Learning from Women

This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning. The gospel text was Mark 12:38-44, the story of the so-called “widow’s mite.” 

I am growing a moustache for the month of November in support of a movement called “Movember.” Movember started about fifteen years ago in Australia, and is now embraced worldwide. The idea is that men grow moustaches throughout the month of November, in order to raise awareness of men’s health issues, in particular prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental illness. One of the stated goals of the Movember Foundation is to reduce the number of premature deaths in men. One of the reasons why men die prematurely is because men tend to not ask for help when they need it. Men in our culture are often brought up to think we’re supposed to be macho and strong. Sharing our feelings and asking for help is a sign of weakness. So we don’t tend to get the checkups and screenings we should. We “man up” and deal with things all by ourselves, which can be a death sentence when it comes to things like cancer and mental illness.

Movember is about men fighting against that. Men are encouraged to talk. To share their feelings. To ask for help. To tell each other, “It’s okay to be weak.” “It’s okay to cry.” “It’s okay to have feelings.” I have been weak, and shared my feelings with you in the past. And I am fortunate that I have a community like you that has welcomed me despite my weakness, my problems, my fears. And I join with mustachioed men across the world this month hoping that we can build more and more communities like this.

But I just noticed something in the past few days, something that’s missing from Movember. It never occurred to me in the five years since I learned about Movember, but it’s so obvious now I see it: women. Movember is a movement of men supporting men, and that’s good.. But if men need so much help with this, with asking for help, with opening up about our emotions, with dealing with problems or illnesses – I mean, if this is a particular problem with men, and it is

Then maybe, just maybe we should ask women for some advice on how to do it? Maybe we could learn something about health from women!!!

Why do we forget that? Why is that such a surprise? Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think so. I think women have been ignored and sidelined for so long, maybe we’ve forgotten how much women have to share.

Jesus reminds us. Look in today’s gospel. Jesus has no interest in the scribes, walking around proudly in their long robes, praying their long prayers. And he has no interest in the rich people, putting their large sums into the treasury. But he notices a widow. A poor widow, who would have been completely overlooked, ignored, neglected by everyone else. Jesus points her out specifically as an example of true giving. We can learn something about stewardship from this woman.

And we see this throughout the gospels. At the cross, who is there watching from a distance? The men had all run off in fear. But women were there, women who had provided for Jesus since his time in Galilee. We could learn something about faith from these women.

And on Easter morning, who goes to the tomb? The men were all hiding out behind a locked door. But Mary Magdalene, along with a few other women, went to the tomb early in the morning. They were the first to hear the message of the resurrection, and the first to share it with others. We could learn something about discipleship from these women.

And there was the time when Jesus was at the house of Simon the leper, and an unnamed woman poured a jar of costly ointment on Jesus. The men in the house got very upset at this, at this display, and all the waste! But Jesus told them to leave her alone; she had performed a good service for him. She anointed his body beforehand for its burial. We could learn something about priorities from this woman.

And in the book of Acts, Lydia, Phoebe, and Priscilla are all described as benefactors and leaders of the early church. We could learn something about leadership from these women.

This happened in the Old Testament as well. Esther cleverly and single-handedly defeated the scheme of Haman, when he tried to have all the Jews in Persia killed. We could learn something about courage and persistence from her.

And so many more. Deborah and Jehosheba, Miriam and Jael, Shiphrah and Puah, Zipporah and Hannah, Ruth and Naomi, Elizabeth and Anna, Mary and Martha, and all the unnamed like the widow of Zarephath and the Syro-Phoenician woman.

And of course Mary, the mother of our Lord, who received a visit from the angel Gabriel, a visit that would have filled anyone with fear and dread. Mary responded to the angel’s message by saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” And she sang a song of praise: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my savior.” We could learn a whole lot about faith, discipleship, love, courage, and dedication from Mary.

The books of the Bible were written over several thousand years, in various places. Yet one thing that was constant in all the times and places where it was written was that women were oppressed. Women were considered second-class citizens, and did not receive the respect and honor they deserved. And yet, the authors of these books were inspired to include stories like these. Moments when women were the ones who were faithful, the ones who were wise, the ones who made the right choices and showed us what true faith and discipleship are. One of the clear messages ringing out throughout scripture is this: “Listen to the ones who are oppressed. Listen to the ones who are ignored. Listen to the ones who are neglected. God listens to them. Listen to them, and learn from them.”

Learn from the poor, the outcast. Learn from the sick and lonely. Learn from those whose skin color isn’t white. From those whose gender identity or sexual orientation is different from yours. From Muslims and Jews, from immigrants and migrants. And learn from women. From brilliant and courageous and faithful women who spread the good news and changed the world. Who still do.

Thanks be to God for faithful, wise, and strong women. Thanks be to God for women who teach us and nurture us and show us what it is to be human. Thanks be to God.

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