February 25: We Oppose Sexism

Wake Up! We Oppose Sexism

Matthew 15: 21-28  

 February 25, 2024 (dialogue with liturgist – bold print) Hymn: Help us Accept Each Other, In the Midst of New Dimensions

How do we respond to sexism?

That’s the question I’d like for us to be pondering today. At the end of the message, I’ll give you a chance to share any thoughts you might have. How do we respond to sexism? How have you responded to sexism over the years?

This is the last in a three-part message series during this month of February on Waking Up. Our loving God invites us to wake up, to learn, to repent, and to work for the coming of God’s kindom on earth as it is in heaven.

Next Sunday we start a new series as a follow up to today’s sermon. The series is entitled: Strong Women. Four strong women from our church will be joining me in preaching this series. Tomorrow morning, we start a book study on this same theme.

Our Scripture story is an unusual one. Typically, we lift up Jesus as the one who speaks God’s word of love and compassion and inclusion. But in this story as reported by Matthew, Jesus uses a racist, derogatory slur to exclude this woman. He refers to the Canaanite woman as a “dog”. It was an insulting term often used to describe non-Jewish Gentiles. Dogs were semiwild scavengers in those days who ate what Jews considered to be unclean food. The use of the term “dog” implied being unworthy, unclean, dirty, despicable, low. It was used in support of the racism and sexism that existed back then.

Let’s explore this story from the perspective of the Canaanite woman.

Let’s imagine a conversation she had with her husband. She is unnamed in the Scripture, but ancient tradition has given her the name Justa and her daughter’s name Berenice. I’ll give her husband the name of James.

James asks, “Justa, what are we going to do with our daughter?”

Justa responds, “Berenice is so troubled. It seems like we’ve done everything to try to help her.”

“Do you think it’s demons?”

I don’t know, James. All I know is that we can’t live like this anymore. We have to find an answer and soon.”

“Justa, I’m afraid she might take her life if something doesn’t change.”

James, I’ve heard of a Jewish teacher who has been healing people. Maybe, just maybe, he could help us.”

“You’re not talking about Jesus?”

Yes, I am.”

“But Justa, why would he even give us the time of day? We’re not Jews. We’re Canaanites, for heaven’s sake. They hate us. Ever since they came and took our land a thousand years ago. They’ve tried to kill us off and push us out. We’re like vermin to them, nothing but vermin.”

But Berenice needs us to find some help for her, even if it’s a long shot. I’m going to go see this Jesus.”

“Justa, not only are you a Canaanite, you’re a woman. He is not going to talk to a woman.”

Who knows?”

“I know. If you’re so insistent on getting help from this Jesus maybe I should go. I can talk with him man to man. Of course, I’m busy for the next few months. But then I’ll have some time off to go track him down.”

No James. Berenice needs help now. I’ll go. I’ll talk to him.”

“You’re crazy you know.”

“I’m simply doing what needs to be done.”

Justa went and found Jesus who happened to be travelling nearby at the time. When she saw him, she cried out, “Lord God, Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is full of demons.”

Jesus turns away from her and ignores her.

But Justa doesn’t get discouraged. She doesn’t go back home. She yells out again, “Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is full of demons and needs healing.”

Jesus keeps walking and doesn’t acknowledge her.

This time she shouts even louder, “Show me mercy, Son of David. My daughter has a demon and is in a terrible condition.”

 Jesus and his disciples just keep walking as if she wasn’t even there. The voice of a woman often gets ignored in a sexist culture.

When Justa screams another time, the disciples finally respond by saying to Jesus, “Send that woman away Jesus. She’s bothering us by making all this noise.”

Jesus says loud enough for Justa to hear, but still not looking at her: “I was sent to the Jewish people of Israel.”

Justa knows that Jesus is basically saying that “No, I’m not going to help you. You’re not one of us.” But she doesn’t take “No” as the final answer. She persistently and courageously speaks her truth and her need.

Justa kneels down in front of Jesus and looks up saying, “Please, help me, Lord.”

Then Jesus uses an expression that includes the racist, derogatory, slur. Jesus says, “It isn’t right to take food away from children and feed it to dogs.”

Once again, Justa doesn’t turn away even though Jesus has once again told her “No.” And this time in such an offensive and demeaning way.

She simply looks up again and says, “Lord, that’s true, but even dogs get the crumbs that fall from their owner’s table.”

In the book we’re going to be using as a book study, the author says this about Justa.

“This mama comprehends what so many have missed, what my Abuelita and so many other unrecognized theologians understand so deeply: food is survival and food is sustenance. And when it comes to Jesus – the Bread of Life – there is enough food to go around for those who gather at the table.”

Jesus is surprised by the strength of her persistent faith and says, “Dear woman, you really do have a lot of faith. You will be given what you want.”

The Scripture says, “At that moment her daughter was healed.”

The question we’re dealing with today is, “How do we respond to sexism?”

Justa experienced sexism and racism in her conversation with her husband and even in her encounter with Jesus.

How did she respond?

Justa challenged the system of discrimination and persistently advocated for herself and for her daughter.

How did Jesus respond?

In the end, Jesus responded by honoring and celebrating the strength of Justa’s faith.

 The two words that come forth for me are challenge and celebration. We challenge the sexist system and we celebrate the women who have dealt with that system.

But I want to pull one other thing out of this conversation that Justa and Jesus have. Jesus uses the word “dog” to describe Justa. That word “dog” is meant to hurt and demean. It reminds me that words matter. They can hurt or they can heal.

The words we use today matter as well. They can hurt or they can heal.

One of the ways we can respond to sexism is to use non-sexist words instead of hurtful and harmful language. This calls for us to deconstruct and reconstruct our sexist language till it becomes inclusive language that is healing.

As we gather as God’s people for worship, we try to do this. We try to use inclusive language that heals and affirms instead of sexist language that harms and excludes.

We try to do this in our liturgy, in our Scripture readings, in our responses. We also try to do this through our hymns and choruses.

We try to use language that honors women instead of exclusive language that represents the sexist culture. In other words, we don’t sing words that assume that we are all men like “Faith of Our Fathers” or something about our brotherhood. Just like we don’t say that the person who is in charge of a committee is a chairman.  

I recognize that it often gets in the way of our familiar ways of singing hymns that we’ve sung since we were young. Which is why during the Advent/Christmas season we use the Red Pilgrim hymnal. But the rest of the year, we mostly use the New Century Hymnal because that hymnal tries to use language that is non-sexist.

Using non-sexist inclusive language is one small way we can respond to sexism and the discrimination we still find in our culture against women.

Along these lines, I’d like for us to consider the idea of using the word, “kindom” instead of the word “kingdom” as we share together in the Lord’s Prayer. One of the things I like about the Lord’s Prayer is that we can say it from memory without having to read it. So, I really like using the Lord’s Prayer.

We’ve already changed the first words in the Prayer from “Our Father” to “Our Creator” to be more inclusive and less sexist. Most of us don’t believe that God is only male. So that change makes sense.

I’d like for us to consider further into the prayer the word kingdom which refers to a male king instead of a female queen. We could use other words like reign of God or realm of God. But personally, I like the word, “kindom” for two reasons.

One, it sounds a lot like kingdom. We’re just dropping off one letter – the g. It is easier for me to remember because of that.

The second reason I like “Kindom” is that it reminds me of the importance of all of us together with God as “kin”. We’re siblings or family together with God and with each other. God’s kingdom or kindom is one where we all live together in peace and unity as family.

So, you can ponder that as being one small way of responding to sexism.



And use inclusive language

Those are three ways I’d suggest for how to respond to sexism.

How do you think we should respond to sexism? How have you responded to sexism over the years?

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