12 August 2010

Homily for St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord (2010)

The artists get it right.  When you see the Blessed Virgin holding her Child, you will notice that she tends to be looking either at Him or right at you, and with her hand she gestures toward Him.  Mary is not about Mary.  Mary is all about your Jesus.

And when the Lutheran Church puts into her calendar a day to commemorate the Mother of God, it is not in the spirit of Rome or of the East – a glorification of Mary that pushes beyond the bounds of Scripture, announcing the dogma of her bodily assumption into heaven and her enthronement at the right hand of her Son and her taking her place there to manage your prayer requests.  Um, no.

As to whether or not Mary was bodily taken to heaven, we have to confess our ignorance.  We don’t know.  Scripture doesn’t tell us.  Might be – we grant that that would be rather like her Son to do such a thing.  But if He wanted us to know about raising his Mother from the dead, He’d have seen fit to have His apostles write it for us in the Sacred Scriptures.  Alas, not a word.  So as Lutherans, we’re content to confess:  He has taken her to be with Him and that is all we need to know.  That’s how Dr. Luther wisely dispatched that question.  Not our business.

As to enthronement at the right hand of her Son, same story.  May be.  After all, St. Paul says that WE are enthroned with Him in the heavenly places.  But it’s speculation not firm faith stuff.  And as to her handling the prayer requests of all believers, well, there’s no promise of her doing any such thing in Scripture, and what would be the need for it?  After all, we have revealed in Scripture that both the Eternal Son – the only Mediator between God and Man - and the Holy Spirit directly intercede for us.  We readily grant that Mary prays along with the whole body of the Church triumphant for the good of the Church still on pilgrimage; it’s a reasonable assumption given the way the Church works and that heaven is the fulfillment of love, and we know from Scripture that the angels intercede for us.  Our Confessions even point to 2 Maccabees where the long-dead Jeremiah was seen in a vision, praying for God’s people.  But beyond that, we’re just not going to go.

So why this day as a festival in the Lutheran Church then, if we’re not all about glorifying the Blessed Virgin?  Because we’re not about ignoring her either, or being afraid of her place in the Church and in the good news of our redemption.  Today we remember what she herself sang, inspired by God the Holy Spirit, in her hymn of praise, the Magnificat.  “For behold, from this day, all generations will call me blessed.”

We set aside this day not to magnify Mary, but to join Mary in magnifying the Lord and rejoicing with her in the Savior He showed Himself to be for her and for us.  We set aside this day to extol the One – Holy is His name! - who has done great things for her, lowly though she was.  We set aside this day to remember that in the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law that we might receive adoption as sons.  (Epistle)

So what’re the great things that the Mighty One has done for her?  He looks on the humble estate of His servant.  That is, He regards her with kindness and favor.  He takes on flesh and blood from the likes of her in order to offer that flesh and blood back to His Father in perfect, unfailing obedience – even to death on a cross.  That’s how He’s her Savior and yours too.  He is the God who has mercy. The One who does not stand aloof from us in our humanity, in our messes, in our pain.  He comes down to us.  How far down?  All the way down to being fetal matter in His mother’s womb, his tiny heart beating beneath her own, and being flesh and blood nailed for you to Calvary’s tree!  The God who has mercy and remembers to keep His promises.

But note that His mercy is for the lowly, the weak, the despised, the hungry.  Mercy isn’t wanted by those who are proud, strong, famous and full.  They think there’s nothing more that they need.  They can’t imagine going begging before God – praying, Kyrie eleison, Lord, have mercy.

But Mary’s not of that sort. And that’s a miracle right there.  The Mother of God, you would think she’d give herself airs, wouldn’t you?  I mean, wouldn’t YOU, if YOU were so chosen?  But she remains a person who confesses herself of no-account, among the weak, the looked-down-on, and the hungering.  Last year a friend asked me:  “Why Mary?  Why did He choose Mary and not some other?”  I said:  “I think it was because He knew that it wouldn’t destroy her.”

Rather than proud, she becomes a model of humility for us.  We too have been blessed by her Son with blessings that could easily turn our heads.  He has made us His sisters and brothers via the waters of Baptism.  He has given the promise of sharing in His eternal Kingdom.  We have a place set for us at the Table on the day of the Great Feast and receive into ourselves already now the guarantee of that in His body and blood.  It would be exactly wrong for us to look at all the Lord’s blessings to us and conclude:  “I must be something special then, mustn’t I?”  Instead, with Mary we look at the huge size of the gift given and we shake our head in astonishment and awe that He would do that for the likes of us?  The outrageous size of the gift given leads not to pride, but to humility and awe.  Even to tears.  We are so unworthy of such love – how could we ever deserve it?  Never in a million years.  Yet there it is.

Mary invites us today into such marveling.  She would say to us:  "He has loved you with a love everlasting, deep, divine.  And so He took on flesh in me.  That’s how He came to us who could not come to Him.  He came to bring us mercy because He remembered His promise to Abraham.  He came to pour out the blood that He took from me to blot out all this world’s sin.  He came to offer His body to the Father so that we could have a way back home to the Father’s house.  He came to pour out His Spirit into us so that we could be His temples.  He came to take everything was ours by nature and give us everything that is His by grace.  Who are we that He should love us so?  But He has!  He has!  Let us glorify Him together, for He who is mighty has done great things for us all and holy is His name."

“Hail, Mary, full of grace!” the angel cried.  “The Lord is with you and blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.”  And she was troubled that the angel could say such things about her.  That she should be so utterly given to and blessed by the Lord.  For who was she?  The Church joins the angel in calling Mary blessed and in praising God for what He gave us through her:  the gift of her Son in whom we have redemption, and in whom, lowly though we are, we are made children and heirs of the Father to whom be all the glory with His Son and the Holy Spirit now and to the ages of ages.  Amen.


Anonymous said...

you wrote and I assume you meant it,
"it’s a reasonable assumption." Does St. Mary smile? (: Harvey Mozolak

William Weedon said...

I'm sure she does. Pax!

-C said...

So when people ask you to pray for them, does that mean you are managing their prayer requests?

I'm just saying.

William Weedon said...

Haven't had anyone ask me lately to grant them tears of repentance and make them worthy to receive the body and blood of the Savior...

William Weedon said...

Which is not to try a flame war with Orthodox (or Roman) friends. This is a Lutheran blog; one can expect a Lutheran take on the question. :)

-C said...

Do you think Luther prayed to Mary?

-C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William Weedon said...

Certainly he did early in his life. He even ended his wonderful exposition of the Magnificat in 1521 with these words: "We pray God to give us a right understanding of this Magnificat, an understanding that consists not merely in brilliant words but in glowing life in body and soul. May Christ grant us this through the intercession and for the sake of His dear Mother Mary!" AE 53:355.

He came to reject the notion that we ask Mary's prayers, as he wrote in the Smalcald Articles: "We have everything a thousand times better in Christ" where he rejects invocation of the saints or angels. (II:II;25)

William Weedon said...

It was in a prayer from the Antiochian Service Book for after receiving the Sacrament.

-C said...

Dang, you beat me - I was gonna modify my comment as there is such a reference in the pre-communion prayers.

-C said...

Sorry, I should repost it because it seems wrong for your response ...
Here's what I said, those reading, insert this in the conversation a couple of comments up.


BTW - There are several prayers which ask "grant me tears of repentance..." most notably in the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, addressed to God. And in all of the other prayers with this turn of phrase (it's fairly common) I can think of, this prayer is not addressed to Mary but to God.

Might be in some Orthodox prayer to the Theotokos, but I don't recall hearing it as such.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Pr. Weedon, you wrote:

"Haven't had anyone ask me lately to grant them tears of repentance and make them worthy to receive the body and blood of the Savior..."

Your objection would seem to be that it is not proper to ask someone other than God to do a divine work--is that right?

Thus, it is a divine work to grant tears of repentance...a divine work to make someone worthy to receive the Savior's body and blood. (You would, I take it, be all right asking God to grant you tears of repentance and making you worthy to receive the Savior's body and blood.)

Remember that the New Testament uses words normally associated with the Deity with human subjects--the one that comes most readily to mind is Paul's exhortation to Timothy, "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers." Note the subject, verb and object: "you/will save/both yourself and your hearers." Further, St. Paul elsewhere tells the Philippians that his deliverance (lit. 'salvation') will come through their prayers and the help of the Spirit of Christ. The prayers of God's people are involved in the causal nexus whose outcome is salvation for others.

For us Orthodox, the prayers of the saints are one of the ways by which God accomplishes his will and works. I ask the Theotokos to grant me tears of repentance, for example, because Christ grants those tears in response to her prayers. It's how he works--through means. And those means include the mysteries as well as the prayers of God's people--chief among them his own Mother. So we're not asking Mary to grant us tears as opposed to asking Christ; we merely recognize that Christ wills to work through the prayers of his people.

Like you, I have no desire to get into a flame war. Nor do I have any illusions of convincing you, at this date. My only motive in posting these thoughts is to show that the Orthodox teaching is neither unbiblical nor foolish.

On a side note: Harvey, were you pastor at Good Shepherd/Oberlin, Ohio early in your ministry? I served there in the late 80's and early 90's, and I think I remember your name as a previous pastor there.

The unworthy priest,

Fr. Gregory Hogg

Past Elder said...

And how did Mary "pray"? Go to Jesus and say, you know son, they're out of wine, and all these guys are asking me to do something about it, so what say you turn some water into wine and it's all good".

No, she did not propose to Jesus how he should solve the situation, but rather placed the situation in his hands and awaited his solution.

How do I know that, say, tears of repentance is what I need right now. Who is God here? Who knows hearts, even one's own.

Wanna get Mary in the act? Then follow her example, Be it done unto me according to thy Word, and, Do whatever he tells you.

Chris said...

Fr. Weedon,

YOur ridiculous claim that if God had wished us to know more about the earthly life of Mary, He would have directed them to write about it in the Scriptures betrays just how non-sensical strict "sola Scriptura" really is. I suppose that St. John should have actually labored to write down all of those works that Christ did after His Resurrection which John says the world could not hold because of the volume.

Even if the Scriptures only mentioned Mary by name and that she was the Mother of God, that would be enough for the Church to love her, to think of her relationship with her Son and our God. Mary is a self-evident essential "dimension" of the Gospel itself, as +Fr. Schmemann wrote.

The Church proclaims Christ as its kerygma. Mary is the secret behind that kerygma. When we contemplate the mysteries of what happened to Mary, we contemplate the realities of our own existence. The place of Mary in the Orthodox prayers and liturgy is ultimately anthropological. We contemplate the realities, not the poetic embellishments of Byzantine hymnography.

Also, one request, would you please stop lopping the Orthodox in with the Catholics? You know better or at least you should. You know well that the Catholics went way beyond the Church's teaching when they dogmatized not only the Assumption, which, as you should know, we do not call it, but Dormition, her "Falling asleep" as well as the Immaculate Conception. Such overlogicalness applied to an eschatological dimension ultimately deprives the feast of Dormition of any value for us. Christ is glorified in His Saints as says the Psalmist. Removing her from Christ as the Catholics have done removes her from us and the anthropology becomes skewed. Where is the bridge?

You are right about the icons of Mary. SHe is never depicted alone, but she is either supplicating herself before Christ or holding Him tightly to herself to proclaim Him to the world. And notices how Christ holds on tightly to her, claiming her as His Own just as He claims us as His own.

But the overcategorization that western Christianity has employed with regards to the Theotokos only divorces us from God and minimizes the incarnation to the point that it becomes almost an afterthought. Your title of your homily, St. Mary, Mother of our Lord has a quasi-Nestorianism about it. Mary is Mother of God. To say she is simply Mother of our Lord or Mother of Jesus really pushes the boundary. St. Cyril would have been appalled. I don't believe you are a Nestorian in any way, Fr. Weedon, but for Lutherans to use this appellation when referring to Mary (though I know St. Elizabeth says the same to her when they meet at the Visitation) will ultimately do more harm than good and you will have to spend too much time catechizing your young that the correct teaching is Mother of God.

Forgive the long reply. But, I think you knew you were going to get it. :P

William Weedon said...

My friends, the homily is offered as what will be preached at St. Paul's, an unapologetically Lutheran parish in an unapologetically Lutheran Synod served by an unapologetically Lutheran pastor. It really is put up not for Orthodox or Roman Christians to comment on (they know well the points we differ on this matter), but for the edification of my fellow Lutherans. If it troubles you, just remember, this is a Lutheran blog. I ask of you the courtesy that I hope I show when I visit your blogs.

Chris said...


I know this is a Lutheran blog and that this sermon is for your flock, but you are a doing a great disservice to your flock and going against the Lutheran Confessions, if I may be so bold to say, if you persist in proclaiming Mary as Mother of our Lord or Mother of Jesus. Such is a quasi-Nestorianism which has ransacked modern Lutheranism.

Lutherans hold that the Ecumenical Coucnils are valid because "they agree with scripture." Why then do you insist on Mother of Jesus or Mother of our Lord? Is it because it's easier or because you fear you would be perceived as Romish or even, God forbid, Constantinopolitan or because you simply think it unimportant?

I'm not a priest, fr. I am not worthy of such a calling. I have no flock to protect but I cringe when I see my Lutheran parents, good God-fearing people, both of them, hold so tightly on to such mutilations of the faith so as only to cast off even the semblance of anything Roman. Calling Mary Theotokos is not strictly Roman nor strictly Orthodox. It is the common confession of the Church Universal.

Michael L. Anderson, M.D. said...

Dear Christian friends:

Given that blessed St. Thomas freely addressed the Risen One as "My Lord and my God" (St. John 20:28), there is ample apostolic and Churchly precedent for addressing the dear Blessed and ever Virgin Mother as the "Mother of my Lord."

Especially if done so by a called and ordained servant of Jesus Christ.

And humble, too, if I might say so myself.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Weedon: This is probably the best sermon I have ever seen on the topic of the Theotokos, the Blessed Mother of God, and the Mother of our Lord. Frequently Lutheran sermons on the topic, because they are reactions to the excesses of other views, give the impression of “diminishing” her, as if she were at fault for these excesses. Your sermon generates the proper respect and affection she deserves within the appropriate theological and Christological context.

Peace and Joy,
George A. Marquart

Michael L. Anderson, M.D. said...

So when people ask you to pray for them, does that mean you are managing their prayer requests? -- Anonymous, directed to Fr. Weedon

"That" simply means that people have had past assurances that their petitions will be heard by Fr. Weedon's ears, and thence cerebrally processed ... through means of a verifiable nod or an act performed at the altar.

The Offspring of the Theotokos has also provided an unimpeachable assurance, through His Word, that His Father will bend an ear to our petitions addressed to Him as Father.

Later, on the occasion of a most Holy Meal, the thrilling promise of an Almighty Father ready and willing to hear is further expanded as an urging to pray in the Son's Name. This is heady stuff. Especially when the blessed and ever Virgin pleads, "Whatever \i{He} says to do, go do it."

It's pretty good and solid advice; an un-inverted catholic principle, one might even venture to say. Calling on the Name of the Lord (directly) is something dating as far back as Genesis 4:26, is seen with Hannah and Elijah in times of personal stress and deadly challenge; and takes a tenderly turn with the Incarnate Angel of God, who invites us to entreat God as our Abba.

It's bad manners, unsaintly even, to turn one's back on a good Gift such as this. So listen to the dear Virgin: Listen to her Son.

Anonymous said...

Gregory Hogg, Yes I was there in Oberlin for a couple of years at Grace (nice place and people), those were (excuse me Will, for the personal note and for the following historicial reference) the years in which I left the Missouri Synod for the English Synod and later AELC which became the doomed ELCA. Peace in remembrance. Harvey Mozolak

William Weedon said...

Dear Christopher,

Please note in the sermon the words: "And when the Lutheran Church puts into her calendar a day to commemorate *the Mother of God*." Of course the Lutheran Church specifically teaches that she is Mother of God. The title of the feast, had I had my druthers, would have reflected that, but the folks who named it, reflected that the Biblical title from St. Elizabeth's mouth (inspired by the Holy Spirit) was a good name. So the "Feast of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord" commemorates the day on which the Mother of God feel asleep and was taken to her Son.


William Weedon said...

Thank you, George! That is exactly what I was aiming for. Pax!

Trent said...

Putting up white paraments is "beyond the bounds of Scripture" is it not? Scripture does not tell us that Mary died a non martyred death? Come to think of it, calling her Saint is beyond Scripture as well, no? I'm not trying to a smart aleck, justing thinking out loud.

I agree with most of what you say and you are truly are a gifted homily writer but in a few parts I think I will stand with many other folks given the title Saint on the Lutheran calendar such as Sts Chrysotom, Basil and John of Damascus just to name a few, on this topic and what Scripture may or may not say about it.

Blessed Feast tomorrow,

Daniel said...

Pastor Weedon,

I appreciate your willingness to allow dissent on your blog. I must say that this is not the case with other blogs that serve as a means of "forming public opinion". The day you close off dissent by cherry picking comments that only support your position(all the while giving the public appearance of a free flowing conversation) is the day the light goes completely out.

A blessed Feast to you!

Past Elder said...

Strange name indeed. 15 August 2010 in any LCMS parish I know of IRL is the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, which translated from the Lutheraned-over novus ordo calendar to the real one is the 11th Sunday after Trinity.

"Mary, Mother of Our Lord" seems to be a peculiarly American Lutheran innovation. THE Lutheran Hymnal (emphasis mine) does not give it at all. Loehe (by God good enough for me) gives it as "The Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary" complete with a vigil. The 1731 Almanac from the 200th anniversary of the AC gives it as the "Assumption of Mary".

Hey, here's a solution, at least for those who go panting after Vatican II and it Protestant wannabes -- Paul VI tossed the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ clean out of the calendar (who needs that Jesus fulfilled the Law stuff anyway) and stuck in "The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God" on 1 January.

Aw hell, that still leaves the Mother of God, Mother of Jesus, Mother of Our Lord thing hanging, doesn't it?

Maybe we should call it the "Appallation of Mary" as I think she who said, and as Pastor pointed out, whose significance is, "Do whatever he tells you", would be appalled at all the carrying on about her.

Anonymous said...

My dear Chris,

I must object to how you characterized Fr Weedon's care of his flock... and that he has done us a disservice. : )

As he mentioned... the way that sermon was titled / labeled came from the Lutheran calendar... and is not a reflection of what Fr. Weedon believes, teaches or confesses.

But more importantly... as a member of his congregation.. having faithfully attended Bible class every Sunday...as well as many Wed's and Divine Service weekly... for all of the last 12 years... I can assure you... that he has never, in any way, left any doubt in the minds of anyone in our cocngregation... that the Blessed Virgin Mary is INDEED the very Mother of GOD... we all get that : )


William Weedon said...

Thanks, Matt.

Fr. Daniel, respectful disagreement and discussion will always be welcome.

Trent, I think the difference is that no Christian communion has declared it a sin not to use white vestments; but Rome has decreed for one's eternal salvation the necessity of believing the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. FWIW.

Carl Vehse said...

"Mary invites us today into such marveling."

Huh?!? A declarative teaching?!? What happened to "We don’t know. Scripture doesn’t tell us."?

William Weedon said...

Dr. Strickert, it was an attempt to paraphrase exactly what Mary invites us into the magnificat.