Lucia Lloyd’s sermon

Preached:

Dec 24, 2017

Advent 4, Year B

Air Date:

Dec 31, 2017

Matthew 16:13-20

 

Today’s program is sponsored by Phil Moore and Gary Chafin in honor of Dolly Rabalais for her selfless dedication to the church and her family.

 

          We have a rich tradition of theologians, scholars, and preachers interpreting the scriptures over the past 2000 years.  I appreciate that.  And there are times when I look at a scripture passage, especially if it is a very popular scripture passage, and I think of that rich history and wonder whether everything that could possibly have been said about the passage has already been said.  Since the passages about the Virgin Mary are among the most popular passages in scripture, and have been for centuries, at first I was wondering that about today’s passage.  There has been plenty that has been said about Mary’s humility and obedience.  I have preached in previous years about Mary’s courage.  But as I looked more closely at this passage, it turned out that there was something I had never noticed before.  It is Mary’s curiosity.  Mary’s curiosity shows up in all three of her responses to the angel Gabriel in today’s gospel passage.

          There are people to whom faith comes easily.  For others, not so much.  It is worth noting that when the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and says, “Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you” her initial response is not immediate joy. Instead, her initial response is this: “she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”  If, at some point in your spiritual journey you have felt perplexed, you are in good company.  Mary is perplexed too. There are two possible responses to things we don’t understand.  One is to say, “This doesn’t make any sense at all!  Forget it!” (or maybe some more profane variation of “forget it”).  This is the response of rejection.   The other possible response to things we don’t understand is the response of curiosity.  It is the desire to understand more than what we already know, rather than assuming that what we already understand is the limit of what exists.  The response of curiosity wants to see what else there is, wants to explore what else there is.  This is Mary’s response.  When the angel greets her this way, she doesn’t unthinkingly and automatically accept it, nor does she immediately and automatically reject it.  Her response is the response of curiosity: “she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”  I wonder how much time elapses here while she ponders this.  I can picture Gabriel waiting patiently to give her a chance to take this in and start to process it. 

          He then goes on to tell her about the conception, about the name of her son, about his being the Son of the Most High, about his kingdom having no end.  In her second response Mary does not reply with unthinking passivity, nor by rejecting Gabriel as a nutcase.  Instead, she gives the quintessential response of curiosity: she asks a question.  How can this be?

          It is Mary’s curiosity that enables her to be open to learning something new about God.  And she’s not simply open to it, she’s taking the initiative to ask Gabriel for what she wants.  Mary’s curiosity expands here from the internal curiosity of being perplexed and pondering, to the external curiosity of asking Gabriel her question.

          We may be used to looking at things through the old dichotomy of faith versus doubt, which can sometimes make us feel that if we don’t accept whatever package of beliefs we think we’re supposed to accept, that the only other option is doubt.  A much more helpful approach is the approach Mary takes, the response of curiosity, which says I don’t already understand everything about who God is or what God is going to do in my life, and I am curious to understand more. 

          Understanding goes far beyond information.  For example, before I had kids I wondered what it would be like to be a parent.  What I found out over the years is that the way to understand what it’s like to be a parent isn’t information, the way to understand what it’s like to be a parent is to live life being a parent.

          So when Mary asks Gabriel her question, “How can this be?” Gabriel doesn’t get into information on the mechanics of the conception, which is beside the point.  He says instead that the Holy Spirit will be at work in her.  And he says she’ll have some company in this new adventure because her relative Elizabeth had had a miraculous conception too.

          It is Mary’s curiosity that makes her able to fulfill the calling God has for her.  There are plenty of people who reject anything they don’t already understand as being impossible, and they would not be able to fulfill Mary’s calling.  Even among people who are faithful believers, there are plenty who will not venture beyond what is already familiar to them in their relationship with God, and so they end up unable to see any more of God than what they have already seen, or to do anything more in their relationship with God than they have already done.  They would not be able to fulfill Mary’s calling either.  But because Mary is curious and open to things that are more than she already understands, she is able to fulfill God’s calling for her.  Because she is curious, she is willing to embark on this new adventure with God and to find out where it leads, and she agrees “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  And the miracles begin.

          Mary’s curiosity highlights the importance of curiosity in our own faith:

the desire to ponder the things that are perplexing and may not make sense at first,

the desire to ask God our questions about what God is doing,

the desire to embark on a relationship with God that leads us into things that are beyond what we already know.

Our own curiosity in exploring who God is and what God is doing in our lives is what enables our faith and understanding to grow.  And with God, there is always more to discover.