This is an edited version of a sermon Isaac Villegas preached Dec. 11 at the ordination service for Theda Good at First Mennonite Church of Denver. Good is the first openly LGBT person ordained in Mennonite Church USA.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,” Mary sings, “and my spirit rejoices in my savior, for God has looked with favor upon my lowliness” (Luke 1:46-48).
Mary gives her life to the work of God, and she knows that she will be involved in the making of a new world — a new one, not a world controlled by the wealthy, where Mary is overlooked because she is poor, where she’s disregarded because she’s a woman living in a man’s world.
In the world God is making, the powerful are brought down from their thrones, and the lowly are lifted up. The lives of the hungry are filled with good things, and the rich are sent away empty. God is making a world where Mary matters, where she has a place, where she is honored, where she is recognized as empowered by God, where generations will call her blessed.
That’s what Mary prophesies in her song — and to read it, to hear it, is the beginning of its fulfillment, the inauguration of its fulfillment of what she proclaimed because it’s a miracle that we can hear her at all. It’s a miracle that we can read her words.
In a world of men writing about men, an author gives us a woman’s voice, a woman’s story. Her words have endured the systematic silencing of women in the ancient world. Her voice has broken free from the shackles of patriarchy. As we know, history has always focused our gaze on his-stories: stories about men, their exploits and achievements, what they say and do, their love, their wars.
And yet, here we are, with Mary, this peasant woman — dismissed by the world as inconsequential, as insignificant, as unimportant; nevertheless here she is, speaking through the centuries, speaking to us. We hear her voice — her words on our tongues, in our mouths, the spirit of her life empowering us.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,” she says. Those are the first words of her song, a lyric about magnification.
When I was a kid, my parents gave me a magnifying glass. I’d walk around with it in my pocket, taking it out to investigate the flecks of mica in the sand, to explore the veins of a leaf, to lose myself in the labyrinth of my fingerprint, to peer at a freckle. I’d wander into the small things of our world, marveling at ordinary mysteries.
And that’s what Mary does in her song. She narrows our focus on the divine, on the mysteries of God — God’s commitment to scatter the proud, to dethrone the powerful, to empty the bank accounts of the rich; and to lift up the lowly, the humiliated, the marginalized, the victims of our society.
Mary magnifies God’s justice and righteousness, God’s work of healing among us. She magnifies mercy, repeating the word twice in her song: God’s mercy, from generation to generation, she sings in verse 50. And later, in verse 54: God has helped, in remembrance of mercy.
Mercy. That’s the power of God. That’s how God heals the world. Through mercy. And Mary takes out her magnifying glass, with her song, and invites us to wonder with her at the mysteries of God’s mercy. She invites us to marvel at the power of God’s mercy, to explore the veins of society, to watch for mercy in the midst of injustice, to peer into the labyrinth of mercy holding us, suppressed by so much hate. Mary calls us to lose ourselves in the healing work of God, divine love like flecks of light in a world of violence.
That’s what it means to be a minister of God: to be ordained for mercy, to magnify mercy. That’s what we celebrate today — to ordain Theda Good, to affirm what we’ve seen of God in her, in her ministry, in her life as a pastor; to recognize her as someone we trust to lead us into the mercy of God, for her to magnify a new world, to remind us how to hope, all of us together, so we can marvel at God’s mysteries.
As pastors, I think of ourselves as ordained into the priesthood of Mary — the one who said yes to God’s calling upon her life, the one who said, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
In the New Testament, Mary is the first to say yes to God, yes to God’s word, yes to Jesus. She bears witness to the mercy of God, magnifying the Lord with her soul. She becomes a priest, announcing God’s salvation, God’s healing, God’s love for the world. She is our model for ministry, as she receives and gives God. With her life she offers communion. She is the host of the host whenever we gather around the Lord’s Table.
Communion, at the Lord’s Table — that’s where I first met Pastor Theda, at a worship service in Kansas City almost two years ago. At the time, I was on the denominational board that refused to recognize her ministry — but there I was, standing before her, wondering if she would offer me bread, hoping she would be my priest. “The body of Christ, broken for you, Isaac,” she whispered as she gave me her communion, God’s mercy from her hands.
That’s what ordination means — the way bread from the Lord’s Table is magnified in her hands, her soul magnifying the grace of God, her life as a declaration of the power of God’s love. That, through Pastor Theda, we receive God’s mercy.
This is who we are, Theda — you and I, as ordained ministers. We are like Mary, called by God to bear witness to mercy, to focus the church’s vision on grace, on the mysteries of God’s love for the world. Like Mary, we echo — with our words and deeds — God’s mercy from generation to generation. We sing — with our lives — remembrances of God’s mercy.
As these past few years have taught us, people will have their doubts — about your ordination, about mine, about whether we are fit to be ministers of God. You know what that’s like more than I do. And what I’ve learned from you is that being a pastor means that you are called to live by mercy even when some refuse to recognize you — yet nonetheless to offer God’s mercy to the world, to the church, to friends and enemies alike.
That’s what Mary did. That’s what she says in her prophetic song: that God will never cease offering healing justice, righteous mercy, and steadfast love. And we are called to magnify that love, that justice, that grace, with our lives, as ministers of Christ’s gospel.
You, Theda, are called to proclaim the advent of this new world. For this ministry, may God’s grace overshadow you, may the Holy Spirit anoint you with mercy, and may Christ be magnified in your calling.
Isaac S. Villegas is the pastor of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship.