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Sermon: Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Sunday 7th September 2014
St Mary Abbots, Kensington

Blessed are you, O Virgin Mary, for you believed

that what was said to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.

Antiphon to the Magnificat, Eve of the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

+In nomine Patris…

Today the Church celebrates the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary and this church, dedicated in her honour to the glory of her Son, celebrates its Patronal Festival. Every such occasion should be both a time of thanksgiving for all that has been, for all that is, and, trusting in God, for all that will be. To do that in relation to your patron saint is a real joy for she embodies just that: God’s action in the past, in her present, and the deepest sense of his future promise, such that she is totally present to God.

So tonight we give thanks for what has brought us to this day, we give thanks for the fellowship of community in this place gathering for word and sacrament, in going out in mission, proclamation and faithful living. And my prayer for you as a community is that you, like Mary, remain totally present to God in all that you aspire to, all that you are and all that you do.

Giving thanks for what has been is about telling our stories. I am deeply privileged to have been part of the story of ministry in this place, albeit over a decade ago now. On a personal note I give thanks for the birth of our first child here and for his baptism at the font. I also give thanks for morning and evening prayer and Eucharist daily and those quiet moments of prayer; for time spent in assemblies and classes at the school and the weekly school Eucharist; for civic services, Area ordinations; of hearing confessions, of weddings and funerals and those quiet one to one encounters in the ordinary moments of life. Although ‘ordinary’ isn’t a word very often associated with St Mary Abbots! My list could go on. But telling our stories isn’t about syrupy reminiscing or wallowing in nostalgia, it is about seeing the ways in which God has formed and shaped us, guided and blessed us. I give thanks for your part in that for me.

And what of today? Well, you can tell me, and each other, about the life of the church in ministry and mission to the parish of Kensington today. More importantly, before God you can give account of your discipleship as individuals, and corporately, and point to the ways in which you are discerning God’s call to you now, today. Our dwelling in today, our choices and actions are always in the light of what has been and what is to come. Someone has talked though about the, ‘tyranny of the immediacy of now’: nothing to draw from and nothing to look forward to; that’s rootless and hopeless and stifles good decisions. The antidote to that is what is called the ‘sacrament of the present moment’. That is living the intensity of now drawing on and rejoicing in what has gone before and what is to come. It’s what enabled Mary to say ‘Yes’ to God, totally present to him.

And what does this church look forward to? There will be strategies financial and missional, PCC resolutions and the like. They are good if they are rooted not just in the past or now but in a future given by God and to which God calls you, both going with the grain of the past and with challenge and prophetic living in what God has in store for you.

In this you have the example of the patron of all patrons, the Blessed Virgin Mary who lives her life totally present with God. In her Song, the Magnificat, our gospel tonight, she draws from the story of God’s people, Israel, ‘the Mighty One has done great things for me’; ‘his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation’; she bears Jesus Christ in her body, fully alert to his presence, ‘for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant’; she looks to God’s future of justice, liberation and equity. Her Song is proclaimed as a pregnant woman, whose child is gestating in her womb. Fully present with God, Mary understands the words ‘promise’ and ‘fulfilment’, the outworking of God’s purpose of re-creation.

This pattern of past, present and what is to come repeats in what makes you, you, and me, me, today; Mary is the supreme human exemplar of this. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit Christ dwells within us. This is what opens us up to God, what invites us to be fully present to him in every moment of our lives.

The Eucharist is, for the whole Church, and this one most particularly, the heart of her worshipping life that pumps the lifeblood of Christ through all that you, we, are and do, in the power of the Spirit and to the glory of the Father. The heart of the Eucharist is a moment of intensification when past, present and God’s future touch and connect. We are taken back to the night on which he was betrayed, we feed on him living now his resurrection life and we are thrown forward to look for the coming and making known of his Kingdom. As the Eucharistic Prayer puts it:

Wherefore, O Lord and heavenly Father,

we remember his offering of himself made once for all upon the cross;

we proclaim his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension;

we look for the coming of his kingdom

and with this bread and this cup

we make the memorial of Christ thy Son our Lord.

The act of receiving Holy Communion is an act of gestation as we carry Jesus in our bodies ready for him to be birthed in acts of “God’s righteousness, justice and peace”. Like Mary, be bearers of Christ, totally present to God. She sang the Magnificat; may her example encourage you as you make the solemn act of dedication at the end of the service. In that you will undertake to, ‘bring to your community God’s righteousness, justice and peace’ and declare, ‘In all our worship, prayer and life together may God’s holy name be praised’.

It sounds to me like your Magnificat. Sing it out, sing it out with all your heart.