Three scriptural gems provide solace in time of COVID, says All Saints’ rector Broderick


“I am tired of learning about insurmountable obstacles and unrestorable situations. I am exhausted from being manipulated to feel afraid,” said the Rev. Janet Broderick. She preached at the 10:45 a.m. EDT Sunday, July 26, service of worship and sermon on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

Her sermon title was “The Iconoclast.” Her aphorism for the day was, “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We are the phone company,” from Lily Tomlin as Ernestine the telephone operator. The scripture text was 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 (NRSV) —

“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

“I want to talk about the power of Christianity to make us whole,” Broderick told the virtual congregation. “I want you to learn about women finding their voice. I pray you find your voice, to speak on your own.”

She continued, “I want to leave you with three nuclear scriptural gems: The worst is the best, work is the thing, and remember to surrender.”

Broderick grew up in Greenwich Village in New York City. Her parents were atheists and artists and she was not raised in church. When she was 19, she took a trip across the country to do some teaching in San Francisco.

She stopped in Winnemucca, Nevada, because her mother’s best friend, Janet, for whom Broderick is named, was a piano player there. The original Janet died at the age of 27 from hepatitis. Broderick wanted to see where Janet worked.

Broderick stopped overnight, “because there were a lot of bars with pianos in Winnemucca. I got a cruddy hotel room with no TV and listened to the Watergate hearings. Sen. Sam Ervin was talking about the Bible and I found a Gideon Bible in the room.”

She turned to the Sermon on the Mount. “The words jumped from the page to my heart,” Broderick said. As she went to sleep she realized that Jesus cared as much about what was in her heart as what she did.

“I believed that Jesus was the Messiah and I began a new life. I knew I was changed and I was afraid,” but Jesus told her, “‘I am with you and we will do this together,’” she said.

As she became a new creation, she joined a church, made friends, had Christian roommates, “and forgave my parents because (the pain) did not matter anymore,” she said.

She continued, “But a new creation comes into the real world, and I began to wonder if the power of Christianity does change anything. What if Christianity doesn’t work?”

Broderick was in a sexist world and church, and she tried to beat herself into submission, as some churches teach is the role of women. 

“It is like trying not to be gay. I tried to be less than so that men would make more room for us. We let them fix the car, and we wear heels so we walk funny and lipstick so we look like a baby,” she said.

She recalled the first letter of Timothy, where he said he did not allow women to preach or to teach men. 

“I couldn’t tell them this was not working out,” Broderick said. “Oppression is internalized in women called to leadership. I know many who have been hurt as women, but they suppressed it.”

She continued, “We say we are white, we have privilege, but I was molested five times by the time I was 16. I thought the church was safe, but as I exercised my gifts, I experienced sexism.”

Broderick had men counsel her to just be different, to speak more sensitively. “A man, with one word, could change the course of a meeting and it made my hours of work in vain. Is there a secret truth that Christianity does not work?”

There are many women with stories of being objectified by the color of their skin, their poverty or mental illness. “It makes them feel alone. Is there a secret truth that Christianity does not work?” she asked again.

Broderick said, “We can’t know the love of God until we locate the place of depravity in ourselves. Does Christianity only help the privileged? Are we at the place, as James Baldwin said, ‘At least I am white, at least I am not Black’? Is there a secret truth that Christianity does not work and no one is saying so?”

She told the congregation, “I promised you good news, how scripture teaches us to get out of the mess. I promised three nuclear scriptural gems.’

The first gem is “the worst is the best.”

“If I have never been silenced, I would not know how to love the silenced,” Broderick said. “If I have not been told I was less than, I would not have the pure joy of having ‘the less than’ as friends. If I had never been molested, I would not know how to pray for the wounded or what healing feels like.”

She quoted labor leader Eugene V. Debs, “If there is a lower class, I am in it.”

Broderick’s mother was attacked at a dinner party for not behaving properly. She went to the hospital for a “nervous stomach.” While there, she received a note from Baldwin. 

“Don’t let them get you down, baby,” he wrote. “That’s what they are there for.”

Jesus told his disciples that power is perfected in weakness. In the Sermon on Mount, he said the meek would see God. “We could not love God unless we know we have a problem. The worst is the best,” Broderick said.

The second gem was “the work is the thing.”

Broderick has a friend, an African-American priest, who was having a crisis of faith. She could not stand the lack of justice and was afraid for her son.

“After Trayvon (Martin) and others over and over, I just can’t live without justice,” she told Broderick.

Even though she was very afraid of COVID-19, she took her son to a Black Lives Matter demonstration. “I stood there and I believed I felt a part of the struggle as long as I was doing the work of justice,” she said.

When Broderick was in her 20s, she was with a woman friend who was about to be ordained a priest. Broderick was trying on her friend’s clergy collar to see what it felt like.

“I was thrilled to be included at the table,” she said. “But I knew that my friend, about to be ordained, had been sexually molested in that church. How is that good?”

She continued, “I heard Jesus say, ‘Janet, the church is not the kingdom, it is a broken place. Do the work I have given you to do. It is not about how bad it is, it is about the opportunity to do the work.’”

The actor Sada Thompson spoke at Broderick’s father’s funeral. She said, “I know that his family will miss Jimmy for many reasons. I will miss the work.”

Broderick said, “Jesus told me, ‘You are in me and I am in you. Do for the least as you do for me. I came not to destroy the law but fulfill it.’”

The third gem was “remember to surrender.”

Broderick was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 9. She had been at a clergy conference and eight priests took the virus home with them around the United States. 

She was hospitalized. Her daughter had taken her to the hospital and left to go to a class. “It would be many weeks before I saw her again. I called my family from the ICU and I thought I was pretty good. They said I looked and sounded like Darth Vader.”

Broderick had a nurse taking care of her. “He was helping me take off my socks and I told him I could take my socks off.” He said, “‘I am here to help you, and I will be with you all night.’ I guessed that I needed intensive care,’” Broderick said.

She continued, “He was like an angel, and I think of all the folks who could not get that kind of care.”

Broderick decided to plan her funeral. “I chose Josh (Stafford) to play the organ and chose a preacher. Then I saw Jesus in the room. I asked, ‘Am I going to die?’ He said, ‘If you die, I am with you. If you stay, I am with you. Don’t worry.’”

She continued, “I realized that there was not much difference between the two, so I could relax and stop struggling and go to sleep. I remembered to surrender.”

In Alcoholics Anonymous, people say, “I didn’t quit, I surrendered.” Jesus said to his disciples as they trusted in God, they should trust in him. His mother, Mary, at the wedding in Cana, told the servants to do whatever Jesus said. 

Broderick said, “The worst is the best, the work is the thing, remember to surrender. I could quit there but I have not told you what a wonderful world this is.”

She told the story of Bob Edens, who after 51 years of blindness, had an operation that restored his sight. He said, “I never would have dreamed that yellow is so yellow. I am amazed by yellow. But red is my favorite. I never knew how wonderful red and yellow are.”

Broderick said, “We can rest in God and in love. There is a lot of red and yellow.”

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, vice president for religion and senior pastor of Chautauqua Institution, presided from the Hall of Christ. Joshua Stafford, interim organist for Chautauqua Institution, played the Tallman Tracker Organ. Meredith Smietana, mezzo soprano from Buffalo, New York, served as vocal soloist. Smietana is a recent graduate of The Mannes School of Music, where she received her Master’s in Vocal Performance. She received her Bachelor’s in Music Education from SUNY Fredonia. She participated in the Chautauqua Voice Program last summer and can be heard again this summer in the Virtual Chautauqua Voice Program, led by Marlena Malas. The organ prelude, performed by Stafford, was “Prelude on an Old Folk Tune” by Amy Beach. Smietana sang the gathering hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” The anthem was “Dawn’s Awakening,” by Florence Beatrice Price, sung by Smietana. The offertory hymn was “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” by Nettleton, words by Robert Robinson and sung by Smietana. “A Hymn of Trust,” by Amy Beach, words by Oliver Wendell Holmes, was the offertory anthem with Smietana as the soloist. Smietana sang the choral response “May The Road Rise to Meet You,” by Lori True. Stafford played “Toccato,” (sic) from Sonata for Organ, by Florence Price, for the postlude. This program is made possible by the Gladys R. Brasted and Adair Brasted Gould Memorial Chaplaincy. Notes on this morning’s music: The anthems this morning are by great 20th-century composers Amy Beach and Florence Price. Amy Beach was the first successful American female composer of large-scale art music. Her “Gaelic” Symphony, premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896, was the first symphony composed and published by an American woman. Her Canticle of the Sun, written in 1924 for Choir, Quartet, and Orchestra, was dedicated to our own Chautauqua Choir. Her Prelude on an old Folk Tune “The Fair Hills of Eire” was played at the start of today’s service, and her setting of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “Hymn of Trust,” was the offertory anthem. Florence Beatrice Price, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, won the Wanamaker Prize with her Symphony in E minor, premiered in 1933 by the Chicago Symphony, becoming the first female composer of African descent to have a symphonic work performed by a major national symphony orchestra. One of her art songs, “Dawn’s Awakening,” was the anthem and her “Toccato,” (sic) from her Sonata for Organ was the postlude.

Tags : COVID-19James Baldwinmorning worshipreligionSada ThompsonThe Rev. Janet Broderick

The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.