty because I know you are with me.  Give me the courage to pray:  I am your servant, Lord; let it be to me according to your Word.  Amen.

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