March 3, 2019 Sermon
Celebrate Gifts of Women Sunday—Personal Reflections from Women of the Bible
compiled by Sandra Larson
What kinds of faithful servants are we called to be?
Sheerah (a builder of cities) — I Chronicles 7:24
You may think that Women’s Liberation is a modern thing. Not so! Back
before Israel even got to the land of Israel after escaping from Egyptian slavery; my father, Ephraim had nine sons. They were all killed. Later, my father had other sons…and me. I am Sheerah. I like to think I helped make up for my father’s lost sons. I built three cities. One, we even kind of named after me: Uzzen-sheerah.
My name, Sheerah, means “of the same blood.” Surely my father’s heart
rejoiced in his daughter. Even though I was a girl, I proved equal to the task his sons might have accomplished. God’s heart must rejoice now as then, when “daughters” do tasks equal to “sons”…or perhaps, a bit above and beyond.
Second woman: Puah (a Hebrew slave mid-wife)— Exodus 1
My name is Puah—don’t laugh. It is a respectable Hebrew name, even more so after I became famous for my small part in history. I was a mid-wife when the Pharaoh of Egypt enslaved the Hebrew people. We were treated so despicably, that sometimes I wonder why we wanted to bring children into the world. I remember with horror when Pharaoh’s overseer told me and Shiphrah, the other Hebrew mid-wife, that at the birth of all Hebrew boys, we had to kill them. Well, we didn’t kill the baby boys. We came up with ingenious ways of hiding those dear babes. Why, we helped baby Moses escape, so, if for no other reason, we deserve some major historical fame.
Pharaoh got wind of our deception. Pharaoh was no dummy; so he accused us without even a second’s warning. Well, we were no dummies either, so we had an answer ready, We quaked in our bare feet.
“Why do you let male children live?” boomed Pharaoh who had already made the plan to execute us. “Sorry?” we said, kinda belligerent, like teenaged girls tend to be. “SORRRRRRY?!?” Then we told our premeditated lie: “We just can’t get there fast enough. You know those Hebrews—they’re like rabbits—they’re having kids all over the place!” It felt like a mission from God, being so subversive. Pharaoh feared the Hebrews because they were multiplying quickly. We took advantage of Pharaoh’s panic. Our bold truth bending made it possible for at least some of the Hebrew boys to live. We knew God wanted us to act and speak up on behalf of his people and defend what was right. So we did.
I always smile about Moses who tried to weasel out of speaking on behalf of God and our people, even though he was favored in the royal household. Don’t get me wrong, Moses was the real hero of the exodus to the Promised Land. I still think Shiphrah and I played a significant part, too.
Anonymous builder of the Tabernacle of God — Exodus 35:20-29 — based on Eve and After by Thomas John Carlisle
The Bible is full of dramatic heroes. I’m not heroic. I don’t even feel comfortable talking in front of people. But since you asked, I will tell you that I was part of the long, fear-filled exodus of the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. My faith in God was strong, but some days…I had to wonder how God would ever get us out of our predicament. Then, we were told to build a tabernacle for God—right in the wilderness. What a great idea—then everyone would know God was with us! It fell to women to create this home for God—and the men helped some, too. We designed a beautiful ark that we could carry with us. We built a holy place for God. We collected blue and purple and scarlet and earrings, pendants and gold —all to God’s glory. We didn’t have much, but it was enough. Best of all—all of us gave our hands and hearts.
Each woman used whatever skill she had to offer. This was our opportunity to know that God was with us. It doesn’t sound significant, compared to the dramatic stories of God’s people. But we can smile with content to know that Jewish synagogues throughout the world house a tabernacle in their sanctuary—modeled after the one we made in the wilderness. Christians are inspired by our journey to the Promise Land, too. God was with us and is still with all who believe. We all worked together to do what God asked. God of all gifts, considers our gifts if we fail to include even one faithful giver. We miss God’s blessing of community and mutual complementarity if we judge others as not-gifted or if we decide that it is easier to serve God “all by myself.” Because we were united in building God’s Ark of the covenant, we have remained people of faith for generations.
Judith, matriarch of Bethulia--Book of Judith in The Apocrypha —adapted from Peculiar Treasures by Frederick Beuchner
King Nebuchadnezzar of Assyria was a nasty man with a bad temper and long memory. Nebuchadnezzar planned to be king of the world. After pulverizing the Medes, he sent out 132,000 men to straighten out all the peoples who hadn’t paid tariffs to him. Those who resisted were to be liquidated. Jews were on Nebuchadnezzar’s black list. He sent soldiers under his general, Holofernes to attack the Jewish town of Bethulia. The troops set up camp, ready to attack. I lived in Bethulia. My name is Judith—and I had a lot at stake here, to say nothing of upholding the honor of God and my people. I was pretty much matriarch of the town. I did not abuse my power the way Nebuchadnezzar did. I tried to help people and make a better life for us all. I was a young, wealthy widow, and I was, well, very attractive.
When I got word of the immanent attack, I was not going to take this lying down. I was used to being a leader, and I usually accomplished my objectives. But the enemy army out numbered us by far. I prayed that God would rescue my town. And, just to play it safe, I made a few preparations of a secular nature. I shinnied out of the shapeless black dress I’d been wearing in memory of my late husband; and I doused myself in perfume. My maid fixed my hair and helped me slip into a dazzling little number I had saved from happier days. I put on all the jewelry I owned, which was a lot of impressive baubles, and I set out with my maid for the enemy line.
Although I was just a woman, I was still an enemy; I had trouble getting to see the enemy general. But when I explained that I’d show him how to take Bethulia without losing a single man, the guards let me in to see General Holofernes, himself. I told him, “I will declare unto the Lord no lie this night.” I had to trust God to keep my promise, though I was not sure how my claim could be true and still save my town. The general knew the Hebrews’ reputation for honesty. He just didn’t know just how tricky Jewish women might be.
I told him: “The only circumstance under which God would let the Jewish people be defeated was if they sinned. Then I enticed him with my best tattling tone, “Right this minute, the town would soon be sinning like crazy by eating un-kosher food, because, thanks to the siege, that is all that’s left. All he had to do was wait. I would tell him when to attack.”
Holofernes bought my deception, and he was stupefied by my good looks. He tried to lure me into his tent, but I was skilled at playing hard to get. I finally agreed. Holofernes had three glasses of wine for every one I sipped--and I could drink a fair amount of wine without it getting to me. I didn’t become a rich town leader by getting fuzzy headed! He got drunk before anything much could happen, and then he passed out. His scimitar was nearby, and with two good whacks, I cut off his head, put it in my basket, and had it prominently displayed on the battlements. When the Assyrians saw their general’s head, they ran away as fast as they could. And all the people of the town drew their first easy breath in months. The town rewarded me by giving me the contents of Holofernes’ tent—including the silver cups. I donated them to God; and the gift might have made up for my stretching the truth a bit. I have lived a long, happy life as a heroine.
So, if you think women of faith are just sweet little servants, I’m happy I’ve taught you a thing or two.
Woman who anointed Jesus’ feet — Matt 26:6-13 or Mark 14:3-9
Jesus saw me as I could be, not as the deprecated woman that fate had forced me to be. I knew the Pharisees would try to throw me out when I tried to anoint Jesus’ feet. Their pride and prejudice would all but bar me access to their table—in public, that is. But I was there to thank Jesus for the love he showed even for me, (not the way other men used me). Jesus really cared about me…and others, too. Jesus cared about those that nobody seemed to have any concern about. Jesus paid attention to people were ignored or stepped on by rich and powerful MEN. You cannot imagine how women and poor people were treated then. Jesus understood the constant degradation and challenges we faced. He helped me see myself in a new light.
My decision to publicly anoint Jesus’ feet was not an emotional gesture.
I knew that if I publicly anointed Jesus’ feet, I would pay a price. I knew Jesus’ reputation would be tainted by my audacious display of gratitude, too. Yet my gift could speak for many voiceless people who found hope through Jesus. And maybe just one or two of the proud politicians at the dinner table would begin to see Jesus for who he really was. I made a powerful political statement in the only way I could. It was worth the risk. Consciousness of my neediness made it easy to treasure Jesus’ loving forgiveness. The arrogant Pharisees who dined with Jesus had flatly refused to see their own spiritual bankruptcy. I guess they had too much at stake in the status quo. I feel rather sorry for them.
Unless you are a stuffed shirt like those Pharisees, be open to Jesus’ healing love. Then pass it on—however you know how: Jesus’ love changes lives—even mine. If power and looking good are more important to you than being loved, loving others and sharing Christ’s love, then I feel sorry for you, too.
Jesus’ faithful follower —a composite from Gospels/Acts
I was blessed to know Jesus firsthand. I followed him whenever I could. I was free to go as I chose because I was a young widow of a wealthy man, with no children and my husband had no brother to take his place as my husband. My sense of grief and loss was great; so that is why I was first drawn to Jesus. People said he had a way of recognizing suffering and somehow, he helped you see beyond your own neediness. I was amazed at how he could heal my hurts with a nod of acknowledgement. His glance even said it all—you are loved and you are valued.My name doesn’t matter. Ironically, most of Jesus’ male disciples jockeyed for position, despite all that Jesus taught us.
Jesus inspires me to want to be like him—and so I try to be sensitive to people’s needs. Jesus appreciated people’s strengths, despite their less than shining appearances.
That’s why I wanted to be there for him when they crucified him. I wanted to show him that I had caught his sensibilities of love. The other women felt it, too—that caring for others is the reason we are put on earth. It felt good to offer Jesus our love in return.
Jesus simply accepted women. After he was gone, old male and female roles often crept back into our fellowship. It is hard to change generations of conditioning that prescribed men’s and women’s places. Even though the Holy Spirit guided us, it was hard to embrace radical freedom of human wholeness. For oppressed women and other demeaned by society, the freedom in Jesus was almost beyond our comprehension. It was impossible to completely change from our old ways. Men were accustomed to women as servants, so they wrestled with this awakening of freedom. Paul was especially torn. As the most visible Christians leader, Paul wanted to overcome old prejudices. Paul struggled to set aside his old ways. But Paul embraced the new way. Paul proclaimed freedom in Christ relentlessly and with zeal. Paul was amazing. He worked to include women, Gentiles and all social classes in the freedom of Christ. Jews of our time found it nearly impossible to break down inter-religious, inter-racial and social walls. Such harmony seemed pure heresy.
Paul was also a wise leader. He warned women, and men, too, that if we expressed our freedom in Christ too freely, that the Jewish leaders and political powers would unleash security forces and economic sanctions that would wipe us out. We are free in Christ but it is dangerous to flaunt that freedom in a society where only the powerful have privileges. Paul entreated women to keep a low profile. Consequences imposed by those who were threatened by freedom in Christ could be lethal, as we had witnessed first-hand with Jesus’ crucifixion. Women tried to be discreet, and we did what we could to serve the cause. As we sought to spread the news of Jesus Christ, the men were in the forefront and confronted power abuse and political issues. Women focused on how we could quietly make a difference, offer support , and help people. Together, we used our energy and resources to demonstrate the good news of Christ. Perhaps Christians are not that much different today?