March 10: Strong Women Help the Marginalized

Strong Women Help the Marginalized

2 Timothy 1:5 and 3:15; Exodus 1:15-21

March 10, 2024 (Preached with Connie Schreiber)

          We are in a four part message series that highlights strong women. It’s a follow-up to my message last month which said that we oppose sexism. One of the ways we can express our opposition to sexism is by celebrating strong women. This sermon series will not only talk about strong women, but also feature the preaching of strong women. Last Sunday it was Sherry Meyer. Today it is Connie Schreiber. Next Sunday it will be Brenda Kniebes.

I’ve asked these strong women to share a few stories about strong women they know. They’ve also suggested to me some women from Scripture they respect. But thirdly, I’ve asked these strong women if they wouldn’t mind sharing a couple stories from their own life where they had to be strong. That’s where Connie is going to start, sharing a personal story that fits in with the title of our message today.

CONNIE: Intro 

The faith of strong women comes in all colors, shapes and sizes.  They all have similar traits, but each demonstrates her faith in her own individual ways.  Some may quietly lead by example, others may stand loud and defiant and yet others share in a multitude of ways in between.  Maybe some of you women have never thought of yourself as strong.  Actually,I hadn’t really thought about it before this, but I am now convinced that EVERY ONE of us is a strong woman!  We just convey our strengths in various ways as we go through life.   Today, I’ll be sharing stories of strong women who have influenced me to love deeper and try harder.  I’m not usually comfortable talking about myself, but as you heard, Mike encouraged us to relate stories in which we were called upon to by God to be strong… 

A few years ago, we were attending a non-denominational church in Knoxville.  You know…one of those conservative, paternalistic churches where ONLY men could sit in the corner studying the Bible; ONLY men could deliver the weekly communion message; ONLY men could serve communion; ONLY men could lead the Wednesday evening Bible class.  Eventually, the Elders decided that women were allowed to join small discussion groups, which were, of course, ONLY led by men! I was excited and willingly joined the group whose focus was on Service, thinking that was a perfect fit for me!  After two weeks of scripture readings about service, I asked,  “But what can we DO besides read and talk about acts of service?”  Jim, the leader, thought about it for a while and came back with, “We could go downtown Knoxville and preach the Gospel to people.”  WAIT!! That’s NOT Service!!  At week three, Jim again suggested we go preach on the corner in downtown Knoxville, saying that it was our Christian duty to go forth and evangelize.  “You must be kidding!!  You can do that if you want to, but I won’t be coming!  I’m going to make a list of service opportunities in this community that we could DO!”  The pastor heard about my reactions and explained that this church had never done anything like this before.  Their practice was to support several missionaries financially (which they did very generously). That was what they called Service.  After our conversation, he asked me for suggestions.  Before long, we started with a library book and food ministry for the children in the Black and Guatemalan community nearby.  From there, we collected and delivered food to impoverished neighborhoods, provided food and personal items for the homeless and gave Christmas gifts to the retired service people living in the Ben Atchley Veteran’s  Home. In time, we enlisted the help of some of the marginalized women who were eager to lend their services.  As enthusiasm grew in the congregation, more possibilities were born and continue to this day. 

I guess this was, in the words of John Lewis, “all the good and necessary trouble” I could cause in this little male-dominated church in Tennessee!  Hallelujah!  

Paul wrote many letters. We’re not sure whether he wrote II Timothy, because some people wrote letters in his name. But for today, we’re going to assume he wrote this letter to this man by the name of Timothy. Timothy had been Paul’s travel companion on some of his missionary travels. Paul wanted to encourage his friend through this letter. Our Scripture passage today says:

“I also remember the genuine faith of your mother Eunice. Your grandmother Lois had the same sort of faith, and I am sure you have it as well.

15 Since childhood, you have known the Holy Scriptures that are able to make you wise enough to have faith in Christ Jesus and be saved.”

Paul is pointing to two strong women in Timothy’s life: his mother and his grandmother. Both Timothy’s mother Eunice and her mother Lois were raised in the Jewish faith. Eunice married someone outside her faith, but she herself stayed Jewish.

Eunice and Lois both decided to join this Christian movement after the first visit of Paul to the area. Instead of Timothy’s father, Eunice and Lois taught their young boy Timothy the way of God.

For so many of us, our faith has been passed to us by our mothers and grandmothers.  Connie is going to share about a family member who passed on the faith through her example of service to the marginalized.

CONNIE:  Margarita Mota 

One of the most beautiful, yet strong, women who made an impact on my life, was Margarita Mota, mother of my son-in-law and wife of  Manny Mota, of Dodger baseball fame.  Margarita and I became close friends as we shopped for our mutual grandson, cruised the Caribbean and my visited her home in the Dominican Republic.  She often came to our home during spring training in Florida where she could be found in the kitchen cooking up a huge Latin meal, sitting at the table reading her Bible or sleeping on our floor with the 6 or 8 family members she brought along.    

Margarita was born in 1942 in Azua, Dominican to parents who   refused to let her go to church.  She begged to go, but was needed at home to cook, clean and care for siblings.  At the tender age of eight, while playing with her father, he dropped dead at her feet.  This shocking turn of events intensified her need to be close to God, so she snuck out of the house whenever she could.  By the time she was 10, she felt that she was prepared to take Holy Communion in the Catholic Church.  That Sunday, she after receiving the Sacrament, she flew into the house and excitedly told her family what she did!  Her mother abruptly slapped her in the face!  More determined than ever, she continued to sneak out for her weekly meetings with God. 

When she was 21, Margarita married Manny Mota in the Catholic Church.  They not only started a family, but also started a small foundation in their home to help the less fortunate in their community.  Margarita felt that everyone should be able to have food for Christmas, so enlisting the help of their children, they bought, packaged and handed out bags of nourishment to anyone in need.  That small foundation soon began to grow and became what is now known as The Manny Mota International Field of Dreams Foundation, which has a medical clinic, ball fields, and a school. While Manny built batting cages, Margarita built kitchens and storage rooms.  Working side by side with  village women who she employed (and of course, her kids) they prepared thousands of meals for hungry families.  Margarita also bought and distributed clothes, shoes, toys and maternity needs.  Because of her husband’s ball schedule, she moved back and forth between the Dominican and L.A.  If she was stateside, she stockpiled clothes and canned goods to send to the D.R.  and if in the Dominican, she continued her distribution of necessities for the villagers.  Whenever we went to the Dominican, we felt privileged to help her with her mission.  Even our grandson, Alex, at age 3, helped make PB sandwiches for the village children’s lunches, learning the meaning of loving your neighbor as yourself.  

Margarita often took orphans into her home, raising them alongside her own eight children, paying for their schooling, clothing and all other needs. Today, her children and grandchildren attribute their strength, faith and wisdom to their mother.  Thanks to Margarita, they are all people of respect, integrity and service.  Like Eunice and Lois, she saw the great purpose and value of investing in the next generation. 

Sadly, this beautiful servant of God died last September, leaving her legacy of strong faith and unconditional love for others.     

One of the early Jewish stories celebrating strong women is about Shiphrah and Puah.

Their story starts with the Jewish descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph who are living in Egypt. They are a marginalized people living in an oppressive situation under the rule of a Kingly Pharoah. It reminds me of so many other groups of people who are oppressed and marginalized.

These oppressed, marginalized Jewish people grew in numbers. Just as in our country, the growth in numbers of non-white people is threatening to some people. In a similar way, the growth in numbers of Jewish people threatened King Pharoah.

He said, “There are too many of these Israelites in our country. They are becoming more powerful than we are. If we don’t outsmart them, their families will keep growing larger. And if our country goes to war, they could easily fight on the side of our enemies and escape from Egypt.’

So the Egyptians put slave bosses in charge of the people of Israel and tried to wear them down with hard work…But even though the Israelities were mistreated, their families grew larger…because of this, the Egyptians hated them worse than before and made them work so hard that their lives were miserable.

King Pharoah calls in Shiphrah and Puah, two midwives and tells them to kill every Hebrew boy that’s born. 

It’s interesting that while King Pharoah think the men pose a threat to his power, he overlooks the real threat: strong women.

The two women never killed any of the Hebrew boys.

King Pharoah eventually found out. He said, “Why are letting those baby boys live?”

They made up some story saying, “Hebrew women have their babies much quicker than Egyptian women. By the time we arrive, the babies are already born.”

As the author of our book study book says, “I’ve found that God often works this way: shaming power by using those least expected, those whom the world might deem weak or insignificant….King Pharoah is unsuccessful in his attempt to exterminate God’s people because he underestimates the tenacity and creative power of the midwives”

Which leads us to a story that Connie would like to highlight from more recent history.

CONNIE:  Mamie Till 

Back in the 60’s, I’m quite sure that I would have joined the Civil Rights Movement had I not been newly married.  In a little while, you’ll understand my early and deep passion for equitable rights for every person in this country.  But this story is not about me.  It’s about an amazingly strong woman named Mamie Till Mobley.   Similar to the oppression and obstinance of Shiphrah and Puah, Mamie stood defiant in her beliefs of what she thought God wanted her to do.  Mamie was the mother of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year- old African American boy who was abducted, brutally beaten and lynched in Mississippi in 1955.  When Mamie saw her son’s mutilated body, she made a most difficult unorthodox decision.  She insisted that the funeral home leave Emmett’s casket open to the public.  With profound anguish, she raged, “Let the people see what they did to my boy so this will never happen again!!”  Beyond belief, she even allowed Black publications to print pictures of her precious son’s unrecognizable body.  Black Americans came to know the gruesome images well, while White Americans, who needed to be shocked by them, knew very little about Emmett’s horrendous death!  She screamed! She cried! She prayed! She was sure that she would be supported by the strength of her family, but when they heard about Emmett, they screamed, cried and fell apart. She knew they could not help her.  She turned to her faith and realized that this was a load that she and God would have to carry.  When two of her son’s killers were acquitted of the murder, the African American community, nationwide, became outraged!  Mamie turned to the Federal Government for help…to no avail.  She took her fight to the people, giving powerful speeches to huge crowds, visiting 33 cities in 19 states in one month’s time.  She   told the crowds that she was no longer sad; just plain angry!  She felt that Emmett’s death was going to wake up Black Americans to fight for change.  Ultimately, her actions contributed to the growing Civil Rights Movement because thousands of indignant people wrote angry letters to government officials about the lack of their response. They demanded justice!  Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis all agreed that Mamie’s strong character, faith activism and bold decisions helped galvanize The Civil Rights Movement in America.     

As many of you know, I have more than a little bit of rebel in me.  Sometimes, like John Lewis said, I do “get in good and necessary trouble” and other times…well, you know!  My dad didn’t name me Miss Tass for nothing; sometimes referring to me by my first name, Smar  (think about it for a second)… 

There are two caveats to my final story:  1) My classmate Brookie went to Sunday School here with me and her parents were active members of this congregation. 2) Carl Hunt was the eldest child of the only Black family in Coloma at the time and the only Black boy in our class. 

Anyway, 75 years ago when I was in Kindergarten, I was incensed when I saw Brookie abandon the teeter-totter at ground level, which, as you all know, crash-landed Carl Hunt on the gravel below.  My indignant little 5-year-old self was furious and seemed to perceive the meaning of righteous defiance!  Our Sunday School teacher taught us to love one another as ourselves, red, yellow, brown, black or white!  Was Brookie absent those days that we learned that??  And hadn’t her parents taught her anything about The Golden Rule??  They were in church all the time…they must know all about it!! 

Well, I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my mother what happened!  She very calmly validated my feelings and told me that I needed to treat everyone the same.  I was no better than  anyone else and they were no better than me.  God loves all of us the same. She told me to go back to school the next day, be a friend to Carl and maybe the other kids would see what I was doing and they would treat him better.  I confidently marched into school the next day, happy to show my classmates a nice way to treat Carl.  I made sure that Carl could count on me to be his good friend.  Actually, I fell in love with Carl and declared him to be my boyfriend!  As life would have it, he moved away a few months later, leaving me broken-hearted, but enriched with a firm foundation in social justice!  Amen!! 

My hope is that every one of you women (or girls) think about all the ways you share your wisdom, faith and strength with others, and know that YOU are a STRONG WOMAN of GOD!! 

Thank you, Connie, for sharing with us stories from your life and the lives of people you respect. Thank you for the strength you continue to show in sharing God’s love with all and especially with those who need it most. Thank you for teaching in our Sunday School with our children week in and week out. You too are passing on the faith to the children just like Eunice and Lois did with Timothy. Just like Shiphrah and Puah did for the Jewish people in Egypt.

Let’s continue to ponder and thank the strong women in our lives as we listen to our choir sing.

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