The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s204g04 Lockleys The Blessed Virgin Mary 15/8/2004
"she gave birth" Luke 2.5
Having been present when both of our sons were born, I can say with some assurance that in the process of birth, the male of the species is definitely only an onlooker and bystander. It is the women who do all the real work. All the men can do is hold a hand, massage in the right places and make encouraging noises.
I am reminded of words by Juliette Hughes, reviewing the program "Birth Rites" when she recalled her time in a labour ward (Eureka Street July Aug 2004 p 54). "Don't push yet." "Get @#$ed!" "Now Juliette, you know you need to pant like a dog at this point." "You do it then, if it's so %^&ing easy." "OK, now you can push." "Don't want to any more." "Come on love, have a go Š" "I HATE YOU! GO AWAY! WHERE ARE YOU GOING? COME BACK!" She and the baby and the father obviously survived :-)!
I was interested recently to have a conversation about the two mites that the woman put into the Temple Treasury, that Jesus noticed and commended. The words are in the beginning of Luke chapter 21. The passage is often used to make the point that the woman is blessed because she put in everything she had to live on. Without wishing to argue against this, I suspect that women are used to "giving their all" in life, rather more than males. Women often have had little choice but to give of their all, as the example of giving birth shows. They cannot be bystanders. They are involved in the stuff of life, whether they like it or not. I just ask you, how many men would swap places with their wives, pregnant or not?
I have been pondering recently the shifts in scriptural perspectives. From the earliest days of the occupation of the Promised Land and the need to exterminate the enemy. Later the prophets come along and point out that the people of God had turned out to be little different from the nations around them who worship idols. 2 and 2 equals ? If God's election has not produced any measurable difference; what has God to do?
Again, the prophets sometimes ponder why God acts. It is not for their righteousness, but there is no concept that God actually loves the enemies of Israel as much as God loves them. The only logical alternative is that God acts to magnify the holy name. And another filibuster to the truth, that others are equally loved, continues.
Isaiah sees the nation of Israel to be a light for the gentiles, but even this presupposes an unequal relationship.
Jesus turns this all around. "Blessed are the poor", he says. "Woe to those who are rich". "Love your enemies". "Do good to those who hate you". Jesus finds companionship and warmth among the religious outcasts, and not among the religiously orthodox and devout.
The Bible gives us no consistent recipe for something as basic as how the people of God are to relate to those around them. For me I find that there is no question where one can point to one passage of the Bible and say that this quotation gives a definitive answer, for that would be to overlook another passage of scripture that modifies that perception.
So for me the Bible, looked at as a whole, always points us to a multiplicity of viewpoints, and we are given no option but to look carefully and evaluate our own situation in the light of the differing viewpoints given there. Because we are invited to use our brains there comes the possibility of development. If this is true then we are invited to see the development and respond.
It is more important to God that we live and grow than it is for us to be obedient or devout.
Life then is not an exercise in following the rules. Rather, it is being part of an organic and growing existence. It is said that the only constant things in life are change, death and taxes.
This is what life is, and any attempt to reduce it to sets of rules is to do violence to reality and to diminish our existence. We may choose to live our life like the obedient elder son who always obeyed his father but with mounting resentment.
Each and every one of us has a part to play in this organic and growing existence. As we relate and respond to one another respectfully and with care, we are doing our bit for humanity.
As we see Christ in others, rather than people who ought to live like me, we too are participating in the organic growth of one another. We too "give birth" to something precious, mutual respect and understanding.
For me this seems something worth working towards. I don't have all the answers. Indeed if I did have all the answers, then there would be no need for other people. I would find myself in not much different space to the man who had to build bigger barns to store all his produce, in the gospel a fortnight ago.
One of the things that marked the opposition to Jesus was that they were frequently bystanders rather than participants in life. So when Jesus did something for someone else they found reason to criticise rather than rejoice. When people came to be healed on the Sabbath, the leader of the synagogue thought they should come on other days.
Part of life is uncertainty. Things can go wrong in labour. Children do not always turn out to be the little angels we thought they were, (especially when they were asleep :-))
Often the church looks back to the good old days in one form or another. So there is the thought that the disciples and apostles knew best because they knew Jesus intimately. We are much less privileged and subject to error. Some teach that the Church now has taken the place of the Holy Spirit; and we look to the teachings of the Church; as if we are lesser human beings. I confess I've often had an aversion to the celebration of saints days, as if the saints were just so much better than us. We can only (and always only imperfectly) follow the example of their devotion.
Actually the saints made as many mistakes as we do. The Blessed Virgin Mary was no different to any person of the female variety who has ever lived. She participated in life, she gave of her all, just like women all over the world have done for centuries. This was her and our glory.
I want to say that we and they are not given simple answers. We are all treated as adults and are bidden to think and reason and frame our lives around these thoughts; taking into account what the Bible and the church teaches. For none of us are meant to be alone.
We are invited to make a difference in this world by participating in life and not being bystanders. I am not asking you to give more, but inviting you to trust and when you trust to give of your all. Part of participating in life is by giving our all. If our ministry is music, then we sing lustily, if our ministry is artistry, then we do it with devotion. If our ministry is helping others, we do it cheerfully. Whatever we do in living (not in by-standing and criticism); we are invited to do it wholeheartedly and allow others to do "their thing" the same.
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