Thursday, May 31, 2007

Visitation homily

On Elizabeth and Mary.

From a homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 1985, preached at Boston’s Paulist Center.

I was still a Catholic at the time; yup, women preach in Catholic churches. I did for more than 20 years. (I was on the Paulist Center staff full-time, as the equivalent of what Episcopalians call Associate Rector and Catholics call Associate Pastor.) I’m taking out the Advent-y parts in order to adapt this to today’s feast of the Visitation. I’ve put ellipses where I made cuts. The Gospel for the day was Luke 1:39-55.

… And then there’s Mary. Not Mary the mother, as we will meet her next week, but Mary the young Galilean woman, newly pregnant, who travels more than halfway across her country to visit and share good news with her friend Elizabeth. This Mary is Mary the prophet, Mary the proclaimer. I call her Mary the prophet because her life follows the patterns of the lives of the prophets of Israel. You may remember the general pattern: God calls the prophet. The prophet says, “Here I am, Lord.” God says, “Listen, here’s what I want.” And in every case, God’s will for the prophet involves a particular role within the community of believers and some kind of proclamation of who God is for this community.

And then the prophet puts up a fight. Jeremiah says he’s too young. Moses protests that he is slow of speech. Amos argues that he is only a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees. Jonah doesn’t say anything; he just runs away. Now Mary – Mary has basically the same thing happen to her, and she does ask a minor question about how this sign from God, this birth, can happen when she has no husband (she is logical!). But she doesn’t run off or avoid the call; in fact, she run toward someone to begin proclaiming what she knows to be true. And that someone is … Elizabeth, an older woman willed with new life and new hope, who is also a proclaimer of good news, a bearer of revelation.

These women are clear and strong and they articulate God’s message with no ambiguities, no ambivalence.

Enter into that Gospel scene. There is something new and different happening in this encounter between the two women. What goes on in this scene is a proclamation of cosmic proportions: a revelation of who God is, what God has done, what God is capable of going, and how the world has begun to change. But here is a different kind of prophecy – a whole different setting. We have, not a man addressing a crowd in the marketplace or preaching in a religious assembly, but two pregnant women having a conversation in the intimate setting of a house in the hills. That’s where God chooses to have the revelation happen. That’s where our scripture and our church show us that God’s revelation is proclaimed today.

And what a revelation it is.

Remember what Mary says in this Gospel: God is doing mighty things for lowly people. A woman will be called blessed forever, though she lives in a world where men rule. The mighty are deposed from their thrones. The poor and the hungry are not just satisfied, they are heard and remembered.

I think this woman is talking about a revolution.

…You may have noticed that in Mary’s song, the Magnificat, the God who is the originator of this revolution is spoken of as faithful, as one who fulfills promises, who is there from age to age, from generation to generation. The Scripture today is full of newness; it is also filled with language about faithfulness and solid promises and endurance and continuity.

… Mary and Elizabeth invite us to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in new and different places. To change our views of the “where” and “how” of God’s revelation. One of the interesting things about the Synod of Bishops in Rome a couple of weeks ago, which some noticed and some didn’t, is that it became evident that the center of gravity in our church is shifting –from Europe and North America to the Southern Hemisphere: to countries where over half the world’s Catholics now live, to people who are mostly poor, mostly brown and black and tan, mostly young. They are blessing us with new insights into our church and our world. Mary… who sings of the world turned upside down, invites us to see God in new places: to hear the voices and welcome the insights of the lowly; of those who live on the other side of town or on the wrong side of the tracks; of the most poor; of women; of the people of the Southern hemisphere; of the very young; and of the very old; of all the forgotten and marginal ones in church and society who are, in God’s scheme of things, at the heart, at the center, of the revolution of Jesus.

Mary and Elizabeth invite us to change the way we think about prophecy and revelation, to understand that the good news is revealed in settings where we least expect it. The prophet Micah talks about this also in today’ s readings; if it can happen in Bethlehem, it can happen here, and it can happen to you and to me.

The powerful, joyful, revolutionary message from God about the world being changed and filled with grace is proclaimed –where? In a house, probably in a kitchen conversation between two pregnant women. I think this says something to us about our kitchen conversations, and our workshops and offices and classrooms and bedrooms and boardrooms, and all the places which we don’t think of as places of revelation and revolution, but which are.

This scene also invites us to sit with its mixture of the new and the old, and to examine, in our lives, the old and the new: the continuity of tradition, the age-old celebrations, the family patterns, the old promises. And the breaking in of the new, the parts of our lives where we can and must create new ways of being and proclaiming and celebrating.

Most of all… Mary and Elizabeth invite us to spend our time with them with joyful hearts. This is no grimfaced revolution. This is the revolution of God who frees women to cy out and sing, the revolution of Jesus who is our peace, the revolution of the Spirit who speaks to us with power and grace, again and again, and who can make of us all bearers of hope and new life.


Kirstin said...

This is gorgeous. I love the last paragraph, particularly.

Thank you!

Jane R said...

You're welcome! That was quick -- I just put it up.

How's the Bishop's Ranch?

And how was the demonstration?

johnieb said...

Very good: clear, with strong links to the then current discussions (mid-eighties; do you know where your Abrams/ Negroponte/ Poindexter/ North/ President has been? Pal, I do, and where many of them still are.).

This is about the time I was trying to get into the UCC in Connecticut. Speaking of which, do you know Flannery Tarbaby's AKA O'Connor's, work; I did a sermon on her story "Revelation" pointing out GBLTQ justice issues. People told me it was risky--afterwards; oops.

Jane R said...

Yes -- we were somewhat involved in Central American solidarity work and also gave an award around that time to a wonderful nun who was running a center for Central American refugees in Cambridge, Mass. Your sermon sounds interesting -- would love to see the connection between Flannery O'Connor and lgbtq issues. I haven't read that story in a long long time. I should re-read it... I love her letters, have you read them? A volume of them came out a couple of decades ago maybe. (I forget. Geez, only in my fifties -- I think it's overload though, nothing more except perhaps a bit of middle-aged brain cell loss; I used to have a memory like an elephant.)

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I was a mere early-thirties kid at the time. It was fun typing it out last night. (I had it on file typed, as in typewriter, on paper, since this was the year before I got my first computer...)

johnieb said...

Yes, I was still reading books, I think--the Dark Ages, B.G. (Before Glow: of the screen). I got *The Habit of Being* (edited by the Fitzgeralds--Bob and Sally: not Dick and Jane, though, durnit) from my Seminary Bookstore; Mary was a Literature student: TBTG, and Joanna Dewey was/ was about to teach "A Good Man is Hard To Find", where I had the distinct pleasure of reading the Misfit's words to persons who still cherished some Fundamentalist assumptions. I suspect sometimes I take too much pleasure in such meanness, but it's so delicious!

If you like the letters, I suppose you liked the Tarbaby jest. Have you read *The Violent Bear It Away*? Forgive me this, but it's one of my very favorite beginnings to a novel, and I didn't know I was gonna do this minute ago,



Francis Marion Tarwater's uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table where it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Savior at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up. Buford had come along about noon and when he left at sundown, the boy, Tarwater, had never returned from the still.

johnieb said...

Yeah, 1979 = " a couple of decades", at least the way it now seems after more than six; let not your heart be troubled: it does nothing for memory loss, nor does letting my BP go up when I can't find my keys or sunglasses: %!#&#*x!

And it was Sally who edited it; Miss Mary Frances was staying at their house in CT when she came down with "the misery" for the first time.

OK; I'll say it: she's a favorite writer.

PadreRob+ said...

Thank you Jane. Do you know how much I love the idea of Mary being a revolutionary? *this* is one reason I love her so much. I am also grateful for the reminder of listening to God's revelation *anywhere*, especially in those uncomfortable places.

Thanks for digging this out and sharing!!

Jane R said...

You're welcome, Rob. Glad you liked it!

Johnieb, thanks for the paragraph of Flannery O'Connor. I must re-read her now that I live in the South. There is so much more that I understand now.

Do you mean the book of letters (The Habit of Being) was published in 1979? I want to make sure I followed. (Remember, I am just a simple country theologian.)

johnieb said...

Is that a paraphrase of thet "Simple Country Lawyer" from NC?

That was indeed my meaning, together with the relatively new insight that nowadays, 20 years or 28 sometimes seems moot: get busy, JohnieB!

Being familiar with Southern culture must help; however, it's impossible for me to imagine a lack of familiarity with the South. The Bay area; that's different. :)

johnieb said...

oops :

Jane R said...

Sure nuff, JohnieB. I even meditated on this somewhere bloggy, but I just looked at my archive and I think it may have been something I said over in comments at Simple Village Organist's a month ago or so -- that he is Simple Village Organist the way I am Just a Simple Country Theologian (or Just a Lowly Urban Ecclesiologist) and one of my old friends, the brilliant diagnostician who is a Harvard-trained pediatrician (and who spends most of her time working with poor kids) says she is just a simple country pediatrician -- we are all the children of Senator Sam of blessed memory, the Ol' Country Lawyer of Watergate hearings fame. (Who went to Harvard too --in his case the Law School. Maybe we Harvard types just don't want to throw our ivy degrees in people's faces because they'll think we are snooty. Note: I went to the Divinity School there, I did NOT go there as an undergrad, I am a proud Oberlin College alumna, thank you very much.)