Faith United Methodist Church
August 14, 2016
13th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Kristabeth Atwood
Scripture: Genesis 12:1-9, Joel 2:28-32
Prayer of Illumination:
God of new life, thank you for what we have heard. Thank you for the chance to hear the stories of our faith and ponder how these stories weave into our own. May the words we have heard turn into actions of love, justice, and mercy. Amen.
Sermon: Mobile Home
Recently Gary and I moved into our new house. This was our first move together that didn’t cross state lines. Now, Methodists have always been “mobile,” with our itinerant system, but the rest of the world is becoming increasingly mobile as well. These days it is somewhat surprising to find people who have lived in one town all their lives. And, even more surprising, if they have lived in the same house for generations. While that was the norm a couple of generations ago, we have become a people on the move.
How many of you have moved? After living in the same place for 21 years, I’ve moved seven times in the past 20 years. A couple of those moves were short distances, but, as I mentioned, more than a couple of them were across state lines, Maine to Massachusetts, Massachusetts to Connecticut, Connecticut to Vermont. No matter, the distance, though moving is never easy. There is a lot of preparation and perspiration. Sorting through things, deciding what to take and what to leave behind and what to give away. And the thought of leaving familiar surroundings and special friends is never easy.
Last week we spent some time with Abraham and Sarah. Today we are going to visit them again. We know that God called them to go to a new land, an unfamiliar land. Abraham was well established in Haran, had connections and a large herd to support himself and Sarah. Sarah surely had a group of friends with whom she cooked and sewed and shared village gossip. Yet they packed up their camels with tents and supplies, became nomads for a while, and lived the ancient version of a mobile home.
Everyday in our journey through life we make decisions that help determine the direction in which we are heading. These decisions may not involve an actual move, but a move or a change in our hearts. Many times, like Abraham and Sarah, we come to the crossroads and have to choose which path to follow. I know you are all familiar with the Robert Frost poem on just this topic, so I will just share a few lines:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Each direction we face has certain enticements and certain challenges. In a sermon, Sr. Joan Chittister put it this way, “…life is not one path; life is many paths, most of them unexplored in favor of closer, clearer ones.” Life is many paths. Abraham and Sarah knew this, as did the Everyday Saint we are going to meet today, although neither followed the closer, clearer ones. They took what might be described as the road less traveled by.
Anna Howard Shaw was born in 1847 in England. After moving to the United States with her family as a girl, she grew up to become a preacher, a doctor and a women’s rights activist. At the age of 72, in 1919, Shaw died in Pennsylvania—one year before the 19th Amendment would make her dream of a national right to vote for women a reality.
As a young woman, Anna was determined to go to college. While living with her older sister and going to high school, she started preaching. When her family found out about this, they were not happy. They offered to pay for Shaw to attend college if she would stop preaching. Shaw chose her own path, however, becoming a licensed preacher in 1871 – the first woman licensed to preach in the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Anna’s path led her to preach and lecture on temperance, which provided her with enough money to go to college. She was the only woman in her class at Boston University, where she graduated in 1878. She then took over a congregation in East Dennis, Massachusetts. Although the New England Conference and the General Conference of our predecessor denomination, the Methodist Episcopal Church, refused to ordain her because she was a woman, she found a path to ordination through the Methodist Protestant Church in New York.
As she followed her path she encountered much resistance. In her own words she explained, “My class at theological school was composed of 42 men and my unworthy self, and before I had been a member of it an hour I realized that women theologians paid heavily for the privilege of being women. Throughout my entire course at Boston University I rarely entered the classroom without the abysmal conviction that I was really not wanted there.” She then reflected on her encounter with the lesson from the prophet Joel that we read today, “In the last days I shall pour out my Spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.”
Anna described, “And I innocently said to the professor, “What does prophesy mean?” “Well, he said, … In the New Testament such as this it is used wholly in the sense of preaching. When the word prophesy is used in the New Testament it means that they shall preach” “Oh”, I said, “then women did preach, did they not, at the time of Pentecost?” He was bitterly opposed to women preaching and didn’t want me there. He said, “No, oh no, the women talked to each other.” I said, “Yes, and what did the men do? Talk to each other?” He said, “Oh no they preached.” And I said, “But the two are connected by a conjunction, ‘men and women’ and when women talk they talk and when men talk they preach; is that the way it was?”” Unwilling to yield to Anna’s logic, he continued the class.
The preaching path was not the only path Anna pursued. While serving in East Dennis, Massachusetts, she earned a medical degree from Boston University. At age 39 she broadened her ministry to include preaching worldwide on issues of social justice, women’s rights and peace.
As is often the case, when we start out on a new journey we never really know what we will find. As one commentator put it, “While what [is] to be left behind [is] crystal clear, what lay ahead [is] distressingly vague.” Anna had to leave behind her family, and challenge her prescribed social standing, to do what God called her to do. What she would encounter was unknown. As an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, I’m grateful to Anna for stepping out. I’m grateful that she embraced the call for women to prophesy, as well as men. Anna Howard Shaw is an Everyday Saint who has touched many thousands of lives.
We have the example of Abraham and Sarah, Anne Howard Shaw, and many others who stepped out and took a chance – on themselves and on God. And because we have the examples of Everyday Saints we can become more courageous in stepping out ourselves. Abraham and Sarah left Haran. Anna left England and left her family home. What comfort zone are you being asked to step out of today? Where is God calling you to consider a path less traveled?
Whether you live a mobile existence or have deep roots, all of us live in mobile homes since our home is in God and God is everywhere, calling us to new and different things all the time. Each day there are new challenges and opportunities, whether we stay in one place or pack up and call a moving company. As Howard Wallace writes, “This journey into the unknown, between relinquishing and embracing the new, is today still often an essential aspect of a move of faith.” We may wonder, which way will God point us? Are we ready to explore? Are we ready for the journey? “Two roads diverged in the wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Amen.