“The Hall of Faith Adds Mary” (Hebrews 11:1 – 12:3; Luke 1:26-55)

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost/ St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord
August 15, 2010

“The Hall of Faith Adds Mary” (Hebrews 11:1 – 12:3; Luke 1:26-55)

The Hall of Fame, in any sport, is the place for honoring and showcasing outstanding individuals from the history of that sport. The person is honored in an induction ceremony, with all the other members of the Hall present. That player’s plaque is added to the wall, and people can read and see what a standout that person was. This year, for instance, the Baseball Hall of Fame added two new members familiar to many of us here: Whitey Herzog, the great manager from the St. Louis Cardinals, and Andre Dawson, the great outfielder from my Chicago Cubs.

Did you know there is a “Hall of Fame” in the Bible? There is. We just heard the roll call of honorees in our Epistle for today, which is a continuation of last week’s reading. Hebrews 11 is the chapter known as the “Hall of Fame of Faith,” or just the “Hall of Faith,” for short. In Hebrews 11 we hear the names of outstanding individuals from the history of God’s people, whose faith enabled them to do great things for the Lord.

Well, today there’s a new inductee into the Hall of Faith. You see, today, August 15, is the day on the church year calendar to honor St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord. And so today we make our pilgrimage to the Cooperstown of Scripture, as “The Hall of Faith Adds Mary.”

Wait a minute! Are you saying the Lutheran church–the Lutheran church–honors Mary?? I thought that was only for Catholics! Well, yes, I am saying that the Lutheran church does honor Mary. More on that later.

But first, let’s talk about the previous honorees in the Hall of Faith and what is noteworthy about them–especially, what we can learn from them for our own lives. The names here in Hebrews 11 read like a run-through of Old Testament history: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, Samuel, David–the list goes on and on.

Now many of you have been joining me on Mondays for our “Read Through the Bible” class. We’ve read about 40% of the Old Testament so far, and so all of the names I just mentioned, we’ve read their stories. And when I mention names like Abraham and Sarah, or Jacob, or Moses, or David, you know that the Bible doesn’t shy away from showing us all their failings and foibles. Well, let’s be blunt: their sins. Yes, these great Old Testament saints were also sinners, sometimes big-time sinners, and the Bible shows us the full picture, warts and all.

Take David, for instance. Just this past week, we read about his great sin with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Lust, adultery, misuse of power, murder even–these were the sins of the great King David. Abraham and Sarah–both faltered in their faith at times. Abraham became impatient waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled and took matters into his own hands. Sarah laughed, not believing at first a promise that admittedly sounded impossible.

So what are these people doing in a Hall of Fame? Shouldn’t they qualify for the Hall of Shame instead? Yes, and so should we. For you and I are sinners, sometimes big-time sinners, even as Christians. We share the sins of unbelief, and pride, and hatred, and lust–and the list goes on and on. Shame, not fame–that’s what we would deserve if people could see the sinful thoughts and words and deeds that we like to hide from others.

But there’s no hiding from God. He sees the shame we bring to the name that he has placed upon us, the name of Christian. No, God knows full well how we have failed and fallen short. And the punishment for that is death. Hell, not the Hall, is what we deserve.

But then that was true of those heroes of the faith also. No merit intrinsically in them, either. So what’s the big deal that they get enshrined in the Bible’s Hall of Fame? What do they got that we ain’t got?

Nothing, actually. We have the same qualification for the Hall that they have, and that is, faith. Faith, simply put–faith is trusting in God, believing his promises. And so your entry into the Hall of Fame is the same as theirs. It has to do with God, not you. It has to do with God’s word, his gracious promise, and how he has acted to fulfill his promises–that’s what gets you in.

And this is where Mary comes in. You see, Mary was the vessel God used, literally, to bring his promise to fulfillment. And Mary herself believed the Promise that she would bear. Let’s go to the tape.

Let’s call the date March 25, in the year right on the borderline between BC and AD. In other words, it’s nine months before the first Christmas. The angel Gabriel comes to visit a young woman named Mary. He’s got an announcement to bring her. “Guess what, Mary, you’re going to be the mother of the Messiah!” “But, but, how can this be, since I am not even married yet?” “I know, Mary, but God can do the impossible. You will bear the child, even the very Son of God incarnate.”

And now Mary speaks the word of faith: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” What a beautiful expression of what faith is! It is to say, like Mary, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And Elizabeth acknowledges the same when Mary comes to visit: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” There is no better example of faith in the whole Bible than what we see here in the humble maiden Mary. And her song of praise, the Magnificat, is just the icing on the cake, as Mary magnifies the Lord for fulfilling his promises of old.

And the child that Mary bears–he is that fulfillment! Jesus, the Christ–he is the “yes” to all of God’s promises! It is this Jesus who turns our shame into fame. It is he who is the substance of our faith.

What has Jesus done to accomplish all this? He bore our shame, our sin, in his body on the cross. There he took the punishment that we deserve, all of us, from laughing Sarah to lustful David to doubt-filled, faltering Lutherans here today. Jesus took your sins and carried them to the cross. He paid for our transgressions with his holy precious blood. That’s why Hebrews 12 calls 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.” We look to Jesus and are healed, sins forgiven, faith restored and renewed, weak knees strengthened for the race that lies before us, as we look forward to the consummation of our hope in the heavenly city to come.

And the saints surround us, those who have already run their race. Their lives of faith encourage us. They bear witness to the faithfulness of God, who gave them strength to do the things they did–and to suffer the things they did. This is why we Lutherans honor the saints, all the saints, including Mary. Note, we honor them, we learn from them. We do not worship them; they were men and women like we are. We worship God and serve him only. We do not pray to the saints or through them. We have no command or promise from Scripture to do so. Besides, we already have our mediator at the throne of grace in Christ. The saints do not have any surplus merits to transfer to our account. But then, we have all the merits we will ever need in the perfect righteousness of Christ. No, that false understanding of the saints is not what we believe. But we Lutherans do honor the saints, including Mary. We remember them and are encouraged by them for our own lives by the witness of their faith.

What are the tasks that the Lord has in store for you this week? What is your calling, the good you are called to do? God will give you the strength to do it. That is the testimony of the saints. You will not be called to bear the Savior of the world, as Mary was. But you will be called to endure, to love, and to serve, in many and various ways. And when you start to grow weary or fainthearted, understand that God loves you as much as he loved those saints of old, and he will refresh your soul and give you the strength to carry on and carry out your calling. And above all, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, the substance and object of our faith, the one who turns our shame into fame and who will bring us with joy into the hallowed halls of heaven.

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Published in: on August 14, 2010 at 2:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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