St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401

Sermons

  • Mary: Love and Revolution – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    December 19, 2021

    The artist as the Lade of Guadalupe – Yolanda Lopez

    The image on today’s front cover may not be one that you’ve seen before as a depiction of Mary.  The artist’s name is Yolanda Lopez, who died this past September, and she did a series of these paintings – depicting various Latina women as Mary, the Lady of Guadalupe. La Senora de Guadalupe is celebrated as one of the major festivals in Mexico. People pay tribute to Mary as the one who has protected them throughout the year. The image on the cover, is the artist herself, as Mary.

    It’s a bold statement to see oneself as Mary, to understand the part of us that hears Mary’s song in our heart and wants to respond to it. For so many centuries, Mary’s significance has been tied specifically to childbirth.  And I’m not downplaying the gift of bearing a child but, honestly, Mary’s importance is not about childbearing itself. It’s about being true to oneself and, in so doing, being true to God.  Saying “yes” to God and giving birth to Love.

    So, when I say, it’s a bold statement to see oneself as Mary… what I mean, more specifically, is that it can be so difficult, given the pressures of the world and its so-called society, it can be difficult to be true to oneself. To know one’s heart – the oceanic compassion found when we’ve come to recognize the harsh reality the world can be – to know that, in this depth, is where we find God’s dream for us.  It’s where we find our true selves. How many movie scripts are written about people who chase a dream of the world only to find how empty it really is?  How many people live that in their lives?

    In Mary’s words, we find the path home to God’s dream for us:
    My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is the Name.

    The lowliness of Mary is not found in the distance between her and God.  For all creatures are beloved of God, worthy of love and mercy and joy. It is not God that thinks of Mary as lowly. No. The lowliness of Mary is found only in how the world sees her, how the culture names her, how society identifies her place in its hierarchy.

    And this is the power of Mary, the revolution that Mary sings about. This is the power of the Magnificat, the Song of Mary.  She has come home to herself by coming home to God’s wild and extravagant love for her.  Because she said yes to God, she knows her truth, she is blessed, beloved, whole, and mighty.

    And she calls to all of us in her song. She sings of mercy for those who know their own humanity. And she announces the overturning of the world and its ways – the rich become empty and the poor are filled, the mighty are removed from their power and the powerless are lifted up.

    Mary’s song is one of revolution because Mary’s song is a song of Love.  And Love so often feels revolutionary because we spend most of our time navigating the systems in our lives: insurance, banking, healthcare, credit scores, housing, education. And now, in the midst of the second year of a pandemic, we have other systems – the contact tracing, mask wearing, vaccinations, work systems, school systems, computers, Zoom…

    We are so beleaguered by navigating everything that when we finally figure out how to keep afloat in a system, we have little to no strength left to help lift others – those who have no resources or ability to navigate the system.

    But we are often our own worst judges. How often have you forgotten something or been so scared of being late with a payment that your anxiety goes off the charts and you can’t think of anything else?  How much time have you worried about how your home looks on a Zoom call? If we’re judging ourselves, most certainly, we are going to judge others.  This is how people become marginalized. And this is why Love is so revolutionary.

    bell hooks taught at Berea College in Kentucky. This image was taken when she formally gave all of her life’s work to Berea in 2017.

    One of the most eloquent writers about systemic injustice and the power of love was bell hooks.  ms. hooks died this past week after a lifetime of teaching and writing and learning and speaking about love as the revolutionary act it is, in a world consumed by the system of domination. She said this:

    The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.
    – Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations, 1994

    It’s not surprising that I was introduced to the work of bell hooks in seminary.  She is, afterall, a theologian because she talks about love. She was assigned in various courses where we were asked to consider how God is speaking to us now, in this time and place – America in the 21st century.  A culture moving through technological adolescence, people unsure how to balance freedom with the responsibilities it brings, a society continuing the work of atonement for the sin of slavery, people who have bought into the story that a healthy economy is one that continues to expand and so refuses to see how we continue to enslave God’s creation in order to keep the stock market afloat.

    bell hooks speaks love in the face of domination:
    Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, reveling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community.
    – Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, 2003

    bell hooks… Mary… these are people who will continue to teach us because they understood that real power, lasting power comes from a love so deep, so intrinsic to who we are, that we come to know God as Beloved One… as we are God’s Beloved.

    God is not the power outside of us, but is the gift that comes down to us as Love enthroned in our own being.  Christ the King… or Queen, if you will… the Reign of Christ alive in us and through us.  This is not domination kind of power. It is true power – to love ourselves and live our truest life, a life in which we are liberated to be exactly who God made us to be.

    ms. hooks says this:
    I
    t is necessary to remember, as we think critically about domination, that we all have the capacity to act in ways that oppress, dominate, wound (whether or not that power is institutionalized). It is necessary to remember that it is first the potential oppressor within that we must resist – the potential victim within that we must rescue – otherwise we cannot hope for an end to domination, for liberation.
    “Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black”  (2014)

    In other words, it’s our preference to judge ourselves, instead of loving ourselves.  This is where domination begins and where liberation gets stopped.

    And it’s something that requires commitment.
    A commitment to love instead of cynicism.
    A commitment to love instead of judgment.
    A commitment to love instead of defense.
    A commitment to love for ourselves and for God’s creation.

    This is when:
    Love… not comfort or security… becomes our purpose.
    And Christ… not the political pundits on TV… becomes the voice we hear.
    And mercy, peace, joy, hope… these become our lived experience.

    And that is the kind of revolution I think Mary was talking about.