In my nine months serving as the vice moderator of the 221st General Assembly of the PC(USA), I’ve been talking a lot about the Syrophoenician woman. Here’s a link to the sermon I gave at Princeton Theological Seminary and a written version from a visit to the Presbytery of Wabash Valley.
I’m not letting her go because I don’t think that she has anything to say to the Church. I’m letting go because she and I have been journeying together for a year now, wrestling and grappling with what it means to be a driven person of faith in a world that would rather cast off challenges and embrace the easier path. I think there are new places to walk toward. But before I let her go, I want to lift up a few reminders of what she stands for:
1. We have got to get out of our own way. I know there are to-do lists that grow each day and we are daunted that our membership numbers are dwindling, but the solution isn’t just in us. We can’t forget the covenant that God has made…and that covenant might be growing, expanding, and reaching out farther than we ever imagined! We’ve got to take the hands and feet that we keep in constant motion and remember to lift them up to God.
2. We can’t miss the big picture. There will always be another fire to put out, a vote to cast, a division to be created in the Church. These range from allowing pastors to officiate at same-gender weddings to being annoyed that the three year old in the pew next to you is being distracting in worship again. If only the church weren’t made up of people! However, the minute we let issues define who we are, then we have lost our mission as the whole body of the Church.
3. When we turn the page or wake up to a new day, we still have to figure out how to be the Church together. The decently and in order way that we, Presbyterians, love to do our work does not mean that we know how to live together or that a vote will mean that we can automatically move on. The harder road is to wake up each new day committed to reaching across the table and loving those who are our “enemies” or the ones we deem as “other.” It’s coming back to the Table if things didn’t go our way (OR if they did!) and sharing a meal together because we value the whole body.
4. Like Jesus, we can get so steeped in what we think needs to be done that we miss out on the needs right in front of our eyes. Yes, buildings need tending and that Bible study is faltering, but there is a whole world outside of our doors too. The world may be kneeling right at our feet but we’re missing it because we’re focused on what needs to get done first. It’s not about putting our houses in order before we reach out to others…that’s giving others the scraps from the Table.
5. Women understand what it means to be pushed from the Table, underestimated, undervalued, and silenced…but we still came/come over and over again for our seat. Women are still paid less, judged against stereotypes, and criticized for “wanting to have it all.” We’re told to lean in or lean back, judged for speaking up, criticized for what we wear to work, and called a _____ if we’re too assertive. I am so thankful for every single woman who has gone before me, those who walk alongside me, and those who are discerning who God has called them to be. We not only pull up a seat for ourselves, but we remember to pull up a seat for others.