Sermon preached by Rev. Brian Merritt at Renaissance Presbyterian Church
Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
In my mind, when someone makes a quilt it is an act of love. Stitch by stitch the material is pieced together in patterns called Log cabin or stars to make something that will warm you on a cold winter’s night. I own quilts made for my father by his mother when he was born. I also have my own baby quilt from when that same grandmother made a quilt for me. Quilts represent the warmth of hope that is passed down from generation to generation.
I remember sitting quietly and reading while my mother quilted. Yet, quilting is not always a solitary act like other crafts. My mother would go to a circle to work on a quilt with other women around a large loom. After they had decided upon a design and material they would begin. Some would cut the small pieces that made the larger pattern and others would stitch together the design. Then there was batting and the material for the back. Hand stitching, of course, took much more time. The patterned pieces where made into their blocks at a sewing machine and then added like bricks to the quilt.
What I knew about those women was they were all connected by a common Christian faith. They either attended the same church or they had an affinity of beliefs. Much of the talk was the weekly news of their religious communities. Who was sick, who was better, who was having problems and how the church was doing.
I drank in these conversations as a child. This is the place that I learned the most about the inner workings of a church. These shrewd women knew all the ins and out of intrigues that made up any community, especially one that claimed to follow Jesus Christ.
The sad thing to me was that these women were excluded from any power within that same church that they were so devoted. It was not only that they were not allowed in leadership to their male counterparts, but that they were theologically and biblically silenced. Their voice was not only considered valueless; it was seen as suspect. Women were to subject themselves to the authority of males and were to submit to that authority. It was painful to see so many amazing women silenced through the sheer weight of nothing other than a societal patriarchy gone wild.
Still, I know that those women in the quilt circle represented Christ to me more than any male pastor ever could. On the completion of each quilt it was presented to the city mission or sent to missionaries so that someone who needed warmth had a blanket to take with them. I know that countless homeless people in Lincoln, Nebraska had warmth for many nights because of those women’s sermons of action.
The point of the parable of the woman of the coin can get lost on those of us caught up in our own sexism and patriarchy. Look, God sees us as precious coins, worthy of finding. These small denomination of coins are worth God’s search. Sure, that is part of the parable, but if we look deeper Jesus is saying something that could turn our perspective around and radically shake the male oriented view of the divine.
Jesus’ radical contention is that God and the angels are like a celebrating group of women who sing and dance when an impoverished woman finding a coin to help her sustain a family existence. Jesus has taken the group that is most marginalized by the middle eastern community, the impoverished women, held them up as representing the divine and heavenly hosts. Not only is God anthropomorphized into a very poor working woman who celebrates the coin being found, the women’s celebration is the very representation of the divine’s love for us.
A group of boisterous woman, celebrating together would have been the derision of this patriarchal, Middle Eastern culture. Women gathering together without the strict oversight of men is frowned upon by many of our religious communities, even many of our liberal ones. It is suspect. What do they do when a man is not present? Could they be tainting the message with things that would take away a man’s power?
Jesus celebrates these suspect gatherings of women. He uses them as the fulcrum of divine love for the lost being found. Christ has turned the suspicion on its head into the divine’s own celebration.
Love is a powerful force and perhaps too powerful to trust to religious institutions interested in keeping it safe. Love needs the acts of courageous women who celebrate together, love needs the quilting circles, the suffragettes, the unmoved bus riders and feminist gatherings. We need them to show us love, to show us a glimpse of the divine and to free ourselves from the bondage that society has imposed on our freedoms. Perhaps then we will honestly proclaim with the Paul that there is no longer any Jew or Greek, Slave or Free, Male or Female, but all are one in Christ Jesus.