|Posted by chesterlanducc on March 11, 2017 at 7:35 PM|
I am posting this Sunday's (3/12) sermon before I actually preach it as I am heading out of town tomorrow. The sermon follows the story of religious leaders who bring to Jesus a woman who they claim has been caught in the act of adultry, and who they say the Law of Moses requires her to be stoned. They bring him the woman in order to force Jesus to do or say something that will contradict his ministry or the Jewish faith. The story is a familiar one for many Christians. Jesus responds to them telling them, whoever is without sin to throw the first stone. And then the men slowly leave, starting with the oldest, and then the younger men, until only Jesus and the woman remain. Jesus says to her bassically, they have not judged you and I will not either. It is a powerful story about grace but also about violence and double standards towards women.
Each Sunday in Lent I am preaching on a social issue. The sermon below is about violence towards women.
When I was in Divinity School I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of three students to be given a scholarship to travel and study abroad in Thailand for a semester. Thailand is a bit of a tropical paradise. I remember literally only taking a pair of shorts, one short sleeve dress shirt, a half dozen white t-shirts, and the sandals on my feet and I was ready for the journey.
It was a bittersweet journey. Thailand is a fairly wealthy and economically developed country. And perhaps for this reason it attracts a lot of tourism from surrounding Asia and even Australia and Europe. Also for this reason it is widely considered the hub of human trafficking in Asia. Women from other countries who don’t speak Thai are often lured away from their home villages and countries with the promise of work and then later forcibly sold into and enslaved in the sex trade. Similarly, street children who don’t have parents to protect them also often become victims of trafficking.
I did an independent study on this topic and served with a Catholic social service organization that had a number of social service agencies, including a secured location for young boys who had been trafficked. It was an eye-opening journey abroad which latter prepared me to better understand similar issues we have in our own nation.
Last fall Community Church invited Laura Bartchak from Harriet Tubman Ministries come speak to us about her work with human trafficking right here in Geauga county and we also had a young woman who began attending Community Church around that time who openly shared with us her story of being trafficked. It brought this particularly difficult issue of violence against women a lot closer to home than many of us would imagine. Sometimes we think of these issues, and even domestic violence, as issues that don’t happen in our communities, issues that are foreign and distant from us.
My life experiences, wherever I have lived, be it abroad or in this country, in poor or wealthy communities, is that domestic and sexual violence are pervasive even if they often times are hidden or ignored in society.
Today we read the story of a woman who is brought to Jesus by the religious and political elite of Jesus’ time who has been accused of adultery. These men reference the punishment for adultery under Mosaic Law as being death by stoning.
Of course men and women in first century Israel, as is often true today, were not treated equally, so only the woman in this story is on trial. One would probably not call Jesus a feminist, but in several instances, including this story, women are often objectified and oppressed because of their gender, because they are deemed unclean, because they are accused of adultery, and Jesus does not judge them—in fact, in his own way, he often offers compassion and wholeness. If anything, Jesus seems to have a special affection and compassion for these women who are oppressed in much the way he does for the other “least of these” he encounters in his ministry—on his journey.
Most of these women Jesus encounters on his journey are unexpected. The woman in this morning’s story is brought to him by religious authorities, another reaches out from a crowd and touches his cloak and Jesus senses someone has touched him, others are women who approach him in search of healing or even his own disciples.
One of the things that Laura from Harriet Tubman ministries suggested to us when she visited last year was that we pay attention on our journey—that we simply keep an eye out for those in need—those who might be oppressed and in circumstances against their will. That a woman who might be viewed as a prostitute, may actually be the victim of violence and coercion by men.
For our Doxology today, we are going to sing We Are Dancing Sarah’s Circle, which is a version of We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, which is a African American spiritual that dates back to the early 19th or perhaps even mid 18th century and slavery in this country. It is a song about moving forward and upward in one’s spiritual journey, and also likely references the journey of the oppressed towards freedom from their slave holders. Every round goes higher and higher the song proclaims.
The American folk singer, Pete Seeger, began singing this song and in the late 1960s he added a new verse "We are dancing Sarah's circle, Sisters, Brothers, All". This verse as well as the completely re-worked version that we are going to sing today written by Carole Etzler in 1975 employs the story of Sarah, the matriarch of the Hebrew people, and extends the direction of the journey from the upward climb of the ladder to the outward embrace of a circle.
I picked this song as our doxology, our song of praise in response to all that we have to offer, because I believe it reminds of journey, the journey that includes our encounter of those who are oppressed and enslaved. And in these two songs, there is a movement from the Patriarch Jacob to the Matriarch Sarah which reminds us that our spiritual journey is not only upward, but it is also circular, it is relational, it is not just climbing but it is also dancing.
We are going to first listen Pete Seeger’s version of We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder Feel sung by Holly Near, Arlo Gutherie, Ronnie Gilbert and Pete Seeger, and they sing it as kind of call and response as many spirituals are sung, so even though you don’t have this version in front of you, you can all sing along if you want, I’ve been listening to it over and over again all week as I wrote this sermon, and whether you sing it or listen to it, I invite you to let it sink into your soul, into your bones, and to be bread for the journey ahead of us this Lent.
Then following the offering, we are going continue by singing Carole Etzler’s version, We are Dancing Sarah’s Circle, sisters, brothers, all, which is in our hymnal.
Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice and let us prepare to share ourselves and our offerings as symbols of all that we have to share with one another, with God, and with this faith community. Will our ushers please come forward to receive our offerings…
Check out the song and sing along (really): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyJ5NwD5di8