God’s Someones

Pr. Meredith BlogThis is roughly the sermon preached by the Rev. Meredith Harber during the Lutheran-led worship for the 61st session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women Ecumenical Women’s worship on March 14, 2017. Since sermons are lived experiences where the Holy Spirit shows up in her glorious and gracious way, these words aren’t verbatim. This sermon is based on Esther 4:16.

 

When I was 22 years old, I worked for an elementary school. One of my kids from the school invited me to come have dinner with her family. While her mother was working in the kitchen to finish dinner, I sat with my student’s grandma. In our general introductions, grandma learned my name and then asked me if I had a husband. I generally use humor in these situations, so I said, “No, no. Husbands are a LOT of work and I don’t want to deal with that!” She laughed and agreed, but she persisted. “Why don’t you have a husband?” she asked, with concern painted across her face. I said, “Well, I’m young and I don’t want to rush into anything.” She said, “Yes, you’re young, but you’re fat. And no man is going to want a fat wife. And really, you’re not that young.”

This moment has stuck with me over the last eight years, because this moment captured a feeling that I and many other women experience on a regular basis. My identity was attached to a husband – or my lack of a husband – and to my age and to my weight and to any other outside factor. Anyone else ever have that experience of being reduced to labels and property, rather than to be seen for your whole personhood?

This morning, we heard a bit of the story from Esther, specifically Esther 4:16 that says, “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” If you haven’t spent time with Esther, I invite you to do so, because she is a fierce woman. This one verse may not seem like much, but this one verse is the turning point in Esther’s story from powerless to powerful.

See, Esther was as powerless as she could possibly be. She was born a girl, to parents who both died in her childhood, leaving her as an orphan. When her uncle, Mordechai, adopted her, she became a tool for him to accomplish his political goals. She was also prejudiced against for her religion and culture as a Jew. King Ahasuerus, the ruler of the land, put out a call for the prettiest virgins to come present themselves to be considered for the king’s harem. Mordechai sent Esther to be reviewed for her beauty and virginity, and she was eventually chosen. She was sent by a man to be chosen by a man to be a sex slave.

Esther was labeled as property by the men in her life. Girl, orphan, Jew, sex slave. She was as powerless as she could be.

But see, Esther wasn’t just someone’s ward or someone’s sex toy. Esther was someone. She worked her way up through the harem, building relationships with those in power, to become the queen of the whole land. She was always powerful, despite the labels placed on her that tried to tell the world – and Esther – that she was worthless.

She was God’s someone.

The beauty of Esther’s story is that while she had harsh words from those around her about who she was and was not, the ultimate word from our God is that we are God’s someone.

YOU, dear friends, are God’s someones.

YOU are powerful beyond belief.

YOU, whether you’re …
old
young
skinny
fat
unmarried
divorced
widowed
married to your husband or wife or partner
a mother
an auntie
a stepmother
painfully childless
happily childless

YOU, no matter your …
race
socio-economic status
religion or denomination
gender identity
assigned place in society

YOU, dear friends, are God’s someones. And YOU, as God’s someones, are powerful beyond belief. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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People of Faith Must Fight Against All Injustice

Shawanda Jackson

When I think about my time at the 2016 International AIDS Conference there are three words that summarize my experience – Faith, Justice and Action. As a young adult leader who lives and works daily towards the fight against injustice, I was extremely excited and anxious to learn from other movers and shakers who are advocating for human right and freedom for all people. I was excited to go to an unfamiliar place and grow and learn about such an epidemic that is not discussed in the many communities that I am apart of.

The week started with the EAA Interfaith Pre-Conference. At the interfaith conference there were conversations led by people who were living with the disease, people who were researchers, advocators and individuals who in some shape or form are affected by this disease. We discussed the roles that faith leaders and individuals have in the conversations about faith and sexuality. There was discussion about global prevention, treatment targets, new research, global responses to the AIDS response and funding. There was discussion about who are most affected by HIV & AIDS – the vulnerable, transgenders, gays, women between the ages of 15-25,sex workers, drug users, lesbians and youth.  All of these conversations ended with charging us to respect the human rights of all people and  to continue to fight for equality and continuing to respect and always live in love.   Continue reading “People of Faith Must Fight Against All Injustice”

Listening to Unheard Voices

Starshine Christian, Public Health Student, University of Nevada

I have been away from home for officially a week, and today is my favorite day yet. I’ve explored the city, visited the beach, eaten well, but today is different. Today is the second full day that I’m attending the International AIDS Conference.

At this conference I am surrounded by scientists, activists, journalists, sex workers, public servants, government officials, musicians, actors, ranging from all ages, races, identities, and classes. The night before last I saw both Nelson Mandela’s grandson, and Charlize Theron speak on the same stage. Yesterday, I watched a panel consisting of a queer woman from Cameroon, a queer man from Pakistan, a gay Mexican person living in New York, a tranmasculine person from Taiwan, and a woman who is a sex worker from the Netherlands discuss the intersection of sexual pleasure, health, and rights. And today, I have the opportunity to see Bill Gates speak. Continue reading “Listening to Unheard Voices”

Supporting Adolescents Through Early Disclosure: A Call To Justice

Victoria Mumbula, Youth Advocate and Activist; Lusaka, Zambia

I’ve been inspired to write this after attending a session on Tuesday  19th July. I have been  living with HIV for 22 years now and it took me until 2012 for me to disclose my  status. It happened when I was given an opportunity by the ELCA and LWF to attend the 19th IAC in Washington D.C.

When I arrived, I didn’t know to expect. It was my first time being in an environment where HIV/AIDS  was the key subject.Since that time, I have taken every  opportunity that I am given because I want to be an instrument to friends, family, church and community. I want people to use me and learn from my life experiences as a person living with HIV and a person with hope for a better  tomorrow!

It wasn’t until  Tuesday, 19th  July that I stopped blaming my auntie, whom I call my  mother, because she’s the only women I have  known and is the best. I have always blamed her for allowing me to have so many friends and live a normal childhood like  all  the normal  kids. I have a best friend who does not know about my status. I have known  her since we were in the 3rd grade. I have not told her because when I bring up the topic  of  HIV, she says, “I swear that one day I will test HIV  positive and I will die.” I know understand my mother’s reasons for note telling me. Continue reading “Supporting Adolescents Through Early Disclosure: A Call To Justice”

Stepping Back, Leaning In

Gabrielle Horton (Twitter: @gabhorton); Incoming Master’s in Public Policy Candidate, University of Michigan

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July 5th: Alton Sterling.

July 6th: Philando Castile.

July 7th: Five members of the Dallas Police Department.

And on July 8th, I served my last day with the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office, where I oversaw our Public Engagement efforts in South Los Angeles. The timing of these brutal murders, two of which were documented on smartphone video cameras, and subsequent protests –  including in Los Angeles (where Black Lives Matter protesters continue to occupy City Hall for a second week in a row) – have continued to weigh heavily on my heart and mind.

As the departure date for South Africa drew near, I found myself relieved to be free from work duties, which would have surely kept me buried sky high with briefing papers and emails ensuring our office’s proper response and presence in this ongoing narrative around law enforcement, communities of color, and violence. I even started to mentally frame the 21st International AIDS Conference as a vacation of some sorts, where I would simply join the rest of the ELCA Young Adult Cohort for a week of HIV/AIDS workshops and then return back to “reality” when I got back to America. I figured that 11,000 miles away with complete strangers could in no way match the horror I witnessed on my iPhone screen just days before; and could in no way compare to the haunting dreams of gun shots and bloodshed that I had to shake loose night after night. I was convinced that this experience would finally allow me the peace of mind – even if for just eight days – to box up and shelve away my American Blackness, and check back in once the wheels touched down at LAX the following week. And while I generally understood the racialization – and even the Africanization – of the HIV/AIDS epidemic to a certain degree, I was in no ways prepared for the level of intersectionality of this epidemic, which has so profoundly shed light on my identify as an advocate for urban communities of color, and a tireless advocate in the pursuit of justice, access and equity for all. Continue reading “Stepping Back, Leaning In”

A Reaction to the UNCSW & A Call to Action

Kristell Caballero Saucedo, Racial Equity and Inclusion Fellow, Minneapolis, MN

 

KristellReflecting on the experience I had during the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and the racial equity and inclusion work I do as a fellow in the field of philanthropy, it frustrating to hear the same discourse around the themes of inclusivity and commitment to social justice over and over again, without real action.

As a woman who migrated to the United States from a developing country and finds herself at the intersection of identities that have been historically silenced, I feel angry and frustrated that the work for inclusion as well as diversity is moving slower than sloths move. It is irritating to see institutions, that claim commitment to combating social justice, have internal systems in place that exhibit exclusion and lack of representation at the decision making table. It is frustrating to see individual who claim to be “woke” do all talk but not act when needed because that risks their personal stability. Continue reading “A Reaction to the UNCSW & A Call to Action”

This Beautifully Messy Church

Margaret Kelly, Pastor Developer, Shobi’s Table, St Paul, MN

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Margaret KellyIt took me a minute to realize what had happened in New York. It took me a minute to fully realize what I had been invited into. It took me a minute to see what the church is up to.

Our church, our sometimes not-so-with-it mainline, protestant denomination sends young women and men to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women as leadership development. Our church sends leaders to be built up on an international stage. Our church sends leaders who aren’t necessarily called to rostered ministry to be built up in their vocations for the sake of the world. And, I got to be one of those leaders.

This is the church that gives me optimism. I get to be a part of a church that sees value in connecting faith to the larger story of the world. I got to meet incredible people who feel called to do justice in the world. It was humbling. And then, I had another moment, a more personal moment. A realization of my own leadership development. A realization at the work that has gone into developing me. Another realization of how much the church has done to support the work I am called to do.

Continue reading “This Beautifully Messy Church”