The Rev. Shanea D. Leonard lifts up prophets and activists from the biblical Anna to Fannie Lou Hamer
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — The online weekly Chapel Service held most Wednesdays by and for the national staff of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) had three observances to mark: Monday’s birthday celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Matthew 25: Dismantle Structural Racism Sunday as well as Racial & Intercultural Justice/Presbyterians Affirm Black Lives Matter Sunday.
Who else but one of the denomination’s most passionate preachers, the Rev. Shanea D. Leonard, director of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, to deliver a stem-winder that attracted more than 90 comments during and following their nearly 20-minute sermon.
Preaching from Luke 2:36-38, the story of Anna, the prophet and elderly widow who never left the temple and heralded the arrival there of the baby Jesus, Leonard finds it curious the Bible doesn’t lift up more women prophets. “Here, clearly, Luke makes no qualms about the mantle,” Leonard said.
“Here she is, not bowing down, not hiding … but in a place of prominence” despite “the obstacles she faced as a prophet and a single woman.”
“This woman is known and respectfully identified and is actively engaged in life at the center of activity,” Leonard said. “She ain’t hiding nothing from nobody.”
Isn’t it “just like God,” Leonard said, to choose “a woman to declare this good news. The prophet speaks into the now with a prophetic eye on the sovereignty of the cross. Oh, she’s somebody!”
“If we’re not careful,” Leonard said, “we will miss the fact that God has always used women … to do God’s will.”
“Doesn’t our very breath result from the sacrifice of a woman?” Leonard asked. “If it had not been for the women, none of the magnificence and totality of the sacred text would be possible.”
“What does this have to do with Martin Luther King Jr.? Keep walking with me,” Leonard urged. “If it weren’t for the women, there would be no Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. If it weren’t for women, where would his witness be,” citing specifically names including Jo Ann Robinson, Diane Nash and Coretta Scott King.
In addition, “unnamed women and girls did the work of the movement. These women were the midwives of the movement,” Leonard said. “They kept pushing, praying and protesting … They have been the backbone of the civil rights movement from its inception.”
There are modern-day midwives too, including U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and actors Angela Bassett and Viola Davis, as well as “the school teacher, the lunch lady, the bus driver — still working in their own ways to take care of our communities,” Leonard said. “Thank God for the midwives! Many of us could not function if they weren’t still at work.”
“The Bible says Anna declared who and what this baby Jesus was. Her proclamation declared the birth of the Messiah,” Leonard noted. “Thanks be to God for the midwives of the movements of God. Amen? Amen!”
During a time of blessing and charge, Leonard urged their colleagues not to “just have a day off on Monday,” King’s birthday celebration and a national holiday. “Understand the midwives, the backbone that undergirded the movement,” offering thanks to “the God who sees us when others do not,” the one “who undergirds us when the world tries to tear us down.”
“To the only wise God be glory,” Leonard said. “To the God of justice and inclusion be glory. Go forth, knowing you are seen, valued and loved.”
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