The Rock – Rev. Tony Romaine – May 10th, 2020
In the song called “The Prayer” written by Carole Bayer Sager and David Foster, and sung by Celine Deion and Andrea Bocelli, we hear these touching words:
“Can we touch the soul of heaven
Can we unite a sacred lesson
Every child creates a skylight of beauty
Can you hear cathedrals falling
All the universe is calling
Cry a single cello from your heart
Since the world has lost her way
Loneliness journey, endlessly
Yet the promised chance remains
Gift of what could be”
Gift of what could be. This is the rock that the church is indeed built upon. See, well before Peter would become the rock which Jesus calls to build the church upon, well before we would envision a strong and vibrant Christian church touching billions of people around the world; there was a tiny pebble in the grand scheme of things which God used as the foundation for the church. This tiny pebble which would bear the Son who becomes the rock that was prophesied, the rock that was rejected , the rock that would become the cornerstone of a movement that would inspire us to be better, live better, and love better. Yes, I am talking about Mary, The Rock.
In our Gospel passage today, we hear the story we always hear at Christmas, but should be reminded of this day celebrating the mothers in our lives. A story we should be reminded of more often about how a human being, a humble Mary; as the old hymn says, lowly and pure, became the Rock upon which God would build the Church. And what a stone to build upon!
But therein lies the power of this story and the reason for me to spend our sermon time today talking about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Because before she was the mother of Jesus, we do not know much about her. Some authors have tried to piece together fragments of her life, but there is little historical evidence to say one way or another who she was, other than what we know from our Gospel reading today and other tidbits from early Christian authors. Moreover, here is an interesting fact for you, Mary is mentioned more in the Quran, Islam’s Holy Book, than our own Holy Bible!
I bring this up not to shame us Christians for not recognizing the importance of our own mother of Jesus, although, seriously early Gospel writers, we could have used more information! No, I bring this up to actually highlight the obscurity of Mary before she was known as the mother of Jesus, before she became the saint of all saints, before she became the Blessed Virgin Mary, or whatever title we want to ascribe to her. The obscurity is where the power of her being the Rock we speak of today enters in.
Mary, the unknown, is the one that God chose to send the angel Gabriel to, that God chose to send the Holy Spirit to, the one whom God chose to bear God Incarnate. And we might ask ourselves why God would choose Mary. Why wouldn’t God have chosen someone of higher esteem, someone well known throughout the known world? Why not choose someone who is older or wiser? And if we do not listen closely, we might not hear why God chose Mary.
Sure, she begins with questioning like many might if Gabriel appeared and told you how you would bear a child. So it is not surprising then that Mary responds with her physiological question asking about how all of this is possible. But when the angel responds and tells Mary how anything is possible with God, here is where we see why God chose Mary, for she responds with, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Now I know I am painting over the fact that she is in the lineage we hear about that Jesus would be born into and the correct genealogy following the Davidic line and all of the fulfillment of the prophetic lineage that holds true because Mary falls into that proper heritage. And do not get me wrong, this is very important for continuity and for purposes of hereditary and prophetic fulfillment. However, the immediate trust in God, the immediate recognition that God could choose anyone whom God desires, and that God indeed can do anything…that is why Mary was chosen.
It is very much the same with us in our lives, and if you have not gotten there yet, this is the reason I bring this up today on Mother’s Day. Anything is possible with God. And sometimes we might not even know what great things we have been chosen for until we completely and totally trust in our Mother God who called us into being. We might not even know the impact we have or how we will touch others.
For instance, the Prayer of Confession today was an adaptation of Rachel Field’s Ave Maria. However, this itself is an adaptation of Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria which he actually wrote for an excerpt from the poem “The Lady of the Lake” by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). In fact, Schubert originally called his piece “Ellen’s Third Song,” and as best as can be translated into English it actually says this:
“Ave Maria! Ave Maria! maiden mild! Listen to a maiden’s prayer! Thou canst hear though from the wild, thou canst save amid despair. Safe may we sleep beneath thy care, though banished, outcast and reviled –Maiden! Hear a maiden’s prayer; Mother, hear a suppliant child! Ave Maria! Ave Maria! undefiled! The flinty couch we now must share shall seem this down of eider piled, if thy protection hover there. The murky cavern’s heavy air shall breathe of balm if thou hast smiled; then, Maiden! Hear a maiden’s prayer; Mother, list a suppliant child! Ave Maria! Ave Maria! Stainless styled! Foul demons of the earth and air, from this their wanted haunt exiled, shall flee before thy presence fair. We bow us to our lot of care, beneath thy guidance reconciled; hear for a maid a maiden’s prayer, and for a father hear a child! Ave Maria!”
This is a far cry, as was our Prayer of Confession, from the Ave Maria we familiarly know as:
Hail Mary, full of grace, Mary, full of grace, Mary, full of grace, Hail, Hail, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed, blessed is the fruit of thy womb, thy womb, Jesus. Hail Mary! Holy Mother of God, pray for us sinners, pray, pray for us; Pray for us sinners. Now, and at the hour of our death, the hour of our death, the hour, the hour of our death, the hour of our death. Hail Mary!
Even Schubert was shocked as we hear in a letter from Schubert to his father and step-mother where he says: “My new songs from Scott’s Lady of the Lake especially had much success. They also wondered greatly at my piety, which I expressed in a hymn to the Holy Virgin and which, it appears, grips every soul and turns it to devotion.”
You see, each of us either have that rock in our lives or are the rock in someone’s life. Whether it is our own mother who was the rock who is perhaps obscure and not very many may know; whether it is those among us who are mothers and are impacting their child’s lives in ways beyond our fame and fortune; whether it is those whose mothers were not great rocks in their life and so had to find stability and solidity in other places, or themselves, and are now rocks for their children; whether it is those who could not bear children despite every desire to do so, but are rocks in the lives of so many they may not even know; whether it is those who chose not to have children, but are motherly rocks to children beyond their biological bloodlines; anything is possible through God, and all things are possible through you, the chosen ones of God!
I’m not sure how you feel today. Perhaps Mother’s Day fills you with joy, perhaps it fills you with sorrow, perhaps it brings tears to your eyes, perhaps it brings a smile to your lips. But know this, you are here because God chose you, you impact the lives of so many around you, and your Mother God, the Mother of all Creation, the Mother who breathed life into you, is making all things possible through you…the question is will you trust in that Rock, the Rock, our Mother God telling us to not be afraid, for nothing is impossible to God? Will you answer as Mary did in complete trust and awe?
At the end of the song I quoted from called “The Prayer” it says this: “If you could trust with your heart one more time, Sweet angel conceived, You have forever and always believed.”
You are the Rock God has chosen,
You are the Gift of What Could Be,
You are enough just the way you are,
The sweet angel chosen by God…now trust and believe, Amen!