Sunday’s sermon: Gifts of Women

gifts of women

Texts used are embedded in the sermon this week.

  • Friends, today is an interesting day in the life of the church.
    • Transfiguration Sunday
      • Quick retell[1]: Jesus heads up on Mt. Sinai with Peter, James, and John to pray → during prayer, Jesus’ appearance changes: face and clothes “flashed white like lightening” → Moses and Elijah appear on the mountaintop with them → God’s voice comes out of the clouds: “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” → Moses and Elijah disappear → Jesus and the stunned disciples head back down the mountain
      • Biblical account fraught with meaning
        • Words that God speaks echo what was spoken when Jesus was baptized
        • Meaning/purpose for both Moses and Elijah being present – from PC(USA) resources concerning the transfiguration: In Jesus’ transfiguration, we are assured that Jesus is the hope of the ages. Jesus is the One who fulfilled the Law given through Moses, the one dreamed of by the prophets, of whom Elijah is the greatest.[2] → encounter brings key elements of the Jewish faith tradition (the Law and the testimony of the prophets) full circle
        • Pivotal point in Jesus’ ministry → From here on out, Jesus turns his face – his steps, his ministry, his journey – toward Jerusalem where he will be arrested, tried, and crucified.
      • Transfiguration Sunday is a Sunday in which we acknowledge the enlightening, eye-opening nature of Christ, especially as it pertains to our Lenten journeys with Jesus toward the cross and especially as it pertains to God’s command to follow this Christ into new and sometimes unexpected circumstances.
    • Cool thing this year: this is also Gifts of Women Sunday as designated by the PC(USA) – a special Sunday to acknowledge and honor the many gifts that women have made to our church, our denomination, and our lives → In all the time I’ve been pastoring – both serving here and while I was filling in at my parents’ church while I was still seeking a call – these two Sundays have never coincided before. And I found something incredibly powerful about celebrating Gifts of Women Sunday on the same Sunday that we remember Jesus’ transfiguration – Jesus’ eye-opening moment that turned a corner in his ministry.
  • So today, we’re going to do something a little bit different. We’re going to read 2 stories of women in Scripture who are enlightening, eye-opening women. We’re going to spend a little bit of time talking about those stories, and then we’re going to have some “open mic time,” if you will, for you all to share stories of important, eye-opening, enlightening women in your own lives.

 

STORY OF QUEEN VASHTIWomen who open our eyes to injustice

  • As Bible stories go, women don’t get a whole lot of “air time” (“text time”?) – a verse here, a short story there (exceptions: Ruth and Esther = get their own books, albeit short ones) → And Queen Vashti is no exception to this. Her part of the story could be easy glanced over. It is, after all, in the book of Vashti is often treated as little more than a footnote in the wider arc of the book of Esther – a character that needs to “exit stage left” quickly so the main act, Esther herself, can appear. But even in her brief appearance, Queen Vashti is quite the inspiring figure when we take a closer look at her.
  • Context of the story: Ahasuerus was king of Persia who had conquered Babylon not too long after the Jews had been captured and taken to Babylon themselves (roughly 60 yrs.)
    • Reminder: Vashti is not a Jew. She is a Persian queen (as far as we know)
  • Basic story: King decides to throw a massive, 6-month-long party to “[show] off the awesome riches of his kingdom and beautiful treasures as mirrors of how great he was”[3] → key element to this party: bottomless glass of wine for everyone there → In the middle of this drunken revelry, the king decides he wants his beautiful queen, Vashti, to come in so he can show her off as part of his “beautiful treasures,” so he sends for her. → Vashti is having none of this → Vashti refuses the king’s summons → king’s advisors suggest to the furious king that Vashti be banished for refusing the king’s order, partly out of fear that other women will hear of her refusal and emulate her actions in their own households (God forbid!) → Vashti is, indeed, banished
    • Paves the way for King Ahasuerus to search for a new queen (Esther) → sets up the rest of the story
  • But it’s not the rest of the story that we’re looking at today. We’re looking at Vashti – the beautiful, the brave … the banished. Vashti is a queen of radical resistance in the face of devalument. There she was in the midst of her own party with all the important women of the kingdom, and the king tried to call her away from it just to show her off. But she refused. She refused to be treated like property. She refused to play the role of trophy queen – another jewel in the king’s boasting crown. She refused to allow her endeavor to be interrupted by the king’s drunken and probably lascivious whim. Vashti was indeed a queen of radical resistance in the face of devalument, and when it comes down to it, devalument is at the heart of injustice.
    • Injustices are committed again another person or group because someone devalues that person or group → devalument excuses unjust actions in the minds of those perpetrating the injustice
    • In this role of being a radical resister, Vashti is in good company.
      • Lucretia Mott: radical resister in the face of those who devalued both slaves and women → worked tirelessly and often thanklessly as an abolitionist and a suffragist in the 1800s
      • Rosa Parks: radical resister in the face of those who devalued black people in the 1960s → active throughout the Civil Rights movement
      • Malala Yousafzai: radical resister in the face of the Taliban who devalues girls and women as a whole but especially in terms of education → Nobel Peace Prize winner who continues to write and speak and work for education and women’s rights
      • And these are just a few – a few stories of women who have opened the eyes of those around them to injustices, women who have worked to make the world a better place.
    • So who have been some of the faithful, eye-opening women in your lives?

 

STORY OF THE SAMARITAN WOMANWomen who open our eyes to new possibilities

  • I think this story is one of the greatest stories in the gospels because it’s a story about eyes being opened, not in ideal circumstances, but in awkward, uncomfortable ways … you know, ways that mirror real life!
  • Context within the gospel: fairly early on in Jesus’ ministry according to John – so new that the Samaritan woman at the well doesn’t recognize Jesus (something that happens a lot later on as Jesus has begun to build up a reputation) → To this woman at the well, Jesus is just some random (and unwelcomed!) Jewish guy sitting at the well and inappropriately asking her for a drink of water.
    • Inappropriate because he’s Jewish and she’s a Samaritan
      • Jews believed the holiest and only acceptable for worship to be in Jerusalem while Samaritans believed the holiest and only acceptable place for worship was at Bethel
      • Samaritans were half Jew, half Gentile → product of the invasion of the northern kingdom (Israel) by the Assyrian army in 721 BCE
    • Inappropriate because he was a man all alone and she was a woman all alone → proprietary social boundaries dictated he shouldn’t talk to her
    • But still, Jesus asks this solitary, Samaritan woman for a drink of water … and everything changes.
  • First her eyes are opened
    • Opened to the fact that Jews aren’t so bad after all → Jesus isn’t forceful, Jesus isn’t rude, Jesus isn’t condescending or inappropriate. He simply asks for some water
    • Opened to the face that Jesus is indeed the Messiah – text: The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.” Jesus said to her, “I Am – the one who speaks with you.”[4]
    • Important because this woman shows a willingness, an openness, a vulnerability and a hunger to know more → Almost all of the conversation that happens throughout this passage is spurred on by this woman and her questions. Jesus simply asks her for a drink of water. She responds by asking, “Why?” When Jesus gives her an answer, she responds with another question … and another question … and another question. And finally she challenges him by bringing up the cultural and spiritual differences between Jews and Samaritans: “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalm.”[5]
  • It is exactly this openness and this willingness that will turn this unnamed Samaritan woman into a powerful evangelist, opening others’ eyes to new possibilities. → after her conversation with Jesus, she is shooed away by the disciples (who have returned with food) → hurries back to her village and tells anyone and everyone she can find: “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve ever done! Could this man be the Christ?”[6]
    • Samaritan woman = radical question in the face of preconceived notions
    • Power of her witness: Many Samaritans in that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s word when she testified.[7] → invite Jesus into their city to stay for a few more days → come to believe through his words … words that they never would have heard had it not been for that woman at the well who encouraged them to open their eyes.
  • Power of women innovators
    • Marie Curie – physicist and chemist who made conducted pioneering research on radioactivity in the late 1800/early 1900s → 1st woman to win a Nobel Prize
    • Elizabeth Blackwell – 1st woman to earn a medical degree and become a doctor in the U.S. (1849)
    • Margaret Towner – 1st woman ordained as a teaching elder (minister) in the Presbyterian Church (USA) (1956)
    • J.K. Rowling – British author who radically changed the face of juvenile and young adult fiction with her Harry Potter novels, drawing kids into reading who may not have been as enthusiastic about it before AND being the first person to intentionally fall off Forbes’ billionaire list because of her philanthropic efforts and charitable giving
  • This list could go on and on, so let me give you the opportunity to extend it: Who have been some of the faithful, eye-opening women in your lives?

 

[1] Lk 9:28-36.

[2] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/christianyear/transfiguration-lord/.

[3] Est 1:4a.

[4] Jn 4:25-26.

[5] Jn 4:19-20.

[6] Jn 4:29.

[7] Jn 4:39a.

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