First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
Date: September 29, 2019
Mystic Sermon Series: Julian of Norwich
Wisdom Readings: John 15:9-12, Arundel’s Constitutions Article 4, “Love” by Imagine Dragons, Timothy 2:8-15
Message: “Can Love Be Silenced?”
In the first century, Jesus spoke before Passover to his disciples, saying:
“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love. “
I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you.”
Arundel’s Constitutions Article 4
In the 13th century, Archbishop of Arundel created an environment designed to stifle writers or speakers who challenged the ecclesiastical hierarchy or dared to defy the rules of the powerful Catholic church, writing:
Forasmuch as the part is vile, that agreeth not with the whole, we do decree and ordain, that no preacher aforesaid, or any other person whatsoever, shall otherwise teach or preach concerning the sacrament of the altar, matrimony, confession of sins, or any other sacrament of the church, or article of the faith, than what already is discussed by the holy mother church; nor shall bring anything in doubt that is determined by the church, nor shall, to his knowledge privily or apertly pronounce blasphemous words concerning the same; nor shall preach, teach or observe any sect, or kind of heresy whatsoever, contrary to the wholesome doctrine of the church.
It’s been a long time coming
Seeming like we all been running
Feeling like the wild west, gunning
Listen to our elders shunning
Flipping on the news, be talking,
All about the problems, shocking
We put on our headphones walking
Where did we all go wrong?
All we see is faces, color, color
All the other races, other, other
Why can’t you just be my brother, sister?
We don’t have to kill one another
All around the world, we are one-Let us LOVE one another
Therefore, I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
That Scripture verse and I have an interesting relationship. The last time I preached after that Scripture was read, I was “reassigned” from Associate Pastor to Director of Religious Education. It was Pentecost in 2007 and I was prepared to preach on the Holy Spirit. But the senior military chaplain who did not agree with women being ordained decided he would not read the Lectionary passage from Acts, but instead 1 Timothy, what you just heard. Thankfully, the praise band sang between the Scripture reading and the sermon, allowing me some time to calm down.
That’s when I thought about our final mystic—you know her, but maybe not by name because so much was done to censor and silence her. She intruded upon theological boundaries, wrote one of the first books in the English language when it was against church law to do so, and was also a stellar preacher. If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” then you’ve encountered Julian of Norwich. Due to the political nature of the pulpit at West Point, our sermons were approved ahead of time and we were not supposed to deviate too far off script. As I walked behind the praise band singing Shine Jesus Shine, up the steps to the pulpit and switched on the light, I decided to do what Julian of Norwich would’ve done. Back to that later…
I have in this bag a symbol from the world of science fiction that helps transport us into the contextual world of Julian of Norwich. So, if you know the answer, just shout it out—what happens when I put this on and snap my fingers?
Yes—with one snap half of the universe population is gone. But at the time of Julian of Norwich, it was not science fiction but reality. And it all started with climate change when a cataclysmic volcano eruption occurred, possibly in New Zealand—sulfurous gases obstructed sunlight from nourishing crops, resulting in four major famines, killing millions. The Black Death plague killed up to 50% of Europe’s population. Another three million died during the Hundred Years War between the English and the French. Not a good time to be alive.
During this time period, the Catholic Church had a monopoly on religion in Europe and you’d think the church would provide hope— but priests preached sin was the cause of all these catastrophes, opposing any religious teachings that suggested otherwise. Clergy, like Archbishop of Arundel, who wrote the Arundel Constitutions (legislation designed to strengthen ecclesiastical control over thought and expression), used his power to repress anyone who challenged ecclesiastical hierarchy or dared to question the Catholic Church teachings of the Bible. The Bible was used to silence women.
In the 14th century, an uprising against the church started with the dreams and visions and voice of one who had no fear, just passion for the world. In the city of Norwich, about 120 miles northeast of London, Julian began teaching heretical theology about Christ—what was this heresy? While those in religious power were teaching that mass death was the result of sin, Julian of Norwich was teaching that Christ was like a loving mother who suffers with us, loves us forgives us no matter our actions. Julian was a whistleblower, exposing the corrupt Scriptural interpretation cover-up. Her prophetic voice challenges us to speak truth to power.
This past week, sixteen youth filed a complaint with the United Nations alleging that five of the world’s major economies have violated their human rights by not taking adequate action to stop the unfolding climate crisis. Sadly, the country that has caused the most damage to the atmosphere than any other country cannot be held in violation because it has not ratified the part of the treaty that honors these youth seeking justice—and that country would be the United States. Hopefully you’ve had a chance to listen to Greta Thunberg’s courageous five-minute plea for leaders to take action. And yet, she has received great criticism that she probably would not receive if she was a he. Some have tried to silence and negate her message because she has Asperger’s syndrome. Others have said she is melodramatic. People thought Julian was melodramatic. People thought Mary Magdalene was melodramatic. People thought Mary the Mother of Jesus was melodramatic. I’ve heard many white people say people of color are melodramatic.
Labels and judging to silence people is a way to control. Mary Magdalene, possibly the leader of the disciples, not Peter, was characterized a prostitute. The powerful words of the Magnificat, the words of Mary, the mother of Jesus, removed from Bibles. Scripture, like 1 Timothy, has been used to solidify patriarchal power structures in the church—it’s the same lousy interpretation of Greek words and context of Scripture once used to justify slavery and still used to judge people’s sexuality. As long as the church, whether it is the Roman Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church, or fill in the blank, remains a hierarchal structure, labels and judgments will thrive to keep people in power. Maybe that is why people find more hope and love from rock band song lyrics than they experience in churches….
Many of you are aware that one hundred years ago in Omaha on a Sunday the same people who attended religious services in the morning gathered at the Douglas County Court House to brutally take the life of an innocent man—beating him, lynching him from a lamp post, shooting over 100 bullets into his body, which was tied behind a car, dragged four blocks to the intersection of 17th and Dodge where fuel from lanterns was poured on him. His body was lit on fire. That’s when a mob, to include women and children, posed for a picture, smiling, before his charred body was again dragged through the city’s downtown streets.
How can one really believe All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well when looking at that photo?
I always find it interesting that people in power are addicted to dualistic thinking that labels others and find the one or two verses in Scripture to justify their actions, usually actions that 90% of the Bible speak against. Julian of Norwich quickly gets to the root of what Jesus taught—love.
On May 13, 1373, at age 30, Julian received last rites as she lay close to death from an illness. She had a vision that comprised 16 revelations— one of them being Christ’s personal reassurance that “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” Initially, Julian resisted these words because how could all be well when there was famine, plagues, and wars? How could all be well when evil and corruption were everywhere? She dared to question the vision, and then had another vision of a hazelnut in the palm of her hand—and that was her epiphany in understanding that this tiny thing represented all of creation, and would continue on because God made it, God loves it and God cares for it – the Maker, the Lover and the Caregiver. Our world is fragile and vulnerable. It is tiny in comparison to the vastness of space and eternity. But ultimately it is loved and cared for by the maker, redeemer and sustainer of all things.
Julian realized love is where we came from, it is the path on which we must choose to live, its where we are going. That was her message. Do we really believe ALL SHALL BE WELL? When farmers and ranchers again see their year’s work destroyed by floods? ALL SHALL BE WELL When a woman 6 months pregnant goes in for an ultrasound and there is silence? ALL SHALL BE WELL. When we learn forests are being cut down at the rate of 30 football fields a minute? ALL SHALL BE WELL When we learn of another active shooter? ALL SHALL BE WELL When economic disparity further oppresses humanity? ALL SHALL BE WELL When the opioid crises takes the lives of over 130 people per day in the United States? ALL SHALL BE WELL When over 2000 people per day are so distraught, they take their own life? ALL SHALL BE WELL
How can we really believe ALL SHALL BE WELL? How can we use our time and talents to make “all things well” in our world without losing heart? I share the words of retreat leader and author of An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich, Veronica Mary Rolf:
Julian would tell us that we must go into the “ground” of our being in order to “live contemplatively.” Like her, we must learn to rest and breathe in silence and stillness, becoming aware of the turbulence in our minds, releasing thoughts and letting go of our emotional attachment to those thoughts. We need to become ever more aware of being aware, in order to experience the deep interconnectedness of our own awareness with Divine awareness.1
All shall be well when you are well within. We must have faith that this world is just part of a journey. And once we can transform ourselves, our love will go deeper, and our activism sacred.
Back to Pentecost 2007–So inspired was I by Julian that I referred to God as a “She.” For referring to God as mother I was removed from preaching. The church has tried to silence the feminine mystique of God too long, but love cannot be silenced. The revelation that “All Shall Be Well” is not a quick fix for our suffering, but a revelation that ultimately ALL WILL BE WELL. God made us, God loves us, God carries us through death and rebirths us into a Divine dimension, a dimension of love that exists around us if we can just be aware when we are living in this dimension.2
1 Rolf, Veronica Mary. Julian Norwich and the Process of Transformation. Syndicated from opendemocracy.net, Apr 21, 2019
2 I am very grateful to both Mirabai Starr and Veronica Mary Rolf for their expressions on Julian of Norwich that helped in writing this homily.