September 23, 2018

2018 Sept23

Proper 20 - Year B

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger on September 23, 2018

 

The passage from Proverbs [Proverbs 31:10-31 http://lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp20_RCL.html] is a beautiful passage, and a good way to end the Wisdom Literature that it is. There is some thought that this passage is referring to Wisdom itself: the wife is a personification of the ideals of Wisdom (Sophia in Greek), who, in Chapter 9 is described as a house-builder, and this illustration of Wisdom as the skilled mistress of her household completes the vision of Wisdom. Even if this is a metaphor for the personal character of Wisdom, it is clear that this applies to human wives.


Coupled with this extolling of women is the reference to children by Jesus. It seems very nice and cuddly, and it establishes the quality of innocence of children as a virtue for followers of Jesus to aspire to. But perhaps not. One interpretation of this reference to children is more about being obedient servants of Jesus. Most children held very low status with little value, they were lowly servants and slaves. Here in Mark’s narrative, the followers of Jesus are to be like the worthless children, and be slaves to Christ and to the poor. So, it may not be so much about exhibiting humility, but being subjugated to the rule of God the Father through Jesus Christ.


Reading the qualities of The Good Wife alongside listening to the news was really jolting for me. I wrote part of this sermon while on campus at the University of Southern California where my sister works. So, I was reminded of the decades-long abuse of young women by the University clinic’s gynecologist. That reminded me of the US Gymnastics team doctor and his decades of abuse of young women and girls at the Michigan State University. In some sense, society failed these girls by not taking them seriously or not ensuring that there was at least one safe environment through which they could seek help without fear of more abuse.


So, when I hear things like, “Boys with be boys,” or “That’s what boys do when they are drunk,” I think, “How have we gotten so far from what Proverbs states we should find in women to a cultural norm of degrading women as the playthings of men and boys?”

  • How did we get from Proverbs to White House aides charged with domestic abuse of their wives?
  • How did we get from Proverbs to a lenient sentence for a college athlete who raped a woman who was passed out behind a garbage dump?
  • How did we get from Proverbs to everything that has been uncovered by the #MeToo Movement, which we all know has been going on forever, and we as a society have been ignoring it forever?


What I really want to do is find a way to take what we read in Proverbs and turn it into the societal norm, not for what we demand from the wives of men, but for what we assume a woman to be until she exhibits otherwise. I want to find a way to view women as:

  • Capable – whether or not she is a wife
  • Has the heart of those around her
  • Does good and not harm
  • Is capable of work with both her hands and her mind, and not as extensions of her breasts
  • Is capable of providing for her household
  • Is capable of being a property owner and developer
  • Is capable of both manufacturing and sales, and by extension, executive management
  • Is compassionate toward those less fortunate
  • Is clothed in strength and dignity and wisdom and teaching
  • And who is praised for not only her faith and faithfulness, but for her accomplishments.

Because those are the qualities that Proverbs states a Good Wife – or a woman has.

 

Some recent summer blockbusters illustrate women with these qualities. In one, a warrior woman culture gets exposed to the corrupt wider world. Wonder Woman came to the big screen for the second time in the summer of 2017, the first time in a leading role. Diana Prince comes from a society of warrior women who are on a hidden island. Long story short: It took a skilled and capable woman to stop the villain armed with a weapon named “Godkiller” from destroying all of humanity.


In another, a male-led culture is protected by an all-female military and a mostly-female council of Wisdom. In Black Panther, that council includes a mother who advises and a little sister who is head of military research & development.


If any of you are James Bond fans, did you have the same jump-out-of-your-seat moment when Judi Dench was revealed on-screen as M, the head of Britain’s intelligence agency? I have to admit that it was more because I have a crush on Judi Dench than it was about her being a woman. But for me, I never doubted that a woman could head an intelligence agency – unless she has a blatant disregard for international law in the interrogation of terrorism suspects.


At the same time in real life, the UK has had two women heads of MI5, from 1992 to 1996 and from 2002 to 2007. In 2013, the second female Director General of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller was Guest Editor for the morning news program on BBC Radio 4, the UK’s news station. As part of the program, she interviewed Judi Dench on playing M! It was more of a jovial exchange between two women who have dominated their respective fields. To hear about the real gifts and skills exhibited by Dame Eliza, you should listen to her Reith Lectures. And to witness the real gifts and skills exhibited by Dame Judi, you simply need to watch anything she has been in. What is most interesting about this Christmas Week 2013 interview is Dame Judi’s response to Dame Eliza’s final question: “Stage, television, film – which do you prefer?”


Dame Judi replied, “My passion is Shakespeare and the theatre. But, you know, I have a film career now, thanks to Harvey Weinstein.” [scroll to 6:37 www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-25526690/how-mi6-delayed-dame-judi-s-lunch-date


Imagine the tangential conversation that they might have had if the interview would have been Christmas Week 2017, just 2 months after allegations against him hit the front page of the New York Times!


I’m going to refer to another superhero film to illustrate our need to care for and foster our children as a society. The Incredibles 2, which is about a superhero couple who have 3 superhero children, is an animated film which highlights that the stress of family does not bypass you even though both parents are superheroes. In it, the mother and the children – a teenage girl, a hyperactive pre-pubescent boy, and an infant son – utilize their own superpowers to overcome the villain despite the fact that their parents think they are too young to be full-fledged superheroes. Though this creates tension throughout the storyline, the exercising of powers of the mom and children is not an example of emasculating the father. He expresses frustration that he had to take care of the baby while the mom was commissioned to fight crime, and the other 2 kids snuck out to join her. But in the end, the family is stronger when all of them are able to contribute to fighting crime – there is a positive synergy when no one is relegated to artificially constructed societal roles.


Of course, I use heroes and superheroes to talk about empowering women because it’s accessible. It’s also hyperbole that helps counterbalance the atrocity of the everyday reality for so many women and children. But these fictional superheroes represent of real-life accomplishments of women. In one of the world’s most successful film franchises, Judi Dench was the first woman to portray the character with absolute authority over men. Gal Gadot fronted one of the first woman-led superhero films. Patty Jenkins became the first female director of an American studio superhero movie. The Incredibles 2 launched the first animated short by Pixar to be written by a woman and directed by a woman. All these ‘firsts’ surprisingly neither emasculated the men in Hollywood or men in general.


Empowering women has nothing

to do with being anti-male.


Jesus empowered many women, and it did not diminish His Divine authority. In fact, two women in the Bible tell Him off: His mother and the Syrophoenician Woman. Neither incident diminished Jesus as a human or as part of the Godhead. In fact, His mother Mary’s chastising led to Jesus’ first miracle at the Wedding at Cana, and the Syrophoenician Woman’s rebuke led the way for Jesus’ salvation to be opened to Gentiles as well as Jews. Clearly, communities and societies are strengthened when men and women work together.


The developers of the Millennial Development Goals know just that! GOAL 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women. These Goals have been a challenge to implement worldwide, but even in their restructuring into the Sustainable Development Goals, Gender Equality is Goal 5, to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” According to the UN, “gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.” The roles of the women at the Wedding at Cana and in the region of Tyre illustrate that. And men do NOT have to suffer or be debased in any way for that to happen.


One thing that St Stephen’s is doing to empower women is to engage with the issues. On Thursday of this week, St Stephen’s is hosting a table of 10 men for the Women's Legacy Fund Luncheon. “The Women’s Legacy Fund’s Mission is to be a catalyst for philanthropy that improves the lives of women and girls in San Luis Obispo County.” Because women’s empowerment depends upon men making a conscious effort to step out of the way, because #MeToo Movement is more of a men’s issue than it is a women’s issue, I have asked 4 other men from St Stephen’s to join me and to bring a male guest

.
The keynote speaker will be Ted Bunch. He


“is an educator, activist and lecturer working to end all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls. He is Chief Development Officer of A CALL TO MEN and is internationally recognized for his efforts to prevent violence against women while promoting a healthy, respectful manhood. He is a leading voice on male socialization, the intersection of masculinity and violence against women, and healthy, respectful manhood.”


Ted Bunch understands that women and girls posses the characteristics we heard from Proverbs, and he wants to show us men how to let those characteristics – those women and girls – flourish.


In Genesis 1, God created Man and Woman together. In Genesis 2, God and Man created Woman together as a suitable companion – bread fellow – to Man, not as a subordinate of Man. Jesus listened to the woman caught in adultery and believed her. He listened to the Women at the Well and believed her. He instructed Mary Magdalene to be the first to proclaim His Resurrection. There were numerous women who were equally or more dedicated to their friend and Savior Jesus, and served Him and their communities in ways that the 12 male Apostles repeatedly failed. So, we must ask ourselves as followers of Jesus: How do we lift up our women and girls?

 

  • There is no doubt in my mind that the passage from Proverbs, and the end of a book of Wisdom Literature, is an attempt to lift the status of women in its context several thousand years ago in a far-away land.
  • There is no doubt in my mind that we are to take from it an example of the qualities we are to honor in the women in our lives and empower their opportunities to be of equal status to men with equitable entitlement and responsibility.
  • There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus valued both women and children to an exponentially greater degree than the society and cultures in which His earthly life was immersed.
  • There is no doubt in my mind that the writer of Proverbs believed women to be “far more precious than jewels”, and Jesus believed the same of both women and children.

 

As followers of Jesus, we must subjugate ourselves to His mandate to love one another as He loves us.


That means believing our

women, protecting our children,


and showing by our good lives that our works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.

© 2018 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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