Monday, June 13, 2016

Untold Stories - Sermon from June 12 - 4th Sunday After Pentecost

Luke 7:36-8:3

7:36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner." 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "speak." 41 "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" 43 Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." 48 Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" 50 And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

8:1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
This is my Bible that I bought, or maybe it was given to me, the summer I started working at Lutheridge - in 1998.  It has obviously been used...I have highlighted my favorite verses and stories, I have kept little remembrances of Bible studies shared with campers and in churches, I have folded and unfolded pages to mark is well loved.

I have always felt like the stories in the Bible are my stories, they are our stories, because they tell us about our ancestors in the faith, and these stories tell us about who we are now...these are stories but they are also truth.  Just because something is a story, doesn’t mean it isn’t true...these stories tell us the truth about our ancestors, they tell us the truth about God, they tell us the truth about ourselves.  

I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God.

I also believe and know that there are a lot of stories that are missing from this book.

You see, there are 188 women referred to by name in the Bible...compared to the 1181 men referred to by name. Only 14,000 words are spoken by women in the scriptures, which means that only about 1.2% of the words in the Bible are said by women
(Bible Women: Their words and why they matter - Lindsay Hardin freeman).’s the thing...the Bible, the word of God inspired by the Spirit, was written in over a vast period of time, but still, it was written in a particular time, in a particular  place, to some particular people - though the time periods and the place and yes, even the audience, change, it was still written with some particularities in of those particularities is that the writers were all men and they were all living throughout time periods that were steeped in a patriarchal culture; which is to say, the culture they lived in, from the home to the government and everything in between was controlled by men.

I am not trying to put a negative spin on this.  Simply stating the facts.  Women were considered “less than” and in some cases, weren’t regarded at all.  This the the culture that our Bible came from - male dominated...male ruled.  I still fully believe with my whole heart that the Bible was and is inspired by God and there are many, many places in scripture where I know God is speaking to me - Old and New Testaments, alike - however, there are a lot of stories in the scriptures that we don’t hear, but that doesn’t make them any less true.  And just because those stories aren’t found in scripture, it doesn’t mean God ignores them or sees them as less than or disregards them.

This morning, we have several stories of women who are disregarded or seen as less than simply because they are women and their stories weren’t seen as important.

First Bathsheba - we know this woman, don’t we?  We’ve heard the story of David and Bathsheba time and time again, haven’t we?  But what do we really know about her in comparison to David?  Our reading this morning gives us the second part of the story of David and his sin, but if we were to go back several verses we would read that David was being a creep and he was spying on Bathsheba while she was taking a bath on her roof as a part of the purification ritual following her menstrual cycle.  

David, liked what he saw, and even after he learns that Bathsheba is the wife of of another, a man in his army, no less, scripture says, “he sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her.”  Later, she finds out she is pregnant, so David does everything he can to cover his transgression...even sending Bathsheba’s husband out to the front lines where he knows the fighting will be the heaviest and the opponents the toughest.  Bathsheba’s husband dies on the front and she mourns the death of her husband.  Then David takes her as another one of his wives.  

Bathsheba, never has a voice in any of this.  Not only do we not hear her side of the story, but it is easily assumed that her affair with David was not her choice either.  David sent to messengers to bring her to the castle after noticing her beautiful, naked body while she was taking a bath.  We could ask a couple of questions here - why was she on the roof, of all places, taking a bath?  Why didn’t she say no to the messengers of the king?  The answer to the first is a simple matter of victim blaming, it doesn’t matter where she was taking a bath; the second answer is that no one, especially a woman with little to no control over her own autonomy said no to the king, the power structure was not in her favor at all.

Maybe you learned somewhere along the way, like I think I did, that Bathsheba was some sort of temptress...but I think when we really look at this story, it is one of another voiceless woman in scripture who was the victim of the power structures of her day and the king himself.

Then, several hundred years later is the story of the sinful woman who entered Simon’s house.  What do we know about her?  That she is a sinner?  Yes. That she longs for forgiveness of her sins and she knows Jesus is the messiah who will forgive her?  Yes.  That she is a prostitute?  No.  Although, I’m guessing this is a part of the narrative you grew up with, I know I did, that she was a prostitute, because, of course, there is no other way for a woman to sin...there is nothing else a woman could do to seek the Lord’s forgiveness so boldly...I’m I selling the sarcasm here?  

Let’s see...I sin on a pretty regular basis...I’m human, I sin...I’m a woman so my only sin can be prostitution?  No, that’s not right...that has never, ever been a sin that I have committed (and the sin of the cycle of abuse and brokenness that prostitution is not solely the fault of the woman...but that’s a sermon for another time).  This is all to say that nowhere in scripture is there any evidence at all that the woman in our Gospel this morning is a prostitute.  It’s just not supported by scripture and we don’t have any specific historical information about this woman, because she’s a woman, so let’s just go ahead and acknowledge that her sin is probably something other than prostitution.  

And then the last three verses in our Gospel may be the most overlooked “Soon afterwards Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources” (Luke 8:1-3).

Because did you know that women followed Jesus?  It’s the twelve that get the most written action about their stories, because men, but there were women who followed Jesus and supported him and the disciples out of their own resources.  These were probably independently wealthy women, which is saying that they probably held quite a status in their culture as women with their own money and resources, which was close to unheard of, and yet we just get these three little verses about the amazing women, who believed in the message of Jesus, who gave up their way of life to follow him, and who gave up their money to support him and the disciples.

One of these women, was Mary Magdalene.  But please let this be heard, despite popular church tradition (and musicals like “Jesus Christ, Superstar,”) Mary Magdalene was NOT a prostitute.  You see, the early church, the church the first couple of hundred of years after Christ, had no idea what to do with women of faith.  Still being a patriarchal society, the role of women within the church was severely restricted and the Church was looking for the best role model for women of faith, and women seeking faith, so the men of the early church, took several different women from the scriptures and smushed them all together into one archetype of the ultimate sinful woman in need of redeeming by Jesus and that’s why we think know know Mary Magdalene to be a prostitute and the one who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair.  

It’s just not true.  

Mary Magdalene was plagued with seven demons and Jesus cured her, so she became a follower of Christ who supported him out of her own pocket.  Mary Magdalene who became known as the “apostle to the apostles” because she was the first to share the good news of the risen Lord...she was not a prostitute.  You may be glad to know that the Pope made an official apology to St. Mary Magdalene and pardoned her of the title of prostitute…in 1969.

So...within the predetermined lectionary of readings this week, it is hard week for women who should have their voices heard.  Within the current events of this week, it is a hard week for women who should have their voices heard.  

Maybe you haven’t heard, because it didn’t take the national news by storm, but the Latvian Lutheran Church, voted by super-majority at their annual meeting to no longer ordain women.  They’ve been ordaining women for over 40 years, and now, they have revoked that right to women who feel called to the rostered sisters around the world have been grieving this week, because now more women in the faith have had their voice take away.  

And remember those girls kidnapped by Boko Haram over two years ago?  DO you remember them?  Their story has slipped past the headlines too, because it’s been too long for our 24hr news cycle.  219 of those girls are still missing...and did you know that more get kidnapped on on regular basis.  Those girls, who are now living lives of utter hell, where are their voices?  Where are their stories?  

Yes, it has been a tough week for women.  

Even “Emily Doe” the young woman who was the victim in the Stanford rape case, even though she made her voice heard this week, breaking the internet with her eloquent letter to her attacker that went viral, even she, wasn’t heard by our justice system.   

My friend, Colleen Montgommery wrote and shared this on her FaceBook feed this week:
“O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman when the named sin of David is the taking of the little lamb Bathsheba not the sin that David committed against her.
O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman when an unnamed woman is a pawn in the Pharisees game, when her character is slandered, even if her faith has set her free.
O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman when the contributions of Mary, Joanna, and Susanna are forgotten.
O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman when the ordination of women is taken away from my sisters in Latvia.
O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman when the potential of a young man is more important than the crime he committed against a young woman, his "mistake" more important than her horror.
O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman.”

This has been on my heart.  These are some of the stories that I have wept over...the stories of Bathsheba in the Old Testament, the sinful woman assumed by all of time and history to be a prostitute in the Gospel, the patriarchal notion that "forgets" how many women supported Jesus and the disciples out "of their own resources," the women in the Latvian Lutheran Church, the kidnapped girls, Emily Doe, and all the women in my life and throughout the world who are silently carrying their stories of pain, victimization, and abuse.

But their stories don’t end in silence.  

Bathsheba and David would have another son, who, of all of his sons, would take David’s place on the throne.  Bathsheba would become the queen mother, which is the most prestigious role a woman could hold in her day.  Does that make the ways she was wronged, less wrong?  No, but I do think there is a bit of justice in the way she is elevated at the end of her life.

The sinful woman in Luke, hopefully we can all carry forth justice for her story and change the way she has been labeled as a prostitute, but most importantly we know, that when others refused to see her or were ashamed of her presence, Jesus saw her, loved her, and forgave her...just like Jesus was constantly seeing and giving voice to those who most needed it.  Jesus saw the importance of women in ministry, even if the writers of the Bible didn’t want to admit it and the early church glossed over it, and parts of the world still deny it, Jesus saw it and sees it.  Jesus loved them and included them so that their witness would have voice in the world for the sake of the Gospel and that’s justice.

For women all over the world who feel called to be leaders in the church, Jesus sees and knows who they are too and though it may take time, there are people empowered by the Spirit calling forth a change.  That’s justice.

Those girls...those 219 girls...may they know that they are not alone.  May they know that there are people all over this world who are also empowered by the Spirit to keep their stories alive and advocate to bring them home so that they too can have justice.

Emily Doe, in a way she poetically, created her own justice where our system failed her, her letter to her attacker was undeniably, the most moving thing I have ever read.  If you haven’t read it, please do and let it inspire you to be in conversation with others about this rape culture that we live, let it inspire you to pray for and move to seek justice for all other women in this country - one in four - who have been and will be violated in their lifetimes.

This week has been hard for women...hopefully men you have felt it too as members of the human race and brothers in Christ with those who have been hurting, where one member hurts, we all do.  This week has been hard...and yet there is hope.  

There is hope in how many women have opened up publicly and to each other about their stories of sexual assault so that Emile Doe can feel less alone, so that their voices can be heard too, some for the first time.  

There is hope that, politics aside, this country has its first ever female as a presumptive nominee of a major political party.  There is hope that women’s voices in politics are starting to be heard.

There is hope every time we share the unspoken stories; every time we stand with those who feel unheard or mislabeled or ignored.

There is hope that Emily Doe has chosen to remain anonymous, but not quiet, as she has released another public statement: “I remain anonymous, yes to protect my identity. But it is also a statement, that all of these people are fighting for someone they don't know. That's the beauty of it. I don't need labels, categories, to prove I am worthy of respect, to prove that I should be listened to. I am coming out to you as simply a woman wanting to be heard. Yes there is plenty more I'd like to tell you about me. For now, I am every woman."

There is hope that we, all of us, who feel unheard or feel less than or are mislabeled, there is the hope and the knowledge that Jesus sees you.  Jesus knows you.  Jesus claims you and your story too.  When you need it, Jesus forgives you.  But most importantly, Jesus loves you, and that’s justice.