Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sermon on ‘Something about Mary: Hope, change and Obama’

Luke 1: 39-45: Mary visiting Elizabeth
Preaching and talking to the youth is always a challenge. It is so because the language we speak keeps changing and what I say may not be taken in the spirit of what I have said it. Nevertheless we all try to be as communicative as possible leaving all the faults and short comings aside.

There is a joke about a woman and a school master which in all truism puts into perspective what I have just said.
An English lady, while visiting Switzerland, was looking for a room for a more extended stay, and she asked the schoolmaster if he could recommend any to her. He took her to see several rooms, and when everything was settled, the lady returned to her home to make the final preparations to move.
When she arrived home, the thought suddenly occurred to her that she had not seen a "W.C." (Water closet) around the place. So she immediately wrote a note to the schoolmaster asking him if there were a "W.C." near the room.
The schoolmaster was a very poor student of English, so he asked the parish priest if he could help in the matter. Together they tried to discover the meaning of the letters "W.C.," and the only solution they could come up with for the letters was for a Wayside Chapel. The schoolmaster then wrote the following note to the English lady:

Dear Madam:
I take great pleasure in informing you that the W.C. is situated nine miles from the room that you will occupy, in the center of a beautiful grove of pine trees surrounded by lovely grounds. It is capable of holding about 229 people and it is only open on Sunday and Thursday. As there are a great number of people who are expected during the summer months, I would suggest that you come early; although, as a rule, there is plenty of standing room. You will no doubt be glad to hear that a good number of people bring their lunch and make a day of it. While others who can afford to go by car arrive just in time. I would especially recommend that your ladyship go on Thursday when there is a musical accompaniment. It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the W.C. and it was there that she met her husband. I can remember the rush there was for seats. There were ten people to a seat ordinarily occupied by one. It was wonderful to see the expression on their faces. The newest attraction is a bell donated by a wealthy resident of the district. It rings every time a person enters. A bazaar is to be held to provide plush seats for all the people, since they feel it is a long felt need. My wife is rather delicate, so she can't attend regularly. I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you, if you wish, where you will be seen by everyone. For the children, there is a special time and place so they will not disturb the elders. Hoping to have been of service to you, I remain,
The Schoolmaster.

Saying this I enter into the bible passage on which I will preach today. Mary, the mother of Jesus goes to meet Elizabeth, her relative. Prior to this both Elizabeth (Zechariah) and Mary have been visited by the angel Gabriel with the news that both of them are going to bear a child respectively. Elizabeth was old and even called barren while Mary was in her prime, very young by all standards.

Elizabeth is delighted to see Mary and she tells her so, even mentioning the great feeling she undergoes when she sees her.

How then should we see this passage in our time? Two women meeting each other? Elizabeth’s seal on Mary’s good fortune? The time of God which is imminent?

I would like to see this passage in the following ways.
1. Mary created community by reaching out to Elizabeth- What we strive for today is to be perfect individuals and when we can’t do that we are in a dilemma and this drives us to church to check whether we are all right or not. We gobble any message or thought that assures us that attaining individual glory is okay and therefore we are justified in what we are doing. Nothing wrong with that on the one hand. (The number of Christian groups that flourish and the number of God’s that are produced in Kerala. In Kerala we have a whole lot of groups who are known by the names of their founders. It is a personalised faith proclamation which glorifies humans rather than God).

On the other hand Mary reaches out and touches Elizabeth and by that creates community. Mary was just filled with a sense which was even beyond her own perception in a way. But she is filled by the Holy Spirit and she goes beyond her perception of life. It is not only her individual success that matters but she takes on board an old woman who was humiliated by all the talk of her being barren and then being pregnant at an old age.

We should take this as a model of Christian life. Our success becomes complete only when we can take on board the success of others. Others who are pushed away from the main stream and humiliated beyond recognition.

2. Mary reached out from a position of privilege- There are those who talk of community when they aspire for leadership but will forget about it once they are in a position of leadership. All of us including me like to talk about the advantages of being in community and communion when it suits us/me and then discard it conveniently when we come to positions of power. Mahatma Gandhi said that forgiveness only comes from those in power. Similarly community formation only makes sense when we are in a position of power or advantage. As we walk to church each Sunday we meet people who are looking to be included in our exclusive communities but we neglect them only to talk of the injustice being meted out to us.

The Mumbai attacks are still fresh in our memory. The attack on the Taj and Oberoi-Trident hotels have brought up a sense of urgency in us and now we are blaming the politicians saying ‘enough is enough.’ But who are the politicians? They are also people like us who have forgotten the value of being in community once they have come to power. Any talk of change in this country has to include being able to reach out when we are in a position of privilege.

3. We expect people to come to us rather than the reverse- A hero/heroine is one only because of the support they receive from ordinary people. Without the fans, the hero’s/heroine’s are nothing. But we expect them to come to us with their problems rather than going out to them to know what their problems are.

Going out to people is not disturbing them for our own gain but reaching out to them to be a part of their pain. It’s not like being tele-marketing executives. The ICICI case where a Mumbai high court judge was called and harassed during a case hearing was well covered by the media.

The question is whether I can lower myself from the pinnacle of my success or whether I want to have a rest, now that I have reached the pinnacle or the summit? We are what we are because of the community we live in. Our family, friends, church, workplace. These are the places where we have to make a difference.

4. Christian life is about bringing the excitement of hope- The child leaps in Elizabeth’s womb because Elizabeth feels the excitement that something is going to happen. Not just on a personal level but on a community, group and national level. It is not just something about Mary but it is beyond that. Something great is going to happen. It is so profound and strong that every part of us can feel it.

Obama stunned many through his victory. His victory speech was interesting. He talks of an old woman Ann Nixon Cooper. He says,

And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America- the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbour and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that “We Shall Overcome.” Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves- if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made? This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment.

This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.

I can’t help but bring in a comparison between Ann Nixon Cooper and Elizabeth, between Obama and Mary. Both Ann and Elizabeth lived long, they saw it all, and now they are on the verge of seeing something great happening. Even in their old age they are feeling the excitement of the baby inside them leap with joy feeling the change they are going to witness.

I am not a soothsayer and I can’t say what will happen come January 20, when Obama will take over as the president of the United States of America. What I can say is the excitement I saw and still see of a hope of change. Yes we can.

And so, dear friends, this is what we have to take with us and toil with. This excitement should be within each one of us. The excitement that tells us that Jesus was not born in the higher echelons of power in Rome, but in a manger/stable. The excitement that tells us that Jesus was born as the son of a carpenter and an ordinary mother who dared to dream. The excitement that Jesus is going to bring down the powerful from their thrones and lift up the lowly. The excitement that Jesus is going to fulfil the promise that was made to us by our God in the desert. Yes we can and we should.

Let this day be a day where we take sides with the poor, the underprivileged, the disadvantaged, the discriminated and let us fight with the excitement that has been shown to us by these two ordinary women, distanced by age but glued together by hope. Amen.

(Image from

No comments: