(While I was going to post an excerpt at first, I realized that doing so would completely go against what I was preaching. I hope the reader will be patient and understand the sentiment.)
Mother’s Day 2017
Texts: Judith 8:9-17
When Judith heard the harsh words spoken by the people against the ruler, because they were faint for lack of water, and when she heard all that Uzziah said to them, and how he promised them under oath to surrender the town to the Assyrians after five days, she sent her maid, who was in charge of all she possessed, to summon Uzziah and Chabris and Charmis, the elders of her town. They came to her, and she said to them:
“Listen to me, rulers of the people of Bethulia! What you have said to the people today is not right; you have even sworn and pronounced this oath between God and you, promising to surrender the town to our enemies unless the Lord turns and helps us within so many days. Who are you to put God to the test today, and to set yourselves up in the place of God in human affairs? You are putting the Lord Almighty to the test, but you will never learn anything! You cannot plumb the depths of the human heart or understand the workings of the human mind; how do you expect to search out God, who made all these things, and find out his mind or comprehend his thought? No, my brothers, do not anger the Lord our God. For if he does not choose to help us within these five days, he has power to protect us within any time he pleases, or even to destroy us in the presence of our enemies. Do not try to bind the purposes of the Lord our God; for God is not like a human being, to be threatened, or like a mere mortal, to be won over by pleading. Therefore, while we wait for his deliverance, let us call upon him to help us, and he will hear our voice, if it pleases him.”
and John 8:32
And Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
Let’s be honest. We write women out of the stories we tell. Though this book is apocryphal in the Protestant canon, it still matters because it is the only book–other than Ruth and Esther–in any part of the canon where a woman is the primary character and the Book is named after her. Let’s be truthful. We must often dig deeper and go off the beaten paths to find out about the contributions of women. I say that to my and our shame.
This should not be.
Too often history, spirituality, and theology is written by men and for men, while the knowledge, wisdom, and insights of women go unnoticed. Too often, the history, spirituality, and theology written by men is deemed for all humankind, but the knowledge, wisdom, and insights of women are seen as particular, domestic, or just for women and children.
Though we honor mother’s today, I want to be clear: Women do not just give birth to or raise children. Women give birth to ideas, faith, ritual, inistitutions, and relationships. This Mother’s Day is not just a day to celebrate the women who have raised children, even those children who were not their biological children. We should certainly celebrate them. But this is also a day to recognize the treasures that women have birthed in this world.
Sojourner Truth and Judith can tell us a thing or two if we listen. They speak the truth.
“Ain’t I a Woman…”
Women’s Convention, Akron, Ohio
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.
But, oh! Sojourner! You got so much more to say. You speaking the truth. And woe to those write your words and your story out of history. But blessed are those who remember your story, for those who do, shall be saved…. Sojourner, you are the truth and the truth will set you free. She speaks the truth and the truth will liberate us from building our lives around the auction block. She speaks the truth: and you can tell, remind, and enlighten those who think that an attack on families is a recent American phenomenon… speak the truth a tell them about a woman seeing her children on the auction block and remind them: family has always been under attack in America. So don’t retreat into homophobia or a mendacious nostalgia called the “good old days.” The truth is that many groups are now experiencing what was commonplace among slaves. The truth of that will set you free.
We would do well to hear the cry of a mother’s grief this day when we think of how future generations are being sold into economic, ecological, and spiritual decay and death.
Sojourner spoke the truth, but she is not always seen as canonical in the story of America and slavery. We hear of the men, of the civil war, of Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Jefferson Davis, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee., Dred Scott, Fort Sumter, Gettysburg… and though we might include Harriet Tubman in our narratives, we often overlook and relegate the testimonies of women, black women in particular, to second and third tier status…
And because we don’t acknowledge their wisdom and stories, we still can’t see the women before us today and the stain and sin of misogyny that often runs unchecked–even in our churches. What’s more, the patriarchy that supports the misogyny we so readily tolerate still runs wild in this country… We would do well to hear the cry of a mother’s grief this day when we think of how future generations are being sold into economic, ecological, and spiritual decay and death. Some of our young people are on the auction block right now. But too many have mistaken the auction block for a stage, runway, pulpit, or lectern. This world is on the auction block. Sold to the highest bidder! And when Mother Earth cries out with a Mother’s Grief, too many of us keep our ears closed and our eyes shut…
Though I am a man, I need to recite that speech. I recite this speech to my daughters at least once a month. But I don’t recite Sojourner just for them. I do it because I need to remember. As a man, I need to recognize the humanity and worth of women. I need to remember that she’s speaking to me and that I could have been her son on the auction block.
That’s why we need to hear this message today. That’s why we need to hear from Judith today.
We must also hear the council of Judith, a widow who had no children but who birthed a theological insight that we need to hear today. Hers is a word that gets our attention. Don’t put the Lord to the test and recognize our limitations. In effect, she was telling these men to put down their ego that seeks to dominate and control the world–their ego that seeks even to put constraints on God. Her word was simple yet profound: Don’t put God in a box.
But we often do. The elders and the people were in distress and because they were in distress they rushed and made a decision that they didn’t think through. Have mercy. Distress can lead to the wrong conclusions. They were in a social panic and so they made a rash decision. They were ready to surrender their children and their future if they didn’t see a change when they wanted to see change.
We need to understand that their distress was real. The distress is real. The struggle is real my brothers and sisters. And the struggle can’t won’t and don’t stop. But this text shows us that we don’t always deal with our distress in a faithful and holistic manner. They didn’t say that after five days they would flee to another town under the cover of darkness. They didn’t say that after five days they would launch an attack. They didn’t say that after five days they would negotiate a deal. They didn’t say after five days that they would call for aid from another town.
Judith’s word was simple yet profound: Don’t put God in a box.
What Judith reveals is that when we are distressed, we often resort to all or nothing tactics. But as a woman, who lived in a patriarchal society, she understood. You can’t be living on no all or nothing game. Life is more complicated than all or nothing. That game has destroyed this world, wrecked homes, colonized and dehumanized and rejected the wisdom of those deemed outside of my circle of belonging.
Judith understood like my mother and grandmother told me, lemons can become lemonade. There is a such thing as in the meantime. It’s not always lemons and it’s not always sugar. It’s lemonade. Sweet and sour. Not sweet or sour. And because the leaders couldn’t see the sweet and the sour, they missed God. Because they couldn’t see that there were various options, they put their fear and ego ahead of their rationality and faith.
Judith reminds them that God doesn’t work on our timetables. Judith reminded them that God cannot be boxed in. If God is only sweet or sour to you, then you don’t know God. If God is only one flavor, then you don’t know God. Because my grandmama’s greens were a tad sweet, sour, spicy and smoky. Thank ya, Jesus. My grandmama, through her cooking, showed me that the best dishes have multiple spices, not one or another…. I wish I had a witness this morning.
Do I got some people that can declare it this morning, that God put some women in your life that let you know how to survive in the meantime? Do I got some witnesses that can declare like me, that if there ain’t enough salt, we still got some honey, and if the honey is gone we still got black pepper, and if there ain’t enough black pepper, I’ll throw some smoked chicken backs in this boiling water and voila! Collard greens sho’ taste good. Anybody understand how auntie and grandmama and mama and sister and homegirl let you know that God can make a way out of no way. That’s what Judith was saying. Don’t box God in. God is not like us… she’s speaking the truth.
If God is only one flavor, then you don’t know God.
God is not like us… though God in Christ loves us enough to live like us, there are things about God that are not like us… Judith reminds us that we have a tendency to bring God completely down to our level, or raise ourselves up to the level of God. Both are problematic. Instead of trying to threaten God as if God is weak or grovel before God as if God is like one of those folk who only feel good when others are made to suffer… Judith is saying, God is not insecure. The weak are insecure and can be made to comply based on threats. The powerful are insecure and will only do something for your if you stroke their ego. God is not a man. God is not a narcissistic head of state. God is not insecure, spineless, or egotistical.
That’s what Judith said. She speaks the truth.
We don’t believe in an insecure God. Can I get a witness, somebody?
To call on the name of the Lord is simply this: it is to acknowledge that nothing that human beings ever do, create, understand, speak, etc… should be confused with God God’s self.
On this Mothers’ Day, we need to hear from the women, from the mamas, sisters, and others who have seen the ugliness and have born the brunt of misogyny and male ego too long… they are those who cry out: only God is God… ain’t ‘nam man no God! And don’t be trying to make God into the one that had my baby on the auction block! Don’t be trying to make me vote for no man that would’ve had my baby on the auction block! Children, don’t be confusing what men do with what God does… God will help us in our deliverance… but we must call on the name of the Lord.
Judith, in the long run, saves her city…. but she still calls on the name of the Lord. She does so because she is wise. To call on the name of the Lord is not to escape into inaction and quietude. To call on the name of the Lord is simply this: it is to acknowledge that nothing that human beings ever do, create, understand, speak, etc… should be confused with God.
As I march, I know that God is with me, but God is not just this march… As I struggle to make this nation better, I know that God is with us, but God cannot be confused with this nation. As I vote for president or local politician, I vote believing that God has called us to be in loving and merciful and just relationships with one another… But presidents and local politicians should never be confused with God… In other words, God is the source of our inspiration and action in the world—so call on the name of the Lord….
Anybody here ever called on the name of the Lord in a time of distress? What are we saying… yes I’m sick, but there’s a God somewhere. Sickness does not have the last word. I’m gonna keep on keeping on. Yes, there is injustice, but there is a God somewhere, and injustice does not have the last word. So I’m gonna keep on keeping on. Yes, there are disappointments, frustrations, misery, and distress… I can admit that and be honest about it…. but they don’t have the last word, because I’m gonna keep on keeping on… Yes, cash seems to rule everything around me, but money can’t buy me love and money ain’t God, and money won’t have the last word… Can some folks declare it this Mother’s Day…? Though mama, grandmama, auntie, big sister, or your mother figure may not have had much, they did what they could in spite of what they had… because God can still make a way out of no way…
And though Sojourner saw many of her kids sold into slavery, she said only Jesus heard her cry… What was she saying was that in the midst of that pain, the only one she could cry to and call on was the Lord… because only the Lord could both hear her cry, weep with her as she cried, yet still say, that auction block does not have the last word… She tells the truth. Sometimes we gotta cry and lament. Yet, we still have to preach the truth; tell these folks about slavery, remind them that your are a woman and that womanhood and gender roles didn’t apply to you because you were black….
Are there some women in the house that can declare it, that you are a child of God? Are there some men in the house that can stand in agreement—that women are full of God’s grace and handiwork… Can some saints declare it with me, that God has inspired women to give birth to knowledge, wisdom, insight, and transformative power…?
So on this Mother’s Day, thank ya Lawd, for the mothers and those who stood in as biological mothers. Thank you! Thank ya Lawd, for the mothers of the movement, the spirit of love, hope, and faith… Thank ya! And Lawd, like them, we stand in the need of your power!
Resurrect these dead situations. That misogyny might die and equality might be raised up. That slavery might die and that freedom might be raised up. That this pain I feel when I think of my late Aunt Rhonda, Grandmothers, and lost loved ones might die, and that we can all be raised together with imperishable bodies. That patriarchy might perish and God’s Beloved Community might be raised up. That identity worship might die, that race, class, gender, sexual orientation and all the other things that separate and cause enmity between us might die, that division and fragmentation might die, that religious intolerance might die and that a holistic and sustainable community might be raised up. That fear and hatred might die and love might be raised up. That sin and death might die and be swallowed up by life and wholeness.
Work within us, Lord. So that we can help raise up new life and put an end to our death-dealing and divisive ways. And we must first stop putting you in the box that justifies our death-dealing and divisive ways.
Work within us, Lord. That putting you in a box might die and letting you be a God love might be raised up in us. Help us Lord to give birth to ideas, children, and a world that is more loving, gracious, just, and merciful…. help us to discover the Motherhood with us. Help us to hear You in Her.
Because She speaks the truth.
Faith, Hope, & Love
© 2017 M. J. Sales