February 14, 2018

2018 Feb14

Ash Wednesday - Year B

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M. Delinger on February 14, 2018


In a letter from the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, from the very top of the Episcopal Church, we have been invited to an Ash Wednesday meditation on the Old Testament Reading from 2 Samuel 13: The Rape of Tamar.


Today, Ash Wednesday, falls on Valentine’s Day, a day that from our earliest childhoods we are fostered to celebrate as a day of love, and in particular, sexual love when we become adults. It is also the day referred to as “VDay”, the day on which The Vagina Monologues includes professional actors and regular people in over 5,800 performances all over the world. This evening, The Vagina Monologues will be performed right here in this space.


VDay, which was born out of the performances of The Vagina Monologues, describes itself as:


…a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. V-Day is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money, and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations. V-Day generates broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation, and sex slavery.


For those of us who attend tonight’s performance, or the performance on February 18, The Vagina Monologues may be the beginning of our meditation on gender-based violence. The performance cannot serve as our full meditation because they are not our stories, the stories of people we know, nor the stories of the abusers we know. Like so many other issues of neglect and abuse, gender-based violence is not only an issue “out there” that happens in the safety of anonymity.

 

Gender-based violence is a very

real part of the lives of people we

know, and perhaps even

your own life.


Ash Wednesday, in the main body of the church building, is not an inappropriate day to meditate on gender-based violence. It is the day on which we are specifically called to repent, and to begin a period of deliberate almsgiving, fasting and prayer. There are many sins to repent of, and the gender-based violence that the Church has been a part of is one of the more egregious sins. We carefully remove the most difficult parts of our biblical history from our Sunday worship. In our 3-year series of set bible readings, 2 Samuel 13 does not appear. We are not afforded the opportunity to grapple with the gender-based violence that is part of our Judeo-Christian history as a community. So, Bishop Mary and I included it for today, Ash Wednesday.


The ashes on Ash Wednesday signify that we are repentant. They remind us of the fragility of human life, and that it is from dust we came, and to dust we will return. Listen carefully to the invitation to the Imposition of the Ashes, which is after my sermon. As you listen to my / Bishop Mary’s invitation, and you receive the ash, think about Tamar and the women in your life she represents.


Why does Jesus warn us, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them”? Because at some point in our lives, we have each been complicit or complacent in the abuses that humans do to one another and to Creation. At a minimum,


we are called to listen to victims

of gender-based violence,


and that is what we will do tonight.


No one listened to Tamar. Her own brother says to her, “Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother; do not take this to heart.” And even though Absalom eventually seeks revenge for the rape of his sister, we never hear from Tamar again. The fight between the brothers becomes about inheritance and the line of succession, ending in both of their deaths and the rise of their younger brother Solomon.


Interestingly, Tamar imposes ashes upon herself. But her ashes, and the tearing of her gown, have a very different significance. In her context, the ashes represent mourning, and not shame. All we know of Tamar is that she had been raped and left to live a life of indignity. Hers was a double-edged sword:

 

  • The law required a man who took a woman’s virginity to marry her, but
  • It was illegal for siblings to have sex with one another.


Surely both of these brought public and family humiliation upon her. But we don’t know, because she is never heard from again, and the scripture writers focus their attention on the fate of her brothers. What we know from her culture is that the ashes represent her mourning that Amnon casts her out. We can only speculate about the shame she suffered, because she is silenced. But we know from our common human condition that Tamar has come face-to-face with its precariousness.


As we hear the stories of the

women who have been victims of

gender-based violence in The

Vagina Monologues, let us

remember the ashes on our

foreheads which represent our

sinfulness, but also the fragility

of human life, fragility in a

culture in which we have

structurally allowed women to

be inferior to men.


Our call to meditate on the Rape of Tamar on this Valentine’s Day, on this VDay, and this Ash Wednesday, is a call to work toward ending gender-based violence, and to repent for our complicity or complacence, or both. When you receive your ashes on your forehead, hold in your heart all the women – and dare I say the men – who are represented by Tamar, and for whom Valentine’s Day cannot be a day to celebrate love.


© 2018 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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