Weaving Wisdom and Wonder

President Dr Deidre Palmer preached on Luke 8:1-3 and 24 at the Closing Worship of the 3rd UnitingWomen conference in Brisbane on 30 September 2018.


Some Women Accompany Jesus

8  Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

The Resurrection of Jesus

24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

I wonder!  There are so many possibilities for wondering!

My heart and soul fill with wonder, when I hear beautiful singing!

I am filled with wonder when I sit on the beach and hear the waves pounding in and look at the expanse of the horizon.

I wonder why each of you decided to come to Uniting Women? 

What experiences of wonder have you had this weekend?

Who or what has generated wonder in you?

Many of you are familiar with the delightful approach of Godly Play – a Christian education process developed by Jerome Berryman, that has encouraged deeper reflection on Scripture through the invitation to wonder about our sacred stories.

As I wondered about a reading for today’s worship, I was drawn into the story of women who followed Jesus, in the accounts in Luke’s Gospel.

I have always loved Luke 8:1-3, which names women who were followers of Jesus throughout his ministry: 

The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

We named our younger daughter, Joanna, after this faithful follower of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel.

I wonder about these women and their journey with Jesus.

The next time we hear two of their names again, Mary Magdalene and Joanna they are at the tomb of Jesus, coming to prepare his body.

I want to focus on the wisdom they offer us as we prepare to leave Uniting Women and return to our homes.

These women came to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body with spices and ointment, in a final act of love.  

They did not expect to find what was before them. They saw that the stone had been rolled away and they went in – expecting to find the body – but it was not there.

This caused them to be “perplexed” (NRSV) The NIV uses the words: ‘while they were wondering about this”... and in the midst of their wondering two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.

They were terrified. The two men, who we presume are messengers of God, ask: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

And in words that are a joyous declaration of faith for us: The women hear: “He is not here, he is risen!”

The women are called to remember – how Jesus told them “that he would be handed over to sinners, crucified and on the third day rise again.”

The women remembered, they believed and they witnessed to what they had heard and seen.

Returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.. These were women of wisdom and wonder.

They were women who stood by Jesus and supported him. They travelled with him. They shared  at table with him. They were moved by his healings, his teaching, his compassionate actions. They would have agoniSed over his cruel death and his leaving them. They did not abandon him. They were there at the foot of the cross to witness his last breath. They were there to prepare his body – to anoint him.  

These compassionate, faithful followers of Jesus, did not expect what they encountered at the tomb. It was more than they had dared to hope!

And yet what they had seen and heard in following him, opened their hearts and minds to hear the words “He is not here, but he is risen”, and believe.

They became believers and witnesses to his resurrection – their sorrow and terror were transformed into  joy and hope.

They shared the good news… They weren’t immediately believed. Some described their tale as ‘idle’ or nonsense.

This didn’t stop them! They shared the good news anyway.

These wise, wonder-filled women in the Scriptures, are our sisters in the faith.

Our lives are woven together with theirs, as we hear again the good news declared in the Gospels. He is risen!

Some of the women in Luke’s Gospel are named, others are unnamed. Some seem to be a small footnote in the larger narrative. And yet they are a significant part of the Christian witness down through the centuries.

While we do not know a great deal about these women, Dawn Wilhelm notes:

“But of this much we can be certain they shared a common faith in Jesus Christ and an uncommon love for him. Although many persons might discount their words as nonsense (v. 11) their roles as disciples and witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ is indispensable to the church and world.”(Preaching God’s Transforming Justice)

Over the past decades, Biblical scholars and historians, have worked to raise some of these significant women from anonymity, inviting us to remember these women, who are disciples of Jesus and witness to the transformation that comes through his Risen presence.

I have been inspired and encouraged by these women and others throughout history who have continued to share the good news, to encounter the risen Christ

Who are the women who have shared their wisdom and faith with you? Who have been persistent, faithful witnesses?

There is a wisdom that comes to all of us, as we  journey with Christ, the Crucified, Risen One, who pours out God’s grace on us, and invites us to love, and be agents of God’s reconciliation. Christ who sustains us through every circumstance we face, and who invites us into our fullest humanity.

I think of the wise women in our congregations. I have met quite a number who are in their 90s They have lived through many of the traumas of the 20th century and are living with the rapid changes of the 21st.  

I think of the women,  who have persisted in living the Gospel of Christ and expressing their ministry, even when there have been those around them, who have diminished their gifts and sought to silence them.

I think of those women and men who have encouraged  women to find their voice in the church and our wider society.

Women in this room with whom we are sharing in ministry.  

We know women like the ones who are named in Luke’s Gospel. Women who journey with people through grief and trauma embodying Christ’s love and comfort.

Women who are not deterred when their voice is not heard. Who persist in their witness to new life, compassionately working for justice and healing for their communities, families, work places and nations.

I bring to mind Elder Martha and pastor Sophie from Vanuatu – who are raising up the witness of women – their gifts and leadership in proclaiming the good news of the Risen, Crucified one.

In the early 2000s, I had the opportunity to attend a conference on theological education in Johannesburg, South Africa.

There I had the privilege to meet Rev Dr Nymabura Njoroge, from Kenya (who now works for the World Council of Churches.

Nyambura is a theologian, who knows from personal experience and from the experience of her people, the extent of suffering and injustice present in our global community.

She has seen her communities devastated by AIDS. She has experienced discrimination as a woman in the church. She has struggled with the poverty and violence decimating African communities.

 In this context Nyambura speaks of “a spirituality of resistance and transformation.”

Resistance to all that would dehumanise us and divide us from God and from each other, transformation of our realities into a world where God’s desires for us are realised – peace with justice, love and compassion mark our lives together. 

Nyambura writes:  

“A spirituality of resistance and transformation demands that we share the good news of the possibility of new life in the presence of death here and now. It is a spirituality that invokes a passion that believes positive change is possible. In Africa as we watch the escalating anarchy in many countries and in our streets, it is difficult to comprehend how we can end violent death and proclaim new life in Christ.

"We even wonder where God is when such chaos and destruction take place. We therefore need a zeal that believes... that we can sit down together and engage in dialogue over our difference. Passionate commitment is needed whereby we are not afraid to try new ways of relating to our neighbours and our enemies. Such zeal would be willing to listen to the word of God in the scriptures that require that we trust in God and act justly. “

Nyambura Njoroge and other women like her are seeking to nurture faith that engages the people of God in ways that will transform the whole of our realities: spiritually, politically, economically, and socially.

Justo Gonzalez in his commentary on the account of the women coming to the tomb in Luke’s Gospel notes that the resurrection is both a joy and a challenge to us as followers of Christ.

"But now the empty tomb opens new possibilities. Now there is no way back to the former life in Galilee... The resurrection is a joyous event; but it also means that Jesus call for his disciples to take up their cross and follow him is still valid. The full message of Easter is both of joy and of challenge. It is the announcement of unequalled and final victory, and the call to radical, dangerous and even painful discipleship.” (Justo Gonzalez, Luke, 2010, p.275)

As we leave here today, we are called to remember (to bring to remembrance) Jesus – his words to us, his love and hope, his call to compassion, peace and justice.

We are called to respond to and witness to the good news of the Crucified Risen Christ.

As we are sent out may God gives us courage to find our voice, to share the story of Christ, the Wisdom of God, so that the world may be invited into the wonder of the deep love and power of God bringing reconciliation and hope to the whole creation.