Today, the 15th of August, is one of those times when the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church and the Church of England all celebrate a major feast, that of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
For Roman Catholics, this is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin – a celebration of Mary being taken body and soul into God’s eternal presence as Queen of Heaven.
For Orthodox Christians, this is the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God – a celebration of Mary, her earthly life ended, falling sleep-like into the eternal arms of God.
We in the Church of England, however, noting that there’s no account of the end of Mary’s life in the Bible, just mark today as a general celebration of Mary.
Mary doesn’t in fact say that much in the Bible, but among the words she does say, the ones we heard in our Gospel reading have been sung, spoken and chanted for centuries.
To get a good idea of what’s going on here, we need to have some context.
Mary has learned that she is pregnant, even though she’s a virgin.
That’s a huge shock, and a scandal.
She’s also learned that her cousin, Elizabeth, is pregnant.
Elizabeth is too old to conceive, so her pregnancy is also a miracle.
Mary visits Elizabeth. When Elizabeth sees Mary, the baby inside Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy.
Elizabeth says, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”.
Imagine how overwhelmed Mary must be by all of this.
Our Gospel for today is her amazing response.
It is beautiful, prophetic poetry, containing strong emotions.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered … who? The proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down … who? The powerful from their thrones.
And lifted up … who? The lowly.
He has filled … who?
The hungry with good things.
And sent… who? The rich away empty.
What’s going on here?
It seems like God loves … who? The lowly and the hungry.
How does God feel about the arrogant, the powerful and the rich?
Not so good.
This is the point at which rich and powerful people start to squirm.
And it raises the question, does God hate rich and powerful people?
Let’s see what’s going on here.
God scatters the proud because he hates arrogance and loves humility.
God brings down the powerful because they use their power to oppress others.
God sends the rich away empty because they keep things to themselves while others suffer.
It seems that the issue here is not our level of wealth or how much power we have but rather how we deal with them.
God’s main concern is not with the size of our bank account but with what we do with the money we have.
Do we selfishly hoard our treasures, or do we have generous hearts and a desire to help those with less?
Do our money and possessions make us feel that we’re better than others, or do we see them as generous gifts from God to be used for the good of all?
God doesn’t say that person is powerful, let’s pull him down a peg or two.
Rather, he wants to see power used responsibly, with care for others, with justice and with mercy.
Is power just for our benefit, so we can get what we want, or does it come with a responsibility to use our position to do good?
I think we can safely say that God doesn’t hate rich people.
Rather, God hates arrogance, selfishness and oppression.
God doesn’t hate powerful people.
God hates injustice and misuse of power.
And on the other side, God doesn’t love poor people because they are poor.
God hates it when people are mistreated and will always stand to defend the weak.
The climate report this week highlighted the threat to some of the poorest people in our world, some of whose countries may disappear completely under the sea.
We also heard the horrific news from Portsmouth, including the tragic death of a young girl.
Surely God cares about these things and these people, and will bring about justice for the weak and the poor?
Not, though, so that the lowly can lord it over the mighty in some sort of twisted justice.
Rather, God’s aim is to remind us that each human being is a beautiful creation of God, and we are all equal in his eyes.
God’s work of salvation involves restoring proper relationships not only between God and humanity but also between people.
Mary understood this, and so she sang of God’s new world order, one in which all have value, all are loved, all are cared for and protected, and each person looks out for the good of others.
Much has been said about Mary during the Church’s history, and she’s been exalted in the minds and hearts of some to a degree I’m not altogether comfortable with.
But she did catch a wonderful vision of what God’s salvation means for our world, and for that we can thank her and God.