This year you are invited into an exploration based on More Bad Girls of the Bible by the Rev. Barbara Essex and inspired by women’s experience in the current media, especially women involved in campaigns for justice for women, such as #MeToo, and #TimesUp
Caveat: It is reasonable to expect that someone in the congregation may have experienced some form of sexual harassment or violence. Plan accordingly as you choose the stories to lift up, and have pastoral response at the ready.
#MeToo, says Mary Magdalene
Women’s experience of sexual harassment and assault is coming to light in some unexpected ways in this cultural moment. Women celebrities are breaking their silence on their experience of sexual oppression, and are beginning to cross lines of class and race to help empower women without the same economic means to do the same. Long may the movement continue!
It may be helpful to consider in this moment some stories of our spiritual ancestors. Women’s stories in scripture have often been interpreted to reinforce negative stereotypes about women, but a fresh and feminist eye can uncover new insights and help give context to today’s movement.
Barbara Essex’s classic works: Bad Girls of the Bible, I and II, offer a model for cutting through stereotype and prejudice in order to see clearly the experience of women, famous or infamous, in scripture. With the discipline of Feminist and Womanist theological and scriptural studies, Rev. Essex invites us to put the stories of women at the center of our telling of the story of God. Surprising insight emerges when we use tools of scripture scholarship to fill in the gaps in the background of famous women, and ask some questions about their actions, hopes, motives. Bathsheba moves from silence and victimization to exercising power over her life and that of her son. The Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 has been assigned a dubious sexual reputation, yet she debates the finer points of theology with Jesus, the unexpected visitor. Mary Magdalene, “Apostle to the Apostles,” has come to us through the years identified as a prostitute, although nothing in any of the four Gospels offers any evidence for that interpretation of her life.
Exploring the stories of these women will offer insight into the larger story being told; bringing their stories out of the shadows of stereotype or even oblivion may help fill in missing pieces of the wider story, and offer a deeper understanding of the movement of God in the world. Recognizing women as full human beings, actors, agents with motives and experience to contribute helps to make our story whole—more true and right and real, and, therefore, holy. Reflecting on these stories may help inform our work for justice for women.
In this service we will explore some scriptural women with ambiguous reputations, and ponder through the lens of their stories what is happening in the moment in our wider culture. We will invite Wisdom—that female face of the Holy in our tradition—to guide us. She was with the Creator at the beginning, and longs for nothing more than to be known fully in the experience of our lives and our world.
The early Church looked often to Wisdom to help them understand the mystery of Jesus, God with Us.
Call to Worship
(Adapted from Ecclesiasticus 24 (with echoes of John 1))
Leader: Wisdom is telling her story in the mist of her people:
People: “I came forth from the heart of the Most High”, she says.
“Alone I searched for a place to rest.
I looked everywhere to find a place to live.
Then the Creator of all things instructed me:
‘Pitch your tent here in this place.’
So in the beloved community I took up residence.
I have taken root in these people.
I have grown tall as an oak tree,
I have taken on many colors.
I have spread out my branches like a candelabra.
My blossoms bear the fruit of openness and care.
Approach and take your fill.”
Come, let us seek Wisdom at work in all lives,
and especially in the lives of her daughters!
We gather today to celebrate your presence
in the lives of all women.
We gather to listen to the stories of women
Who have been too long silenced, misrepresented, hurt.
Send your Spirit to meet us here
and guide us into your depths
that we may begin to glimpse your grace:
what eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived--
all you have prepared for those who love you.
We pray this in the name of Jesus,
your Mystery, your Glory, your Wisdom.
Holy One, you have made human beings in your image:
Complex, whole and holy.
When we forget that your grace is at work
shaping all the lives you have created:
Holy Wisdom, have mercy.
When we fail to challenge injustice toward women;
When we fail to advocate for their safety, health, fair wages:
Christ, have mercy.
When we succumb to the skewed vision
of gossip, stereotype, half-truth—
Truth-loving Spirit, have mercy.
Assurance of Grace and Peace
Friends, the love of God revealed in Jesus
Reconciles us, heals us and sets us free
To see one another clearly
To challenge one another honestly
To work with one another for God’s vision of justice, love and peace.
With thanksgiving, let us offer one another a sign of Peace.
Passing of the Peace
Choose verses from Proverbs 8: 1-36, the many facets of Wisdom
Some advance homework is needed for this service:
- Invite members of the congregation to take different chapters of Bad Girls of the Bible II and prepare a short summary for the congregation. Look especially at Bathsheba, The Woman at the Well, and Mary Magdalene.
Invite some conversation: what emerges from these chapters that contradicts the popular characterization of the woman being studied?
- Explore the contemporary reality of the #MeToo or #TimesUp movements. What is happening here? Although they are rooted in secular experience, can they be seen as expressions of faithful action?
- Create a litany of empowerment for all who are engaged in work for justice for women. pray for Wisdom, that their gifts, given for the good of all, may truly bless all, and contribute to God’s vision of love and justice in the world.
Christ calls us to let our lives and our work
give witness to the reign of God in our midst.
Let us generously offer our gifts
of time, talent and treasure,
that the glory of God
may be recognized and celebrated in our world.
O God, please take these gifts and multiply them;
let them be a means to create the justice and peace
you long for in this world.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Wisdom is building a house in our world;
she needs the work of all to complete it.
Let’s go forth and foster
the gifts of all God’s children—
and to recognize and celebrate God’s presence in all.
- Justice for Women
- Women Change the World
- Common Lot - A magazine for the women of the United Church of Christ
Call to Worship adapted from Wisdom’s Feast. Cady, Ronan, Taussig, 1989.
#MeToo: Bible Study and Service Prayers for Women’s Week was written by the Rev. Susan A. Blain, Minister for Faith Formation; Curator of Worship and Liturgical Arts, Local Church Ministries.