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 second Sunday of March will be posted to our blog on March 1st. PDFs of the sermon notes are also available here.
WEEK 1: March 1, 2015
The richness of meanings we find in the Lenten color of purple—especially the calling to mind the experience and perspectives of those who are rendered abject among us—provides a powerful lens to understanding the Gospel text for this Sunday. In A Feminist Companion to Mark, Joanna Dewey cautions the reader from approaching Jesus’ admonition to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (NRSV, v 34), without giving proper attention to the cultural, historical, and narrative context. Modern and Western readings of this iconic statement have often interpreted Jesus’ emphasis on discipleship as “a glorification of suffering and an encouragement to become a victim: one is to deny oneself, sacrifice oneself, wipe out any sense of self, and to embrace the cross, that is suffering in general” (23). Dewey acknowledges that too many women “failed to develop her own identity and strengths and has embraced or endured suffering that could be alleviated because she has come to believe that such a way of life is pleasing to God and an imitation of Christ” (23). To simply read this text as a valorization of suffering and victimization is a gross misreading. This text defines faithful discipleship as aligned with the realities of God’s Kingdom, even in the face of persecution from those in power. Ultimately, disciples are encouraged to seek life—true life—as defined by Jesus.
Christian churches once made a common practice of instructing women to return to an abusive husbands (by clergy, no less!), and often thus to her death, because suffering was understood as a God-sanctioned way to “deny themselves and carry their cross”! This counsel still happens today, but a better interpretation directs these women to seek safety, counseling, help, possibly a restraining order, and communities of support and love. The “cross” for abused women to bear would have been the path toward a sense of self defined by God’s love and building up a new life free of abuse. A Lenten practice of “self-denial,” for an abused woman, for example, might involve the denial of lies and a claiming of her worth, value, dignity and giftedness as a beloved and most cherished child of God. The Lenten call to “repentance”—which from the Greek means to turn away from a formerly held belief, or to change one’s mind about something—would involve turning away from destruction of self, and toward life.
Sojourner Truth is a powerful example of how women can live faithfully as a disciple of Christ. Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in Ulster County, New York, around 1797. When she was around nine years old, she was sold to another slaveholder, and away from her family, for $100 at an auction. In her adulthood, as a free woman, Truth worked tirelessly for almost 40 years until her death as an evangelist and social reformer. She traveled all around the North, East, and Midwest preaching and giving lectures on the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, temperance, and after the Civil War, for the general welfare of black communities as the freed slaves transitioned into a new way of life. Despite voices denouncing her and her work, from fellow Christians at that, Truth understood Jesus’ calling to discipleship correctly, and lived it faithfully. She refused to “bear the cross” of racism, sexism, slavery, or other modes of oppression—as she was told to by much of society and the authorities of the Church. Instead, she listened to God and took up the cross of courage to preach the gospel. Sojourner Truth was able to denounce the lies of the world and worked for liberation from oppression, even in the face of persecution.
In the purple season of Lent, may the Holy Spirit guide us, our congregations, into true forms of faithful discipleship – discipleship that liberates, brings more love, shines light in places of darkness, and pulses with life. May we take up our crosses of courage and deny the power of oppression to silence the gospel.
Dewey, Joanna. “‘Let Them Renounce Themselves and Take up Their Cross’: A Feminist Reading of Mark 8.34 in Mark’s Social and Narrative World.” In A Feminist Companion to Mark, edited by Amy-Jill and Blickenstaff Levine, Marianne, 261 pages: The Pilgrim Press, 2001.
The brief introduction to Sojourner Truth is from the following biography:
Murphy, Larry G. Sojourner Truth: A Biography. Greenwood Biographies. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood Press, 2011.
Resources for those interested in womanist theology
Townes, Emilie Maureen. A Troubling in My Soul: Womanist Perspectives on Evil and Suffering. The Bishop Henry Mcneal Turner Studies in North American Black Religion.
Williams, Delores S. Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk.
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.