Matthew 24:36-44, Isaiah 2:1-5
Kitty Cooper Holtzclaw, reflecting on the gospel lesson for this morning, said, “The idea that God might break into my life disrupts my safe, comfortable scenario. I am threatened by the thief, violated by the intrusion.” It is much easier to think of God as “the protector God, the righteous Judge, the Good Shepherd.” In this holiday season we treasure all those images of being safe, being protected, being at home with family and friends.
I was thinking earlier this week of those families in Chattanooga, TN, whose children were killed or injured in that horrible school bus accident. How hard their Thanksgivings must have been! How hard the holiday season will be for them! But their experience isn’t isolated. I had a friend who called me one year during Advent. Her father had died – rather unexpectedly. She and her husband were both on the phone with me. He said, weeping, “We took down his Christmas stocking and threw it away!” For many this season of celebration is difficult. As the world focuses on good feelings, on happiness, on nostalgic gatherings, they see loss, emptiness, and grief. Poet Ann Weems wrote:
Some of us walk into Advent
tethered to our unresolved yesterdays
the pain still stabbing
the hurt still throbbing.
It’s not that we don’t know better;
it’s just that we can’t stand up anymore by ourselves.
On the way to Bethlehem,
will you give us a hand?
The world around us is driven by the hope that the season’s requisite observations and celebrations can fill the emptiness. And those who are “tethered to unresolved yesterdays” either withdraw – or strive to keep pace and ignore the pain.
Too often, even in the church, we push on with easy proclamations of hope, peace, love and joy – and shut our ears, our minds, and our hearts to the pain in others’ lives and sometimes in our own.
Today’s gospel lesson seems to be a jarring note. We are given not the Prince of Peace, not the Good Shepherd, but a thief who comes unexpectedly. We have disturbing images of people disappearing – the Rapture it’s called in some circles. You’ve seen the bumper stickers stating that if the rapture comes, the car will be driverless. I heard of another this week. “If the rapture comes, can I have your car?”
Perhaps, however, we need to recognize the jarring note as a reality in life – if and when we are honest about our experiences and the experiences of those around us. This season does not provide a break from the world’s challenges and ills, no matter how hard we might try to live as if it does. Holtzclaw quotes a professor who had studied apocalyptic literature (literature that speaks of the end days.). He said, after years of work, that he could be certain of only two things. “First, we are now closer to the Second Coming of Christ that we ever have been, and second, one of two things will happen to us: either we will die before Christ comes again or Christ will return in our lifetime. Either way, the result is the same. We won’t get out alive.”
It is true that in this gospel passage it is Christ who comes unexpectedly – and we have to be careful about saying that the ills we experience are given to us by God. But, maybe, instead, we can hear this as a promise that Christ is present in the disruptions that shake us – and sometimes threaten to destroy us. In the midst of the earthquakes of our lives, we are promised that God is at work.
One of the traditions that has arisen in the last quarter century has been that of offering Blue Christmas Services or Longest Night Services. One resource explains it: “We acknowledge that the holiday season can be difficult for those of us who are grieving the loss of loved ones, who have difficult family relationships, who struggle with addictions, physical and mental illness, depression or stress, and who feel deeply the pain of those in our world who suffer the effects of war, poverty, and disease. So we gather as a community to express and acknowledge these conflicting emotions, as we remember that it was into such a world as this that God’s love took on flesh in Jesus, our Redeemer.” The service uses the Advent Candles, renaming them Grief, Pain, Fears and Struggle. Such feelings seem out of step with the world’s frantic observances that seek an idealized and nostalgic feel good holiday.
There's a lot of "Ah, isn’t that sweet” tied up in this holiday. We look back to the birth of Jesus. And the birth of a baby is sweet. But, Jesus came – centuries ago. That birth happened. It’s over and done with. So, the season of Advent isn’t about preparing for a long-ago birth. Holtzclaw says, “Advent is a time of preparation for something that has not yet happened, something totally new, something that will happen in the fullness of time. It will be a time like no other, and many biblical images used to describe it are not fearful, but full of hope.” She looks at Isaiah that promised that when God disrupts our lives, “it will ultimately be for good, not ill. In that inbreaking, God will inaugurate a wonderful new reign of peace and justice. People will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and nations will study war no more.”
Retreat isn’t possible. It isn’t the way of faith. We need to seek and live into the presence of God that speaks to grief, pain, fear, and struggle – the world’s and our own. The gospel lesson speaks of being watchful and prepared. In this season we are invited to hone the practices that allow us to be more watchful and more prepared – not to avoid the world, but to know God’s presence in the midst of all that life brings.
It's been interesting that using the communion liturgy weekly has brought certain phrases into my consciousness in new ways. “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again,” we say. We live in that in-between time – between the Christ has risen and the Christ will come again. Or do we?
Maybe the good news we forget is that Christ is always coming – always breaking in, to bring hope, to bring light to our darkness. Christ is always coming to be with us in our grieving, to ease our pain, to allay our fears, and to strengthen us in our struggles. We don’t have to wait for Christ to come. He has come. He is here. The ultimate days may not yet be upon us – but when that day will be is not our concern. Our concern is how we live these days, with the awareness that God has not abandoned us or the world. We should live in ways that proclaim in word and deed that there is always hope, not a hope that what we once knew will return, but that God is working for and toward that image that speaks to us, the world where the wolf lives with the lamb, the leopard with the kid, the calf and lion and fatling together, with a little child leading them.
We need, and the world needs, a good news of the season that can hear the grief of families who lost their children in an accident, that makes space for all grief, pain, fear and suffering. When my friend’s husband told me that they had thrown out her father’s Christmas stocking, I asked, “Why?” We talked about it. I suggested that not putting it up that year made good sense. “But, next year,” I said, “wouldn’t it be nice to pull it out and share stories about who he was and what he meant to you?” “I’m going to go get it out of the trash,” her husband said.
One of my favorite Ann Weems poems speaks to the season. It’s titled “Not Celebrate?”
Your burden is too great to bear?
Your loneliness is intensified during this Christmas season?
Your tears seem to have no end?
You should lead the celebration!
You should run through the streets
to ring the bells and sing the loudest!
You should fling the tinsel on the tree,
and open your house to your neighbors,
and call them in to dance!
For it is you above all others
who know the joy of Advent.
It is unto you that a Savior is born this day,
One who comes to lift your burden from your shoulders,
One who comes to wipe the tears from your eyes.
You are not alone,
for he is born to you this day.
He was born. He lived. He died. He is born to us this and every day.
John 6:25-35, Romans 8:31-39
In the church liturgical year, today is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the church calendar. Next week Advent begins. Now, it generally happens that Christ the King Sunday falls on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Every once in a while there is an extra Sunday between Thanksgiving and Advent. But, usually, pastors who preach the lectionary are left with the dilemma of whether or not to preach on the assigned scripture lessons for the day and observe the church calendar emphasis or join the world in looking at Thanksgiving – a National Holiday –albeit one with religious overtones.
When our national holiday is presented to us in movies or talk shows or TV programs, people speak of that for which they are thankful – family, job, food, housing, safety, citizenship, freedom. (You can make your own list!) We are thankful for that which can be seen, for that which can be known in our lives.
Yet, we come to this particular Thanksgiving Holiday with many, many people struggling with the climate in our nation – a climate of hostility and fear that threatens those very things that we proclaim are a part of our National Thanksgiving. Some fear that their rights are threatened. Others are experiencing direct threats and hostility. A friend had to remove a bumper sticker from his car because of the hate and threats directed towards him by another driver. Children in our schools have been taunted by other students and even by teachers. Yesterday’s paper had a story about all those immigrants who are fearful that deportation may be imminent.
This is a national holiday. But its traditional roots are in the story of long ago immigrants who came seeking religious freedom—and found hospitality extended to them by the strangers that inhabited this land. We are told of an autumn festival that celebrated survival. President Lincoln decided that Thanksgiving should become an official national observance.
It strikes me that in many ways the Thanksgiving Holiday has encouraged escapism. We numb ourselves with food and parades and football games and hope, for a time, to let the harsh realities retreat from our awareness. Our search for bread is a search for safety. We’ve sort of sanitized the tradition. Many Native Americans complain about the “stories” of the First Thanksgiving. They note the conflicts of the earliest days when the settlers came into this country and started taking land. Those conflicts have continued through the centuries – even to this day, as we hear about the fight over the pipeline across sacred lands. Some Native Americans have renamed Thanksgiving, calling it “The Day of Mourning.” President Lincoln set Thanksgiving Day when the Civil War was raging. He called for it to be a day to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” Where is the thanksgiving?
Today’s gospel lesson was one suggested for the theme of Thanksgiving. It follows John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand. People had flocked to hear Jesus’ words – words that pointed to God’s promised realm. When physical hunger became an issue, he fed them – from five barley loaves and two fish. Then he retreated. His disciples left by boat to go to Capernaum, encountered a storm – and Jesus. The crowd eventually found Jesus with the disciples in Capernaum.
“Very truly, I tell you,” Jesus said, “you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
They were thankful --for full stomachs, for a miracle. Perhaps they were thankful for a meal that provided an escape from the ills of their world. But Jesus invited them to seek a different bread—one that was, ultimately, more fulfilling.
If we look back to the autumn celebrations of the early settlers, or even to the celebration of Thanksgiving during the Civil War, we have to be challenged in our understanding of what it means to be a thankful people. Thanksgiving for those who sought a new land was based not on external circumstances, but on a fundamental trust that God was with them. Jesus went on to tell the crowd that had sought him that he, himself, was the bread that they needed. “Give us this day our daily bread” is a prayer not about having our physical needs met, but about being sustained by Christ’s very presence in our midst.
This Thanksgiving it seems to me that we, in the church, should be focusing on that connection with the life-giving presence of Christ. Our thanksgiving is not based on personal safety, or on goods or on success. Such a basis for thanksgiving too often ignores those whose worlds are fragile. And that is many in our own nation today. There is palpable anxiety among many who fear what the future may bring.
One of my favorite passages is the selection from Romans. It is, in many ways, a song of thanksgiving. It, too, came from difficult times. And Paul declared, powerfully, the foundation of his life.
“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?.... Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? ….No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Paul’s thanks was rooted in God’s presence. That assurance gave him the courage, not to retreat, not to seek personal safety, not to seek his own gratification, but to work and witness to the values of God’s realm. As we celebrate our national holiday of Thanksgiving, it cannot be a time of retreat. For the very things that we, as a nation, often proclaim as the foundation for our thanks are always tenuous – and never equally available to all.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King borrowed a quote from Unitarian minister, Theodore Parker. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It comes from a sermon the Rev. Parker wrote as the Civil War was looming.
We cannot understand the moral Universe. The arc is a long one, and our eyes reach but a little way; we cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; but we can divine it by conscience, and we surely know that it bends toward justice. Justice will not fail, though wickedness appears strong, and has on its side the armies and thrones of power, the riches and the glory of the world, and though poor men crouch down in despair. Justice will not fail and perish out from the world of men, nor will what is really wrong and contrary to God’s real law of justice continually endure.
The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice – justice that is God given, God driven, and a sign of God’s presence. Christian thanksgiving is rooted in the faith that God’s justice will never fully fail or perish. Christian thanksgiving is rooted in the faith that wrong will not have the final word. Christian thanksgiving is rooted in God’s call to us to be involved in God’s work toward and for justice. And, Christian thanksgiving is rooted in the faith that as we testify and work toward and for God’s justice, God is present with us. “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
To come back to the gospel lesson, Jesus recognized our need for physical nourishment. He gifted the crowd with the bread that they needed. We need the opportunity to rest, to be nourished, to connect with one another around tables and the good gift of food. He had not denied the hungry crowd. He invited them to look beyond the physical nourishment and be nourished by his presence and his message. I pray your Thanksgiving may be a time of physical nourishment and a time of reflection on the promise of God’s presence with us in a world that still falls short of God’s good intent.
Luke 21:5-19, Isaiah 65:17-25
I’m going to begin on a very personal note. I was glad the gospel passage was the designated one for this Sunday. I first heard a sermon on Mark’s version of this passage when the United States was initiating Operation Desert Shield. I was at a national conference – and everybody was on edge.
I can’t remember who the preacher was. We were at Princeton Seminary, so I think it was a professor. He called our attention to the world in which we found ourselves immersed. He called attention to our deep fears. The stones were coming down. We were on the brink of war.
We may not be on the brink of war, but we have been confronted by the deep divides in our country. The vote was pretty evenly divided. In fact, one candidate won the popular vote and the other the electoral college –and, therefore, the presidency. I heard someone on NPR say that “partisan divides” are stronger than race, sex, or any other factor. So, we seem to be locked in a perpetual gridlock where people talk past one another and there is constant fear and anxiety. The fears are different. Many in the nation fear the changes that they see threaten their way of life. Many others fear the push to look backwards and are afraid that hard fought-for rights will be taken away.
Many preachers speak about the “end times” which are upon us, about the coming of the anti-Christ, and all the signs that God’s wrath will soon be unleashed upon the world. We hear folks speak of Muslims and population shifts and the danger looming that will destroy life as we know it.
A message of fear always preaches well. It preaches well in some churches. It preaches well in some political circles. It draws large crowds. We can look back in history and see its power, the power to rally people and face a common enemy. “Be afraid! We have been threatened. What we hold dear is crumbling!”
We live in troubling times. Our sure foundations are crumbling. Images of destruction and decay are constantly before us: towers falling in New York City; New Orleans underwater; seashores devastated by oily goo; soldiers falling on battlefields in remote lands; poor nations wracked by natural disasters; and our own cities and neighborhoods with empty houses and storefronts and people begging for food and shelter. We hear stories of what we call terrorism within our own nation – shootings at night clubs, schools, workplaces, and malls.
In these troubling times a message of fear is an easy one. It gets a quick response. “Beware. Beware. The end is upon us. All we know, all we value and cherish is passing away.”
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”
The original context for these words, during Jesus’ earthly ministry, is forward looking. But, when Luke’s gospel was written the temple had already been destroyed. The first hearers of this gospel were living in the midst of the difficult days to which Jesus had pointed. The Roman Empire had decided to crush Israel and its faith. Rome was tired of the rebellions that arose within that tiny nation. So the temple, the very center of their religious life, had been completely destroyed.
The Israelites’ self-understanding of their relationship with God demanded that the temple exist so that the High Priest could offer a daily sacrifice on their behalf. When it was destroyed the people must have thought, “Surely, the end has come upon us.” Even those who believed in Jesus assumed that the end was imminent. They expected Jesus to return at any moment. They were living in troubling times and their sure foundations had not only been shaken, it had been obliterated.
Let’s go back to Luke’s gospel (remember, gospel means Good News!) Jesus’ words are heard differently by those who have already seen the temple destroyed than they would have been heard by those who could still see it standing. The focus is not warning, but reassurance. “Do not be terrified!” That isn’t advice for some distant future, but for the days in which they found themselves. There is a promise that God is present within the chaos. They have not been abandoned. As the familiar crumbles and fades away God is working.
The message in Isaiah is also from troubling times. The Israelites had returned from exile – but even coming home was difficult. The temple had been rebuilt, but it was only a shadow of the temple they had once known. The city was still in ruins. Homes and markets had not been rebuilt. Many lived in desperate situations. The realities of the day were hunger, thirst, illness, early death, sorrow and grief, economic injustice and political turmoil. In the midst of those troubling times the prophet spoke God’s word: “I am creating a new heaven and a new earth.” In the midst of chaos there are the seeds of something new, something life giving. In the midst of chaos there are the seeds of peace: peace among people; peace among the nations; peace with the creation itself.
It was not time to disengage, but time to engage, time to sign on to what God was doing, to join in God’s rebuilding project. To engage in God’s project means looking for ways that heal rather than ways that divide, seeking yeses that connect people to God’s life-giving ways and ending the “noes” that harm and destroy. It means seeking ways that alleviate fear rather than using fear as a tool to divide people from each other. Isaiah’s imagery is powerful and positive. God is working for a new creation where children don’t die prematurely – from illness, or (to modernize) from car accidents, gun violence, starvation, or abuse. God is working for a new creation where workers are able to afford housing and good, healthy food for their tables. God is working for a new creation that celebrates the diversity of human life. God is working for a new creation that is so filled with peace that even natural predators live side by side.
It sounds impossible. But God’s people are called to work on this God project – to seek to bring pieces of it into reality, new creation from the present chaos. It is a powerful dream for all to find life in fullness – the widowed, the orphaned, the stranger, the alien, the friend and even the enemy.
The prophet in Isaiah is telling of a new creation story. We hear echoes of Genesis. And we are to remember, from Genesis, that chaos is not God’s absence, but God’s clay. God’s spirit continues to blow across the chaos of the world and God continues to say, “Let there be light and let there be life.”
Jesus, through Luke’s gospel, reassures us. Troubling times are not end times. God has not abandoned us. Troubling times are filled with opportunity – opportunity to live fully into God’s call and align ourselves with the values of God’s in-breaking realm. In troubling times we can testify to the opportunities before us to seek new paths of justice and mercy, of peace and wholeness. Jesus tells those who would listen that God is with us. We do not need a faith of pat and ready answers or one that is bound by the past and our traditions. God calls us to a living faith that seeks and welcomes God’s wisdom in the midst of turmoil – wisdom that testifies to the loving, redeeming, healing ways of our Creator God.
M. Scott Peck said, “The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.” Those who heard Luke’s gospel found a faith that could testify in the midst of chaos – a faith that worked to bring Jews and Gentiles, male and female, slave and free into life-giving community. Out of the chaos of their day came the seeds that have compelled Christians throughout the centuries to work on behalf of the world’s poorest and most oppressed. The church has helped to birth justice and bring mercy and comfort. That is the church’s call for today.
Whose Wife Will the Woman Be?
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
The gospel lesson this morning is one of those that make me ask, “Can I figure out a way to take this Sunday off? Who, in this day and age, wants to preach about marriage?” It sounds like an invitation to wander into the midst of the culture wars! Add to that the words from 2 Thessalonians which declare, “So, then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.”
“Hold fast to the traditions.” Don’t we hear that admonition in many ways, in many circles? It is a constant cry in the face of radical and rapid change. “Hold fast to the traditions.” We hear it in political circles that want to direct how it is people should live. We hear it as an approach to understanding who we are as a nation. Strict constitutionalists tell us that if we are to be good Americans we need to be faithful to original intent of those who wrote the constitution. We can’t interpret for our own age, our own context. We should let the voice of the original framers remain the dominant voice.
Yet, we need to remember that the "tradition" of which Paul wrote was not some ancient scheme. It was the story, the stories of Jesus and the impact of his life, his death, and his resurrection. The Christian community was still in its infancy. It was still fleshing out what it meant to be a community that was not bound by ancient divisions. The tradition of which Paul wrote was not rigid – but rooted in the life-giving presence of Jesus – a presence that broke with and destroyed ancient animosities and fears. Paul, the great Jew, had himself been changed by the tradition that was not found in codified laws or in dusty manuscripts. Paul had been changed by an encounter with the redeeming, loving presence of God. Paul then began to struggle with what that meant for him and for all who would choose to follow the resurrected Christ.
So, the tradition to which we are to hold fast isn’t necessarily the tradition that we easily recognize or follow. And that is a truth to keep in mind as we encounter this gospel story.
The Sadducees were followers of tradition. Their tradition was the Torah, what we know of as the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Scribes and Pharisees has a broader tradition that included the wisdom that had grown out of wrestling with the Torah. The Torah has no mention of the possibility of resurrection. So, the question that they posed to Jesus was not intended to generate discussion, to deepen faith. They came to Jesus with a problem that they intended to use to show the “ridiculousness” (in their eyes) of the concept of resurrection. In every way the scenario up they presented was faithful to the tradition. “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
It’s a gotcha question. It’s meant to ridicule Jesus, to poke holes in the “tradition” to which they assume he holds. The idea of resurrection, when fleshed out, has problems. How can seven men claim one woman?
It's so easy to get caught up in thinking about all the ways we look at marriage in our own society. We could speak about traditions that permit men to have multiple wives – traditions in other cultures and in parts of our own. We could think about the church’s tradition of holding marriage in such high regard that divorce was impossible or a lengthy, painful process. The church, to be faithful to the high estate of marriage, was often willing to overlook abuse. We still might think about how difficult it is, in our society, for divorced couples to move forward in positive ways. And of course, our society has a tradition of prohibiting certain marriages. For years, blacks and whites couldn’t marry. That prohibition was eliminated years ago, yet many interracial couples still struggle. A few years ago, a Cheerios commercial featuring a biracial child and interracial parents had to be pulled because of backlash. Today’s issue, of course, is same-sex marriages. It may be legal – but, for many, it is a difficult concept. And often, those most opposed, appeal to our own religious traditions.
We might come to Jesus with our own set of traditions and assumptions and bias about what marriage is supposed to look like – and how that plays out. Today, we add a layer of fantasy played out in movies and stories that tell us that marriage love is everlasting. I remember standing at the grave site of a man who had died in a tragic accident. His wife –relatively young – had arranged to have the headstone engraved to declare that her marriage bond to him was exclusive and eternal. She expected to be reunited with him in the resurrection. I wondered what would happen if she met someone else. Would she be able to find love again? Would she see that as a betrayal?
It's easy, in hearing this encounter, to get hung up on the issue of marriage. Like the Sadducees, we bring our traditions and our expectations – and want to know, from Jesus, if he’s with us or against us.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.’” Jesus told the Sadducees that they couldn’t use logic, earthly logic, to figure out what the resurrection would look like. Our earthly institutions and practices and, yes, traditions, won’t exist in God’s realm. It’s different. We can’t imagine it based on our earthly experiences or even our earth-bound dreams.
Professor Nancy Lynne Westfield wrote, “The ways of God are not the ways of humanity. God’s judgments are not our judgments. Things do not work in heaven the way they work on earth—thank God! Jesus answers the question by saying that in heaven even the lowliest of the society would be considered ‘like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.’ This radical statement of the gospel, that in heaven there are no sociopolitical strata, is good news even today.”
We get hung up on the wrong things. We stew over the details of something familiar – and run the danger of missing the gospel, the good news, that is in Jesus’ message to the Sadducees. Westfield writes that the Sadducees would have been astounded that “the woman,” in God’s realm, would have had an identity apart from the marriage relationship. She is included in Jesus’ statement that those of the resurrection are like angels and are children of God. She has value – value apart from being asked to be a child-bearer.
Former President Jimmy Carter said that the abuse of women is the primary human rights issue of today. We hear horrific stories – stories like that of Boko Haram in Nigeria, which kidnapped school girls and took them into captivity. Or we might remember stories from Yugoslavia where soldiers raped women. A friend said that women are often the victims in conflict – used as a way of asserting authority and power over enemies. They are the collateral damage.
But, we cannot say that this is an issue that exists only in foreign lands. We dress up the abuse – but it is rampant in our own society. It has made headlines during this election! I read one young woman’s letter that asked a question, “Why are we known only according to labels? Labels that more often than not connect us to men? Wife. Mother. Daughter.” We see the issue on college campuses where women are frequently assaulted. This week, Harvard suspended its male soccer team because of its practice of rating the women on the women’s team. There are also stories about recruiting practices that use women as a tool. We see it in the court system that sometimes blames victims and excuses behavior that treats women as objects rather than human beings. There is a growing outcry about judges who excuse sexual assault and blame the victims. Yet, it happens. Again and again. There is abuse of women in the assumption that they cannot make decisions for themselves. A friend recently said, “It makes me so angry that there are groups pushing for laws that deny women the freedom to make choices for themselves!” I read a powerful article that spoke of the way the interaction of men and women is portrayed in films. The author noted that, too often, the films show men ignoring women’s “no-s.” A man pushes and pushes and pushes until the woman says “yes.” And that is presented as romantic!
“Whose wife will the woman be?” Their gotcha question showed that they didn’t see a woman as anything more than a wife who would, who should, bear children for a man. For them, she had no worth outside of that role. Jesus told them, Jesus tells us, that in God’s realm those labels that become a means of dismissing others don’t exist. All have value. The woman was a child of God.
If we come back to marriage – it seems to be the “elephant” in this encounter, we have to remember that modern marriages are very different from the marriages of Jesus’ day. They are, at their best, a partnership—female/male, female/female or male/male. There is good Biblical justification for that concept. We have to peel away the cultural practices and look for God’s good intent. Partnership sees and affirms the other. There is no room for abuse.
Westfield wrote, “Jesus [said] that God is the God of the living – the God of newness, forgiveness, and liberation. Oppression on earth does not dictate the rewards of heaven. The bondage and slavery of human life does not inscribe how life will be in heaven.”
The tradition of which Paul wrote is not a tradition that enslaves – but a tradition that calls us to work for the ways of God to be known and lived and embraced by a world that too often chooses to let brokenness rule our lives and diminish the lives of others.