Women's Day: Her Story, Writing a New Chapter

Today is Ascension Sunday in the wider church. We here at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas have chosen this Sunday to lift of the gifts and graces of women as Jesus was lifted from the earth to the heavens on this day so long ago.

    On this Sunday when we celebrate the gifts and contributions of women, I’d like to share some biblical herstory with you. Herstory compliments and completes history. It doesn’t seek to compete or to replace, just to stand along-side.

    For example biblical history teaches us that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-turned-Israel. And that is certainly true. But that’s not the whole story. God is also the God of Hagar - the girlchild abused by Abraham and Sarah. And God is the God of Sarah, her abuser. God is the God of sister-sibling rivals Rachel and Leah and the women-servants, Bilhah and Zilipah to whom they pimped out to their husband - the man they fought over. And  God is the God of their collective daughter-in-law, Rebekah.

    Neither tells the whole story alone. We need the history of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And we need the herstory of Hagar, Sarah, Rachel, Bilhah, Zilipah and Rebekah.

    Today we will learn some old stories that may be for some new stories, herstories to complement and complete our histories. Each of our lessons today teaches us something through herstory that we might have missed if all we hear is history.

    Many know the story of Joseph sold into Egyptian slavery. But do you know the story of the African sister Asenath whom he married there? They had two children, Manesseh and Ephraim, who were counted as two of the twelve tribes of Israel. In our first lesson (1 Chronicles 7:20-24), some of Ephraim’s boys - Joseph’s grandsons - were cattle rustlers and came to a bad end, what you might call frontier, Texas-style justice. Then Ephraim and his wife started their family all over again and a beautiful baby girl named Sheerah came into their lives.

    Sheerah became the only woman in the biblical history or herstory to build a city. And she didn’t just build one; she built three. Two of her cities, Upper and Lower Beth-Horon endured more than 650 years after her life and were incorporated in Solomon's defenses.

    In a story you may know as Joshua’s history, on the day when the sun stood still, God entered that battle on the side of the Israelites when the war approached the gates of Sheerah’s cities. Joshua’s history isn’t complete without Sheerah’s herstory. Her third city, Uzzen-Sheerah, is my favorite. She named it after herself. It means “listen to Sheerah.” And by proclaiming her story preserved in the scriptures we continue to listen to her voice.

    Let me ask you this morning? Sisters, what are you building? What are you building for God? What are you building for your community? What are you building for those who will come after you? What legacy will you leave behind for the people of God to build on? And how are you building? Do you have a plan? Are you building on a firm foundation? Are you building on level ground? Are you building on Christ the solid rock? Did you remember to lay a sewer system to remove all that pollutes or infects? Or has your building become infested and infected with dirt and disease? Is it time for you to clean house? Did you choose a good cornerstone to bear the weight of your building for generations to come? Are your walls straight? Are your windows cracked and crooked? Is your roof leaking? Or do you need to go back to the drawing board and start over?

    Maybe you started out with a good blueprint but something went wrong along the way. Such is the case for the bride in our Psalm. Psalm 45 is a wedding psalm for a princess from the coastal city of Tyre in Phoenicia who is marrying one of the kings of Israel. Her name is not given in the Psalm, but there is one famous, perhaps infamous, Phoenician princess who marries into Israel, her name is Izevel. You know her as Jezebel.

    Life is good for Jezebel in Psalm 45:

12 Daughter of Tyre
the richest of the people will seek your favor with gifts.
13 With every kind of treasure
the royal daughter is set like a jewel in cloth of gold;
14 In brilliant embroidered robes
she is presented to the one who rules;
after her the young women, her companions come to her.

But things go horribly wrong in her life and the cheers at the news of her assignation rivaled the cheers on her wedding day. Jezebel’s failing wasn’t wearing red lipstick or red dresses. Her problem was her husband, or rather her lack of respect for her husband. Now to tell the truth he wasn’t much and is responsible for his own stuff. That’s history. The herstory is that Jezebel decided that if he wasn’t going to act like a king, she would and she started issuing decrees in his name including killing people and stealing their land.

But things go horribly wrong in her life and the cheers at the news of her assignation rivaled the cheers on her wedding day. Jezebel’s failing wasn’t wearing red lipstick or red dresses. Her problem was her husband, or rather her lack of respect for her husband. Now to tell the truth he wasn’t much and is responsible for his own stuff. That’s history. The herstory is that Jezebel decided that if he wasn’t going to act like a king, she would and she started issuing decrees in his name including killing people and stealing their land.

The lesson that Jezebel teaches us is that we are responsible for our own actions, what goes around comes around. And even if your marriage partner doesn’t live up to or into his or her full potential you don’t have the right to do anything you want. Jezebel wasn’t a - Whoa you can’t say that in church! - Jezebel was straight gangsta.

Are you Jezebel this morning? Has your happy-ever-after turned into separate lives under the same roof? Have you withdrawn your respect from the one with whom you agreed to share your life? Has the acquisition of material things become the whole purpose of your marriage? Has the beautiful smiling couple in your wedding portrait turned into Ahab and Jezebel? You need not come to the same end. You can write another chapter in your herstory with God’s help. God heals broken relationships. You and your prince can write a new chapter together, herstory and history in loving embrace.

Our Epistle is a wonderful example of what happens when herstory and history come together: The proclamation of the Gospel goes forth and the Church is built on a foundation as secure as that of Sheerah’s cities.

In Romans 16 Paul gives thanks for the women and men who are his companions in ministry. Some are his elders, teachers and apostles, some are discipled by him and some work with him in the trenches. They all work together in the name of God. k at the list of names: Rev. Sis. Deacon Phoebe, Dr. Prisca Priscilla - she was Paul’s preaching professor according to Acts 18:26 (as was her husband), one of the many Mary’s - named after the Prophet Miriam, Presiding Bishop Junia whom Paul calls “prominent among the apostles,” Tryphena and Tyrphosa and Persis are the women who do the work that makes the church run from week to week - they are on every guild and committee getting it done, Big Mama, the church mother, the mother of Rufus who took Paul under her wing, Julia, Olympas and all the sister-saints doing the work of the Lord.

Where are you on the list? Is anyone giving thanks for your work in the church? There are clergy women and lay women on the list, where are you? What are you doing for the glory of God? 

The women in our gospel also model daughter discipleship and sister sainthood for us. First there is the weeping woman whose name is not given in the text. Other gospels call her one of the Marys. I will call her a Jezebel.

Perhaps her neighbors and even strangers called her a Jezebel while they were telling her business. We may wish to keep some of our herstories to ourselves but we cannot. Someone will always tell, even if they have a Jezebel herstory of their own.  

The truth is that all we, sisters and brothers alike disappoint God, ourselves and each other on a regular basis. In fact we Anglicans and Episcopalians confess our sin each Sunday because none of us can make it a week without transgressing. Yet our sister in the gospel teaches us with what sorrow we ought to approach our confessions and even the body of Christ, and with what gratitude that Jesus, our savior, lord, redeemer and judge forgives us, no matter how notorious or infamous or even what kind of a Jezebel we are.

And the truth is also that our histories and herstories are more than our worst, Jezebel moments and Ahab decisions. Jesus of Nazareth welcomes our love and gratitude no matter who we are or what we have done. This is particularly true for women. All too often the world of the scriptures, the early church and sometimes even our own modern world regularly devalue women. But Jesus knew that God was the God of Hagar, Sarah, Rachel, Leah, Rebekah, Sheerah and even Jezebel.

Jesus of Nazareth, the son of woman, the son of Mary but not Joseph made it his life’s work to welcome, love, heal and forgive all those who were excluded by the rest of the world, particularly women. No one, no woman, no man was too broken or too far gone for the healing touch of Jesus.

Have you lain at the feet of Jesus like the weeping woman in our text? Have you confessed your brokenness and received his holy, healing touch? Or do you care about who is looking and what they are saying so much that you never lose your Anglican composure? Are you willing to lay your hair done on the floor - whether you bougt it or grew it - for Jesus? Are you this Jezebel or the last? Are you this Mary or the next?

One day - and we are never told when - Jesus healed another Mary, this one from Migdala. He healed her broken mind, her fractured spirit and her shattered heart. The text says she was possessed sevenfold; the ancients used the language of demon possession to describe what we now call psychiatric and psychological disorders. Just imagine that she was bipolar and schizophrenic and had an eating disorder and was clinically depressed and more. Maybe she was just broken hearted. Perhaps she was abused and abandoned like so many of the mentally-ill. She was an object of scorn and ridicule. And her illnesses did not keep some folk from using her and using her body for their own purposes and pleasures and then blaming her for their ause of her.

Yet Jesus healed her and she dedicated the remainder of her life to his service. And hers was the first face he saw when he rose from the grave. Our sister and brother Christians in the Ethiopian Orthodox and Coptic churches call Miriam of Migdala, Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the apostles.

Will you be faithful to Jesus until the end? If he has brought you through something, will you tell the world your good news without shame or fear? Will you give up everything in your life to follow him? Will you devote your life to the work of Christ? Will you open your wallet and give - even if as in today’s gospel but not in today’s church - if there are no brothers stepping up to the plate with you?

The last group of women we meet are the sisters who open up their purses and keep the work of the church going. Only two of them are named, Johanna and Susanna. Sister Johanna is married to Herod’s business manager. She had money and brought it to Jesus. Joanna is joined by Susanna and many others - in Greek that is many other women - there are no men in that group of gift-giving disciples. Their gifts support Jesus and the brothers, the gift-receiving disciples.

The story of the church whose birth we will celebrate at Pentecost is the story of women’s herstories and men’s histories woven together in a cord that cannot be broken.

May God the Mother and Father
of Avraham, Yitza’ak and Ya’acov,
Hagar, Sarah, Rachel and Leah,
Bilhah and Zilpah and Rivqah,
Sheerah, Jezebel and all the Marys
Who took the tangled threads of their lives
And wove a tapestry of Redemption
In the Body and Blood of Miryam l’Natzeret
Continue to weave the strands of your life
In the Divine design. Amen.
Women's Day Propers.pdf73.13 KB