Psalm 31:23 - 32:1 23 Love God, all you saints of the Holy One. God preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for God.
Romans 8:27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Romans 16:1-3 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in God as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.
Revelation 14:12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.
Matthew 27:50-53 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.
Will you pray with and for me? Loving God who hears all prayers, bless us as we hear and speak today. May our thoughts and our words be true reflections of your love and wisdom. In all your names, amen.
We are continuing with our series on hard questions—and we still have a couple weeks left open, so if you have a question you haven’t had a chance to turn in yet, you can still do that. There are notecards in your bulletins, or you can get one at the back table, for any questions. You can put the card in the offering plate, or just give it to me or John or Jason after worship.
Today’s question has to do with saints and Mary, mother of Jesus, and why MCC Windsor does things so differently than the Roman Catholic church. I will try hard not to teach a church history class—there are a lot of books out there that can do that a lot better than I can—but some of the answers are rooted in church history.
Let’s start with saints. Remember last week I talked about how words can change in meaning over time? In the early church, when the New Testament was coming together, the word "saint" simply meant a dedicated Christian—so any Christian could be called “saint,” and you heard that in the first readings. The Jewish tradition also had and has a term, “tzadik,” to indicate a person who was especially close to God—that is the word translated as “saints” in the Psalm reading. All religious traditions have this concept, of individuals who are exceptionally holy or closer to the deity, to God. In Roman Catholic and in Orthodox traditions, the saints became people who had been martyred—that is, killed because of their faith—and/or individuals who had performed miracles, and a formal process for recognizing them formed over the years. For Protestants—that is, Christians who are not Roman Catholic or Orthodox, so Lutherans, Methodists, United Church, Baptists, Anglicans, and so on—including MCC--the saints may be recognized more or less, depending on the tradition. Anglicans, for example, recognize many of the same saints as the Roman Catholics, as do Lutherans, while Methodists and the United Church recognize saints as holy people worthy of study and emulation. In these Protestant traditions, the direct connection, the deeply personal relationship between God and an individual is stressed; the saints are not seen as intercessors, the ones to carry the individual’s prayers and petitions to God, as they are in Roman Catholic traditions, but as role models for Christians.
Mary, Jesus’ mother, is usually seen as the most important saint of all—because of her own free will, she took on the burden of bearing and raising God’s child. And who better to bring your prayers to Jesus than his own earthly mother? Could Jesus turn down a request from his mother? And so there is a strong emphasis on communication with and prayers to Mary in the Roman Catholic church, which has led some poorly informed people to accuse Roman Catholics of Mary-worship, which is simply not true.
And I think Protestant churches could learn something from Roman Catholics here.
The image most people have of God is of a Caucasian older man, usually with a beard—because that is a symbol of wisdom—and then Jesus is seen as a young man, while the Spirit is pretty much neutral, or disembodied, symbolized by breath or wind or a dove or fire. The result is that while Spirit is often referred to with feminine gender terms grammatically, and sometimes specifically, God in three persons seems mostly masculine. But when God created humans, and said, “let us create humans in our image,” male and female humans were created, not simply men. And I think most of us are aware that even labelling actions or identities as masculine or feminine is problematic—what is seen as masculine in one culture or historic period is seen as feminine in others. For example, at one time, individuals identified as male in European society, at least those in the ruling class, wore high heels, wigs, and rouge as a matter of course. In today's Western society, those are all seen as part of feminine dress. So we understand that we are a blend of traits, customs, and habits, some labeled feminine, others masculine. What we personally identify as is up to us, but no one is fully one or the other, we all fall along a spectrum.
Given all that, I think Mary is a way we can recognize and honour the feminine in God, in Spirit. The divine feminine is seen as nurturing, life-giving, caring, healing---which are also traits we give to God, right? God created, God cares, God heals. So Mary can become an image of that caring and nurturing we seek from God. Please note, I am NOT saying that Mary is divine, or a part of God. But she can give us a handle, something concrete to hang onto when we looking for the divine aspects of God. A mother, especially a loving, caring mother who desires deeply to care for her child, is a wonderful image of God. We just happen to have a name for that image—Mary.
But these are sometimes difficult theological concepts, and sometimes individuals want someone who was flesh and blood human in ways God and Jesus are not—and certainly not the Spirit!
So it is not a matter of worshipping Mary—it is Mary as a pathway to God, as a way to approach God that is less intimidating and awe-inspiring. Any of the saints could be seen this way--a path to God that is less intimidating, perhaps, than the idea of Godself. Seen this way, Mary is an image of the loving mother, nurturing and caring; and is also an example to us of the ideal mother. In the same way, the individuals named as saints by the various traditions may help us to understand God, or be an example to us of holy living. Hildegard of Bingen reminds us to speak our truth; St Francis of Assisi teaches us that all creation reflects God's love and grace; John Wesley and Joan of Arc both show us what it means to challenge authority with faith; Archbishop Oscar Romero demonstrated literally laying down your life for truth. And then there are saints the greater world doesn't know about--the teachers and mentors and guides that I hope we have all had. All these saints can teach us, guide us, inspire us. They were and are saints too, And so are you, my friends--so are you.
Remember the saints--and remember that you are a saint, too, In all God's many names, amen.