Patronal Festival - Called by God

Revd. Heather
Sunday, September 12, 2021 - 9:30am

Luke 1:26-38

When I was in Salisbury Diocese, I was part of a small team of clergy of ‘Young Vocation Champions’ and we would work with sixth formers in schools to encourage them to reflect on their calling. Of course, if anyone wanted to have an initial chat with us about a calling to ordained ministry, we were there for them – but those conversations were relatively rare. Most of the activities we led and conversations we had were about encouraging people to pause in the midst of the pressure of making decisions about their futures and reflect on questions around vocation in its broadest sense: ‘What makes me come alive’ ‘What am I passionate about’ ‘What God given gifts do I have’ ‘What gifts do others see in me?’

It’s always fascinating to hear the story of each individual – to hear about their unique set of gifts and passions – not just from young people, but from adults too. Indeed, one of my favourite terms when I was a student in the University Methodist Society was when we invited a series of speakers to share with us something about God in the workplace. Each one, from education to law, from administration to social care, talked about how their faith shaped them, and how being a disciple of Christ shaped their working life as well.

The story we hear in today’s Gospel reading is one of calling, and on the suface sees Mary called to a unique role. Mary is called by God – via the messenger, the Angel Gabriel – to be what is known in the Orthodox church – as the Theotokos – the God bearer. She is called to be the one who will carry the Christ child, who will bear God to the world.

These special announcements that a child is to be born are not unprecedented, this story follows in a line of a number of divine birth announcements in the Bible – in Genesis we hear such stories for Ishmael and for Isaac; and in Judges for Samson; and in each of these the focus is much more on the child than the mother.

But, the Luke story we hear today has another thread to it, drawing focus also to Mary. For it follows the form of an Old Testament call narrative. The pattern is familiar - a greeting; a startled reaction; an exhortation not to fear; a divine commission; an objection; a reassurance; and the offer of a confirming sign. We see this pattern with Moses, with Isaiah, and it is this pattern that leads to Mary’s final response “Here I am, the servant of the Lord”, words that echo those of Samuel. It’s a pattern that signifies that there is more to this story than a significant child; Mary’s story is significant too – as one who responds to God’s call for her life.

And in responding to God’s call on her life, Mary is blessed and finds favour with God. We hear her cousin Elizabeth go on to say, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken by the Lord” (1:45) We realise that Mary is blessed, not so much because she will be the physical mother of Jesus, but because she believed God’s word. And for us today, she becomes a model for us in our faith – as one who believes that God’s word will be fulfilled. That Christ will come.

We too can be inspired by Mary – our Patron Saint – today, to follow her example both as one who believe in God’s word, and seeks to carry that into our communities – with love.

Indeed, Jesus invites us all to – like Mary – be part of his family: ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.

How we live out that story in relationship with Christ, and inspired by Mary, will be unique to each of us – how we carry God’s love and hope into the world will be shaped by prayer, by scripture, by the community of which we are part – as well as by the unique set of God given passions and gifts that we have – whether that’s for care of the young, care of the isolated, an area of social justice; whether that’s expressed through words or art or music; whether it’s through the gifts we offer to the church, to a charity or the community, or our school or our workplace. Each of us is called to be the person God calls us to be – alive in Christ Jesus and living out that faith in the world.

And so following in the footsteps of Mary, may we live out our vocations as Christians – carrying God’s love and hope in the world, and as we do, may God’s blessings abound.