7 Jan 2016

And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: A Review of Finding Their Voices – Sermons by Women in Churches of Christ

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Books, Church History, Ministry, Women

A Rachael Story to Start With

I think it was 2003, I was faced with a conundrum. I was the minister of the Southside Church in Milwaukee, WI.  Once a month on Sunday evenings we had “singing.”  “Anyone” that wanted to lead a song could get up to lead a few songs. We always enjoyed this as various men from the congregation would rise to the occasion, including myself. This evening, however, a young man, eight or nine (same age as Rachael) at the most, got up to lead a song. Everyone was so encouraging and helpful.  Including me. I thought nothing of it. After all, “Anyone” we all knew did not mean “anyone” at all.  “Anyone” was code word for “male.” But apparently not everyone knew this truth.

I will never forget what happened later. On Tuesday, the mother of my daughter Rachael called me at the office, and after a brief conversation, I could tell she had something on her mind.  So I inquired. This is what I heard on the other end of the phone, “Do you know I just had a conversation with Rachael.  She was so excited when she saw (insert name.  Protecting the innocent here) get up.  She said ‘I did not know kids could lead a song!’  Do you know she has picked out a song and is practicing it right now and intends to lead it next month? What are you going to do about it!?”

To say I was in stunned disbelief is an understatement. Did she not know that only men (or boys) could do this? I recall immediately walking down the hall to speak to my colleague and wise friend, our Family Minister, Daryl Miller. I shared with him what I just heard. I asked “what should I do?”  How do you tell your 8 year old daughter that is excited about serving the Lord that she cannot because she is a “girl?”  I confess this had caused me a great deal of stress. I had already been wrestling with this subject for a number of years but never quite dreamed it would be personal. Yes, my girls were as smart as any boy.  In fact they had learned basic Hebrew by this time.  I had always insisted they could do “anything a guy could and better.” So the echo in my ear from the girls mother became a blast, “what are you going to do about it!?” I decided the path of bravery … I did nothing! I took a wait and see approach. If Rachael decided to get up, I would deal with the fallout if there was any.

Fast forward maybe a year.  I received an invitation to speak at the Abilene Christian University Lectures so I decided Rachaels Sermon to talk about Huldah.  Each time I told someone they would reply, “Huldah Who?” so that became my title because it is an indictment on a fellowship that claims to know the Bible but most folks have never heard of one of the most important prophets in history that just happened to be a woman! “Huldah Who? The Forgotten Ministry of a Lady Prophet” I placed on my blog on June 27, 2006 (link provided)  As I was working on that lesson, Rachael always eager to help me, wanted to know where in the Bible Huldah was.  I stress I had nothing to do with this, but she went off  and wrote her own sermon called “The Prophetess Huldah” (click on photograph).  Again I was stunned.  I tell more of the story in my lecture.  But I share that here to show this, a child, a mere nine years old, could read the same Bible as grown men and never see what they saw. They see exclusion.  She saw inclusion. I will never forget that last line she writes “My daughter, Rachael told me to what to say. If anyone would like to have some encouragement, let us know while we stand and sing.”  I confess I lost it when I read that for the very first time. It is beautiful.  And I have no doubt that the God of Huldah smiled as much as I did. And I did read Rachael’s sermon to the crowd at the ACU Lectures …

A Book of Sermons by Women in Churches of Christ

D’esta Love has given us a gift of great grace. She has brought together twenty-nine, chronologically arranged, sermons by women associated with Churches of Christ into a volume called Finding Their Voices: Sermons by Women in the Churches of Christ.  The book was published by ACU Press in 2014 and I have had it since the Pepperdine Lectures in May. It is a treasure. Old familiar names like Kathy Pulley, Katie Hays, D’Esta Love, Jeanene Perkins Reese, Charme Robarts, Jeanine Thweatt-Bates, and Sara Gaston Barton grace the pages. I was delighted to Finding Voicessee Cheryl Russell, a former student in a class John Mark Hicks and I co-teach at Rochester College in it.  Many of the names were new to me but was blessed to “meet” them.

The sermons cover a wide variety topics and biblical texts.  Speaking from a person with a Jesus love affair with the Hebrew Bible, I was elated to see the large number of “Old Testament” texts used for exposition.  Perhaps in order to get more rich Old Testament sermons in our pulpits we need to put more women in the pulpit! There are two outstanding sermons based on Ruth; from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Genesis,  and LAMENTATIONS (!).  The Parables of Jesus, the Wedding at Cana, and the Epistles are also represented.

I recall the first time I read through Finding Their Voices, asking myself, “If I removed the Introduction of the book and the names at the beginning of the sermons, would I have known these lessons were delivered by women?”  The answer was “No!”  The sermons represent responsible exegesis, critical thinking about the text and also wisdom in sharing it with a given congregation.  You can read this book for pure edification by turning each sermon into a daily devotional.

And Some FOUND Voices …

One of the great things about reading, or listening, to sermons by others is the fresh angle that is shared on a text.  Sometimes startling light. It pays to listen (to have ears to hear) to what non-Anglo men have to say about the Bible.  African-American, African, Chinese, South American and “even women” have amazingly fresh insight into the text.  We are fools, in the worst sense, when we willing shut out the Huldah’s in our midst.  I do not want to reproduce the whole book so I am skipping around.

Carolyn Hunter’s sermon, “Goods and the Greater Good,” comes from Psalm 107 and Joel 2.23-29.  Recognizing the notion of blessedness she asks us as wealthy American believers another startling question “… let us as disciples of Christ continue to consider the PROBLEM OF MATERIAL PROSPERITY” (p.53, my emphasis).  How many of us frame our wealth in terms of a “problem.”  Coming from the prophets, wealth can certainly be a “problem.”  She closes her sermon with a wonderful prayer.

I took note of Katie Hayes sermon from Mark 4.35-41, “A Text for the Sunday after 9/11” because it was her sermon after 9/11. After setting us up rather nicely in the trap of showing how “ridiculously irrelevant” most of our problems are she lowers this one us. “They call it ‘perspective.’ Whatever else happened on Tuesday morning [9/11, BV], we were just force fed a big helping of perspective. It did not go down easily; but we ate it just the same.” Later she notes “But the cruel truth about gaining perspective is that the learning never ends.” Then she brings us to Jesus in the boat!

I confess that Jeanine Thweatt-Bates sermon “Perfect Righteousness” (Matt 15.21-28) was the most challenging sermon I have wrestled with in a long time.  It is certainly a “Found” Voice and one that made me reflect and say, “I don’t know.”  And I still don’t.  But it is certainly the best sermon on the Canaanite Woman I have ever read or heard. Sermons are not supposed to reinforce my prejudice but to confront me with God’s own word.  So Jeanine thank you for eliciting some Berean tendencies with this sermon.  It is a sermon that takes seriously the words of the Gospel of Luke (2.40, 52) and the Hebrews Preacher (5.8-9). She asks the question, “Did Jesus himself learn something here?” I confess that I had never in a million years even stopped to consider the possibility!!!! There is nothing irreverent in this sermon but there is a challenging perspective.  It is refreshing in that it makes us examine our assumptions and the text.  Huldah did that in 2 Chronicles 34.23-28.

Melanie Fudge Simpson offered a multi-text sermon called “The Heart of Worship.”  A good portion of this sermon gives an overview “of the most memorable worship moments in the Bible” (p. 103).  This is an outstanding lesson on biblical worship.  She asks, “Friends, I think God would ask us today: Are you willing to sacrifice what you think is at the core of your identity? What about your pride? What about your control? What about your comfort zone? What about your ‘rights’?”  She ends her overview of the great worship moments (I love that turn of phrase) by taking us to the worship God receives in his throne room now, that is Revelation.  “What a beautiful picture of worship in heaven. Now there is restored order. There is complete reliance on God. There is reclaimed relationship. Because of Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, there is once more no need for sacrifice from us.”

One last sample from Cheryl Russell.  Cheryl is a brilliant, passionate, and courageous disciple of the Lord.  I recall her work in our class which was always superior.  Her sermon from Luke 8.4-15, “Sower, Seeds, and Soil.” Noting how teaching the parable to children added depth to her understanding of the text (perhaps Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said we need to become like children!!).  She said, “Church, I love having these discussions with our children [so do I!!! Rachael and Talya have taught me a lot!]. They are honest conversations about our ancestors in the faith [Cheryl had asked the children to identify different biblical characters with the various soil]: their successes, their failures, and their hearts. The kids don’t make excuses for them and they don’t try to rescue them, or God. They listen to the stories, they mull them over, they sit with the ambiguities and questions and they find meaning and a means of relating to the gospel story. In their hands, it is good news” (p. 241).

Wrapping Up

I loved this book.  It is a historical book in that there is nothing like it among the Churches of Christ.  In terms of the content and quality of the material in the book it speaks for itself.  I have one minor wish for the book.  I wish that there was an introductory chapter that gave a brief overview of the history of women preachers in the Stone-Campbell Movement.  One of the great shocks to contemporary believers is the reality that we actually have had them! Names like Nancy Towle, Nancy Cram, Abigail Roberts, Clara Hale Babcock, Sadie McCoy Crank to drop just a few names.  I think this would have added greatly to the book. But this book shows us that not only do women have voices but they have voices that are worth being heard.

I recommend getting this fine work.  Read it for the Spiritual blessing that you will receive from God through it. Even if you think that women should not preach you can still profit from this book as you can any piece of writing.  You just may find your walk with our common Lord deeper and richer than before.

Tolle lege!

3 Responses to “And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: A Review of Finding Their Voices – Sermons by Women in Churches of Christ”

  1. Dawn Gentry Says:

    I, too, loved this book and just submitted a book review of same for Priscilla Papers. I agree that a brief history of women preachers in the movement would be welcome – note D’Esta’s reference in her introduction to Kathy Pulley; she mentions that while we have those women’s biographical information – no one preserved their sermons. This is a great gift to the fellowship for future generations.

  2. Marjorie Wood Says:

    I’m looking forward to reading this book and others with wisdom and life lessons from women. How do I get one?

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      Marjorie delighted to have you visit my blog. Hope you come again.

      You can order a copy of “Finding their Voices” by clicking on the title of the book in the article above. It is a link to the publisher. You can get it there.

      Be blessed.

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