Third Sunday of Advent – December 19, 2017
On December 6, Time Magazine announced its “Person of the Year” for 2017…or persons as the case may be. These women are the #metoo “silence breakers.” #metoo is a movement started by Tarana Burke. She is one of the women who appears on the cover of Time along with Ashley Judd, Taylor Swift and Senator Sara Gelser who accused Senator Jeff Kruse of harassment. The magazine is filled with stories of both named and anonymous women who have told of their experiences of harassment and assault. Since early October, a mere two months ago, we’ve listened to daily revelations of high profile men accused of sexual assault by one or numerous women. They are men that we have perhaps already despised or that we have admired. We now have a very long list of harassers. By and large, no one seems terribly surprised. I think what is more surprising is that when these stories have been previously shared, it seemed as though no one cared. A week ago, I asked people in our weekly Bible Study to raise their hands if they too had been harassed or assaulted. Nearly EVERY woman in the Bible study raised her hand.
I have been open on a number of occasions that I also identify with the #metoo movement. I am a survivor of incest. And, I had a creepy 6th grade teacher who would pull we girls in the class onto his lap and pet us. I have dealt with sexual harassment in the work place and ultimately resigned my position. I was sexually assaulted one Sunday morning here in the Fireside room. Though I did not press charges, I ended up in court in a Jury trial having to answer questions about the length of my skirt. My guess is that you would hear similar stories from many people in the congregation. We just haven’t created an environment where issues of sexual abuse and healthy sexuality can be discussed in the church, but it is high time we did!
As a clergy woman, I have heard comments on my dress, the color of my stockings, my hair cut and color as well as my make-up. One man told me that my business suit looked too “femininazi.” One woman actually suggested that I find some way to walk own the center aisle in my clergy robe so that it would swish back and forth. Like other clergy women, I thought that people were sexualizing us because of our gender. Imagine my surprise one day when I was travelling to a ladies get away day with friends when they started talking about their male pastor. “I’m sure he’s lost a lot of weight” one exclaimed. “Yes, he looks great! I think he has been hitting the gym!” replied the second. The last cooed on “and his new haircut has just freed up his curls! Isn’t he cute?” Like probably many other people in similar situations, I sat in stunned silence. But my big take away was: this isn’t limited to women.
Char McMullen and Lara Crutsinger Perry have just returned from training called Our Whole Lives or OWL. They went to be trained so that we here at the United Churches can offer this honest accurate information about sexuality in a positive and safe place. Honest, accurate information about sexuality changes lives. It dismantles stereotypes and assumptions, it builds self-acceptance and self-esteem, fosters healthy relationships, improves decision making, and has the potential to save lives. Lara told me that the training highlights the concept of consent. What does consent mean? How long does consent last? Can children say no to a hug or a kiss from Grandma? Consent implies that we own our own bodies and that we are in charge of how we are touched.
We live in a highly sexualized culture. Our girls start with messages from shows like Toddlers and Tiaras pressuring young girls in a variety of ways to be glamourous. This pressure to look beautiful results in eating disorders and a multibillion dollar diet industry, not to mention the beauty industry. Because of this media and advertising pressure, we turn one another into cardboard, one dimensional characters.
In the church, we have done this with Mary. We’ve taken a multifaceted woman and turned her into this serene, sweet, flat character who is only a receptacle for God’s plan, rather than a woman on a mission. The church has turned Mary into a perpetual virgin off limits to sex and the messiness of giving life. We even turn the birth scene into this sweet warm hay filled barn with clean, adoring animals, blinking their eyes in delight as the new born savior slips out into new life.
What if instead of seeing Mary in this one-dimensional way, we try to see her as a whole person. What if we enlarge our imaginations to see her as a character who accepts the mission of changing the world? Certainly, when we think about consent, we read that Mary has accepted and embraced the mission. Then after agreeing, she heads off to her cousin’s home and is embraced by Elizabeth who validates the mission. Elizabeth joins Mary in sort of that laying on of hands, “my baby is jumping for joy at your calling.” Then it is like an ordination service with Elizabeth declaring that God has blessed Mary with this calling.
In receiving this blessing from God, Mary demonstrates her understanding of this gift of blessing. She is willing to see God at work in the world and is willing to trust that God is working in ways that she may not be able to see or understand and imagine. As the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber said: “[Mary] got something I really struggle to understand: that getting a blessing is not the same as getting a present. She said yes not based on the expectation of things being awesome for her but based on the expectation that God can create something out of nothing. And the thing is: we just never know simply based on how our life feels if it is filled with blessing or not.
To be a people marked by the faith of Mary is to be a people, who say Ok, I don’t understand what’s going on and I know that my life isn’t going to end up looking like one I would choose out of a catalogue but I trust that God is at work in all of it. Blessedness is being used for God’s purpose more than it’s getting what I want or things being easy.
Then Mary articulates the mission: She proclaims that God is using her to scatter the proud and pull the powerful ones down from their thrones. She knows that she is part of filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty handed. I have no idea how Mary adopted this mission, this vision into her heart. I don’t know how she could have seen in that moment that she would carry forward the redemption offered by God when she was young, unmarried and pregnant. But she did. She believed in the mission. She accepted the blessing and believed that God was at work in her.
How did God bring forth the blessing? Through embodiment. God came to the world as a human being, a real three dimensional person, born in a messy way. Our redemption comes in an obscure place through a brave and tired mother. There is nothing glamourous about that, but there is something powerful.
Redemption is fulfilled through real people…flesh and blood people, who have a wide variety of experiences, feelings, thoughts and attractions. Real people who have succeeded and failed, people who couldn’t see how something might turn out, especially when everything seems impossible…and yet, despite this, choose to trust that God is at work in whatever is going on. It means trusting in the blessing, even when you are not feeling blessed. God is at work in me. God is at work in you.