I’ve been to St. Paul’s, St. Timothy’s, St. Mark’s and even St. Martin’s Lutheran Church, but I have never seen a St. Mary’s Lutheran Church. Why is that? Perhaps in our ever-so Lutheran attempts to eschew things Catholic, we have lost the lessons we could learn from Mary, the mother of Jesus. I am not suggesting adoption of a view of Mary as sinless or even hinting that she be put up on a pedestal of grandeur. I would just like to propose she not be overlooked, dare we miss the lessons God intended us to learn by including her so prominently in Luke’s nativity narrative.
What can we learn from Mary? So much is summed up in her response to the angel’s words. The promise of Isaac’s birth was met with laughter, John’s with doubt, but Mary accepted the promise with faith; “I am the Lord’s Servant; may it be to me as you have said.” That is no small matter. Gideon required proof before he would act on God’s command. The disciple Thomas had witnessed Jesus’ miracles and sermons for three years and still had to put his hands in the nail marks before he would believe. Mary bows her head and says, let it be. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when she said, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:45 NIV). She didn’t praise Mary’s beauty, charm or even her righteousness. She honored Mary’s trust and faith in God’s ability to work through her. Martin Luther even went so far as to say: “The Virgin birth is a mere trifle for God; that God should become man is a greater miracle; but the most amazing of all is that this maiden should believe the announcement that she, rather than some other virgin, had been chosen to be the mother of God.”
Do you believe that God can and does work through you? Too often, our doubts and insecurities about our own [un]worthiness stop us from boldly reaching out. We worry too much about whether or not people like us, what people will think of us and how we just don’t meet everyone’s expectations. We try to be everything to everyone and often are left feeling that we fall short. We go home at night feeling defeated and “not good enough” to go back the next day. The devil works effectively, leaving us feeling defeated. A defeated person gives up and stops fighting. Many men and women in ministry struggle with a tendency to belittle ourselves and our gifts. We forget that the ministry to which God has called us is not dependent on us and what we can do, but instead the power in our daily witness comes from God and His Word.
Mary knew this.
Mary knew that she was nothing and that God was everything. Consider her song recorded in Luke 1:46-55. “Mary said: My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty one has done great things for me, holy is his name” (Luke 1:46-49 NIV). She didn’t confuse what God could do through her with how “wonderful” she was. She recognized that she was merely a humble servant and that God had blessed her. God had chosen her to glorify His name. God was at work doing wondrous things through her.
God has chosen you as well. He did not choose you because you are the most beautiful, the most well liked or even the most righteous person. First, He chose you as His daughter and forgave you. Then, He chose you to serve Him. You can serve with bold confidence because it is God who works though you, in spite of your sin and faults.
God’s decision to use you doesn’t mean your service for Him will always be easy. There is no promise of a pain free ministry, but we are promised again and again that God will never leave us or forsake us. Even Mary, who so faithfully trusted God’s promises, went through trial and hurt. She had to face a fiancée who thought he had been betrayed. She had to leave her hometown, give birth in a barn, raise her child in a foreign land, and watch her son be executed. Mary’s promise to be God’s servant came with heart piercing hurt, but He never abandoned her. Even from the cross, Jesus provided for her needs and comforted her.
Through the ups and downs, the feelings of unworthiness, and temptations of defeat that inevitably occur in a life of ministry, you are not abandoned. God has promised to work in your life through His Word and Sacrament. He has chosen you to serve Him. Believe that He can and does work through you. By His promises, look through your own insecurities and trust God’s willingness to work through weak and flawed people. Answer with Mary: “I am the Lord’s Servant.”
Mary’s story teaches us that God’s work doesn’t depend on us. Her willingness to recognize that God can work through even the weak and flawed is an amazing testimony for those dedicated to servant leadership. So the next time you are on a board to name the new church, consider the impact of “St. Mary’s Lutheran”. What a witness.