June 12, 2005
Immanuel Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Dianne O'Connell
Genesis 18:1-15 and 21:1-7
Matthew 10:5a, 11-14
She Who Laughs Last…
“Celebrating the Gifts of Women” -- now there is a topic which could take you in a number of directions. I thought about using the passage from Proverbs 31 as the Hebrew Scripture lesson, the Ode to a Capable Woman – the Ancient Martha Stewart who could keep the family books, cook the family meals, cook the family books, raise the family’s children, and promote her husband’s prestige in the community, all the while, come what may, always “laugh at the times to come.” Yes, the perfect woman. Capable of everything and always of good spirits. Martha could turn the worst of happenings into a tasty meal or a financial bonanza. And has done so, recently.
How many of us have done our darn-dest to live up to this ideal? Ancient of Days Superwoman. I know I have tried – intermittently, I admit, but I have tried.
We all know that Woman only pretends to be the Weaker Sex. That’s one of our “gifts”. But sometimes we have to remind ourselves – just where have we come from and where are we going – and just what should we expect along the way. Women know there is a Circle of Life, and what goes around, comes around -- and sometimes bounces back.
When I went off to seminary – just over twenty years ago now – I remember that I really wanted to study Feminist Theology and Liberation Theology. And that’s exactly what I did. Twenty years later, I don’t hear those terms very often. And I wonder if that’s because we, as women in the church, have attained all that we sought, or if it just doesn’t matter anymore. Maybe we’ve just gone off to fix other problems.
I came home back
then all fired up to start a new congregation called Mary Magdalene
Presbyterian. I still like the sound of
it. Instead, I got involved with the
Mary Magdalene prison program for recovering prostitutes. And went into hospital chaplaincy with a
vengeance – working at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute and
It was also somewhat disconcerting this week when I looked around and counted heads. There were about a dozen fully ordained women ministers in the Yukon Presbytery back in 1987 when I was ordained and about six now. We do have seven Commissioned Lay Pastors who are women. By the best of counts, that’s still pretty stagnant. I’m not sure what that means, but I’m thinking about it.
I do know that
Remember the Puritan Anne Hutchinson? Back in 1635 or so she had the audacity to meet with women in her home and speak of spiritual matters. Some 60 to 80 persons eventually came to her services held in her Boston-area home, upsetting the Puritan patriarchy to no end. She was banished from the community along with her husband and 15 children. And women were henceforth prohibited from meeting together without a clergyman present.
But NOT in our
Reformed tradition! Men in Black was the
Rule. And not much changed in the
“Church Reformed, Always Reforming” for about 250 years. Then in 1889, a Cumberland Presbyterian
Church presbytery ordained its first woman minister, Louisa Woosley. Her synod later overturned her ordination. Eight years later, in 1897, the General
Assembly ruled that the
It was 99 years ago, that the United
Presbyterian Church in
Twenty-five more years of debate, and the first female PCUSA Presbyterian minister Margaret Towner was ordained in 1956. In her first church, the only time Rev. Towner was allowed in the pulpit was the Sunday after her ordination when she gave the benediction. What WERE these men so frightened of?
Humph. We might say. Who cares about this ordination
business? Women have exercised major influence in the church regardless of
minor things like ordination – like our Rev. Alice Green who arrived in Savoonga
And we should not
skip over Mrs. Amanda McFarland who came to
Our Mary Jane
Landstrom was one of those early church women who, coming to
But what special gifts have these and other women offered to the well-being of their spiritual communities? I think it must be substantial and important, or the men wouldn’t be so concerned.
Perhaps we need to go back to the very beginning, the beginning of our Judeo-Christian heritage.
The Lectionary reading from the Hebrew Scriptures assigned for today is the passage from Genesis – where we are told that “The Lord” appeared to Father Abraham by the Oaks of Mamre. The Lord came in the form of three men. Abraham was terribly excited at their arrival and ran about slaughtering calves, requesting his wife Sarah to prepare cakes, and generally being the good host.
It must have been surprising when Abraham learned that the men came to see, not him, but rather his wife. “Where is your wife Sarah?”, they asked. “There in the tent,” Abraham pointed. “We’ll next year at this time your wife Sarah will have a son.”
Overhearing them, Sarah laughs to herself. She was old and gray and it looked as though life was about to pass her by on this one. Better to laugh than to cry. But sure enough, a few chapters latter we find Sarah with a bouncing baby boy named Isaac.
“God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me,” she cries. Who would have thought it? Sometimes we have to wait a long time for the joy and laughter of reaching a dream.
Sarah’s impact on
the faith of her descendants is greater than one might realize. As the first Matriarch of the emerging Hebrew
faith, both she and Abram had been raised in an entirely different culture from
that of the later Hebrews. One writer,
Savina Teubal, notes that it was generally persons from upper class families in
Why is this
important? Because Sarah, and her daughter-in-law
Rebecca, and Rebecca’s daughters-in-law Rachel and Leah – all hailed from
Mesopotamia, a society where certain women
served in religious roles and were afforded great respect. The early Hebrew matriarchs did not give up
their religious ways and religious influence easily. It was Rebecca who chose which of her twin
sons would receive the family blessing and inheritance – and it wasn’t the
oldest of the two Esau, but rather the younger, gentler son, Jacob. Jacob was sent back to the original homeland
Twenty years later, Jacob returns married to his cousins, the sisters Rachel and Leah. Rachel, for her part, had stolen her family’s religious images because she had a right to them as the younger of the two daughters, according to Teubal.
The matriarchs eventually lost ground – and the resulting Hebrew religion became as patriarchal as any on earth. Women’s place was firmly relegated to the hearth, and the hearth alone. And, I might add, as a result all did not go well for the Hebrews. Generation after generation, all did not go well.
visionary would get a glimpse of a better way.
Perhaps a glimpse of the
“You shall know
that I am in the midst of
“I will pour out my spirit on ALL flesh, your sons AND your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.”
It won’t be just the male priests – and it won’t be just the female ones either. It won’t be just the young, or just the old. It won’t be just the rich, it will be wage-slaves, as well. The spirit of the Holy One is for all of us.
Peter picks up the vision of Joel when he addresses the crowd at Pentecost. In the last days, God declares, I will pour out my spirit upon ALL flesh, your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and even male and female slaves shall prophesy. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
I’m not generally an “end days” preacher, but Joel’s vision is not a bad one. It gives us a glimpse of what could be, perhaps what should be in a world pleasing to God.
Okay, so just what do women bring to a church's spiritual life that is in any way different from what men bring?
In a word: Balance.
One could say, love, compassion, openness to experience as well as tradition. It’s a way of thinking. It’s a way of feeling. It’s a way of interacting with others. Us women are generally pretty good at being “in touch with our feminine side”. Not that men don’t have these traits. Can’t be all these things. They do. And then can. But it is a little bit different. It’s a necessary variation. We need us all.
the reason that my Mary Magdalene Presbyterian Church faded into the shadows of
my memory. It’s something like Gale
Smoke said last Sunday. He knew the
power and saving nature of the
I too love the men, the women, the older folks, the younger folks, the toddlers and the teenagers, the whole array of folks who make up The Church, Our Church. God loves them, too.
So, yes, today in the Sunday to Celebrate the Gifts of Women – and to remember how difficult it has been at times to have our Gifts accepted by others. But may we never forget that we all have gifts to give. And for those of us who are still waiting for what we think is the ultimate recognition, or greatest blessing, remember Sarah despaired and laughed to herself,
“It’ll never happen.”
But then, after what seemed like a hundred years, it was Sarah, holding her dream, who had the last laugh:
“God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” Who would have thought it? Sometimes we have to wait along time to laugh with such gusto, but -- what goes around, does comes around – and, she who laughs last, laughs best.
May the Holy One bless all of our gifts and fill each of us with the knowledge and surety that our gifts are acceptable and honored in the sight of our Lord. Amen.
Those of you who feel comfortable with the words and thoughts in the Woman’s Creed printed on our bulletin insert, please join me:
(Upon pondering the Apostles’ Creed and wondering what it would have been like had women written it.)
Leader: We believe in God
Who created woman and man in God’s own image
Who created the world, And gave both sexes
The care of the earth.
People: We believe in Jesus, Child of God, Chosen of God,
Born of the woman Mary
Who listened to women and liked them
Who stayed in their homes
Who discussed the Kingdom with them
Who was followed and financed
By women disciples.
Leader: We believe in Jesus,
Who discussed theology with a woman at the well
And first confided in her his messiahship
Who motivated her to go and tell
Her great news to the city.
People: We believe in Jesus who received anointing
From a woman’s at Simon’s house
Who said this woman will be remembered
For what she did – Minister to Jesus.
Leader: We believe in Jesus who spoke of God
As a woman seeking the lost coin
As a woman who swept, seeking the lost.
People: We believe in Jesus who spoke of himself
As a mother hen who would gather her chicks
Under her wings.
Leader: We believe in Jesus who appeared
First to Mary Magdalene
Who sent her with the bursting message:
GO AND TELL…
People: We believe in the wholeness of the Savior
In whom there is neither Jew nor Greek,
Slave nor free, male nor female,
For we are all one in salvation.
Leader: We believe in the Holy Spirit
As she moves over the waters
And over the earth.
People: We believe in the Holy Spirit
As she years within us to
Pray for those things
Too deep for words.
All: We believe in the Holy Spirit
The feminine spirit of God
Who like a hen created us
And gave us birth,
And covers us with her wings.
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