Prelude: I don’t normally post my sermons to my blog site, but for me personally, the sermon I shared on June 10th was one the most important sermons that I’ve ever given. It’s about my identity and yours, and the struggle for everyone’s identity within the patriarchal tradition of faith and of society, of Christianity and of The Episcopal Church as we have it today.
This sermon is also one of my longest, and I am grateful to those who gave me their forbearance that day, those who have continued to view it on YouTube [a link is at the end of this column], and to anyone who now gives of their time to read it here.
Thank you, most especially, to the Sons of the Church who are thereby also my Sons, many of whom are also fathers of one kind or another. Your struggle is my struggle. Christ models for all of us a way to make freedom and peace truly real for one another.
Sermon: Pentecost 3 – June 10, 2018
The history of the rise of monotheism and the system of belief in the God of Israel emerges from a socio-cultural history of patriarchal social systems and belief systems within the context of greater ancient Mesopotamia. Western history and Christianity and the forces of colonialism stem from the advent of patriarchy and governance by men as social and religious leaders within patriarchal structures. What I have just said is evidentially true. The World has been both enriched and enslaved within this model over successive generations, in part due to the struggle inherent to patriarchy – the essential question of what male leadership is to look like. This struggle is as much with us today in our context as it was in First Century Jerusalem, during the time in which Jesus lived.
There are two basic models within patriarchal paradigms which struggle together to inform the underlying value system – the “stern father” vs. “nurturant parent.” In this duel understanding, the Nurturant Parenting contrasts with Stern Father parenting as two distinct metaphors each used as icons of contrasting value and political systems, i.e. Regressive (Stern Father, authoritarian) and Progressive (Nurturant Parent, small “d” democratic).
Within patriarchal society, there are men and women who are enculturated in or identify with the Stern Father cultiral cosmology, and there are men and women who are enculturated in or identify with the Nurturant Parent cultural cosmology. The struggle is not between men and women, but between two essentially different ways of conceptualizing authority and it’s exercise.
The struggle of patriarchy to identify its primary model of leadership continues to inform and impact the nations and communities of our world today. As a female leader within the patriarchially informed church, I can tell you that I love and care about God’s sons. If I did not, I would not be here before you, and I would not have dedicated the service of my life to the church. That said, as a woman who is called to nurture the people of God’s kingdom, in my role as a spiritual mother in the church, the time has come for me to speak to my sons and to share something vitally important about their history and about the challenges they must rise to meet in the current time of world events.
Let us begin with our Old Testament reading – Samuel’s parents give him to Eli, the high priest, to raise as a nazarite dedicated to God. Samuel plays a key role in the transition from the period of the biblical judges to the institution of a kingdom under Saul, and again in the transition from Saul to David. Samuel initially appointed his two sons as his successors; however, just like Eli’s sons, Samuel’s proved unworthy. The Israelites rejected them. Because of the external threat from other tribes, such as the Philistines, the tribal leaders decided that there was a need for a more unified, central government, and demanded Samuel appoint a king so that they could be like other nations. Samuel interpreted this as a personal rejection, and at first was reluctant to oblige, until reassured by a divine revelation.
Within the discourse between Samuel and God, two types of kings are identified, “He will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.”
Alexander Hamilton had a similar concern about the nature of kings. In his Federalist Papers, Hamilton outlined the premises of a republic that favored an office of the President in contrast to a king. In paper #69, Hamilton points to the fact that the president is elected, whereas the king of England inherits his position. The president furthermore has only a qualified negative on legislative acts—i.e. his veto can be overturned—whereas the king has an absolute negative. Both the president and the king serve as commander in chief, but the king also has the power to raise and maintain armies—a power reserved for the legislature in America. The president can only make treaties with the approval of the Senate. The king can make binding treaties as he sees fit. Similarly, the president can only appoint officers with the approval of the Senate, whereas the king can grant whatever titles he likes. The powers of the president in terms of commerce and currency are severely limited, whereas the king is “in several respects the arbiter of commerce.” In many respects, the president would have less powers over his constituents than the governor of New York has over his.
As the first president of the United States, George Washington served from 1789 to 1797. Though he was born into Colonial Virginia gentry to a family of wealthy planters, he was a modest man when it came to claiming the boundaries of his authority as president. He believed quite clearly that the new nation that he helped established should be governed by the people.
In the 32 handwritten pages of his farewell address, Washington gave much advise to both the governed and those who would govern. He recognized the pitfalls of a party system, writing, “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”
He added, “It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position.”
Having endured the intrigues of several foreign powers during the Revolutionary War, Washington was cautious about international relationship. He advised, “Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government…. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.”
Human beings – and let’s be honest, we are speaking of the history of men – have struggled with forms of governance over the millennia since the time of Samuel. WWI was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. The trigger for the war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. The war drew in all the world’s economic great powers, assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies (the Russian Empire, the French Third Republic, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) versus the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Italy, Japan and the United States joined the Allies, while the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers.
At the outbreak of the war, the United States pursued a policy of non-intervention, avoiding conflict while trying to broker a peace. When the German U-boat U-20 sank the British liner RMS Lusitania on 7 May 1915 with 128 Americans among the dead, President Woodrow Wilson demanded an end to attacks on passenger ships, and Germany complied. However, after the sinking of seven US merchant ships by submarines and a revelation that Germany intended to support a Mexican war against the United States, Wilson called for war on Germany on 2 April 1917, which the US Congress declared 4 days later.
Over nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a result of the war (including the victims of a number of genocides). In the aftermath of the war, four empires disappeared: the German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian. Numerous nations regained their former independence, and new ones were created. The end of the war was formally effected with the Treaty of Versailles with Germany on 28 June 1919.
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded on 10 January 1920 as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. The diplomatic philosophy behind the League represented a fundamental shift from the preceding hundred years. The League ultimately proved incapable of preventing aggression by the Axis powers in the 1930’s. The credibility of the organization was weakened by the fact that the United States never officially joined the League and the Soviet Union joined late and only briefly.
The onset of the Second World War showed that the League had failed its primary purpose, which was to prevent any future world war. However, the League lasted for 26 years. After WWII, the United Nations (UN) replaced it.
The UN Charter was drafted at a conference between April–June 1945 in San Francisco, and was signed on 26 June 1945 at the conclusion of the conference; this charter took effect on 24 October 1945, and the UN began operation. At its founding, the UN had 51 member states; there are now 193. The headquarters of the UN is in Manhattan, New York City, and is subject to extraterritoriality. Further main offices are situated in Geneva, Nairobi, and Vienna. The organization is financed by assessed and voluntary contributions from its member states. Its objectives include maintaining international peace and security, promoting human rights, fostering social and economic development, protecting the environment, and providing humanitarian aid in cases of famine, natural disaster, and armed conflict. The UN is the largest, most familiar, most internationally represented and most powerful intergovernmental organization in the world. The UN’s mission to preserve world peace was complicated in its early decades by the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union and their respective allies.
Global economic relations have emerged that include a forum for the world’s major industrialized countries. The Group of Seven (also known as the G7) emerged before the 1973 oil crisis. On Sunday, 25 March 1973, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, George Shultz, convened an informal gathering of finance ministers from West Germany, France, and the United Kingdom before an upcoming meeting in Washington, D.C. The meeting was subsequently held in the White House library on the ground floor.
Today the G7 is a group consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These countries, with the seven largest advanced economies in the world, represent more than 62% of the global net wealth ($280 trillion). The G7 countries also represent more than 46% of the global gross domestic product (GDP) based on nominal values, and more than 32% of the global GDP based on purchasing power parity. The European Union is also represented at the G7 summit.
On 2 March 2014, the G7 condemned the “Russian Federation’s violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” On 4 June 2014 leaders at the G7 summit in Brussels, condemned Moscow for its “continuing violation” of Ukraine’s sovereignty, in their joint statement and stated they were prepared to impose further sanctions on Russia. This meeting was the first since Russia was expelled from the G8 following its annexation of Crimea in March.
At the G7 meeting this past week, the President of the United States has made some stunning comments that have furthered an alienation of our country from our historic allies by condemning the G7 group as irrelevant and insisting on the return of Russia to the group. It is known to us that Russia has egregiously interfered in our democratic processes, and the President’s choices reflect an increasingly disturbing position against both the ideals of western democracy and the interests of the American people.
The most revealing comment the President made was when he indicated that he would remove America from participation in the G7. He said, “Do what you want, we have a world to run.” I am not sure who “we” is, but I’m fairly certain that he doesn’t mean you and me, but rather the “strong men,” with whom he personally identifies – world leaders that tend towards autocracy and fascist dictatorship.
Make no mistake, the masculine imagery and patriarchal governance structures of history continue to inform our world order. European leaders attending the G7 were horrified. Several commented that they felt as though the formerly nurturing father role of America had become like that of an authoritarian and abusive father, one that rejected the sons previously claimed and supported.
The societal “king” described by Samuel and about which we are cautioned by George Washington is a man who does not value peace; it is a man who holds women and children and foreigners as subservient, it is a man who alienates the weak (the ill, the poor, the powerless); it is a man who values himself more than others, who sees in the world only what he can get from it and not what the world has to give to all; it is a man who believes that power is found in violence and threat of violence and the beating down of all those who would challenge him.
Christ offers a different model of what it is to be a man of power. Firstly, he was not threatened by women and children – they were included at his table along with phrases and Sadducees, royalty and homeless. He modeled himself after his own Father, the second version of a king that Samuel and God had discussed – a father who leads by the ultimate strength – the power to bring diverse peoples together, the power to heal grievous personal and social woundedness, the power to reconcile.
Jesus uses the language of a loving father, as coming from a place of nurture and love and encouragement, of forgiveness, forbearance and unconditional love. He models a different style of male leadership that is one of the Nurturant Parent, not the Stern Father – he came into the world to forgive sinners and love all of God’s children, not to condemn them to eternal damnation and judgement.
He did not come to create a position of power for himself on earth, or he would have made friends with Herod Antipas and Caiaphas. He would have been a friend of Empire. In point of fact, he quite intentionally presented a diametrically opposed version of God than the image of God of Israel had been until that point. He had only one law – Love your God with all your heart and mind and being and love your neighbor as yourself.
The image of radical inclusion that Jesus lived by was through the use of the table. He invites everyone to have a meal with him, none are excluded – he eats and talks with the wealthy, with Pharisees and Sadducees as readily as he eats with the poor and with women or the homeless or the ill and the marginalized. He includes everyone and is willing to teach anyone with hearts to listen and to “eat” and “drink” of the bread and wine he offers – all who hunger for God.
The transformative and eternal power he shared of the omnipotent God of all things was Love.
The king of heaven creates a new world based on love, founded in a mutual commitment to peace, existing for the good of the people and of Creation.
In a contemporary commentary on our current President of the United States, artist Tim O’Brien created this week’s cover of Time magazine. The cover art depicts the President wearing a business suit, as he looks into the mirror and sees himself enrobed and crowned as a king. This image is akin to Samuel’s fearful king who subjugates and extorts the people.
When Christ looks into the divine mirror of the Holy Spirit, he sees us – we are reflected in his sight as the image of God, the children of God. We the People of our God recognize in Christ the model of our true and loving father.
Christ lived his life showing his followers and his country and for all future generations that love is by far the greatest strength in a man. It is a power that goes beyond men, because it dwells as the holy spirit in the hearts of every man, woman and child of every community and nation and faith.
I believe, in the midst of all worldly trials, that love will rule. For Christ did not come into the world to run the world but to save it.
As a Mother of the Church, I say to you, to all men and women, to elders and to children, to the marginalized and the privileged – love one other and thereby, go out and save the world – in Christ’s name and for all peoples. We can and we will make a New Creation, through the ultimate power of Love.
NOTE: This sermon can be found as delivered on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAjkhuUgaik As I was giving the sermon, I edited out some of the content of the written version for the sake of time. So, the full content is included in this blog post.