(I had a difficult time titling this sermon, so Elliott suggested “Sermon in D Minor”. It really has nothing to do with the sermon, but some days are like that.)
A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
Jan 20, 2013
As many of you know, last week I wasn’t with you in worship because I was flying home from a conference. I was able to hear Phyllis Tickle speak. We read one of her books in Men’s Breakfast a few years back. She is a keen observer of how the church intersects with the culture. It was a good conference. It was also warmer than 4 degrees in Memphis.
But there were some comments made about the role of women in American church and culture in the second half of the 20th century that I don’t think were either accurate or helpful. And I was struck to hear those comments from a woman whose work has been so helpful to me in the first years of ministry here with you.
If you saw my blog this week, you might have seen my reflections about the experience. But what you can’t fully see in the comments is how many people tried to tell me it was inappropriate of me to ask questions of this woman. Voicing my questions and concerns, I was told, was rude, was a personal attack against her, was disrespectful to someone who was my elder and who, it turned out, had the flu.
In my blog I also took issue with a particular comment she made. She mentioned it was clear she wasn’t a feminist because all 7 of her children had the same father. When I expressed my horror at that comment, a number of people tried to explain the “joke” to me, as if their helpful explanations would either make it funny, make it okay, or help me understand.
I understood exactly what she said. I didn’t need it explained to me. I needed people to understand that thoughtful Christians shouldn’t make such offensive comments.
Anyway, this is to say I’ve been thinking about using my voice. And I’ve been struck by the people, often claiming to be supporters of women, who have tried to silence me this week.
And then I read this passage from John’s Gospel.
When Jesus’ mother comes to him at a wedding when the wine cellar at the party has gone dry and says, “son, they have no wine.”
And his response to her?
“Woman. What concern is this to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”
It doesn’t matter how many commentators on this passage try to explain away his words. The fact remains, Jesus calls his mother, “woman”. He doesn’t tell her to not use her voice, exactly. But he does say, “what business is it of yours?” And then he tells her “my hour has not yet come.”
And I confess that I did not experience this text in a positive way this week.
I felt that Jesus was joining in with the chorus of other well meaning men who told me to be silent, to be polite, to not be critical of shoddy scholarship and careless language.
“Woman. What business is it to you and me?”
I suspect this week was so jarring to me because it is not my usual experience.
My voice is heard plenty. I have all sorts of privilege to speak, to use my voice, to be heard. You are subjected to it each week!
But I realize not everyone has the privilege I have.
There are plenty of people in our culture whose voices are not heard, who do not have the same rights and privileges I have, who face discrimination in many aspects of their lives. Whether because of gender, race, sexual identity, physical or mental abilities, politics, age, or other factors, people are silenced all the time in our world.
And it doesn’t help that the silencing and discrimination has often come from our religious traditions.
Years of church history have kept peoples silenced, which is bad enough. But then we read this text and remember the silencing is embedded in the Bible itself.
“Woman. What is this to do with you?”
The text does not end, however, with a silencing.
His mother, I imagine, had heard such comments before from men. Perhaps she had even heard such comments from her son. And she doesn’t say what I would want to say, which is “what did you just call me?”
Reason one million and five that I’m not the mother of God.
I notice she doesn’t say anything at all to Jesus after he calls her woman and tells her it doesn’t concern her. Because what can you say to a comment like that? You can’t engage it. You turn away from it.
And by turning to the servants, and not to Jesus, she calls Jesus to rise above the culture in which he found himself and be better.
“Do whatever he tells you,” she tells the servants.
And the servants accept her instruction and turn to Jesus.
I wish we knew what Jesus was thinking at this moment. Even though he has just told his mother that his hour has not yet come, his next actions suggest that his hour has, in fact, arrived. Does he realize she is right? Does he realize he has work to do and might as well get going? Or, as someone at committee night asked, “was he just trying to please his mother?”
All we know is he turns to the servants and asks them for some water. Not just a little water. But 150 gallons of water in 6 stone water purification jars.
He could have provided a few more bottles of wine. But he made enough wine that the host family is not going to know what to do with the extra. Fill the bathtubs and every Tupperware container they can find?
When Jesus’ time has come, it is a sign of abundance that borders on “too much”, more than we expect, and more than we know what to do with. It is a reminder that God cannot be contained.
It calls us to live large too, to be ready for more than we expect or need.
And I have experienced that this week as well.
For every voice this week that told me “what business is this of yours”, I heard many more who thanked me for speaking up, who supported me, who encouraged me, and who stood with me. For every voice that told me to be quiet, I was reminded of the people who hear that silencing message every day, and reminded of my responsibility to speak up for others.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of participating in an event at the synagogue. I was a part of a panel, discussing the role of Abraham in different faith traditions. A rabbi, a moslem, a mormon, and me.
This week, I had both the experience of being told to be silent—AND—had the experience of being THE voice of Christianity on this panel. God does have an abundant sense of humor.
This week, I invite you to listen for the voices we aren’t hearing, those who have been told to be quiet. They may be telling us our time has come. They may be calling out gifts we didn’t think we were ready to use.
What if Mary hadn’t spoken? What if she had not instructed the servants to do what Jesus instructed?
I’m thankful for her voice calling Jesus to live abundantly into his identity. I’m thankful he heard her voice, even if maybe he didn’t want to hear it.
Attend to the moments when voices ring out, when they are silenced, when they call us to be who God is dreaming us to be, and when they lead us in to an abundance we can’t even imagine.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
And, here is the video I was going to show this week in worship. But then the sermon decided to go somewhere else. Still worth watching: