I had the privilege of spending the last weekend of June with an amazing group of women at an event called Limitless, put on by the United Methodist Women (on the campus of University of Indianapolis). A little bit about Limitless:
Limitless is a movement within the United Methodist Women to increase participation of young women in UMW and make the organization truly multigenerational.
Vision Statement: To equip young women of faith to transcend barriers and to do justice in their communities by putting faith, hope, and love into action.
Main Scripture focus:
Esther 4:14: “If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive…from someplace else…who knows? Maybe you were made queen for such a time as this.”
I was asked to be the “pastor on staff” for the weekend, which meant that I put together the worship services and devotions, which ended up being a meaningful time for all. The first night, we reflected upon the image of God within each of us, as each woman had the opportunity to come forward and look into a mirror and reflect upon how we are created in the image of God. The Saturday morning was a time for lectio divina (divine reading of scripture), and we reflected on Jesus’ healing of the bleeding woman in Mark 5. Saturday night, we remembered our baptisms, and Sunday morning we had Holy Communion together and I gave a message called, “The Cracks in Our Crown,” which I have shared below.
It was a wonderful weekend of learning about the different things that UMW is doing, fellowship, worship, and even a service project at University Heights UMC with their “Better Indianapolis Babies” (or BIBS) program. We folded baby clothes, put together hygiene kits, etc.
Limitless gave me a lot of hope for the future of the church, especially hope in what courageous women in leadership can and will do. I also made some great new friends and connections! Here is my sermon from the Sunday morning of the event. Enjoy!
Sermon: “The Cracks in Our Crown”
How many of you grew up watching Disney movies? How many of you had or still have an obsession with Disney princesses? What are some of your favorites? While The Little Mermaid is my all-time favorite Disney movie, I would have to say that my two favorite princesses would have to be Pocahontas, and one that is not even pictured up there, and that is the gypsy girl, Esmeralda, from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Both of these particular women remain my favorites because they each show extreme courage in the face of danger, and they stand up for what they believe. In each one’s case, a positive change is the result of their courageous actions. Esmeralda, as a gypsy, is part of an oppressed people in Paris, France, who befriends the hunchbacked bell-ringer from the Notre Dame Cathedral when she defends him from a crowd of people who are bullying him and putting him on display for all to see and tear down because of the way he looks. She also takes a stand against those who are trying to rid Paris of her people. Because of her actions, she puts her very own life in danger and fights for her cause against injustice that all may be free from oppression and will be loved for who they are rather than their lifestyle or what they look like. At the same time, she shows us the very heart of compassion. In the same way, Pocahontas stands up for her beliefs and for those she loves, even if it means going against her own people and her own family to save someone’s life. Her actions cause two very unlikely groups of people to declare peace instead of fighting and hatred. We can learn a lot from these Disney princesses of our childhood, and they continue to teach us lessons well into adulthood as well.
But some of the Disney princesses have been given a bad rap over the years. Many people say that they teach girls the wrong messages about success, beauty, and body image. Some of the princesses send the message that the love of a man is the only thing that matters or makes us worthy, or that all women just want to be rescued. I remember hearing that Merida, the young woman from Brave, was the first Disney princess who’s story did not focus on her seeking love or finding self-worth in another person. She began to change and re-shape the landscape of what Disney films are doing, and that is instilling in our girls a sense of self-confidence and courage to be who we are called to be in today’s world and to stand on our own two feet and to love ourselves. And of course, the young women in Frozen teach the lesson that love is what is most important, and that includes love between friends and family- not just in a romantic relationship. And again, there is the theme of embracing and loving the self.
The evolution of Disney princesses have been fascinating to watch- we have gone from Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella with their sparkling dresses and tiaras, to edgy Merida and Esmeralda, and most recently, to Anna and Elsa of Frozen. In the scene where Elsa sings the song we all now know and love, “Let it Go,” she takes off her tiara and flings it away as a freeing gesture- that she no longer feels that she has to live up to everyone’s expectations and is free to simply be herself, despite her personal challenges. She then will decide later how to find courage in herself and her own gifts, but this starts by putting some cracks in her crown and casting away the misleading vision of perfection that she has been taught her whole life, and she can finally embrace who she truly is.
This is why I think that Queen Esther would make the perfect Disney princess. She is the unexpected Jewish orphan raised by her cousin who turns into the beautiful queen who finds the courage within herself to save her people from destruction. But like most of the Disney princesses, she needs a little nudge from somewhere and the strength to find the courage within herself to act on the behalf of the Jewish people, knowing that she was risking her very life to do so. Our text throughout this weekend has focused on Esther and her correspondence with her beloved cousin, Mordecai. When he tells her she must go to the king unannounced and fight for her people, she responds and tells him that the penalty for such an act is death. Yet, Mordecai challenges her to think of her calling and position as queen- that perhaps she is the one to put an end to the destruction of the Jews, and she must look within herself to find the courage to step out in faith in order to save an entire nation. She was made queen for such a time as this.
Esther had to be willing to put a crack or two in her crown- to set aside any notions of a perfect and well put together queen and be willing to get her hands dirty. She was the reluctant servant leader who rose to the occasion and faced the challenge ahead of her. At first, she was uncertain, scared, and full of doubt, but she found that she had to be strong in the fact of conflict and pull together all that she had within herself to act and do whatever it takes for the good of others. Her crown as queen was both her blessing and her curse.
In each of our lives, we wear many crowns. Perhaps we are told by society or those we know that we are to be a certain way. People expect things from us. Perhaps we are perceived in a way that is inaccurate or we feel that we cannot be our true selves in one way or another. Like Queen Esther and the Disney princesses that we grew up watching, we still unfortunately live in a society where women are still fighting their way to find equality and respect, especially as leaders. So now, more than ever, we must be willing to get our hands dirty, to put a crack or two in our crowns, and step out into the world, ready to serve. Like Esther, we are all probably feeling a little hesitant or uncertain about what our next steps might be. We might be thinking about who is alongside of us, nudging us along, whispering that call upon our hearts. We are challenged now, for a time such as this, to open our hearts to the leading of the Holy Spirit, that we might step forward with courage and say, “Here I am, Lord, send me!”
I am here to tell you that it won’t be easy. As a young woman in ministry, I can tell you that there are still many challenges that await us in the world out there and people that will try to shut you down. I currently lead a Bible study every week at the community center in Morgantown where I serve, and I have formed relationships with the people that attend the center on a regular basis. Just the other day, one of the men came by my office to drop off a flyer for an upcoming fundraiser. He said to me in the midst of this, “I would really like to come to your church sometime, but my wife doesn’t want to because you’re a girl preacher.” Yikes. I just smiled and said to him, “Well, you all should come sometime. It would be good for your wife.” And there are countless stories from young clergy women about people refusing to accept us or even give us a chance, and people who do not understand appropriate boundaries with clergy women, such as a colleague of mine who experienced a man patting her on the bottom while she was robed, to people making comments about the weight or appearance of their female pastor, or saying things like, “You preach really well for a girl!” And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, for every challenging story, there are also stories of respect and encouragement for young women in ministry and congregations who defend and uphold their female clergy. I am fortunate to be in a congregation such as this right now.
All of this to say that we live in a world where to be a young woman in leadership is still a challenge, and one that we must face head on in order to move forward in the world, and as women of God, we must work to shape the world that we might make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are the ones who have been given this challenge. We are the generation that must step forward and begin to make the changes we want to see in this world. If we remain silent, as our text says, then there is no telling who or when help will arrive. Our time is now. Our time to set aside whatever artificial crowns we might wear is now. Our time to put a crack or two in our crowns in order to make a difference is now. Our time to step out in faith and break the mold of what people might expect from us is now.
As a young clergy woman, I still have times when I am afraid to speak out or be who I truly am for fear of what someone will say or think or do. There have been times where I have paid the price for standing up for what I believe. People have tried to tear me down. People have been surprised that I have not backed down. There are times when I’ve had to set aside the expectations that people may have of me to be perfect and to always know what to do. Sometimes we just have to use what we are given because we don’t have all of the answers. And sometimes, we just have to step out in blind faith and trust that God is leading us all the way. So far, that has served me well.
God also shows me that my imperfections, challenges, and stumbling blocks are used in some way to glorify God. God uses even the cracks in my crown in ways that I would never expect. What are the cracks in your crown? Fear? Pride? Anxiety? Nervousness? Stubbornness? Unwillingness to listen? Self- consciousness? Fear of what others think? Whatever they are, God challenges us to embrace them and give them over to God that they may be used in some way. The cracks in our crowns remind us that we are not perfect, and that’s okay. The cracks in our crowns remind us that we are not called to just sit and do nothing, but are called out into our communities to make a difference. They remind us that we have, in fact, been out into the messy world and have used them as empowered women of God. If we don’t have cracks there, then perhaps we are being called to do more or challenged to step out in faith.
Today, as young women of God, we are called to go out into our communities to put cracks in our crowns (crack the crown!), to get them dirty, to show our strength and authority, and to embrace the ones that are already there. It’s a scary and messy world out there, but we have been given the tools to make a difference. God uses us, no matter where we are, no matter how hesitant or uncertain we may be, to shine the light of Christ as we go forth. And like the writer of 1 Timothy says, do not let anyone look down upon you because you are young, and I would add, do not let anyone look down on you because you are young and female, but set an example for all people to show them the love of God through thought, word, and action. God has called us for such a time as this, cracks in our crowns and all. May we go forth to wear them proudly as women of God, that we may find the strength and courage not to remain silent- because yes, women of God, we were made to be queens for such a time as this. Amen.