1st Scripture Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21 & Psalm 126
Anyone here ever built a new house? It takes a lot of faith and hope to build a new house, doesn’t it? It takes faith in your decisions regarding design and financing. It takes faith in your builder or contractor. And it takes hope in a brighter future to see yourself and your family in this new home.
The Old Testament readings this morning are all about faith and hope – hope in a brighter future than the present the Israelites were going thru. The prophet Isaiah speaks for God when he writes, “I am about to do a new thing…..I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” Strong messages of encouragement and hope. And the psalmist writes in Psalm 126, “The Lord has done great things for us and we rejoiced.” And then, “Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”
These readings are laced with symbolism and metaphor. This is stuff that has great relevance to us and our times. God is building a new house for God’s people! God is indeed doing a new thing – and our heads are spinning with the speed and scope of the changes we see all around us!
We have a new government – one that seems bent on righting many of the perceived wrongs of the previous government – and much of the concern is around justice. For example, after decades of foot-dragging, the Public Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women has finally been given the green light and will go ahead. There has been a strong sense amongst our aboriginal neighbours that we, the dominant culture, don’t care about the fate of these women, and aren’t willing to look into what is happening to them. Many of us are willing to look, and are relieved that the blockade has been removed.
This last Tuesday, March 8, was International Women’s Day, so I have chosen to focus on how our scripture speaks to women’s issues this morning. Here in Canada we are somewhat insulated from the everyday realities of the rest of the world. Women’s status in most countries of the world is still deplorably low. In many countries girls can still not be educated. Child marriages – young girls to much older men, arranged by the families, is still very common, and genital mutilation is still performed on many thousands of girl children every year. Ironically, the procedure is performed not by men, but by older women whose role it is to protect the culture as it is, and who lack any education about other options (and who have been subjected to the same violation when they were young). We know how this happens. We understand about cycles of abuse: the abused becomes the abuser in many cases.
Things are pretty good now in Canada. But believe it or not, things were better a few years ago. In terms of pay equity, for example, women are still paid less than men – about 72% of what men earn on average. But this is a drop of 2.4% since 2009. Gender inequality is alive and well in Canada today – Status of Women Canada warned a year ago that the gender “pay gap” in Canada is one of the worst among the world’s industrialized countries.
But what do we see in Ottawa? A new government committed to gender equality in that work place. A new Minister of Justice who happens to be Jody Wilson-Raybould, an aboriginal woman. Equal gender distribution at the cabinet level. These are all stunning events. God works through us, and God is doing a new thing.
Hymn #713 VU “I See a New Heaven”
2nd Scripture Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14 & John 12:1-8
Reflection: (readings from “Imagining Mary Magdalene” by Gayle MacDonald, Spring Park UC, Charlottetown, PEI, in “Gathering” L/E 2016.) Opening with: “Jordan” and “Light”.
The Apostle Paul talks about how all his previous accomplishments (and there were many) mean nothing now – now that he is a new man in Christ. And no one can argue that Paul’s dedication and his accomplishments as Christ’s ambassador were exemplary. But Paul, as was pretty standard in the context of his culture, didn’t get it that women are not substandard human beings, and are equal to men before God. They do not need to be controlled by men or subservient to men, nor is there need to suppress their voices or their gifts.
And this is all pretty new, even here, my friends. Women didn’t get the right to vote in BC until 1917, and federally until 1918. Women (and men) of other races weren’t given the federal franchise until 1948. But aboriginal women and men didn’t get the right to vote until 1960!
What we take so easily for granted in this country was hard won and less than a hundred years ago!
Biblical times were patriarchal times. We even talk about, honor and revere “the patriarchs” - the great leaders of those times – Moses, Isaac, Solomon and David. We don’t hear much about the women, and much of what we do hear points clearly to misogyny and male dominance. And that is the dominant culture Jesus was born into. That is the milieu that produced Mary Magdalene and her hissing demons.
Let me read you the third of Gayle MacDonald’s poems about Mary and Jesus. It’s called “Banquet” and is used by permission in worship: (read “Banquet” from “Gathering” L/E 2016)
And now the fourth, called “The Perfume Jar”.
Jesus’ great love for all people drew Mary to him. His great love healed her. His great love drew many disenfranchised women to him. He valued all of God’s creation and he taught that simple message. Two thousand years and more later, we still struggle to implement his teachings. Thanks be to God for the gift of Jesus!
Hymn #304 Tab “My Jesus I Love Thee”