Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church – Dyer, Indiana
15. August 2010
St. Mary, Mother of God
Catechetical Sermon based on Augsburg Confession XXI & Apology XXI
+ IN NOMINE JESU +
Dear Christians, every August 15, the church remembers and honors the mother of God, St. Mary. Not every Christian congregation chooses to observe this festive day… and certainly not without cause. Especially in the Roman church, St. Mary has transcended mere honor in popular piety. Despite good intentions in recent years to correct abuse, she has become more than a mere handmaiden to the Lord. She is prayed to daily in the Rosary, asking for her to intercede on our behalf. She is often called co-redeemer, stealing honor from Christ himself. She is given special devotion by women and children, devotion that ought to be to God alone. Statues of St. Mary outnumber Jesus himself. We might say she has become a talisman or idol for many, who pray to her rather than to Christ himself, who sits at the right hand of God interceding for us. Of all the saints, Notre Dame, our Lady, is often wrongly remembered or honored. We ought not resort to pious speculation, speaking where Scripture is silent.
As a result, many have suggested that we try to forget the faithful departed. They suggest we ignore the saints who have died in Christ. They suggest that the saints of God are of no value next to Christ. Dearly beloved, this is false. The saints both here living and those dearly departed can be given proper honor. This honor does not detract from Christ and his atoning death on the cross. Their faithful lives are model examples of the great benefit that is Christ’s shed blood.
No where does Scripture teach that we are to pray to the saints and invoke them for our aid. No command or promise is given to this practice. It is is simply idle speculation. Our Lutheran Confessions reject the error of praying to saints in order cash in on their merit. While these saints lived virtuous and upright lives, they too like everyone born of woman are sinners simultaneously. The only merit which the saints had is the very merit bestowing on you in your baptism. Christ’s meritorious sacrifice, His shed blood earned your salvation. No virtue of the saints of heaven will benefit you here before God. Only Christ interceding on your behalf will save you.
How can we say this with confidence? Because the Scriptures clearly teach that “people are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Romans 3 & 4)” (AC IV). “Scripture sets before us the one Christ as Mediator, Atoning Sacrifice, High Priest, and Intercessor [1 Timothy 2:5-6]. He is to be prayed to. He has promised He will hear our prayer [John 14:13]. This is the worship that He approves above all other worship, that He be called upon in all afflictions. ‘If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father[, Jesus Christ, the righteous one]’ (1 John 2:1)” (AC XXI.2-4).
That said, the saints ought not be forgotten. The saints of old and the saints of recent memory deserve honor. In rejecting the errors of Rome, many have fallen off on the other side, rejecting the proper honor due to the saints. There are three ways to honor the saints that are in harmony with the Scriptures (c.f. Ap XXI.4ff).
First, we thank God for the saints who are examples of the mercy shown through Christ, namely that God saved them from the curse of their sin. We give thanks that God has given us great teachers and servants to the church. Christ himself praised the businessmen in the parable of the talents, saying “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21-23ff). In recent memory, we all know pastors, teachers, elders, ladies and widows, and even children who demonstrated the servant heart that only the Spirit could give to those forgiven in Christ. We rightly honor them by remembering both them and their service.
The second benefit in honor the saints is the strengthening of our own faith. Even the noblest of apostles, St. Peter, sinned before the Lord, denying the Christ before the world. Yet, the grace of God was greater that St. Peter’s sin. The forgiveness of sins covered even this most grievous error. We remember all the faithful departed who lived under this same, redeeming grace which covered a multitude of sins. These departed asked for our forgiveness and forgave us when we sinned against them. They were model Christians whose life was one of daily dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ. In this life, they glorified God and thus their example can strengthen our own faith.
The third honor is one of imitation, first of faith and then of other godly virtues (c.f. Ap XXI.6). All the dearly departed are examples of the steadfast faith that Christ grants every believer by His Holy Spirit. This faith trusts in the promises of God and is reckoned to the believer as righteousness (c.f. Hebrews 11). The writer to the Hebrews says it well: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run the endurance race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
We may properly imitate all the dear saints who remained steadfast through trial and temptation, suffering and death. For they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus and remained firm in his saving faith. So too, we imitate those saints who received varied callings, diligently serving God in their family, congregation, and world. They were model examples of pastor, hearers of the Word, civil workers, citizens, husbands, wives, parents, children, workers, and employers. They served in their callings with godly virtue, the fruit of the Spirit. And they failed, too. In Christian example, they returned to Christ and His cross for the forgiveness only He can bring. The dearly departed rest with Jesus and will rise on the final day when Jesus returns in judgment. We remember them as examples of mercy, worthy of imitation in virtue, and models of steadfast faith.
So how does one properly honor St. Mary? We do not pray to her, asking that she receive us in the hour of our death, as the Romanists do. For Christ has won the victory over death and shed blood is the merit that makes us alive. St. Mary herself avoided ascribing honor to herself. Her very song, the Magnificat, pointed not to her glory but rather gave all glory to God the Father of her infant Son. We honor St. Mary as we we ought to honor all the saints – with thanksgiving, for the strengthening of our faith, and as Christian models of imitation.
We give St. Mary honor because she humbly carried the savior of the world in her womb. She is rightly called blessed, as all women with children have been so blessed. Her child is the culmination of a series of blessings, first with Eve, through the successive sons of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. Each were a blessing pointing forward to the highest blessing of the Christ child. Childbearing is a noble estate, used by God over many millennia to bring the salvation of the world. Mary’s womb and the womb of all women have been sanctified by Christ’s own birth. He still knits together children in the womb of all women where He wills. He still calls these children through His Gospel to faith and new life. Indeed, like St. Mary, the Holy Christian Church gives birth to children , who receive new life and sonship through Jesus Christ. Just as Christ was born of Mary, lived, died, and rose again for our justification, so too, we are born of the womb of the Holy Church, living a life of faith, while yet struggling against our foes of sin and Satan. Our days too are numbered and we will die. Like Christ, we will truly never die, rising in the body to everlasting life with all the saints rejoicing in heaven.
Mary’s song of praise serves to strengthen our faith. She recalls all the promises of God made to the patriarchs and those spoken by the prophets. Her song echoes the song of praise and thanksgiving sung by the godly woman Hannah at the conception and birth of her son Samuel(c.f. 1 Samuel 2:1-20). St. Mary recognizes the culmination of generations of mercy shown by God in person of her unborn Son. She rightly confesses that God keeps his promises. In her womb is God the Savior, who is promised offspring sent to redeem his servant Israel, that is, the believers in Christ, the church. His miraculous conception would shock most into disbelief. In Mary we see the power of Spirit-given faith, to trust the Word of God’s messenger Gabriel, despite remaining a virgin.
St. Mary is also due the honor of imitation. She cared for her son from conception by the Holy Spirit through to His death. She served as a faithful mother, serving Him godly virtue. She fed the infant Jesus from her own breast (Luke 11:27). She took him to synagogue and temple (Luke 2:22ff; 2:41ff). Thus she cared for His physical needs and His desire to fulfill all righteousness, that is, to be in the house of His Father and serve all man by the Father’s will. The blessed virgin’s life was one of faithful service to the God-man Jesus, bearing no mere man, but the union of divine and human person, the Son of the most high God. She is truly called the “mother of God” (Formula of Concord, VIII.24).
Thus, dear Christians, in the faithful example of St. Mary we learn how to properly honor the saints. The saints are due honor not because of their effort or merit. No, their lives are worthy of honor because of the great mercy God showed on them, saving them from all sin and death, and this through the shed blood of Jesus. The saints both living and of memory bear witness to the saving power of Jesus’s name. Their whole lives point to Jesus. All the saints strengthen our faith, as they were formerly immovable but were stones raised up to life, testifying through their faith and life the indwelling of the Spirit. Their very godly service to family, church, and world is a testimony of the new creation being made in them by Jesus each day. The life of confession and repentance, forgiveness and absolution is the hallmark of the Christian. The Christian, the saint daily dies with Christ and rises to knew life with Him. We remember all the saints of old and the dearly beloved who still provide us with this example of a life of repentance and forgiveness. None of the saints deserve any honor of themselves. The honor they receive is all to the glory of God. On this day, St. Mary the Mother of God does not take the place of Jesus. No, St. Mary wouldn’t have it that way either. Today, this the Lord’s Day, Jesus Christ, who shed his blood and died for our redemption is magnified. Today He has shown mercy on all of us, his servants of low estate. Today, He fills the hungry with good things. May our Spirit rejoice with Mary in God our Savior. He has done great things for us. For t God alone be the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind steadfast in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +