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Leviticus 19.17-18, 33-34

Luke 10.25-37

There’s Something About Mari

Pentecost

This congregation knows my sermons always start with scripture; the Bible is both the center and foundation of my preaching.  I’ll admit, sometimes it a little while to get there – last week it took a good five minutes of preaching before Jesus ever made an appearance, but we do always get there.  So as I considered this morning’s topic, a fond farewell to our Parish Administrator Mary Lynd, my biblical jumping off spot was kind of a no-brainer, but the choices were almost too many.  There are a lot of Marys in the Bible; the question is, which one do we begin with?

The Mary of all biblical Marys is the mother of Jesus.  Our prelude this morning is a hymn of praise to this Mary, and though Karli only brought us the instrumental version, many of us know the opening words of the “Ave Maria” -  Ave Maria, gratia plena:  “Hail Mary, full of grace.”  And it takes considerable grace to be a Parish Administrator.  You need to be patient, you have to cut people some slack, you need to understand what they’ve come into the office looking for, even if they themselves don’t quite know, you have to be a long-suffering listener.  And that’s just for her boss!  Our Mari possesses all these traits in spades.  But I think the biblical bulls-eye is in Mary’s own words in the Magnificat, after Gabriel has revealed to her the identity of her son.  Part of Mary’s response is, “God has shown strong arms, has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”  In other words, the biblical Mary offers up a picture of restorative justice and inclusion and righteousness.  Our Mari, who regularly adorns our bulletin with rainbows, who understands what it means to be an Open and Affirming congregation, and who welcomes everyone who walks through that office door no matter who they are, is truly a grace-filled, a gratia plena Mari.  Then again, to compare you to the mother of God may be laying it on a bit too thickly, so perhaps we should look for our biblical text elsewhere this morning.

Mary Magdalene was, in a word, Jesus’ best friend.  She is mentioned by name a dozen times in the gospels, more than most of the disciples, she was a confidante of Jesus and he of hers, and she followed him, unlike any of his other followers, all the way to the tomb – and back again on Easter morning.  In other words, she was a true friend who would stick with you through thick and thin.  Not everyone has a friend like that; not everyone is a friend like that.  Then there’s Mary of Bethany, whom we read about in Lent.  This Mary, who by anointing Jesus with expensive perfume embodied the kind of extravagant welcome that you really want in the face of the church.  And the Parish Administrator is very often the very first face of the church a visitor sees on coming into the office.  In fact I would argue that one of the primary characteristics a PA needs to have, before we even want to talk about computer skills or office management is to be that warm, extravagant welcome to everyone who walks through our doors during the week.  The gospels also mention Mary, the mother of James and Joses who followed Jesus to the cross, and Mary, the wife of Clopas who also witnessed the crucifixion.  In fact, if you take together all of those who watched Jesus die and those who discovered the empty tomb, you’ll find Mary, Mary, Mary and Mary.  It’s hard to get much deeper into the seminal moments of Jesus’ life than this.

So I thought I had done a pretty good job of finding just the right biblical texts for this morning, when it occurred to me:  these are all Mary with a Y.  Ours is a Mari with an I.  This, I discovered, is much more difficult to find in the Bible.  It took some sleuthing, but I did find a few, but always embedded in some other names.  Genesis tells us about the Zemarites, Z-e-m-a-r-i-t-e-s, the descendants of Canaan.  I Chronicles introduces us to Amariah and Shemariah, and we meet Gemariah in Jeremiah.  (I’ll let you do the mental spelling.)  And we find Mari repeatedly – 132 times, to be exact - in Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel in the Old Testament.  But this doesn’t tell us much, until we turn to the New Testament, where we meet one of the best-known characters in the gospels, yet whose name we never learn.  Anyone want to hazard a guess about who this is?  (We were talking about Samaria…)

I learned something new this week.  In fact I learned two somethings new this week.  First, for as many stories that are shared among the four gospels, and for as familiar as it is to us, the story of the Good Samaritan only appears in Luke.  “A man was going down to Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers…” the familiar story begins.  And in the course of the tale, three people have the opportunity to come to his aid.  First, a priest saw him lying by the side of the road, and promptly crossed to the opposite side to avoid him.  Next came a Levite, another member of the priestly class, who also crossed the road to avoid the robber’s victim.  Here is the second something new I learned:  in both ancient and contemporary Judaism, Jews fall into three general groups:  priests, who are descended from Aaron; Levites, descended from Levi; and Israelites, who are descended from the children of Jacob other than Levi.  So as Jesus told this story, his hearers would have expected a priest, a Levite and an Israelite.  But Jesus turns the tables by following the priest and the Levite, not with an Israeli, but with a Samaritan, an enemy of Israel.  The enemy who becomes the hero of Jesus’ story.  We know the rest of the story:  the Samaritan, the enemy of the Jews, salved and bandaged the victim’s wounds, took him to a place where he could get help, paid for his care, and promised to return for him.  The Samaritan ironically fulfilled the law of Leviticus that Deb read this morning, the law which the priest and the Levite surely knew and deliberately ignored, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself… you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were alien in the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.”

The Samaritan went out of his way to help someone else.  The S-a-mari-t-a-n went out of his way to help someone else. I think there are few better descriptions for the ways that Mari has embodied her role as Parish Admin than this, the number of times she has gone out of her way to help someone in need.  And as you and I well know, there are a few times that you went further out of your way than you probably should have, but that’s more the gospel according to Alan than it is the gospel according to Jesus.  She has certainly gone out of her way to help me be a better minister, and I will go so far as to say that she has made the role of Parish Admin at the United Church into a ministry of her own.  She has certainly gone out of her way to help many of you in your own ministry at our church.  She has never shied away from the difficult tasks.  I’ve said this before, but one of Mari’s finest traits is that if there is something that needs to be done and she has no idea how to do it, she will not rest until she gets it figured out.  Well, except maybe for fixing the elevator, but you still have four more days to work that one out.

Seven years as the United Church’s Parish Administrator.  There is even something biblical about the number seven but that would require another entire sermon, so let me just say thank you Mari, on behalf of our entire congregation and our community – I was touched Friday morning by the way Mike Malolo at the Villager said he was going to miss you – and, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you as well for your partnership in ministry, and wish you and your husband Doug abundant blessings in your life’s next adventure. 

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