Psalm 67, Excerpts from The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Acts 16:9-15
Sunday May 22nd, 2022
By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Thank you for being here today on what is in our tradition the sixth Sunday of Easter. It’s good to be together in all of the ways we are able to gather. As you are moved, I invite you to take a deep breath to let yourself arrive, to tune into your heartbeat, to give thanks for this day and this chance to share the journey together.
Join me in a spirit of prayer from the Psalmist: Gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
“Nevertheless, she persisted" that’s the line that you might remember became popularized in 2017 when Senator Elizabeth Warren refused to stop speaking during the confirmation hearing of Senator Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General. Following the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
The phrase went viral and has now come to represent a broader movement, a movement grounded in supporting the voices of women, in believing and backing women who are intentionally and thoughtfully breaking barriers even with bold attempts to silence them.
And I thought of this line, recently over this week and last because it feels like a lot of us women are trying to speak, but aren’t being heard, it feels like right now women’s voices are being silenced on a massive scale, women’s experiences are being denied, and rapidly what we thought we had agreed upon is unraveling.
Even though a million people have died from COVID, many claimed that masking was unnecessary because the individual must have the freedom to choose what is best based on all of the information and circumstances.
And even though we have had 198 mass shootings just in 2022 alone, many claim that action is unnecessary because the individual must have the freedom to choose which firearm best suits his lifestyle based on all the information and circumstances…
But, when it comes to the freedom of women to know what is best based on all of the information and circumstances, with a lot at stake, it’s a different story.
I confess that I have felt a fear that I haven’t felt in my lifetime. I know that it is a privilege to have gotten this far without worrying about my own freedom, but it’s the realization that I am not seen as a whole human, not really.
What power or place do we women really have in this community, in this country? Who gets to decide what happens to us, to our lives, and to our bodies?
As Jewish author Alicia Ostriker wrote last week, “Who owns women’s bodies? The age-old answer is that women are the property of fathers, brothers, husbands, who are entitled to buy and sell them, or even, as in “honor killings,” to kill them. Here in America the idea that women can be proud owners and caretakers of themselves and their own bodies has been taking hold gradually—and with many setbacks, such as we see being played out in the issue of abortion presently before the Supreme Court.”
This feels important to talk about together, as a community of faith to speak honestly together, to challenge the labels and to interrogate the rhetoric we are hearing. This moment needs our nuance and questions. We must challenge and unsettle the labels of pro-choice and pro-life.
Because I am not sure about much, but I am certain that a country truly motivated by a commitment to human life wouldn’t be where we are, especially given the lens of the pandemic.
If this was really about being committed to human life, being committed to the thriving of all human life, we would not be investing in the war machine or subsidizing fossil fuel companies, being pro-life would compel us to declare a climate emergency and tend to our biosphere, being pro-life, being truly in support of life would compel us to ending this mass gun violence epidemic with a federal ban on assault weapons, statewide buybacks and more, if we were really pro-life, we would take seriously this terrorism rooted in white supremacy. What would it look like to move beyond these camps with labels? Because those binaries are lies and don’t work and aren’t serving us and aren’t allowing us to evolve. And here’s the other truth: if we were all about the thriving of human life, if this was really about supporting and loving and caring for babies, we would invest more in supporting foster kids and we would invest in pre-natural care, accessible quality healthcare, we would join the rest of the world and offer paid parental leave. And if our commitment was really about preventing unwanted pregnancies we would be supporting comprehensive sexuality education, providing contraceptives and support, we women know better than anyone how to do this.
But what do we do when it seems like those in positions of power aren’t listening and also don’t seem to care what the spirit of the room is? What can we do as people of faith? And does it even matter? Is it worth what it asks of us? Is it worth it to keep showing up here and showing up for one another, to keep calling and caring, to keep writing and doing, to keep marching and making a way? Is it worth it to keep holding up and hoping for a vision of the world that is not yet?
I spent much of last week in Denver at the Festival of Homiletics which is a fancy word to describe the study of the art of preaching. It was an interesting mix of people spread across the pews of Trinity United Methodist Church and Central Presbyterian Church, right downtown where all of the events were held. Both church buildings were beautiful in their architecture and huge and historic representations of sacred spaces of a certain moment in American religious life. Both felt like representations of another era, hardly recognizable in some ways, in their inaccessibility with narrow winding stairs and lack of good lighting, with their shag carpet and uncomfortable wooden pews and wooden folding chairs fixed in rows. As I sat there, knowing how rare it is for those big old church buildings to be filled these days, I thought of how so many people in our world have moved on from these buildings and also they have moved on from thinking they need the communities inside them, communities like ours. I hear all the time and read in the latest Pew Research how so many people have decided that church is irrelevant at best and harmful at worst. And while I understand the intolerance for meanness and a mediocre mission, I believe that now more than ever, what is needed, is a people like us, a group that cares inward and outward and refuses to give up on the vision and the bigger dream.
Because at our core, that’s who we are and what we are about-a people propelled by visions, by hope for a world that is not yet. That’s how the story we heard today from the book of Acts begins, how the earliest accounts of the church began. Paul has a dream and a vision comes where he feels compelled to go somewhere else because a voice asks for help. And on his way to help, he meets Lydia, whose heart was opened and who then prevails upon them to come to her place and the movement grows and begins anew. They were given a vision and paid attention to it and were pushed out by their need to help and more came along because they too needed that vision, they too needed that purpose, they too needed that persistent people, for a world that is not yet.
In a time when women were the property of fathers, brothers, husbands, Lydia leads and prevails upon them to listen to her, to follow her. So we know right from the start, that we are inheritors of a vision, descendants of dreamers who dared to live their own hopes for a world that isn't yet.
So what do we do when it seems like those in positions of power aren’t listening? What can we do as people of faith? And does it, will it, even matter in the span of time? Is it worth what it asks of us? Yes! Because we are a people that refuses to stop holding up the dream! That’s our DNA as church, who we are at our core, what we are about down deep. Discipleship demands that we pay attention to our visions, to the visions of one another and to let ourselves be pushed out of our comfort in response to the needs of the world, knowing that we do not need to know where we are going and that more will come along because they too need the vision that we hold, they need our purpose, they need to be a part of a people like us that persists… for a world that is not yet. She persisted. So let us persist in our purpose. May it be so. Amen.