Archive for the ‘Women in ministry’ Category

The Apostle Paul: On Keeping Silent
Rev. Julie Emery
A Sermon Preached at the Larchmont Avenue Church
August 14, 2010

Galatians 3:26-29 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

1Cor. 7:1   Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is well for a
man not to touch a woman.” 2 But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.

1Cor. 11:2   I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you. 3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, 5 but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil. 7 For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man. 8 Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. 10 For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if anyone is disposed to be contentious—we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.

1Cor. 14:33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace.
 (As in all the churches of the saints, 34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?)


Imagine with me: a world in which people have been divided into a very elaborate and tiered caste system. Men born free and citizens are the rulers of this world. They have the power to do what they want to whom they want, with very few normative rules to restrain them. Theirs is the power for which all strive or covet. Next come freed men, only slightly less powerful. Then free-born and freed women, but the power that remains with them is limited severely. Women are good for only one thing: to give birth to strong, healthy boys, who will grow into the men of power. When they cannot accomplish this task they are viewed as mostly worthless. Slaves, both male and female are last in this caste system, and their status is next to that of an animal. They are to be used, in any and every way, and once they are no longer useful, they are discarded as such.

The tiers are further extended by career choice, attractiveness, wealth or political status, which contributed to where one might fall on the scale of power – how influential a man or woman could be. Status is everything: it follows a person everywhere. Not only is it a part of who they are, but it must be worn like a banner; Respectable women were allowed to wear head coverings, prostitutes or slave women were not. For all hair was a status symbol: both men and women with full heads of hair were more powerful or attractive. Clothing matters, schooling matters. What’s more: it is easy to slide down the scale. Advantages are taken of young women and men that can change the course of their life and status forever.

In addition to the layers of power differentials, the normative behavior when it came to relationships between men and women can be described as transactional at best and violent and abusive at worst. There is no expectation of equality, no assumption that the purpose of relationships are anything more than servicing the needs of the powerful, no sense of give and take, only take.

This is the world in which Paul writes. As we heard in the various passages I read from the letters of Paul, Paul says a lot about women in his letters to various churches. Much of which doesn’t sit to well with our 21st century sensibilities. It may be obvious to you that these passages from 1 Corinthians are the verses from which Paul gains his reputation as a misogynist. These represent the bulk of what Paul says about women, excluding the passages in the pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus.

Now might be the best time to illuminate why I am focusing on Corinthians and not the Pastoral letters. There are some here who have read extensively on Paul and some for whom Paul is fairly unknown, so it’s important to get some textual issues out in the open. Paul, as we discussed last week, was one of the early apostles who spread the news of the death and resurrection of Jesus throughout the Greco-Roman world. He was known for getting into trouble with folks of all sorts, and was the founder of church communities in several different cities and towns throughout the ancient world.

Of the 27 books in the New Testament, 14 have traditionally been attributed to Paul. However, scholars have determined that it is more likely that Paul wrote only 7 of those letters, the rest likely written by another author who wrote in Paul’s name, a common act in the ancient world.

The letters most scholars agree were written by Paul are: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and the letter to Philemon. The other letters are commonly referred to as Paul’s “contested letters.” Even more closely related to our texts for this morning, the last passage on women keeping silent in church is hotly debated as to whether or not Paul actually wrote it, the reason being because the verses appear in various places in different copies of the text – meaning that it was likely written in the margin of a manuscript, either by Paul or by another interpreter of Paul, and scribes disagreed as to where or whether to keep it in the text.

The struggle with all this debate is that it is unlikely that we will ever truly know whether these texts were written by Paul or not. These statements fit in some ways with Paul’s cultural context as a Jew and a Greek, and in some ways they contradict some of Paul’s other statements – in particular the Galatians passage read prior to the 1 Corinthians texts. How can Paul say that there is neither Jew nor Greek, Male nor Female, Slave nor Free for all are one in Christ Jesus, and then say that women should be silent, or that men are the head of women? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as readers in our modern context.

But in the context of Paul’s world, perhaps it did. Paul was speaking in a world where the norms of behavior between men and women were so different from our own it is hard to imagine. When Paul says that all women should worship with their head covered, what we don’t understand is that during Paul’s time, head covering was a sign of respect, and some women were denied the opportunity to recieve that respect. Prostitutes and slaves would have been severely punished for having their head covered – it showed that they were acting higher than their caste allowed. But Paul says all women should cover their heads in worship – what might this have meant for those who would be denied respect in a world so tiered with power dynamics?

What’s more, in the Greco-Roman world, there was absolutely no place that allowed men and women to assemble together in public. Women present in public assembly was presented as a farce in poetry and Greek writings. But from Paul’s letters we know that women and men gathering together was common in the early church. We also know from Paul’s letters that in some of these churches, women were permitted to prophesy out loud even as he tells them to be silent in Corinth.

Paul’s statements on marriage also contributed to what might have been the very earliest beginnings of a women’s movement, when women were given by Paul grounds on which to refuse marriage for religious reasons. The upset this seemed to cause was enormous – women were martyred for choosing celibacy. Perhaps, even, Paul’s words were the precursor to understanding marriage as a mutual engagement. While Paul’s rationale seems misogynist, he describes marriage as a reciprocal relationship. How radical this might be in a society where the purpose of women was to be used by a man for childbearing and nothing else.

Paul names in many of his letters (particularly the letter to the Romans) a long list of women: Phoebe, Prisca and Aquila, Mary, Junia are only a few of those he names, calling them apostles even greater than himself as well as deacons, sisters in the faith, saints, and mothers and benefactors. He commends them to churches, honoring them publicly even as more valuable than himself – something that Free-born citizens would rarely do in writing. In fact, much of what Paul says about women would have been radically feminist for the times in which he lived.

But the few verses in Galatians suggest that Paul was interested in something far beyond equality. Paul understood the gospel of Christ Jesus to have shattered the world that we know, replacing it with a new creation. When he says that there is no longer Jew or Greek, Male or Female, Slave or Free, he is naming the major power battles in the Greco-Roman world. This is no small thing for a world defined by the haves and the have nots. It is no small thing for us today.

In contrast with Paul’s world, let’s imagine our world: a world where the word “relationship” itself connotes a certain level of reciprocity. Violent behavior between two people, any two people is almost always unapproved and illegal. Power dynamics have changed significantly. Slavery is no longer acceptable, men and women both participate in virtually every career available and thrive in all realms of society. The norms of what is acceptable for men and what is acceptable for women – in vocation, at home, in marriage are very different than the world I first described.

There are some things that are similar, though. While we can’t relate so much to the more obvious power dynamics, we can certainly relate to the subtle ones. We still live in a world where the type of car you drive or your career choice effects the way you will be received by another. We still live in world that splits people into categories: citizen, immigrant; married, single; working, unemployed; wealthy, poor… We still live in a world where clothing matters, along with hairstyle and beauty and political contacts… Power is still at reign in our lives and in our world = who has it, who can get it, who can use it to their own advantage.

What might it be like if we stopped striving for equality in power and started striving for Christ? What might it mean for us if we did not see in each other the things that give us power in this world: race, gender, wealth, background – but instead we saw the Christ who calls us and loves us and binds us together. There is no citizen, no immigrant, no woman or man, no parent or child, no skin color or jail time – but only Christ that binds, only Christ who shines through us. As many of us were baptized in Christ are clothed in Christ, Paul says. Put on Christ who makes us one.

Paul’s words are Utopic and eschatological, which brings up another aspect of Paul’s writing. It is clear that Paul thought the second coming of Christ was immanent. He speaks of the crisis of our present age, the glory about to be revealed, the time when we will be caught up in the heavens. He thinks the time is near when he and other believers will be brought together in God’s glory in the end times. As his life goes on, this intensity dissipates in his letters as we would expect. But Paul continues to straddle the gap between two worlds: One world in which Christ’s salvation and grace has already made all things new, and another in which the world has not yet caught up with God’s new creation. Paul lives in the Already, but not yet of the Gospel.

He is both provisional and eschatological. He is both practical and utopic. He is present and future tense at the same time. And so are we.

Pastor Martin Copenhaver tells a story about his grandmother, who at the age of 15 knew she was called to be a preacher. She told her father, who brought her to their local pastor to inform him of his daughter’s calling. The year was 1905, well before any church even considered letting women speak in church. They gave no thought to that fact, no thought to the fact that it had never been done before, no thought to the ways in which the world must change to accommodate her calling. No thought to the powers of the world – only to God’s power to call whom God wills and equip them for the work of the gospel. This is what it means to live in Paul’s world.

If we as women (and as men…) are to look to Paul to help regulate or appease our power-driven relationships we might be missing Paul’s primary message: that God’s power is the only power that matters. Paul urged us to see in all people the love of God, the grace of Christ. He urged us to put away the powers of this world: put away sexuality and race and citizenship and gender.

Put away what you think God could do in this world of power struggles and battles over land use and discussions of who you think deserves to be in or out and who you might allow to do what where. Put it away. See Christ. Put on Christ. Understand how Christ binds you and compels you. Strive toward what is greater – strive toward God – and you will find a power beyond this world.

With God’s help may it be so.

(This sermon and my study of Paul have been greatly helped by Dr. Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Dr. Sarah Ruden)


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Open Heart, Open Home
Texts: Acts 16:9-15, John 14:23-29
A Sermon Preached by Rev. Julie Emery
At The Larchmont Avenue Church
6th Sunday of Easter, Mothers Day, May 9, 2010

John 14:23-29
Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

Acts 16:9-15
During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

I’d like to start by reading a poem titled, “I stop writing the Poem,” by Tess Gallagher

To fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I’m still a woman.
I’ll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I’ll get back
to the poem. I’ll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there’s a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it’s done.

On this day celebrating the prevailing faith of women we read about Lydia, the first convert to Christianity in Europe: a woman and the head of her household. Lydia is another of those women who seem to confound and confuse scholars – a woman unattached to a man and so strange. Perhaps she was a widow or divorced, they posit. She is a dealer in purple cloth, which may or may not make her wealthy but certainly means she worked with those of means, since only the wealthy were allowed to wear or could afford to wear the color purple. Since she is not mentioned to be with a man, the text makes us believe she is on her own. A worshipper of God, though a Gentile, she has joined a group of women on the Sabbath for prayer.

Paul’s presence among these women is strange as well, since in his previous tours of evangelism he has begun his preaching in the synogogue. Perhaps it is because this hasn’t always worked out that Paul and his companions are trying a different route. They have come to Macedonia because of a dream – searching for a man who called to them, “Come and help us!” And so Paul and Silas and their entourage travel to Macedonia, to Phillipi and are looking for the man in their vision. Instead they meet Lydia.

But it’s not just Lydia’s gender that makes her special. It’s her openness. She is open to hear the word of Paul even as he is a stranger offering a faith that must have seemed foreign and bizarre. When she converts she has everyone in her home baptized – probably slaves and children as well, and is at least part of the reason Calvin argued we should baptize babies. Like the woman in the poem by Tess Gallagher, she is a living example; as soon as she is baptized, she is inviting others into the faith.

Lydia’s sense of vision is of what God is doing – in her presence, in her life and home, and in the work and life of Paul and Silas. After her conversion, she invites these strangers into her home, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful, come and stay at my home.” Later in this story of Paul and Silas, before they leave Phillipi, they stop again at the home of Lydia, now a burgeoning house-church. Not surprising that Luke writes about this dynamic woman, “And she prevailed upon us.”

My own mother was one of those who is always inviting extra people to stay at our house for dinner. Did you have a mother like that? With two teenage boys in our house there was always an extra boy or two hanging around, and so an extra mouth or two to feed. Growing up everyone called her “Ma Hoek,” since she seemed to be a mother to everyone we met. Friends whose parents were going through divorce found solace at our table and on our couch. Hairdressers or church members struggling to make ends meet would be showered with huge baskets of food on the holidays, and invitations to join our family gatherings were always constant.

There were, at points growing up, that I didn’t so much appreciate having extra teenage boys at our table, given that I was the natural recipient of incessant teasing. There were times that I wondered if my mother’s endless invitations and gifts meant that I had less: less of those goodies being sent away, less attention. And yet now as a parent myself I long for many, many Lydias in the lives of my boys. Men and women both, I long for people who open their homes to them and invite them in.

As a mother I am aware every day that parents cannot do it alone – that as the saying goes it takes a village to raise a child. I hope for every child I know to be welcomed in by women and men of all paths and stories, some parents and some not. I hope for them men and women who take them under their wings and feed them good food and good advice. I hope for them people who show them the love of God in all her fierce and creative whimsy. I hope for them people who show them not just what the church is but what the church can be – whether or not those people are members of any particular church.

I hope for them people with vision and openness like Lydia – living without fear of strangers, without fear of the world, with openness to the Spirit at work in our midst, and with openness to each other. It is a hope I have for them, and for each of us too.

Openness to strangers, though, seems to be a bit countercultural these days. If you don’t see this as a parent you have perhaps experienced it as a stranger when your innocent “hello” to a child at the park is met with wary eyes and suspicion. Once I was in a store rumbling through my purse and I saw a young child standing there, watching me, so I offered her a piece of candy I happened to have. A smart girl, she refused, and I caught myself aghast. “I am the stranger my mother warned me about!” I thought.

We are wary of strangers, what they offer, what they represent. A few months back, in the New York Sun, a woman named Lenore Skenazy wrote an article titled, “Why I let my 9-year-old travel on the Subway alone.” She wrote later that she expected some backlash, but got significantly more than she bargained for as the people of New York wrote in to assert their opinions. There were some people who wrote back championing her courage and grit as a parent raising children in the world today. But the vast majority of parents called her crazy, and even negligent or abusive to let a small child travel unattended through what seemed to them the fires of hell – the New York City public transportation system.

Perhaps she is crazy and negligent. But perhaps not. Perhaps she is living out a certain amount of openness that is our call as parents, or even more important our call as Christians.

It is Easter season: Christ is Risen, He is risen indeed. And the question for each of us in this season of Easter is to ask ourselves, what do we do now? Now that Christ is risen, how then shall we live?

Jesus says all the time throughout the gospels just as he does in the passage from John’s Gospel today, the words “Do not fear, do not be afraid.” He says this even when he knows that he will soon die, and leave his disciples alone. He says this knowing the despair they will face, the grief, the pain. He tells them that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will be with them always. He tells them to be at peace.

It isn’t easy to do. In a world where car bombs are left in Times Square and the market continues to drop and the world seems so unpredictable, the natural tendency is for us to live out of fear. Fear for our loved ones, fear for what will happen tomorrow, fear for the future. Not only mothers but all of us can easily slip into that space where anxiety rules the day: What if I forget something? What if I never accomplish what I set out to do? What if I don’t make the cut? What if I get fired? What if something awful happens?

But the path of Christ is a path though fear into hope. It is not a hope that is naive or cheery in the face of pain and suffering. It is instead a hope that, as one scholar puts it, stares into the face of evil and despair and answers with the knowledge that God will win.

When the earthquake hit Haiti the devastation was colossal. Some of you saw some of the photos of Haiti in my father’s slideshow a few weeks ago. The images are still startling. The world mused at how a country that had already been barely scraping by could weather such a disaster. How could they face this new, overwhelming destruction.

But then reports came back of the singing. Do you remember? As that first night fell in camps of thousands that had been set up around the city reporters could hear voices floating on the air in song: hymns of Salvation that they knew by heart. Reminders of the love of Christ that conquers even the worst evils, waves of hope prevailing in the darkness. They were singing, singing, singing. As the days moved on the world answered with an openness of heart and home. People shared what they had, people gave time and resources, gifts and skill. There was and is sorrow, yes. There was and is fear, yes. There was and is suffering, yes. But hope, love, prevails.

As Christians we believe, and that means that we trust that God loves us more than we could possibly imagine. As Christians we trust that God will guide and protect the people we love. As Christians we trust and do not fear. As Christians, we have hope. It is a hope that sings in the dark. It is a hope that opens our hearts to the great possibility of the Spirit at work among us. It is a hope that opens our homes to strangers knowing that God’s vision is bigger than our sight. As Christians we have faith, and so we believe that in spite of it all, God wins, Hope conquers, Love prevails. May it be a hope that lives in each of us – this day and forever. Amen.

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So…it seems that from time to time I feel the need to put a disclaimer on the sermon that I post, and this is yet another of those times. The reason is that I believe that the act and art of preaching is a very in-the-moment kind of thing. One of my preaching professors wrote his dissertation about how preaching is not just the act of the preacher proclaiming the word, but also the act of the congregation as they listen and react, and the Holy Spirit that works in each of them as they join together in worship. So while I love to post my sermons I also recognize that there is something about being in the context of worship that alters in some way the experience of the proclaimed Word.

The sermon below is one of those that is even more of an altered experience, since it is written as a first person monologue from the point of view of Mary Magdalene. So for people who were not in worship with us this morning you should know a few things. This particular sermon was delivered by a person (me) in costume, dressed as the biblical Mary. That person was not present for any other part of the service. There was no transition from pastor to biblical character. The text was entirely memorized. The sermon started with the first line of the text below and ended with the trinitarian amen. I tell you all this only to give you a sense of the context within worship, because it might help to imagine…

I hope it was as fun to experience as it was to preach. Thank God for the Holy Spirit at work!

I should also say something more about creativity in worship… I hope and believe that I always preach biblical sermons. I start with the text and then go from there, but I also believe that for many (especially for those who grew up in the church), the stories in the bible need to be told through new and creative ways. They need to feel fresh and inspiring again. While I most often preach a “straightforward” sermon, I think it is also important to play with the form and format of my sermons. To try out new styles and text my creativity. Sometimes taking those creative risks takes me farther from the text that I would normally go. Since I don’t do it often, I find it to be a worthwhile risk. As always – I take these risk with a strong dose of prayer and belief that the Holy Spirit is present in the preached word in ways I cannot control or explain. Thanks be to God.

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From Demons to Disciple
Texts: Luke 8:1-3, Luke 23:44-49, Luke 23:55-24:3
A Sermon Preached by Rev. Julie Emery
At The Larchmont Avenue Church
On March 14, 2010

Luke 8:1-3 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Luke 23:44-49 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Luke 23:55 – 24:3 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.

What’s in a name, really? I mean, a name is both truly ours – it is who we are – and yet not ours at all but given by another. Women in my day were given the name of their fathers…or their husbands. But with my father long dead and no husband to take me because of my afflictions, I was given the name of the town in which I was healed. Mary of Magdala. Each of us lives into it in some ways…and lives out of it in other ways. At least that’s what happened to me.

It’s strange to get confused with others who have the same name. Mary of Bethany looked entirely different than me and would have never been able to provide for the disciples for those years of traveling from place to place. She was the one who sat at his feet and seemed planted there for hours… or days. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t blame her…it’s just that it’s a bit of an insult to be confused with someone who wouldn’t even get up to help her sister cook.

And then there is the woman with the alabaster jar of ointment. You remember her: the one with the tears and hair and no shame, no modesty. The one who infuriated Judas and the other men. They were so focused on her wastefulness.

But the women, we blushed and turned away at this act, embarrassed, ashamed of the intimacy in a place so public… Even if we understood how this man and the power of his words could move each of us to do such excessive things, things we would never imagine doing before.

Have you ever had words strike you as if a bell, ringing again and again in your body? Have you ever met someone who seemed to dance with truth as if they heard the song of life? Have you ever encountered someone so filled with Spirit that the air around them seemed lighter, easier to breathe..? It makes you sing it makes you laugh, it makes you live a life until then you only dreamt of…

This is what it was like to follow Jesus.

And so, while it was not me who broke the alabastar jar and poured it over him, not me who took down my hair and wiped it over his feet. It was not me, but I understood.

That story wasn’t mine but became mine much later. Thanks to Pope Gregory’s speech in 591 – the three became one… (how very Trinitarian of him.) Mary of Bethany, the woman with the jar, and myself – no longer three distinct stories but instead one woman branded converted prostitute (although Luke never really said that either), forever marked as sinner made saint.

Throw in some beautiful works of art and a few pretty verses by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice and then a bestseller that hints at marriage and a lineage of Jesus and you have quite a compelling story. A story difficult to overcome…I should know…

The real story is both more ordinary and just as spectacular. It is one of demons and healing, one of feeding and following, one of death and life, one of spices and extravagant love.

I was one of many that Jesus healed along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, afflicted as I was with the demons of my day. Let’s be clear: demons are not the same thing as sins. When Luke names seven demons he means only to say there were many. What Luke called my seven demons your doctors and psychologists might call today epilepsy, depression, mania. Perhaps those doctors today would name them differently but still medicate me, label me, set me aside.

I was left mostly alone after the death of my parents. They left me with resources but not much else. As my afflictions worsened they forced me into isolation and fear.

But this man from Nazareth took pity on me, cast out my demons and made me whole. Made me free follow him; to fall into a life of excessive, embracing love.

Not my excessive love but God’s. A love that reunites communities and the outcast, a love that casts out fear along with demons, a love that welcomed brother and sister, stranger and friend to sit at table together.

I never imagined when that woman shamelessly interrupted that meal and covered his feet in ointment that just a short time later it would be me; that I would be a myrrh-bearer, walking to the tomb, to the broken body of my healer, my teacher, my friend, my Lord. Never imagined how much my life would change – again.

It has been many years since that morning when dawning light revealed empty tomb. Many breaths have passed since mine caught in my chest upon hearing my own name spoken by a man I had watched die on a cross.

My story you have heard but you may not believe. That he was risen. That he died and then lives. How could anyone believe such a story?

I only know what I felt and I can only say this: there was a man named Jesus, who cast out all my demons – and there were many. His words were life. His life was truth. There was a moment, a brief darkness of days when I thought that all was lost, that demons returned, that grief would consume.

And then there was light. hope. laughter.

He spoke gently, but firmly. “Go and tell them,” he said. To me, a woman! “Go and tell them,” he said, knowing they would not believe me.
“Go and tell them,” and so here I am – telling my story

You may never understand, you may never believe. But the truth is this: beyond the grave, life prevails; beyond your demons there is healing and peace; beyond your grief is laughter and even joy. The one who knows my story knows yours as well.

Go and tell them… and you will live.

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