Women’s Equality Day – Liturgy and Sermon notes

Special Service Recognizing Women’s Right to Vote

 Service of Word and Sacrament                                                                                  August 26, 2009

 Anniversary of the Ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America – Recognition of the Right of Women to Vote.                                              August 26, 1920

PRELUDE –                           Selections from La Liberazione di Ruggiero             Francesca Caccini 


INTROIT                                             She Loved Her Savior                              Cutter/Harrington


Leader:            Noah’s wife and daughters have no names.
                        Moses adoptive mother, daughter of Pharaoh, has no name.
                        Wife of Minoah, mother of Samson, has no name.

All:                  The names of the mothers have been lost.

Leader:            The woman who dried the feet of Jesus with her hair and perfumed them,
                        The Canaanite woman whose faith prompted Jesus to heal her daughter
                        The woman who touched Jesus’ garment and was cured of hemorrhaging,

All:                  The names of these faithful women have been overlooked.

Leader:            Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Dinah, Mary Magdalene –
                         all women unfairly treated by men of their time or ours.
                        Tamar, Deborah, Judith, Esther – 
                        all female heroes that take a back seat to the males.

All:                  The stories of the women have been ignored.
                          God, help us to remember and learn from all the people
                          and strive to know all of Your Truth.[1] Amen.

 * HYMN –                   PH #343 – Called as Partners in Christ’s Service     


All:                  Almighty God, we confess that there are times when we fail to hear your truth; we pray that you will give us a chance to listen for it again. There are times when, out of our self-interest, fear or insecurity, we have minimized someone else’s situation; we seek forgiveness and a chance to respond again. There are times when we have agreed to treat all others as sisters and brothers in Christ, but have told people by our actions and words that they are less important – less loved; we are humbled and pray that we may learn that it’s OK to go back and make amends. Help each of us, God, to discern the truth in Your Word and in Your example, and to pray daily for your guidance and strength. Amen.


                        Throughout the scriptures, when God calls women and men to serve in a special way, God assures that person with the promise, “I will be with you.” Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was himself called Immanuel, God-with-us, also promised his disciples, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Friends, believe the Good News of the Gospel: we do not go into the world alone. Christ is with us, leading and sustaining us, forgiving our sins and giving us his peace. Give thanks to God for this gift of grace.[2]

READING:                              Ruth 4: 9-17  The Redemption of Noami

* HYMN                                  PH #435 – We All Are One in Mission

READING:                              Matt. 7:7-14   Seek and You Shall Find

SERMON:        Truth – not Given or Granted, Just Recognized for What It Is.

(Sermon notes follow the Order of Worship)

PASTORAL PRAYER:  Loving God, prepare me to meet you in intimacy and love, confident that you will not turn me away.  Help me to remember that you desire to be loved and chosen above all others.  If I show that I am serious in my intent, I know you will not fail me or turn me away. You have already spread your cloak over me, but I have still to discover what this really entails: the reality of a covenant love, which reciprocates your choice and gives joy to your heart.[3]

Silent Prayer:


OFFERING                  Offertory: Selection from The Lauds of Saint Ursula           St. Hildegard


* PRAYER OF DEDICATION:  Loving God, we give in joyful response to your bountiful provision in our lives. We beg, God, that we serve as faithful stewards in the work of bringing your everlasting truth unto the world.

* HYMN                                  PH #354, Guide My Feet


POSTLUDE                                                     Dreaming                                            Amy Beach


Sermon Notes[i]:

Discussion of the book of Ruth as a Hebrew Bible “parable”, rather than simply a story with a moral.

  • Ruth, as a Moabite, was unacceptable in Jewish society.
    • History of Moabite women trying to corrupt Hebrew men (Num 25:1-5).
    • Moabites were barred from being part of Israelite society (Deut. 23:2-6, Ezra 9:1-10:44, Neh. 13:1-3).
  • The law is applied to Ruth, just as to any Israelite woman.
    • Scandalous affront to Jewish society, because the law was designed to preserve the integrity of Israelite lineage and property.
  • Ruth is praised for her ds,H, (hesed) or steadfast love.
    • Besides an attribute of humans this same word is used many times to describe the quality of love and kindness God shows to humans.
    • This is as “in your face” as referring to the Samaritan as the kind and caring person in the Good Samaritan parable, as opposed to the priest or elder.

If viewed as a parable:

  • The message would mock certain common societal values and rules.
    • The post-exilic ruling elite in Jerusalem aiming to keep foreigners from within the Jewish community.
    • Gender-biased rules associated with many aspects of society – land ownership, inheritance, marriage, etc.

With regard to gender, the laws where set up so that, in the absence of a male offspring, widows could keep their husbands property if, and only if:

  • Someone in the husband’s family “redeemed” her – accepted her as wife and property as his.
  • The first choice always went to next of kin, then next closest, etc. 
  • If no one stepped up to the plate, the property would be lost to the widow and the family.
  • The process of redemption made the widow a “worthy woman”.

In this story, Naomi was the mother of two sons, one of whom was married to Ruth and the other to another Moabite woman, Orpah. Naomi’s husband dies, followed a few years later by her two sons. This sets up the basic problem.

Many of you know this story as a “sweet” tale suitable for children. You know the rest of the story I’m sure:

  • Despite Naomi’s objections Ruth follows her to Bethlehem, out of her ds,H, or steadfast love.
  • Once there, Ruth gleans the fields to feed herself and Naomi, out of her ds,H,.
  • Boaz recognizes the kindness of Ruth and provides safety in his field, as well as some extra grain, out of respect for her ds,H,.
  • Naomi, knowing that Ruth gleaned in Boaz’s field, eventually sends Ruth to him at night and tells her that “he will tell you what to do”.

Ruth goes as instructed. From here on listen with a different set of ears.

Remember that Boaz has previously recognized the kindness of Ruth, and treated her in like manner – with respect and kindness – even providing additional grain for her and Naomi.

  • Ruth does not do as Naomi told her. Boaz was supposed to tell Ruth what to do next, but Ruth tells Boaz, “spread you cloak over me, for you are next of kin.”
    • Much has been made of “laying at feet” and “spread your cloak”. Most of it sexual.
    • In this context, however, especially knowing Boaz’ reaction, that is not what occurred.
    • Ruth, rather than wait for Boaz to tell her, told him to redeem her, otherwise “you are next of kin” has no bearing.

Following this marriage proposal:

    • Boaz should be furious, appalled, sickened, or in any other way object to the possibility of marrying a Moabite. After all that is how society says he should react.
    • Instead, he praises her ds,H once again. He is flattered that she would choose him, even though he knows he is a likely choice – there are other kin – younger and richer than he. 
    • He declares that all the assembly recognizes her as a worthy woman. 

 Now, look at it through a different set of eyes.

  • First, Boaz did not act like the men of Jewish society would have acted.
  • He was not repulsed by Ruth’s race or forwardness, but was impressed with her nature.
  • This is a parable about recognizing truth and just actions.
    • The truth of Ruth’s  ds,H,
    • The truth of her inherent value and worthiness
    • The truth of the Jewish errancy in its prejudice against foreigners or other races
    • The truth of Jewish errancy in its treatment of women

The Jewish law provided that a widow could be made worthy by a man’s act of redemption.

  • Boaz does not make Ruth worthy, he simply recognizes her worthiness. 
  • In doing so he goes against his cultural norms – he has the courage to act on what is true.
  • Contrary to the culture, the assembly then recognizes Ruth’s worthiness.

How, you might ask, does this apply to the anniversary we are celebrating today?

Well, I’m so glad you asked.

American society in up until 1920, did not view women as equal or worthy people. Just because men, who were the controlling element in society, did not view women as worthy, did that make it a truth?

Hardly, it was just the social norm – a similar one that Naomi and Ruth faced.


  • Had to be forward about demanding what was inherently theirs – the right to participate in the determination of their future – just as Ruth was forward with Boaz.
  • Had to persevere in this effort for over 75 years.
  • Needed men to change the system.

Why did they need men?

  • To confer worthiness on them – absolutely not.
  • To give them the right to vote – no.
  • But, women needed men to recognize the truth – the inalienable right of women to participate in society.

Women needed men to see the truth, recognize it for what it was, and have the courage to act on it – despite the fact that it went against cultural norms and the status quo. By August 26, 1920, enough men had come to realize this truth, and find the courage to defy the powers that be by using the responsibility and authority that society had empowered them with.

One would think that the battle would have been won at that point – that no more gender inequality would have existed. But that would exclude the nature of systems to perpetuate inequality to grant more power and control to a limited number of elite players.

If the battle were won, we would not have to be concerned about:

  • A disproportionate number of the poverty-stricken being women, especially single mothers;
  • A legal system that favored the more powerful and wealthier, hence men;
  • A social environment in which women are far more at risk than men for violent crimes;
  • A social system that blamed the victim in cases such as rape, sexual harassment and assault;
  • A social system in which, to this day, women earn less than men for equal tasks – even in the pulpit.

What women need are more men to take up the cause. Not because men have some inherently greater worth than women, but because men still largely control the mechanisms of society that perpetuate the discrepancies that exist.

If one is to wage peace, the minds of warmongers have to be opened to the truth. If women are to find true equality, the minds of men have to be equally changed in the process. We are in need of men who have the foresight to see truth for what it is; the courage to act against self-interest and the patterns of society; the confidence in themselves to overcome their insecurities about a changing worldview.

A stratified society based on any criteria, such as gender, race or economics has never been a God-declared truth, just a man made reality. Truth and the courage to act on it, as uncomfortable as they are, are the messages of God.

I am asking for good, honest, courageous men to recognize the truth of God’s equal love for all persons and to take the terrifying step to affirming that truth. Step up, please, and commit yourself to the battle for justice – look a woman in the eyes and commit your heart, soul and all your physical being to undoing the injustices perpetrated against them in the name of your gender and your God.

We don’t need you to give anything to women, except the promise that you will recognize the truth of God’s Word and will, and you will act according to the faith you profess.


[1] Loosely adapted from Janet R. Walton, Feminist Liturgy – A Matter of Justice, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2000. pp 50-51.

[2] PCUSA, Women’s Ministries on Behalf of Women, PCUSA Website, <http://www.pcusa.org/women/ resources/celebrate/2002.htm>, accessed 5/19/03. The hymns used in this liturgy were taken from suggestions on this same webpage.

[3] Elizabeth Ruth Obbard, O.D.C., Ruth & Naomi – A Story of Friendship, Growth & Change, Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2003. p 71.


[i] Several resources were used as general references, without basing any particular parts of the sermon notes on quotes or specific contexts. These were:

Alice Ogden Bellis, Helpmates, Harlots and Heroes – Women’s stories in the Hebrew Bible, Louisville, KY:1994.

Janet R. Walton, as cited earlier.

Elizabeth Ruth Obbard, O.D.C, as cited earlier.

Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1977.

1 Response to “Women’s Equality Day – Liturgy and Sermon notes”

  1. 1 Fr. Alphonso Francis
    February 23, 2011 at 10:59 PM

    Dear Friend,
    Your Sermon has been very educative, inspiring and transformatory. Thank you for spreading the Living Word of God in such a noble and beautiful way.
    God be with you,
    Fr. Alphonso Francis

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