Images of Liberation and Life

IMG_0345_2By Rev. Vicki Flippin

Last year a photo was taken of me leading a worship service. When I saw the photo, I was mortified. My first thought was her BARE FEET! While our church is pretty “come as you are,” few of our parishioners are brave enough to discard the shoes—until, in the frantic crazy of getting an infant out the door in time for worship, we celebrate if we manage the essentials for a summer day: onesie, pants, diaper. Had we known she would be photographed, we might have added shoes, but we do the best we can.

My first reaction to the photo from that day was embarrassment about the bare feet. But, as the adrenaline of Sunday morning wore off, I began to feel some serious shame. The moment was a result of frantic desperation. My head pastor was away so I was leading the service on my own, along with teaching a pre-service class and attending a post-service meeting. Usually on those days I would leave the baby with a few bottles and I would take a milk-pumping break after the sermon to relieve my breasts of their painful and symbiotic longing for my baby’s hungry body. But this day there was no time for a break. And a hungry baby and full breasts in worship meant that this happened – I had to nurse her while leading worship!

As I stood in front of the congregation, we were all a little dazed by the unfamiliar moment. I stumbled over my words, distracted by the assumption that the church was reevaluating the ideal of putting women in charge.

My constant companion, Self-Doubt, had a lot of questions about my behavior that day. Why did you have to nurse in front of your parishioners? So what you are telling them is when the senior pastor is on vacation, they are left with you, someone who can’t get her act together? Why did you agree to lead worship if you can’t manage your time? A male pastor would have never been in this situation.

Life after baby has felt like an endless stream of impossible alternatives. Strip baby naked on subway platform or continue long journey home with poop all over baby’s clothing, skin, and stroller. Eat or sleep or shower. Interrupt baby’s meal (Screaming!) or lead worship while breastfeeding.

Life after baby has overwhelmed me. In fact, in the first few months, it felt less like life and more like death. I gave birth last year during the first week of Lent and made my first appearance at church with the new baby on Easter Sunday. The time in between was spent huddled in what felt like a dark, eternal tomb. My body was torn, bloodied, burning, cramping, and completely disoriented. My mind was in shock from the birth and in desperation from the sleep-deprivation. And each careful tip-toe out of my apartment with this creature, now so vulnerable on the outside of my body, was terrifying.

So I experienced Easter that year as a time of picking grave clothes off of my reanimating body and taking those first steps out of my postpartum tomb.

But even as I started to get more comfortable physically leaving my apartment, I was still terrified of being out when the baby’s hunger cry began. Breastfeeding was a choice I had made long before the birth, but I simply hadn’t thought through how I would really feel feeding my child in public.

My BFF, Self-Doubt, had her fair share of opinions. People are going to stare. Teenage boys are going to snicker. Old men are going to recoil. And “lactivists” are going to judge if you show any sign of weakness!

And then there was that liberating, progressive alternative for working mothers: the pump. I HATED this machine. I felt like my professional office was turned into a milking barn every few hours. And I always felt like more time was sucked in that milking barn than milk. (I have long had a fantasy of recreating with my pump the scene in Office Space in which a group of employees takes a printer out into a field and violently destroys it with a baseball bat.)

Needless to say, while I chose to do it, I have had a somewhat ambivalent relationship to breastfeeding and mothering generally. And it has all been inseparable from the realization I have been making since first trimester exhaustion that, no matter how much we talk about equality between men and women, there are in fact real physical differences in the experiences of men and women who produce biological children—differences that can affect their work and careers. Women who get pregnant and have children cannot avoid some of the biological impact on their career. While men have a choice in how much burden they will take on or how much time they will take off, women’s bodies are actually changed and broken and exhausted in the process of creating a baby. And that has often felt completely unfair and infuriating to me.

And then this photo was taken – Another humiliating reminder that women sometimes have to make more impossible decisions.

I shared the photo on my personal Facebook page, hoping to defeat Self-Doubt with some encouragement from a few other close friends. Some encouragement turned into an outpouring of strength and solidarity. One professor friend even asked to use it as an illustration for her sexual ethics class! For me, that image was a reminder of the shame, the isolation, the tomb of my postpartum experience. But, as affirming comments and emails poured in, I was able to see my public, breastfeeding self through the eyes of other women clamoring for images of leadership and religion that reflect the reality of the female experience. And, to my surprise, that image of embarrassment was transformed into a reminder of the rising sisterhood of mother-priests supported by empowering communities that are transforming our patriarchal shame into a celebration of the gifts of the feminine.

Transforming images of shame and isolation into images of liberation and life is the Easter work of God. The cross is one such transformed image. Today we string it around our necks, bedazzle it, accost it with stage lights, and hang it with dramatic mounting techniques. But, to understand the real meaning of the empty cross on Easter morning, we must understand that in Jesus’ time it was a symbol of oppression, fear, and shame. So the fact that the Christian community now reveres this instrument of God’s death, lifting it high, surveying its wonder, points to the true miracle—that God can always turn what is oppressive and shameful in our world into salvation.

Today when I look at that photo of me breastfeeding in front of the congregation, I do not see the shameful and oppressive burden of breastfeeding and mothering that I once felt. Instead, because of communities that have supported me and cheered me on, God has transformed that image into a reminder of the great privilege I and many other women have of nourishing our children in such intimate, healthy, and even public ways. If more communities were vocally supportive of working mothers, how many other images of women could be transformed from visual symbols of our struggle to signs of liberation and strength?

As we adorn our crosses, once a symbol of oppression, with Easter lilies and pastels this week, I find myself wondering what other struggles, injustices or shame in our lives and in our movements are about to be turned into signs of salvation and victory for ourselves and our sisters, daughters, and granddaughters!

Hallelujah! Christ is risen! (And so shall we rise!)

unnamedRev. Vicki Flippin serves as Pastor of Social Justice, Intergenerational, and Exploring Faith Ministries at The United Methodist Church of the Village in New York City. She is passionate about LGBTQI equality, racial justice, and the future of the progressive church. Along with many years of work with Methodists in New Directions and her conference Commission on Religion and Race, Rev. Flippin was named this year Co-President of the Board of the Methodist Federation for Social Action.

Throwback Thursday: How the church can help women

Originally posted on March 29, 2014

By Rev. Hazel Jackson

Women have been major players in the function of ministries, management and operation of the church and industry for many years. Often women work tirelessly in positions for years because there is no one else who is willing to assume the position or they are working extremely well for lower compensation. Women often forget about themselves and their health when fulfilling various roles. Industry and the church need to be cognizant of the continuous work of women and find a means to give them a period of respite. Many women do not have personal outlets that provide rest, therefore they have little means of escape.

The church can be the outlet where women can receive unconditional love. Unconditional love can be the catalyst that women need to replenish physical and spiritual energy. Women need to be encouraged to love themselves, as well. When a woman loves herself, she is apt to assume responsibilities for her mind, soul and body in a manner that will help maintain a healthy lifestyle. The church can assist women by offering opportunities for personal pampering and /or host activities that recognize the tireless work of women in the church, industry and at home. Bible studies that cater to women’s issues would be beneficial. Non-competitive recreational activities to release stress would enhance the physical well-being of women.

There are several ministries that would enhance the emotional health of women, i.e. Stephen Ministry; regular organized body exercise; care ministries that can provide emergency childcare when a child is ill or the school is closed for a day or two; care ministries that send “thinking of you” cards to working moms; a means to a safe sanctuary for women who are abused or misused.

It would enhance the performance of women to have a co-leader for each ministry; to know and exercise their limits in industry; and to share the responsibilities at home with their spouses and other family members. When someone has another person to share their responsibilities or to discuss the issues that concern them, it lightens their load and provides options, as well as time for them to be more creative. The church can encourage a confidential buddy system that gives women an opportunity to share their feelings and concerns with someone or a small interest group.

It would be advantageous if leaders were given term limits, so that they will not be expected to maintain a given position for years and years. All women need time to reflect on their responsibilities and their spiritual, as well as physical, health. When a term limit is reached, the leader should be encouraged to relinquish the position to the co-leader or another member. Time off gives one the opportunity to release responsibilities and have the freedom of receiving care rather than giving it.

The church needs to be proactive in offering means for women to retreat and renew themselves spiritually and physically. Many women have the tendency to work continuously until they are burned out. Women need opportunities to be able to escape the demands of the church and society.

Members who accept the offer to display unconditional love could offer their time and talents to help cultivate spiritual, emotional and physical health activities for others. Each of us has special talents and most can be shared for the well-being of others. If people will give of their time, talents and resources to assist others in their areas of deficiency, there would be happier, healthier people in church and in our communities. The giver would be blessed for sharing and the recipient will be blessed as their deficiencies diminish.

Women, let’s slow down and enjoy our journey in life. Let’s read and practice the Serenity Prayer, daily. God please grant each woman the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change; the courage to change the things that we can; and the wisdom to know the difference. Let’s devote time to God and to ourselves, daily, so that we can be healthy and happier. Let’s share some of our time, talents and resources to help another sister live a fulfilling life.

jacksonRev. Hazeline Jackson is a pastor in the Texas annual conference, appointed to serve Ashford United Methodist Church in Houston Texas. A lifelong United Methodist, Pastor Hazel is a strong advocate and voice for women in her church and conference.

Week 5: Sermon Resources for Women’s History Month

For Women’s History Month 2015, GCSRW is pleased to offer a series of sermon preparation notes and resources written by Rev. Hyemin Na and following the lectionary texts for March. PDFs of the sermon notes are also available here.


WEEK 5: March 29, 2015

Lectionary Texts

Liturgy of the Passion: Isaiah 50:4-9a | Psalm 31:9-16 (UMH 764) | Philippians 2:5-11 | Mark 15:1- 39 (40-47)

The Passion of Christ Sunday

The cross was used by the Roman Empire to suppress any form of resistance against its rule, against its values, against its ways. Whatever and whoever would speak or act out against its grip would be violently silenced. They were silenced publicly, in a dehumanizing and humiliating fashion, as an example for any who dare harbor seeds of dissent. The tortured, beaten and stripped bodies were displayed on crosses lining the main roads leading into cities. These bodies were left out for the wild animals and birds to tear, rip and peck at, adding to the shame on these individuals and their respective communities. It was a fierce political weapon used by the powerful, by the ones who benefited most from the status quo. The cross represents what humans do to one another, individually, societally, and systematically, in complex webs of fear, hatred, abuse and violence.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 3.20.52 PMRight and wrong, innocence and guilt were determined by human authorities who had conflicting and self-serving standards of ethics. Jesus, who lived by a different compass point, manifested in his words and actions the blindingly brilliant realm of God and was, therefore, condemned for punishment. His teachings and ministry were too radical, upsetting and threatening to both religious and political authorities.

The passion narrative is a rich and disturbing tapestry of the human condition and the corruption of human relationships. The passion narrative is one of jealousy and deep insecurities (15:10), ignorance (15:14), cowardice, indifference, and neglect (15:15). Contempt and callousness are themes found throughout as well. We wince and grieve at such sadistic violence dealt out to any living being.

The Passion Narrative Plays out in 2015

The instruments of shame and death may have changed, but the gruesome reality of the “cross” persists. Our black and allied communities in the U.S. are still outraged by the double standards of “justice” we witnessed in Ferguson, where certain lives were deemed dispensable because of the color of their skin. The Boko Haram has massacred thousands of innocents. Their marauding armies are fronted by dispensable child soldiers who are trained to kill other children, women, and men indiscriminately. Over 200 female students from Chibok, who were abducted by this terrorist group, remain missing more than a year after their kidnapping. Many influential leaders in the Japanese government adhere to a revisionist approach to history which denies a history of “comfort women.” In so doing, they minimalize the Imperial Japanese Army’s role in kidnapping 200,000 to 300,000 girls and women from occupied countries and forcing them into sexual slavery. According to the World Health Organization, one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse during their lifetime, and gender-based violence against women continues to be one of the most common forms of human rights violations.

Crosses are strewn across towns, villages, cities and nations today. Bodies, beloved, exquisitely created, bearing the sacred image of God, are brutalized in many forms. In the busyness of daily living, many in our congregations are not present for Holy Week services. What is Easter if one skips directly from the triumphalism of Palm Sunday into resurrection? We must be reminded of the extent and horror of human sin that manifest in our midst. It is important for our congregations to name evil for what it is and to recognize its existence and prevalence.

We cannot begin to comprehend Easter joy and resurrection hope until we, as a Church, weep with those who weep and shake in anger at the injustices that bind and silence lives. In the hearing of the Passion narrative, we mourn; we repent of any complicity in the workings of oppression, and confess to our willful ignorance. For those in the Church who have been victimized in any way, the Passion narrative is an affirmation of the victim’s side of the story. Jesus knows, and understands. And when the Passion narrative is retold, the Church is galvanized to uncover the truth hidden in the victor’s embellishments, the perpetrator’s active erasing, the oppressor’s version of history. The Passion narrative pushes the Church beyond the privilege of remaining oblivious.

Creative Sermon Ideas

It will be difficult to preach from this Sunday’s text, as it is too long. For several years I have had dynamic readings of the Passion narrative in its entirety. Consider letting the drama of the story lead the congregation through worship and providing a brief theological framing for the congregation. You may also want to follow up such an intense worship with concrete recommendations for individuals, small groups, and/or the congregation to pursue as part of their response. It may be powerful to show carefully and thoughtfully selected images that coincide with the Passion reading as well. No matter what form of worship is created by the people of your congregation, instruct all to depart with the full understanding that God is on the side of the oppressed, and shares in their pain, even unto death.

May all know that God does not condone violence but would subvert the cross to expose the frailty of human systems of “justice.” This will set the tone for what is to come—Easter vindication of life.

Sources Consulted

Bartlett, David Lyon and Taylor, Barbara Brown. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Vol. 2. Louisville: WJK Press, 2008.

Beavis, Mary Ann. Mark, Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011.

Kim, Seong Hee. Mark, Women and Empire: A Korean Postcolonial Perspective, The Bible in the Modern World. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2010.

Kinukawa, Hisako. “Women Disciples of Jesus (15:40-41; 15.47; 16.1).” In A Feminist Companion to Mark, edited by Amy-Jill and Marianne Blickenstaff. Levine, 171-190. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 2001.

Visual Resource

The “Gallery” section of The Peoples’ Companion to the Bible includes an insightful collection of images related to the cross. The commentary provides a helpful lens in assessing the ideological assumptions behind religious images that we or our congregations may take for granted.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 3.16.07 PM

DeYoung, Curtiss Paul, Wilda C. Gafney, Leticia A. Guardiola-Sáenz, George “Tink” Tinker, and Frank M. Yamada. The Peoples’ Companion to the Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010.


Hyemin Na, a cradle Methodist, is an ordained Elder in the Northern-Illinois Conference and is currently a Ph.D. student in Homiletics at Emory University. She is a graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (M.Div) and Harvard (A.B.). She is interested in exploring how preaching is done faithfully and well in our postmodern society, with an ear on the ground for the voices of religious “nones,” and an eye out for visual culture. She makes her home in a suburb of Atlanta with a couple of old time prophets: Daniel, a fellow UMC Elder and spouse, and Elijah, of her womb.

Throwback Thursday: UMC Nigeria: One voice counts

Originally posted on March 27, 2014

By Rev. Eunice Musa Iliya

Matthew 7:21-23—Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

It is often said that sexism is a phenomenon of the past, but it does exist even in this 21st Century, especially in the Nigerian church. The oppression of women stems largely from men’s desire for power and control, the same need that throughout history has driven men to try to conquer and subjugate women by dehumanizing them in any way possible. As a result, most women become very passive about speaking up for themselves when being oppressed, abused and intimidated by their male counterparts. Furthermore, victims of such oppression usually are left to fight such battles alone. If they are able to get through it successfully, then to God be the glory; if not, then they have to bear the consequences alone. As a clergywoman in the UMC Nigeria I have been through a lot alone in the church. I have experienced horrible and disgraceful situations that I don’t wish for any woman. I felt very lonely in my fight to liberate myself and help other women to stand up and speak out for themselves if no one does that for them. If I can do it, any woman can also. Here is my story:

Being alone is not what any human being could wish for. We are interdependent human beings created with the need to be cared for and loved by others. Therefore, being lonely in a fight for justice is a torture psychologically and spiritually. Sometimes I felt like letting go and just going with the status quo. However as a passionate struggler for women’s liberation, I had no choice but to keep proving myself strong and equal to the task.

The maltreatment of women by some claiming to be God-sent leaders makes me furious to a point that my so-called social life had deteriorated. As a result I find it difficult to fall in love and find pleasure in what I felt like was an accomplishment and fulfillment in my life.

In order to seek motivation, strength and God’s direction, I sat in an isolated place reflecting through the circumstances by asking myself lots of questions without answers. I was humiliated. I was sad… I was very, very lonely in this struggle, which needs the involvement of many women and for the church to be advocates for justice for all. Instead, the church became the instrument for discrimination against women and the lowly. What upsets me the most is that whenever such issues of oppression are mentioned, the church claims it is doing it for the goodness of the congregation, women and whoever.

I recall very well when Done Peter Dabale became bishop in 1992 and one of his priorities was to support the involvement of women in ministry. He demonstrated that by allowing the ordination and participation of women in the leadership of the church, which most men were not happy about. According to Dabale, this is the only way the church would learn and understand the need to see God’s power and image in every human being. As a result, the idea of women as inferior humans in the church was changed.

Unfortunately, after Dabale’s demise, this beautiful and godly idea crumbled and women – including clergy — were returned to being second-class citizens. Other bishops who succeeded Dabale did nothing to bring back to life his vision of total inclusion of women in the life of the church. Being a victim of such a situation, I decided to accept the challenge to confront this discrimination against women and said to myself that someone has to do something about this inhuman treatment of women. Therefore, I would not let the church intimidate, oppress and dehumanize me or any woman. I have ability, courage and wisdom like any other human being to contribute in transforming this world for Jesus Christ. Courageously I decided to face this difficult task of standing and speaking up for justice for women and all those who are being victimized unjustly by the church. Doing this has never been easy; it cost me a lot. My family, friends, ministry and respect in my community was in disarray. For eight years the church treated me as an outcast and made me felt like my ministry had no meaning and positive impact in the lives of people. It was as if my world was crumbling right in front of me. It was a nightmare. The worst of it all was that I almost left the church because it seemed I didn’t belong and there was no point fighting for the impossible. There was no sign that the church represented Jesus’ life of accepting, speaking, caring and treating humankind as created equal. What a shame!

But all hope was not lost. In 2012-2013 God answered my prayer and wiped away my tears by bringing John Wesley Yohannah to be the bishop for the Nigeria Episcopal Area. A leader with a heart for justice and equal treatment of all persons, Bishop Yohannah respects and honors the gifts and talents of women and believes that women and men are equally created in the image and likeness of God. According to him, women are mothers, shakers, mountain movers, transformers and life-givers. Therefore, with this positive spirit, the Bishop broke the glass ceiling (as Americans call it — Nigerians call it the “tick wall”) that separated some positions from others by appointing the first female Superintendent of the Southern Conference, one who oversees the administrative affairs of the conference. To God be the glory!

EEunice Iliyaunice Musa Iliya, one of the first women ordained in The United Methodist Church Nigeria, is General Superintendent of the Southern Conference of the UMC Nigeria Episcopal Area. She serves on the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women’s governing board.

Women in My Faith Journey

By Bishop Patrick Streiff 

Women have been influential in my faith journey, as have been men. I grew up under very mixed influences. On my mother’s side, we were Methodists, on my father’s side, Roman Catholic. My mother was more extrovert and emotional, my father more introvert and rational. My mother went to church every Sunday; my father stopped going to church when he left home. My mother had a deep, loving relationship to her Saviour; my father had a lot of critical questions towards all the Catholic tradition he inherited. He was thoroughly a scientist. My brother and I grew up in this mixed environment. We heard the Bible stories and went to children’s Sunday school. Once or twice a year, we had a lot of fun in larger children camps organized by the local Methodist church in the Swiss Alps. But it was not evident at all to grow in faith in adolescent years. It was in the aftermath of ‘68.

In children’s Sunday school, we had women and men teaching in a good mix. But the pastors were all men at that time. In my teenage years, I remember the appointment change in my local church. The new pastor was much younger and had better pedagogical skills for teaching catechism. We had good, lively discussions on God and the world. I do not remember details, but he caught my attention to seriously think about my own faith. Most persons who were role-models in my teenage and youth years in preaching, in teaching and in discussing faith-issues were men like him. But there was one exception.

I guess it was around age 15 or 16. I was much interested in questions of faith and I struggled to find meaningful answers to my questions. Would my initial, child-like love of Jesus, my Saviour, stand the test of reason, and add value and meaning in modern life? If so, it certainly had to be a liberating force. In the midst of this quest, a friend gave me a book which talked about Jesus. But it did so in different ways from what I had heard in Methodist circles. It presented a political Jesus, a Jesus who liberated those in captivity, and who was willing to pay the prize of his beliefs. I was fascinated in reading the book. I fully recognized the same Jesus whom I knew from children’s Sunday School, but with a new, larger, more wholistic dimension of his ministry. It convinced me that Jesus has not only come into this world for saving our souls, but also to transform lives and shape society.

Of course, other books were also influential, and input from other lay and clergy, pastors and bishops, Protestants and Catholics. They all helped me to discover and live myself into that reality which Paul describes that Christ has set us free for freedom, for a faith working through love (Galatians 5:1,6). Most other persons were men, but this one book was written by a woman theologian, Dorothee Sölle.

Streiff - PictureBishop Patrick Ph. Streiff was elected bishop of the United Methodist Church in Central and Southern Europe in 2005. Besides his service in this very diverse Episcopal Area, Patrick Ph. Streiff is chairperson of the “Geneva Consultation” for theological education and leadership development in French-speaking Methodism (especially in Africa) and of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. In addition he is a member of the Connectional Table, of the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church, of the Task Force of Theological Education and Leadership Formation and of the Task Force “God’s Renewed Creation: A Call to Hope and Action.”

Week 4: Sermon Resources for Women’s History Month

For Women’s History Month 2015, GCSRW is pleased to offer a series of sermon preparation notes and resources for the month of March. Written by Rev. Hyemin Na and following the lectionary texts for March, the sermon preparation notes and resources for the fifth Sunday of March will be posted to our blog on March 22nd. PDFs of the sermon notes are also available here.


WEEK 4: March 22, 2015

Lectionary Texts

The Path of Jesus

As Jesus’ ministry unfolds, and the signs and wonders revealing his identity stack up one by one, the inevitable collision between the ways of God and the ways of “the world” draws near. The raising of Lazarus was the final draw for the religious authorities, who were concerned that the more popular Jesus became, the more their already vulnerable communities would become targets of the ire of a powerful Roman Empire (John 11:48, 53). The more pronounced God’s reign becomes in the life and ministry of Jesus, the more Jesus and his followers draw the attention from those who profit from the status quo. In this narrative context in John, “the world” (kosmos) symbolizes not God’s good creation but instead represents the systems of human institutions that thrive on cycles of fear and violence. It is “the world” that would prefer the darkness and shun the light (3:20). The “hour” has come for the “Human One” (CEB) to be glorified.

This glorification is a rich process. It will involve the judgment of the world that judges falsely (12:31). The world—again, the manifestation of human sin, in the form of Empire, corrupt institutions, etc.—will “lift” Jesus up as an example of what happens to those who dare uncover its hypocrisies, its oppression and injustice. Jesus will be lifted on the cross—the penal instrument of choice for the Roman Empire. And yet it is in this very moment of judgment that humanity’s attempt at “justice” will in turn be judged. God will expose the cross for what it is—an injustice, and will exercise power to subvert the intentions behind the cross and bring about resurrection. Jesus will be lifted, ultimately, through the resurrection. The resurrection will be the final word, the final judgment on the current “ruler of the world”—evil and death (12:31).

Jesus will Press on the Path of Light, of Love, of Life

Jesus will press on the path of light, of love, of life, even when this existence causes a threatened world to lash out in violence, anger, and fear. Unless a seed falls and dies, buried and silent in the soil, there will be no further growth. The seed will remain, abide, alone. Yet when it dies to its isolated existence, life will abound and multiply. When a follower “dies”—chooses to relinquish—to a way of being that is dictated by the values of “the world,” she or he embarks on living the true life, abundant and flourishing (10:10). Who knows what God brings about from such a life!

This past Christmas Eve, my grandfather, a pastor in the Korean Methodist Church, passed away peacefully in his sleep. While celebrating his life of integrity and faithfulness, our family’s reflections turned to his mother, Deaconess Jung-Sook Lee. She was the spiritual seed of my dad’s side of the family. Her courage to live as a disciple of Jesus changed the spiritual trajectory of her husband, her children, her children’s children—and by God’s grace, the fruits of her discipleship continue to ripen in my generation.

Spiritual Seeds

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 3.00.44 PMBorn in 1907, my great grandmother grew up in a small, rural village in the midst of a brutal Japanese colonial rule. At a revival gathering held in the village, she committed her life to Christ. Despite her husband’s opposition (at times involving violence) great grandma Lee would take her children by the hand and continue attending church. In 1947, she and two other women began a prayer meeting in a small room provided by a local school principal. When this school principal moved away, on a frigid February in 1948, great grandma Lee started a church in her own house, and called it Oh-Ga Church. This Methodist church continues to thrive as a community of believers today. Over the course of its history, this little country church produced a bishop, and many other leaders in the Korean Methodist Church.

Great grandma Lee’s six children all began their faith journeys under her guidance. Of the six, in particular, a son and a daughter(!) graduated from the Methodist Seminary. The son—my grandfather, would eventually serve as bishop. Even great grandfather Na, who initially sought to keep his wife away from church, repented of his ways and received Christ into his life. Great grandmother died young at the age of 49, after painfully struggling with cancer for many years, shortly after the end of the Korean War. In her living, however, and despite her death at such a young age, my great-grandmother became a seed of faith. It is flabbergasting to consider this soft-spoken woman’s grit and courage: women were not supposed to do what she did, back then, and with so few resources. God had a higher calling for her, and in response, great-grandma Lee died to the life her society, time, and place demanded of her. She chose to live unto God instead.

Jesus told his disciples that when he was lifted up from the earth, he would draw all people to himself (12:32). He sure did. The Jews, and the Greeks (Gentiles). Great grandma Lee was among those drawn unto him, and she, the first seed, brought a cluster of us along with her. Thanks be to God.

I don’t have a picture of great grandma Lee. She is said to have been a kind woman, who was known among her neighbors to be generous and caring. Older family members remark that I got my eyes from her. I’m happy to be a little sprout off her seed.

Who is your spiritual seed? Who are the women in your life who model discipleship for you and for others?

Sources Consulted

Bartlett, David Lyon and Taylor, Barbara Brown. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Vol. 2, Louisville: WJK Press, 2008.

Culpepper, R. Alan, and Gail R. O’Day. The New Interpreter’s Bible. Volume IX : The Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of John.

Visual Source

What is women’s work? This notecard/poster by Mary Lynn Sheetz is an inspiring visual play on who is considered a “disciple” of Jesus. Many sermon illustrations will be found in the examples of these women. In different ways, the women featured here lived their lives to God and became as good as dead to systems of oppression, hypocritical status quos, and cycles of violence. Here is a collection of fruitful seeds: (from left to right) Dorothy Day, Mary Luke Tobin, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mary of Nazareth, Thea Bowman, Ita Ford, Priscilla (of the New Testament), Ruth Fitzpatrick, Catherine of Siena, Edith Stein, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Teresa of Avila.

Used with the gracious permission of artist, Mary Lynn Sheetz, 2015. http://www.alterni-tee.com

 


Hyemin Na, a cradle Methodist, is an ordained Elder in the Northern-Illinois Conference and is currently a Ph.D. student in Homiletics at Emory University. She is a graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (M.Div) and Harvard (A.B.). She is interested in exploring how preaching is done faithfully and well in our postmodern society, with an ear on the ground for the voices of religious “nones,” and an eye out for visual culture. She makes her home in a suburb of Atlanta with a couple of old time prophets: Daniel, a fellow UMC Elder and spouse, and Elijah, of her womb.

Throwback Thursday: The doorway that changed my life

Originally posted on March 2, 2014

By Lydia E. Muñoz

So there she was, anxiously watching and waiting for the right time, knowing that once she walked through that doorway, things would never be the same.  Yet, the perfume she held in her hands could not compare with the overwhelming gratitude she carried in her heart for the one person who looked into her soul and saw her sacred worth.

Bishop Susan Morrison

Bishop Susan Morrison

This was the story that stirred my heart and soul and called me into ministry as an ordained elder.  I had read this story many times growing up, and I have always been fascinated with encounters of women with Jesus but never like this.  This time I was listening with different ears and I found myself at a doorway invited and even challenged to walk through and follow in the example of the woman I found in the gospel but whose voice I finally heard in the voice of another woman who became such a powerful influence in my life even though she never really knew it.

The first women was the woman described in the gospel of John by the name of Mary and who appears in Luke even though she was never given a name but a bad reputation instead.  For me, this story has always read like the same woman, the same dinner party and the same narrow doorway, even though most scholars agree that it was not.  But I always saw Mary in that doorway, knowing full well that she was not one of the invited guests, knowing full well that she knew that there was no space in that table for her — or for any woman,  for that matter.   She must have had knots in her stomach just thinking about all the ways that this particular move could go wrong for her.  Yet none of this was strong enough to keep her away.  She had looked into the eyes of Jesus.  He saw her, healed her, forgave and restored her and she was made whole.  Now there was only one thing between her and Jesus: a doorway.

The second woman was Bishop Susan Morrison.  I met Bishop Morrison while working as the receptionist at our conference office back when I was just 22 years old.  She was the first woman I had ever met who was a bishop and I thought that in itself was pretty amazing, but then I began to find out all the things she was doing on behalf of women and for our Church.  She was the Bishop with a little red convertible Miata, and more moxie than I had ever witnessed in the face of a conference that had its first experience of a female Bishop.   But my most favorable memory of Bishop Morrison was during a weekend retreat that she had encouraged me to attend.  It was a retreat for young adults who might be exploring a call to ministry and she was to be the keynote speaker for the first evening.  The text she chose was the text about the woman who walked through the doorway to anoint Jesus’ head and wash his feet.  At the end of her words it was as if I was the only one in the room when she asked, “so what is keeping you from walking through that doorway?”

So there I was, anxiously watching and waiting for this time, knowing that once I walked through this doorway, things would never be the same.  That night I did, and it was Bishop Susan Morrison that opened the door.

whm.munozLydia Esther Muñoz is pastor of PlumbLine UMC, a new start up church in the Philadelphia area. She is a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary and is pursuing her Doctor of Ministry degree in Worship, Preaching and Spirituality at Drew Theological School.  This conference year, Lydia is hoping to be ordained as a full elder in the Church, making her journey that started with a simple doorway come full circle.