Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Editor, Researcher

Sermon: When God Says No

Paul and Macedonian ManWhen God Says No
(Acts 16:6-15, Easter 5C)

[Paul, Silas, and Timothy] went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us (NRSV).

A few years ago before the real estate bubble burst a growing trend got on every last one of my nerves. It was The Secret and all of that positivity claptrap that came from it. You could only think good, positive thoughts so the Universe, God, or the Force would give you what you wanted. You just had to think the right thoughts and send out all the good juju you could muster for everything to work out the way you thought it should.

As I’m sure you can guess: I did not jump onto that particular bandwagon. But this idea has persisted for some time in Christianity: that if we are in a relationship with God then everything will turn out just fine, and we’ll basically get whatever we want because: God’s will! So it doesn’t make me happy when I see the lectionary has cherry picked a couple of verses out our Acts reading from two weeks ago to make it seem like everything was smooth sailing for Paul because he was obeying God.

We heard the story of how Paul came to Philippi on the fifth Sunday after Easter. But our reading picked up when Paul was at Troas waiting for God’s leading. It cut off the verses where the Holy Spirit kept blocking Paul’s path. It also leaves out that this trip, which is called Paul’s second missionary journey, didn’t have such a wonderful start.

Before Paul sets off he and Barnabas have a disagreement over who take with them on this journey. On the first missionary journey they embarked on, Barnabas’ cousin John Mark had went with them, but half way through the trip he returned home. Barnabas wanted to bring him again, but Paul didn’t want John Mark on this trip, since he didn’t finish the last trip with them. The two parted ways. Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus, and Paul took Silas with him and heading out to check on the churches he and Barnabas had planted on their first trip.

So this trip starts out shaky to begin with: our superhero missionary duo splits up over personnel issues. Paul and Silas begin their trip and visit churches in the cities of Derbe and Lystra where they pick up Timothy. Then Paul wants to head further west into the heart of what is now modern Turkey to continue preaching the gospel and planting churches. But they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” So Paul directed his attention to the northwest part of that great peninsula, but “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”

Paul was not allowed to go where he planned to go. At this point, it is clear that Paul had no plans to cross to Europe. He was planning on staying east of the Aegean Sea in familiar territory where he knew there would be plenty of cities with large populations of Jews and synagogues to begin his mission work in. But the Holy Spirit had other plans which she did not let Paul in on at the time. After being blocked from heading into the center of Asia Minor then being blocked from going north, Paul and his company went in the only direction left to them at that point: northwest to the city of Troas, which was a port city on the Aegean Sea, where he could only sit and wait until the Spirit let him in on what she was up to.

Honestly, we don’t know how long that took. As usual the author of Acts makes it all sound like it happened immediately and instantaneously. But did it? How long did it take to travel from the central northern part of Turkey to Troas? How many days or weeks were between the Holy Spirit barring Paul’s way and the dream of the Macedonian? How many days or weeks did Paul wonder what was going on and what the Spirit’s agenda was? We don’t know. And I doubt it was as easy or smooth sailing as Acts makes it sound. We’ve all read enough of Paul’s letters to know he wasn’t always the most patient person.

But Paul did reign in his impatience and waited in Troas until the Holy Spirit revealed where she wanted him to go. To Paul’s credit, it didn’t matter that going to Europe hadn’t been on his radar earlier. Once the Spirit put it on his radar he found a boat, hopped on board and headed to Europe. When Paul gets to Europe guess what he doesn’t find at Philippi? A large population of Jews and a synagogue. After spending a few days in the city on the Sabbath Paul, Silas and Timothy head to the river, hoping they will find a group meeting in prayer there so they can begin their mission work in the city.

As we know they did find a group of women praying by the river, including a successful business woman Lydia. God opened Lydia’s heart and after she and her household were baptized she compelled Paul and his team to stay at her house. I actually love William Barnstone’s translation: “She made us go.” This was only the beginning of Paul’s adventures in Philippi.

One day while they were walking through the city Paul cast a spirit of divination out of a slave girl who had been following them around yelling “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” But her masters weren’t happy when they saw their money maker could no longer work her magic and they had Paul and Silas beaten and thrown in prison.

So let’s take a minute and recap. The Holy Spirit leads Paul to Philippi by blocking him from going anywhere else. Then when he gets to Philippi, he doesn’t find any Jews just a group of female Gentile proselytes praying by the river. Then he winds up being beaten and thrown into prison, although he’s a Roman citizen and citizens aren’t supposed to be beaten or flogged, or imprisoned without a trial. He’s probably once again thinking what is up with the Holy Spirit? She led him to Europe for this?

Don’t worry: the Spirit doesn’t leave Paul and Silas in prison. That night while the duo are praying and singing hymns she sends an earthquake that opens the jail cells and makes the shackles fall off everyone’s feet. The jailer is about to kill himself because he thinks everyone escaped when Paul tells him to stop. All of the prisoners are still in their cells. Apparently the jailer had been listening to Paul and Silas’ prayers and hymns because he wants to know how to be saved. Paul tells him to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” The jailer is saved then proceeds that night to have Paul and Silas baptize not only him, but also his household.

By the end of Paul’s stay in Philippi two households have been converted, and we find out that “after leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home: and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed.” Lydia’s home hosted the first church in Europe. Yes, I have to point out that the first pastor or head of a church in Europe was a woman.

Although Philippi’s beginnings are small, they do not stay that way. We find out from the letter to the Philippians that the church grows and flourishes there. The churches in Philippi become patrons of Paul and help moneterily and with gifts in his missionary work. The churches in Philippi were one of the few churches Paul accepted resources from, and I always wonder if he had a soft spot in his heart for the first church in Europe. (Not to mention Lydia probably made him take all the help the church could muster anyway.)

None of this would have happened if Paul had been left to his own devices. Paul would have safely stayed on his side of the Aegean going to familiar people and familiar places if the Holy Spirit hadn’t told him no.

Circling back to the beginning of this sermon with the Universe wants to give you whatever you want wishful thinking. That may be true of the universe, but it’s not true for God. God tells us no. The Holy Spirit sometimes even physically, emotionally or mentally blocks our way and herds us in the direction she wants us to go. Because God doesn’t necessarily want we what think is best for us. Or even what God knows is best for us. God is also thinking about what is best for everyone. The Holy Spirit is not only thinking of what is best for our own personal lives but also what is best for the people we are going to meet on any given day. The Holy Spirit’s purpose is to bring all of creation back into relationship with God, and this is why we as Christians cannot buy into the wishful thinking that doors are simply going to open for us because we want them to. They won’t. In fact, the Spirit may slam some of those doors in our face because she knows it’s not what best for us or for the world we live in. She’s going to direct us down those paths that not only do what is best for us in our personal relationships with God, but what’s also best for those we meet and their personal relationships with God.

This means things may not always go our way. We may not always get what we want. And we may have to spend a lot of time in Troas waiting for her to tell us where she wants us to go and what she wants us to do. That is why the lectionary has no business cutting those two verses out of this particular reading.

Doors will close. Roads will be blocked. God will tell us no. Like Paul we may be herded to a place where we have to sit and wait until the time is right for us to act on God’s behalf in our world, trusting the Spirit to lead us to those people and places that need her healing and reconciling love the most.

Epiphany Sermon: Finding the Way Home

Epiphany: Finding the Way Home
Matthew 2:1-13

Epiphany by Janet McKenzie.

Epiphany by Janet McKenzie.

“We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.”

We hear a lot about the Magi’s journey to Bethlehem. We hear about their side trip to Jerusalem and Herod’s palace. We hear how the scribes were consulted and the Magi sent on their way to Bethlehem. We hear about Herod’s lie.

And if we hear a lot about that part of the story, it’s nothing compared to what happens next. The Magi finally make it to the king of the Jews: a toddler in his parent’s house with his mother in a small town far enough away from Jerusalem to be considered rural. Once there they bow down and worship him, lavish the child with frankincense, gold and myrrh, then start on their long journey home. Only to be warned in a dream not to return to Herod, but to find another way home.

Yes, you heard me correctly. I did say the Magi found Jesus at home in Bethlehem and not in a stable. That’s because in Matthew there is no stable, there’s also no manger or shepherds. We’ve become used to the two very different nativity stories in Matthew and Luke being scrunched together and made to play nice with each other. We are used to Luke’s account of the events: Mary and Joseph start out in Nazareth, travel to Bethlehem for a census, where Jesus is born in a stable because there’s no room in the inn. An angelic host proclaim his birth to shepherds who then come into Bethlehem to see the sight for themselves. In our modern nativity story the Magi then are tacked on to the ending of Luke’s story in the stable. But that’s not how Jesus’ birth happens in Matthew or where the Magi show up in his story.

In Matthew Mary and Joseph live in Bethlehem. In Matthew’s telling the angel appears to Joseph and not Mary because Joseph has decided to quietly divorce her after discovering she is pregnant. The angel reassures Joseph that Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit, this is God’s will, and Joseph is to name the baby Jesus. Joseph listens to God, marries Mary, and Jesus is born at home. Then some time within the next two years three strangers from the East show up in Jerusalem wanting to know where to find the King of the Jews who had been born within the last two years when the Magi saw his star in the sky.

Herod freaks out and of course Jerusalem freaks out with him, because this is Herod. He’s killed a lot of people including his “favorite” wife and their two sons to safeguard his throne. So he plans on sending the Magi on their way then have them report back to him so he can take care of this new threat to his throne.

The Magi once again set out and follow the star to Bethlehem. Matthew tells us that “on entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.” I’m assuming the reason Joseph isn’t here is because he was working. Poor guy. After all of his obedience, he missed out on the three strangers showing up from a country far to the east and showering his toddler with gifts. And these weren’t the typical baby shower presents either. No, they bring gold, frankincense and myrrh—gifts fit for kings and priests.

There are times I hate what biblical stories leave out. What did they talk about? What did these astrologers and scholars talk about with Mary? Given Middle Eastern hospitality rules, what did Mary give them to eat and drink before they started back on their way to Jerusalem? Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall for that meal and its conversation? What did the neighbors think of Mary entertaining these strangers while Joseph was out building something? We’ll never know.

After all of the gift giving, homage paying, and refreshment the Magi prepare to head back to Jerusalem to report to Herod then start for their home. But before they leave Bethlehem the next morning, an angel comes to them and tells them not to return to Herod, but to find a different way home.

And once again the biblical account leaves us in the dark. I’ve always wondered what happened to the Magi after they left. What happened after they received the message to return to their country by another road? How did they feel once the star rose back into the night sky and angelic visions disappeared from their dreams? How did they feel about the long journey home without the beacon they had followed for perhaps months, if not years? What did they do once they got home. Jan Richardson deals with some of these questions in her poem, “Blessing of the Magi.”

(Click here to read “Bessing of the Magi.”)

Where the Magi found themselves is where all of us find ourselves eventually, including Mary and Joseph. After the Magi leave Joseph once again dreams of an angel who tells him about Herod’s plan to murder Jesus. He, Mary and Jesus leave for Egypt. A few years later angelic dreams will lead them back to Judea then onto Nazareth in Galilee. Once in Nazareth, visits from angels and strangers from afar will cease. And Mary and Joseph will settle into ordinary village life and raise their family.

This is the question I pose for this Epiphany: what do we do when the miraculous has gone? We’ve lived the Christmas story: angels have come, stars have shined, and treasures have been given. What do we do now when the dreams and the visions cease? What do we do once angels move onto other assignments? Where do we decide to travel when the star disappears?

Like the Magi on their way home “we will set out in fear/we will set out in dream/but we will set out.” But we don’t set out alone. In the coming weeks our Scripture Readings will be signposts for our journey. We will remember our own baptismal vows as we remember Christ’s baptism this Sunday. The wedding at Cana will remind us that celebrating is important on the way. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians we will be reminded that all of us have spiritual gifts to use to build up each other and to build God’s kingdom in our world. And Jesus will remind us of what the heart of his ministry, and therefore our ministry, is: “to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of God’s favour.’”

And I am using the pronoun “we” very intentionally. We also don’t set out alone because we set out together. Together we will walk into the new year with our Scriptural sign posts as we continue figuring out how to be a spiritual outpost in the South Loop. Yes, the light of the star is gone, but, like the Magi of Jan’s poem, we too will be surprised to see that the light we left behind is now “spilling from our empty hands,/shimmering beneath our homeward feet,/illuminating the road/with every step/we take.” Yes the star is gone, and now instead of following a light, we become the light ourselves to shine into our world and show others the way home.

The Proverbs 31 Woman: Dame Wisdom in Action

The Proverbs 31 Woman: Dame Wisdom in Action
Proverbs 31:10-31

Ah, the Proverbs 31 woman, let me count the ways I hate thee. I grew up hearing about this woman every Mother’s Day. How she was a good and submissive wife who obeyed her husband and took care of her kids and was happy with her life in the home. If you come from a conservative or fundamentalist Christian background like I did, you know what I’m talking about. Every single Mother’s Day the male pastor brushes off this passage and preaches how a good Christian woman ought to act. She’s the best wife, mother, and homekeeper of them all. She eschews the public sector to take care of her home and family. She keeps her house clean, obeys her husband and submits to him. She is a wonderful mother, and gets the meals on the table on time. She’s SuperWifeMom.

By the time I hit my teens I was groaning and tuning the pastor out. By the time I hit my early 30s, I was single, not too sure if I wanted to get married, and I knew I didn’t want do the whole kids thing. I stopped going to church on Mother’s Day. If there was one Saturday I conveniently forgot to set my alarm clock and not make it to church, without feeling guilty about it, it was Mother’s Day.

Unfortunately for the conservative evangelical background I grew up with, it was beat into my head that every good Christian reads the Bible for herself. She sees what is there, so she won’t fall into error. This backfired where I am concerned. I did read my Bible. I wanted to know what it said, and how I should act. And I noticed something. I noticed that what I heard all those years about the Proverbs 31 woman was not all of the story. In fact most of what I heard wasn’t even in the story! This woman was not restricted to her home and family. I got to know an entirely different women when I read her story for myself.

This woman is a household manager, industrious, produces and sells textiles, brings in income for the family, oversees planting of a vineyard and uses her own money to set it up. She has servants she oversees, she gives to the poor, and her household is a small business that provides for her family, and her husband is praised for it. This is not the picture of the stay-at-home mother that is normally depicted in sermons. She works both inside and outside of her home.

I learned there is a big difference when the Bible talks about a wife and how we talk about a wife, particularly a housewife. Carole Fontaine said this about that difference:

In the Bible, the term wife encodes a set of productive and managerial tasks that, along with a woman’s reproductive role, were essential to the existence of the Israelite household. There is no equivalent understanding of “wife” as a social category in the modern West, where women’s household work does not usually contribute to the family economy and tends to be ignored, trivialized, minimized, or otherwise degraded. The often insulting idea of “just a wife and mother” would have had no meaning in the biblical world.

Or as Rabbi Rosenfeld said at the beginning of his lecture on Proverbs 31: “First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Women have ALWAYS worked outside the home, and EVERY mother is a ‘working mother!” Women’s work was necessary for the survival of the family, and she generated income for the family. Textiles—the spinning, weaving, and making of fabric goods–drove the ancient economy for 20,000 years. Women’s work was the backbone of the ancient economy and the ancient household. And I will love Deirdre McCloskey forever for pointing that out to me. So this woman was much more than the imaginary 50s housewife some segments of Christianity hold up as the good Christian wife. I’m not hating her as much.

Then I discovered something about her this week that I never knew, and I may just be darn close to falling in love with her. While reading up on this passage one of the writers pointed out that this poem is filled with military imagery. In fact the word translated as capable in “a capable wife who can find?” is hayil. When it’s used for a man it’s translated as “strong” or “mighty,” and it’s normally used in the context of war. It also means the power that is able to acquire strength through gaining money and raising an army. Right off the bat, we are told this is a strong woman who knows how to get things done.

Then verse 11 says: “[her husband] will lack no gain” or spoils or booty. The writer, Raymond Van Leeuwen notes that using this word here is strange because it “suggests the woman is like a warrior bringing home booty from her victories.”

In verse 16 she “considers a field and buys it.” Here the word “buy” may not the best translation of the Hebrew. Literally, she “takes” the field, and this word is normally used of an army taking a city or a region. It means to conquer and subdue a territory. This verse shows the woman looking at a wild field and figuring out how to tame it and subdue it into a vineyard. In the Judean highlands turning a plot of land into a vineyard took a massive amount of work. The soil was rocky, and all of the rocks had to be removed, then the land terraced, and the rocks built into a wall, so that the vineyard didn’t wash down the hillside at the first good rain. It also had to be terraced to make sure that enough water stayed in the vineyard so the vines could grow. Like a general this woman surveys her battlefield and plans her attack. Anyone who has ever gardened knows this is not an over-exaggeration.

Verse 17 has the most obvious military language: “she girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong” or in the good old King James Version, she “girded up her loins.” Men normally girded up their loins in the Bible for a heroic deed; a deed that involved fighting. Having a strong arm is another Biblical metaphor for being battle ready.

The end of the poem comes back to where we began with the word hayil. In verse 29 the woman’s husband tells her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Here hayil is translated as “done excellently.” The woman has done deeds of strength and power that again refer to warfare and gaining wealth. “Surpass them all” is another idiom for military activity–as in the army met the enemy and bested them.

So we see that this woman is not only pictured as a manager, entrepreneur, and merchant, she is also pictured as a military leader. There is nothing submissive or docile about this woman. She makes textiles, buys, sells, and fights for her family’s survival and good. And yes, she still sounds like SuperWoman. But there is a reason for that. Just as this woman is not the fictional housewife of the 50s, she is also not just a woman either.

I’ve always wondered why Proverbs 31 ended with this poem about this woman. So have others. It seems odd. And after all the focus on wisdom and gaining it, why does this book end with a woman going about her mundane daily activities? Part of the answer to this is how the Jewish sages defined wisdom. Wisdom was not just knowledge gained for knowledge’s sake. Wisdom was knowledge that was to be applied to everyday life. In the Bible God created the world and set boundaries and laws to govern what she created. Wisdom sought to define those boundaries and apply those laws to their daily lives. This woman is living wisdom.

But there is another reason why this book ends with a woman. It began with one. At the end of Proverbs 1 we are introduced to Dame Wisdom. We find out that Wisdom was with God when God created the heavens and earth. In fact, She was the master designer and architect of creation. She watched God bring order out of chaos. She rejoiced in creation, and calls out in the public square and city gates for men and women to follow her. She wants us to learn Her ways, so that She can give us good lives. She builds a house, prepares a feast, then goes out again to call everyone to come into Her house, eat Her feast, and learn Her ways. She continues to create and bring order to the world. After the tabernacle and temple are finished in the Hebrew Scriptures, there are huge feasts for all the people to celebrate. Wisdom does the same. She builds Her house then invites everyone over to celebrate. The last thing we hear about in Proverbs 9 is Dame Wisdom.

And the last thing we hear about in the book of Proverbs is the Wise Woman in the 31st chapter. The reason Proverbs ends with this woman is that it is showing us Dame Wisdom in action. This woman does everything Wisdom does in earlier chapters: she creates, brings order to chaos, feeds and clothes her family, and takes care of the poor. She doesn’t just live wisely, she is Wisdom Incarnate. These verses do not describe what the typical woman of that day is like. They are showing us Wisdom hard at work in the everyday world.

She shows us what we are called to do. Just like Dame Wisdom and the Wise Woman of Proverbs 31 we are called to live wisely in our everyday, mundane lives. We are called to learn what God wants, where our boundaries are and live by that everyday. For ancient Israel the boundary was there is only one God, YHWH, and YHWH alone will you worship and obey. For us as Christians our boundary is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is our boundary. Day by day we have to figure out how to live that love at home, at work, in the store, on the sidewalk, and at church. Within the boundary of that love, we are called to create, to order the chaos around us, to build God’s realm and to celebrate God’s reign here on earth. Or as Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it:

And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing’s small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
And,–glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,–
In such a little tremour of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct. Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.

Our call is to see God in our world and then live what we see. When we follow Wisdom and listen to Her, our eyes will be opened, and we will see the holy in everything. When we see the holy all around us then we will know how to live our own lives and show that holiness, God’s love, to others.

Originally posted on September 22, 2009.

Related Posts
Sermon Meanderings: The Proverbs 31 Woman
Proverbs 31: A “Capable” Wife, Huh?
Poem: In the Beginning Was

The Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament reviewed by Jann Aldredge-Clanton

DFV 2Rev. Jann Aldredge-Clanton has given this gracious review for the Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament:

Congregations who are striving toward more inclusive worship will welcome this new version. Their worship leaders may use inclusive, gender-balanced language in sermons, litanies, and hymns. But they have few options for inclusive scripture readings. The predominantly masculine divine language in these readings then strikes a discord with the rest of the service.

There are two gender-neutral versions of the Bible on the market: The Inclusive Bible, a translation by the Priests for Equality, and The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version, a modification of the New Revised Standard Version. These versions are better than those that use exclusively masculine references to Deity, but they do not reclaim biblical female divine language to balance the male divine language so prevalent in most faith communities and the wider culture.

Until recently, congregations have had nowhere to turn for gender-balanced scripture readings. Now we can go to the Divine Feminine Version (DFV) of the New Testament. By including female language for the Divine, the DFV affirms the sacred value of females who continue to suffer from violence, abuse, and discrimination throughout the world. The DFV contributes to a theological foundation for gender equality, social justice, and peace.

You can read the rest of Rev. Aldredge-Clanton’s review here. If you would like gender inclusive hymns to sing along with your readings from the DFV check out Jann’s hymnals which include a rich variety of feminine, masculine, and neuter metaphors for God.

You can download the free PDF copy  of the DFV at The Christian Godde Project. You can buy the paperback version here.

Blogging Advent: Wisdom has built for herself a house

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Year B, Advent 4

“The Holy Spirit had to come upon [Mary] and the power of the Most High had to overshadow her so that Wisdom might build [herself] a house and the Word might become flesh” (From the Letters of St. Leo the Great).

madonna and childWisdom Has Built for Herself a House

Wisdom has built for herself a house
In the womb of a young girl.
A young girl strong and brave
A young girl who said yes.

Wisdom has built for herself a house
In the song of a young girl:
“The powerful are humbled, the lowly lifted
The hungry fed, the rich emptied.”

Wisdom has built for herself a house
In a manger tucked in a cave
Where animals provide warmth and music,
And shepherds praise her newborn king.

Wisdom has built for herself a house
Under the noses of the powerful:
Herod the power hungry couldn’t thwart her
Caesar the almighty was oblivious to her building.

Wisdom has built for herself a house
In the journey of the Magi.
Traveling by her light, seeking her truth,
Bowing to a child in his humble home.

Wisdom has built for herself a house
Where the hungry are fed
And the lowly are raised.
Will you join them at the table?

Wisdom has built for herself a house:
Will you powerful be humbled?
Will you who are full be emptied?
Will you come in and eat at the table?

(c) 2014 Shawna R. B. Atteberry

The Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament Is Now Complete

DFV 2I am happy to announce that a project I’ve been an associate editor on for the last five years is now complete! The Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament can now be downloaded free as a PDF or you can buy a paperback copy. In addition to translations of the Bible that use masculine and non-gender metaphors for God, there is now a version that uses feminine metaphors for God. I hope The Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament will help expand your vocabulary and experience of the God who created both men and women in her own image.

You can download the free PDF copy at The Christian Godde Project.

You can buy the paperback version here.

Pentecost: Blowing Where She Wills

Pentecost over Nature by Farid De La Ossa

This sermon was originally published on June 1, 2009.

She has been here from the beginning, stirring, creating, bringing form to chaos, and life to dust. In the beginning she brooded over the watery chaos waiting for God to give the word. In the fire, thunder, and smoke of Sinai she guarded the holiness of God and showed that approaching this god should not be taken lightly. When Elijah looked for God in fire, earthquake, and a storm, she came in sheer silence to show that she didn’t always appear with the flash and panache that human beings expect.

She gave birth to the church and is the One who gives us our unity, giftings, and words. But we don’t talk about her that much. In fact, the Church has never talked about the Holy Spirit much at all. She gets brushed to the side. She’s the runt of the Trinity no one wants to claim. And there’s a reason for this. The Holy Spirit scares us. We can’t control her. We can’t put restraints on her. We have our nice neat boxes for the other two members of the Trinity. God the Father and Mother is categorized with all of the attributes of God and put in the appropriate box. God the Son is neatly categorized by word and deed and placed in his box. For centuries theologians, scholars, teachers, and preachers have tried to do the same thing with the Spirit. But how do you put wind into a box?

(more…)

My interview with the NotMom Blog

My profile at the TheNotMom.com Blog has been posted. You can read about my thoughts on being a NotMom, my chosen family, and why women without children weren’t that big of a deal for Jesus or the early church here. Please leave comments and show the other NotMoms some love.

I’m very thankful for my many chosen families, and all of the love and new roles they’ve brought into my life. In today’s world where we often don’t live near our birth families, and move so much more than we used to, I think it’s very important to have a chosen family close to you. I also think it’s important for theological reasons: Jesus said that anyone who obeyed God was his mother, brother, and sister (Matthew 12:50; Mark 3:35), so for me, my church is my family.

Jesus broadened the definition of family to include those who obeyed God. In fact, he ignored his biological family for his chosen family, which is why the American church’s idolatrous view of the biological family makes me angry. For Jesus, the chosen family that obeyed God was the most important family, not the one you are born into.

Stories of Redemption: Because God Really Does Keep Doing New Things

anointInstead of preaching a sermon, I dramatically told these stories based on the lectionary readings for the 5th Sunday in Lent, 2010. It’s still one of my favorite storytelling sermons.

Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8

Props

  • Jewish prayer shawl or yamika
  • Bible (I used my Hebrew Bible)
  • If you’re a women a shawl, scarf or pashima that can used as a head covering. If you’re a man a clay jar or other container.

Returning from Exile

(Put on the prayer shawl or yamika.)

May by the prophets really are nuts. We all know the stories: Isaiah running around Jerusalem naked. Not that anyone remembers what his point was–he was running around Jerusalem naked. Hosea marrying a whore to prove Judah’s idolatry was harlotry, and Ezekiel. Now there was a loon. Ezekiel came with the first group of exiles shipped to Babylon. He laid bound up one side for months then rolled over and laid bound up on the other side for months. Something about how long we’d be in exile. Did you know that man didn’t even mourn when his wife died? Said God told him not to because God wouldn’t mourn for the destruction of Jerusalem or the Temple. We Jews are used to our prophets being a little…unbalanced.

I think being in exile so long has unhinged this new group of prophets. Running around saying that some uncircumcised, pagan, Gentile is God’s anointed. Anointed by God like King David. Oh I know Cyrus and his Persian army are making trouble for Babylon, but to call him God’s anointed, and say God is going to use him to send us back to Israel. Like that is ever going to happen. But these prophets keep yammering on about God doing new things—things that will amaze us and dazzle us. They keep talking about rivers springing up in the desert, and God turning the wilderness into an oasis. Talk that’s all it is. We’ve been here for 80 years. Jerusalem was razed to the ground and the Temple with it. We aren’t going anywhere.

I ate every single one of those words. Those loony prophets were right! God did it! God did something totally new! Who ever heard of an emperor letting captives go back to their native land? But Cyrus did! He sent us home! And he returned all of the things that were in the Temple plus what we would need to rebuild the city and the Temple! And it’s a good thing too. Because we’re going to need every penny. The Babylonians literally did flatten Jerusalem. We have a lot of work to do, both building and farming. We have to have enough food to eat. But we are here. God really is sovereign over every ruler on earth. God did not forsake us. God brought us back. And we will rebuild this city and this country. Not just for us. We will rebuild for our children and for all the generations that will come after them.

Paul

(Pick up the Bible.)

People think I’m a little over the top. They say I only see black and white or good and evil. They say I like to rant, and that I’m not all the eloquent. Well what do they expect? Jewish prophets have always been melodramatic. Our people have always known how to get your attention and make our point. Of course, it probably doesn’t help that I’m a zealot. Whatever I do, I go all the way. When I was studying to be a Pharisee, I was always at the top of my class. So you know, I have the equivalent of five or six Ph. Ds in this: The Hebrew Scriptures. I studied with the best teachers, and I kept the Law. I did everything I could to climb the ecclesiastical ladder as fast as I could. When a cult started by this upstart carpenter, who had gotten himself crucified, started taking over the Temple and declaring the Law to be a thing of the past, I was more than happy to help put them away. I wanted to keep the Jewish faith pure. I hunted those people down and threw them into prison. I helped execute them.

Then this crucified carpenter, this Jesus, got hold of me, and I became as zealous for him as I had been for the Law. A lot has happened in the last 30 years, since I found myself blind by the side of the road to Damascus. Christianity has spread across the Empire, and I’m here in Rome. Not the way I wanted to be, awaiting a trial before Caesar. But I am here, and I still preach the Gospel. That one thing has never changed. To whoever listens I tell them about the all-encompassing love of Christ. When I tell the Philippines that I would give up everything to know Christ, they know I’m not exaggerating. I’ve already given up so much: my career, my reputation, my family. I have suffered. What I dealt out to Christians those many years ago, I have now experienced. I’ve been in prison, been beaten, and ran for my life. I haven’t been executed, yet.

I’ve done all of this for one reason: to know Christ. Knowing Christ is worth everything I gave up, everything I loss when I chose to follow him. Christ suffered before he was resurrected. As he said no student is above the teacher. I know all of my suffering has not been in vain. I have come to Christ through my sufferings, and one day my hope is that I will know his resurrection as well. And fully know him as he knows me.

I’m always in awe of how Jesus came back to Jerusalem knowing the suffering and death that awaited him. And Mary, dear Mary who like the prophets before her, performed an outrageous act to prepare him for that final journey to Jerusalem.

Mary of Bethany

(Take off prayer shawl/yamika and put on the head covering, or pick up the clay jar.)

Bethany is not that far from Jerusalem. I hear all of the talk, all of the gossip. I know the Jewish leaders want to kill Jesus. I’m sure they’re even more determined now that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus. I can’t believe my brother is sitting there, talking and laughing with Jesus and all of our friends. We’re having a big feast to celebrate. People have been in and out of the house all day to see Lazarus alive. There’s whispers and talk all around about revolution; how Jesus will march into Rome and overthrow the pagan overloads. Even the 12 are talking of revolution. It makes me wonder if they’ve been listening to the same teachings I’ve heard at his feet. Do they just tune him out when he says he’s going to die? They don’t want to hear it. They want a king, and the power that comes from being in the king’s inner circle. They are not listening. Either to Jesus or the rumblings of Jerusalem’s ruling elite who will do whatever they have to to hold onto their power. This Messiah will not be going to Jerusalem to be crowned. He is going to Jerusalem to die.

I come out of my revery and realize that I need to go see if Martha needs any help. Then I see it—the jar of nard. Very expensive nard. We had bought it for Lazarus’ burial. It hadn’t been used. I knew what I needed to do. I peeked into the room and everyone was settling around the table. I waited. I waited until they were settled and started eating.

I took the perfume and walked to where Jesus was reclining. I wasn’t going to anoint his head—kings had their heads anointed. I wasn’t going to do anything to feed their illusions. I knelt at this feet. The last pair of feet I had anointed has been Lazarus’ for his burial. I felt the stares. I broke open the jar and poured the nard over Jesus’ feet—all of it. I heard the gasps as people smelled the expensive perfumed mixture. I gently rubbed it into his feet—those roughened feet that soon would be making their last journey. I reached for a towel to wipe off the excess when it hit me I hadn’t grabbed a towel. I always forget something. An idea flickered in my mind. I took out the pins that held my hair. As my hair tumbled around me, another round of gasps echoed around the room. A respectable woman wouldn’t do that! I didn’t care. With my hair, I wiped the oil from his feet. I looked up and Jesus’ eyes met mine. His eyes echoed my thoughts. We both knew. It was a holy moment.

Until an indignant voice broke the holy moment. “Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor?”

Judas. Of course, it was Judas. Like he had any concern for the poor. He just wanted to line his own pockets.

I took a breath to say as much when Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me with you.”

The room was silent. No one wanted to admit what Jesus said was true. He wasn’t here to reorder one nation according to their standards. He was here to turn the world, as we knew it, on it’s head and bring the kingdom of God—the reign of God—to this very world. But for that to happen first he had to face his destiny in Jerusalem.

Sermons: Tables of Love

I preached this sermon on Thanksgiving 2007.

Tables of Love

Scripture Readings: Psalm 100; Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Philippians 4:4-9; John 6:25-35

When I think of tables, I think of eating with friends and family. Through the years these tables have taken different shapes and forms. Sometimes it’s just me and another person and at other times there could be 15-20 of us gathered around. Sometimes it’s quiet conversation and other times a cacophany of chatter, dishes, and someone yelling down the table to get someone else’s attention. I’m Irish-Italian; we tend to be a loud bunch. Of course that didn’t change when I headed off to seminary, and all of my friends were religion geeks like me. There was still a lot of talking over one another, around one another, and yelling at someone in order to get a word in edgewise. I felt right at home.

The table I normally think of is our family table growing up. Mom, Dad, my sister and me every night for supper. We didn’t have very many family rules set in stone, but eating supper together was one of them. When friends were over, they ate with us. Same thing if family visited: eating supper together never changed except when we slept over at a friend’s or had a school function. Some nights there was a lot of chatter, some nights we played Jeopardy more than we talked, and other nights we ate in relative silence because we were tired. The ebb and flow of activity may have changed but supper itself did not. We ate one meal as a family at the table everyday. Period.

One of the hardest things to get used to when I moved out and started living on my own was eating alone. It seemed odd, wrong. And not just because of family dinner. Before college I had always eaten breakfast with my sister, lunch with friends, and dinner with the family. In college I always ate with friends or a the family that adopted me at church. Eating by myself bothered me more than living by myself. In the movie Under the Tuscan Sunher neighbor invites Francis over for supper saying, “It’s not healthy to eat alone.” I absolutely agree with him.

In fact the Mediterranean people know how to do supper. I lived in Barcelona for a year as a Nazarene in Volunteer Service or NIVS for short. I loved their attitude about food. Food was something to be enjoyed, not scarfed down. I am a slow eater. I always have been and I will stubbornly remain so. I get teased because I refuse to scarf my food down in order to “do” something more important. What’s more important than nourishing yourself? And I don’t believe you can nourish yourself if you inhale your food. I fit right in in Spain and with the Mediterranean mindset: food is to be enjoyed and preferably enjoyed with family and bunch of friends. They take supper seriously. There it is a three hour affair with three or four courses and a lot of conversation. Talking, joking, sharing the day, getting caught up. It’s relaxed. Everyone is enjoying themselves. Everyone is enjoying the food. I fit right in. I found out the Italian genes I got from my full-blooded Italian great-grandmother ran true in my blood. They somehow skipped the rest of family.

How the Mediterraneans view supper is very much how people in both the Old and New Testaments viewed supper. Breakfast was some bread, probably left over from the night before. Lunch was at work and normally a piece of dried fish and what ever fruit or vegetables that were in season. But supper–supper was different. You were paid for your work at the end of the day. You went shopping then came home, and the whole family–and you have to remember in the Bible this would be three generations who lived close to each other–all of them would get together and eat supper. It was a relaxed, joyous time for the family. They had food, they had each other. They enjoyed their day’s labor at the end of the day. And they took their time. This meal was not to be rushed. It was to be savored and enjoyed. It was the only time the entire family ate together.

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