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Holding up our words

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

May 11, 2019

Easter 4, Year C


In my first call, the rector decided that we needed a new photo director of all 2,000 members, and also that the new curate (me!) should take this on as my first task.  I studied our old one, and asked him if we could possibly make sure to publish all names in the new directory.  The one published two years before listed families only under the man’s name:  Mr and Mrs. John Smith, so it was hard to figure out women’s names.  

The rector was hesitant, and told me that this idea would no doubt sink the project.  It was a conservative church, he told me.  No one would like this.  Too much change!  People didn’t want to volunteer for this anyway, and with this sort of innovation?  Heavens, no.

With the hubris born of not knowing any better, I approached the two stately ladies who between them ran the ECW, the Annual Plant Sale, the Annual Peanut Sale, and the Altar Guild.  I explained the predicament to them, and my idea.  Would they like it to be easier to figure out names and faces of women in the church?  Within two days, those women had organized a rota, a schedule of volunteers to man the picture signups, and a group of women to call people to remind them of their appointments.  and lo, we had a new, all-names-listed directory inside of six months.

All of which is to say that there are a lot of different types of power, and the rector is only one type. When we only see that sort of explicit power, we miss a whole lot.

Tabitha, who makes her only appearance in Scripture in Acts today, is one such powerful person.  We don’t quite know who she is.  She sewed, clearly.  She made clothes.  But she wasn’t one of the apostles, Paul doesn’t list her as a church leader.  She doesn’t bankroll a ministry like Lydia will, she doesn’t go out and preach, she doesn’t write letters that become scriptures.  She….makes clothes?  That’s all we have.

And it’s not a lot, but the other intriguing clue we have is that she is described as a disciple in the Greek—the only time this word is applied to a woman in the NT.  (Note:  this is NOT the only time women acted like disciples, or went out to preach, or were demonstrably faithful.  We have the witness of Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Lydia, Phoebe, Junia, and others.  But this is the one woman who is given the Title of Disciple—which is significant.)  There is something about her which indicates the community hearing Acts would have known her as a remarkable follower of Jesus.  And that suspicion is confirmed when Peter races down to Joppa to resurrect her.—surely not a usual occurrence.  

Whatever she did, whoever she was, even though we don’t see her work, clearly she was very important.  Clearly, though unseen, she had a great influence.  And the Christian community valued her.

Now, we shouldn’t get overly starry-eyed about the early Christian community; they were better than the highly sexist Roman world, they were making progress, but they had a ways to go.  (I had a professor once that said depending on the gospel writers for feminism is somewhat like depending on Margaret Thatcher for advancing women’s rights—it kinda works, but as a strategy, it has some limitations.) 

 They still lived in a class- stratified world.  And goodness knows, they just argued with each other from jump.  However—what we see here is perhaps a moment of grace.  Where one who went unrecognized in the wider world is held up as worthy by the Christian community.  Someone who did quiet, largely unrecognized, yet faithful work is just as important as the ones who spoke in public all day long.  

It’s hard not to read this story this week and think of Rachel Held Evans.  The unassuming words of a young woman that she didn’t expect to amount to much, first posted on her blog, but ten years later, when she died, thousands upon thousands of us held them up to each other to mourn what we’d lost.  Politicians and presiding bishops wrote eulogies.  Think pieces appeared in the news to analyze her impact.  So many of my fellow female clergy gave Rachel credit for sending us to seminary in the first place.  All from her words, humble as they were, about what she thought about God and life.  

God wants us to use our words, our voices, however small we assume they are, because God needs all of us, sees all of us.  The parts of ourselves we assume to be insignificant, or broken, or even damaging, God needs because it fills in the wider picture of creation–and may be someone else’s connection to God.

About megancastellan

Episcopal priest, writer, wearer of fancy shoes.

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