THE GARDENER-Rev. Becky Robbins-Penniman’s Sermon for the Feast of Mary of Magdala
This sermon has been reblogged from Karpos Kalos the website of Rev. Becky Robbins-Penniman
Pastor Becky was my local Priest mentor as I studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood with the Romancatholicwomenpriests in 2007 and 2008. She was a wonderful mentor and I was blessed to learn from her. Her sermons are always inspired and excellent and it is with great joy that I present her sermon for the Feast of Mary Magdalene. I met Pastor Becky when she was co-pastor at Lamb of God Lutheran-Episcopal Church in Estero,Florida. She is now Dean for South Florida and Pastor at the Good Shepherd Church in Dunedin ,Florida. It is my hope to hear her preach at her church in the future as hearing her is even better than reading. I enjoyed this sermon immensely.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Cpmmunity in Fort Myers, Florida
PENTECOST 6 – MARY MAGDALENE – YEAR A
July 20, 2014
Church of the Good Shepherd, Dunedin, Florida
Copyright notices: The Scripture text is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division
of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used
by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted, all other content is original and copyrighted by Becky
Robbins-Penniman, 2014. All rights reserved.
Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and
called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed
from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life.
Judith prostrated herself, put ashes on her head, and uncovered the sackcloth she was wearing.
At the very time when the evening incense was being offered in the house of God in Jerusalem, Judith
cried out to the Lord with a loud voice, and said, “Your strength does not depend on numbers, nor
your might on the powerful. But you are the God of the lowly, helper of the oppressed, upholder of the
weak, protector of the forsaken, savior of those without hope. Please, please, God of my father, God
of the heritage of Israel, Lord of heaven and earth, Creator of the waters, King of all your creation,
hear my prayer! Make my deceitful words bring wound and bruise on those who have planned cruel
things against your covenant, and against your sacred house, and against Mount Zion, and against
the house your children possess. Let your whole nation and every tribe know and understand that you
are God, the God of all power and might, and that there is no other who protects the people of Israel
but you alone!”
I will exalt you, O Lord, because you have lifted me up and have not let my enemies triumph over me.
O Lord my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health.
You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.
For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, his favor for a lifetime.
Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning.
2 Corinthians 5:14–18
The love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all
have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him
who died and was raised for them.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once
knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ,
there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is
from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.
Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she
saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other
at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away
my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and
saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are
you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if
you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to
her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to
her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and
say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary
Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had
said these things to her.
Sermon Song: I Love to Tell the Story
Have you ever been misunderstood?
Have you ever had people tell lies about you that made you look bad?
Imagine if you were Mary Magdalene.
She is, without dispute, the first person to see Jesus at the tomb.
She is, without dispute, mentioned by name in the gospels
more often than all but three of the male disciples.
In today’s Gospel, the first word out of the risen Christ’s mouth
calls out to her.
Yet, if I were to ask you all who she is,
I’ll bet most of you would say she is a prostitute.
This is simply untrue – a speculation by some theologians
that began hundreds of years after she died –
way too late for her to defend herself.
The Greek Orthodox church never taught Mary was a prostitute,
and very recently the official Roman Catholic teaching changed:
from now on, no one was to refer to Mary Magdalene
as the “repentant sinner” that anointed Jesus’ feet.1
Who was she? Her most high-falutin’ title is “the Apostle to the Apostles,”
the one who is entrusted with the message
that Jesus is risen from the dead, and is ascending to the Father.
Jesus sends her to give that message
to others who will be sent to give the same message.
We’re used to hearing about the resurrection every week,
but it was startling news back then.
Startling? Maybe I should say it was flatly unbelievable.
Do you know what happens when we see something
or when people tell us something that we think is impossible?
We actually can’t see it or hear it,
not until something in us changes to open our minds up
to allow a new possibility to worm its way in.
Mary saw Jesus. But, it couldn’t possibly be Jesus. So, it had to be the gardener.
She couldn’t see him until he spoke her name;
that familiar voice she knew and loved reached into her soul.
Something changed inside her – and new things became possible.
THEN she could see. She could see Jesus, not dead, but alive.
If that was true, then death is no longer the end –
that God really is greater than death.
But all that about the end of death is the Easter story, so enough for now.
Today, we’re looking at Mary Magdalene’s story.
After Jesus speaks to her, Mary goes to the other disciples
All four Gospels put the message about Jesus’ resurrection
in the mouth of Mary, the Apostle to the Apostles,
and then *POOF* she utterly disappears from scripture. Why?
I’m not much of one for long-term conspiracy theories.
I used to prosecute antitrust cases – which are, by definition, conspiracies –
and it’s really hard to keep an actual conspiracy going.
Sooner or later, someone cracks, or messes up, and the game is over.
So, unlike some authors, I don’t think there has been a 2000-year conspiracy by men
to write Mary Magdalene out of the church’s story.
But, a mindset, a cultural attitude, THOSE hang around for a long time.
The mindset of the 1st Century was that it was categorically impossible
for women to be trustworthy.
For something to be true, a man had to witness it.
Have things changed in 2000 years?
Not so much; in law school, the women were told not to go into litigation
because no jury would believe a word we said.
We tried cases anyway. We won some, we lost some – just like the guys.
Do I need to say that the wider church is still struggling with this?
Certainly not here at Good Shepherd, but I can’t tell you how many times
I’ve been out and about wearing my collar, just like the guys do,
minding my own business, and someone will say, “a WOMAN pastor?”
For some men and women, it’s a categorical impossibility, and then I get called “sister.”
I don’t get upset – why? They can’t help it. It’s their world view, how they think of things.
Until something in them changes, they truly can’t see me for what I am.
And, I’m not in charge of changing others.
The only person I can change is me, and that’s a full time job.
And, even if we change and are able to see a new possibility,
it doesn’t mean we’ll change our minds about what we think is right.
But sometimes we DO change ourselves and our minds.
A story. When I first got to my previous church, in Fort Myers,
there was a parishioner we’ll call Betty – not her real name.
Betty was the daughter of an Episcopal priest.
Her dad had brought her up to believe that
women could not, should not, must not be priests.
Other than that, they could do as they pleased.
And Betty, who is about 10 years younger than I am,
was a strong, confident, intelligent business woman.4
When I got to my new church, Betty avoided me,
she wouldn’t take communion from me, all that kind of thing.
I didn’t take it personally, because I knew it wasn’t personal –
it was all about Betty’s mindset, taught to her by a beloved dad
who had died some years earlier.
I usually don’t mess with the memories of beloved dads.
But Betty was pretty vocal with other parishioners,
and finally one of them said, “Listen, Becky’s not going anywhere.
You either need to make peace with her or find another church.”
So, Betty made an appointment to see me.
That morning, she came in, sat in a chair, crossed everything she could, and said,
“What makes you think you can be a woman priest?!”
I said, “Well, I didn’t have a lot to say about being a woman,
but I can tell you the story of my call to the priesthood.”
Then I told her the story I’ve told you, and if you don’t know the story,
it’s on the bulletin board outside the downstairs office.2
Betty listened. As she listened, she started uncrossing things.
When I was done, she sat there, silent, for a full minute.
The first words she said were,
“I didn’t have a lot to say about being a woman, either.”
After another pause, she said,
“Your story is a lot like my dad’s story of his call to the priesthood.”
Then she said, “I’m going to have to talk to my Mom about this.
She’s here visiting, you know.”
I already knew her mom felt the same way Betty did.
Every time her mom had visited from Pennsylvania,
they had gone to a different church.
That next Sunday, however, Betty was the very first person
to take Holy Communion from me; the second was her mother.
After the service, I found them and asked,
“Do you mind me telling what happened?”
Betty told me that her mom was going through the same thing
at her Episcopal church up in Pennsylvania.
Those dang women priests were showing up everywhere.
Betty’s mom really liked her new priest, though.
So, after Betty’s morning with me, they began talking things over.
As it happened, the next day Betty and her mom did Morning Prayer,
as Betty’s dad had always insisted they do together growing up.
The Gospel reading for that day was the story we read today.
Betty and her mom burst into laughter and decided
that if Jesus could trust Mary Magdalene with his word,
they could trust their female priests.
What changed? What changed was Betty; new things were now possible.
Betty changed because she took time to listen to my story and made a decision,
based not on labels, but on her new understanding,
and from that understanding, she changed what she thought is right.
Humans have had to do this many times in history, and it is rarely easy.
It took 500 years for the Roman Church to absolve Galileo
for the sin of saying the earth orbits around the sun.
The people who disparaged Galileo weren’t demonic,
they just couldn’t comprehend there was a new possibility.
At least, not until something in them changed and they had a new understanding,
and that made them change what they thought was right.
But most issues aren’t as straightforward as astrophysics.
Most issues are about those mindsets and cultural attitudes
that begin shaping us when we are very young.
For example, in the U.S. and around, the world, many, many folks
are still wrestling with mindsets and cultural attitudes about race and sexual orientation.
When we are brought up with a certain mindset about these things,
it’s our world view, how we think of things.
Unless and until something in us changes, we truly can’t see people differently.
In the U.S. and around the world, we use mindsets and cultural attitudes
to label people so that they are no longer flesh and blood humans.
It’s so simple to have blanket opinions about labels.
It’s so easy to conclude that it is categorically impossible
for someone with a particular label to be good or to do a certain job
or to marry your kid or move next door.
We use labels for immigrants and people of other religions
as well as for people whose opinions differ from ours on economics,
on health care, on education, on defense, on 10,000 issues.
So, what’s a Christ-follower to do with all this?
A good place to start is in Paul’s words to the Corinthians.
Paul starts by insisting that Christ died for all,
and those of us who follow Jesus need to take that “all” seriously.
Paul teaches that Christ-followers look at others,
not from the human point of view, but from God’s.
God’s point of view is that of a loving Father
yearning to reconcile all humanity to himself through Christ.
“To reconcile” means, literally, “to bring back together.”
And how did Christ bring God and humanity back together?
By rejecting and shunning and shaming and threatening?
No! He did it the way God has done it since the beginning.
How did Judith put it? He is the God of the lowly,
helper of the oppressed, upholder of the weak,
protector of the forsaken, savior of those without hope.
Jesus did it by healing, listening, and calling people by name.
We need to start with the mindset that every person on this planet
isn’t first a label, but a flesh and blood human being with whom God seeks reconciliation.
Paul says WE are the ones who now have been given that ministry.
How do we do that ministry? May I suggest we all learn from Betty?
She had the courage to begin the process of understanding:
SHE chose to speak face-to-face with someone who was a categorical impossibility.6
Gradually she let go of her judgmental and defensive attitude and just listened.
What if we all did that?
However, instead of starting with everything crossed,
with our labels and mindsets and assumptions,
what if we begin with the attitude that we are God’s ministers of reconciliation?
Who would be the most difficult for you to come back together with?
Remember, reconciliation does not mean agreement.
Even if we change and are able to see the new possibility,
it does NOT mean we’ll change our minds about what we think is right.
It does mean we will have greater understanding
and we will have respected the dignity of another human being –
which is right in our baptismal covenant.
I had one priest from Africa once ask me how to get his peers in Africa
to understand why the Episcopal Church policies are so friendly to gays.
“You can’t begin with policies,” I told him. “This isn’t about policies and labels.
It’s about people. Listen to people. Listen to their stories, their sorrows, their joys.
They may not change their minds, but they will understand our church better.”
If we start by learning a person’s name and listening to their story,
we shouldn’t be surprised to find that their story and our story
have more in common than we might have imagined
because we are all part of the old, old story –
a story that, Scripture tells us – began in a garden with Adam and Eve
and how they became separated from God and left the garden.
Since Jesus came to reconcile humanity, to bring God and people back together,
maybe Mary Magdalene was absolutely right;
maybe Jesus was indeed the gardener, after all.
This is Kiyah who loves our Good Shepherd Garden,
and is getting to know the Gardener.