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An homily for the Womens World Day of Prayer – March 5th 2010

Homily for Women’s World Day of Prayer Service March 5th 2010.

Brampton Methodist Church

Thank you so much for my invitation to speak to you this afternoon at this Women’s World Day of Prayer Service. Incase you haven’t come across me before – I have the pleasure of being the Vicar of Little Paxton, Great Paxton and Diddington Churches and just to keep me out of trouble I try also to be Rural Dean of the St Neots Deanery. If you are not too sure what a Church of England Rural Dean does – don’t worry, as Im not too sure either. But what I do know is that when I go on the annual Ely Diocesan Rural Deans Conference in May this year at Launde Abbey in Leics – I will be the only female rural dean in the company of many gentlemen.  Whether or not women don’t want to be rural deans or at heart the C of E is still fairly male dominated when it comes to senior posts I’m not sure. But I do know what it is like to be in a minority and looking back over 23 years of ministry I know what it is like to have to work hard to convince those who aren’t too sure about  women’s ministry  that  we aren’t all feminists with long agendas who want to rock a lot of boats.

It’s good to be in a Methodist Church for me – I owe a lot to my paternal great grandfather William Richings – Ive got a picture of him here with his  Oxford tribe c 1900. William was one of the founder members of Methodism in East Oxford  and the story goes that he caught pneumonia walking from Oxford out to a village to preach one Sunday and sadly died in his early 60’s – no doubt when he still had a lot of zeal for the gospel. I often wonder what life was like for his wife Charlotte who bore him 10 children at least – and just can’t imagine how she coped with the hard life that Victorian women had to endure.

No one can pretend that millions of women in the course of human history have had it easy – millions still very much struggle today.

Hands up if you are over 50?  Chances are if you lived in Cameroon – you might not be surviving beyond another year. It’s a stark reality that in Cameroon, the country from where our service material comes from today – the average life expectancy is 51.

Back in late UK Victorian times  especially in city areas, most  women life expectancy was 48. Unless we are very unlucky today, the average life expectancy for women in the UK is now 82 yr and for men 77. How things change and we in the west maybe don’t  quite realize how lucky we are.

I’ve read a lot about  life in Victorian Britain and it wasn’t all sunshine and green fields as in Lark Rise – though I woudn’t want to knock the  many good things about rural life at that time despite the grinding poverty. But my grandmother, who was born in London in 1898 still could remember tales of how difficult life was in Islington – infectious illness, not least TB  and poverty being two major troubles. Her mother who was widowed early took in orphans through the Salvation Army to make ends meet and nanny remembered how the household was always full to over brimming.

Yet, she would often say – despite all of that – people were happier and faith, at least for her family, was strong in a God that was always with them come what may. Her sister Kitty became a SA officer – the SA even in those days being far ahead of the Church of England in accepting women’s leadership – and Nanny herself wanted to follow Kitty – but there weren’t the funds for her training.

In many ways the struggles of our female ancestors weren’t that different to those of the women of Cameroon.

Just reading through the background literature made my jaw drop.

A few facts if I may. On the one hand, the Republic of Cameroon “ Africa in miniature” as its been called – is both a beautiful and diverse country with a wide range of natural resources and home grown products. It produces oil, rubber, cotton, timber and many food stuffs. Yet despite its potential wealth, the country has desperate areas of poverty and injustice. Just with our Victorian ancestors, disease is rife – in their case malaria, TB, HIV Aids – malnutrition doesn’t help with those conditions. Although the constitution of 1983 gives women equal rights on paper when it comes to inheritance laws and employment, in practice old traditions still discriminate against women. Many young children don’t go to school at all – and very few have secondary education.  As the notes say “ early marriage, unwanted pregnancies and domestic chores are some of socio-cultural prejudices contributing to lower education attendance for girls. Child trafficking is also a major problem”

I don’t read out this litany of sad things for us to feel smug that we have got it right and this young developing country has got it all wrong. Far from it – rather to stress how incredibly brave many of the women of Cameroon are – and how, despite all that is wrong  they still have tremendous faith.

Despite all these concerns their response is “ Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord” How could you or I praise the Lord when maybe your child has malaria, you are kept down by age old traditions which don’t let you have your decent rights or you know that if illness does strikes there isn’t the health care to give you a fighting chance to get better?

Still they say – “ Let Everything that hath breath praise the Lord” .Not only that, many women  are working tirelessly to improve their lot and give dignity and hope to their sisters.

How do we feel when life gets tough? Do we want to praise the Lord still? Its easy  to do so when we hear good news – maybe about one of our children or a family member. How about when a best friend in dying in a hospice or we find we’ve just been made redundant.

This is where Jesus helps me out. Remember him struggling in the garden of Gethsemane – when he pleased with his father to remove the cup of suffering? As we come ever closer to Holy Week, we shall be focusing on his crucifixion and those moments when he despaired and cried out “My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me” Even Jesus didn’t always seem to be praising God. And let’s be real – sometimes even if we have the energy to do so, life can treat us harshly and for a while, that desire to praise a loving God seems to set with the sun. I dare say these marvellous women of Cameroon have their down days when praising seems hard to do.

Yet as we read on page 7  “ In the Cameroonian context, people praise God even in, or especially during difficult times in their lives…. As long as one has breath there is hope. So we sing in the hope that things will get better. Even Cameroonians who are orphans, widows, HIV Aids infected know that God accompanies them in their suffering”

That’s the clue – these good people may be poor in many respects but they are rich in their spiritual life – the writers of this text know that God is with them always even in great suffering. As Jesus knew, after that struggle on the cross – that God was with him when he said “ Into thy hands, O God, I commend my spirit”.

So, whatever our struggles may be – issues of health, justice, poverty, insecurity or loneliness – we really do have a God who is right there beside us – and that really is a reason  to say or to sing – praises to God. This service gives us some wonderful opportunities to do just that.

I often start my sermons with a joke – but instead I’m going to finish with one – relevant maybe to those difficult questions of equality between men and women.

Newly married couple getting used to married life – wife wanted to discuss who should make the tea in the morning.

“ That’s definitely the wife’s job “ said the husband.

Im not sure about that said his wife – I think you should do it you get up before me.

Oh, but I work much harder – he said – its your job. And so it went on.

Until the wife said – the answer to be sure is in the bible – and she opened up the NT and handed him the open page – see, she said, it says “ He Hebrews”

May the God who loves and cherishes each one of us, male and female, young and old of all cultures and faiths – hold us in the palm of his hand protect us from evil and give us the assurance of his presence at all times. Through Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Amen.

The WDP Logo

WDP logo

The symbol for World Day of Prayer was developed by the women of Ireland and adopted as the international logo in 1982. Its design is made up of arrows converging from the four points of the compass, persons kneeling in prayer, the celtic cross, and the circle, representing the world and our unity through all our diversity.

logo parts

March 7, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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