Monthly Archives: November 2012

The arc of the moral universe… Sunday 33, Year B (18 November 2012)

Readings
1 Samuel 1.4-20
Mark 13.1-8

Some of us are going on a tour of the Holy Land next year. I’m getting ready to be seriously impressed by the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The Western Wall is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple’s courtyard. It is all that’s left of the Jerusalem temple that Jesus knew; the rest of it was utterly destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. The Western Wall isn’t much compared to the temple in all its glory, but it still impresses to this very day.

So we can understand one of Jesus’ followers exclaiming,

Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!

Of course, the temple would have seemed just simply staggering to a hick from the backblocks of Galilee.

But Jesus had had quite enough of the temple. He replied,

Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.

No wonder Jesus was all ‘templed-out’. You’ve got to remember the week he’d just had. It started when he drove the money changers out of the temple, declaring:

Is it not written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.

Then day after day he had discussion (argument!) after discussion (argument!!) with the religious leaders about marriage and divorce, death and resurrection, paying taxes to Caesar and who was John the Baptist. Jesus won all these arguments, which just made the leaders angrier and angrier with him. And all the more determined to put him away for good.

And then the poor widow came along. She put a pittance into the temple treasury—two tiny coins which were everything she had.

And why did she have so little? Because of the way widows were left on the social and financial scrapheap by everyone. Including the temple system, including the scribes, who grew fat on widows’ misfortune.

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A wholehearted woman—11 November 2012

A non-lectionary reflection today as the congregation remembers a woman who showed us what it is to be a disciple of Jesus, to mark the occasion of laying a plaque in her memory in the church garden.

Readings
Proverbs 31.10-17, 28-31
John 4.4-15, 28-30, 39

 

Wholehearted living is…the journey of a lifetime…courage, compassion and connection—the tools we need to work through our journey.

Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

We heard some verses from Proverbs 31 today. We don’t often dip into this chapter. In fact, I ducked preaching from it when it came up in the Lectionary readings about six weeks ago! How can any woman, even Lynn, live up to this idealised picture?

Did you notice we changed the words of the NRSV? It begins this way:

A capable wife who can find?

But Karen read:

A woman of valour who can find?

‘Woman of valour’ seems to be a better translation of the original Hebrew. (This insight comes from A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. I thoroughly recommend that you read this book!) And while I know Lynn was a more-than-capable wife to Gary, to all of us she was a woman of valour.

But what about this Proverbs 31 woman of valour? How can any woman ever match up to a woman who ‘rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls’…[who] ‘considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard’…[whose] ‘lamp does not go out at night’, [and whose] ‘household are clothed in crimson’. (And I don’t even like wearing crimson!)

The thing is, the Proverbs 31 early to rise–late to bed–busy all the while in between–woman isn’t meant to be an example of what women should do. She is an example of a ‘woman of valour’ or—as I want to say—a wholehearted woman. (I found this word in Brené Brown’s wonderful book, The Gifts of Imperfection. Read it too, and anything else you can find by her!)

A woman of valour isn’t someone who drives herself and those she loves mad by working 25 hours a day. A woman of valour lives wholeheartedly. She gives from her heart, and receives from others the same way. Lynn was a wholehearted woman.

And interestingly, in the Jewish tradition the women don’t memorise this poem about the Wholehearted Woman. The men do! Husbands are encouraged to sing it to their wives every week at the Sabbath meal. (I’ll have to practise. A lot!)

So often people have changed this poem about the Wholehearted Woman in Proverbs 31 into a job description. It’s not, it’s a song of praise to wholehearted women. Like Lynn—and so many others right before my eyes today.

Brené Brown suggests three qualities a wholehearted person needs. And Lynn had the these three qualities in abundance: they are courage, compassion and connection.

Lynn had the particular kind of courage Brené Brown means: the courage to speak straight from the heart. You always knew where Lynn stood on something! In speaking from her heart, Lynn allowed her inner self to be more transparent. She made herself vulnerable to the opinions of others. That’s courage.

To have compassion is to suffer with another. That’s what the word ‘com-passion’ means. It’s not always our first response to people who are in pain; sometimes, our instinct is to walk away or change the subject. Lynn had a heart of compassion. We saw that in her desire to reach out to people, especially young people, in Zambia and India. I also saw it personally while I was going through a time of depression. Lynn gave me her time and supported me, even while she found it hard to understand. She did that in the midst of her own trouble and distress. I never felt any criticism or judgement from Lynn. Just compassion.

Lynn was great at connecting with people! She let others into her space literally and figuratively. You knew you belonged. Lynn had an inner strength that she shared with others. At the same time, she valued what others gave her. You knew you were valued.

The courage to tell our story, the compassion to give our time, the sense of connectedness with one another, are everyday practices to embrace on the journey of our imperfect lives. They build community and help us to build something beautiful, even where there is pain.

Let’s turn very briefly to the woman at the well. All I want to say today is: she also had these three qualities of courage, compassion and connection.

The way she responded to Jesus, the way she ran to tell her friends and family about him mark her as a woman of courage, a woman of compassion, a woman who connected with people. She—like Lynn—is a model for us to follow.

How do we gain these qualities of courage, compassion and connection? By entering into life, into relationships, wholeheartedly. By practising daily. By knowing we’re imperfect, but that with the Spirit of Jesus we have all we need. So how do we practise these things? By doing them. Brené Brown says you learn courage by couraging, compassion by compassioning, connection by connecting. She’s right.

We’ve heard a lot about Lynn today, a lot about a woman who wanted God to mould her into the person God wanted her to be. We can share that wholehearted openness to the Spirit that she had.

I think Lynn would disown a lot of what I have said today. She’d point out other people who are wholehearted in their approach to life. And she’d be far more aware of her faults and shortcomings. She shared those with us too! But we have been speaking of what God can do with a life given to him. God can work in each one of us just the same, so let us give our lives wholeheartedly to God today. Every single day of our lives, we too can learn courage by couraging, compassion by compassioning, connection by connecting.

 

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Let’s not forget Naomi. (Or Ruth).—Sunday 31, Year B (4 November 2012)

Readings
Ruth 1.1-18
Mark 12.28-34

 

Last week it was Job. Today, it’s Naomi’s turn. We’ve heard of the suffering of Job, but we don’t hear so much about Naomi’s suffering. It’s high time that changed.

Perhaps it doesn’t help Naomi’s case that her book isn’t named after her. We have the Book of Job, and the Book of…Ruth. Of course, Ruth deserves to have her name on a book, but…it really is the story of Naomi. Let’s not forget Naomi.

Who was Naomi? She was was the wife of Elimelech, and the mother of two sons. Unlike Job, she wasn’t fabulously wealthy. In fact, when a famine came this little family found itself unable to feed itself. (For those who love irony, they were from Bethlehem—which means ‘house of bread’.)

I feel ‘famished’ sometimes. That’s when I go to the fridge and see what I can find. I really haven’t got a clue what a famine is.  Naomi and Elimelech couldn’t feed their sons. They couldn’t bear to see them starve to death. So they left their home, left everything and everyone familiar, and went to live in Moab as foreigners. Moab was an old enemy of Israel. You’d really have to be desperate to go to Moab—but they could eat there, and survive.

Naomi and Elimelech give me a renewed appreciation of ‘boat people’—I can ‘get’ why parents would put their children on a leaky boat and brave the dangerous miles to the Australian coast. You’d do anything to give your kids a life.

Elimelech and Naomi would do anything. They’d even take their two sons Mahlon and Chilion to Moab.

Things don’t go well down in Moab. The very first thing we read is that Elimelech dies. Mahlon and Chilion marry Moabite girls, Orpah and Ruth. These two girls would not have been among the most desirable that Moab had to offer. Think about it: Mahlon and Chilion were foreigners. If Ruth and Orpah were good catches for marriage, their families would have promised them to good Moabite men, not to these incomers, these Jewish foreigners.

The story also hints that Naomi’s sons weren’t a good catch either. Names mean something in this story: Bethlehem is ‘House of Bread’; Naomi means ‘Pleasant’; Ruth means ‘Friend’ or ‘Companion’. Elimelech means ‘God is King’, so we see that he was a faithful man. But Mahlon means ‘Puny’, and Chilion ‘Weak’.

The girls whose families couldn’t find Moabite husbands for them were teamed up with poor examples of Israelite manhood.

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