Delivered April 19, 1999
Hush! Can you hear them yet?
Hush! The women of the tomb whisper across time and space to a waiting people, a groaning people, a people who yearn to know the truth.
“It’s all true they whisper. Every word of it is true. Jesus lived and died and raised for all.”
Life is all about crossing the boundaries with hope, vision and words as the dreamers, visionaries and voice of solidarity. We take our cues from God made real in the world. From God made real in the words of scripture and from the communities of witness of which we are each a part. We must strive no longer to be afraid to break it down and write it out.
Audre Lorde, in her essay “The Transformation of Language into Silence and Action,” talks about the problem with keeping our dreams and vision and words inside of us. She says “Of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of my topic and my difficulty with it, said, ‘Tell them about how you are never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there is always that one piece inside you that wants to spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just jump up and punch you in the mouth from the inside.”
Of course the women at the tomb were afraid. They were filled with the same kind of fear Lorde refers to in her essay. Yet they were not only afraid. Not only did terror seize them, but amazement too. Our ancestors in faith, these women of old, knew the truth and yet could not find the words to tell the world. It is the unsettling ending of Mark and the one I prefer to believe. I believe it because of the wonder and terror and amazement I feel in me each time I tell the story.
I can tell the story because that first story declared all humanity saved. Through the angel, Jesus sent this message for all the world for all time. Throughout the Gospel of Mark, much was revealed through outsiders and mediated through Christ. Now God through Christ was mediating his redemptive message of salvation for all through the voices of these women. The outsiders did get it. They had gotten in right all the time.
What does it say to us if the supposed “outsiders” are the one who have it now? What is our role as very educated insider-type folks?
I think it says LISTEN. You see, just because the women kept silent then, that does not mean they never shared the message. The more I work with those who are on the margin of our well-ordered society, the more I believe that the women at the tomb-Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome- whisper across time and share the truth of the Gospel story with the women and girl children and boy children and men who unexpectedly call us to truth, as the Syrophoenician woman herself called Jesus to truth.
HEAR THE VOICES OF…
…the senior citizen who is discounted because she does not move as fast this world pushes us to move. There is life in her…life she deserves to live abundantly…if you ask and listen you never know what she will share…I have a card on my wall with a quote from Gloria Steinem that reads…”Some day an army of gray haired women will quietly take over the earth”…listen as they whisper the plans and dreams passed on to them from the whispers of Mary and Mary and Salome.
…the women living in the realities of mental illness…hear the dark dreams and haunting visions that feel real and often hurt.
….the children of the world who still ask questions boldly and just as they hear them coming in…they do not wait or hold the thought or try to decide what the right words are…we could learn a lot more if we asked the questions a child asks.
The women whisper to a wanting, groaning world. We must then take our cues from the prophets or old as we listen: Habakkuk tells us to write the vision. We do have a part because this is no longer an insider/outsider process. Jesus turned it all upside down and it is humanity’s job to be the dreamers and visionaries and voices in this time and place.
I was reminded the other day of a song that one of the members of “Sweet Honey and the Rock” shared with us when the Women’s Center led a trip to hear Alice Walker speak: She taught us to sing, “We are the Ones we’ve been waiting for.” We…the collective we.
We learn a lot here and it is important to exegete well – in the task of exegesis comes the power to deliver a liberating message of God. Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz charges us to be hermeneutically vigilant. Yet we must balance the acts of hermeneutical vigilance with remembering that the first messages were given to the dreamers and the visionaries and the women of voice and name and action in the Bible stories.
We must be dreamers. We should all perfect the art of day dreaming. If you’re going to day-dream (and let’s face it: the perfect climate is found in the heat of Room 113 when the doors are closed and the heat is on in the middle of April), you might as well try to perfect it as an art. Be a dreamer.
We must be visionaries. In the first chapter the prophet Habakkuk laments that there is no justice as he cries out to the Lord. Standing at the watchpost, the Lord replies: “Write the Vision; make it plain on tablets so a runner may read it. For there is a vision for the appointed time. It speaks of the end and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.”
The vision does not always come in out time or on our schedule. Be patient and wait and listen and watch and hear.
Being a visionary means daring to live such a life that, at the end of it, a person will say about your life of faith: “She lived as if she were convicted of hope and arrested by grace daily.” It is a daily struggle. Our job as theologians is not just to know what all of the previous theologians said. We are also charged with the responsibility to unlearn the myths and search the truth of daily life lived with God in the midst of a groaning world. We must translate groaning and whispers into words and proclaim that vision. We must listen to what the whispering women tell us. We must also be voices in solidarity with life and truth in the world. We must not wait for the entire vision of the world, as God sees it, to be revealed. We must voice that we have seen and see and feel, and we must not be afraid.
The truth is, my friends, we all share in the responsibilities of dreaming, writing, and voicing a bold new vision. The way we do church and the way we live is not working…it often excludes more people than it includes. We need to listen and to write bold new visions. It is important to try to see ourselves in others, but, if we are truly to meet God’s message of salvation and reconciliation in this world, we must stop looking only to ourselves and for God in the people who look and feel like us.
There are gentle reminders of God in the cracks of New Haven…This is the part of my job I do not really like. It is Sunday morning. I am preaching in approximately an hour and I still have one more carload of children to pick up before church (and they probably won’t be ready either!). The familiar plea: “Can we put on 94.3 WYBC?” I don’t know why I attempt conversation. I should just have the radio on before they even get in; then I would not even have to worry about trying to connect with these kids early on a Sunday morning, these kids who live and see things I will never know or comprehend. What kind of connection do I expect to make as I ask all of the same questions every adult in America asks a child when that adult really does not know what that child is truly about?
Why they even get in the care in the first place is often a mystery to me. Once we get to the church I can almost guarantee that these two children will be the basis for my patience-building exercises as they push me to the edge of Sunday morning sanity. As I turn on the radio and change the station I am mentally preparing for my sermon and leaving my captives to listen to their radio station. The voice that drifts in the care through the one working speaker proclaims boldly “Our God is an Awesome God…” J pipes up from spot in the back, “Hey, we sign this at day camp!” He begins to sing along with the refrain. His sister begins to sing also as she fidgets in the coveted front seat position. For voices that often bring my nerves to the edge, they sound surprisingly beautiful as they proclaim the awesomeness of God. As we rumble down Orchard Street toward the church I find that the children and me have become a “We.” And so we made our way to the church singing: one tough guy on the edge of teenage madness, one young girl who longs for love and fights the love she receives with an equal humble song sung by the Resurrection Rag-Tag Traveling Chorus: “Our God is an Awesome God…God who cannot be contained in one voice or thought, God whose name is proclaimed by many, God who loves us all.”
The keepers of the vision and the inspiration for our dreaming are found in this world, or are they also afraid to speak the truths that have been whispered to them. Are they afraid we are not listening? Do they sit in amazement at the truth and long to share it? I think that we all need some teeth knocked out for the things we say and do not say for fear.
Today we celebrate the publication VOICE and the women who were bold enough to write the vision and make it plain…I give thanks to God for the courage and strength of the bold dreams and visions of the voices which appear in print.
WE ARE the ones we have been waiting for to proclaim in VOICE the awesomeness of God mediated in the whisperings and dreaming.