Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 15, 2018
I confess that I am very nervous about this sermon. We are truly living in terrible times, times of real, life- and soul-threatening emergency for millions of people around the world. Times when we have become inured to each story of a hundred or two hundred desperate refugees drowning in the Mediterranean; times when our own government literally pulls children from their parents’ arms at our southern border; times when the president of this country makes common cause with authoritarian rulers around the world and with white supremacists at home; times when U.S. planes are even now refueling Saudi Arabian bombers attacking the only open port in Yemen, driving the cost of food far beyond the means of ordinary people. Times when as a result, Yemeni mothers sit beside their starving children, helpless before their stick-like limbs and sunken eyes. The United Nations has repeatedly called Yemen’s famine the worst humanitarian disaster in the world. We rightly cheer when 12 young men are rescued from almost certain death in a Thailand cave, but for many of us know nothing of the hundreds of thousands of children who may well starve as a result of a war most people in this country don’t even know we’re fighting.
How, in such terrible times, can I take this Sunday to preach about what it means to be a woman before God? How, when humanity is in crisis, can I dare to focus on the concerns of only one part of humanity? Maybe it’s because as women know that, even along the path to liberation, there will always be a crisis, an emergency, a greater priority, that must postpone the day of claiming our full humanity until a later time, when other, more important, issues have first been resolved. And it’s because those crises are genuine and pressing that women so often choose to relinquish our particular claims as women in favor of the greater good. In this, we are a bit like the mother who, rather than see King Solomon cut her baby in half, offered it to another woman.
So, as I say, I am nervous in such times about preaching a sermon like this. But here we go.
Be careful what you wish for. Often the Bible (or the way it is interpreted) takes it as given that women are merely (to use the title of an enormously popular novel and TV show) “handmaids” to men’s more central relationship with God. So I’m always eager for scripture readings that pay attention to the thoughts and actions of women, stories where I can see something of myself reflected. But my heart sank when I saw the propers — the readings appointed in the lectionary — for today. In both the Hebrew scripture (Old Testament) lesson and the gospel, there are stories of women, all right — bad women.