Sermon for September 11, 2016

A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public worship of the First Congregational Church of North Yarmouth, UCC of North Yarmouth, Maine on September 11, 2016.

Principal Reading Luke 15:1-10

Today’s reading is the assigned one from the revised common lectionary. The lectionary is used by churches all over the world of all different denominations. The common lectionary was devised some 400 years ago as a way of ensuring that the whole Bible is covered over a three year time period. Each week, there are four readings: one from the Hebrew Bible or OT, a Psalm, one from one of the 4 Gospels, and another reading from the Christian Bible or NT. They say that there are many sermons in each scripture reading. This gospel reading is a familiar one, or at the least the first part, the story of the lost sheep. Jesus, the masterful story teller is telling all those around him that the shepherd, a metaphor for God, will of course go seeking one lost sheep out of 100, leaving 99 to take care of themselves while searching for the one that is lost. When found the shepherd carries the lost one home and throws a party inviting all to celebrate that what was lost has been found.

This second story depicts a woman sweeping her house until she finds one lost coin out of ten. Just like in the story of the lost sheep, the woman is single minded in her quest for finding the lost and does a spring cleaning of her house until she finds the one coin that has been lost. And then she also throws a party inviting all her friends rejoicing when she has found the one lost coin.

This may sound even more familiar to you as I preached on this scripture last May. My focus that day was on the extravagant welcome of God that we as humans sometime struggle with and exploring how we as a faith community offer that welcome. If you are interested in revisiting that sermon, I believe it is on our church website.

Today I want to focus on another aspect of these parables that Jesus told. It is a part of the story that is sort of obscured from view. In the parable of the lost sheep, as a child and well into my adult life, I was always taught that the Shepherd who went seeking the one lost sheep is God. The parable immediately following the lost sheep is the parable of the woman and the lost coin. I actually don’t even remember hearing that story until about 15 years ago as I started seminary. It is, of course, possible that I heard it as a child but it certainly made no lasting impression. And I certainly never understood from my Christian education every Sunday from cradle roll through confirmation and then high school and on into adulthood that God was a woman. God was a man. And with God as supreme being, then men by correlation were certainly superior beings. Now I want to say that I always felt I was raised in an equal opportunity household. I had 3 brothers and 1 sister. We all shared in the household chores of cleaning, doing laundry, cooking, doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow as well as painting and all home improvement projects. Both of my parents valued education and all of us are well educated individuals. My Dad would have been thrilled if I had followed in his footsteps and become an engineer but I didn’t and that was OK too.

Over the last year we have witnessed how women in the press and women on the campaign trail have been called names, have been told they don’t have faces fit for public office. I have been out of the business world for 15 years – yes, 15 years ago today was my first day of seminary. I admit that for much of my business career, I did not think that there was gender inequality in the workplace. I worked hard and was successful. It wasn’t until my last couple of years that I realized how unequal things were. I became aware that my male counterparts – men ‘equal’ to myself on the management team made about 20% a year more than I did. I was astounded but even knowing that I convinced myself that they had more experience than I did so that justified it. I was brainwashed and not just a little naïve.

Sexism still exists in our world. Women still tell tales of sexual harassment in everyday life. A 30 year old friend relays how she was greeted one morning at church with “your dress today is like a good sermon, it covers the subject but it’s short enough to hold interest”. A dear friend wrote this week of being slighted as a woman of the cloth serving in a man’s world. You may think, what’s the big deal? And I admit that 20 years ago I probably would have agreed with you. But it is not appropriate and it is not acceptable if it makes even one person feel uncomfortable.

Some Biblical scholars contend that it starts right here at church because we accept the gender inequalities that existed in first century Israel and still exist today.
It isn’t just about our use of the male pronoun when referring to God although that’s part of it; it’s about God’s attributes. Scripture tells us that God made us all – male and female, we are made in God’s image. God has attributes of all of us, of all people.
This is not about putting men down. God’s desire for us as people is to have mutual love, respect and to work together in an equal partnership. Imagine what our world would look like, if that were truly the case. Amen.

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