Sermon 5/26/19: Nevertheless, she persisted, and she prevailed.

Pr. Ben Adams

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 25/26, 2019

Nevertheless, she persisted, and she prevailed.

Nevertheless, she persisted. Remember two years ago when Senator Mitch McConnell inadvertently coined that feminist catchphrase? It was during an interview where he was describing why he and his fellow Senate Republicans voted to stop Elizabeth Warren from speaking during the debate over Jeff Sessions’ nomination for attorney general.

McConnell’s more full quote says, “She was warned, she was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” It became a rallying cry immediately for feminists everywhere. And for good reason. It so succinctly summed up what women have felt and experienced from men for ages and it concludes with a statement of resistance. Nevertheless, she persisted.

And it seems to me that a spirit of feminist resistance and persistence is necessary now more than ever. All around us we see women being silenced and women’s bodily autonomy legislated against. In the past three months alone, five states have enacted laws that severely restrict access to abortion — sometimes as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The Alabama law that was signed by the governor last week bans abortion in nearly all cases, with no exceptions for rape or incest, and carries up to a 99-year prison sentence for doctors who perform the procedure.

Despite these brutally restrictive laws and almost complete abortion bans, there is still reason to hope that even in the face of systemic legislated oppression, nevertheless, she persisted.  And persistent women prevail. Today we have an inspiring example of a persistent and powerful woman in our first reading from Acts, her name is Lydia, and as a result of her persistence, she prevails.

We find Lydia by the river in Philippi, where Paul and Silas and Timothy are traveling after Paul has a vision and sets sail looking for a man with whom to share the good news in Macedonia, where Philippi is a leading city. But instead of finding that man in his vision, he encounters Lydia and a group of women.

We are told Lydia is from Thyatira and she is described first and foremost as a worshiper of God. The text goes on to describe the work that Lydia does; she is a dealer in purple cloth. Now in these times purple cloth was prestigious because of the rarity of the color purple in nature and the expense of creating its dye. This means that purple cloth was also exclusive and expensive, which indicates to us that Lydia was doing pretty well for herself financially.  It’s also indicative of her financial standing that she is able and willing to support Paul, Silas, and Timothy by providing them with shelter. 

In the text it says, “The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul by the river. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home." And she prevailed upon us.” In this way Lydia is a powerful example of generosity and radical hospitality. Not even a native of Philippi, Lydia welcomes strangers in a place where she once was a stranger.

And I love that phrase at the end there. “And she prevailed upon us.” Or, to shorten it and combine it with our earlier feminist catchphrase, we could say, “Nevertheless, she persisted, and she prevailed.” It is by way of her urging and persistence that Lydia prevails, and her radical hospitality is received by Paul, Silas, and Timothy. And it is that hospitality that lays a foundation for the church to be strengthened as Paul and his entourage traveled and planted Christ-following communities. Then and now, those who demonstrate their faithfulness in both their words and deeds and those who extend generous hospitality, like Lydia, strengthen the body of Christ. It is the proclamation of good news that opens our hearts, and open hearts result in open doors.

But we live in a closed-hearted country where doors are being shut, where walls are being built, and where forced removal and deportation of our fellow siblings is being justified in the name of law and order. Nowhere has this ever been more clear to me or closer to home than it has been in the past two weeks.  And that is because my fellow colleague and graduate of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Pastor Betty Rendón and her husband Carlos were arrested by ICE and are currently in a detention facility in Southern Illinois. We also just found out yesterday that they have been scheduled to be deported back to Colombia this coming Tuesday.

This is not radical hospitality, and this is not justice. Pastor Betty and her family fled Colombia for the United States back in 2004.  During that time, Colombia was in a civil war and guerrilla fighters tried to recruit students from the school where Pastor Betty was a principal, but Betty prevented them from coming on campus, so they threatened her life. As a result, Betty and her family fled to America on a visa and applied for asylum. They were denied because there wasn’t a police report to corroborate her life-threatening story, but this is often the case, as police can be also targeted if involved. Fearing for the safety of her family she stayed in America anyway, getting a master’s degree and working towards her Ph.D. at LSTC here in Hyde Park. She also began serving part-time as the Pastor of Emaus Lutheran Church in Racine, Wisconsin.  Now, for no other reason than overstaying her visa, Pastor Betty’s life is once again being threatened as she awaits deportation to a country that is not safe for her.

Nevertheless she persisted, and she prevailed.  That is the good news that I need right now that opens my heart to the hope that Pastor Betty and her husband will be freed and allowed to remain here in safety. But it is on us to demonstrate our faithfulness in words and in deeds, calling on our Senators to stop this deportation.

Pastor Betty’s heart was opened by the Lord and she, like Lydia, radically provided hospitality and shelter to the children at her school who were actively being recruited into war. She risked her life for her students, she fled for her safety, and even after arriving to the United States, Pastor Betty continued her work of offering radical hospitality in her role as Pastor. Pastor Betty has offered hospitality to strangers in a country where she was once a stranger. Yet, somehow, out of nowhere, our closed-hearted country demands her deportation back into that life-threatening situation.  Nevertheless, she persisted, and she prevailed.

Fear, sadness, and anger may overcome us, but today we are also reminded that it is the Holy Spirit, the advocate, as Jesus says in our Gospel today, that God has sent to us to teach us and remind us of the peace that Jesus leaves with us, the peace Jesus gives to us, not as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. Instead, like Lydia, Pastor Betty, and countless other powerful, persistent, prevailing women, let our hearts be opened by the Lord to this peace that surpasses all human understanding.

In this season of Easter victory, the good news of Jesus Christ prevailing over death opens us to this unsurpassable peace and opens our hearts and opens our doors. This radical hospitality strengthens the body of Christ and fills us with the hope that even in the face of evil, the advocate is with us, empowering us. And nevertheless the advocate, she persisted, and she prevailed. Amen.