Jan.16, 2022 Isaiah 62:1-7; 10-12
You have identified four women leaders to serve God as elders elected to our session. Thankfully, those same four women leaders have felt called by God to serve at this time—they said yes! Today we will ordain Ernestine Alston to the office of ruling elder, and install her, Jamie Wilkins, Johnnie Summers, and Stella Ngang. It is a special joy for me to see three of them returning to service—even though they know what to expect. They know the kind of commitment they are making, they know the satisfaction and pride at working with their fellow elders to reach wise and careful decisions affecting the life of our church family. And we have one woman who has been a member here for about half a century agreeing to serve God in this new way! You see, you can learn and do new things even when you are in the third age of life, as our Cuban family describes the life stage of being a wise, experienced senior citizen.
It is fitting that we welcome in these four women to leadership positions in our church family on the Sunday that I begin using the Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church by Wilda Gafney. Gafney is an Episcopal priest, a Hebrew scholar and one who delves into the scriptures from a woman’s perspective. She has created a new lectionary which tells the stories of scripture with a focus on the stories of women, named or unnamed, or present but obscured in the translation. Following a tradition from medieval times, there are multiple lectionaries available today, each one assigning multiple texts to each Sunday of the year so that listeners are exposed to a broad swath of the Biblical story and not just to the preacher’s favorite texts. So common is lectionary use that more than half of the 2 billion plus Christians in the world get their exposure to scripture in worship through a lectionary and the preacher’s selection of the passages assigned for that day. Most Presbyterian preachers use the Revised Common Lectionary, which was established in 1992. It is a three-year cycle, covering one of the synoptic Gospels each year, and sprinkling the gospel of John in throughout each year. Four texts are assigned for each Sunday, an Old Testament, a Psalm, a Gospel, and a New Testament reading. During my tenure here, I have also used the 4-year cycle of the newer Narrative Lectionary, which covers one gospel each year, following the story straight through the gospel instead of jumping around, with Old Testament stories included in the summer. There is also an African American Lectionary and a Roman Catholic Lectionary. Put together by the Consultation on Common Texts with representatives from 20 Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations in the US and Canada, the lectionary cannot include every story in the Bible, and that group of consultants, mostly men, had to make choices about what to include.
I am excited to explore the scriptures in a different way, looking more closely at the places where women are included. Because Gafney has a fresh translation, we will mostly be using her translations for the scriptures this year, at times laying her translation side by side with our familiar New Revised Standard Version. This morning our passage comes from what is usually called 3rd Isaiah, written to the people of Israel after the exile but before the temple had been rebuilt. The Hebrew is filled with feminine pronouns and feminine endings on the words that just get covered up in our English translations. Gafney opens them up for us so that we more clearly hear these words to God’s daughter Jerusalem. In many languages, cities are referred to in the feminine form, and Hebrew writers are no exception. Following the use of daughter all the way through makes the words of the passage resonate with not only the people of Jerusalem, but all daughters of God.
Listen: “You, daughter, shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of God Most High, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. Daughter, no more shall you be called Forsaken, and no more shall your land be called Devastated; but you shall be called My Delight is in Her, and your land, Married; for the FAITHFUL GOD delights in you, and your land shall be married.” Think for a moment how those words must have fallen into the ears of the people of Jerusalem. She had felt forsaken by God in a time of exile. And she bore the guilt of her errant ways which led to her exile. Her land, her identity, her place of refuge, had been devastated and destroyed. The words of hope through the prophet must have made their hearts skip a beat. Instead of being forsaken, she will be renamed. Now Jerusalem will be called “My Delight is in Her”. The Hebrew is Hepzibah—perhaps you have heard of churches taking that name. It is a name of hope, a name that boosts self-image (whether it belongs to a church or a city or an individual), a name that highlights the value God places on HER. The idea that God delights in you, people of Jerusalem; that God delights in you–women and men, transgender and children–of Baltimore or Cuba, of Kenya or Kazakhstan.
I invite you to grab ahold of that, daughter Baltimore. Can you believe that God delights in Baltimore as a city? With the news of this past week about federal indictments of our district attorney, with the high number of homicides that have almost become “just the way things are here”, with the neighborhoods filled with dilapidated or forsaken houses, the list goes on. Does God delight in Baltimore today? I do believe God delights in us, but not in how we are living or operating or treating one another and God’s creation. Maybe it can be compared to your parent who loves you even when she is not delighting in your current action—lying, stealing, throwing a screaming fit, hurting your brother, refusing to go to bed. A mother loves her child even though. Even though the child is not living up to the mother’s expectations. Even though she is disappointed in behavior, she continues to delight in her child. Perhaps you saw the post on our Facebook page this week. Craig offered some reflections on the new Disney animated movie, Encanto. It is a fanciful, colorful movie filled with a Latin beat and catchy songs. “Encanto,” the best I can translate the sense of the word from the Spanish is “a beloved place of wonder”. Literally it is “an enchanted place.” One of the lessons learned by the family in the movie is that love is the foundation for a family even though. It could be said that they learned to delight in one another for who they are and not for what they can do. I will leave it at that and encourage you to watch it yourself.
Isaiah is clear about the way God feels about his daughter Jerusalem. Gafney does a beautiful job using a wide variety of divine names for God that deepen our understanding. One she uses here is FAITHFUL GOD. She follows the practice found in other English translations that uses all caps for the divine name LORD, setting aside the name as sacred, special, and unique. So, God’s name is case sensitive! As we explore this women’s lectionary in the coming months, we will discover many different names for God. In this passage there are several: LIVING GOD. FAITHFUL GOD. GOD WHO SAVES. GOD WHO SEES. I am so grateful that our God is the kind of God who never stops delighting in her daughter, even though. The prophet declares that he will not keep silent, that he will not stop proclaiming the truth until others see it as well, until others naturally begin to use her new name, Hepzibah, My Delight is in Her, until others observe that her land is no longer Devastated—alone, weak, hopeless, but now it is Married—connected, strong and full of hope.
So what would be a new name for Baltimore? It is worth pondering. What name would our FAITHFUL GOD give to our city? And how might she live into a new name? Could it be a name that would make neighboring cities and the rest of our state notice something different about her? It would have to describe a new reality. A name replacing Bodymore, which is a putdown based on the pervasive violence. A name replacing Charm City, which was a hope to attract new life. A name replacing the grandiose claim, Greatest City in America. I would love to hear your suggestions. I hope for something like “City of Love” or “Beloved” or “Peacekeeper”, names which are stark contrasts with how we describe ourselves today.
And what would be a new name for you? When you feel forsaken or devastated, when you feel like you are in a pressure cooker about to burst, you too need a new name. You need a name of hope that you can live into, that marks a change you are looking for in your own life. That one is up to you and to our FAITHFUL GOD. That one depends on your acceptance that God is faithful, that God delights in you, even though. Amen.