“No one is on the periphery of God’s story”.
That’s how the pastor at the church I attended last Sunday started his very well delivered message. And what a great message it was! He went on to explain that no matter who you are, God wants to use you to spread the light of Jesus to the people around you.
He went on, “We’re going to be reading out of Luke chapter 2 this morning. Around Christmas time, most people stop in the middle of the chapter, but this morning we’re going to be reading out of the second part of Luke 2.”
He’s going to tell the story of Anna, I thought. I was immediately excited. I have never heard a pastor tell the story of Anna from the pulpit. Even around Christmas time when pastors preach out of the chapter she is found in, most stop before getting to her. I have even heard one pastor skip her story altogether, deeming the verses directly in front of and following her story as more important.
But this Sunday would be different. This guy’s message was entitled “No One is on the Periphery of God’s Story” and he specifically said he was going to preach out of the second half of the chapter!
He preached about Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the temple. Then he preached about Simeon, the righteous man who was led by the Holy Spirit into the temple & recognized Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah.
“Simeon met Jesus, took him into his arms, and recognized him as the precious gift he was.”
What a great image. Simeon, like Anna, is rarely talked about. And to have the image of him taking baby Jesus into his arms and cherishing him was beautiful. The pastor wanted us to see that when we encounter Jesus, we should hold him close and recognize him as the most precious of gifts.
But then something strange happened. He stopped.
In the middle of the story about Jesus being dedicated in the temple, with 5 verses left in the story, he stopped. He moved on to a passage in Ephesians and didn’t come back to the story in Luke 2 for the rest of the sermon. What’s so special about the next 5 verses? It’s the story of Anna.
The weird part was that Anna’s story would have fit well with his sermon.
He went on to talk about how God wants us not just to recognize Jesus, but to go out and spread the light of Jesus to everyone around us. He spent the whole last part of his sermon talking about how we should spread the message and be the light.
But this isn’t what Simeon did upon encountering the messiah – it’s what Anna did.
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Anna saw Jesus, knew he was the messiah, and told everyone in the temple about him.
The pastor had a built-in, biblical example of the behavior he wanted his congregation to mimic, and he didn’t use it. Anna was right there in the passage he was teaching out of. She wasn’t out of place or off-topic. It would have been natural to use her as an illustration. His sermon would have been better if he had done so. And yet her name went unspoken.
Sunday after Sunday, sermon after sermon, we hear the stories of the men of the Bible – David, Abraham, Noah, Peter, Lazarus. It is rare these days to hear sermons about the women of the Bible – Rahab, Sarah, Deborah, Huldah, Mary of Bethany. The teaching we receive on Sunday mornings tends to paint a one-sided picture, a mosaic with missing pieces, and it leads to us think that the Bible also teaches this male-centric message.
That’s why it is so incredibly powerful to open up the scriptures and read aloud the stories of women.
Because we have to be reminded that they are there, and many times we find ourselves thinking I’ve never heard that story before! 2 Timothy teaches us that,
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
All scripture. When we teach only about the men, we miss out on the inspired Word, the teaching, the reproof, the correction, and the training in righteousness that God intended for us. And when we teach about the women, we begin to see a fuller story. We can see the message more clearly, and we fill in the missing pieces of the mosaic.
Don’t get me wrong – I loved this guy’s preaching. I loved that he taught about Simeon, and he did it well. But we can’t just talk about the men. We need to talk about both the men and the women. We need both to fully understand the message. Teaching about both men and women shows us the full picture, and smooths out the rough edges that partial teaching leaves behind.
This pastor’s sermon was called “No One is on The Periphery of God’s Story” and yet he didn’t include the woman in the story. I was reminded that morning just how engrained our bias against women is.
Did you know that it is a commonly held belief in the Christian world that John the Baptist was the first prophet Israel had seen in 400 years? Commentary after commentary, website after website teach that God did not raise up a prophet any time between Malachi and John the Baptist. As Bible.org puts it, “As a prophet, John the Baptist was a novelty in Israel at this time. For nearly 400 years God had not spoken through the prophets.”
And yet, right there in Luke chapter 2 – when John the Baptist was still a child – Anna was prophesying in the temple. Scripture calls her a prophet, yet commentaries deem her too unimportant to mention. No wonder pastors don’t think to mention her.
We have been so ingrained with a male bias that we skip the stories of the women of the Bible. They are a built-in blind spot, even for those of us who are theologically trained.
And so I am using this post to remind us: Preach the women!
Preaching the stories of women is a powerful act because when you preach the stories of the women, you are engaging not only in biblical teaching but in the reviving of a lost faith. You are awakening in the souls of your congregants something that’s long been dormant. You are telling the women before you, and the men too, that women are not on the periphery of God’s story. You are teaching the little girls, and the little boys too, that the girl characters are important too. When you preach the stories of women you are filling in the lost pieces of the mosaic, painting the true picture, telling the full story.
But it’s even more than that, isn’t it? When we refuse to gloss over stories of the women of the Bible, we are breaking the bondage that patriarchy has on God’s people. Your message may not have anything to do with equality or liberation, but when you preach the women of the Bible, you are pushing back against the dark forces that would have us believe that half of God’s creation doesn’t matter.
Lord give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and words to preach the women of the Bible!
Saved as a favorite, I really like your site!
My husband preached last Sunday on the Three Wise Women of Christmas, Elizabeth, Mary and Anna.
I could tell by the response of the congregation that they were unfamiliar with Elizabeth and Anna was an introduction to a whole new woman.
It is wonderful to read posts like your’s. I’ve been struggling very hard lately regarding the male bias found in much of the Bible. Jesus was egalitarian, but it seems his followers after his death reverted to a worldview where women were viewed only with scorn. You know the verses I’m talking about. It has led to a real crisis for me. Everywhere in the Bible they appear to speak only to men….”brethren…fathers….sons…..circumcision…”seed of”…he/him/his…” etc. Some people say, oh well, brethren means everybody, but in the context of the scripture, it is plain that the verses are meant only for those individuals with penises. On the other hand, verses aimed at women are either calling us harlots, prostitutes, foolish, etc., or are admonishments regarding our behavior, ie, be chaste, modest, hardworking, and the like. Seems like a way to keep us in our place. Women are almost always included in the Bible because of who she gave birth to, who she married, or whose daughter she was. Meanwhile, men are in the Bible because of who they are, what they did, and their walk with God. All of this sits heavily on my spirit. Is there a place in the Bible for women, really? I grow weary of making excuses for not only the patriarchy in the Bible, but how that model of feminine weakness and unimportance is fleshed out in our world today.
“Preaching the stories of women is a powerful act, because when you preach the stories of the women, you are engaging not only in biblical teaching, but in the reviving of a lost faith. You are awakening in the souls of your congregants something that’s long been dormant. You are telling the women before you, and the men too, that women are not on the periphery of God’s story. You are teaching the little girls, and the little boys too, that the girl characters are important too. When you preach the stories of women you are filling in the lost pieces of the mosaic, painting the true picture, telling the full story.
But it’s even more than that, isn’t it? When we refuse to gloss over stories of the women of the Bible, we are breaking the bondage that patriarchy has on God’s people. Your message may not have anything to do with equality or liberation, but when you preach the women of the Bible, you are pushing back against the dark forces that would have us believe that half of God’s creation doesn’t matter.”
Tears of joy.
I’m curious if you had a conversation with this pastor about the obvious irony of his sermon title. No one on the periphery, except the woman that I am totally ignoring (and by association, all the women in his congregation). Just amazing. Preach the women! Their stories matter and help us truly understand the fullness of God.
I remember being so excited one Sunday when I saw in the bulletin that my pastor would be preaching on a passage of Scripture that included the story of Deborah. An hour later, I left church disappointed and angry that we were essentially told that she was a judge because the men wouldn’t rise up to lead. Seriously. So, yes, thanks for the admonition, Kate, to “Preach the women!” (and, let me add, accurately!)
“Preach the women” – absolutely, and why shouldn’t we? We should preach what the Bible speaks, and it speaks of women and men both.
Yes it does!
Thank you for this. I am the first female pastor of a 143 year old historic, traditional African American Baptist Church. I purposefully and often very intentionally preach the women of the Bible. My ministry context is inclusive of women who have been ostracized, oppressed and marginalized by the patriarchy of male leadership. Women who never heard their stories told in a biblical context or a sermonic discourse. This Sunday I ordaining the first females deacons in this church’s history.
Wow! That is so awesome Billie! Thanks for sharing a bit of your story!
O good grief! Anna was honored with a name when so many women in the gospels are rendered nameless. How could she be skipped?! Sad.
Wow, Kate. I’m a 59 year-old pastor – how did I miss that?! I’ve always thought, taught, and preached that John was the first prophet after 400 years of silence. I read this to my wife and she just gave me that “see-what-I-mean?” look. Thank you for this. Keep up the good work!
Thank you Tommy. That is really humbling! Thank you for reading and thank you for your honesty!
The exclusion of Anna from the pastor’s sermon was pretty shocking given the theme! This is an excellent post, Kate, and a needed challenge. One of my favorite stories is the woman in Matt. 26 who pours perfume on Jesus (she’s unnamed but I believe it’s the same event in John 12 and there she is identified as Mary of Bethany). Not only does Matthew set her up as the shining example of devoted, extravagant love by situating her story between the plotting of the religious leaders and the betrayal of Judas (called an inclusio) but Jesus says something amazing to her. “I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” So tell me, who has ever told this story during the Lenten season or for Easter, in obedience to Jesus’ words?
Harriet, that is so beautiful!!
A painful and hearty AMEN! Often we don’t see who we don’t wish to see.
This is incredible! At the small church VBS I volunteered with, the story of Ruth was one of the lessons. The theme this year was “The Fruit of the Spirit,” and the lesson discussed how Ruth showed love to Naomi by traveling alongside her and returning to Naomi’s home. I was pretty impressed.
Also, I need some advice. Elder nominations are coming up at my church this January and there’s some women in my church I have in mind. There’s just one problem: of the 45 people in the church, some of them don’t support women serving in leadership positions, and the rest I don’t know if they do or not. I know my mom doesn’t, and we’re not on speaking terms right now (I have Autism and my parents have guardianship of me). My father’s senior pastor and I don’t want to cause any serious disagreement, but I feel like this is something God is telling me to do. We’re having trouble getting new people to come (not to mention we’re located in a largely unchurched community), and I think if people knew we had women on our church board, it might help people in the area become more comfortable with coming. Any advice?
In edition, there’s a lot of disagreement between the all-male elder board and some of the women of the church.
I am now a presbyterian minister. I was ordained in my home congregation as the first female elder at age 24 . The men were could and three times my age. I was ordained with a further two female elders in their 60’s and despite the doubt of the men it worked well. The male behaviour altered because women were ordained and it enriched the life of the congregation.
That’s a difficult spot to be in! I would encourage you to nominate women for spots on the board and see what happens!
Thanks! I’m praying it will go well. My big concern is what my mother will say. She’s made it very clear to me that she does NOT support women serving as elders.
Katie, I recommend reading the statement on shared leadership produced by Bent Tree Bible Church. I was very impressed by it. It may help give you some verbiage to use (plus, a biblical basis for shared leadership) in your nomination. I have The Junia Project to thank for pointing me to this document, and have shared it with others. https://b95c8fbfea06b65de1aa-9426158b81c9f57386a468ce77b36d59.ssl.cf2.rackcdn.com/uploaded/s/0e5506313_1478277424_shared-leadership-at-bent-tree-2016.pdf
Yes, yes, yes! Not to mention Mary herself was a prophet as you spilled out the lines of the Magnificat! I have felt all of these emotions you have shared. Just this Sunday when preparing to preach on Mary the Mother of Jesus, I told our lead pastor I am meant to preach as often as I can on women in the Bible because my heart longs to and because they are so neglected. He said: “And why not?” Why not, indeed! Thank you so much for posting this. I’ll be sharing it.
The body makes visible what is invisible. The body of a woman makes visible the “feminine genius” in Jesus.
So good, thanks for sharing this. I’ve realized how often the pastors I’ve seen speak seem to speak exclusively to men and use stereotypical “manly” examples. Lets hope that we more stories of women being told!
I love this post! May we all tell the stories of the women who loved God. I named my daughter after two amazing women from the Bible, Miriam and Anna, that she would sing and speak of God. And now at age 22, she loves to sing and she loves God.