SERMON NOTES — December 23, 2018
Mary’s song, the “Magnificat,” shows us a way to interpret Scriptures from the viewpoint of the lowly, the oppressed. It reveals inverted values of power that lead to equity for all peoples — the proud and mighty are brought lower and the lowly lifted up.
On the ‘eve’ of our Christmas celebration, let’s recap where we’ve journeyed the past six months, with an eye to this ‘power inversion.’
We began with a different center to the Gospel. Being saved is not centrally about going to heaven when we die. It’s about God’s immense project of saving and fulfilling Creation, beginning with getting human beings back on track to our true calling. In order to do so, God’s project begins with creating one new humanity out of two (Eph. 2), that is, healing our tribalistic divisions.
We have gone down the wrong path of seeing power as control, where a divided humanity continually grasps for the power to control others and to control the environment. The gods of this fallen way of being human match these efforts of being about the power to control — gods of force and violence, where justice is about punishing those deemed outsiders and military power is central.
The journey of the Jewish-Christian Scriptures is to reveal a very different God, a God whose power is to lovingly create and serve all of the creation. So when we are blinded by our gods of a different power, where can we look to see this true God whose way of power is Love? In the most vulnerable. In those who are deemed outsiders by our usual human gods.
Mary, as one of those lowly ones in the typical human scheme of things, is able to see more clearly the true God’s hand shaping Scripture. Through the lens of the cross, it will even begin to take sharper focus. We can see things like:
- Abel over Cain, instead of Romulus over Remus;
- Joseph, scapegoated by his older brothers, rising to prominence and using his power to forgive and save his family;
- Yahweh-God as the one who frees slaves from Egypt;
- the God who listens to the voice of the downtrodden in the Psalms and the Book of Job;
- the one who calls the prophets to proclaim a justice of mercy not sacrifice, a justice focused on the lowly — the widow and orphans, the eunuchs and strangers;
- the God who preeminently comes to us through the “suffering servant” (Isa. 53).
Jesus is the fulfillment of this revelation through letting himself be crucified — letting himself become victim to the tribalistic human gods of division, punishment, and violence. God raises him up on Easter as the pivot-point to seeing God through the lowly, as the inversion of power from forceful control to loving service. From human order that favors the rich and powerful to human order that begins with caring for the most vulnerable. It is a revolution, an inversion of power!
Let’s take a quick look at the New Testament:
- Paul: the crucified Messiah as God’s wisdom and power (1 Cor. 1:18-25); the self-emptying God of Phil. 2:5-11;
- Matthew: Jesus’ teaching begins with the Beatitudes (Matt. 5) and concludes with finding Christ in the least of his family (Matt. 25);
- Mark: the first will be last and the last first; the Messiah who comes as one who serves not as a lord over others;
- Luke: Mary’s song; opening of ministry as good news for the poor; parables of Good Samaritans and rejoicing over the lost being found.
So after centuries of the church mostly buying back into tribalistic power schemes, where do we see the revelation of Mary’s song today? The women’s movement. The Civil Rights movement. M.L. King’s Poor People’s Campaign. Economics that are managed to expand the middle class and lift up the poor (not economics that favor the rich and wealthy).
Yesterday I was blessed to see an online essay memorializing the great African American theologian James Cone who died earlier this year (“The Heresy of White Christianity,” by Chris Hedges). Here’s an especially poignant quote from Cone:
The cross is a paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system, proclaiming that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last. Secular intellectuals find this idea absurd, but it is profoundly real in the spiritual life of black folk. For many who were tortured and lynched, the crucified Christ often manifested God’s loving and liberating presence within the great contradictions of black life. The cross of Jesus is what empowered black Christians to believe, ultimately, that they would not be defeated by the “troubles of the world,” no matter how great and painful their suffering. Only people stripped of power could understand this absurd claim of faith. The cross was God’s critique of power — white power — with powerless love, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
People like James Cone can see the revelation of the cross more clearly for the same kind of reasons that Mary could. How can we (us mostly white people) see more clearly? In the parts of our ministry where we are serving the most vulnerable — the sick, the poor, the stranger, the mourning:
- caring for one another at our most vulnerable times
- reaching out to the poor through things like Loaves and Fishes
- getting more deeply involved in justice organizations like ISAAC
- participating in anti-racism efforts like ERAC/CE
- welcoming the stranger through things like developing a relationship with the African Christian Fellowship
- celebrating our successes in worship and Christian fellowship!