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The Call to Worship based on Isaiah 61:10,11
I will greatly rejoice and my whole being shall exult in God;
ALL: for God has clothed me with the garments of salvation, and covered me with the robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
ALL: For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Creator will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
all creation rightly gives you praise,
for all life and all holiness come from you.
In the plan of your wisdom
she who bore the Christ in her womb
was raised body and soul in glory to heaven.
May we follow her example in reflecting your holiness
and join in her hymn of endless love and praise. Amen
(based on Prayer for the Assumption of Mary http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=1160)
A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. 3Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God…; 6and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days. 7And war broke out in heaven; Michael and the other angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8but they were defeated…
The Gospel According to Luke (1.46-53)
Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48who has looked with favor on the lowliness of a marginalized person. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me… 50Divine mercy is for those who seek God from generation to generation. 51God has shown strength and has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53God has filled the hungry with good things…
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“The Role of Woman in the Church”
It is particularly coincidental that we are looking at Mary the Mother if Jesus this week given the news in the US this week that continues to be dominated by endless discussions about what women think, how women feel, and particularly how women will vote in the US presidential elections next year.
The Sunshine Cathedral Lectionary designates August 16 as The Assumption of Mary making our readings here even more interesting as we contemplate what the word assumption means.
An assumption is something that is accepted as truth without proof… or as the saying goes…. “to assume” makes and “ass” out of “u” and “me.” But assumption can also mean “the action of taking power or responsibility.” “Assuming” power, “assuming” a new role in an organization.
The Assumption of Mary is a Roman Catholic dogma that teaches that Mary the mother of Jesus did not die but was “assumed” into heaven bypassing the pain of death after she had fulfilled her earthly life. To me it seems a little bit like a “too little, too late” reward for being used as the surrogate for God’s “son” to come into the world, then watching him die in agony at the foot of the cross, discovering his body missing from the tomb, experiencing the joy of having him back at the resurrection, and then not being present when he ascended into heaven leaving her without her first born again.
Mary has been and continues to be de-sexualized as a virgin, and in some traditions a perpetual virgin, so that her holiness is preserved in her desexualized female body. On the other hand the Assumption of Mary provides a gender balance of sorts for the ascension of the male figure of the risen Christ.
In Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches Mary is referred to as Theotokos, the God-bearer or Mother of God. So logically Christianity co-opted the title Queen of Heaven from more ancient religions that referred to sky goddesses like Anat, Isis, Innana, and Asherah as the Queen of Heaven.
Theotokos elevates one woman to the status of idealized woman in a similar way that Christians elevate the man Jesus to an unattainable ideal. And while this elevation of woman is appealing to me as a woman to provide some kind of gender balance in the scheme of male dominated imagery in Christianity, it is at once a danger sign because it is an image of idealized woman used in the service of bringing forth the male child savior figure, with her purity and holiness completely unattainable for a real, flesh and blood, sexually embodied woman.
Now if that were not enough let us move on to our reading from the Revelation of John. This very controversial book of the New Testament scriptures has been a point of controversy even in whether it should be contained in the canon. We are not clear on the time of its writing, the author or authors of the work, or whether it is prophecy, fantasy, or history. But that doesn’t stop us!
While some fundamentalists read Revelation as a literal prediction of what is to come in an apocalyptic end time, some have described the work as a “code book” written to the Christians of the day who were enduring various persecutions in different parts of the world where Christianity was beginning to flourish. Others describe it as a codebook for what is to come at the end of the age. We see this interpretation in the contemporary “Left Behind” series, which I confess to having neither read nor seen.
Most scholars agree that it was written sometime in the late first century of the Common Era, well after John the Apostle would have been dead. But it is attributed to someone named John and that has caused many to assume it to have been written by the person some refer to as St. John the Divine or John the Beloved. Clearly there are mysterious and symbolic references throughout the work. And it conforms in tone to apocalyptic literature found in Jewish and Christian writings from the third century BCE to the second century CE according to my trusty Oxford Annotated Bible.
The passage we specifically address today from Chapter 12 gives us an image that overlays the story of Jesus birth. Just as Jesus was snatched away from Mary in the fullness of life by death on the cross, the baby the woman bears is snatched from her and taken to safety. God rescues the baby in our reading from Revelation. But one of the most curious things I read here is that the woman is also rescued. Humans appear to be utterly powerless over the supernatural events that are taking place… all of it happening in the realms of heaven with the war going on between the dragon and Michael and the angels for control of the universe. It would appear the only hope for humanity is the intervention of divine forces and the intrusion of magic into the world to save us.
In contrast we have our gospel reading that is often referred to as the Magnificat. It is an abrupt shift from the realm of symbolism, divine intervention, and magic to the image of a young woman, fully embodied, pregnant, visiting another female family member who is also pregnant. We move from the grandeur of a cosmic battle for the universe to the intimacy of two women, both at their most vulnerable as human beings, sharing an experience that only women can truly know, the experience of having a new human life growing within them.
Mary is, for us, the image of all marginalized people. And her song is blessed assurance that God does not turn a blind eye to the plight of those who are discarded by society. In biblical texts women are often left completely out of the story. The ultimate marginalization is to be ignored, overlooked, or universalized. A woman’s menstrual cycle, the very mechanism by which human life is conceived and grown in a woman’s body, is vilified as unclean, ugly, icky. This week in the US that image has been front and center in the news cycle of every print, television, and Internet news outlet. The physical embodied mechanism by which life is conceived has come out of the closet in a way.
Our readings today remind us that not only the mighty, the masculine, the warrior, that is favored by God. We have an image of the marginalized provided for, the hungry fed, the lowly favored. What I believe we must take from our readings today is a mandate for action on our part, to participate in bringing God’s realm of justice love into focus here on earth, for living breathing, flesh and blood human beings, in our time in history.
It is not politically correct to call for police to stop murdering unarmed black men and women. It is not politically correct to refuse to hear racist rhetoric spewed in our presence. It is not politically correct to call out those who bully and call people names. It is the beginning of making justice.
I’ve seen many people post on Facebook with regard to the taking down of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina state house saying that removing a flag does nothing. I disagree. When we stand up in small ways for those who are on the margins, when we use our privilege, whatever it is, to further the cause of justice in the world, we are bringing the realm of God’s justice love into focus.
I’ve used this analogy many times and I think it’s appropriate here… a small movement in the rudder of a boat, over a long period of time and distance traveled makes a huge difference in where we end up. So let’s be aware of how small actions can, over time, produce big results.
The Assumption of Mary gives us an opportunity to talk about all people on the margins, to take the spotlight off those who have power and privilege and look at the fact that God loves us all equally and unconditionally, regardless of our so-called “station” in life. God does not love one of us more than another.
It’s time we came to terms with that reality as well. The very fact that we question what is the role of woman in the church is telling. The role of women or anyone else in the church is whatever we feel personally called to do to bring God’s realm of justice love into focus in the world. Amen