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Daughters of Abraham, Stand

Wow, it’s strange to be up in the pulpit after 4 weeks! But it’s good to be back – good to see all of you. Thank you for your hospitality to my colleagues who covered for me while I was away; they really enjoyed their time with you. I want to point out that my sermon today will be quite a bit shorter than what you’ve been used to of late (so I understand). Hope that’s OK :)

We (my family and I) were on a road trip; all together we drove 4,700 miles in our blue van. Some of you doubted we could do it, but we did. Our destination was Colorado, where we stayed for a week, but we were very leisurely about getting there and coming back.

Last summer we were in Italy and saw a lot of churches, but this summer we saw spiritual sites of another sort. And in America there are a LOT of them. We saw the balcony where Martin Luther King was shot, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. (Of course we also saw Graceland in Memphis, which some of you may count as a spiritual place of a sort. Sun Studios, definitely.) We visited the memorial at the site of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City; we happened to be passing through there right after the shootings in Dayton and El Paso, so that was poignant. We visited Monticello in Virginia, to see of course the beautiful home Jefferson designed and built. But we also went there to see the newly opened exhibits featuring the slave quarters, including the home of Sally Hemmings, the mother of five of Jefferson’s children.

That was our last stop, and it felt like coming full circle because our first stop was in Chambersburg Pennsylvania, where we visited the home of abolitionist John Brown – and also the place on the outskirts of town where, with Frederick Douglass, he discussed plans for his raid on Harper’s Ferry (one of the key events leading up to the Civil War. I just learned, on this visit, that both of them were disguised as fishermen during those conversations. I had always wondered how two men as famous and distinctive-looking as they both were could meet, outdoors, for three days of intense debate and go unnoticed. Now I know.)

None of these stops were planned ahead. We just stumbled on them as we went. A reminder of how incredibly rich this country is – rich in sin, and rich in promise. But again, good to be back with all of you.

Tomorrow, August 26, is, in the United States, Women’s Equality Day, which was established in 1973 to celebrate the ratification of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote. Next year, 2020, is the 100th anniversary of that event, so I’m guessing we’ll hear a lot more about it then. But I mention this today, this year, because our Gospel reading reminded me of it.

This reading is from Luke, which of the four Gospels tends to have the most inclusive view of women. Jesus is preaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath day when a woman, bent over and unable to stand upright for 18 years, walks in. He sees her, and calls to her; in fact, a little later on he’ll call her a “Daughter of Abraham,” the only use of that honorific in the Bible. “Sons of Abraham” there are plenty of, but never once does anyone, except here, call a woman a “Daughter of Abraham.” That alone would make this a meaningful reading for the celebration of women’s suffrage.

But there’s more. He lays his hands on her and immediately she stands up straight. Controversy ensues about whether this healing was lawful on the Sabbath or not; we see this debate elsewhere in the Gospels, as when Jesus heals the man with a withered hand. There, too, some of the religious leaders object and make a commotion, and Jesus defends his action saying “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  About a year ago at an interfaith discussion held in someone’s home in White Plains (this was mostly lay people) I remember being apologetic about how critical our Gospels are of first century Jewish practices. To which a woman there (a Jewish woman) quickly shot back, “Well, it’s not as if we aren’t critical of Jewish practices back then, too.” Maybe less so in Scarsdale, but many Christians have this frozen-in-time snapshot of what it means to be Jewish, based on our Gospels. I’m quite sure Jews both then and today would be critical of that religious leader who scolded Jesus for doing this act of mercy on the Sabbath.

But it’s not the Sabbath debate that stands out to me today in this reading; it’s this woman, stooped, unable to look up or forward until one day, miraculously, Jesus helps her stand fully upright, eye to eye with those around her. She could be a stand-in for the women in those early years of women’s suffrage, weighed down and wearied by the seeming impossible task of being recognized as full citizens having every right as their male counterparts. She could stand for the women in the MeToo movement who for many years kept their secrets but then one day were empowered to stand up, and speak out.  She could stand for the women of Afghanistan (and so many other places around the world) fighting for peace, for better schooling, for more representation in their government. She could stand for the women traveling to our border, victims of unrelenting crime and violence in their homelands, unwilling for their families to endure such suffering any longer and looking for a place where they can stand tall, and unafraid.

This woman, our reading for today tells us, was “crippled by a spirit.” Some translations say “crippled in spirit.” (I guess the Greek is unclear.) Both ways, it works. Either she was crippled by the evil spirit of misogyny, arrogance, being ignored, the evil spirit of those who silence and demean others whom they regard as weaker, lesser. OR she was crippled in spirit from having to put up with it for too long and just being tired, stooped from the weight of it all.

Until Jesus says Enough. And raises her up. And speaking (as Jesus uniquely does) both for God and as a man, calls her, on behalf of all women both then and now, what she deserves to be called: Daughter of Abraham.