Welcome to Wading in the Waters of the Word™ with A Women’s Lectionary

Gentle Readers, Followers, Preachers, Pray-ers, Thinkers and Visitors, Welcome!

Welcome to this space where you can share your worship – liturgy and preaching – preparations – using  A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church. We begin in Advent 2021 with Year W, a single, standalone Lectionary volume that includes readings from all four Gospels. (We will continue with Year A in Advent 2022 to align with the broader Church.) In advance of each week, I will start the conversation and set the space for you all. I will come through time to time, but this is your space. Welcome!

Media Resources

A Women’s Lectionary For The Whole Church

Session 1, October 16, 2021
Rev. Wil Gafney, PhD at Myers Park Baptist Church

Plenary 1 | Translating Women Back Into Scripture for A #WomensLectionary
This session introduces participants to frequently unexamined aspects of biblical translation in commonly available bibles and the intentional choices made in “A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church.”

A Women’s Lectionary For The Whole Church

Session 2, October 16, 2021
Rev. Wil Gafney, PhD at Myers Park Baptist Church

Plenary 2 | Reading Women in Scripture for Preaching, Study, and Devotion
This session provides an overview of “A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church,” its genesis, production, and content. There is also an in-depth exploration of specific passages appointed for specific days including time for public and private reading and discussion.

Lectionary Lectio

Click the Comment links to add to the conversation

Let It Go Girl: Of Camels and Hearts

Proper 10 AWL (A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church), Year B:

Esther 1:1–11; Psalm 49:5–15; James 5:1–6; Mark 10:17–31

Sermon starts around 28:40. 

Aloha kakahiaka! Good morning.

Let us pray:

May God who is Majesty, Mercy, and Mystery speak words of life, love, and liberation through these words. Amen.

We are continuing in the Gospel of Mark with A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church which presents us with challenging readings often too close to current events for our comfort, as they did last week. That is the defining essence of scripture, it is timeless; speaking to us in our world and in our circumstances – social, relational, political and today, financial – even when discussing events and stories that are thousands of years old. And we don’t always want to hear a word that gets under our skin and makes us feel uncomfortable. The preaching of Jesus like the scripture that preceded and surrounded him often pushes us and stretches us to grow through discomfort like theological growing pains.

Let me be honest, when I sat down to read today’s Gospel I came to this passage with baggage. Frustration that it’s a text that makes people uncomfortable and knowing it has been preached very badly. Understanding that some people feel targeted by sermons on this passage, no matter how well or prayerfully they are preached. Wondering if there is anything I can say that will keep a congregation from throwing rotten mangoes at me or sending one of the wardens around for a little chat.  

Then I read it again. And again. I read it out loud. And I invite and encourage you all and to join in that practice when you read scripture; read it more than once, in more than one version and read it out loud. Then I began to hear the text, to hear Jesus. To see this person that Jesus tells to sell all that they have and give it to the poor. That instruction has been so very often taken out of context and used to bludgeon and humiliate people with wealth.

Throughout the scriptures there is suspicion of and hostility towards people with wealth, the scriptures being written from the perspective of the poor or of those who are or are supposed to be their protectors and defenders from the rich who exploit them, even as there are other passages that portray wealth and riches as rewards from God.

The Israelites and the nation and monarchy they grew into had been enslaved, conquered, dispossessed, sent into exile and oppressed by wealthier nations who could afford to muster armies big enough to capture kingdoms because they were rich enough to do so. Simply put, wealth meant power.

Their society, like ours, was plagued by persons who profited unjustly at the expense of others, created the circumstances that led to poverty in some cases and in others kept people in poverty. Every day they saw how the privilege of wealth could be used violently against them. This is the voice we hear crying out in the psalm. That is the lens through which the Israelites saw the world and through which the scriptures were breathed into the world.

It is with this background that Jesus looked at the person who kneeled before him, looked at them and really saw them. Jesus looked at them and knew all about them: mistakes and wrong decisions, bad choices and hurtful words, anger and betrayal, dishonesty and disrespect, lust, greed and, bigotry. Whatever it was that was inside them, Jesus saw it all and loved them anyway. Jesus saw that person, who they were and knowing all of their hurts and hopes, dreams and schemes, Jesus loved them as Jesus loves us. That is the gospel that has so often been neglected in this passage. Jesus sees us, knows us, and loves us.

Jesus speaks to the person kneeling before him, who is saying all the right things – What must I do to inherit eternal life – and doing all the right things – keeping the commandments from their childhood, living a good religious, moral and ethical life. Isn’t that enough?

When Jesus speaks to the person kneeling before him, Jesus is also speaking to everyone around them in the street and, to us. They are not far from the marketplace where mamas brought Jesus their babies and the disciples tried to stop them. Jesus was surrounded and followed by a crowd breathlessly waiting to see what he would say or do next. And seeing his audience was on the edge of their seats, he seized the mic and seized the moment to preach a word about the seductive danger of wealth.

The word that Jesus, street corner preacher, poet, prophet and public theologian, proclaimed to disturb, unsettle and provoke those who would hear him then and read him now: …sell what you have, and give to the poor… How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the majesty of God!…It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the majesty of God. And then he dropped the mic.

As a preacher and teacher Jesus painted with words. Sometimes they were warm and comfortable – fear not little flock. Sometimes they were loud and harsh – you are children of your father the devil. Sometimes they were bright and illuminating – the Majesty of God is among and within you all. Sometimes they were bloody red words – The Son of Woman is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him. Sometimes they were shocking, provocative and disconcerting words like today’s lesson.

Jesus is preaching to this man about his wealth, his very many possessions, and Jesus is also preaching to his audience, the poor, the outcast, those who have nothing, nothing left and nothing to lose. He’s preaching to them from their corner while he talks to this person about what they need to do to save their soul. And that is let go of what they are holding on to. Let it go! Some of you are hearing Elsa from Frozen right now and some of you are hearing Beyoncé from Church Girl. Let it go. Let it go girl.

Yet, Jesus did not call everyone to give up their all  their possessions or wealth. He, himself, was supported by a circle of wealthy women who were among his disciples. Some of them may have even been there on this day. Jesus did not condemn everyone who had wealth. But he did say that this one person needed to let go of what they had and were holding on to. And, to give it away, give it to the poor. Here is also gospel: not to hold onto anything that we have so tightly that we are unwilling to give to those who have a need. Because we might find ourselves walking away from Jesus rather than letting it go and following him. This passage calls all of us to look at what we hold most dear.

Now, about that camel: Imagine imagine a camel loaded down with saddlebags and boxes and crates tied and roped together, so burdened down then it cannot even make it through the gate to the other side, to complete its journey.

Is there anything we cling to so tightly, tied to the camels of our hearts, burdening us down so much that we could not enter the gate that leads to salvation? Think about all of those movies in which people running from a monster or zombie or villain stop to grab their stuff which leads to them being caught and coming to a bad end. More seriously, think about the warnings we receive on airplanes not to grab all of our belongings in the case of an emergency because it would slow us down and might cost us or someone else their lives. Let it go. Let it go girl.

The other lessons show what happens when people hold onto wealth and possessions so tightly they have no boundaries or limitations. Some even come to believe they own other people – though treating women as possessions is not limited to men with wealth; the dehumanization and objectification of women that so often leads to violence against them has no financial limits.

In the first lesson the Persian king essentially screams look at me and my very many possessions for 180 days and that was not enough. He throws a party that lasts seven days and seven nights, not to share his generosity and hospitality, not to talk story with family and friends, neighbors and kin. Not to feed the poor, the hungry, the struggling, or those who just needed a break. But he threw this party because 180 days of celebrating and showing off his very many possessions was not enough. King Ahasuerus, like so many in this world in our time, thought of women as things to own, possess, manipulate and exploit. And being 180 days drunk, he decided to show off the woman he thought was one of his very many possessions.

One thing we know about alcohol is that it does not make a person do something, it simply makes it easier for the person to do or say something they already wanted to do or say. And

Some say he wanted Queen Vashti to show off her beauty wearing nothing but her crown; that is not in the scripture. But even fully dressed, he was making a humiliating spectacle of her and no part of her would be safe from prying eyes or drunken comments or the calculated envy and lust in their hearts and minds. The power and privilege the king’s wealth bought him made it easy for him to disregard and demean the humanity, the God created-ness of the woman who was queen and that is the seductive power of wealth. We can begin to see ourselves as virtual gods, entitled to our wealth, status and privilege and, see others as less than human, available for our pleasure as our possession. Rather than run the risk of a temptation too powerful to resist, it is better to give our wealth away as Jesus said, than to become the kind of person who uses it to exploit others.

Our final lesson comes from the Epistle which provides an extreme example of the abusive power of wealth where the people who are treated as less than human are the working poor and the wealthy, the rich people James, the brother of Jesus, condemns in such harsh language, are the employers who exploit them. He does not indict every person with wealth, power or privilege. He channels the wrath of God towards those who economically exploit those who are just trying to work for a living by underpaying them and by creating schemes to take back their wages. Today we call it wage theft and under employment. Earlier in the book James talked about how the wealthy leveraged the legal and judicial systems against the poor and the working poor. At the end of our lesson he accuses them of murdering the righteous poor through all of their financial and legal manipulations and machinations. Though they have not raised their hand to them the wealthy are as responsible for the death of the poor who died in their manufactured, poverty as though they had killed them with their own hands. James calls it murder.

Poverty is lethal and poverty is not naturally occurring. It is man-made and manufactured. James holds the wealthy accountable for the poverty they create and for the fates of those who suffer and die under it in some of the harshest language in the scriptures. The message through his words is, don’t be that person. Don’t be that person who perpetuates the cycle of poverty when you have it within your means to make a difference in the life of at least one person. Open your hand, heart and wallet and, let it go and give it away. Don’t be the person who comes so close to salvation that they kneel at the feet of Jesus but when hearing the cost of your soul’s salvation turn and walk away going back to whatever you value more. Let it go girl. Let it go.

So what do these lessons have to say to those of us whom no one would consider wealthy? Each and every one of us holds something or someone so close to our hearts that if we met Jesus at a crossroads and he asked us to let it go we too might hesitate or even walk away. Wealth and treasure are not always measured in dollar signs, gold, silver or jewels. Today’s gospel calls us to examine ourselves to see if there is anything that comes between us and Jesus, and reminds us that we have what we need to alleviate poverty. Let it go girl. Let it go. Amen.

Give Us A King Not A Prophet

7 July, Proper 9, AWL (A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church)

 

1 Samuel 8:1, 4–18; Psalm 72:1–4, 12–14, 18–19; 1 Timothy 2:1–6; John 6:14–20

Streamed 9:30 HST

May the preached word draw us into the written word wherein all might encounter the living Word. Amen.

How are these sacred ancestral texts to help us to live in this world? Mere days after many here and mainland celebrated Independence Day, we read in our first lesson a story about a form of government we don’t have any more and, didn’t want when we did; to the point of a violent revolution from one perspective or a rebellion from another.

Here on this aina and on our sister islands, monarchy is more than a foreign system of domination and is still a tender and pressing issue. We cannot talk about monarchy in these ainas without acknowledging the overthrow of aupuni o Hawaii by white outsiders to steal its land and its future wealth they didn’t see its brown kanaka o Hawaii, worthy or capable of stewarding, but also, straight up greed; a coup facilitated by members of the US government. And at the same time, the question of how we as a nation are governed and will be governed is as urgent and a pressing question as is how we are led in the Church.  

In the Samuel lesson the people were at a crossroads. Their system of government was not working for them. Not because it failed to meet their needs but because they just didn’t want it anymore. And the slate of candidates was undesirable; they were unfit in some ethical, moral or religious manner because they were not walking before and following after God in the same way as the prophet Samuel. So not only were the only candidates undesirable, but the incumbent was old. And when they said old, they meant fit to die at any moment. Though there is nothing in the text that says that Samuel was infirm or failing in anyway. They were simply dismissive of the wise old uncle who had led them for so many years, dismissive of the wisdom of his elder years.

Samuel’s sons were not prophets like Samuel, Deborah and Moses; they were not capable of standing between God and the people, speaking to each on behalf of each other and crying out to the one on behalf of the other one. Though there were judges between Moses and Deborah and, there were judges between Deborah and Samuel there were no other judges who were also prophets except for Moses, Deborah and Samuel. So even if Samuel’s sons were appointed as judges, their leadership would not have been rooted in the way of God in the same way as their father.

But the people didn’t ask for a prophet-judge like Moses, Deborah or Samuel. The people looked at their Iron Age neighbors and said what we want is an warlord-king, not a King Charles king, or a King Kamehameha king. We want the kind of king you see in the barbarian movies. We want a loud, ostentatious, gold plated strong man. And Samuel’s feelings were hurt on behalf of God. But God doesn’t need our protection. We need each other’s protection. We make choices that affect each other like choices in leadership and, more significantly, choices that affect the most vulnerable among us. Samuel spends the rest of the lesson telling the people the consequences of their choice, all the ways in which they would be defrauded and exploited because of their own choices. Or at least the choices of some of them. The text says, “the people” but we will never know for sure who was counted and who wasn’t. Who voted and who didn’t, but that is another sermon.

Then as though we were watching a movie and the screen fades to black with the words, “A hundred years later…Solomon.” The psalmist is praying for a newly designated leader, likely leading public prayer, perhaps at the very moment the mantle of leadership is figuratively draped around his shoulders. One the one hand, the job description revealed in the psalmist’s prayer reflects Iron Age cultural understanding of desired leadership characteristics. On the other hand the psalm is shade against the previous – or even current occupant of the throne. Near the end of the psalm it becomes clear that all is not well in the community and there are urgent needs that they imagine only a leader can meet or see met and problems that only the right leader can fix.

Whether this psalm was written for Solomon in response to the violent exploitation of David’s rule or for an unknown future ruler, woman or man – based on the financial exploitation and neglect of Solomon’s rule, this psalm is still both hopeful prayer and job description for the next commander-in-chief. In our current election cycle it is worthwhile to reiterate these scriptural, biblical, values: righteous judgements, not only decision-making but also devising and implementing legal statutes and national and international policies where the primary goal is is to be just and more specifically, prioritizing the needs of the poor, the needy and the oppressed who have been reduced to and kept in that state by financial and political violence against them including but not limited to open warfare actual and virtual enslavement, wages unequal to the level of work and wage theft of those impoverished wages. The biblical measure of what is just is whether is it is just for the poor – even if it cost the wealthy something to render that justice.

Then the screen fades to black again and the words, “More than 1000 years later…” appear. In the pastoral letter, written by a person who felt another leader’s name would get more attention and who wrote under that name rather than their own, the Church is called to perpetual prayer for leaders as we do in this Church and will do in this service. Ruling aint easy. Kinging aint easy. Queening aint easy. Presiding Bishop-ing aint easy. Regular Bishop-ing aint easy. Presidenting aint easy. Leading aint easy. These folk need prayer, whether you voted for them or not. Some of them need more prayer than others and some seem to be beyond the reach of prayer, yet the Church is called to persistent faithful prayer whether or not we see the fruit of our prayer in our lifetime.

I come from a people who prayed for liberation from enslavement for 400 years. That means that people prayed and died and still were not free; and their children prayed and died and still were not free; and their children prayed and died and they did not see liberation but they and their children kept on praying. Pray church. And don’t stop. Pray until the last prayer leaves your lips and trust that the saints will continue in the ministry of prayer after your death.

And now, the black screen says, “Present Day, 30 or 31 CE…” In the Gospel there is a story about Jesus who we have been trained to think of as our perfect leader, who seems not to want to lead [us] in this story and who runs away from leadership and – if we read ourselves into the text – and runs away from us.

Jesus, guerilla theologian, itinerant street corner preacher, funeral disruptor, mic dropping scripture reader, socialist distributer of loaves and fishes, from the wrong side of the wrong town whose mama had a bad reputation, Jesus, Mary’s baby and Joseph’s maybe, Jesus was doing the work called for by Psalm 72; Jesus was the opposite of the leader Samuel warned the people about. And the people around him in the Gospel lesson knew a good thing when they saw it. They knew a God thing when they saw it. Some people will always want to read this as the people just wanted free governmental subsidies and handouts of loaves and fishes. There are people who mock the poverty and hunger of the poor and hungry. There are folk who use all the power invested in them by their fellow citizens to make it hard for a poor mama to feed her children. There are folk who seem to want the poor to subsist on gruel and boiled potatoes, who get outraged if a person on public assistance uses the funds available to them to buy a source of protein that they think is too good for the poor like steak or shrimp.

But what those who work with the hungry know is that you can’t live up to your full potential if you’re hungry; a child can’t reach their full physical stature or meet their academic learning goals if they’re hungry. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a stable and reliable source of food in perpetuity. That’s not greed; that’s not laziness. That’s the foundation for a society in which basic needs are met and people then can use their creative genius and imagination and hard-working hands to build a society that addresses the other pressing needs of humanity and steward the planet entrusted to us, steward these beautiful ainas entrusted to us.

The folk in the gospel reading just wanted not to have to worry about their basic survival every day, at least not from famine, starvation and malnutrition because the Roman occupation, the kind of empire that kings and kingdoms grew up to become, was doing enough to threaten their lives, limbs and liberty every day. The people of ancient Israel asked for a king and they got kings and the queen who ruled as a king and, they got gobbled up by stronger kings who got gobbled up by even stronger kings and they had to endure the insult of having their kings appointed by puppet-master foreign kings but, they couldn’t or wouldn’t let go of the idea that a king was all they needed if they could just get the right one.

And here we are with an election looming. It would be so easy to read and hear and preach these texts at or about candidates. But God has called all of us to delve more deeply in the waters of the Word and get beyond Baby Beach Bible interpretation. The hard word out beyond the safety of the lagoon is, that we idolize women and men who have no deep and abiding connection to God. We are still looking for kings and not prophets. In America we kill our prophets. And some of us think that if we elect a good king everything will be all right, at least for some of us. But we have not wrestled seriously with the theologically and ethically bankrupt institution that is the kind of monarchy these texts are talking about. The kind our American ancestors – to the degree that they were the ancestors of any of us – escaped and that kind of neo-monarchy some are seeking to impose at this very moment on the US political system.

And for thousands of years, millennia even, we and our scripture writing biblical ancestors have tried to force God into a king shaped box because the strongest and mightiest figure they could see in their world was a king and they imagined that God was just like them only bigger and richer. But our imaginations have taken us from the Iron Age to the stars so we need not be so limited in our thinking or language about God. Indeed the scriptures offer us a wealth of other descriptive language: Ancient Of Days, Judge of all Flesh, Rock Who Gave Us Birth, Ark of Safety, Fire of Sinai  –  Language that we have allowed languish, focusing on the power, privilege and prestige associated with kings.

And that is why Jesus didn’t want to be made a king. It’s good to be king. Kings take. But Jesus gives. A king will take your sister, wife or daughter. A king will take and tax your crops. But Jesus gives the Bread of Heaven and earthly food to the hungry. A king will take your life if you get in his way, but Jesus gives eternal life.

We may have presidents and not kings, but we are not immune to power grabs and throne games. I would go so far as to say the violence we have seen in this country is nothing more than an empire striking back against those who talk back and its cabal of would-be kings fighting to maintain their power base, patriarchal white supremacy, at any cost. At the cost of voting rights, at the cost of free speech and at the cost of the right to protest. At the cost of black lives. At the cost of indigenous lives. At the cost of trans lives. At the cost of women’s right to make their own decisions about their own bodies without being objectified, fetishized or criminalized.

Heir to a majesty the word “kingdom” does not fully contain, Jesus came to love us into life, a life that transcends death. Jesus came knowing that love with no limitations or pre-conditions is terrifying to those whose only currency is fear and death. And he came anyway. Jesus came to be with us, as us, God with us. He came knowing the cost of his radical life and love was police brutality, conviction in a crooked court by an unjust judge and a shameful, painful, humiliating death. This human, mortal, woman-born Jesus is the glory and majesty of God, a majesty in human flesh before which every human crown must be set aside and, every earthly throne abandoned. That humanness, shared with every girl and woman, boy and man, nonbinary and trans child and adult, is the majesty of Christ and our own.

The choice is before us. Choose wisely. Amen.

 

1 2 35