Wednesday, November 16, 2011

St. Margaret of Scotland: Why, not How.

 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ 

Over the course of the entire history of the Christian church, there has been a fascination with the elemental questions about Christ. 

Obviously, the central question is “Who is Christ”?  Son of God, Descendant of David, Son of Joseph…

Throughout the history of the church there have been searches for the historical Jesus, leading to the helpful of sometimes confusing distinction between the “pre-Easter Jesus” and the “post-Easter Jesus.”

Immediately after his death the second most nagging question arose, “What is Christ”?  All man?  All God?  God and Man?

And “How does that work?”

But of all the questions we ask ourselves about Christ, one that is almost never under discussion is “Why?”

Why was the Word made flesh to dwell among us?
Why did he perform his ministry over the course of his life?
Why did he perform miracles?
Why did he tell parables?
Why did he preach the overthrow of tradition and traditional wisdom?

At the risk of offering an extremely simple answer to an impossibly complex question:
Our text today tells us that he did so “because he was moved by the Spirit.”

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me

Now, the Scripture doesn’t say that the Spirit of the Lord told Jesus to go out and perform miracles, it doesn’t say, “Drive the devil out of a man, and then into some pigs and then toss them off a cliff.”  It doesn’t say, “Answer direct questions with obscure cultural references and ambiguous metaphorical aphorisms.”

There are no instructions in this text at all about how to get it done.

Just what needs to be done:

o   Bring those who are distant from it, closer to the love of God
o   Help those who are enslaved by sin in every form
o   Bring light where there is darkness
o   Empower those who have no power
o   Be a beacon of Hope for the future.

Today is the anniversary of the death of Saint Margaret Scotland. She is the only Scottish Queen to be canonized.

She was born in around 1045,  and when she was 20, she and her family fled the Norman invasion of England intending to go to Northumberland.  According to legend, a storm blew up and sent their ship to Scotland.  The place where it is believed to have landed is called St. Margaret’s Hope.

Margaret was a renowned beauty and King Malcom fell in love with her on sight.  After their marriage, she is credited with being a civilizing influence on his court.  Though he could not read, she read stories of the Bible to him.  It is said the he “disliked what she disliked… and loved, for love of her, whatever she loved.”

And what she loved was service.

·         She instigated religious reform, striving to make the worship and practices of the Church in Scotland conform to those of Rome.

·         She was considered an exemplar of the "just ruler", and influenced her husband and children, especially her youngest son, later David I, also to be just and holy rulers.

·         She served orphans and the poor every day before she ate,
·         She washed the feet of the poor in imitation of Christ.
·         She rose at midnight every night to attend church services.
·         She invited the Benedictine order to establish a monastery at Dunfermline in Fife

and her blessings extend even into our congregation - she rebuilt the monastery at Iona – where our own curate went in pilgrimage and heard his call.

Saint Margaret was canonized in the year 1250 by Pope Innocent IV “in recognition of her personal holiness, fidelity to the Church, work for religious reform, and charity.”

Now, just to be clear, Canonization, whether formal or informal, does not make someone a saint: it is only a declaration that the person is a saint and was a saint even before canonization.

The person proposed for canonization “must have lived and died in such an exemplary and holy way that he or she is worthy to be recognized as a saint. The Church's official recognition of sanctity implies that the persons are now in heavenly glory, that they may be publicly invoked and mentioned officially in the liturgy of the Church, most especially in the Litany of the Saints.

22 miracles are attributed to St. Margaret. After her death, people who were afflicted would have a vision of a beautiful and elegant woman who told them to go to the burial place of St. Margaret and there to be healed. 

Useless hands were made whole, lesions and injuries were healed, insanity, infertility, and dropsy all born away on the prayers of the faithful.  My personal favorite is the man who suffered for years with a bally full of lizards.  God knows that can be uncomfortable. He was set right in prayer at St. Margaret’s resting place.

Now, I don’t think you need to believe in these miracles as such (though you are welcome to if you like, the older I get the less sure I am of the boundaries of reality as I know it.)

What is striking about these miracle stories is what they say about Margaret’s life.

Margaret of Scotland’s biography tells the story of a woman whose life and works were infused with the Holy Spirit.  She was intentional in the use of her talents, powers and privilege as means of serving her fellow man and her Father in Heaven. 

I think when people go to her grave and pray for a miracle they have not been brought by the “how” of her life, but by the “why.”

Why did she do all that she did in the service of the Kingdom of Heaven? 

Because “the Spirit of the Lord was upon her” and when the spirit of the Lord is upon you, all things, all things are possible.

 As long as we don’t lose sight of the “Why”…. The “how” will work itself out.

“and the Scripture will be fulfilled in our hearing.”