The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s169g07 Epiphany 2 14/1/2007
'Woman, what concern is that to you and me?' John 2.4
In a blistering tirade, Stephen Lewis, Special Envoy of the Secretary General of the United Nations combating HIV/AIDS, in the fourth of his Massey Lectures in 2005*, speaks of the incredible inertia of the 'old boys club' in the UN to allow women into positions of influence in that organization. He goes on to talk about the many countries in his beloved Africa where women continued to be sidelined.
Of course the place where the Church is most conspicuously growing, in leaps and bounds, is in Africa. Sadly it is probably growing because of a spirit of competition with Islam and a feature of both 'Islam' (I suspect) and 'Christianity' (often) there expressed - is the continuing marginalisation of women. Parts of our Anglican Communion hold up to other parts of our Communion the growth in the African Churches as a sign of God's blessing on traditional Christianity - including the subordination of women. Well all I can say is that others are welcome to that. I for one do not want to return to those 'good old days' they seem more evil to me. It is incredibly sad to me that the Church of which I am associated is on the side of continuing marginalisation of women and consequently a continuance of their suffering, poverty and early death, espoused by 'christians' and 'anglicans' in Australia.
So it was with this backdrop that I began preparing this sermon, and for the first time I read the words of my text and realized that the words could be interpreted to mean that the miracle at Cana was a joint effort - by Jesus and Mary. Perhaps Jesus conceived of his whole mission not as a personal crusade but a joint one with his mother.
There is, of course, a good deal of biblical evidence throughout the gospel accounts that this might in fact be the case but I am not going to pursue this today, because my point is not to magnify Mary, but to point out that miracles happen when men and women co-operate as equals, as Jesus and Mary co-operated on this occasion.
Focussing on our story for today, Jesus was entirely unaware of the lack of wine until Mary pointed it out to him. So the miracle was dependent on her communicating this to Jesus. Then it is Mary who directs the servants to do as Jesus told them, and this implies some faith on her part.
So my first point today is that miracles happen when men and women co-operate as equals when men and women have faith in each other.
If we look at the possibilities that the 'bible-based' old time religion promises focussing on the continued subordination of women, it is surely only more of the same. In Africa and other places, the outlook is indeed grim as women are abused and become infected with HIV/AIDS. The only reason we are better off in Western countries is when we have departed from this. A return to the 'certainties' of the past has nothing of the flavour of the new wine of the miracle we celebrate this day.
Stephen Lewis, in his passionate speeches, again and again relates how African women he has met blossomed when given the opportunity. One can hear in his voice how miraculous he sees this.
One of my liberal colleagues commented some time ago that liberals were always disagreeing amongst themselves, and this is true. Yet the other side of this is that this happens precisely because each and every liberal is able to think for them selves. And this leads me to ponder if we have lost an appreciation of how much a miracle this is this ability to think for our selves and to express our opinions. Of course it happened in times past, but few were brave enough to tell others of their thoughts, particularly if they questioned orthodoxy. Only recently I was talking to the wife of a patient and she was explaining that she had been brought up in a church school. She continued to excel in all her subjects except religion because she questioned what she was taught. She asked, for instance: 'Why would a God of love part the waters for the 'goodies' to get through - then drown all the 'baddies' who followed them? Was God not supposed to love the enemy as well as us?' For her it is now (a minor) miracle that she can confide in a priest these wicked :-) thoughts!
But along with a spirit of co-operation with his mother, there seems some reticence on Jesus' part. The mission that his mother and he shared was not just to make up for a lack of wine within a family celebration. The mission that Jesus and Mary shared was one of grace to the whole world. Perhaps much of our perceptions in the church in Australia are concerned with the fact that grace seems in short supply in the family of the Church. We, in the western world, are (it seems) struggling with declining numbers and a crisis of faith.
Jesus' actions overflow out of the celebration of that day, to include others. Even a party with numbers of guests would need help to consume 180 gallons of wine, particularly because the invited guests had already had a good deal to drink.
The miracle of the new wine assures us that when our perception is not just about us and the preservation of 'our' church but about the grace of God for all people especially the marginalized and those outside the Church, and when we, men and women, co-operate equally to bring this about, then there is more than enough grace to go around for all.
My words should not be taken as a criticism of Africa. The self-serving 'old boy networks' affect not just the UN but all parts of the Church, not the least of which is our Anglican Communion. Some congregations are driven by surreptitious women in a spirit of power than is no more co-operative than that wielded by masculine dictators. Again all we can expect is more of the same and nothing of the miraculous outpouring of new wine in our gospel story for today when equals co-operate.
'Woman, what concern is that to you and me?' our task is the kingdom of God. So the question is how do we co-operate with Jesus and others in this great calling?
* From the ABC website: "Massey Lectures 2005: Race Against Time; Lecture 4, Women: Half the World, Barely Represented
"Stephen Lewis asks how is it that women have been given such short shrift by the UN? Lewis offers a powerful critique of the UN's mainstreaming of women's issues, and its impact on the fight against HIV/AIDS
"Politician, diplomat and humanitarian Stephen Lewis continues his series The Race Against Time, a devastating five-part presentation on the impact of AIDS in Africa. Lewis is a first-hand observer. His lecture series has been described as a searing insider's perspective on our ongoing failure to help. Lewis is the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, a commissioner of the World Health Organization's Commission on Social Determinants of Health, and director of the Stephen Lewis Foundation. (http://www.stephenlewisfoundation.org/) This presentation was first broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as the 2005 Massey Lecture.
"Transcripts and audio copies of this series can be purchased via the CBC website The Massey Lectures. The Massey Lectures are the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's equivalent to the ABC's Boyer Lectures. Established in 1961, they are named in honour of Vincent Massey, former governor-general of Canada."
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