46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.
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.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
Mary didn’t get the memo. The memo that women are supposed to be seen and not heard. The memo that good girls do not challenge emperors and kings. But Mary speaks, she sings, she declares what God has done for her, and what God will do for His people, and generations to come will remember her song. During my year living at Richmond Hill, we prayed the magnifcat for a year. Mary’s song got deep into my bones, deep into my soul.
What strikes me about Mary’s song, about her life, is the phrase, “My soul magnifies the LORD”, or my soul glorifies the LORD as some translations put it. The verb here literally makes to make great, bigger, or conspicuous. How can Mary, mere mortal woman, make God bigger? Isn’t God eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, the Alpha and the Omega? How can Mary add one thing to God’s glory?
Perhaps it is not that Mary actually makes God bigger or stronger, perhaps it is that by her actions, by her response to God’s Grace, Mary makes the presence of God obvious to those around her. It seems to me that in this passage;
- Mary Testifies
- Mary Remembers
- Mary Obeys
Mary’s song, demonstrates to us, that God becomes more obvious to people when we tell of what God has done in our lives. Mary testifies. The Greek word for testimony is martyr, a word that the early Christians used to identify those sacrificed to the lions during persecution. The word means to present evidence from personal experience. This word would be used for witnesses in a courtroom. A witness in a courtroom is not a trained expert. They often do not have degrees in forensics. They have simply seen what they have seen, heard what they have heard, felt what they have felt, carried the trials and blessings that they have carried. Mary isn’t an educated theologian. She probably hasn’t gotten beyond grade school. She is just a scared teenager. But she knows enough to declare what God has done for her. She has met God in a very real and personal way, perhaps more personal than any human being in history. As Brad Jersak, author of Can You Here Me? Tuning in to The God Who Speaks, points out, “while we often sing the old hymn, “I love to tell the story,” our lives often model something closer to “I dread to tell the story.” Why? Because we think that evangelism is about convincing others of something we believe rather than witnessing about someone we have met.” We must ask ourselves have we met Jesus? Church is my career and I know that going to church and meeting Jesus are often not the same thing. We don’t all have to meet Jesus in the same way. None of us will ever meet Jesus in the way Mary met Jesus, at least I hope not. But it is this encounter with Grace that changes us. Not coming to church, though I do hope and pray that when you come here you encounter grace.
If we want to grow as a church we need to declare what God has done for us in a public way You know when I was interviewing here a couple people complimented me on my testimony, on my journey of faith, and how compelling my story was. I would say that you become really good talking about Jesus when talking about Jesus is your job. But talking about Jesus and giving your testimony are not the same thing. In my life I have spent the majority of my time with other Christians, preaching to other Christians, preaching to the choir, literally. And in all my study, in all my teaching, in all my preaching, I can’t remember anyone coming to Christ who did not know him before. Surely, I have helped those raised in the church, those hurt by the church, those questioning the church, but never has my testimony brought someone to Christ who does not go to church. And I have to confess to you today that I am tired of it.
You know recently I was sitting down and having breakfast with John Davis, our former supply preacher, and former President of Grace College. I must confess that in all my life I have never met someone I would describe as an evangelist, not until I met John. His heart for reaching people for Christ was natural, He wasn’t pushing doctrine down people’s throats, he was introducing them to his best friend, he was revealing to them the pearl of great price. John has mentioned to me before his Wild Game Feast, where people come together with their kills from hunting season and have a feast, as a potential evangelism event. The first time I heard about this I thought, “well that’s fine but not my thing.” But as he talked about I saw that it wasn’t about me, it was about honoring an activity that many people, especially men in this area love. I call this the transitive property of love. If you love something and I love you, I will love the things you love.
Knowing how to talk about Jesus isn’t the same thing as giving your testimony, it is not the same thing as evangelizing, because I am not speaking the same language as the people I am talking to, that is the un-churched. You know I am one of those small percentage of men who simply doesn’t care about sports. Maybe it is because I never watched games with my Dad, maybe it is because my thing really is spirituality, fantasy, and religion, and that is not a bad thing. But for those of you men who do love sports, and have loved sports your entire lives, you can’t fully understand how isolating it can be to be a man who does not, when all the men you know, friends you love, do. How can I as a pastor minister effectively if I don’t know the scores of the last Colts game, who Kentucky is playing next week, or how many downs it takes for the ball to be turned over ( I looked it up and it is four.) I want to be a Peyton Manning for Jesus, completing the pass, scoring the touchdown for Christ, but I got to know who Peyton Manning is and why people love him or hate him. And my sports inclined friends I need your help. I need you to teach me. Don’t leave me out of the game. Though I may not have a clue, help me get a clue. It may not be that important to me but I know it is important to you, and thus by the transitive property of love it becomes important to me. Because that’s what it means to love people, to care what they care about. That’s why honor is the currency of heaven.
My second and third point are connected. Mary remembers and Mary obeys. Often in the scriptures, when people are faced with difficult circumstances, they remember salvation history, they remember what God has done, and that helps them obey in uncertain times. Often, in the Pslams the psalmist will cry out to God to remember his steadfast love, how he delivered his people from Egypt, and not to forget his people in their time of need. It is almost as if the writers of scripture are holding God to account for whom God says he is in his Word, despite a large amount of evidence to the contrary. It is this remembering that helps us obey when we are in the spiritual desert.
It’s been a long journey for me to get to this place. During the past four years there are times that I lost hope, times that I could barely remember anything good God had done in my life. Times when I doubted my call or if I had met Jesus at all. The classical spiritual writers call this time the dark night of the soul. It lasted for me about four years. And what I remembered is the story of a woman who magnified the Lord for me. It is the story that I am going to tell you know.
Louise Roberts, was my grandmother. She was an English professor and scholar. She graduated College at 19, during a time when such a thing was not expected of a woman. She taught at Oneonta State, in New York, till she was 86. She was a quiet woman. Always cooking cookies, and pancakes, always sending me money for my birthday, always smiling for me, always believing in me. For my High School Graduation she sent me a card with the phrase, “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you shall be among the stars.” Every year from the time I was born until the time she past away my Sophomore year of college, we would load into the family van and drive to the family estate, from Virginia, to Oneonta New York. Until she past I had never spent a Christmas or birthday away from her. Mostly my family spent the time playing hearts, our favorite card game. Looking back on it I wished I had talked to her more, learned from her more, but she was never much of a talker, she more enjoyed just being present. The last time I saw my grandmother was on my 20th birthday, my sophomore year of college. She was dying of cancer then. She was thin. Her eyes were still full of life and her mind was still there, but the rest of her body was a shadow of her former self. When my family left her house that birthday to return to Virginia I knew in my heart that would be the last time I would see her. She died that winter.
But during that trip my grandmother performed a simple and amazing act that is still burned into my memory today. During that visit my dad had painted the upstairs rooms of the rather large house/mansion my grandmother lived in by herself. My grandmother lived in her downstairs bedroom and her study. I would guess she hadn’t been up those long two flights of stairs in years, even before the cancer, it would be like climbing a mountain for her.
But one day, while me, my sister, and my cousins were playing hearts, my grandmother came out of her downstairs office with my father following close behind. And she declared that she was going upstairs to see the rooms that my father had recently painted. We protested, saying she wasn’t well enough, but she was willing to move heaven and earth to go up those steps, and her will compelled us to help her. So I grabbed her back and my dad grabbed her front, and together we walked up those stairs, step by agonizingly slow step, deathly afraid that she would trip and fall and it would all be over. But after what seemed like an eternity we made it to the top of those steps. She shuffled to the recently painted rooms, looked inside, and said something to the effect of, “isn’t that beautiful.” Then it seemed, almost as soon as she had gotten up, she asked us to help her back down. So we repeated the dangerous process. She made it to the bottom of the steps and returned to her bedroom. I stood there in shock, amazed at her simple act. I told the story I am telling you now as my eulogy to her at her funeral. I consider it the first sermon I ever preached. A couple months after that, while I was driving with my mom on the interstate on a dark night, I told my mom, whom many of you have met, that I wanted to become a minister. I was afraid of what my dad would think, because my dad had a falling out with his Dad, my grandmother’s husband, who was a Chaplain and a minister, and died when I was three years old. In my Dad’s view my grandfather sold out to power, money, and prestige, and managed to run a college into the ground as a college president. Thus my dad has always been very cautious and has an on and off again relationship with the church. But my mom told me that before my grandmother died she had told her that she thought I would become a minister. These words gave me the courage to tell my dad, that I wanted to become a minister and my dad told me he only wanted me to be happy.
Those words, that memory, kept me going through many trying years when I doubted myself and my call. I even had a counselor who told me that just because my grandmother said I would become a minister didn’t mean that was what God wanted me to do, which is frankly a mean thing for a counselor to say looking back on it. But it is mainly because of Louis Roberts, and how she magnified the Lord through a simple and beautiful act of defiance over death and belief in the potential of my life, that I stand here before you today.
You know for years I believed that my grandmother had told my mother that she thought I would become a minister when my mother went to take care of her when she was dying from cancer. Well it turns out that was an assumption, my mom never said that. I learned, when my mom came to visit me for my ordination, that my grandmother had predicted that I would become a minister when I was twelve years old. My mom told me that my ever practical father had replied, “How is he going to do that he doesn’t even believe in God.” I am still spellbound by that. By the power of one woman to magnify the Lord in my life without even barely saying anything. Imagine what we could do if we learned to speak boldly about the Lord? If we learned to sing his praises like Mary. How much could we magnify him? How high could we lift Jesus up? How many could be drawn to him through our witness?
Having been ordained you may be wondering if I feel any different. For the most part no. For the most part I feel like I am the same pastor I was for the three weeks I was working for you before I was ordained. The same pastor I was for the many years that I served without anyone laying hands on me or paying me. But one thing did change after I was ordained. I felt the weight. The weight of the promises I made to you as a congregation. The weight of the promises you made to me as a pastor. The weight of your hopes and your dreams coming to rest on my shoulders. When I accepted this job I did so with the knowledge that I might fail. I worked for a microfinance nonprofit for a year and I learned that 50% of business fail in the first five years, regardless of the time, effort, or planning you put into it. There is a common phrase in management that if you fail to plan you plan to fail. Well sometimes even when you do plan you fail because often there is so much that is beyond our control that does not go according to plan. I recognize that I don’t have all the time in the world. That we are an older church, that change is hard, that I may be the last full time pastor at Pierceton Presbyterian Church, there may not be time for another. You must know that I know the chance you took on me, the hope you have put in me, and you must know that I feel the weight of that responsibility. It is the yoke of ministry. It is a weight that for most of my life I was afraid to bear.
But you and I are not the only ones that are in that yoke. Jesus is with us and his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty but that does not mean there will not be pain, loss, and sorrow. Many of you are tired of serving, you have done your part. But we still have a cross to carry before we are going to get to the resurrection. But as Ben Campbell, the director of the retreat center I lived in for a year put it, if you are going to carry your cross, if your options are limited and the healing doesn’t seem to be coming, you might as well carry your cross with what ever dignity and hope you have left. You might as well hope beyond hope and keep reaching till a divine hand reaches back. I can’t promise you that I can grow this church. And frankly I am not here to grow this church. Because if our goal is to get more people in, if our goal is to have our church, just the way we like it, but with more people, than people will sense our need, our desperation and they will flee from us, because that is what people do when they feel they are being manipulated. I am not here to grow this church. But I am here to magnify the Lord, I am here to learn to give my testimony to those who have yet to see and have yet to hear. I am here to be a blessing, I am here to serve, I am here to be a Marty, a witness. The question is will you come with me?