By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
Hanscom Park UMC
February 25, 2018
Scripture: Mark 14:1-11
Well, it is the moment that you have all been waiting for… or perhaps the moment you’ve been fearing…depending upon your perspective. Ever since that crazy bishop decided to appoint a woman at Hanscom Park church, I know you have all been waiting for me to use the F-word. You know, the F-word…feminist. Well, today is your lucky day! I know. You’re excited. Or very concerned. But hey, at least it will be interesting, right?
Today’s scripture is my favorite feminist scripture in the bible. And by feminist, I simply mean it’s a scripture that encourages women – and I think all of us – to participate fully in ministry.
I first learned about this scripture in seminary. Let me set the scene for you: I’m sitting at my desk reading the whole Gospel of Mark as an assignment. And I’ve made it to chapter 14. To be honest, I’m just trying to get through it at this point. So I start reading this story, and I get to this line of Jesus’ where he is talking about this woman who anointed him. He says, “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
I literally stand up, and I look at my bible like “What the heck did I just read?” So I sit down and read it again. “Truly, I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
And then I think I yelled something like, “HOLY COW!” I was so excited. I mean. Holy cow. Here is Jesus honoring this woman and saying she should be remembered wherever the gospel is proclaimed. Wow! So I ran out, and I told Matt, and he was like, “Settle down, Chris.” And I told Ruby and she was like, “Okay, Mom.” She was 7.
I was just super excited. But then I got to thinking about it. Jesus said that everywhere the gospel is proclaimed, what she has done should be told in remembrance of HER. Well, then why the heck am I just reading about it now? I mean, I had been a part of Christian churches for a good 20+ years at this point, and I have never heard anyone tell this story.
So now I’m ticked.
And I tell Matt, and he’s like “settle down, Chris.” And I tell Ruby, and she’s like “Okay, Mom.”
And once I settle down, I begin to think about and research how this could have happened. Jesus said this woman should be remembered wherever the gospel is preached. So how could she be forgotten? That’s when I learned about what I like to call the giant patriarchal eraser. It’s like one of those huge oversized pink erasers you can find in novelty stores – and it’s a metaphor for how a tradition that wanted to keep women out of leadership conveniently erased these kinds of stories from the biblical narrative.
In the case of this story, the gospel writer of Luke re-wrote the story, described the woman a sinner, put her at Jesus’ feet crying instead of his head, and took out Jesus’ admonition to remember her. And THAT’s the version of this story the tradition has chosen to emphasize – despite Mark’s version being earlier, and Matthew including Mark’s version in his gospel as well. The church simply chose to ignore Jesus’ words, so it wouldn’t have to deal with Jesus honoring this woman in such a profound way.
So why does Jesus honor her? Simply put, it’s because she gets Jesus. She understands who he is and what his mission is, and we know she understands it because Jesus says aloud, “She has anointed me for my burial.” See all through the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ male disciples don’t get it. At every turn, they resist Jesus telling them that he is not the kind of Messiah they were hoping for. They simply don’t want to acknowledge that suffering and death are part of the deal. But this woman is the first person to acknowledge that Jesus is going to die, and so she offers herself in service by anointing Jesus.
This anointing takes place on the Wednesday of Holy Week. The other early weekdays of Holy Week help us to know more about who Jesus is, and what his mission is, as well. On Monday, he goes into the temple and flips the tables of the money-changers and the dove-sellers. According to Borg and Crossan in their book on The Last Week, he does this not because having money in the temple is a problem in general – but because the temple has become a place where people go to put on airs of being holy and righteous, but they are not actually living out their piety by helping the poor. Their religion has become a way for them to feel better about themselves, even as they benefit from and prop up unjust systems. Jesus’ table flipping is an act in the footsteps of the prophet Jeremiah. It is a sort-of symbolic tearing down of the temple – telling the people that if they keep acting this way, God is going to destroy their beloved place of worship.
You can probably imagine that this did not make the religious authorities who were in cahoots with the oppressing empire very happy. So on Tuesday, Jesus has a series of interactions with these religious authorities. In each interaction, they are trying to trap or undermine Jesus by asking him theological questions. And each time, Jesus manages to rhetorically flip the tables on them, too. He proves his own faithfulness and exposes the authorities’ hypocrisy. And he does it in front of crowds of people. The authorities know they can’t arrest him with so many supporters around, and so they just have to put up with his criticisms.
Like Palm Sunday, these early weekdays of Holy Week give us insight into who Jesus is. On Monday, Jesus is a provocateur, staging this big demonstration to get his point across. On Tuesday, Jesus is a wise and wily debater. Whether by flipping tables or verbally outmaneuvering the authorities, he is not afraid to confront injustice, even if it means confronting those who seemingly hold all the power. And he knows how and what to do and say to make sure it has maximum effect. Jesus is bold, and he is wise.
I submit that these early days of Holy Week tell us that to serve Jesus, to be like Jesus, we have to be bold and wise. And the story of the woman anointing Jesus tells us that each of us has particular gifts that enable us to be bold and wise like Jesus. The fact that this woman was a woman is what made her able to serve Jesus in the way she did. Because of the patriarchal culture of ancient Judea, she couldn’t be one of Jesus’ disciples in the sense that the twelve could. There were actually a number of wealthy women in the gospels who supported Jesus’ ministry financially even when they couldn’t be part of his inner circle. What this woman did was take the very specific gifts she had – her womanhood and her wealth – and she served Jesus with all of it.
Maybe that’s why he praises her and wants her to be remembered every time the gospel is proclaimed. Because in order to serve Jesus, you don’t have to be a man who fits a certain mold. You just have to serve Jesus out of the abundance of who you are. Whatever your identity, you can be like and serve Jesus extravagantly, not in spite of who you, but because of who you are.
My friend and mentor Pastor Vicki Flippin preached one time about the difference between being accepted in spite of who we are, and being embraced because of who we are. Pastor Vicki is a young woman. She is bi-racial (her mom is white; her dad is ethnically Chinese). She is an unapologetic voice for inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church. And she told us about her first pastoral appointment in a suburban New York City church. By all accounts, it was a good appointment. And the people there accepted her in spite of her being a woman, in spite of her being young, in spite of her pushing the church to be more inclusive. She was bold, and she was wise. But she always was serving Jesus in spite of who she was.
And then she came to Church of the Village in New York City, and they accepted her and LOVED her because she was a woman, because she was biracial, because she was an unapologetic voice for inclusion. And that’s when she really was able to serve Jesus out of the abundance of WHO she was. When she was fully embraced and empowered to serve Jesus and serve the church from that place, well, it was a sight to behold.
And I am so happy to share with you that I feel that way here at Hanscom Park. As you may know, I just happened to be getting my picture taken for our Wall o’ Pastors this very same week that I was planning to preach on the woman who anointed Jesus. Folks, there are 130 years of male pastors on that wall, and I am the first woman. Now, as you can probably guess, there are some churches who to this day have a real problem with women pastors – even in our United Methodist system. I’m on a Methodist Clergy Moms Facebook group, and you would be shocked to hear about some of the struggles folks share about being clergy women in churches that do not affirm them.
That is why I am so grateful for this place. I have told some of you this, but I want you all to know that your acceptance and affirmation of who I am has been transformative for me. By being excited with me about me being your first clergy woman, you are empowering me to be the best possible follower of Jesus I can be. So I can be bold like him. So I can be wise like him. So I can take risks like him. And above all, so I can be loving like him.
And it is my goal that I will always do the same for you: to help you each see how you are uniquely and beautifully made to follow Jesus and serve him extravagantly. And as a community, we are uniquely called to follow Jesus and serve him extravagantly together.
So hear this: to follow Jesus and to serve Jesus, you do not need to be anyone else but who you are! You are loved, you are gifted, and you are enough. And I am never going to stop reminding you of that.
Because together with all our unique gifts fully embraced, you know what we are going to do?
We are going to be bold like Jesus. We are going to be wise like Jesus.
We are going to take risks like Jesus. And above all, we are going to be loving like Jesus.
And we are going to change the world.
Thanks be to God!