Those Preaching Women

Why a book collecting the sermons
of women who come from a variety
of cultural backgrounds? One
reason is expressed in the words of Anne-
Marie Jeffrey, a preacher originally from
the West Indies, “I owe many thanks to my
small group…they and other great women
preachers got this sermon started and
gave me a new confidence in my preaching”
(p. 114). Women raised in a patriarchal culture
need encouragement and role models
to inspire them to preach. They have experienced
discrimination ranging from outright
denial of their gift of preaching to neglect
and/or antagonism. This book is part
of the work of addressing that neglect and
antagonism.

However, not only do women need to
read these sermons; men also benefit from
hearing the gospel preached by women. Those Preaching Women
For men to hear the good news expounded
by someone who is fundamentally unlike
them is an exercise in humility, leading to
the insight that God is not limited to males
leading the church. If any, men or women,
are wondering whether God calls women
to preach, then this book is a non-threatening
way to entertain that possibility. My
guess is that the readers who are ambivalent
about women preachers will quickly be
convinced that God is indeed communicating
the gospel through women.

Are these sermons distinctive
in some way? Does it make
a difference if the person behind
the pulpit is a man or a
woman, of European or Asian
or African or Latina or Native
American descent? The answer
is yes and no. No, in that
the good news of the Christian
faith is proclaimed loud and
clear. No, in that mainstream
commentaries on the Old and
New Testament are consulted,
Hebrew and Greek words are
explained, the historical context
of chapters is explored.
Like good preachers everywhere,
these women exegete
the biblical text in their sermons.

But also, yes. Yes, it does make a difference
in that certain themes, such as God’s
call for justice in the here and now, the inclusiveness
of the gospel, the high value of
diversity within the Body of Christ, and the
empowering gift of the Holy Spirit, are emphasized.
Yes, in that the examples used,
the theologians cited, the applications derived
are often taken from communities
on the margins. For example, the sermon
by Daisy Machado, a Cuban immigrant,
draws from Latin American theologian Jon
Sobrino and womanist theologian Delores
Williams. One application of the good news
takes note of the fact that the AIDS pandemic affects a disproportionate number of
African Americans. The comments of Don
Imus and the respectful conduct of the
women athletes are contrasted in one sermon.
In another, Spike Lee’s documentary
When the Levees Broke is explored. We get a
glimpse of what reality and the life of faith
looks like from different angles.

The sermon topics include a wide spectrum
of biblical passages and seasons in
the liturgical year. There were Advent sermons,
Lenten sermons, a funeral sermon,
and sermons preached at women’s workshops
and retreats. Many sermons drew
from narratives about women in the Bible,
including the rape of Tamar, the neglect of
Leah, the No of Vashti, the widow who contributes
her single coin, Mary the mother of
Jesus, the Canaanite woman, Mary Magdalene,
and Martha. Other sermons expounded
on passages that do not explicitly
concern women: psalms, proverbs, oracles
from the prophets, paragraphs from the
Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and the epistles
of Paul. Of the 33 sermons included,
13 are from the Old Testament, and the remainder
are from the New Testament.

This diverse group of preachers has
delivered sermons that enrich us and our
understanding of the faith. We know that
the gospel is good news for all, and this
collection makes it clearer what the good
news sounds like when preached by Protestant
women of differing cultural backgrounds.

Christiana de Groot is professor of religion at Calvin
College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, specializing in Old
Testament.