God Bless Teenage Mothers
I must confess some fear and trepidation about preaching on this Sunday which the church through the common lectionary has chosen to recognize and commemorate the life and witness of St. Mary, Mother of our Lord. Like many Protestants, I have always felt the need to downplay Mary because she seems a little too closely identified with alien parts of the Roman Catholic tradition.
There are so many questions which surround the story of Mary, for example: Was Mary a virgin when Jesus was born? There is some limited Scripture basis for this doctrine. Matthew 1:22 speaks of the virgin birth of Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, who said, "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be Emanuel." Yet it must be noted upon closer investigation that the Hebrew word, "Almah" used here means young woman or girl. The word used is not "parthenos" meaning chaste, as we understand "virgin."
Did Mary remain a virgin all her life? The Roman Catholic doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity gives foundation to the vow of chastity or celibacy for improved spiritual development. Yet what do we make of the gospel account that there were brothers of Jesus?
Was Mary born without sin so that she was fit to be Jesus' mother and did she remain sinless her whole life? The doctrine of immaculate conception holds that Mary was at the least a wholly unique human being who approached moral and spiritual perfection.
Does Mary now live at the right hand of Jesus Christ in heaven to plead mercy for the faithful? In 1950 Pope Pius XII declared the doctrine of the assumption of Mary, i.e., after death Mary was taken into heaven above and before all saints...in fact, yesterday was the feast of the assumption in Roman Catholic tradition.
The point here is not to debunk or disrespect other traditional understandings of the mother of our Lord Jesus, but rather to separate the mystical from the biblical. When looking at the story here in Luke's gospel, what is important about Mary is not her exaltation, but the fact that she was willing to serve the Lord and even be humiliated so that God's work might be done. This is the story of an amazing faith.
Through the story of Mary we are reminded that our God is the kind of God who exalts those of low degree and puts the mighty down from their thrones. Our God breaks what seems whole and makes whole what seems broken. No wonder the psalmist says, "There is no God like our God. He lives in the heights above, but He bends down to see the heavens and the earth. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from their misery and makes them the companions of princes. "
Scripture actually records very little of the life of Mary, mother of our Lord. She appears briefly in only several scenes of the Bible. She is not mentioned nearly as much as the apostles. Her historicity is difficult to establish except by induction.
Scripture does indicate that when Mary was a young girl she was betrothed. Her young life had been difficult. She was of humble stock and limited means. There is nothing wrong with being poor. It's sometimes just a little inconvenient. In the traditional patriarchal society in which she was raised daughters are not highly valued commodities. In the harsh environment of Palestine daughters were a difficulty because they had to be fed, clothed and cared for until they were married and became the possession of another family. As such daughters were considered a liability. Often families, at least poor families betrothed or engaged these unwanted daughters at an early age in order to receive financial consideration from the future groom's family. Perhaps that is what happened to Mary. We can not know for sure. But we do know that she was engaged above her station to a young man named Joseph, a descendant of the house of David.
One day the angel Gabriel came down from heaven and visited her with a message: "Peace be with you. The Lord is with you and hay blessed you. You will have a child. You will name him Jesus. He will be like David and his kingdom will never end. " Mary said, "How can this be? I am not married yet. " Gabriel answered, ''The Holy Spirit will come upon you and God's power will rest on you. For this reason the child will be called the Son of God Remember your cousin Elizabeth? It is said that she cannot have children, but she is six months pregnant now. Is there anything God cannot do?"
To that announcement Mary simply responded, "I am the Lord's servant. I want whatever God wants."
What a refreshing response! When it comes to God's activity in our lives we like to offer improvements. Whenever God's plan for our lives begins to unfold we like to say, "hold it...I have a suggestion...I can handle my life...I'll do it my way."
Well, apparently not too many people agreed with young Mary's decision and response because soon after Gabriel visited Mary rushed off to the hill county of Judea...the sticks ... far from the madding crowd. She went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. As soon as Elizabeth saw Mary a remarkable thing happened because the child within her, the child which the world would come to know as John the Baptist leapt in her womb to greet the baby Jesus in Mary's womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she threw her arms around her teenage cousin and blessed her. She said, "Why should this great blessing happen to me that my Lords mother come to visit me?"
Oh, can you see a shaded room in that dusty village in the hills of Judea? There are two women sitting at a table, holding hands and speaking in very low voices. One is rather old and one is rather young, but both have felt the pain of living a difficult life, of never really knowing whether tomorrow will bring anything better, stripped of social security and status, deprived of financial stability, living close to the edge of life. Both carry inside their bodies the seeds of new life; life that will effect and change the course of creation.
They sit huddled and speak of the pain of rejection and the suspicion that surrounds them in their maternal experience. They may even laugh together at the strange irony of God's choice in handmaidens and the difficult predicament in which God's honor has put them. And here in our gospel lesson we have those words which come from the lips of this poor unwed mother. A pregnant teenager gives us some of the most beautiful praise ever spoken about God's unique grace and faithfulness to us. And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord My whole life and being, my mind and strength esteem Him highly. My spirit rejoices for He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden. Though l am nothing He has taken time to regard, to recognize me. "
Probably no one of us can know exactly what Mary experienced, but in Mary's song of praise there is probably something we have all felt. Have you ever felt not good enough for some opportunity or position to which you aspire...require...or desire? Can you remember a time when the world seemed to count you of no consequence or of little regard because you were not rich enough, smart enough, old enough, strong enough or of the correct race or ethnicity? Brothers and sisters, it happens pretty often, doesn't it? Mary tells us of her experience of God's grace and how when the world counted her of low degree, God lifted her up. God exalted her. Please don't misunderstand. By the world's standards having God exalt us may not result in outward changes in our lives. Mary carried and raised a child who brought salvation to all of creation yet the world did not affirm her or embrace her in her lifetime. Instead, she faced vicious whispers, irresponsible gossip and shocked pious frowns. Yet, it was sufficient that God regarded her and that God lifted His countenance upon her.
Tondalaya Washington is a poor, black, 14-year-old staying in Robert Taylor homes, southside Chicago. She is part of the underclass in America. Tondalaya is in the eighth grade, but reads like a fifth grader. Oh, she's plenty bright but she doesn't much like school cause it's hard dressing the part with Fila, Nike, Gucci and Fiorucci.
Tondalaya does like drama class though. And she likes the drama club. It's the only def thing happening in school if you want to know the truth. Something about the stage makes her feel real and alive, and all that. It makes her feel special if only for a few hours. And the most amazing thing happened to her a few month ago. The drama teacher, Mrs. Phelps, told her that the drama club was going to stage a really awesome Christmas play. And she was -going to play the part of Mary. And if that wasn't decent enough, her man, Melvin, was going to be Joseph. Imagine that! Every jealous sister in the school went into deep shock behind that.
But things are all different now. Tondalaya's pregnant. Like tens of thousands of other teenagers in America, she is a baby having a baby.
She told Melvin to be careful cause she was a good girl and didn't know much about being with a man. But Melvin wouldn't listen cause he's a real man and no real man gonna listen to a woman. She should have taken the birth control pills they gave out at the clinic or the school nurse's office, but she wouldn't have known the right day to take them anyway cause she hadn't planned to do nothing.
She can't get no abortion cause they too expensive and she gotta save money for Melvin's Christmas present. Besides abortion scare her cause Kathy and Keesha got abortions and they kinda messed up. Kathy act crazy and hate all men and Keesha doctor say she can't have kids no more, even if she want to. Besides, an abortion ain't right cause a baby got a fight to live.
Tondalaya Washington got problems. Her momma said she ain't no good. That she man crazy. What she know? She had Tondalaya when she was only sixteen. Her momma said she need to find a place of her own where she can be woman of her own house.
But how can she find a job? Maybe she can be declared an emancipated minor and qualify for her own apartment in public housing. Mr. Greenberg, the school counselor, told her she would have to go to the School Age Parent Program, but she's 189th on the waiting list. She thinks she might as well drop out of school like all the other kids. She could always get a GED later.
And Melvin said, "Girl, you got a problem...You better go get yourself right. I can't handle being no father. Don't push me cause I'm close to the edge. I'm trying not to lose my head."
Tondalaya's grandma is a holy woman. Her grandma say, "Pray child. That's all you can do. Don't ask God to move the mountain, but give you strength to climb. I'm glad you gonna keep the baby though, cause God don't like ugly. We gonna pray that the baby ain't marked. That baby gonna be just fine. You'll see. He gon' grow up straight and tall and have them Washington eyes. Well raise him up in church. He might even be a preacher. You don't know what God got in store for you or that baby of yourn."
Tondalaya is so confused she don't know what to believe. Should she change her mind and have an abortion or should she just hold on and trust God to look for her and her baby? How can she know what's right for her and what is right by God?
Let us pray:
God of grace and God of Glory, on your people pour your power! Lord God, you have surrounded us with so great a cloud of witness. Grant that we, encouraged by the example of your servant Mary, Mother of our Lord may persevere in the life course that is set before us with hearts full of praise and obedience. Humble us when our pride leads to the destruction of others and even our own downfall Help us to dream of a world where those who have been trampled underfoot may be exalted to have their fill portion with you. Fill our hearts with the love of your Son Jesus who came down to this low ground of sorrow so that all who believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Amen.
Rev. Craig J. Lewis