The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:

s231e10  Holy Women of the New Testament  31/10/2010  Hanmer Springs.

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

Greet Andronicus and Junia*, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles**, and they were in Christ before I was.  Romans 16.7  
* Ιουλιαν   ** αποστολοισ

I have chosen to celebrate this feast today.  Our New Zealand lectionary has the feast of the Holy Women of the New Testament on the 30th of October, All Saints on the 1st of November and All Souls on the 2nd.   Often All Saints is transferred to the closest Sunday, and it has also been my practice in times past to name past parishioners, family members and those who I have buried in the past twelve months on this day too.   So I have really combined All Saints with All Souls.   But it seems appropriate to limit our All Saints’ celebration on occasions to those of the female gender, simply because there are so many male saints remembered, it is easy to forget the primal place women had in Jesus’ life as well as in the extension of the early church.

In recent times I have spoken about the way the church has often hidden the good news of the incarnation to suggest it is restricted to people who think like us, believe like us, worship like us and those who are intimate only when and with whom we approve.   And my text shows that this is no new thing.  Many ancient texts of the letter to the Romans in Greek have Junian in 16.7, but a few equally ancient ones have Julian, a feminine name.   It is a principal of translation that often ‘difficult’ texts are tidied up by later copyists, so it is more probable that the original feminine name has been made masculine by devout copyists.   And if so, Paul is calling this woman Julia, an apostle, and traditionally the church has said bishops are the successors of the apostles.   So even in the New Testament, Paul knows of a woman bishop, as well as Phoebe, the woman deacon!  

Along with hiding the import of scripture, the church has often asked people to do the impossible.   The doctrine of the sub-ordination of women can certainly be found using some passages from the bible.  So the church has essentially said that women, to be on the same status as men, have to change their gender, which is difficult, if not impossible.   I say ‘difficult’, for I have only recently met someone who is about to begin gender re-assignment.    And a more devoted person I could not wish to meet.  Certainly one does not go down this track out of whim!   It is not for the fainthearted!  

In contrast, Jesus calls the Church simply to repent, to change one’s mind and attitude to others; which is certainly far from impossible, though, considering the churches’ propensity to see itself as especially privileged - that it is only others who have to do the changing - it is certainly as unlikely.

I recall once in another country, going to a town I hadn’t previously visited.  Because of this, I took the opportunity to walk along the main street just to see the various stores there and to get a feel of the place.   A lady walked past me who was dressed to attract attention of the lascivious sort.   Her dress was short and her cleavage obvious - not (of course) that I noticed! :-)   But it caused me to think how Jesus’ words about ‘not throwing the children’s bread to the dogs’ might alert us to something that was otherwise difficult to explain.   It is clear from today’s gospel that here was a woman in a similar situation, yet Jesus accepts her attention without demur.

We are told that many women provided for Jesus and his disciples out of their resources.   Jesus accepts the contribution of one and all.  And the Pharisee wanted Jesus to only accept his hospitality and reject this woman’s advances.

I have often commented that the first murder, when Cain killed his brother Abel, was committed because Cain perceived, rightly or wrongly, that his brother Abel’s offering to God was more accepted than his own.  

And there are some good and faithful Anglicans who believe the offering of the Holy Communion celebrated by a woman priest is not as acceptable as one celebrated by a male priest.   It seems the paradigm doesn’t change.

I said in my sermon last week: ‘One of the interesting things I have found in the accounts that missionaries give who travel to non-Christian lands to convert others, so often find themselves humbled by the faith of those they go to convert, humbled by the attitudes to a very deprived life that people of other faiths possess, humbled by the joy of life that some people who have nothing else, exude.’   And since then I thought of the gay and lesbian mardi gras around the world, where people with no ‘respectability’ take the opportunity to exude a joy of being when they have nothing else to exude. 

I find it interesting that it is only at the end of this encounter that Jesus says to the woman: ‘Your sins are forgiven’.   Yet Jesus says that her weeping and anointing his feet were a result of her realising that she had been forgiven.   We have no record of Jesus and this woman meeting previously, and had they met, surely Jesus would have had no need to repeat his word of forgiveness.   Clearly there was something about Jesus and the conduct of his ministry, that people, ordinary people, realised that they were included, that they were accepted, that the incarnation included them and was not restricted to just the movers and shakers in society.

Jesus did this by the company he kept, and of course this included all sorts of people, fishers, tax collectors, men and women, a real mixture of ‘ordinary’ people - if any person can ever be described as ‘ordinary’.  

And the question for me is: do ordinary people in the world realise this of the church?   The Pharisee said to himself, that if Jesus was a prophet, he would known who and what kind of woman she was - with the implication that he would have shooed her away.   But one didn’t need to be a prophet to realise who she was.   As I suggested earlier, her attire and her actions would have made that obvious to anyone.   Jesus demonstrates that the true prophet knows who this woman is and most startling of all, accepts her offering.   True religion accepts others!

This incident continues to enlighten us as to what ‘incarnation’ really means, or perhaps better expressed, the real extent of the incarnation.

If we want to be followers of Jesus, if we want to be included in the words of Jesus: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.’ (John 15.5) - we will need to be similarly incarnated into all of society, for it will only be this that shows the world that the incarnation extends to them.

So we in the church need to be noted for the company we keep, and it will be precisely the same sort of company that Jesus kept - all sorts and conditions of people.  

So often I think the church has really wanted to go into the world with a message of possible acceptance - an acceptance dependent on others joining us.   Often this is the job of the parish minister, to get other people to join the congregation and admire our contributions - really to perpetuate them - not to make their own contribution which might eclipse ours.   I mean, this woman came in unbidden and stole the limelight from the host of the dinner.

And finally it shows that God is not interested in us grovelling and proclaiming how sinful we are.  We might get the message from the tax collector from the story of the two men who went up to the Temple to pray from last Sunday - that God really only likes miserable sinners telling him how miserable they are.   No.  This woman had the gumption to come to Jesus as she was, claim her right as a child of God, make her contribution and express her love.   This is the faith she had that saved her, enabling her to go in peace.   The trouble is that so often the church, like this Pharisee, wants others like this really to go away.

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