7/20/2012 sermon: Truth, Tubman, et al: God’s wisdom in action

Location: St. David’s Episcopal Church, Ashburn, VA
Text Wisdom 7:24
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Ross Tubman

God’s wisdom in action

Today is the 164th anniversary of the 1848 Women’s Rights Conference in Seneca Falls, New York. On this day we are asked to view our scripture lessons through the lens of the lives of four great 19th century women: Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Amelia Bloomer. Truth and Tubman were prominent abolitionists who helped hundreds of people escape slavery. Stanton and Bloomer advocated basic rights, including suffrage, for women.

Placing these four women together in the calendar of saints gives us a filter, a perspective, by which we are asked to consider their lives.

  • Sojourner Truth was born a slave in New York in the late eighteenth century. She escaped slavery with the help of Quakers. She became a traveling evangelist and founder of a homeless shelter for women. She was a very charismatic preacher whose voice helped to free the church from a narrow reading of the Bible and to inspire many people of faith to work to end slavery.
  • Harriet Tubman was born in 1820 in Maryland. Inspired by the Exodus story, she became a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Tubman made 19 trips back into Maryland, personally leading over 300 slaves to freedom. During the Civil War, she was a cook, a nurse, and a spy for the Union Army. After the war she worked to shelter the most vulnerable of her people, the orphans, widows, and the elderly poor.
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a pioneer in the women’s rights movement. She dedicated her life to gaining equality for women, beginning with obtaining the right to vote as a step in giving a voice to women. Drawing on her faith, she worked to rid the nation of a prejudice that had been deeply rooted in a narrow reading of the Bible.
  • Amelia Bloomer was a temperance and women’s suffrage activist. She was the first women to own, operate, and edit a newspaper for women, one that was very influential in the women’s rights movement. Like many woman of intellectual substance, she is best known for what she WORE: Turkish pants, which forever changed Western women’s dress options.

These four women were not a monolithic entity. Each had their own views and priorities. Truth, for example, was not a fan of women wearing pants. [1] However, if we look beyond their individuality, we find things held deeply in common among them.

Truth, Tubman, Stanton, and Bloomer emancipated untold numbers of people from the bondage of physical, emotional, and biblical oppression. They were liberators and prophets, women who worked tirelessly to help proclaim the hope of the Resurrection to all they encountered. Theirs was a mission for justice and peace in a time when both were in short supply.

Each of these four women remind us that we are to act on our faith, bringing the Kingdom of God into reality here on this earth, here in our lifetime. Beautiful worship and even devout prayer simply are not enough, unless our worship and prayer lead us to act as the hands and feet of Christ. These four women each were compelled by God to act on behalf of not only themselves through their own causes, but to act on behalf of others.

Our reading today from The Wisdom of Solomon[2] affirms that all wisdom is from God almighty. And in every generation, our lesson says, God’s wisdom passes into holy souls and transforms those souls into prophets who do God’s will.

What we learn from a broad reading of the Bible is that, over and over again, God fills the least likely people with wisdom, makes prophets and leaders out of the least likely of people, and compels them to act. Truth, Tubman, Stanton, and Bloomer were their generation’s prophets, and their lives bear witness that “against wisdom evil does not prevail.”[3]

One of the things I  greatly admire about authentic Anglo-Catholicism is the connection we make between the particular way in which we worship God, and our work to manifest Christ in the world. We know that our liturgy is sacred, but even our sacred liturgy is empty unless it moves us into a divine life, a life filled with God’s wisdom and which elevates the dignity of all human beings. Our Anglo-Catholic forebears created some of the first integrated churches and free hospitals. However, we sometimes forget that our liturgical practices became tolerated only because of the lives of the earliest Anglo-Catholics and their years of service to the poorest of the poor.

As we depart from this Mass today, the question is: Whose life will you help to make better as a result of having worshiping God here in this holy way? What evil will the actions you take on behalf of others help God’s wisdom to eradicate?


[1] Nell Irvin Painter, “Sojourner Truth in Life and Memory: Writing the Biography of an American Exotic,” Gender and History, Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 1990.

[2] Wisdom 7:24

[3] Psalm 105:14

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