A sermon offered to the people of God at Greenbelt Community Church, Greenbelt, Maryland
Thank you for your warm welcome. I’m delighted to serve you today for my friend Pastor Glennyce. We are part of a women’s clergy group and have enjoyed some wonderful times of laughter, prayer and inspiration. You are blessed with a great pastor!
My sermon this morning is based on the popular and epic blockbuster of the summer. It’s everyone’s SHEro, Wonder Woman! There are biblical themes in her story, themes that link our culture’s treatment of women and superheroes with God’s purpose in the world.
I should also mention: If you have not yet been to see this movie, I will have a few spoilers for you. (Fair warning!)
For some background: Wonder Woman is the story of Princess Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. She lives with her tribe on the island of Themyscira. Though she did not know it until she was an adult, she was the daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta, making her a demigod. Or demigoddess.
The myth is a powerful one. A young woman comes into her own, discovers she is born into a time of conflict where her unique gifts and powers are needed to make things right again. She is unspoiled by greed. She is not overly impressed with her personal powers. She doesn’t even realize she is beautiful.
The movie, set in World War 1, includes a handsome fighter pilot (of course) who crashes on the shores of Themyscira. Diana rescues him and then chooses to go back into his world to fight against the “bad guys”. She wears a tiara which can be thrown as a blade-edged boomerang, and wields a Lasso of Truth. Her bracelets become indestructible shields, blocking bullets and creating thunderbolts. She wears her sword down the back of her evening gown. What did you expect for Wonder Woman’s fashion accessories? She IS an Amazon. Did you expect tutus?
Wonder Woman, like the biblical women we will read about today, is larger-than-life. She faces injustice and evil and does not back away. In fact, like Deborah, our first SHEro, she realizes she has power and that she can use it to help others. (I kinda like that name… Deborah!)
Deborah The Lord Will Deliver Us Judges 4:1-10
Deborah was elevated to the position of judge in Israel. Our text in the NRSV calls her a “prophetess”. She is one of the twelve charismatic leaders, or judges, in Israel listed in the book of Judges. God put Deborah into leadership to provide spiritual and tactical leadership. The time she was born into was a period of struggle and suffering for the Jews. The Israelites had come out of Egypt, been led into the Promised Land, and faced a series of challenges from foreign powers trying to take the Land of Canaan from them. Historians suggest that the book of Judges was committed to writing during the Babylonian Exile (550 BCE). The book’s message of hope and promise of deliverance must have resonated deeply with a captive nation!
Deborah ruled as a judge – not just to resolve legal disputes. She served in that role as a prophetess, a warrior and, as you might read later in Judges 5, she was also a poet and singer! She was given power to lead by God and used it wisely.
With our Wonder Woman theme in mind, Deborah fulfilled roles as a leader, ready to battle against evil with her unique insight and power, and as a defender of her people. Deborah knew her tribe. Her motivation was for their safety and the return of peace.
When Wonder Woman goes into battle, she assesses and charges the line of enemy fighters, blocking bullets with her indestructible bracelets. She charges into “No Man’s Land.” To quote the Tolkein SHEro Éowyn, She is. No. Man. The battle belongs to Wonder Woman. Or… in the case of Deborah, it belongs to the woman who follows the Lord!
Deborah is a role breaker and risk taker. There was no other general like her recorded in Jewish history. There are many conservative Bible commentators who try to explain away her calling and her power. It’s clear she was not a typical woman of ancient Israel. In fact, given the inequity in the representation of women in Holy Scripture, where their power and status were minimized, she must have been extraordinary. SO extraordinary that she was not excised from the texts. That’s something to ponder
But the ancient mindset affects even how we translate her name: is she really “Deborah, wife of Lappidoth” when the literal translation of her name could be “Deborah, the fiery one”? Lappidoth is a derivative of the Hebrew word for fire or torch or lightning (לַפִּיד lappiyd). In the adjective form it would be “fiery”. She may indeed have been married. And the guy she married could have been a fiery one, too! But in our text, she was called to more than marriage and family. And she probably had a bit of FIRE in her belly.
Now, what about Barack, leader of the army? He appears to be thoughtful, reserved, and more conservative. He seems highly analytical, maybe to a fault… I grant you that. In fact, some commentaries go so far as to characterize him as reluctant and wimpy for not “manning up.” But what exactly do we read about his character? Is that true?
Did Deborah usurp Barack’s role in leading the Israelites against Sisera, the general of
King Jabin’s army? No. She gave him direction. Deborah took the lead, but as any wise military leader knows, she prepared her general and soldiers to have a successful battle. And then as the skirmish develops, allow circumstances to dictate what happens next.
Then why did Barack want her there? Because she presented the power and guidance of God. It was not enough for Barak to hear and go. He asked for guidance and her presence. That sounds like a cautious, thoughtful, careful leader to me. A respectful one.
Later in chapter 4, you’ll read that the mighty iron chariots of the Canaanites, so feared by the Israelites, got (literally) stuck in the mud! Barack led a rout of the Canaanite army, and God did indeed deliver General Sisera into the hands of a woman.
In the interests, of time, I’ll let you read up on how General Sisera dies. (Quite honestly, that’s a ghastly and bloody bit that makes for great cinema, but not great sermons. That’s your homework. The story of Sisera and Jael.)
But what about Deborah as a woman and a leader. Isn’t that, well, unbiblical? Well I guess it depends on how you look at it. Was God in charge of the battle with Sisera? Yes. Did Deborah take over a “man’s job”? No. Barack was not the judge of Israel. That was Deborah’s role. It was not hereditary and it wasn’t elected. She was put into that role by God. And she knew it. And, coincidentally… so did Barack!
God is both compassionate and a righteous judge, humble and forceful, intuitive and logical. Deborah reflects the God who called her. A balanced leader. One that eyes the situation and seeks God’s direction as she acts with thoughtful and wise plans. Deborah exhibited concern for the welfare of her people.
It’s very much like Wonder Woman’s response when she sees the suffering around her in the war zone. People who are wounded. Without food. Hungry children. Destroyed homes. The situation is no longer abstract. She is not just practicing archery and hand-to-hand combat. She is moved to action. Her compassion pushes her to respond.
My friend, Dr. Christy Sim writes:
Today, as we confront suffering in our own world, brought about by years of conquest, lust for power, and patriarchal disregard for the marginalized, we could become overwhelmed by the vastness of the abstract forces working against us. …When we feel with those suffering, we access a deep passion to act. We, like Diana, can rush onto the battlefields of our times and work to create change. Feminine power is often found in compassion.
When we are moved with compassion, we extend ourselves for those in need around us. Your church, like mine, is strategic and committed in your involvement with those who need our help. You invest your time and money in projects like the Special Olympics, or Christmas in April. That’s what God’s people do! We visit the sick. We befriend the stranger. We defend those being bullied. We care for the immigrants in our midst. We do not stand by and wring our hands and say, “oh, that’s just terrible.”
NO, Church. We DO something.
If compassion is our motivation, then like Deborah, we can make a palm tree our office and change the course of a nation. It really doesn’t take riches or CEO status or prestige to make a difference! But it does take action. And, like Deborah, when we see God’s plans unfold in front of us, we can proclaim this is God’s work. And the Lord receives the honor and the glory.
Sometimes, it is not just in serving God with our actions. We serve God with our words as we communicate God’s work in our lives. Just like our second SHEro this morning from the Gospel of John…
The Samaritan Woman at the Well Come and See John 4:7-30
This SHEro was not a powerful warrior, general and prophetess. She was an outcast. The scripture I’m about to read drops us into the middle of her story. The conversation between Jesus and the woman is found in the John 4:7-30.
The Samaritan Woman at the well… She has to be one of the most misunderstood women (in my opinion) in the Bible. A woman who had to come to Joseph’s well in the heat of the day to draw water, not in the morning or evening as most of the households would do.
The well in ancient times was a gathering place. The turn-of-the century Starbucks. If there was no river or other water source, any water you needed had to be pulled up, poured into larger pitchers and carried to where you needed it. Water for drinking, cooking, washing, and bathing. Water for your animals (unless the pasture had a spring). It was the source of life, literally Living Water.
That this woman had to get water for her household in the heat of the day meant that either she was a poor planner and household manager (not a good sign), or she was some kind of social pariah.
We learn from her encounter with Jesus that she has had five husbands, and that she is not married to the one she lives with now. This isn’t because of some lustful living. In all likelihood, she was divorced five times because she could not bear sons (a reason for divorce in ancient times). Or it is possible that her husband had died (and if she had not died in childbirth he might die first). It’s likely that she was not married because the brother or closest relative of her last marriage didn’t want another wife. So her notoriety is most likely not from shady living, but sheer dumb luck with the genetic lottery!
But the beauty in her story, to me, is that she discovers who Jesus really is. From his invitation, she accepts the Living Water, and she is changed. She returns to the village and says, “you GOTTA see this guy” – and because of her testimony, we read later in John 4 that many people in the city believed in Jesus – because of her testimony.
When the Samaritan woman experiences true change, when she understands who she is in the eyes of Jesus, there is an amazing metamorphosis that takes place. She can’t stay who she was. She becomes who, I think, God intended her to be… the messenger that brings salvation to a whole city.
If you have seen the Wonder Woman movie, perhaps you remember that Princess Diana goes through a metamorphosis as well. She was a princess, one who was not supposed to go to the practice fields where the Amazons were practicing hand-to-hand combat. She was supposed to be paying attention to her lessons. She goes to the training ground anyway. She practices in secret with the other warriors. She learns how to fight off multiple opponents. And when she crosses her bracelets… She becomes Diana, the demigod, not just Diana, the daughter of Hippolyta.
When Diana is deciding to leave Themyscira she says, “It is our sacred duty to defend the world. And it is what I am going to do.” Her mother, who does not want to leave, says, “If you choose to leave, you may never return.” Diana responds, “Who will I be if I stay?”
How can we, who have been transformed by the love and power of Christ, stay as we are? How do we say “no” to the God who has created us, changed us, empowered us, and now challenges us? The problem is not you or me. The problem is we. We are not telling our stories of hope and transformation!
Our challenge now is to take the stories of the Scriptures and allow them to transform us. So much that who we are, wherever we go, we have a story that changes the narrative. Let’s face it. The world is ready for some Good News!
The world’s stage has despot after despot, bigot after bigot, racist after racist, tyrant after tyrant trying to crush down and destroy any person who does not fit his or her definition of “our kind of people”. Can we sit back and say we are tired of the battle? Can we? If we do, we can no longer blame the person on the stage, spouting lies and prejudice and hate. We can only blame ourselves for our inaction. We are letting the noise of politics and conflict drown out the message of hope. God’s hope.
We instead must go to our villages – and tell the people around us, “Come and see the Christ, the Savior of the world.”
“Come and see” the God who routed Sisera’s army.
“Come and see” the women and men God has raised up to lead.
“Come and see” the God who knows everything we have ever done and yet passionately loves us.
“Come and see” the God who welcomes us to his Table and feeds us with compassion and grace.
“Come and see!”
AMEN. Thanks be to God.
 Serge Frolov, “How Old Is the Song of Deborah?”, n.p. [cited 23 Jul 2017]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/people/related-articles/how-old-is-the-song-of-deborah
 William P. Brown, “Chapter 17: Gender I – Feminist” in A Handbook to Old Testament Exegesis, pp 250-252. Westminster John Knox Press; 2017, Louisville, KY
 Sara Koenig, “Commentary on Judges 4:1-7” n.p. [cited 23 Jul 2017]. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2216
 Dr. Christy Sim “Wonder Woman: A Divine Feminine Myth for Our Time” n.p. [cited 23 July 2017] https://eewc.com/wonder-woman-divine-feminine-myth-for-our-time/