Sermon 13 Pentecost August 14, 2016 Everybody’s Child

St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church

St. Mary, the Virgin

Isaiah 61: 10-11

Psalm 34: 1-9

Galatians 4:4-7

Luke 1:46-55


Everybody’s Child

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” So starts the 43rd poem from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese.   It is a love poem for her husband, Robert. But the sentiments contained in the poem are universally applicable to love streaming forth toward anything or person that has the capacity to receive it. It is a poem that lifts love far above the ordinary, swiftly glancing and dancing kind of love, reflected perhaps in our love of a favorite sport or entertainment…or perhaps events and traditions that we look forward to throughout the years.

The love Browning describes transcends simple appreciation, affection and enjoyment and dips to the depth, and widens to the breadth and reaches to the height that one’s soul can possibly reach….to the very ends of Being and beyond. It is a mature, throbbing, alive kind of love that has no beginning or end that can be defined….even at death.

It’s the kind of love the Virgin Mary would understand is established before the moment of existence and is never extinguished after death. It is the kind of love that God gives freely to each of us as Paul wrote to the Romans, “38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [1]

As the hearts of the faithful always turn to God for strength and endurance, so do mine. But it is Mary that inspires my faith in all God’s blessings

It is the kind of love a mother experiences when she first sets eyes on her new child and the kind of love a father experiences has he witnesses the miracle of birth. It is a love that streams through eternity, yet in a moment….. is locked for life, no matter what. Human free will might make a mess of things after this moment, but the love is always there even if it is sometimes hard to see.

And this is the kind of love everybody’s child receives before he even stirs in the womb…and for a teenage Mary, called by the Holy Spirit to carry the Son of God to his birth….this love is so magnified, that it becomes almost beyond our capability to grasp or understand.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

“for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.


Mary was, has been and will always be blessed. And because she was blessed by God, Mary knew what she had to do. She had to go the distance. She couldn’t give up. Wherever the circumstances, the triumphs and the tragedies would lead her and the child she loved, she would be standing by….even to the foot of the cross… and would continue to be blessed by God because of it. And that is why all generations will call her blessed, too.


We are all blessed. All of us…. who have experienced the blessing of a child, our own or those who step into our path through life’s journey….have been blessed in turn by God for the unconditional, ever-flowing love we receive in our own lives by the gifts they bring? Our children, either born to us to given us to guide and direct, in turn lead us in directions we didn’t plan for, could not have ever expected. They can break our hearts, cause our anger and despair, make us laugh and hope in our future and theirs, and sometimes leave us too soon to grieve without them, holding on to the faith in the holy and even through our tears, giving thanks for the great things the Almighty God has done for us.


We love quietly, as Mary must have done as she watched Jesus laying in his manger crib …the light streaming across him from a star by night and by the hot Bethlehem sun during the day. She allowed the crowds to come in heard their praises, yet she stayed quietly loving, purely and without ego. Continues Browning…..


For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

Even as others would sing the praises of her son, even as others would worship him, follow him and come to judge him, would condemn and ridicule him, even as they would be envious and plot his death and even as they would fear him enough to crucify him, Mary embraced the sacrifice through her love for him and for the One who entrusted her to give him life and to nurture him.

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

Like many of you, I expect, I have been watching some of the Olympic Games and I marvel at the beauty of the human body at its best in its youthful prime. Whether swimming through the water like a fish or tumbling over and over with power and grace, we cannot help but realize what an amazing thing is a body that was born to such a destiny. But my main interest has been in watching the faces of mothers and fathers who wait patiently and nervously in the stands and I think about their own kind of sacrifice throughout the young lives of the children they love. The investment of money, time and focus are obvious. But the investment of human love, throughout the wins and losses of life made immediate and evident so early in the lives of their children. The adulation along with the harsh criticisms. The feigned support along with backhanded gossip. The admiration along with the envy. How does a parent who loves cope with all that and how does the young life at the heart of it all cope with all that?

How did Mary cope with the adulation and the harsh criticism, the judgment and the envy, the lack of understanding and the cruel weight of Roman ambition?

Even though she was young when Jesus was born, Mary’s maturing came to her through life as a refugee in Egypt, and as the mother of an exceptional child who stood out in every way from his peers. And through it all, she held to her simple, quiet faith in God.

This week my youngest son, Geoff, will leave for New York and seminary. It is the beginning of the next chapter of his story. He has held it in his sights for many years and it has teased him by its elusiveness. As his mother, like the mothers watching of all those Olympiads, who have hearts set on gold….like Mary’s ten-fold example, I am to watch him go with love and prayer, with quiet gratitude for God’s blessings and with pure faith in God’s true path for my son.

Some children we love have become lost or lost to us and some of us have witnessed them come close to the line that divides this world and the next. We grieve in horror, we let go in pain and we love all the way into that darkness and like Mary’s hundred-fold example, we hold on in quiet faith to God’s presence there. They teach us what it looks like to fight for one’s life and to want to live it again. They teach us what the depth and breadth and the height of love feels like in the body, mind and soul. They teach us… as does Mary’s thousand-fold example how to be quiet when your child is hurting. How to be present. How to not let go of all the feelings that well up inside as you plead with God that you might take your place on the cross so that your child does not have to.

Like Mary, who watched them crucify her Son. Mary who, as a young child, gaily visited her cousin Elizabeth with great joy….”my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary, who watched him grow into his marked differences, who tried perhaps to strive for normalcy for her Son of God, who tried to introduce him to the kind of religious education every good Jewish boy should have, who allowed him the freedom to express himself and who allowed him to enter into a ministry that she might not have truly understood except that he had no choice but to go.   Mary, who saw him die, who went home to cry in private, who remembered her words to her cousin, Elizabeth,

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. …”

was left to ponder all these things in her heart.
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

To honor Mary is to honor love and beyond this, to honor God’s love for us and our relationship to God as God’s children…and as God’s heirs to God’s love.

We are to recognize the divine connections between us – the communal connection of Christ in me and Christ in you. Brothers and sisters in Christ, joined together in love in relationship to Mary, and to Father, Son and Holy Spirit….in Mary’s words…

“according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Mary smiles upon us as children of God just as she smiled on Jesus. As adopted children and heirs we revere the blessed purity of the Mother of God and when pray we give thanks and our hearts reach to God in gratitude for God’s blessing of Mary as we pray “Abba, Father!” And each one of us becomes everybody’s child. Each one of us called to love and be loved.

We love and are loved. Love came down long before Mary but when the time came for her to recognize it and embrace it, Mary knew how to receive it and in the receiving it…she became Love…just as Christ became Love. It is ours to do….to recognize Love and receive Love so that we might give Love. We are to become Love. And even though, in its receiving and giving, Love doesn’t carry with it what we hope to see and hear, but we recognize that when it is pure …… it carries God’s truth.

Mary was everybody’s child and her destiny was to walk in love and to walk with truth. It would bring her pain and suffering, it would cause her to ponder much in her heart, but it would cause her to be blessed for all generations and to teach the meaning of love…..and to inspire the heart of another poet…another child of God:



“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

for the ends of being and ideal Grace.

I love thee to the level of everyday’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;

I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

I love thee with a passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

with my lost saints,

I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears of all my life! – and, if God choose

I shall love thee better after Death.”


Like Mary, and her cousins Elizabeth, Mother of John and Elizabeth Barrett Browning….. in faith, you and I are children of God and thus are everybody’s child and everybody’s mother and father. Since you are everybody’s child and everybody’s mother and father… what is the measure of your love and how is God calling you to fully embrace it?   What is the nature of your love and how does it magnify the God who loves you? And….what truth does it carry from our hearts into the generations to come? We pray to Our Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit to reveal it and we look to Mary to teach us how to show it.



Written to the Glory of God

E.J.R. Culver+

August 14, 2016


[1] Romans 8:38-39

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