Amazing Women - Amazing Grace

The phone rang in the middle of the night, and my friend groggily picked up the receiver. It was a long-distance call. His heart was hammering as he heard his mother's voice, "Is that you, son?" "Mom!" he said, nervously, "is everything all right? What's wrong?" "Nothing's wrong," she told him. "It's your birthday." My friend was less than thrilled, "Good grief, you didn't drag me out of bed at 3am just to say 'Happy Birthday,' did you?" "Well," she answered, "you made me get out of bed at 3am 30 years ago tonight-and I felt it was high time I paid you back!"

Today, we recognize Mary, the mother of our Lord. The Gospel reading was about her visit to Elizabeth and Mary's response to her, which we love and know as the "Magnificat": Mary rejoices that she has been chosen to give birth to Jesus, our Savior.

Giving birth is probably the event for which we most remember Mary. And it's the aspect of Mary that most women who are mothers identify with. But there are several other distinct moments where we encounter her. First, in the annunciation, an angel appears to her and tells her she will give birth to a son who will redeem God's people and be known as "Immanuel," that is, God with us; next, this passage, her visit to Elizabeth, who is pregnant with Jesus' cousin, John, later to be known as John the Baptist.

We next encounter her with Joseph in Bethlehem searching for a place to stay, and of course, then, giving birth to Jesus. Most folks don't really remember the next encounter much because it gets passed over because of how we mix the Matthew and Luke accounts of Jesus' birth and have the Magi showing up on the night Jesus was born.

But actually, in Matthew's account, the only mention of the Magi, they don't arrive till 2 years later because, we are told, they go to a house to see the "mother and the child," and King Herod, in his attempt to kill Jesus, orders all males two years and under to be killed. So, folks don't usually recall this account of Mary and the 2 year old Jesus.

Then we have the wonderful scene in Luke, the only one of its kind where we see Jesus as a youth growing up, being left behind in Jerusalem while his parents think is in the caravan. They discover he isn't there and go frantically searching for him and find him in the Temple with the scholars.

Next we encounter Mary at a wedding in Cana where she asks Jesus to do something about getting more wine because it has run out. This is the scene, recorded in John, where Jesus performs his first miracle.

Then it's not until his crucifixion that we encounter her again. She is not one of the women at the resurrection. There we encounter another Mary, a Mary who has gotten a really bad reputation, and quite undeservedly. It will be the subject of one of my Wednesday night Bible studies in September. The Mary I'm speaking of is Mary Magdalene. Nothing in the Bible says she was a prostitute. Nothing. Only a stretch of the imagination and total assuming can make a connection, and men and women scholars today, acknowledge that she wasn't a prostitute since it can't be substantiated biblically.

Yet, just like today, once such a rumor starts, it is very hard, maybe impossible, to dispel it even with proof and fact to the contrary. And this Mary Magdalene, at the crucifixion, and the burial, is the first person, a woman, to see the risen Lord.

We have another Mary we encounter, and that is Mary the sister of

Martha. Probably the three most famous passages regarding Mary and Martha are where Mary washes Jesus' feet, where Martha complains to Jesus asking him to tell Mary to get up and help be hostess and not just sit and listen to what Jesus is sharing, and where Jesus comes to them because their brother, Lazarus, has died. It's in this encounter that we have the first person, a woman, in the Gospel acknowledging who Jesus is, when Martha runs to meet Jesus as he is coming after Lazarus has died. It is in this encounter that she says, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world."

And it is women who go to the tomb and who are greeted by an Angel and told that Jesus has risen. They run to tell the male disciples who don't believe them, even think they're being emotional maybe even hysterical.

Over and over in Scripture, throughout the Old Testament and the New, women play an integral part of God's revelation to mankind of God's will, intention, and manifestation through Christ and the Holy Spirit.

We mostly concentrate on the men in the Bible, but it is the women who are the ones who build the church. Paul and other apostles come and preach and establish churches, but it is the women who keep the church going by opening their homes for the gatherings of the believers, the women who we are told support the church through encouragement and faithfulness and also through their gifts of money.

There were so many women, and we know their names, but seldom give them the credit they're due. But they didn't do it to garner fame for themselves; they're acts were in service to the Lord, and in faithfulness to their witness about Jesus, the risen Christ.

Today we celebrate the life of Mary, the mother of our Lord. In the Lutheran church we approach this Mary quite carefully so that we don't over do our praise of her. We don't elevate her to the levels that the Roman Catholic Church does-we don't venerate her, don't claim her to be without sin. We take the words of the Gospel to heart that she gave birth to other children besides Jesus, with James, the brother of Jesus, playing a leading role in the church in Jerusalem.

But Mary deserves more attention than we give her. She was just a teenage girl when she became pregnant with Jesus. And Scripture tells us of Joseph's dilemma because he had not yet slept with her, but he decides not to abandon her but to marry her. But without knowing this, she still willingly accepts the role that might even bring her shame. Even today there is still a stigma to being an unwed mother, especially a teen.

Yet, back in those days of Mary and Joseph, the stigma was even worse and the woman was permanently ostracized. So think of it. Mary is just a young teenager who is told she will become pregnant, and not in any ordinary way, and the child she will give birth to will be one who is a Savior, who will redeem the people of the world. Good grief. Imagine if that were being told to a teenager today!!

Think of it. Think of a teenage girl you know today. Think of how frightened girls are who aren't wed and find they're pregnant. There are so many things that run through their head about not being accepted and how they will be seen and probably labeled.

Yet look at the incredible example they have available, that we ALL have available to us in the young Mary. She humbly accepts her role. And she praises God for having chosen her for this great task!

For every child that is born to an unwed mother, HOW the child was conceived is not important. The child is a miracle of God.

It's only through the grace of God that the church has survived to this day. And the grace of God has been manifest in women down through the ages. We certainly have the women of the Bible from whom we can draw great examples of courage and faith and devotion. But God didn't stop creating amazing women. Every congregation that exists today exists because of the women who are the backbone.

The men are the strength, the women the backbone. But the women are more. Recently I put on the outdoor sign board "Faith of our Mothers, living still." We sing about faith of our fathers, but it is the faith of our mothers that kept alive the faith of our fathers.

We have the amazing grace of God shown to us in the person of Mary, the teenage mother of our Lord. And though she is just a teen, she is an amazing woman because she accepts the role God asks her to play in the plan of redemption. We are never told that she is a spiritual or religious girl. She knows of God, yes, but we don't know she is deeply religious as a teen.

God includes us in the plan of redemption because we are all, each in our own way, asked to be part of it. We are asked to play some role. We can accept it or not. If we choose not to, you can be sure that God will find someone else, but we will have lost out on the special role God intended for us. God isn't done with us if we choose not to accept a particular role, and will ask us again and again until we accept a role. The longer we take to accept, the longer we'll be losing out on the blessings of accepting the role.

Some women accept role after role. God keeps asking them when they have finished one role, to accept another. Even in sickness God will still ask us to accept a role. It's not the role of being sick, but the role of not being overwhelmed by the sickness. Even in the midst of a devastating illness God asks us to play a role that is part of God's plan of redemption.

We have many roles in life, but always one of them will be the role that God asks us to play in God's plan of redemption. Amazing women, amazing grace. We know the grace of God through our Savior, Jesus the Christ, but God chooses women to be the bearer of that grace. God chose Mary, and God continually chooses women to be the bearer of God's grace.

Amazingly, many men don't get it. For those who don't, God works around them, and grace is still available to them, even if they don't realize it.

In closing I'd like to read two verses from a hymn entitled "For All the Faithful Women." We'll sing it some Sunday soon.

Here are the two verses: "We sing of Mary, mother, fair maiden, full of grace. She bore the Christ, our brother, who came to save our race. May we, with her, surrender ourselves to your command, and lay upon your altar our gifts of heart and hand. For all the faithful women who served in days of old, to you shall thanks be given; to all, their story told. They served with strength and gladness in tasks your wisdom gave. To you their lives bore witness, proclaimed your pow'r to save."

Amazing women - amazing grace. May God continue to bless us with a church full of amazing women, bearing us God's grace.


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