Sunday, July 22, 2012

Expect the Unexpected Heroines

Mary Magdalene, Apostle
22 July 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Readings:  Judith 9.1, 11-14; Psalm 42; 2 Corinthians 5.14-18; John 20.1-3, 11-14

Below are my notes for my sermon today.  I decided to keep the celebration of Mary Magdalene rather than the readings for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.  You can hear an audio recording of the actual sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. eucharist by clicking here.

(1)        If I were to describe my basic academic orientation, it would be say that I am a historian.

(a)        I value the stories of our past and I am primarily interested in why things happened in the way that they happened.

(b)        I am interested in how people in various times and places understood their actions and motivations and how their cultures influenced their response to the challenges of their times.

(c)        For this reason I have always loved historical fiction.

(d)        Good historical fiction, in my opinion, seeks to do two things:

(i)         Connect us with history in a new way and

(ii)        offer us a new perspective or perspectives on that history by means of historical and fictional characters.

 (2)       Judith is a work of fiction written by a Palestinian Jew some one hundred and twenty-five years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

(a)        It tells the story of a fictitious woman who lives in a fictitious town during the time of a fictitious punitive raid conducted by the Assyrians.

(b)        Judith is

(i)         a childless widow who manages her own affairs;

(ii)        a woman who takes initiative away from the waffling and useless male leaders of her community;

(iii)       a woman who hatches her own plot and executes it;

(iv)       a woman who is not afraid to use deceit and seduction to protect her community and

(v)        a woman who conducts the military strategy that eventually defeats the Assyrians.

(c)        She is an unexpected heroine whose story has been accepted as God’s word to us by some traditions and rejected as God’s word to us by others.

 (3)       The commonly-held image of Mary Magdalene is almost as much a work of fiction as Judith is.

(a)        Mary Magdalene has a number of different faces.

(i)         Most Christians think of her as a prostitute ‘saved’ by Jesus.

(ii)        Others think that she is a woman from whom Jesus cast out seven ‘demons’.

(iii)       Still others think that she is the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with oil and her own tears.

(iv)       Some think that she is all three.

(b)        But what we do know is this:

(i)         she is a woman who remained faithful to Jesus even to the cross

(ii)        she is the first apostle, that is, the first person to have a vision of the risen Jesus and who then fulfills his commission to her to proclaim this news to the fearful and disbelieving men who formed Jesus’ closest circle.

(c)        What we can say is this:  She is an unexpected heroine whose story is one of the foundation stones upon which we participate in the story that God began in creation, continued in the saga of the covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus and lives on in us through the Spirit.

 (4)       You and I are not outside history; we are history.

(a)        Sometimes we ‘write’ ourselves; we consciously shape our lives in a particular way.

(b)        Sometimes we feel swept along by history as if we had no role to play in it.

(c)        Of these two I choose to believe that we are not passive passengers in the vessel of human history; whether we are ‘great’ or ‘small’, we are the actors who make history by our choices.

(i)         Even though we know that Judith is a fictional character, what matters is that the writer chose to write a story about a person who by the expectations of the time would not be considered an ‘actor’ in history.

(ii)        In doing so he confronted the prejudices of his own time and presented an alternative understanding of how God might act in our lives.

(iii)      Even though we can claim with certainty to know who Mary Magdalene was, other than a woman from the Galilean town of Magdala, what matters is that we know that she chose faithfulness to Jesus over security and was willing to risk ridicule to tell a bunch of men a fantastic story.

(iv)       In doing so she laid the foundations for the early Christian movement and we are all heirs to her faithfulness.

 (5)       Here at Saint Faith’s we face a number of challenges, but we have chosen to make some decisions to shape the history of our future.

(a)        No one can say with certainty what the outcomes of our choices will be.

(b)        What can be said is that our choices will tell the story of a community that chose faithfulness to the mission of Jesus.

(c)        We may find ourselves being unlikely heroes of this chapter of God’s story in Vancouver --- but we will not be the first.  It seems we have been called into a life-long relationship with a God who finds childless widows and women of uncertain pasts to be the actors of God’s great drama of creation, redemption and renewal.

(d)        Let’s do our best to make our story is as a good as the ones that have already been recorded in God’s great drama.  Amen.

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