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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
Sunday, May 8, 2005
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to my mother Loren Ahrens, to all of our mothers, Kristen Graves, Jessica Groff, and Amy Swearingen our 2005 Schumacher Award winners and always to the glory of God!
Acts 1:6-14, John 17:1-11

For year's we have heard "W.W.J.D." - "What Would Jesus Do?" This question has been the source of many books, shows, various commercial marketing and consumer paraphernalia. The rationale goes, when people of all ages are faced with difficult ethical or moral decisions, asking, "What Would Jesus Do?" serves as a good guide to tackling the problem. My son Daniel said to me a while back, "Before they started selling WWJD things, I was already asking this. I could have gotten rich off of people! But, would Jesus have done that?" Good question!

Recently, I have been considering launching a new wristband campaign - "WWMD." The item would be simple. It would be pink (or purple). It would be flexible, for I believe the message is one of flexibility. People of all ages could wear it. It would be an alternative to wristbands being worn today, sometimes five and six thick, which nobly stand for many good causes. It would oriented by principles of faith, not one particular cause.

"WWMD." Do you know what this means? It means, "What Would Mary Do?" That's right! What would Mary do? While Jesus is our Savior, Mary has many distinctions as the Mother of God. Although most Protestants never get past the virgin birth questions, or get all worked-up by Marian spirituality in the Roman Catholic Church, outside of Jesus, the scriptures tell us that Mary understands Jesus best. As hi mom, she is with him from conception to death, from resurrection to ascension.

No human knows Jesus better or walks more closely with him. Mary could have answered "WWJD" before you and I had dreamed our answers. Speaking of answers, today, allow me to offer four answers I have come up with to the question "What Would Mary Do?" She would ponder. She would proclaim. She would piddle. She would protect.

Mary Ponders (Luke 2:14, Acts 1:14). One day, a 14-year-old Galilean teenager, known as Mary or Miriam (which means "Rebellion" in Hebrew) is doing her chores. The angel Gabriel appears to her - wings unfolding, perhaps in gleaming green and cooper, purple and gold. Slowly beating, Gabriel's angelic wings offer a soft breeze, and with this, the spirit of the living God moves across Mary's face. Gabriel brings a birth announcement: Mary is going to have a baby boy! Not just any baby boy, (one could only guess with Gabriel as the Annunciator!). He says, "He will be the Holy son of God, the child of the Most High!" In "For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio," W.H. Auden writes these words into Gabriel's speaking:

If you say yes, Mary if you say, yes, child,
it lies, within your power of choosing to,
Conceive the child who chooses you.

So, what does Mary do? First, the text tells us, "she ponders" (I will return to this). It also says she is "Perplexed." In her perplexity, she does what any 14-year-old will do - she challenges authority. She questions Gabriel! Parents, don't be troubled by being questioned. Even the angels of the Lord get challenged by young teenager girls! By the way, it's a very good question, (as are most 14-year-old questions). Mary asks, "How can I be pregnant when I have never slept with a man?" Gabriel stops moving his wings and moves in close. He responds (now perhaps a bit nervous himself) that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and bring her the child Jesus. And then he concludes: "With God, nothing is impossible." That strikes a chord deep within Mary. Filled with faith, she answers, "Yes, I see it all now. I'm the Lord's maiden, ready to serve. Let it be with me, just as you say." Faith pours out of Mary - a young woman filled with enough faith for the ages.

But, what about the word "Ponder?" It appears in Luke 1:29 and again right after Jesus is born in Bethlehem in Luke 2:19, "Mary pondered all of these things in her heart." Pondered is, in the Greek, "Sumballo," which means "to converse, to consult, to mentally dispute." In other words, Mary does some self-talk. Mary goes inside her head and heart to check out her feelings with herself and with her God. "Sumballo" is used nowhere else in scripture. It is reserved for Mary. One translation says of Luke 2:19, "Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself." It was like mental scrap-booking. She was taking snapshots of the moment - an angel visit, the birth of God's only begotten son. Later she would mentally scrapbook Jesus'sermons, his healings, his crucifixion, his Easter morning rising from the dead, and his ascension into heaven. All of these things, she pondered in her heart.

Isn't that what Mothers do? They ponder. They construct mental scrapbooks of their children. Birthing. Nursing. Nurturing. Rocking. Hugging. Kissing. Band-aiding. Head-checking for fevers. Hand-wringing out of concern. Eyes open late into the night, pondering all these things. Letting go at the arrival young adulthood, but hanging on for dear life. Mothers ponder. It is their right to let go, but to never let go. They can't. Like Mary, Mothers are busy pondering.

Mary Proclaims (Luke 1:27-56). Right after Gabriel flies away, Mary stops her chores (isn't that also like a 14-year-old to stop doing chores?). She stops her pondering. She starts proclaiming. Through dance, and song, and shouts of joy, she trumpets the good news of God's great love! We call it The Magnificat. It is pure proclamation! Eugene Peterson writes it this way:

I am bursting with God-news;
I'm dancing for the song of my Savior, God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened -
I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
The God whose name is holy, is set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave,
On those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
Scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked the tyrants off their high horses,
Pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet,
The callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel,
He remembered and piled mercies, piled them high.
It's exactly what he promised,
Beginning with Abraham and right up to now. (Luke 1:46-55).

Clearly, God chose the right young woman for the job! Mary proclaims God's love, God's glory, God's mercy, God's justice and God's righteousness. She proclaims God's promises! How many of us can move from fear and perplexity to joy and proclamation? Most of us get stuck in the mud somewhere next the starting line. Mary proclaims! She turns her pondering into proclamation - that's good news!

We learn from Mary to proclaim God's love and good news wherever we are and whatever life circumstances we are in. A lot of us love to talk about God when things are going our way. We love proclaiming GOOD news. But, we struggle to be honest about BAD news. When faced with addictions, family breakdowns, tragic news, job losses, failures, and health anxieties (especially mental health anxieties), we stop proclaiming and start projecting and retracting. We can't see God in these things. We can't and we won't attribute God's hand in the struggles, only in the successes. Too many of blame God for bad things. We stop proclaiming and start complaining.

Mary could have thrown in the towel with the news of her teen pregnancy. She could have given up the Ghost. Not one on us would have blamed her for seeing this unexpected pregnancy as unwanted. Instead, she makes it clear that this is God's story. It is not all about Mary. That's what Mary proclaims.

Mary Piddles. Piddling is a lost contemplative art form. If you are going to wear the WWMD wristband, you are going to have to piddle. I would say, you must become passionate piddlers. Webster's dictionary defines Piddling as "doing nothing or managing in meaningless tasks." However, older, wiser folks will tell you that piddling is a valuable tool for powerful, creative thinking and finding solutions to life's daily challenges. I must tell you that the scriptures don't offer any particular evidence of piddling. Most Bible heroes don't appear to be piddlers. But, I believe Mary piddled. I say this because she knew that her little boy was the most powerful kid in the neighborhood, actually on the planet, for that matter. Yet, she didn't make a stink about it. She raised him as a religious Jew and humble carpenter's son. She knew she was the mother of the Prince of Peace, the Son of Righteousness, the Son of God! Yet, each year the family went back to Jerusalem for Passover. When he was 12-years-old, she lost him in the crowd. When the family backtracked for three days searching for him, they finally found him in the temple. He was piddling in his father's house! He was also teaching Jerusalem's wise sages and rabbis. All it says is, "He was obedient to them" and that Mary pondered these things in her heart.

The reason I really believe Mary was a piddler was that Jesus was a piddler. He was able to be. He knew how to hang out. He could sit by the seaside. He could pray. He probably wittled on scrap wood in Joseph's workshop. He could write in the sand without talking about it. He could walk and talk with his disciples and friends. He was a genius in the art of being. He could just simply "hang out." He was, I believe in this regard, his mother's son.

What about you? Instead of charging into things every day, could you piddle a little? Here are some piddling pointers. When an idea comes to you, ponder it in your heart (sound familiar?). You may not know how to get it started, just sit with it for a while. Your intellectual, rational mind may reject the ideas that come to you. But, use the Albert Einstein approach. Einstein would allow all his gut level or instinctual ideas to lay inside his inner-reflective self. He would never reject or ignore seemingly irrelevant thoughts or images. Remember, the "theory of relativity" was once his opinion. So, don't let reason keep you from the real reason for your existence. Piddling leads to dreams fulfilled. Piddling leads to artistic and scientific creativity. Piddling leads to new ideas and new possibilities. I think Mary piddled and passed it onto Jesus. Let's piddle a little more in our lives.

Mary Protects (Matt. 2:11-21). How many mothers here, would walk across mountains and valleys in the ninth month of pregnancy because the IRS and the President told you to register for census-data purposes in your hometown? Then how many of you would give birth in a barn, with cattle as midwives? How many of you, a few days after delivery, would get up because of a dream you had about the death of your child and walk hundreds of miles more, hunted as wanted refugees fleeing to a land where your people had once been held in slavery? I believe every one of you would!

Every mother and father here would do everything in their power to protect and defend your children from harm. In our job description as parents, there is a line which says, "We are fierce and fearless lovers and protectors of our children." Our model of protector is Mary.

From cradle to cross to grave Mary stands by her son. When Jesus is hoisted onto the cross with hands pierced and blood flowing, Mary is there. He speaks to her with his dying breath telling the "beloved disciple" to watch over her and in turn, she over John and the others. When Jesus's corpse is taken down from the cross, Mary holds his limp and bloodied body in her arms. With this tragedy her soul is pierced to the core. Something in her dies as well. When Jesus rises on Easter morning, Mary is close at hand. Everything in her is resurrected as well!

Then, in Acts 1:14, after he has been lifted up to glory and the disciples have returned to pray about their next steps, Mary is in the room with them, along with her other sons. I have often wondered if they were by her side to comfort her or for her to protect them, as well. Mary, the great liberator of faith and a protector of the faithful, is worthy of each one of us modeling our lives after her life.

So, will you join my WWMD wristband effort? If you and I can do as Mary facing the challenges of her life - we are worthy to wear the colors and flexible wristbands of the Mother of God! When faced with challenges, ponder them, don't flee from them. When God's news touches your life, whether good or bad - Proclaim it! When you are on the run 24/7, slow down and piddle. In piddling the possibilities of life unfold before you! When faced with threats to your loved ones, protect and defend them - all you mama (and papa) bears. It is your calling, after all. Amen.

Copyright 2005, The First Congregational Church