THEOLOGY

BEING A WOMAN OF GOD

{This was presented to the Daughters of the King Chapter at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Delmar, New York on October 7, 2019.}

A little girl reported at home what she had learned at Sunday School concerning the creation of Adam and Eve: “The teacher told us how God made the first man and the first woman. He made the man first. But the man was very lonely with nobody to talk to him. So, God put the man to sleep. And while the man was asleep, God took out his brains, and made a woman of them.” Always start with a joke, I was taught.

Let me begin by telling you a little bit about myself. I was born in Petersburg, Virginia way long time ago and after high school I attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. I married while still in school and when I graduated, we moved to Atlanta where, because I had majored in Philosophy for lack of anything better, I just got a “pay-the-bills” job. We then moved to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi where I was over-qualified for everything so I continued working just to make ends meet. Our next move was to Jackson, Mississippi where my newest job was secretary of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral. It didn’t take long for me to let the organist know how much I loved to sing and soon he offered to pay my babysitter if I would come and sing in the choir.

StAndrews-Jackson_December_2018_31_St._Andrews_Episcopal_Cathedral
St. Andrew’s Cathedral

I was ecstatic and spent the next 3 years getting reacquainted with my beloved Episcopal Church. Being a cradle Episcopalian, I had grown up going to church every Sunday, but college and a non-Episcopalian husband had interrupted my faithful attendance record. After a quick move back to Atlanta, our marriage ended amicably and Scott, my son, and I moved back to Petersburg where I tried to pick up at the same church with the same kids I had known all my life. But suddenly I was like a stranger. Not only was I “County Girl” who attended county schools, now I was divorced. They rebuffed all my efforts to renew old friendships so I just stopped going but, God had gotten into my soul and had other plans for me; therefore, I needed to find a place to worship.

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church

So, we went to the new church across the river which had been a mission from my home church so I knew some of the founders of St. Michael’s. On a hot Sunday in June, Scott and I found our new church home. I was greeted with open arms by the choir members from my old church and the next week I was a member of the choir. It didn’t take long for the Rector to get me involved in the youth program and within a few months I was the leader of the youth group which was very active in the Diocesan Youth Program and before I knew it, I was hooked. I loved the retreats with their lively music, casual but moving communion services, and the welcoming community of teenagers and their sponsors, all led by a quietly dynamic and loving Director of Youth Programs for the Diocese. It was only 4 years later that I felt called by God to go to seminary so I could teach young people about God. I hadn’t learned anything in all my years in church and I felt totally inadequate to the job I felt God pulling me to do for him.

Today I stand before you an ordained priest of 33 years, a graduate of one of the top seminaries in the church, a pretty good preacher if I do say so myself, and a Bible scholar. I went through years of jumping through hoops, preparing for a vocation that both terrified and excited me, and living out my dream that started when I was just 5 years old, sitting in the pew with my grandmother and wishing I was a boy so I could carry the cross and grow up to be a man so I could do what the minister was doing and wear one of those beautiful and colorful scarves. Let me ask you a question – how many of you have ever thought of yourself as a Child of God?  During all those years growing up and living as an Episcopalian and then growing into a dedicated priest in God’s church, I never thought of myself as a Child of God. Somehow, I never quite heard that basic description of all of us – a Child of God. Somewhere deep inside I must have known that we were all children of God, created and endowed with the nature of God. But I never remember hearing the term Child of God.

Now, I’m all grown up and I have realized that I’ve never heard the phrase nor have I ever thought of myself as a Woman of God. Now listen to the definition I found of a Woman of God – a Woman of God is first and foremost a daughter of God and is also a woman who seeks to know the Word of God, to commune with God in prayer, to obey God’s command to love each other, and to present herself in the world as a work in progress, a masterpiece of God’s, saved by His grace through faith, and becoming more like Jesus as she seeks to know Him and obey Him and tell the world about Him. That’s quite a list so let’s look at them more closely.

Now when I look back on my journey through the church, I realize that I am indeed a daughter of God – I’m his Child and since I’m female, that makes me his daughter. I like that. But more importantly, I am struck by how my life has all been about making me into a Woman of God. Once I was introduced to God’s word in Scripture in youth group retreats, I became voracious. I couldn’t get enough of God’s word as we delved into life and how the Bible speaks to us of how we are to live as Christians. When I got to seminary, I was almost overwhelmed by how much I didn’t know and so how much there was to learn. While some students who were encouraged to attend an Old Testament tutorial were insulted, I couldn’t wait to jump into that. I knew my limitations and I knew how scripturally-illiterate I was so I took every opportunity I could to learn how to learn all over again in such a way that I could make sense out of God’s word. It seemed hopeless, but finally I got the hang of it and at the end of the semester, I found myself with a B in Old Testament. I was ecstatic – I felt like I knew the basic foundation of our Christian faith and was more than ready to jump into the New Testament. I was just beginning to know the Word of God.

I grew up in the 50’s in a traditional church where people who prayed out loud, except if they had a prayer book in front of them, were considered to be suspicious. People who said “Jesus” in normal conversation were also suspect and people who talked about how much they prayed and what they prayed about were like someone from outer space. We said the grace at meals, mostly dinner, but I never remember saying prayers before bed, I never remember my parents ever praying and certainly ever talking about it. So, I had no idea what a prayer life was. I thought we prayed with our prayer book and that was all that was necessary. It wasn’t until Spiritual Theology class that I heard about such things as spiritual meditation, spending time with God, and actually telling God what you’ve done, what you’re thinking, what you need, and how you feel. I had never done any of those things and had no idea how to go about it. I had severed my ACL in high school so couldn’t even kneel – how could an Episcopalian pray without kneeling for heaven’s sake! So, I was out of my element, to say the least. But, as before, I persevered and listened and learned and slowly began to develop some idea of what a prayer life is. Very, very slowly I learned that I wasn’t going to sound like an idiot if I prayed out loud to God, even if I could ever get up the nerve to pray out loud in front of others. I have to tell you, that as hard as I’ve worked on this, and as old as I am, I still cringe a little inside when I’m asked to pray out loud. I can do grace because my father always said the same one and I learned it so well, I can still spout it off at the drop of a hat. Bless this food to our use and us to your faithful service. Amen. But to make up one on the fly – it was a long time before I could even attempt it. All of this is to say that this part of being a Woman of God doesn’t come naturally to all of us, especially Episcopalians. Unless you’re taught at home at an early age, praying is something we develop as we grow up. We go from “Please bless Mommy and Daddy…” to “Now I lay me down to sleep…” to “God, I don’t know how to do this, but…” to my favorite prayer, “Help!” and everything in between. Finally, we find our way to more comfortable and intimate ways of communing with God and then we know a little bit more about being a Woman of God.

Loving each other was always problematic for me because, like most kids, love meant stuff we only heard about, were scared of, and didn’t even want to think about, much less do. I didn’t even know what love meant. I never thought about loving my family – they were just there and I knew I didn’t want to ever be without them around me. There was love in all that but I couldn’t articulate it. As I grew up and became aware of boys and then grew up some more and actually decided I loved someone enough to marry him, I began to get an inkling about what love was but it was certainly not something I wanted to think about with friends, or classmates, or anybody else I knew, much less with neighbors, or the homeless, or my enemies. Love was just for men and women to live together for the rest of their lives and I didn’t have a clue how to love all those other people, some of whom I didn’t even like or worse. I must say I didn’t think about it much but when you’re studying the New Testament, you can’t help but think about love. Well, when I finally got it was when we learned that there are 7 Greek words for love as it is translated in our Bible. There is eros – man/woman love; there is philia – deep friendship love – some call it family love; to name a few, and then there is agapé. Agapé is the love that is mostly talked about in the New Testament and it means “doing love” or, as some call it “Christian love.” Agapé means giving without counting the cost, caring without judging, and loving unconditionally. Agapé is what Jesus meant when he said, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” As Christians, it’s what we are called to do in everyday life – give, care, and love. And, more importantly, it’s what people see when they look at a Woman of God.

If you have ever given your last dollar to the homeless man outside of Wal-Mart, you have practiced agapé. If you have ever visited an inmate in prison and listened to his story with a caring heart instead of a judgmental mind, you have practiced agapé. If you have ever stood beside a friend who has done wrong, speaking reassurance that “you may have done a bad thing but that doesn’t make you a bad person,” then you have practiced agapé. Every time you bring food for the food pantry or school supplies, every time you participate in the St. Francis dinners, every time you knit a lap robe for the sick, every time you visit the sick or dying in the hospital, you are practicing agapé. As members of the Daughters of the King, you practice agapé as you live out your commitment to serve Christ and the community. You are practicing “doing love” – loving one another through doing something to help them and to show your Christian love for them. That’s one more thing that identifies us as Women of God.

One of the articles on my website is called “God’s Still Working On Me.” That phrase comes from a song we used to sing in youth group of the same name. It goes like this:

God's Still Working on Me

He’s still working on me to make me what I ought to be.
It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars,
The Sun and the Earth and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and patient He must be, He’s still working on me.

There really ought to be a sign upon my heart,
Don’t judge me yet, there’s an unfinished part.
But I’ll be perfect just according to His plan
Fashioned by the Master’s loving hands. And it goes on…

This is what it means to present ourselves as a work in progress – we are living in a world knowing that we aren’t perfect – that God is indeed still working on us. Yes, we are a masterpiece of God’s creation, made in his image but notice that does not mean that we are exact copies – if we were, we’d all be God and that would be a mess for sure. What it does mean is that we are made of good stuff – God’s stuff – stuff he used to make the most precious creature in his world. So, we aren’t fluff or just any old lint or sand he picked up off the primordial earth. We are his holy dust – his purest and most loved particles of his created earth and so we too are all a Child of God and as adult females, we are all Women of God.

And when we present ourselves in the world, knowing God’s word, knowing our God personally, knowing that our God sent his only Son to save us all from ourselves and the evil in the world, and that we are saved for all eternity, we are offering ourselves to the world as Women of God. And the more we remind ourselves and each other of this holy designation, the more we show everybody around us that we are becoming more like Jesus as we seek to know Him and obey Him. With every offered hand, with every offered prayer, with every offered gift, we become more like Jesus, we speak his Word, and with everything we learn about God and Jesus and what they have called us to be, we become more and more what God made us to be – Women of God. Amen.

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