Text — John 10:11-18
something pretty presumptuous and ridiculous about my sermon title.
After all, what can I possible have to say about the mystery of
being a woman or a mother? But I’ve wondered, and tried to imagine,
what it would be like to be a woman, and a mother.
noticed a long time ago that Mother’s Day seems like a bigger deal
than Father’s Day, and maybe that’s because usually women and
mothers pay a bigger price for their place in the world than men
do. Not everyone would agree with that, and it’s not true in every
case, but on the whole, I’d say that men have it easier than women
do, for a variety of reasons, but surely the main reason has to do
with the fact that women give birth.
hundred fifty years ago, many women gave birth to ten or more
children by their mid-thirties. Many women died young, in
childbirth. Today, choosing between or balancing a career and
child-care is a lot more complicated for women because they are more
attached to children from the start. For centuries, women have had
to fight hard for economic and political rights — the right to own
property, to file for divorce, to vote, to hold political office.
been learning lately about how the whole idea of human rights
emerged in the 18th century. The leaders of the French
Revolution — a revolution that claimed to be based on the “universal
rights of man” — argued that one of the problems with the old
regime, the monarchy, was that women had too much influence among
the nobility. It wasn’t natural. When a French woman, Olympe De
Gouges, said, “Women have rights too” she was executed for being an
enemy of the revolution.
in the United States weren’t allowed to vote until the 1920s. You
have to ask, Why did it take so long? Why were men so opposed to
women voting? I’ll say something about the stated reason in a
also have a more complicated, or problematic, relationship to
beauty. How we look is factor for all of us, but this more loaded
for women. There is power in being an attractive woman, and this
has to be on the mind of any girl or young woman growing up, even if
she rejects this as an important value. Women spend more time and
money on beauty because of this power, but there’s also a danger
that comes with it. This is the famous “paradox of the beautiful
woman.” If a girl is pretty, she gets more attention. She gets her
way more often. The paradox, and the danger, is that other people,
and she herself, can make too much of that and pay less attention to
her inner resources, her mind and soul. Very attractive people can
feel empty because so much is made of their exterior.
society as a whole, the Christian church has a rather bad record,
overall, when it comes to women. The culture of Christianity, like
the culture is sprang out of and lives in today, is one that gives
advantages to men. The language of the Bible, the language for God
— God the Father, God the Son — is a problem because it implies, or
can be taken to imply, that males are closer to the divine image.
a lot of disagreement over how big a problem this is. There’s a lot
of disagreement over how to deal with that problem. The problem
itself isespecially unfortunate and ironic because, over the
centuries, the church has been sustained mainly by women, even
though the leadership has been mostly male.
that wasn’t always the case. There’s evidence that in the very
early church, when people worshiped in private homes, women had a
major leadership role because the domestic realm was the realm of
women. As the church grew and was forced to move into larger public
buildings, men took over because the public realm was the realm of
we’re seeing a fast-moving feminization of the church’s leadership.
Most seminary students are women, by a fairly substantial margin —
just as women outnumber men in many other professional schools. I
believe most college students are women.
surprisingly, in light of history, some people see this feminization
in the church and in medicine and law as something to worry about.
I’ve read articles about this. What if men are left too far behind
in terms of education? In the church, there’s a concern about
having too many women clergy. Is this really something to worry
about? Why isn’t it seen as a “natural” development the way male
leadership was seen as “natural in the 18th century and
earlier? Maybe women’s interests and skills are just more suited to
what I’m saying is that, in so many ways, women can’t seem to win,
and when they do win something — usually after a long hard fight —
it’s viewed with some suspicion.
1700s, men argued against women’s rights on the grounds that women
have a different nature than men — they’re too emotional; they’re
ruled by their bodies. They’re prone to superstition. They’re
easily tempted by the devil. This was supposedly self-evident
1800s, the so-called “science” of phrenology was the rage.
Phrenology claimed to find a direct relationship between the
features of the human skull, its size, its shape, its ridges, and
the personality and intelligence of the person. Women’s skulls were
smaller and so, men concluded, women shouldn’t vote or hold public
office. Women’s strength was in the lower part of the body, the
hips, while men’s strength was located around the shoulders, closer
to the head.
were serious arguments, and this is the sort of nonsense that women
have had to put up with.
this debate about how women and men are different, and how they’re
similar, and what we should do with these similarities and
differences is still a hot topic. If you’re at a dull party
sometime, bring this subject up and you’ll get something started.
us would agree that everyone in our society has benefited enormously
as women have come to play a wider role. There’s just more raw
talent and intelligence available for everyone’s well-being because
women are doing things they didn’t used to do. Societies that use
the talents of women will have a huge advantage over those that keep
women locked out of circulation.
in our Second Hour program, we’re going to listen to mother’s talk
about what it’s like to be a mother. There’s more to being a woman
than being a mother, but motherhood is huge, important mystery of
image, or the icon, of the “mother and child” is one we see
everywhere. It’s no accident that Christianity, early in its life,
turned to Mary to counter-balance the masculine language for God:
the Father and the Son. People pray to Mary because she is Jesus’
mother. This is less so in western Protestantism, but for most of
the church in the world, Mary is part of the mystery of God.
mothers in our church have said how giving birth was a religiously
transforming experience. One mother said that being a mother is
like having your heart walking around in the world, outside your
body, exposed to danger. Being a mother is a mystery. It’s also
the way God becomes flesh in creation — through mothers.