Delivered at Ames UCC on April 29, 2018.
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
Please join us for worship at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.
A word of caution before I fully begin: Today I’m going to touch on violence against women.
If that is too raw a topic for you, too personal a pain, feel free to step outside into the beautiful air for ten minutes or go get some coffee in the Fellowship Hall. Do so knowing that you have done nothing to deserve the pain you have suffered, absolutely nothing. But I do hope you will come back for our song and prayer, for the good news of this community of peace, healing, and love.
Let’s all stand for a moment to stretch so that if anyone feels like leaving, she may do so unselfconsciously. Thank you.
Today Paul is in Athens, having left Philippi to continue his work of nurturing holy feast communities. That’s a 410-mile, or 118-hour, hike. Added to last week’s total, that’s at least 1,800 miles and 500 hours he’s gone for the love of God and God’s love of all people.
Athenians were known for their intellectual curiosity, so it is no surprise that outside of the Areopagus (the main administrative building) Paul finds people to engage with, in debate and conversation. The passage says that in addition to everyday Joes, Paul encounters followers of different philosophical schools.1
Paul calls attention to a local altar with an inscription that reads “To an unknown God.”
But God is known, Paul says. Look to Genesis he says. That is the God known and knowable by virtue of our existence here today. We may think we are searching for God, but God is always near. And God hopes we will return our attention to God. God hopes that we will finally return to the potential with which we are all gifted.
Humanity clearly has a very hard time with seeing each other as equally gifted of God, equally beloved of God.
As you know, in the week since we were last together, ten people were murdered and 15 injured by a man driving a van; he just plowed into them.
In some ways this event is unremarkable. Motor vehicles as weapons are becoming increasingly common. And the death toll was also not nearly as severe as in other terroristic events over this last year.
But this particular crime, this particular criminal, returned to light a vicious ideology promulgated online. In it, straight men who have not been sexually active rail against men who have been and the women who have “denied” them. Members of this “community” have encouraged each other to castrate sexually active men and to rape all women, among other things. In this online space, the Toronto van driver has been praised as a saint.
At the core of this ideology is entitlement: entitlement to the bodies of women. The men—and it is only men who promulgate this position—are angry because they have not gotten what they feel is rightly theirs. Which is not new: Entitlement to female bodies has been around as long as there have been females.
What is different with Toronto is the weaponization of the hate and the application of that weapon at a larger and random scale. This isn’t a stalker obsessed with one woman. This isn’t an ex-husband who goes on to kill an ex-wife. These are straight men who have become so obsessed with their lack of sex, and so unwilling to look to their own part in that reality, that they have made what they call “involuntary celibacy” the fault of all women, and so the death of any women will do.
Our own ideology, our religion, is not free from such violent misogyny. Just open the Bible. When the townspeople want to attack your houseguests? Send out your daughters to be raped instead. That’s the story of Sodom. Want a baby? Rape your slave. That’s Abraham and Hagar. And, really from the start, women are nothing but trouble for men. Just look at Eve tricking Adam into eating the forbidden fruit.
No. Let’s not. Let’s not give any more credence to that old lie. But do let’s go to Eden. Do let’s go to the God of Genesis as Paul suggests.
Please recall that Genesis is a theological exploration of the relationship between the world and divinity, not a biology textbook, so please hear the following as metaphor.
In Eden, in the garden, God makes a rather queer being, the adam. The adam is queer in the sense that it was, as yet, unusual and unique in its nature. It was also queer in the sense that it contained all manner and potential of human gender, and biological, and sexual expression.
Into the adam God breathes life. Then God invites the adam to split, to serve as the original chromosomal pair, and so we have male and female. And we can say now that was just the first division. Biology is not so binary.
Things go well for awhile in Eden. Then they don’t.
A being of God’s own creating, a snake, a fellow God-born garden-dweller approaches the female and the male. It invites the female to eat a pomegranate. She does. She invites the male to do the same. He does.
The two feel ashamed as they hear God coming toward them through the garden. God learns what has happened and is upset. The humans are banished. In their banishment, the male and female have children, two boys. One of those boys grows up to kill the other.
It’s a mess. Our story about the relationship between holiness and humanity is of initial unity with God quickly destroyed by forces we could not resist, immaturity we could not conquer, and emotions we could not contain.
Forces we cannot resist, immaturity we cannot conquer, and emotions we cannot contain: sounds just like the Internet, doesn’t it?
DOESN’T HAVE TO
But it doesn’t have to.
That’s the story of Genesis: This world doesn’t have to sound, feel, and act like Eve, Adam, Cain, and Abel. It does not have to include male supremacism, nor any of the other hierarchies of hate.
Adam blames Eve for his choice. He does not take responsibility for his own actions. He could have. He could have been honest about what he had done without pointing a finger at her.
Cain is jealous of his brother Abel God says to Cain,
Why are you angry…sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you but you must master it. (Genesis 4.6–7)
Cain could have kept that creature at the door and spared his brother’s life its rage.
And before all of that, Eve and Adam could have remembered that they were never alone in the garden.
The story says that only after eating the apple do Eve and Adam hear God walking toward them. This makes God sound more like a superhuman being rather than a literally universal life force.
Since that is not possible, it must be that in the time it took for the snake to get their attention, the humans forgot about God. For a brief moment their senses became so narrow that they lost their awareness of God’s constant presence. That same constant presence Paul preached on at the Areopagus. That same God that is known and knowable, ever ready for the return of our attention.
Genesis is an exceptional book because of the accuracy, not of its geology and biology, but of its depiction of the human condition: We blame, we get jealous, we kill. Look at Toronto.
But it grounds that depiction in a unity with each other, the queer adam from whence we all come and whose legacy of divine breath we all yet breathe. Whatever else is in the Bible, whatever else we need to banish from being promoted as religious truth, in the beginning we were equal, we were one.
God is still calling us to return to that potential with which we are all gifted. So we must teach our children that the only body they may claim is their own and never believe anyone who tells them differently.
And we need to do both in the name of the God of Genesis with as much fervor and intensity as all of the people online combined. If Paul could spread God’s good news by walking for thousands of miles without the benefit of real shoes, imagine how far we can go.
Let me end by saying that if you, any of you, of any sex, of any gender, have ever been assaulted and need to speak of the violence you’ve endured, you can tell me or Pr. Hannah. And if you are currently being hurt in your home or elsewhere, do tell me or Pr. Hannah. Together, be assured, we will get you free.
As for the rest of us, let us not be distracted by the snakes of misogyny. Let us join with the real saints in light in the public square, at city hall, in our schools, at our workplaces, to share the good news of our equality and our unity in God. That is our human story, that is our human song.
1 Levine, Amy-Jill, ed. 2011. Jewish Annotated New Testament Oxford: Oxford University Press.