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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Friday, November 07, 2008

2008-11-09 Luke 01 39-56 "Mary's Song"

2008-11-09 Luke 01 39-56 "Mary's Song"
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

All this month, we're looking at Stewardship through the songs of the Bible. The Bible's a great songbook. The passages that you see written in poem form are all songs. They may not sound like songs to us. They sound great in the original Hebrew. In English translation, they lose the rhythm and rhyme. Which is a shame. The Bible rocks and we barely even know it. It's not all, "Thou shalt not..." and "Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob..." Our Christian faith, and the Jewish faith before and along with us, is a singing faith.

Last week we talked about Hannah's Song. We even read it a second time today. And then we read the song of Mary, the mother of Jesus. If you put the two songs side by side, you can see how much they have in common. Coincidence? I think not. In fact, they have so much in common that some scholars think it's the same song, just rewritten. You have to remember, there's very little new in the New Testament. So much of the New Testament is Old Testament in a different key. As the Choir would say, it's modulated.

If you want to do some Bible study at home, take the bulletin and look up Hannah's Song in First Samuel. Then look up Mary's Song in Luke. Mark your place and flip back and forth between the two. They're almost identical, certainly in theme, if not precise wording. The difference is in who's singing.

Hannah is a woman who has prayed and prayed for a child. Then, when she finally does have the child, she gives him up, to have him become a member of the priesthood. Mary is a woman who wasn't at all ready for a child, wasn't planning for a child, wasn't in a situation to have a child. In Stewardship terms, Hannah sings when she completes her pledge; Mary sings when she fills out her pledge card. Did you sing when you got your pledge card in the mail last week? Maybe you sang, "Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me." Or maybe Dolly Parton's, "Here You Come Again."

Mary's cousin, Elizabeth, an old woman who's past the age of having children greets Mary, a girl too young to be having children. Elizabeth greets her by saying, "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." And then, on that cue, Mary bursts forth with her song.

We'll get to the song in a minute. What I really want to concentrate on is the cue, the line that sent Mary into songs of praise. Because this line, spoken by Elizabeth, explains not only Mary, but explains stewardship, in the key of Mary.

If anyone could have been singing, "Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me," it would have been Mary. Betrothed, but not married, promised but not yet with her husband, a single mom-to-be in a culture that really, really didn't handle that well, Mary could easily have been singing, "Nobody knows the trouble I seen." Mary had seen an angel. The angel brought what could have been big trouble.

Remember how the story goes?

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

I'll bet. Perplexed and ponderous at the least.

The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.

Remember the angel's parting words to Mary? Because they're critical.

"For nothing will be impossible with God."

And Mary says, "Here am I" - the classic response of whom? The prophets. All the great prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses - whenever God first spoke to the great prophets, their response was the simple line, "Here I am." Mary says, "Here I am." We get our song, "Here I Am, Lord," from this great line. Mary says, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."

An angel of the Lord has brought Mary a message. An angel of the Lord has brought her a promise. And Mary very simply responds, "OK." She says it a little more artistically. "Let it be with me according to your word." OK. Whose word? The angel's word. "Let it be with me according to your word." In other words, the angel tells Mary something out-of-this-world incredible, and Mary believes. If she didn't believe, the word would have been trouble. But Mary does believe. Mary takes the angel at his word. She says, "OK."

Now, back to Mary visiting her cousin, Elizabeth. In those days, Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she greets her cousin, Elizabeth. What's Elizabeth's cue that sends Mary into this magnificent song, the song of Hannah, the song of prophesy, the song of scripture from beginning to end? Elizabeth says, "Blessed is she who believed - believed what? Believed that there would be - there would be what? A fulfillment - a fulfillment of what? A fulfillment of what was spoken to her - by whom? By the Lord."

"Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

And then, on cue, Mary bursts into this magnificent song that's often called, "The Magnificat." Hannah (the Old Testament singer of this song) was blessed by God when she kept her promise, when she gave up her son. Mary (the New Testament singer) is blessed by God when she believes God's promise. From Hannah in the Old Testament to Mary in the New, the song remains the same. But the source of joy has changed. And for that reason for the song has changed. The song may sound the same, but the big difference is that while it used to be sung out of joy for what a person could do, with God's help, now it's being sung out of joy of what God will do if we will simply say, "OK." This verse of Stewardship isn't so much our wanting, our receiving, our giving (as we talked about last Sunday), this verse of the Stewardship Song is about God doing. This verse of the Stewardship Song is about believing in what God will do, if we will just say, "OK."

Here's the good news: God has a promise. God has a plan. And while we may not know everything about that plan... and remember, Mary didn't know anything about God's plan for her child, Jesus... The good news is God has a plan. And while we may not know everything, or much of anything about that plan, that doesn't change the fact that God has a plan. God has a promise. Your role is not to try to improve on God's plan. Your job is not to say, "OK, Lord, that sounds good, but what if you also did this..." That's not your job. That's not what God is asking of you. You don't have to be some genius who solves the economic crisis. If you are, great. Get to work. But according to Mary's song and what leads up to it, your role is to simply say, "OK." I believe. I believe God has a promise. I believe God has a plan. Your role is to believe God has a promise and a plan... and not get in God's way. Your role is to say, "OK, Lord. Here am I. Let it be with me according to your word."

Stewardship in the key of Mary is about believing there is good news, and then offering yourself as a willing participant in God's work. If you can do that, just that, I believe you'll get the blessing that came also to Mary: "Blessed are you who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to you by the Lord."


What do you believe? What do you really believe God is capable of doing?

One of the things Linda Payne, our church's Designated Prayer, our DP, constantly teaches me is the need to be still and wait for a word from God. Every time we do VespersOn!, and every time she teaches a Bible study, Linda talks about, "Be still and wait for the Lord." Just irritates the hound out of me. But I know she's right.

How many of you are good at being still and waiting on God? How many of you are good at being still? That's the reason church seems so long. You've got to be still on a wooden bench for an hour. Sometimes longer. Being still is hard work. But it's not just about being still. It's about being still and waiting for a word from God. How many of you would say you're really good not just at being still but at being still and waiting? Oh yeah, and it's waiting for a word from God who speaks sometimes through angels, sometimes through people who don't look or sound anything like God, sometimes through fall colors, sometimes through books, your neighbor, your mother, your kids, your best friend, and your worst enemy. Like most people over 30, God just doesn't get text messaging. Which would be so much simpler. If we're honest, not many of us are really good at being still and waiting on God.

If Mary is an example worth following (and I'm pretty sure the Blessed Holy Mother of the Savior is), then even before we start believing whatever word of God comes to us, we have to learn to be still, to be open, to be receptive to the idea that there IS a word of God that's going to come to us. We have to be still and wait.

You have to be still and wait for God, but how? The answer is: expectantly.

There has to be a reason God keeps choosing all these expectant mothers as the ones who bear the good news to the world. Men would never wait nine months for a birth. The species never would have made it past Adam. Those who are in tune with God - whether they're women or men - those who are in tune with God are those who know how to wait, expectantly. Hopefully.

You've heard the saying, good luck comes to those who prepare for it. God comes to those who watch for God. If you believe that somehow, nine months from now, nine years from now, something good is going to happen, you'll wait with expectation and with hope. If you don't believe God is at work in your life, you won't see God at work in your life. Mary could have seen her situation as really grave. Instead, she chose to be receptive to God, and to wait for God.

You have to be still and wait for God expectantly and hopefully. You have to first believe that God is capable of great, good things. That's the first stanza in stewardship in the key of Mary.

But what do you really believe God is capable of?

Mary sang. She sang a song of hope.

 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
      from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
      he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
      but has lifted up the humble.
 He has filled the hungry with good things
      but has sent the rich away empty.

If you do a line-by-line comparison of Hannah's song to Mary's, the big difference is that Hannah sings that all these things are happening, or will happen. In Mary's song, she sings an answer to Hannah, saying that the Lord HAS performed mighty deeds, the Lord HAS brought down rulers, the Lord HAS filled the hungry with good things and HAS sent the rich away empty. Hannah's song and Mary's song are like bookends on the mighty works of God.

Mary's looking back and seeing that God really has been at work in her life, and in the world. Mary's looking back and seeing that God hasn't forgotten God's promises, that God hasn't left human beings out in the cold, all alone. Mary looks back and sees with eyes of faith that God is alive and at work, even though it sure doesn't look that way so much of the time.

We dream what God is capable of doing by remembering what God has done. We can be hopeful about the future when we see the past through eyes of faith. We may not know exactly how the next verse will go, but we can make a pretty accurate prediction based on the last.

So, stewardship in the key of Mary goes like this: Mary waited, Mary listened. Mary believed. Mary looked back for signs of God and then looked forward in expectation. This is how Mary became a steward of God, a bearer of God, whose soul magnified the Lord.

In the key of Mary, stewardship isn't so much about your work, your giving; it's about God's work, God's giving, God's songwriting. And the best news: God's giving you a part to sing. God wants to make you a singer, a steward.

You think, "Who me? I can't carry a tune." I'm not a great prayer. I'm not a great Bible scholar. Well, neither was Mary.

You already have everything you need to be a steward of God. You've got a lifetime of experience. You've got the promise that the Holy Spirit is at work in you, growing in you, ready to be borne forth and see the light of day. You may not think you do but you do have an hour, or a half-hour, or a minute, or even a few seconds to reflect on the things God has done, or might be doing in your life. You can have the same blessing that Elizabeth gave to Mary: "Blessed is she, Blessed is he, who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her [or to him] by the Lord."

I have no doubt that somehow God is speaking to you. I believe that some person or some event in your life was really God dressed up like someone else, promising to do great things with you. I believe that.

I believe that whatever you have, whatever spark or dream or blessing God has placed with you or within you can grow. Your quiet, perplexed, ponderous hope is God's hope. Your song is God's song. Your life is God's life in your personal key. I believe that you can be a great steward of a greater God.

Sing your song of stewardship. Let your spirit magnify the Lord, just like Mary did. Let your spirit magnify the Lord, because the world needs a magnified Lord right now. And so do you. And so do the people around you.