Reflection for Sunday – May 5, 2024

Readings: Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1 John 4: 7-10; John 15: 9-17
Preacher: Susan Howard

Divine Love, a love that is so complete and self-giving that it is bigger than life itself. That is the love that Jesus embodied; it is the love that Jesus hoped we all would embrace and make room for in our own hearts.

Divine love is different from eros, or romantic love, this Greek word form is not found anywhere in the New Testament. The love mentioned 16 times in today’s readings is more like agape love, love that demands the sacrifice of one’s own life. In Jesus’s case this was a literal self-sacrifice. For us it might be the kind of love that enables us to make self-sacrifices of our time and energy for the good of others such as parents, siblings, children of elderly parents, even as nurses, doctors, teachers, firefighters, police officers and all the public servants who make others’ safety and well-being a priority in their lives.

I would like to share some insights I have gleaned from today’s readings and how they relate to workings of the Holy Spirit in the lives of women. Many of you have heard that there is a movement that is taking root in the universal church to open a pathway for women to become deacons. In many parts of the world women are already doing the work of deacons. In our own Diocese there are women who have doctorate or Masters of Divinity degrees (similar to the education of Deacons) or degrees in ministry and religious education, or those with a divine desire to serve, who are doing the work of a deacon. They are visiting the sick and taking Holy Communion to people at home and hospitals, presiding at Communion services, services at funeral homes and leading graveside prayers. They also create and support outreach programs and services and are spiritual support for the volunteers and staff who work in these programs.

Where does that kind of love for service come from? Is it not a gift bestowed by God not only on the person but on the community?

If that is the case, then why do we reserve the title and holy ordination into the service of the Church for men only? It is just unfathomable. When Peter has his vision of the tablecloth full of food coming down from Heaven (a scripture passage that occurs just before today’s readings) God tells him that all the foods that He has created are clean. Peter comes to realize—and God has prepared his mind and heart to realize—that all the people who eat this foreign or religiously outlawed food are also part of his Kingdom. That the religious laws have been too restrictive and rigid. That the laws have kept God’s holy people away from the full source of God’s love and mercy. Is that what our Church laws are still doing today? In today’s reading from Acts we see that Peter convinces the other disciples that they have been wrong about the Gentiles, that the mercy and forgiveness and love of God are not theirs to restrict.

But it’s more than that. The work of the Church—building the Kingdom of God — needs more hands. The priests who are in short supply cannot do all this work on their own—attending to the people in the pews, to the people on the street, and to those who request membership. They need trusted and authorized people to share the load.

So why am I, a woman in modern times, one hundred and five years past the May 19,1919 ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, Woman’s Right to Vote, still held back by religious laws? And more to the point, why do I stay?

Here is my answer: I follow God’s command to love one another. I have been chosen and appointed by God to bear this fruit of my faith. I don’t need the Church’s laws to embrace my own calling. I have been confirmed in my faith, I have been redeemed, and I have been found righteous. I’m not even sure I want to participate in the hierarchy of the Church, not this Church that wields its power so thoughtlessly. No, I will carry on, live my faith day by day, and pray that someday the work of women in the Church will be recognized and incorporated into an equal share of God’s graces bestowed by anointing.  If you asked the community of believers right now, they would agree.

Sue Howard
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