September 30, 2018 Sermon

Jesus Listened to Women

September 30, 2018

Sarah Kinsel, Peace Church of the Brethren

Mark 5:25-34; Esther 4:9-17

Intro notes: Last week at District Conference we spent some time meditating on the story of Esther (summarize).  Hidden identity, victim/survivor of sexual abuse or trafficking, spoke out, outed herself at great risk, for the greater good.

Read 4:9-17. What focus last weekend– spiritual preparation. For such a time as this…

It has been an intense week in US culture. Many of us have been riveted to the news, unable to look away.  There is a saying, preach with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. That is difficult to do, and difficult not to do.  I’m going to be speaking about Jesus and about how Jesus believes women and the vulnerable and is a friend to children and the poor in spirit and to those who are hurting. I’m going to be talking about how we come to church for the good of our souls. To lament and confess and mourn. We come to weave together our common humanity into our best reflection of the love that birthed us and that continues to work in this crazy world, despite everything. In acts of humility, and acts of courage and openness.  And I’m going to be talking about the Senate hearings and the testimony of Dr Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh this past week. And that may be triggering for some of us. If the news has been restimulating for you, if it has opened an old wound, take care of yourself. We honor that. I believe you, I acknowledge you; I don’t need to know your story, but I am here if you want to tell it. I hope you are surrounding yourself with loved ones and the good at the heart of life even as you’re being reminded of Darkness.  You are not alone. You matter. Your story matters. Your health matters.

We don’t know exactly what happened in this particular situation at a party in 1982, but it needs to be investigated fully and fairly. What we do know, what you and I as people of faith can remind ourselves of over and over in the midst of hateful rhetoric, he-said-she-said, oversimplifications and bluster and rage from all sides– Jesus listened to women. And he was inclined to believe them. Even foreigners,  even those accused of adultery. Over and over, Jesus cut through the gender-oppressive systems of his day to reach out to women, to upend power structures, question authority, treat the words of a rich man with as much respect as those of a poor woman… For the most part without hearing their long explanations or testimony. Sometimes with just a touch.

I want to say: if you see yourself, your life experiences reflected in the news: If it’s you– victim or survivor of sexual assault like Blasey Ford, you don’t owe your story to anyone, just survival to yourself but, if you need to share it, if need drives you, for your own healing or greater good, know that Jesus honors your body and your healing. The liberating spirit son healer/teacher redeemer believes women, believes suffering, lifts the lowly, and privileges their voices over the judge, the official, the king.  You matter.

If it’s you, on the other side– if you have harmed someone, if you have somewhere in your personal history the memory of a hurt you caused, meant or not– again I don’t know the truth of what Judge Kavanaugh did or didn’t do, only know how he comported himself in Senate testimony– there is always time to own up to mistakes, to ask forgiveness, to set people free, including yourself. There is time to respond with dignity… A perpetrator also may be hemorrhaging for years, getting worse instead of better– in need of healing– which sometimes requires the humble and bold reaching out of hand, saying it was I.

What’s happening in the country, on the public stage, is not, or not only, about politics but about how we are human together.  We are in what feels like a watershed time for gender dynamics, for rape culture, for gender-based violence. This very public story is about more than the individuals.  For such a time as this– imagine the spiritual preparation Dr Blasey Ford underwent, even as a middle-class white woman with privilege and education, having kept an aspect of her identity hidden for her own survival, to give her testimony so calmly and clearly, in such a public sphere, at such cost to herself, her family, her reputation in some circles. Risk to her safety. “If I perish, I perish.”

Whether or not Judge Kavanaugh is guilty– consider the ways he chose to use his public voice: not to lift up the wrongs done to this woman, or teenage women in general; not to reflect on his own youth or to send a direct message to young men for whom he is a role model; but to rage and defend his position and his privilege.  What a waste of a microphone, the chance to shape culture for good. I do not know how you or I might react in such an extreme and public situation, but i hope that we would reflect, pray, even, and ask: where is healing needed, here, in me or outside of me, and how can I contribute to that? What does my faith require of me? Where is God in this?

We know where Jesus is: he’s healing the hemorrhage. He’s listening to the gentile and the widow.  He’s saying to the tax collectors and Pharisees, judges and scribes, come down from your high place, come out of your temple, come and follow me.

I wanted to, needed to, say some of this from the pulpit because rape culture and boys will be boys rhetoric has been underground in this country, but is becoming more blatant. It is a long-bleeding wound of our humanity. It is not often talked about in churches except in mumbles and silences. And it is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.  Jesus instead invites us into a culture of hearing, a culture of repentance. A culture of mutuality and renewal, a culture of stepping out in risk for the goodness of many, when that is yours to do.

For such a time as this.  Esther is a bittersweet story, complicated, no matter how you look at it– we can love and learn from the myth of the girl queen who became a hero to her people, revealing her hidden identity as a Jew in the face of persecution and likely death and saving her whole people from destruction… but she was a girl.queen. Forced into that marriage, with little or no say. An orphan, groomed by men to do her duties. How perfect that such a one is an agent of change.

The current Supreme Court hearings and coming FBI investigation, this whole tangle of stories, is bittersweet, no matter how it “turns out,” again we have been shown, with heart- and gut-wrenching clarity, the deep divide of thinking in this country. The lack of ability to listen or to hold complexity well.  Unwillingness of the power elite to confess faults. We have also been shown courage and reflection, an attempt at changing the narratives of power, the potential breakdown of systems that have served well. What comes next will not be easy. And it may be just as riveting, just as primal.

It is time for us, each and all, to be doing our spiritual preparation like Esther and her people, before actions of courage. God is at work and will keep working, have no doubt, have no fear.  With a touch of a garment, years of suffering find relief. Perhaps acts of kindness will be part of your preparation, part of your action. Acts of listening, acts of showing up. Normal everyday acts of decency that re-weave what feels ripped apart.  Sometimes the small decencies take great courage. Normal everyday acts of radical persistence: to treat with respect, to believe and defend the vulnerable. Perhaps channeling your anger will be part of your preparation, your action: finding places to share your intense feelings, to be held, to release, and then to channel that energy into a life of intention.  And also, to seek your own physical and mental healing with courage, even after long years of pain as the standard. We are invited to a new standard, a freer way of being: one that calls for the wholeness of all people, one that calls forth wholeness. In the midst of brokenness. In me, in you, in our world. May it be so. Call forth wholeness in us, with us, through us, among us. Show us the way. Amen.