Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Luke 1:47-55; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
I have heard it said, and I have also said myself, that movement towards justice and peace takes time. In times of discouragement and doubt, I have gone to those I trust, I have come to this place on a Sunday, and I have asked how to hang on. I have been encouraged to try to do so, as best I can, by trusting that in small actions of love and in steady movement to the side of those who are vulnerable and excluded, we not only get powerful glimpses of love and hope in the moment, but get a sense that we connected to something bigger than ourselves, a power that is good and faithful, that gives life meaning and that moves the arc of the moral universe towards justice.
There have been a trail of Mary’s in the path of this arc. They have shown up in their own vulnerabilities, shown up on behalf of those who suffer and those who do not have equal control over their lives, or full access to the opportunities that others are afforded. A trail of Mary’s who hoped, I imagine, that maybe in the moment, their contribution would be the one to topple in some decisive way the systems that oppressed them and others, but who ultimately had to trust that the justice and sense of hope that propelled them would come in a larger way in the future, a future illuminated in important parts of their own lives for sure, but also bigger than who they were and what they could fully know. Mary, the mother of Jesus was in a line of Mary’s who’s heart sang, and whose heart pined for the world to turn.
Mary the prophetess, was an early alchemist that scientists have dated to the 1st century and she is associated with scientific techniques that are still used. She is described in early writings as “One of the Sages”;
Mary Aegyptica, was an Egyptian desert hermit from the 5th century who rejected society’s expectations for and left to spend a life praying in the wilderness;
Marie Colinet, was made an honorary citizen of Paris in the 16th century as a result of her work as a surgeon. She successfully performed 40 caesarian sections and was responsible for developing a way to extract metal from a person’s eye using a magnet – a method still used today – even as this work was credited to her husband;
Mary Wortley, was an 18th century traveler who brought smallpox inoculation techniques back to Europe form Turkey;
Mary Gateana Agnesis was an 18th century mathematician, who spoke seven languages and at the age of nine composed a speech on the right of women to be educated. She would go on to find a solution to a curve that still bears her name – the Curve of Agnesis;
Mary Prince was a slave born in Bermuda in 1802 and her autobiography was amongst the first published first-hand accounts of the brutal life of a slave;
Mary Ann Lamb was an artist who in the 18th century made her way through violent mental illness and regret to write the children’s classic, Tales from Shakespeare. Still used as a compelling way to introduce kids and adults to Shakespeare. You can find it on amazon and credited to her and her brother, the famous essayist Charles Lamb as a joint work. It was later understood that she was the primary author;
Mary Galloway disguised herself as a man so that she could fight in the American Civil War;
Mary Walker was the first women surgeon to serve in the United states army and the only woman to receive the US Medal of Honor;
Mary Bowser was a slave freed upon the death of the one who enslaved her, but who then went back to the south during the civil war to work within and to spy upon the Jefferson Davis Whitehouse;
Mary Mahoney was the first African American to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States, graduating in 1879;
Mary Kingsley, in the 19th century explored alone the interior of West Africa on foot and by river; and
Marie Curie from Poland, studied mathematics and physics at the Sorbonne in Paris. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first and only to win twice, and the only person to win in two different sciences[i];
These Mary’s, and a million Mary’s like them, gave themselves, in ways big and also in small, to who they understood themselves to be, they developed and offered their gifts for the sake of the world even though they would have been derided and pressured to remain in the subservient place contrived for women, and especially women of color, in our world. They cared for the suffering, fought for justice, made art, and birthed new ideas. They birthed and nurtured and passed on hope and life and justice. These Mary’s and a million Mary’s like them, must have been fueled by glimpses of a justice and hope in the work and the endeavors they gave themselves to, they must have trusted that they and others who suffered were of value even when the world denied it, they must known that something bigger than themselves called them forth, and they also died waiting and hoping for structures of oppression to tumble and for those who were captives to be released.
Now I don’t want to over-state things, there is still much to be done, and like these Mary’s we will not see every dynamic that causes pain and oppression disappear in our lifetime, but it does seem that at least some of the structures and mechanisms that have worked throughout history to keep power in the hands of a select group, are slightly more visible than they have perhaps been before. In this country we are seeing sections of the population gain a more powerful public collective voice than they have had before and gain some traction in being able to call out and say no to unacceptable behaviors: behaviors designed to humiliate and frighten, behaviors borne themselves of fear, and behaviors themselves borne of fear that there is not enough for everyone to have what they need.
So maybe we can say that there are days, these days, when the curvature of that moral arc is just a little more obvious, maybe the drive and the courage of those Mary’s through time have brought it into view a little more sharply at this time in history and for that we can say thanks be to God.
No I don’t know about you but if anything I have found myself disoriented in new ways lately. I have found myself trying to navigate the hope I see in things like the #metoo movement. I have found myself trying to think about how we take care of each other as some structures of oppression perhaps seem a little more obvious. I find myself thinking about those for whom hope has still not come near and those frightened by what is to come. I am working with anger and frustration at the pain caused in people’s lives and pain that continues. I worry that as a white woman I will move quickly and forget about my sisters of color who tend to get left to the side as progress is made for white women. I dread the way the system will do all that it can to resist and preserve the power that has been accumulated and what that will mean for this fragile claim to equality that seems to be being played out. And I think about those who sleep outside, those who live with war and those who hunger for peace in big and small ways who still need hope and care.
So what is there in this Sunday morning that can reorient and call us forth. Well, I think would be well served to do as the next hymn says and look east. Look east towards the horizon, towards the light of truth and justice shining on the whole landscape, illuminating the stories and the voices of those who have not yet been heard. Host a table and listen with love. Look East and operate out of thanksgiving and not fear, thanksgiving for another day given, unearned, waiting for all we have to give to it. Look East and give thanks for the light that brings life, that warms and nurtures the seeds of care and courage given now into hope for the future. Look east and remember the one to come, the light of the world, the light of love that enlightens everyone – those we don’t understand, those for whom our hearts break, those we care about and those we don’t. Love will guide us to hold difficult conversations, asking for what is right and trusting in a future where life is possible for all.
Look East, People of God, Love the Lord is on the way. Look for the light and remember you are loved by the one who is come and yet to come, and you are empowered in that love to love the world towards justice and peace.
[i] Meuller Melinda. Mary’s Dust. Entre Rios Books, 2017
St. Andrew Sermons