On a neighborhood street that I drive from time to time here in Atlanta, is the impressive campus of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church, and it regularly causes me to chuckle at myself. You see, I was reared as a typical Protestant kid, with the built in anti-Roman Catholic proclivities of that tradition. But somewhere between then and now . . . Mary, the mother of Jesus, has become my model of true faith, and it grows on me as I reflect on who she was and what she demonstrated. When the messenger of God revealed to her that she was to bear the long-awaited messiah, she was incredulous: “How can this be since I have never had sex with a man?” Then the angel informed her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and that which was conceived in her body would be from God.” Her response? “I am your servant, be it unto me according to your word.” There’s true and profound faith.

Then, you must fill in the blanks. With all the miraculous components of Jesus’ birth, the exile into Egypt, and then the many years back in the village of Nazareth, Mary was the most formative person in Jesus’ youth, and the remarkable evidence of that was that when they took the boy Jesus to the temple when he was twelve years old, . . . the priests were amazed at his knowledge of scriptures. Fill in the blanks. What you come up with was the faith of Mary and the depth of her understanding of Jewish writings, and the implications for what she was called to be and to do. Is it any wonder that those within the Roman Catholic tradition give to Mary high praise: Hail Mary, full of grace? Our Lord is with you.

Are you still with me? OK. But, if I read the teachings of the New Testament apostles correctly, there is a counterpart to that in Christ’s calling of me/us—don’t rush past that reality. His promise is that in our embracing him through faith, we also become born of God, that we become the dwelling-place of God by the Holy Spirit, that we become the possessors of the divine nature–as humanly impossible as the virgin birth! We become, by true faith, those who also receive Jesus’ commission: As the Father has sent me, even so do I send you. Connect the dots. As one theologian put it (I think it was Karl Barth), we are the continuing incarnation of Jesus. What is created in and through us are to be those persons, and that community (the church) that is to demonstrate in our daily contexts Mary’s faith: I am your servant. Be it unto me according to your word.

I reflect on that each morning as I begin my day, and especially when I am gathered with others of those who profess Jesus in our weekly times of worship and reflection. I have to ask myself: Why am I doing this? What does this moment, my life, this gathering have to do with my calling to be the dwelling-place of God by the Spirit?

Focusing particularly on our (ostensible) ‘worship services,’ it is so easy to slide into an empty traditionalism and become immunized and indifferent to our divine calling to live out the radical teachings of Jesus’ new creation in the vicissitudes of our 24/7 lives. I am persuaded that if ‘worship services’ are to have viability, they must be that regular occasion in which I and the others are re-evangelized, equipped, encouraged, and sent-out afresh each week. I and we need to express Mary’s faith which acknowledges that what we are called to be and to do is humanly impossible, and yet that for which God comes into our lives as the Creator Spirit, so that what is expressed in thoughts and intents, in the behavior, and mission-focus of our lives is only explainable by God’s divine working in us.

So, I add my praises: Hail Mary!  You are an encouraging model for my faith.

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About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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2 Responses to

  1. margaret harris says:

    As always, thank you for your reminder of who I am and my responsibilities as a follower of Jesus Christ.

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