The Audacious Call: A Sermon on Hannah in 1 Samuel

Sermon given at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas on November 18th, 2018.

Text: 1 Samuel 1:4 – 20, 2:1 – 10

“There is no Holy One like the Lord,

no one besides you;

there is no Rock like our God.”

 

For as foreign a story as our Old Testament reading feels at first glance – a family with two wives, and yearly visits to the Temple to sacrifice animals that then become a sacred meal – for as foreign as all of this can feel, there is something achingly familiar in the story of this woman who wants, more than anything, to have a child.

Year after year, Hannah, and her husband Elkanah, and his other wife, Penninah, and her many children, go to the Temple to make sacrifices. Going to the Temple as a family was a time carved out to be particularly close to God, and a time that was marked by a special meal – not so unlike our own Thanksgiving holiday. And every year, as the family made the trek Penninah would mercilessly mock Hannah for her lack of children – not so unlike family dynamics at the dinner table during Thanksgiving. Continue reading

Unconditional Peace

A Sermon for the Feast of Saint Francis & Blessing of the Animals

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas. Text: Isaiah 11:1 – 9. 

We are here today to celebrate the life of Saint Francis – a man whom we remember in this service by blessing the animals who make our lives so full. St. Francis was known in his lifetime for a particular communion with ALL the animals around him – and part of his love for all animals, beautiful and not-so-beautiful, was because he literally lived among the animals – St. Francis was a homeless man. He was a church reformer who believed the best way to know Jesus was by begging with the poor in the streets, because the poor know Jesus the best.

St. Francis was also known for being a broker of radical peace between humans and animals. He famously befriended a wolf that was terrorizing an Italian village and brought both the wolf and the people into a reconciling relationship where the people would feed the wolf in exchange for the wolf’s protection and companionship. Continue reading

Who Told You?

Texts: Genesis 3:8 – 15 & Mark 3:20 – 35

During that day’s cool evening breeze, they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God in the middle of the garden’s trees. The Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

The man replied, “I heard your sound in the garden; I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree, which I commanded you not to eat?”

The man said, “The woman you gave me, she gave me some fruit[c] from the tree, and I ate.”

The Lord God said to the woman, “What have you done?!”

And the woman said, “The snake tricked me, and I ate.”

The Lord God said to the snake,

“Because you did this,
    you are the one cursed
        out of all the farm animals,
        out of all the wild animals.
    On your belly you will crawl,
        and dust you will eat
        every day of your life.

I will put contempt

    between you and the woman,
    between your offspring and hers.
They will strike your head,
        but you will strike at their heels.”

 

Good morning St. Luke’s. For those of y’all who don’t know, my name is lizzie, and I am an Aspirant for Holy Orders supported by all of you and this parish. And we, my spouse and I, are preparing to move to Austin, Texas, in August, so this will be my last sermon for you all for a little while.

And I really wanted this, my last sermon, at least for now, here with you to be about God’s love, about God’s tenderness, you know, I was just so inspired by the buoyancy of Bishop Curry’s Royal Wedding sermon but, uh, the text for this week is Genesis 3 so… here we go: original sin!

If the Bible were a series of movies, this story – the story of the first people God made, the story of  “Adam” and “Eve” – this story would FOR SURE be in the “Top 40 Classics.” This is a story taught in Sunday School classrooms from wee ages, a story illustrated in stained glass windows of churches around the globe. This is a story we all know

… Or do we?

Sometimes, stories in the Bible take on a life of their own. This is kind of the point of Scripture: this is why we call it the “LIVING Word.” These stories – stories of Eve and Adam, of Mary and Jesus – these stories are not just dried-up old tales. They are alive. This is, by and large I think, a good thing. When the stories really “live” we know we are working to know the LIVING God through a LIVING Word wherein God still has something to say to us.

But this also means that, sometimes, the retelling – and retelling, and retelling, and retelling –  of the story starts to overshadow the original story.

For example: it was not until I was in college that I had a critical revelation about this story of “Eve and Adam.” My whole life, I was told that Eve was a TEMPTRESS. That she, with long luscious Renaissance locks lured Adam into eating the forbidden fruit.

And you know what Genesis 3 actually says?

The snake was the most intelligent of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?”

The woman said to the snake, “We may eat the fruit of the garden’s trees  but not the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. God said, ‘Don’t eat from it, and don’t touch it, or you will die.’”

The snake said to the woman, “You won’t die! God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”The woman saw that the tree was beautiful with delicious food and that the tree would provide wisdom, so she took some of its fruit and ate it, and also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then they both saw clearly and knew that they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made garments for themselves.

… And this is where our reading for today picks up. They have BOTH chosen to eat; they BOTH listened to the serpent and they have both decided: it would be good to be like God.

They decided it would be good to be like God.

Have you ever been tempted? I don’t mean by a Renaissance Eve with her well-placed long hair because, good riddance, can we give that trope a break?

I mean to be tempted be lured by your own cunning, your own insight, your own intelligence or beauty or power, to think you knew better than God?

There are times, certainly, when we do know what is best for someone else. I think of every parent who has ever rushed to stop a child’s hand from touching the stove, of every child who explains, again, to their aging parent why the nurses are here.

That is not the kind of “knowing better” that I’m talking about. I’m talking about the temptation to play God. I’m talking about thinking we know who deserves to be in the garden, who most certainly must be cast out.

I’m talking about lust for power. I’m talking about a greed. I’m talking about envy. I’m talking about desire to be in control.

I’m, well, I’m talking about sin.

Here it is: the moment of original sin. Eve and Adam have eaten of the forbidden fruit and – immediately – they see that they are naked.

And then they hear God approaching in the time of the cool, evening breeze.

So they hide – they hide themselves in the trees, hidden in the very foliage of their folly. It strikes me that the snake told Adam and Eve the fruit would help them know good from evil, but what they see is that they are naked. They decide to cover themselves because they have decided their vulnerability is evil even though they have been naked the whole time.

And God calls: “where are you?”

Does God know? Does God know what is about to happen? I mean, surely, yes? God is all-knowing. God has a vision to cast the universe into place, and yet – what happens next feels like a shock. The man emerges, sheepish, from behind a tree and confesses: “I heard your sound in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked.”

It’s like he is saying: “I knew you would see me as I now see me. Flaws, bumps, lumps, bruises, scars, stretch marks and all. I knew you would see me, vulnerable. So I hid myself.”

And God aks: “how did you know?

“How did you know? And why did you hide, when I have made you just the same in that body before you ate and after?”

And then, the man, not only wanting to hide himself from God – he decides to shift the blame. “The WOMAN, whom you gave me, she gave me some fruit and I ate!” The woman is not much better; she admits that the snake tricked her. But she doesn’t speak of her desire to be like God, too.

Sin is choosing to hide from our own vulnerability. And sin is blaming someone else – anyone else – our spouse, God, the snakes in the grass – for our decision to hide.

Sin is choosing to turn away from God. Sin is choosing our anger, our fear, and our shame, instead of facing God.

And yet, God does blame the snake, in part. God tells the serpent there will forever be enmity between its offspring and the woman’s. Take note: God specifies the offspring of the woman; Gods claims all humanity as coming from Eve.

I don’t think the “point” of this story (if such a thing can be sussed out) is that these two people were factually the first people who lived, and I certainly don’t think the “point” of this story is that women must forever suffer the fate of Eve who was clever enough to talk to snakes and foolish enough to believe them. I don’t even think this is a story of how humanity was always doomed to fail.

I think perhaps this story asks us to dare to believe that God believes in us.

Do you hear that shock, that pain, in God’s voice when God realizes what they’ve done?

And don’t you remember what God does for us? God comes into the world through another mother, Mary. Mary who is fully one of Eve’s offspring, and Jesus who is Mary’s child – and Jesus Christ as fully human and fully divine stands today in our Gospel lesson, in the thick crowd of hungry, irritable, sick, pushy people and says: you are my mothers.

You, who were told by my own self that there would be pain, and suffering – you are my mothers, and my brothers and my sisters. You are my family. No matter what.

I said at the beginning I wanted this to be a sermon about God’s love. And, actually, I think it is. I think this story of sin and sadness is ultimately a story about God’s love for us. God’s ridiculous belief that we can be good, and God’s shock and hurt when we choose otherwise.

We are God’s family. No matter what.

 

For When Christmas is Hard

A ‘Blue Christmas’ Service Sermon

A woman – no, a girl, a teenage girl – is miles and miles from home, away from her cousin and her mother and with only her husband for company- and he is really just a stranger to her.

The pains in her womb are tightening, her breathing is sharp. No one has room for her, for the burden she carries in her belly, this weight that will bring her to knees. At last, someone takes pity on her, and her husband, and their mule, and they are given the barn – where her crying won’t disturb anyone else. Continue reading

God, the Persistent Widow

In the Gospel of Luke, there’s this parable. (I originally wrote: “this bizarre parable,” but i realized that was redundant.) And in it, there is a judge who “neither fears God nor respects people,” and there is a widow seeking justice.

Widows are kind of a big deal in Scripture; they are one of the few categorically specific people whom God tells the people over and over they must care for.

Widows were also the most commonly targeted people in medieval witch hunts. Widows were women bereft of a patriarchally-sanctioned identity – that is, a husband or father to claim her.

Widows, too, are an emblem and embodiment of grief: as much as they threaten power structures with their liberty, in this parable her namelessness seems to speak to the cavern of loss. She is a spare, an excess – a bereaved excess. Maybe she loved her husband; maybe she didn’t. But in this story she is known only by the absence – widow – and her grief is no less significant than her gender or her powerlessness.

Continue reading

On Our Anniversary

 

l&j - bridegroom-128

By Urban South Photo

“Right now, I love you forever. I love you for the hardest mile we walked together.” Andrea Gibson

I don’t know if i can in good faith call it my most favorite part of our wedding day, only because i can’t choose a slice of the whole cake and call it the most sumptuous.

But this is definitely the story i love most today.

We woke up on August ninth to a downpour. My mother had always told me how they had wrapped her train and head with trash bags as she walked to the church, to keep them from soaking. Saran held my hand and told me it was good luck.

Jonathan and i had always loved the rain. I told our photographer – who had managed to sneak engagement portraits in between drizzles some nine months prior – that this was just our lot. We learned to love in the downpour; we’d been engaged just two months when a plane crash took four people from our family forever, when i was in biweekly therapy for clinical OCD and anxiety, when we looked at each other and said, “are they right?”

“Are we too young?”

Continue reading

Resurrection is Nonsense: A Sermon for Easter

 

A few weeks ago i wrote why the sadness of holy week matters to me;  here is why the resurrection matters to me, as it interrupts and subverts all that grief. (And while Easter is past, the good liturginerd in me assures you: Easter is a season! So indulge me?)

Luke 24:1 – 14 

24 Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. They didn’t know what to make of this. Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, that the Human One[a] must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words. When they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles. 11 Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women. 12 But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.

“Their words struck the apostles as nonsense.”

Resurrection is nonsense.

I don’t mean resurrection is not real – or even that resurrection did not happen – no, the resurrection is real, it happened, but it is nonsense.

Non-sense, non-sensical, non-sensible – resurrection does not make sense.

Continue reading

Girl Hate & Wild Worth: A Sermon on 1 Samuel 1:4 – 17

[TW: fertility grief]

1 Samuel 1:4 – 17

On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” [continue reading…


I want to talk about girl hate.

Girl hate is when a woman gets a promotion and instead of her fellow womyn and gender minorities celebrating her hard work, they see her as a threat.

Girl hate is when facebook is plastered with womyn making a mockery of all those ‘dumb girls’ who just got engaged because instead of celebrating another’s happiness, pseudo-feminist bitterness is seen is clever and cool.

Girl hate is tearing down other womyn so that we can buffer our own insecurities and jealousies with a line of fire sure to hurt other womyn worse than their success scares us.

Girl hate is (at least partially to blame) when mothers say a child deserves to be body slammed at school for speaking her mind. 

Girl hate is not the only expression of patriarchy, or racism, or injustice – but it is an engine that drives patriarchy forward. And girl hate is not solely perpetuated by womyn. Girl hate reinforces the idea that womyn are each other’s competition, girl hate instantiates that a woman’s worth is in relation to men or to masculine power, and girl hate keeps us fighting each other instead of standing in solidarity.

In the text today I see a classic example of girl hate.

Continue reading

A Sermon on Judges 19

[TW: rape, murder]

This semester, i am enrolled in my first Preaching class. This sermon was delivered on the 24th of September, 2015.

Text: Judges 19: 1 – 30 CEB 


I am a lectionary preacher.

I love the rhythm of my Episcopal services where we have ordered texts, something from each part of the ordered Bible – an Old Testament, an Epistle, a sung psalm if we’re feeling extra high on the church ladder and a Gospel.

I love the lectionary. I love that we go through the whole Bible every three years – years of completion, years spent with the texts in a waltz with one another – how Paul is speaking to Moses, how Hagar is drawing water with the Samaritan woman – i love that the lectionary weaves all our stories together.

Except.

Except that the lectionary – my beloved, ordered, sensible lectionary – is not the whole story. There are pieces of the Bible missing from the lectionary.

I knew i had never heard a sermon in church on the infamous rape and dismemberment of the concubine in Judges. I had asked a lot of questions about why these horrifying texts of terror were in the Bible.

But i had not thought to ask why they were not in the pulpit.

I wonder what our silence is saying.

Continue reading

One Good Thing I Learned in Church

one good churchI became a feminist first because i am a Christian.

I’ve always loved the fiery Jesus. The Jesus who turned tables, the Jesus who spent time with sex workers and valued them as human beings, the Jesus born of an unwed teen mom.

My feminist heart can get down with this rebel Jesus.

But the pill i’m learning to swallow with my unapologetic feminism is that Jesus wasn’t all table-turning. And Jesus, for all his brood-of-viper shade-throwing, spent a lot of time in conversation with people who neither understood him nor cherished him.

And still, Jesus loved them. He loved the Pharisees, men asserting power in a marginalized community desperately trying to forge an identity and gather numbers they saw being erased by empire. Jesus loved people who probably depleted his emotional energy and time. Jesus loved his friends who hurt him, who abandoned him, who betrayed him.

And this kind of love is a love grounded in a deep, deep humility.

Jesus humbled me this week in an awful seminar on colonialism and missions.

A white man asked – i think innocently, but blunderingly – if the “Africans” were grateful for the Christianity brought by colonial missionaries. In my head, (and on my face) i was screaming “like being grateful for 40 acres and a mule after years of being told they were un-human, un-beautiful property?!” (It was not my finest moment of Christian charity.)

Before i could blurt out my furious response …

To finish reading this post, please join me over on HolyHellions.com where my dear friend, mentor, and editor Erin Lane is running a series on what good things sticking it out with the church has taught us!