We call her Mary, Mother of God.

Others say Mary, Mother of our Lord.
The Virgin Mary.
The Virgin of Guadalupe.
The Blessed Mother.
Our Lady.

Here at Saint Peter’s we say,
Mary, Mother of God
following our Orthodox sisters and brothers.
in English translation of the Greek

Theo meaning God.
tokos meaning bearer.

Mary, Theotokos
the bearer,
the mother of God.

Which sounds so very honorable,
perhaps too honorable,
if not impossible.
If you are wondering how Mary,
how anyone,
could bear God,
you are thinking as Mary thought,
as she carried Jesus,
carried him for nine long months.

A poor, unwed teenage girl.
Pregnant with a baby boy whose origin
was not of her fiancé.
Hers was a pregnancy that
violated norms and customs and social graces and laws.

Her distress?

Her outlook on life?

Sense of self?
Filled with guilt and shame.

And like anyone who endures prejudice or profiling,
I imagine hers was not a very high view of
religious or civic society
that stood by and watched,
if not contributed,
to her suffering:
surely Mary and Joseph and Jesus
faced far worse than "no room for them at the inn."
The Scriptures tell us
that when Mary learned she would bear this Holy Child,
she "kept these things and pondered them in her heart."

What heavy, weighty pondering!

Perhaps that is why she traveled to see her cousin, Elizabeth.
Probably not the first choice for comfort and advice.
But unlike friends and other relatives,
with Elizabeth
Mary had a chance at empathy.
For Elizabeth—
years Mary’s senior,
and with a husband more aged that she—
carried within her a similarly unlikely child.
John, the Baptizer.

The joy of the song Mary sang at that visit
and which we heard this night,
may not have been Mary’s first response.
But it is Elizabeth’s.
That older, wiser cousin
with the perfect mix of East Coast directness
and West Coast progressiveness
who calls Mary nothing other than
Truthfully, "blessed" is an odd designation.

For who is blessed when they are placed on the margin of society?
Blessed when they are stigmatized?
Or demonized?
Who is blessed in prejudice?
Or fear?
Who is blessed,
held in detention centers on the border;
or shot dead in Missouri;
or brutalized in the Middle East;
or demeaned for having, as it is said, taken one’s own life?

Yet Elizabeth calls Mary blessed.
Considers her and her situation
not one of shame,
or weakness,
or weak resignation.
Says that despite the world’s judgement,
in spite of the world’s judgement,
Mary is a beloved child.
And hers is a beloved child.
Hers is, even,
Show this,
bear this child,
show your own self to the world,
Elizabeth urges Mary.
And watch the world change.
Which is good news for us.
For any of us.
For all of us.
Show yourself to the world.
As you are.
And watch the world change.

And America change.
And Gaza and Iraq and Ukraine and every other place change.

Show yourself to the world.
As you are — as God made you.
And watch yourself change.

The poor, lifted.
The hungry, fed.
The powerless, powerful.

Sing with Mary.
And pray.
And do.
And live.
When I think about her, I cannot help but think of Robin Williams.
Who sang so many songs.
Told so many jokes.
Touched the heart of human life.
By making us laugh.
And cry.
And think.

No more masterfully than in
Dead Poet’s Society.
O Me! O Life!
from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself,
(for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean,
Of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all,
Of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring
—What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here — that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Dear Friends,
when you claim for yourself your own goodness,
your own joy,
your own God given and God cradled humanity
—even when the world considers it a hindrance—
and present it to the world as blessed,
you contribute a verse.

As Mary did.
As Robin did.

He did not take his own life.
Mental illness took his life.
Just as heart disease.
And countless illnesses take the lives
of so many people.
And so he says to us this day
See me as I am.
Take mental illness more seriously.
Curb its stigma.
And provide the treatment necessary.
Not simply the drugs.
But being with people who struggle.
Just as Elizabeth was with Mary as she struggled.

And prompts her to sing,
Prompts her to sing a song that defines her life:

My soul magnifies the Lord.
My Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For you, Lord have done great things for me.
And every generation will call me blessed.

Beginning with Elizabeth.
And continuing with you and me.

Each time we acknowledge
Mary, Mother of God
we insist to the world
that she is,
and others like her,
and people like Robin,
and Michael Brown,
and people like us
—all of us—
are valued.
And cherished.
And loved.
And are to be loved.

Blessed and bending.
Bending toward the very One Mary bears,
the very One we bear
each time we bear God in this way.

Blessed and bending toward
justice and righteousness,
healing and peace.

Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter’s Church
In the City of New York
August 17, 2014
Jazz Vespers

Isaiah 61:7–11
Psalm 34:1–9
Galatians 4:4–7
Saint Luke 1:46–55