Do You See This Woman? (a sermon from June 2016)

[This is not the sermon I preached this past Sunday. This is a sermon I preached a year ago. It popped up in my Facebook memories. I think it may be the best sermon I’ve ever written.]

God’s grace and peace be with all of you.
Today is Sea Sunday here at Our Saviour’s. It’s a time to recognize the difficult work done by seafarers who spend months away from home transporting the food we eat and the products we buy. It’s a time to lift up the Maritime Ministry that helps to support those seafarers.
I really thought about how I could fit Sea Sunday into my sermon today. Then I looked at the lectionary, the readings that were appointed for today—and, as you heard, they’re not very sea-worthy. We heard the latter part of the story of David and Bathsheba. We heard a reading from Galatians about sin and justification. We heard about an encounter between Jesus, an unnamed woman, and a Pharisee, and we got to hear about some of the named women disciples who ministered with Jesus.
On top of the readings today, I spent much of the week ruminating on the headlines in the news.

One story you might not have heard, unless you have a lot of friends on facebook who are Lutheran pastors, is the news coming out of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Latvia. The ELCL, for short, voted last week to ban the ordination of women. This was a symbolic move—the Lutheran Church in Latvia has not ordained a woman since 1993. But they still felt the need to explicitly state that only men can be ordained ministers of the church.
Then there’s another story that I think everyone has probably heard by now. A convicted rapist was given a 6-month jail sentence by a judge who felt that jail time would be detrimental to this young man’s life.
Have any of you read the victim’s statement, which was published online? It was incredibly powerful. It was also heart-wrenching. She describes not only the horrific night when she was raped, but also the months of suffering that followed, and her frustration, anger, and sadness that her rapist did not acknowledge or express remorse for his actions.

Jesus asked the Pharisee who had invited him to dinner, “Do you see this woman?” Do you see this woman who came into your house uninvited, and has not stopped washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and drying them with her hair, anointing them with ointment? Do you see this woman, whose interruption cannot possibly be ignored? Simon the Pharisee saw the woman and thought to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.”
Do you see this woman? But do you really see her? Do you really see her, see her as a person, this unnamed woman who you won’t even address directly? Or do you only see what you assume about her? Do you only see her as a representative of sinners, as one of the “wrong” kind of women?
Jesus asks the Pharisee, “Do you see this woman?” Jesus sees her, really sees her, sees her as a complete person, an imperfect person who is nonetheless created in the image of God. Jesus sees her tears and her kisses for what they are: great love, love offered in response to the grace and forgiveness that Jesus brings. The woman loves Jesus because her sins have been forgiven, even before Jesus says the words. Jesus sees her, Jesus knows her, Jesus accepts her.

Do you see this woman? I think the same question could be asked of our first reading today. Do you see this woman, the wife of Uriah, the infamous Bathsheba? David saw her, saw her from the roof of his palace while she was bathing, saw her in a private moment, and wanted her. David saw Bathsheba as an object, a thing that he desired and therefore took for himself. David took Bathsheba. Let’s speak truthfully: when the king wants something, he gets it. Bathsheba didn’t have the power to say no. David raped Bathsheba. And then, to cover up what he did, he had her husband Uriah killed.
Do you see this woman, this woman who was the object of the king’s desire, this woman whose husband was murdered, whom David sent for as soon as her period of mourning was over so that he could marry her? Do you see this woman? Did anyone really see her?

The prophet Nathan comes to King David and tells him a story. Nathan tells David about a rich man who stole the little lamb of his poor neighbor and forces David to see his own sin. When David says, “The man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity,” then Nathan responds: “You are the man!… You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife.” Nathan forces David to see his own sin, to acknowledge what he has done, and David admits: “I have sinned against the Lord.”
But do you see this woman? Do you see Bathsheba? Nathan tells a story about a rich man stealing a lamb from a poor man. Does he see Bathsheba? Or is she just another piece of property in a world where all the property owners are men?
David says “I have sinned against the Lord.” But does David realize he sinned against Bathsheba, too? Does David see her? Or is she the prize he gets to keep, after everything, the wife who will bear him a son named Solomon, who will be his heir?

These stories have worn me down. The stories in the news, the stories in scripture, they have tried my endurance. I was moved by a facebook post I saw from another Lutheran pastor, Colleen Montgomery. In a heartfelt prayer, she wrote,
“O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman when the named sin of David is the taking of the little lamb Bathsheba not the sin that David committed against her.
O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman when an unnamed woman is a pawn in the Pharisees game, when her character is slandered, even if her faith has set her free.
O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman when the contributions of Mary, Joanna, and Susanna are forgotten.
O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman when the ordination of women is taken away from my sisters in Latvia.
O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman when the potential of a young man is more important than the crime he committed against a young woman, his ‘mistake’ more important than her horror.
O Lord, it is a hard week to be a woman.”

It has been a hard week. A week when I wonder if things will ever get better, if we will still be fighting the same battles decade after decade. A week when I wonder if others would see my call to ministry as legitimate, when I wonder if my voice is heard, when I doubt that my experience is considered relevant. Oh Lord, do you see this woman?

Do you see these women? Jesus travelled through cities and villages, and with him were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and many others, men as well as women, all disciples, all participating in the proclamation of the good news. Do you see the women who traveled with Jesus? Do you see Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and all the others? Do you see the women who were disciples right alongside the men, proclaiming the good news, following the Lord?
Do you see this woman? Do you see the woman who was stolen by a king? Do you see the woman who was dismissed as a sinner? Do you see the woman whose name we do not know even as her words to her rapist were read by millions?
In part of her statement, addressing her rapist, she wrote, “You said, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life. A life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect… You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did.”
Do you see this woman? Did Brock Turner, her rapist, see her? Apparently not. He said his drinking ruined a life: one life. He forgot about his victim. He didn’t see her, didn’t recognize her humanity, didn’t count her experience as important.
After her statement was viewed by millions, Vice President Joe Biden wrote an open letter in response. The Vice President has spoken passionately before about the need to address campus rape culture. To the victim in this case, he wrote, “I do not know your name—but I see your unconquerable spirit. I see the limitless potential of an incredibly talented young woman—full of possibility. I see the shoulders on which our dreams for the future rest. I see you.”

Do you see this woman? Jesus saw her, really saw her. Jesus saw her and loved her and forgave her and set her free. Jesus saw the women who became disciples, the ones who traveled with him, the ones who stayed even to the cross, the ones who followed him to the tomb and brought the spices and ointments to prepare his body for burial, the ones who were the first witnesses of the resurrection, the first apostles of the risen Lord.
Do you see this woman? God saw her. God saw Bathsheba the victim, Bathsheba the widow, Bathsheba the mother. God did not forget her. God saw her. God saw the woman who washed the feet of the Son of God and honored him with her love. God saw the women who were disciples, the women who were ministers, the women who were called to share the good news. God sees them. God sees us all.
God sees us. God sees us when we are victimized. God sees us when our voices are ignored, our experiences dismissed. God sees us when the human institution of the church rejects our gifts and abilities. God sees us. God really sees us, sees us for who we are, saints and sinners, imperfect creations in the image of the perfect God. God sees us, God looks right at us, and God says, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Amen.

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