In a video message on March 3, Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño of the California-Nevada Conference shared some of the lessons she has learned about the value of women in helping heal the world and the plan that God has for all of us.
Happy Women’s History Month to all but especially to the women and young girls of this country and of our United Methodist Church! Women are an integral part of everyone’s life — they are mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, spouses…..To the men among us let me say, what you already know, “you can’t get anywhere without women!”
Women’s History Month can be traced back to a day in 1908 in New York City when thousands of women united and marched for better labor laws and conditions, and the right to vote. As you know, the vote for women was gained through the 19th amendment, passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, and ratified on Aug.18, 1920. But it would be 87 years after the march in New York City that a month, 31 days, would be set apart to honor women in this country.
It seems that it’s always hard to get to a place where some among us are recognized as being worthy of affirmation and support. Even today with a special month set apart for honoring women, women are still paid less than men for the same job. More women live in poverty than men. If you are a woman of color your poverty is likely to be worse. Women are still subject to abuse and violence in this country requiring a law against such abuse and violence; a law passed not that long ago (The Violence Against Women Act of 1994).
But I am glad that we are progressing. I would not be a bishop of the church, were it not for those who thought that women were worth something, that we women have something to contribute, and that our rights should be supported and advocated for as well. I am grateful for the privilege of being a bishop of the church, and so very grateful for the women and men who have stood with women and girls and through whose efforts a way was opened so that I and other women could serve God in the ranks of the clergy.
And with you I am celebrating how far we have come in this country having just elected and inaugurated the first woman and a woman of color, as vice president of the United States. I think God is pleased!
I knew that something was changing when my now 29-year-old daughter was a little girl, and we were watching a presidential debate. She was enthralled by the whole thing, sitting right in front of the TV. I thought to myself, this is a good moment to affirm her as a girl. So, I said to her, “You know Sweetie, someday you could be the president of the United States.” She just kept watching the debate, seeming to ignore me. But my mother’s heart got excited about the thought that she might be thinking about all the possibilities ahead for her, even the possibility of becoming the President of the United States! But then, without ever looking away from the TV screen she said, “Naw, it’s too much work.”
I smiled at the thought that she saw running for president of this country as an option for her a girl, even though it did not inspire her to do so! I pray for that open door of choice for every girl in this country and in this world — the choice of using all the gifts God gives each one of them to live an abundant life that touches the lives of others in good ways and makes this world a better place. I want this for every boy as well, but girls still need someone to advocate for them in ways that boys may not.
I am reminded of the story of the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter was ill. The truth is that for this woman and her daughter there were no advocates, no one on their side to help them. So, the Syrophoenician woman takes it upon herself to advocate, to argue and beg for her beloved daughter.
She hears that Jesus is in town, staying at a home in the community. She believes that within Jesus is the power to heal her daughter. She finds Jesus and she comes before him begging him to heal her daughter from her affliction. But not only are this woman and her daughter of the feminine gender, they are of a different culture, of a different people whose appearance, first language, way of being, and their faith roots are different. Jesus responds to her in a way that to this day not only makes no sense to me but sounds cruel and dismissive of a woman whose heart was broken, and whose spirit was suffering because of the illness of her little girl.
Jesus sternly says to the Syrophoenician woman, “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Jesus called that woman and her child, dogs! I find what Jesus said to her very disturbing. I don’t understand it, but I do know that what Jesus said to her was the prevalent thinking of the day. People from a foreign land were considered less than the people of Israel, and women were considered lesser than men, expendable. They were dogs!
I can’t help but think that we’re still living that way in this country, with what can only be described as hateful and destructive racism, discrimination, sexism and misogyny.
I don’t know why Jesus would treat her this way, but I do know that what he does brings forth a clear expression of that woman’s faith. “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” I feel her faith in Jesus as she in essence proclaims that even a crumb of Jesus’ healing power is sufficient to heal her daughter’s illness. There is enough of Jesus’ grace to heal all of us, men and women, boys and girls of every generation, every place, and every family.
I have known women like this Syrophoenician sister who proclaimed such tremendous and wise faith and even more, who refused to allow others to determine the life possibilities for her beloved daughter. I give God thanks for them.
When I was 12 years old, I met a woman full of faith in the power of Jesus. A woman cut from the same cloth as the Syrophoenician woman. I had gone to conference youth camp for the very first time. I was assigned to a room with 3 other girls of my age who like me were also church camp newbies. We had heard many stories about youth camp, and we were excited about being there but one of the stories we had heard worried us. We had heard that the showers in the girl’s dorm filled up early in the morning and even worse, that if you didn’t get there early enough, you’d run the risk of not finding any hot water left. We didn’t want cold showers, so we hatched a plan to be the first ones up and into the showers.
The next morning in the still darkness of pre-dawn we got up and sneaked down the empty, quiet hallway to the showers feeling smug in the certainty that we were the first ones up. But we were wrong. As we approached the shower area, we began to hear a voice. Could the voice be singing? Impossible, we thought. Who would be singing at that hour! Again, we were wrong.
As we entered the shower area there stood before us a woman who was not only wide awake but singing even as she brushed her teeth! We stood there paralyzed by the vision of this woman who was not only fully awake at that early hour but singing! She on the other hand seemed completely oblivious to our presence. We didn’t move, afraid that we’d done a terrible thing in leaving our rooms so early in the morning and disturbing this woman in her morning ritual. Suddenly she quickly rinsed her toothbrush, gathered her belongings, and started to head towards the door and us. We stood there almost like a line of little women soldiers, standing every so straight and looking directly ahead as if by doing this she would not notice that we were there.
For a moment we thought that she would not pay any attention to us, as she walked toward the door in a quick clip. But then she stopped. We held our breath and then she leaned down coming ever so close to us as she whispered in our ear, “Girls, Jesus is calling YOU to serve him and don’t you let anyone tell you otherwise!” And then she was gone.
We later discovered that this mysterious woman who sang early in the morning of God’s great love was Lucia Escobar, the first woman to serve as a local pastor in the Rio Grande Annual Conference my home conference.
As I heard her whisper in my ear, “Girls, Jesus is calling you to serve him….you too are included in God’s plan for life” my heart fluttered at the possibility that Jesus had any thought of me. In that very moment I felt the anointing touch of the Holy Spirit as I dared to believe that there was a place for me, even for me, in God’s hope for humanity. I felt my heart overflow with the love of God!
I wonder if that’s what the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter heard and felt that good day as her mother awoke before her and whispered in her ear, “Daughter, God remembers you, and Jesus will heal you, for God has a plan for your life too.”
In the gospel of Matthew Jesus says to the Syrophoenician mother, “Woman, great is your faith!”
Her daughter was healed! The smallest crumb of the life-transforming grace of Jesus our Lord can heal all of us, if in faith we come to him.
Friends, my prayer is that this year, we will bring to Jesus the brokenness remembered in this month even as we honor women and their bold history,
• so that healing may come,
• the fullness of the God-given humanity of women and girls may be restored,
• and all our lives may be transformed.
May it be a blessed journey lived on the precious crumbs of Jesus’ healing grace.
This video message is provided courtesy of the California Nevada Conference. For more information, contact News Editor Julie Dwyer at 615-742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.
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