Today we gather as church folk: people who are called to leadership in different ways in Christ’s Body the Church. As St. Paul says in the First Letter to the Corinthians, the ministries we are called to are diverse: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it… Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing?” (1 Cor. 12:27, 29-30). For Paul, the answer to these rhetorical questions is “no.” In the church, “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord” (1 Cor. 12:4-5). Whatever the ministry, “it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:6).
We’re not all called to the same ministry in the Church, but we are all called by God. A diversity of ministries (vestry members, priests, ushers, readers, intercessors, treasurers, wardens, even bishops) actually enriches the church. The “Lone Ranger” syndrome, where one “super apostle” accomplishes all the work, all the ministry, is a positive hindrance to the work of the Church. It’s crucial that there be a diversity of ministries, and that the many gifts manifested work together in the life of the whole Body. As St. Paul says in the Letter to the Ephesians, when the whole body works properly together, it “promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Eph. 4:16).
But let’s circle back to the idea of call: we’re not all called to the same ministry, but we’re all called by God. Our Gospel reading today, for the feast of the Annunciation, illustrates this truth by placing us at the very beginning of the Church, to that point in the story where God’s plan for the reconciliation of the whole world takes a decisive new turn. The angel Gabriel appears to a young woman of Nazareth, to announce some astonishing news. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus” (Lk. 1:30-31).
It’s a decisive new turn because the birth of this messiah has been foretold by prophets, but only now has the moment of fulfillment come to pass. “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David… of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk. 1:32-33). God is now decisively intervening to bring about the coming new order of things, through this word addressed to the woman who will be the mother of the king.
Note, however, that none of this can happen unless Mary says “yes.” It is this necessity that makes this moment a pivotal one. God is intervening, but nothing can happen unless Mary makes it possible. You see, the message of the angel is a call addressed to her: a unique call, no doubt, but a call, nevertheless. The call has to be answered for anything to happen. Without a positive response from this young woman, God’s carefully prepared plan for the salvation of the world will not unfold as foretold by the prophets.
As we know from the story, of course, Mary accepts the call. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). This is the great “yes” on which hangs the course of human history. Of course, it only happens through grace, God’s power and presence in human life that makes everything possible. The angel’s message underscores the grace that is present in the moment: “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you… you have found favor with God” (Lk. 1:28, 30). As Gabriel says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk. 1:35). Without grace at work in her response, and the power of God, it would not happen; but it all requires Mary’s “yes.”
In this sense, Mary is the first Christian: the first one to answer the call and to become a follower of Christ. The Holy Spirit is at work in her, just as it inspires the variety of ministries in the Church. Her son Jesus calls many to his service, but all of them find the pattern of their own response to him in her response to God. “Yes” is what we say in response to God’s call. Like Mary, we rely upon God’s grace to give us the strength for the ministries we are called to. But that grace is already present, making it possible for us to say “yes” at the very start!
Thank you, faithful members of the church, for saying “yes” to God. Thank you for being here today. The ministries we’ve embraced are diverse, and rightly so, but they all have their source in God who has addressed this call to us. And God who has called us will continue to give us the grace we need for the tasks that lie ahead.