Sermon – March 8, 2015
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
Third Sunday in Lent Year B
International Women’s Day
“Zeal for your house will consume me.” Psalm 69:9 as quoted in John 2:17
Have you ever met a person who’s been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? I’ve had the great fortune to attend a lecture by the Dalai Lama (1989) and to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984) and hear him speak a number of times.
In the summer of 2012, I was fortunate to meet another Nobel Peace Prize Winner – Leymah Gbowee. Ms. Gbowee, a social worker, spoke at the National Association of Social Workers conference I attended. Ms. Gbowee was born in 1972 in Liberia and grew up during the civil wars in the country. She left Liberia for a time, living in Ghana, but eventually returned to her country. She was poor, sometimes homeless.
She was able to obtain some social work training, especially to help victims of the trauma from the first Liberian Civil War. She eventually helped young boys who had been child soldiers in the war.
Midst the second Liberian Civil War, which began in 1999, she continued studying peacebuilding, especially connected to professors and students through a program at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA. Various peacebuilding movements were occurring between countries of Africa and Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) was established, with a branch in Liberia, headed by Gbowee in 2002.
In a dream, she heard God telling her to gather the women and pray for peace. Gbowee was Christian and connected with a Mandingo-Muslim woman, named Asatu. They started by gathering women to go to Muslim prayers every Friday, to the Saturday morning markets, and to two churches on Sunday.
Their flyers read: “We are tired! We are tired of our children being killed! We are tired of being raped! Women, wake up – you have a voice in the peace process!” They also handed out simple drawings explaining their purpose to the many women who couldn’t read.
They prayed Muslim and Christian prayers. They wore white t-shirts to distinguish themselves. Eventually, they met every single day in the capital. They even met in a soccer field that the President passed every day.
Eventually, a peace process was convened in Ghana. Gbowee led a contingent of women to the posh hotel where the men were meeting. At first, they gathered outside of the hotel, but when the peace process dragged on, they went inside the hotel and sat down in protest just outside the doors of the meeting room. They vowed not to move until peace was negotiated. When the men tried to leave, the women threatened to take off their own clothes. Ms. Gbowee explains, “In Africa, it’s a terrible curse to see a married or elderly woman deliberately bare herself.” (Mighty Be Our Powers, p. 162). The peace accord finally came a few weeks later in August 2003.
The aftermath of war meant much work to restore the country and to heal the people. Ms. Gbowee continued her studies, eventually earning a Master’s Degree in Peacebuilding from Eastern Mennonite University.
In our Gospel today, Jesus is angry. But why? I mean, the people had set up a system to worship God that had been in place for quite awhile. There was a currency of the Temple since many people came from many different places. They could convert their home currency into one used in the Temple. Everything was there for sale that was necessary to make the proper sacrifices – thanksgiving or intercession or atonement. The rules for sacrifice are contained in the early chapters of Leviticus. They represent the main way humans interact with God.
But, you see, the wisdom of the world that set up this tidy little system, was not in accord with God’s. It was not a worshipful space, but rather had become a place of commerce. Imagine, God’s mercy…God’s worship distilled down to a simple formula – two turtledoves or a male sheep or goat. Jesus has come to emphasize a new way to connect with God…not through sacrifice…not through pilgrimage to the Temple during the great feasts…but more directly through Jesus.
Once again, Jesus upsets the established ways of the world. The established ways of the world upset him.
During Women’s History Month and today during International Women’s Day, we can take time to upset the ways of the world especially in regards to girls and women. The statistics showing the reality of women’s lives are awful. Yes, things have changed dramatically during my lifetime and yet women’s earnings continue to be less than they should be. Poverty is greater. Women in many countries are denied the most basic education and too many women still die in childbirth. And the rates and acceptance of violence against women are scary. We must upset the ways of the world today when it comes to women.
We can look to the example of Leymah Gbowee who came to know the power of women to require peace…to save their children. A woman who worked across tribal and religious boundaries for the good of humanity. She was and is not perfect. The realities of war took their toll on her and she went into recovery from alcohol addiction. Ms. Gbowee’s Christian beliefs grounded her. In an address to students at Eastern Mennonite University in 2009, she said,
“I didn’t get there by myself… or anything I did as an individual, but it was by the grace and mercy of God…. He has held my hands. In the most difficult of times, he has been there. They have this song, “Order my steps in your ways, dear Lord,” and every day as I wake up, that is my prayer, because there’s no way that anyone can take this journey as a peacebuilder, as an agent of change in your community, without having a sense of faith…. As I continue this journey in this life, I remind myself: All that I am, all that I hope to be, is because of God.”