Monday, August 15, 2016

Women's Power in Preaching and Ministry - Guest Sermon by Elise Kohler

August 14, 2016
Schwarzwald Lutheran Church in Reading, PA
Texts: First Reading: Luke 1:46-55; Second Reading: Acts 16:13-15; Gospel: John 20:11-18

Elise Kohler, TEY Scholar, budding preacher!
[I met Elise Kohler at a summer program for young theologians called Theological Education with Youth (TEY) held at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (PA), where I served as one of the faculty in the Lilly Endowment-funded program.  Elise is entering her junior year at Exeter Township Senior High School in Reading, PA.  She’s involved with Fellowship of Christian Students, orchestra, concert, jazz band and marching band, and Girl Scouts.  She and her brother Lukas, along with their parents Stephanie and James Kohler, are members of Schwarzwald Lutheran Church in Reading.  Elise is a member of the Mutual Ministry Committee, Youth group, Youth ministry committee, choir, and Sunday School.   

Elise was one of 18 scholars who spent nine days delving into deep theological discussions and developing leadership skills.  This was her second year attending the program, and upon her return home, her pastor asked her to preach a sermon about “women’s power in preaching and ministry.”  Elise and I brainstormed about women in the Bible who model the kind of leadership qualities that are important to her and we worked on crafting her sermon.  Below is her fine sermon – just one example of what is possible when we train young people to think theologically, equip them with the skills needed to proclaim the gospel, and set them loose!]

 [Watch the video of Elise's sermon here:

When Pastor Staub asked me to do a sermon about women’s power in preaching and ministry, I said yes immediately- even though the idea of speaking in front of the whole church was a bit intimidating!  There are so many powerful women in the Bible, it was difficult to choose just a few.  I decided to focus on a few women in the New Testament - ones who used their God-given gifts and skills to help proclaim the Good News about Jesus Christ.  Studying these women the past few weeks has opened my eyes to how strong they were.  As you will see, these women are a huge inspiration to me.  My hope is that you will find something in their story - and maybe even my story - that rekindles your own faith and a desire to act on that faith in a powerful way.

One of the reasons I was so excited to preach on this topic of powerful women of faith and their impact, is that two weeks ago I was a scholar at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg for a summer program called Theological Education with Youth.  For nine days, 17 other high school students from around the country and myself gathered to worship, learn deep theological concepts, develop leadership skills, and living in a safe and intentional Christian community.  Of course this also included just hanging out and having fun.

It just so happened that during our theology courses some of what we learned about was women’s power, ecofeminism, and how the world views women.  In the past often times women were thought of as lesser than men.  In the chain of command they were viewed on the same level as an animal.  Obviously the view of women is still changing.  We learned how important it is to look to the Bible and examine the strong women throughout the stories.  Through all of the years God has used not only men but women and children too.  We also learned that oftentimes women are viewed as the “mothers” and the “care takers.”  We also learned about how different parts of nature are feminized, such as “mother nature”, or the “mama bird.”  We discussed the importance of being aware of and having an opinion on how girls and women are viewed in society.

The three readings for today give us just a few examples of the ways in which God calls women of faith to use their skills, gifts, bodies and minds to proclaim the Good News of Christ and build the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ mother Mary, for example, proclaimed that kingdom which was just a seed of hope planted in her womb.  Her Magnificat which we heard today is a bold declaration that God is continually reforming our world and righting the wrongs of injustice.

Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ disciples and sat at his feet to learn – just like the men did.  I think it’s amazing that it was Mary who was the first to proclaim the risen Christ.  That means that the first preacher was a woman!

But she certainly wasn’t the last.  Lydia was another powerful woman who used her influence to bring people to Christ.  She was a successful business woman who sold purple fabric to wealthy clients for their expensive clothes.  When she met Paul at the river, she convinced him to stay at her home, and her whole family was baptized.  God was calling to her through Paul, just like God called to Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus.

In my life there have been many instances when I have felt God calling me in some direction. I believe that there are no such things as coincidences in life.  We are all living the lives that God set us out to live.  I also believe in an inner sense of calling. Whether it’s getting a good feeling when you talk to someone, or that idea that just seemed to “pop” into your head out of nowhere and you can’t get it to go away.  Everyone has that little voice.  That voice is usually God.  In my own life I’ve found not to ignore that voice.

For example, this past year I considered joining a group called Fellowship of Christian Students at my school.  The only problem was every time they had a meeting I came up with an excuse not to go.  “It’s too early, I have to talk to a teacher, I have to finish my homework.”  The truth was, I was avoiding it.  I didn’t want to be looked at as that girl from the church club.  Finally one day I sucked it up and went.  I had been hearing about it and seeing posters for it, I felt the overwhelming call to go.

In a way it was like when Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit and the Christ child grew in her. The seed of something new being planted.  The idea was small at first but it just grew until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.  When God plants something in you it’s impossible to get it out of your head.  It’s constantly on your mind, until it gets to a point when you have to do something about it. So I went to the meeting.

I got there and there were only two other people.  After attending the next few meetings I watched those two people turn into one.  Then it was just me.  I started thinking about what changes could be made to the club to make it more inviting. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Just like Lydia, I knew it was important to reach out to other people with the amazing news about Jesus’s love.  She learned about Jesus from listening to Paul.  I, along with many others, have learned about Jesus right here at this church listening to sermons, going to Sunday School and Confirmation, going to VBS, and helping and participating in youth events.  Going to TEY took my learning to a new level.  God had already prepared Lydia to be a proclaimer of the Gospel when she when she met Paul at the river.  Looking back I can see that God was already preparing me as well.

It happened the day the teacher in charge asked if I would lead the club.  I said yes and asked a friend for help.  We both co-lead the club now.  There are about 10 members and it’s still growing.

But it wasn’t easy.  We had to plan meetings that sparked people’s interest, and fit their schedules.  We had to find a place in the school to meet.  We had to continue to push events, and there were a few failed ones along the way.  Overall, the trials were all worth it.  It wasn’t until our very last meeting that we finally had about ten people show up.  Everyone said they were excited for next year.

Just like Mary Magdalene learned, being the first apostle to spread the news of Jesus’ resurrection is sometimes met with resistance, ridicule and downright hostility.  But when God calls you to preach, sometimes you have to go against the grain to deliver the powerful message to God’s people.

My point in this is, God calls everyone, men, women, children.  God calls everyone, but you have to listen and accept the call! Where is God calling you?
          You might be like Mary, Jesus’ mother, and you have an idea for ministry that is planted in you.  How will you nurture the idea so it can grow?

          Or maybe you’re like Mary Magdalene at the tomb and you’re being called to spread the good news about Jesus, but you worry about how people might react.  How will you find the courage to share the Good News which might be just the thing someone needs to hear in their lives?

          Or maybe you’re called like Lydia, the seller of purple cloth.  Has God given you a network of people, or a set of skills, or a particular talent that is just right for reaching out to people to do the work of building the Kingdom of God?  Who is that one person you can ask for help, like I did, to help you take on a project that you may have thought too big for you to handle?

          These powerful women of faith are can be seen as models for us of what can be done when we open ourselves to God’s power and use our minds bodies, talents, skills and resources to proclaim Jesus Christ and build ministry in his name.  These women (along with many others) have been extremely influential on me and my life and choices.  My prayer for you is that a seed has been planted, or you've formed an idea, or a spark of faith has been kindled that will not let you go.  Listen to that little voice that’s telling you to go and do.  Amen.
TEY 2016 Scholars, faculty and staff