Written by: Rachael Keefe

Unexpected Godliness

Did you know that Mattel, the maker of Barbie, introduced a gender-neutral doll this week? It’s true. It’s a doll with a child’s shape prior to puberty and comes with …

Unexpected Godliness

Online home of the Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe.

Did you know that Mattel, the maker of Barbie, introduced a gender-neutral doll this week? It’s true. It’s a doll with a child’s shape prior to puberty and comes with wigs and gender neutral clothing. The doll is gender fluid with accessories to embrace diverse gender expression. What an amazing gift for children who are gender expansive as well as children who identify as male or female. As a girl who loved dolls and dresses as much as baseball and jeans, I would have loved this doll. In fact, I kind of want one now, even though my pronouns are she/her/hers and I am comfortable with my cis identity. If I had a child today who liked to play with dolls, I would purchase these dolls without hesitation.

Unfortunately, my delighted response to these dolls is not shared by everyone. In fact, there are a whole lot of people who call themselves Christian who are horrified by these dolls. They think  that because the Bible only mentions male and female being created in the image of God, then only male and female can exist. This is a fairly narrow reading of Genesis 1:26-27. There is room here for a far less literal interpretation. God (who is referred to in the plural here) creates humanity whose gender ranges from male to female, on a continuum. Of course, the ancient peoples would not have heard this verse in this way. However, there is no reason to limit what we hear just because the first hearers had a different experience of God and the world than we do.

This tendency to limit how God continues to speak through scripture is really my point. A toy company ought not to be more inclusive, understanding, supportive, and embracing of people than the church is. This just shouldn’t happen. We haven’t learned anything if we are not leading the world in practice of love, healing, and true inclusion. Jeremiah’s symbolic purchase of land reflecting God’s promise that the people of God will always have a home, means nothing if we don’t trust the continuing promise. The warnings of Amos fall on those who refuse to listen if we continue in our comfortable, “normative” lives while others barely survive on the edges of society. If we count ourselves among the godly while those around suffer for a lack of love and acceptance, then we have not followed the advice given in 1 Timothy. What have we learned from Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus if we treat those around us as less than human while enjoying our riches?

I am tired of the Bible being used as a weapon or a litmus test for God’s blessing. The full diversity of human beings is not mentioned in the Bible, nor is the full diversity of creation. Just because the Bible doesn’t mention something, it doesn’t mean that it is not pleasing to God. The people who wrote down the stories that are included in our sacred texts could only write from what they knew. They could only experience God through what was familiar to them. They did their best to tell what they knew of God based on their experiences of the world. They did not experience all there is to know about God or all there is to know about human beings or all there is to know about the created world. I think they would all be surprised to know that we are still reading their words today, maybe even more surprised at the contortions (and distortions) people go through to take the words literally.

The theme of God’s liberating love comes through the texts more strongly than anything else. When human beings fail to attend to these holy, loving ways, then the consequences can certainly be ugly. God does not inflict divine punishment nor divine rewards on individuals of communities. Yes, to the ancients it seemed that way. However, we can see that the disasters that struck God’s people were a direct consequence of them straying from God’s ways. And the better times were a consequence of keeping with God’s ways. These things are descriptive, not prescriptive. Selfish ways bring about destruction and devastation. Loving ways lead to strength and growth.

Jesus told the parable about the rich man and Lazarus for a reason, and it wasn’t to say that wealth is bad. People who enjoy wealth and treat others as less than human are not living out God’s love. They may one day find themselves on the outside of community, looking in and wondering where they went wrong. This is a lesson church would do well to pay heed to.

If we do not embrace the fullness of humanity in all its diversity, including gender diversity, the church will be pushed further and further from the center of society. God promised all that the people of God will always have a home. Jesus warned us again and again to care for the vulnerable among us. We must trust God’s love for us enough to embody it for everyone, without exception. This is what it means to be godly and to live in that home God has promised.

Mattel shouldn’t be more godly than the church. It’s that simple. Now what are we going to do about it? Do you trust God’s promise of a home, God’s liberating love for all people, to embody that love and share it with all whom you meet?

For more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year C – Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 29, 2019
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 with Psalm 91:1-6,14-16 or
Amos 6:1a, 4-7 with Psalm 146
1 Timothy 6:6-19 and
Luke 16:19-31

Photo: CC0image by Gerd Altmann

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

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