November 19, 2017

Proper 28

ZEPHANIAH 1:7,12-18; PSALM 90:1-8, (9-11), 12; 1 THESSALONIANS 5:1-11; MATTHEW 25:14-30


If you had one daughter, what would you do with her?  Would you, like the cowardly servant given one talent, hide her away, or would you spin her out into the world to flourish?

If you had two daughters, what would you do with them?  Would you guard them, or would you send them out into the world in strength?

If you had five daughters, what then?  Would you bury them, or would you spin them out into the world to flourish?

The church this week was faced with America’s moral confusion about the worth of girls and women.

I borrow the phrase ‘moral confusion’ from an African intellectual who writes that moral confusion arises, “When what is used as a criterion of right and wrong [by some] is different from what other participants elsewhere use; …   Moral confusion can arise not because there is no objective instrument to measure morality but simply because the people who ought to make moral judgements are mistaken about applying moral principles.”

We were told this week that the Bible condones through the example of Joseph and Mary, sexual relationships between older men and minor girls.  A part of the Christian church defended certain abuses of women, belying that our secular moral confusion is also our religious moral confusion.

So, the church must sort out if parts of itself are using different criterion for morality and if so, what we must do about that.  Do we simply agree to disagree about the moral principal of the inherent worth of all people, or do we have a problem here more akin to mismanagement of a true and universal value for all persons?

The new song entitled, “Female,” written by the highly respected and exceedingly successful country music star Keith Urban, continues to gain power and relevance as the moral confusion about women’s worth is more and more grossly exposed.

The chorus or refrain is as follows:

Sister, shoulder
Daughter, lover
Healer, broken halo
Mother nature
Fire, suit of armor
Soul survivor, Holy Water
Secret keeper, fortune teller
Virgin Mary, scarlet letter
Technicolor river wild
Baby girl, women shine

When somebody talks about how it was Adam first
Does that make you second best?
Or did he save the best for last?

How important it is for influential men like Keith Urban to stand on a stage and attempt to clarify our moral confusion.  Urban received a standing ovation after his debut performance of this song at the 51st Annual Country Music Association Awards earlier in November.  Women need men of conscious to help clarify moral confusion, and it is always powerful when a man with a public role takes a stand for the inherent worth of all people.  I am personally moved by the song and am grateful for it.  I also grieve that it is so much better received when a man takes a stand on behalf of a woman than when a woman speaks out on behalf of herself.  Our moral confusion rings even in our ears.

Michael Sokolove in his book Warrior Girls wrote, “Millions of dads have come to see their daughters as strong, rather than as delicate flowers who need their fierce protection. But strong is not invincible.”  The Christian tradition wants all people to find their strength and the Christian tradition also knows the devastation of woundedness.

God says, “Come to me all ye that are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”  I want to say to all women and girls, come to the Episcopal Church, and we will do everything we can to refresh you.  There is no parallel between the ancient marriage customs of Mesopotamia and Israel and assaults on today’s young women and girls.  As described in scripture a woman’s body is a sacred formation not an onramp for her to earn her inheritance in this life.  Women were never intended to be a scratching post for the shadow side of our society.

With or without Christianity, all people are created equal.  What makes Christianity relevant to this moment is its moral agency to assert and defend the inherent dignity of all as it is being denied.

This week we enter a season of feasting, starting with Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is a day that consistently manifests America’s moral clarity.  During this week the returns from the fields will be abundant and abundantly shared.  We will cook.  We will wash.  We will take care.  We will travel to be with others.  And many of us will remember anew those who are often forgotten.  Thanksgiving is a day of our moral clarity in that we prioritize relationships.  We feed our bodies.  And we are mindful of the present without distraction.  May the clarity of this week’s feast be a lighthouse to the moral standard of the worth of us all.