“Crowned with Glory”–A sermon addressing sexual assault

Here is the sermon I preached this morning (October 9, 2018) at the chapel of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, based on Psalm 8 and Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12:

The theme for this semester of faculty preaching is “Hodie” or God’s today. In this moment, in this time and on this day, where is God at work?

I have to say, this is an especially challenging week to prepare a sermon, when I would rather crawl into a hole, find the best gluten-free, dairy-free treats I can find, and eat all my feelings. Or sleep through the pain. Because I’ve been in pain. Some physical, but mostly emotional.

Emotional pain, after all, is registered in our brains often in the very same ways as physical pain. My pain comes from seeing the trauma re-lived for so many of their own experiences of sexual assault, a trauma that lives on in bodies, in memories. Even if Brett Kavanaugh does not remember the night that Dr. Christine Blaisy Ford recounted for all on national television, the Dr. Fords of all the world who have experienced similar nights, all remember. It may have been a blip on the screen for those who perpetrated such trauma, it may not have been a memorable event for him or her (for women have also been perpetrators), but for those left with the sense of shame in their bodies, the anxiety left in their minds, they remember.

While I have not experienced sexual assault in the same way as Dr. Ford, I have sisters and friends who have been raped, molested, or assaulted. I have had my own body grabbed and touched without my consent. I have experienced the shame of wondering: was it something I said or did that brought this on myself? I have had pastor nominating committee chairs call me “sweetheart,” and have felt the discomfort of men finding me attractive. I was brought up to be pretty, but not too pretty. Put together, but not sexy. Some days I intentionally wear clothes that do not flatter my figure, so that I do not feel the gaze of others’ eyes on my body. My body is beautiful, but it is not made for others’ enjoyment or objectification. And it is not up to me to control others’ sexual feelings. I say all this, not just as a public announcement, but because I have needed to remind myself.

So as you can hear, this week I have been a little angry. Ok–really angry. Angry at a culture that says women’s voices don’t count, women can’t be trusted, that women may just be confused. That women are somehow to blame for the sexual assaults they experience, that they are source of their own downfall.

I’ve also been angry at God. And the Bible. You see, one of the other texts I could have preached from today, was the second story of creation, the one where God creates Adam first, then looks around for a helper for him, and finding that the animals wouldn’t do, God created woman out of Adam’s rib. This story makes women an after-thought. Not the main character in the story, just a helper. And later, she becomes the cause of all suffering by succumbing to the snake’s trickery. It’s a perfect recipe for patriarchy: an origin story that suggests women were always only meant to serve as a subordinate helper to men, and that they can’t be trusted.

If this sounds a bit harsh, let’s see how this Christian nation has historically responded to women: women of color continue to be disproportionately poor and stuck in low-wage jobs. Women continue to be blamed for men’s sexual urges, asked “what they were wearing” if they come forward with their experiences of sexual assault. And when you grow up in that kind of culture, and you grow up in a church that continues to shame women, to question their authority in the pulpit, to say they are not fit to serve as pastors, to suggest women’s ultimate contribution is to support the men in their lives, it becomes hard not to believe it. The self-doubt that plagues women comes from years and years of this kind of conditioning. Of constantly questioning ourselves because everyone else does.

So this morning, I’m mad at God. I’m mad that God has allowed a tradition that is supposedly about the redemption of the world, to be co-opted into a way of permanently keeping half of the world subordinate, second class, less-than.

And then I read the psalm we heard read this morning. And I read that God made humans just a little lower than the angels, and crowned them with glory. And I read the NRSV of the Hebrews passage we just heard, and I hear that Christ was not ashamed to call humans his brothers and sisters. That’s right—sisters, too! And I think—maybe there’s still room for me here. Maybe there’s still room for me in this tradition. Because God spoke through the prophets—Hagar and Huldah, Deborah and Miriam, Anna and Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary and Martha, Lydia and Priscilla. If even from of old, God has used women, then maybe, even despite all the messages I hear, God can use me.

What I need to remember—for myself and my own ability to let go of my mistrust of God and this tradition—is to remember that God created us, male AND female, both in God’s image, and that we are both CROWNED with GLORY.

Men, I need you to hear me. I need you. Women need you. We are angry, but this does not mean we want to destroy you or for you to disappear. We need you to listen. And we need your help remind us that we, too, have been crowned with glory.

There may be many of you thinking, men are always on the hook, always in trouble, always to blame. We have our own insecurities and hardships, too! But hear me out: Look at the positions of power in institutions across this country, across our church. Who are the leaders? Who holds the most power? When you go for a job interview, how likely is it that you will be in a room with mostly men? What kind of mentorships or opportunities have you been invited to be part of in life because you are a man?

I say this not to make you feel bad, but to highlight that you have been given much. I also say this to affirm that you have power that you can use for good. How can you use the power you have been given by this culture to support women? How can you use your power to notice when women’s accomplishments are minimized or overlooked, while men’s accomplishments are loudly celebrated? How can you work to hire women for positions of leadership? How can you use your power among other men to show that women, too, have been crowned with glory, and that we bring our own gifts?

And women, I need you, too! Women, I need you to support other women, to not resent the accomplishments of one another, to not believe the lie that another woman’s success is a threat to yours, to reject the lie that women cannot be trusted—because you have been taught not to trust yourself. I need you, women, to stand up for one another, too. And not just for women who look like you. But notice the places where you hold power, and where women from a different race or class or sexual orientation or ability or immigration status are being excluded, and use your power to remind us all that they, too, are crowned with glory. And for all of those who do not neatly fit into our gender stereotypes of men or women, they, too, are crowned with glory, showing us all how God continues to challenge our neat categories and call us to a broader understanding of God’s image in the world. All of us need one another, to remind those of us who may have forgotten, or have been told the opposite so many times we believed it, that we, too, are crowned with glory.

This past Friday, you may have heard that the Nobel committee announced the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, awarding two recipients: Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad. Nadia Murad is a survivor who experienced sexual assault as an ISIS prisoner of war, after the Islamic State invaded her town in Northern Iraq, targeting her family—a Christian Yazidi minority—killing many and keeping others as slaves. While many of the women who escaped from such conditions decided to remain anonymous, Nadia Murad chose to face the cameras and identify herself, to give strength to other women and to announce to the world: this is happening to my people. You cannot look away. We, too, have been crowned with glory.

The other recipient, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has worked for years, saving women’s lives, who have been raped as a weapon of war, with additional injuries inflicted specifically on their genitals, destroying their urinary and digestive tracts in the process. Dr. Mukwege has performed surgery after surgery after surgery to help save the lives of these women, repairing what he can of their bodies, while also trying to help them restore their spirits.

On Friday, the radio program called “The World,” hosted by Marco Werman, highlighted the #MeToo movement on the 1-year anniversary of the Harvey Wienstein allegations.[1] Marco spoke to Eve Ensler, the activist and playwright made famous for her play “The Vagina Monologues,” in which she calls attention to the abuse women face, as well as celebrating women’s bodies and reclaiming the beauty of parts of their bodies they had previously been embarrassed to even name.

Eve Ensler interviewed Dr. Denis Mukwege in 2008, and on the radio she was speaking of the amazing man that he is. The radio host asked her: have you ever met a man like Dr. Denis Mukwege prior to your trip to the Congo? Ensler responded: “I haven’t met one prior, and I haven’t met one since! …He’s a man of enormous grace. He’s a radiant man. He comes from love—he’s a pastor. And he’s also fierce. And he’s also relentless. He once talked to me about how he can’t sleep at night, imagining what would happen if they came to take his daughters and how the stories of woman after woman after woman–the desecration of their bodies just lives embedded in their beings–and this has rallied him to understand that if women are destroyed, if their bodies are destroyed, if their beings and futures are destroyed, we have no future as humanity.”

Marco Werman then asked “is there one story you could share about Dr. Mukwege and how he intervened, and changed a woman’s belief that she was ruined forever, that her life was over.”

Ensler replied: “I remember at the beginning of the City of Joy, the sanctuacy and revolutionary center in Bukavu where women transform their pain to power. There was a young woman standing, explaining what she had been through. And he said to her: When you’re inside your mother’s womb, you don’t know what your future will be. This sanctuary will be like that for you. When you enter here, you will be able to go through a process where you transform what is going inside you and you will come out of it birthed a new woman. And the woman just began to weep, and she could almost taste that future.”

Ensler continued: “I have witnessed Dr. Mukwege, for example, he gives classes at City of Joy. He does sex ed classes. Where he teaches women, not only to know their vaginas and to know how their vaginas work but to protect their vaginas, but he actually asks them to draw their vaginas, so they are not afraid of them, and so they know their bodies, and so they aren’t embarrassed by their bodies, so they’re not in shame so that terrible things are not allowed to happen to them in the dark. He is so brave, and he has faced so much criticism…for really breaking with tradition and breaking with patriarchy and breaking with those values that suppress women. …Hopefully there will be many men who take the lead from Dr. Mukwege and rise with us and devote their lives as wholeheartedly to ending sexual violence as women do.”

Now, I just want to point out that I used a word in this sermon that some may be uncomfortable with—vagina—and I want you to think about how hearing this word made you feel? Embarrassed? Shocked? Offended? Then, I want you to think about how it felt to hear about what had happened to those women in the Congo? What made you feel more shocked—that I said the word ‘vagina’ in a sermon? Or that women’s bodies were being destroyed as a weapon of war?

I highlight this dichotomy, and return to our scriptural text, where Jesus is not ashamed to call women his sisters. Jesus is not embarrassed or ashamed of women—God made us and crowned us with glory. We are filled with glory—even those parts of us we feel ashamed to name, or the parts that have been grabbed or objectified or judged according to whether or not they are pleasing to men. Every part of us is crowned with glory, infused with glory. Made in the very image of God.

And Christ has suffered with us. Christ has sanctified us and suffered alongside us, facing humiliation and shame, and staring them down.

Men and women, hear the good news: all of us are crowned with glory, and all of us have been invited to participate in God’s redemption of the world. All of us are called to stand together to fight for the recognition that each and every person is crowned with glory, not just those given the most power by society. And it is our responsibility, wherever we hold even an ounce of power, to point out the crowns of glory on our brothers and sisters left on the margins. Turn your own anger into power: be like Dr. Denis Mukwege, who as a pastor, helps women of the Congo regain a sense of their dignity. Be like Nadia Murad, who as a Christian Iraqi was not ashamed to tell her story and to reject the stigma surrounding sexual abuse. Be like Eve Ensler, pushing the boundaries of our comfort zones to increase our compassion for those whose vulnerability is intensified by our silence.

And be like Christ, who is the reflection of God’s glory, and who is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters, who suffers alongside those who suffer at the hands of injustice, and who attacked the religious establishment for its hypocrisy. Be like Christ, and remember that you, too, are crowned with glory. Amen.

 

Notes:

The “City of Joy” that Ensler referred to is a center of recovery for survivors of sexual violence, a set of buildings that provide women private rooms, places to meet and garden, and where they can take classes. For six-months, they receive psychosocial treatment and support, literacy and life skills as well as vocational training, to raise up women leaders for the Congo. [2]

Also, in writing this sermon, I benefited from the music of a band known as Lenore. that I heard on a radio program called “Live Wire,” and a couple Saturdays ago, Lenore closed the show singing a song called “Thick Skin, Tender Heart.”[3] The opening line of the song is: “Stand Tall Woman, you’ve come from Stars, you’ve got thick skin and a tender heart. You can piece together what they tore apart, you’ve got thick skin and a tender heart. You’ve got thick skin and a tender heart.” I didn’t include the song in the sermon, but it gave me support as I wrote, so I wanted to give Lenore a shout out.

 

[1] PRI’s The World, October 5, 2018 episode. Accessed online October 6, 2018 at https://www.npr.org/podcasts/381444246/pri-s-the-world

[2] https://www.vday.org/node/2656.html

[3] Live Wire episode 368, available at http://www.livewireradio.org/episode368

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close