Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sermon: St. Mary Magdalene

22 July 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 20:1-2, 10-18 (Prov 31:10-31, Acts 13:26-31)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Satan has been in a declared war on women since the days of Adam and Eve. Womanhood is especially despised of the devil, for it is through a woman that God became flesh. There is nothing more hateful, abominable, and ugly to the devil than motherhood.

The other side of the coin is that the greatest defenders of womanhood are Jesus, the apostles, and the Christian Church. In the name of Jesus, the Church has been upholding the honor of women and championing the mystery of the vocation of motherhood from the start.

But notice how the vile devil, the father of lies, and his allies in the secular world, have twisted everything around. They claim that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator and Designer of all things – hates women.

To hear the world spin the tale, the Church has been run by a bunch of old men who build themselves up by tearing women down. Self-proclaimed champions of womanhood believe that it is their job to liberate women from the Church – liberate them by promoting the womb as a place of destruction instead of nurture, by depicting motherhood as an embarrassment, by holding the vocation of wife and helpmeet as something evil, by pushing women into the notion that without a career outside the home, without being a “cash cow” to the family, without “having it all,” the life of women is of no value.

In the name of this liberation of women, the notion of the family has been steadily in decline, if not outright devastated. Divorces are so common as to be considered normal, women are routinely and publicly treated as objects of lust, day-care centers proliferate like mushrooms, and the notion of sexuality has been distorted to the point where the Church is expected to bless anything and everything that anyone wants to do – with the Word of God being treated as of no consequence.

These social changes have Satan stamped all over them. For look at the consequences: children who lack not only fathers, but who don’t even know their mothers. Poverty and illegitimacy, parents with no influence over their children, people growing up with a sense of indifference to the family – that institution where the body is not only nurtured and fed, but where spiritual life is cultivated. In the “modern” family, there isn’t the time or the inclination to teach children the catechism or pray with them.

Meanwhile, women repeatedly report that they would rather be at home creating a nurturing environment for husband and children than swimming with the sharks every day. They are so unhappy with this unnatural situation that they pop antidepressant pills in record numbers.

But somehow we, the Church, guided by the Word of God – including our Old Testament reading in Proverbs 31 – are the ones who hate women.

What woman wouldn’t want to have her children “rise up and call her blessed”? What woman wouldn’t want a husband who praises her, boasts to his friends about her “when he sits among the elders of the land,” and loves his home so much that he actually wants to be there? And just how does God hate women when He sings the praises of her who “girds herself with strength and strengthens her arms”? The vocation of woman is to be a helpmeet to her husband, manager of the household and its finances, one who gives charity and nurture to those in need, a dispenser and fount of wisdom, one clothed with “strength and honor” – all virtuous attributes hated by Satan and the world.

Instead, the world upholds air-headed starlets, lying politicians, and grunting athletes as the ideals of womanhood. The world wants women who are “equal” to men – which is to drag them down from the vaunted position God and Christianity have assigned them. Television promotes a wise-cracking, vulgar form of womanhood that is indifferent (at best) toward children, hateful to husband (if they even have one), and stuck in the rat-race of careerism and materialism.

It is fitting that in the midst of this fierce warfare of the secular world against womanhood that this year, the Festival of St. Mary Magdalene falls on a Sunday. Christians around the world honor this truly great women – a woman whose reputation has been soiled by the slanders of those who hate all that is good and true.

Even before Mary became a disciple of Jesus, the devil waged war against her. When Jesus met Mary Magdalene, she was possessed by demons. The legions of evil targeted Mary in anticipation of her role as witness of the resurrection of Jesus and messenger to the holy apostles.

When the Lord Jesus cast out her demons, she became a disciple. She did what the devil and the world hate more than anything – she submitted to the authority of her God and Lord. She lived out the vocation of womanhood, supporting the work and ministry of Jesus with her money and her prayers. When the Lord hung on the cross, Mary was there. Her maternal and womanly compassion enabled her to serve the Lord and the Church not as a preacher, not as a minister, but as one offering kindness and mercy to the suffering – divine and holy works that are dismissed by this world as weak, despised, and of no consequence.

And when our Lord was put into the grave, Mary was among the volunteers to clean His spilled blood and reverently oversee the care of His sacrificed body, of applying spices, of making sure the linens and grave-clothes were in order. Mary did not despise her work on the altar guild, deem it of no value, and demand instead to be ordained as an apostle. Rather Mary served within her holy vocation motivated by love and a desire to advance God’s kingdom where the Lord had placed her.

But see how this holy woman’s reputation has been attacked yet again by the devil! Various people throughout history have slandered Mary – right up until the present time by the diabolical author of The Da Vinci Code. In this fantasy, Mary, like her ancestor Eve before her, sought something that was off limits. In this lie, Mary sought Jesus to be the father of her children, to be the ancestor of a powerful line of kings, part of a great conspiracy to seize power from others. In this literary hack job that even atheistic historians consider to be the equivalent of Jack and the Beanstalk, Jesus is not God, did not die for your sins, did not rise from the dead, did not crush the head of Satan with His heel, and will not redeem you from hell on the last day. And this, dear friends, is the ultimate strategic end of the devil’s lies: to wrench you from the grace of God by replacing your faith with doubt, exchanging the truth for a lie, and unseating the Lord Jesus from the throne in favor of himself. But it is not to be: you are sealed by baptism, the truth of God’s Word cannot be replaced by falsehood, and Jesus has already given Satan his mortal blow.

And we partake in that death blow to the head of the evil one as we commune with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit through the elements made into the body and blood of Christ by the Word of God. Satan and the world will do anything to separate you from this holy meal, from communion with the resurrected Christ attested to by Mary.

St. Mary is not only attacked by those outside, she has also come under fire by those who claim to be within our holy mother that is the Church. Self-declared feminist theologians also slander Mary and refuse to accept the testimony of the Word of God that she was faithful to her womanly calling. For they claim the Bible is a lie, that Mary was, in fact, ordained by Jesus to be an apostle – even to be the leader of the apostles. These feminist theologians – with no historical record at all – claim the early church (with the blessing of Jesus) called and ordained women to serve as pastors and bishops, as preachers and shepherds, as heads of the family that is the Christian congregation.

Through it all, Mary stands as not only an example of holy womanhood, but as a saint for all people, a disciple who did not abandon Jesus when the devil and the world attacked Him, a humble servant who sought God’s will, not her will, who cared for others instead of seeking a manly vocation for herself and her own glory.

For what the feminist theologians do not want to discuss as they make their claims that the Church revised the record out of hatred for women, is that Mary Magdalene was the very first witness of the resurrection. She, and she alone, has that honor. This is also repugnant to the devil – for her testimony that Jesus has risen from the dead is the ultimate verdict that Jesus has triumphed over the serpent – the same one that attacked the ancestral mother of Jesus and of all of us so many thousands of years ago.

In a courtroom, a shrewd lawyer will attack the reputation of a hostile witness. And that, my brothers and sisters, is really the source of this entire war against Mary and all women. The devil attacks her testimony by slandering her.

If you confess the resurrection of Jesus, expect your reputation to be attacked. Expect your vocation to be under assault. And if you are a woman, be leery of the many voices of those who claim to be interested in your liberation (for they and their father only seek to enslave you). Remember who it is who has truly liberated you: Jesus of Nazareth, friend of Mary Magdalene, and Son of Mary. For this is St. Mary’s message to the apostles, and it is our message to the devil and confession before the world: “God raised Him from the dead. He was seen for many days by those… who are witnesses to the people.” May we emulate our dear sister Mary Magdalene and uphold her reputation until we join her and our risen Lord in eternity. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

1 comment:

Jeannelle said...

I enjoyed reading your sermon about Mary Magdalene. I'm privileged to be a stay-at-home wife and mother, although on a farm that includes many duties outside of the house. But, I couldn't agree more that building a home and caring for family, and/or others is what a woman is created to is her vocation.

My interest in Mary Magdalene has grown since I've become more informed about the traditional church year and discovered that Mary Magdalene's feast day is the same day as my wedding anniversary!!

Yesterday, I wore red to church in honor of Mary Magdalene, so often depicted in that color in old paintings. I sat chuckling to myself during the Proverbs 31 reading, listening on my anniversary to the description of an "excellent wife", and knowing I hardly fit at all! It was a rich moment. Also, I felt exhausted just listening to all the things the "excellent wife" does!

Yes, I succombed to reading the DaVinci Code a few years ago. Actually, in my opinion, Dan Brown may have done the world a favor by prompting discussion about the subject of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Christians should be more than willing to look at this issue.

When I was a teenager my youth group watched the movie version of "Jesus Christ, Superstar", so we could discuss the scriptural and unscriptural aspects of it. I dismissed the whole subject as baloney because the movie seemed to suggest that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had been unmarried lovers, and I knew that could not be true because Jesus never sinned.

The concept of Jesus and Mary possibly being legitimately married did not even enter my head back then. One has to admit that Scripture does not specifically say that Jesus was or was not married, and marriage is certainly not a sin. Some who study ancient Jewish culture say that some of Mary Magdalene's actions recorded in the Gospels are things a Jewish wife would have done and that perhaps the writers of the Gospels were trying to obliquely make a statement about her true identity.

What we believers would not be able to get our heads around, of course, would be the possibility of Jesus having had sex, even in the consecrated state of marriage to a woman. Why is this? Could it be because of the paradigm set up centuries ago by the Roman Church that equates purity with virginity, thus leading to the idealistic idea of a celibate priesthood for men and orders for women. We can't imagine that Jesus would stoop as low as to marry and have marital sexual relations.

Did the Apostle Paul ever indicate that Jesus was an unmarried celibate? Paul gave his famous opinion that it is better for people to be as he Paul himself unmarried celibate, evidently, but did he ever say it was necessary to be that way in order to be a servant of the Word? Look at how far from the Scriptural path the Roman Catholic Church strayed on that issue, with tragic consequences such as the child sexual abuse committed by priests and the abhorrent cover-up of this by the Church hierarchy. I believe the Catholic Church is reaping the just reward of its error of promoting celibacy.

In my opinion, whether we want to admit it or not as present-day Christians, our views of sex are colored by the old Roman Church attitude about it. That engaging in sex shows a weakness and is impure......even in marriage. Oh, we would never openly admit feeling that way....but, it's there. If we married people feel in some way that engaging in sex indicates a weakness or impurity, then how can we truly view it as sacred? It's like eating chocolate.....we joke about it and keep our indulgence a secret.

How do I relate this to Mary Magdalene and attitudes toward women in general? If I believe that Jesus loving a woman as his wife and having sex with her within marriage is sinful, then my view of sex, and women, might possibly be a bit my personal opinion. I realize not many Christians will agree with me, most likely. That's OK.

I read recently that our One True God is the only creator god cited who managed to create the world without a female counterpart to help Him. Now I know that we believe our God is the only God, so what I just stated is meaningless. But, it is a bit thought-provoking to me. God's Creation seems to follow a pattern, and male and female components are equally required. And there always are those intriguing verses way back in Genesis where God says...."Let us make man in our image.....male and female He created them". I know, we're supposed to believe He was speaking to Christ and the Holy Spirit, most likely.

Sorry to write such a long comment, but this subject is interesting to me.