This sermon was delivered on March 3, 2013 at St. Paul United Church of Christ, Old Blue Rock Rd, Cincinnati.
During this past week, I watched the PBS documentary Makers: Women who make America. Watching this program was a great way to usher in women’s history month which started on March 1. This program documented the transitions, achievements and rights that women have accomplished in the past 60 years.
Did you know there was a time when women were not allowed to run in marathons? I never realized the story of the 1967 Boston Marathon when Katherine Switzer signed up and ran the race. Women were not allowed at that time to run in the marathon, and the race director tried to physically pull her out of the race. Instead, she continued to run. The men running along side of Katherine were so excited to see her in that race. The call of God stirred inside of her, got her on that path and kept her running. Because Katherine followed her call, more races became available to women.
As I continued to watch this documentary, I never realized how many limitations there were on women sixty or seventy years ago. Sure – so many women were called by God to stay at home and take care of their children full time, a truly important and beautiful vocation. But, there were so many women who were called elsewhere, maybe in the workplace or as social activists, other valid and genuine calling. But sixty years ago – society frowned upon that. As this documentary showed, jobs were primarily open to young, single women before they were married. There were segregated help wanted ads – one list for men and one for women. And jobs for African American women were even more limited – mostly to maids. All of this opened my eyes to a world that I never had to live in, even though, now, I’m one of these women called outside of the box.
Maybe there are still small limitations here and there, but today women can honor the direction that God is calling them without society saying a definite no.
We’ve locked God in a box and have a very limited view of the Divine working in the world. Even when society is becoming more relaxed, there are those of us who sell ourselves short even when we are being called to something greater.
I also realized that I was holding myself back in my younger days, not seeing that God’s dreams was bigger than human dreams. During my senior year in high school, I gave a speech that would shock all of you right now: it was on “why women shouldn’t be pastors.” Yes, looking back, it’s very ironic. I’m sure I probably used the text from 1 Timothy 2 – that women should be silent in churches. After taking various speech, acting and debate classes over the years, it was the only time I received a C on any speech.
In 1991, even I didn’t think it was possible that I could be a pastor. I had squished God inside of a very small box. As God’s ways are bigger than my ways and God’s dreams bigger than my dreams, God got the last laugh on that one.
By the time I was in my late twenties, my mind had not only changed about female clergy, but I could also tell that God was starting to call me in that direction.
But women clergy is still kind of something new in our culture. While women really started becoming pastors in the seventies and eighties, I’ve had people tell me that they’ve never met a female pastor before. It’s a joy to be a testimony on the still-speaking God in our world.
Reflecting upon this scripture today, I kept wanting to focus back on two particular verses: Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
What we often see are two opposing viewpoints using God. Some would tell me that God’s ways are not my ways and I shouldn’t be a pastor. They would quote the same 1 Timothy 2 text that I used in my high school speech to quiet me. But what if God doesn’t take sides and God wants everyone’s voices to be heard? What if God wants women to be pastors?
When I look at whether a group of people should have rights, I don’t just quote scriptures that limit them – whether it’s women, or racial minorities or when others have a different sexual orientation. I personally base my ethical frame with these principles in mind: Is there Justice where everyone has the same rights and the same way to achieve? Are all people being loved as we would want to be loved? Are we giving others the same dignity we deserve?
I often think that if we are afforded certain rights, shouldn’t others have the same rights as we have. People who are older or younger? People who are gay or transgendered? People who celebrate their faiths in other ways?
I also remember the scripture of the Syrophonecian woman that used her voice to stand up for her own dignity. Even when Jesus felt limited by what people deserved love and grace, God was working through the voice of this woman to show a greater way of living. And Jesus changed his mind.
I think about Mary Magdalene. According to John’s gospel, she was the first follower asked to spread the good news of resurrection. Yes, according to this gospel, it was a woman. I think about Acts 2 and how women are called to prophesy. I think about early church leaders like Phoebe and Lydia.
What great things are God calling us to? What kind of world is God seeing that we can’t see? Women can stay at home if that is where God is calling them. Women can go into the workplace if God is calling them there. Likewise, if a man is called to be home while his wife works, that is fine too. Men can be nurses and secretaries like women can be doctors and CEOs. There is something greater than our societal limits: it’s God’s call.
And many say that I’m being disobedient by standing up here today and being in this pulpit. Even my 18 year old self would say that. But what I didn’t realize at 18 was that God was bigger than a few Bible verses. That God called both men and women into the pulpit and to teach in various contexts.
Women and minorities have had visions for years, vision and dreams that God has called us to. But why do we hold back the dreams of others by holding back their rights? Why should humans limit when God has called? How does the Church still limit what God has called? When we limit people we limit God’s action in this world.
For many of us who have felt limited by the church or a few doctrines or for those of us who have limited ourselves, we deny ourselves nourishment of social justice that everyone deserves. Years ago, nourishment was denied when American society had separate water fountains or lunch counters or help wanted sections. We have forgotten that all of us deserve these great things because we are ALL made in God’s image and that God’s ways are bigger than our ways.
It’s true that humans often place God in a box and sometimes it is done to control other people. We, as individuals and the Church, can no longer place God in a box. God is in all and around all and always present. God is the God of resurrection and new starts. And God will find a way to burst out of the box that we put Him… or Her… in.
In what ways is God calling you to new areas? What kinds of things have you been called to – even though society still has certain expectations? The God of great thoughts and dreams will walk with us as we follow our great call, leading us in new places that have been closed to us.