The Gospel According to The Color Purple

“The Gospel According to The Color Purple”
Luke 8: 40-48
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
July 29, 2018

Today we conclude our sermon series entitled, “At the Movies.”  Movie theaters are the modern cathedrals. When movies are authentic, creative, and created from the deep wellspring of humanity, movies enable us to engage the Divine in rich and diverse ways. In the past two months, we looked we looked at movies that move and inspire us to a deeper spirituality — from “Black Panther” to “Coco,” from “Pope Francis” to “Battle of the Sexes.” This morning I share with you one of my all time favorites, “The Color Purple.” From the classic Pulitzer prize winning novel by Alice Walker and the captivating film by Stephen Spielberg which was most recently produced for Broadway by Oprah Winfrey (which just played at the Pantages last month) is the unforgettable story of a young girl named Celie.

Celie is a poor, uneducated 14-year-old girl living in rural Georgia in the early 1900s. She writes letters to God because her stepfather, Alphonso, beats her harshly and rapes her continuously. Alphonso has already impregnated Celie twice. Alphonso ripped the children from her and took them away. Celie endures the loss of her children, rape by Alphonso, domestic abuse by her husband, Mister, who deemed her too ugly to marry and wanted her sister Nettie instead. But Alphonso thinks Nettie is too young and so begs Mister to take Celie for his wife and if he did, he would throw in a cow for good measure. Mister finally agrees. Mister, too, is horribly abusive to Celie. Ultimately, this is a story about an exploited, powerless girl who becomes an empowered woman.

There are many children who grow up with a Mister. Anger. Cutting words. Abuse. “When humanity seeks to snuff out the light of divinity bubbling up and burning bright in the spirit of a child, we encounter a Mister. Whenever humanity silences the song…in an innocent child, it’s a Mister encounter. Whenever bruises or a profane tongue try to tattoo the heart of a child, we encounter a Mister” (Otis Moss III, The Gospel According to the Wiz, p. 53).

But we do not need to be defined by Mister whether Mister is a person or Mister is a condition. In The Color Purple, Mister is a person. In our scripture passage, Mister or maybe more appropriately, Misses is a condition.

In our scripture passage today, we meet a woman who has a condition of hemorrhaging. Bleeding for 12 years. She “suffered” much; she spent all of her money; and she was “getting worse”.  She was frail, emaciated, anemic.  Such a condition would be challenging to any woman of any era, but for a Jew in that day and age, nothing could be worse. She was considered unclean, untouchable. Imagine no kissing, no hugging, no shaking hands, no sharing the same cup, no sitting in the same chair as another. She is untouchable.

According to Jewish law, a woman on her menstrual cycle was deemed unclean for 7 days. She had to go live in a tent. This woman is not unclean for 7 days but for 4,368 days — 12 years. She lives on the margins of society. She was physically exhausted and socially ostracized. Her sickness has named her, dominated her, consumed her. She can’t seem to get past her mister / missus.

The day we encounter her, she is down to her last prayer.  Jesus, surrounded by a crowd, passes by.  And she has this crazy hunch and high hope that this Jesus can help her.  She says “If I may but touch his garment, I shall be made whole!”  It’s a risky decision — to touch the garment of Jesus, she will inevitably touch others because he is surrounded by a crowd. If she touches others, they will now be unclean and will turn on her.  But she is down to her last prayer — to this crazy hunch and high hope that Jesus can help.

In one desperate lunge, she reached out her bony, near lifeless hand and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment.  The fact that she touched the hem may be an indication that she was crawling through the thronged, huddled bodies.

Even though there is a multitude of people crowding in on Jesus, he asks, “Who touched me?”  This woman who had been cowering and emaciated suddenly stands tall and she confesses to Jesus what she has done.  Jesus could get angry with her; he could rebuke her — he had every right to do so for now he is considered unclean.  But instead Jesus affirms this woman’s hope, he calls her daughter.  “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”

It’s the only time Jesus calls any woman anywhere daughter.  Imagine how that made her feel.  She could not remember the last time she received a term of affection.  She could not remember the last time when kind eyes met hers…To the love-starved, a word of affection can be a feast.  And Jesus gave this woman a banquet…Tradition holds that she never forgot what Jesus did.  Legend states that she stayed with Jesus and followed him as he carried his cross up Calvary.  Some believe she was Veronica, the woman who walked the road to the cross with him.  And when the sweat and blood were stinging his eyes, she wiped his forehead.  She, at an hour of great need, received his touch — and he, at an hour of pain, received hers.

This woman boldly moved from the margin into her destiny. And Jesus called her “daughter.” In other words, he is saying you are in my family. Daughter. You are included in a cosmic divine family. Daughter. You have power. Daughter. You are no longer an outcast. Daughter. You can now speak like a daughter, walk like a daughter, hold your head up like a daughter, have authority like a daughter. Succeed like a daughter. You are the daughter of the Most High God.

I am reminded of the royal wedding that took place a few months ago. I hope you watched it on T.V. Meghan Markle marrying Prince Harry. If you remember there was the black gospel choir swaying from side to side singing, “Stand by me.” There was the black celloist and Bishop Curry preached about love. Oh, did he preach. Amen, preach brother. All at Windsor Castle. The camera panned over to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and two of them so much in love, sweetly smiling at each other. And then the part that really touched me was when the camera panned over to Meghan’s mother. She was proud of her daughter.  Meghan is 37 years old. Thirty seven years ago when her mother was pregnant with Meghan, she was watching the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Little did she know that the baby in her belly would be in the royal family and that the colonizer had to move and connect with those who had been colonized. Meghan is part of the royal family.

This woman who had an issue with blood is part of the cosmic royal divine family. Otis Moss III puts it this way, “Jesus is saying, ‘Welcome to the family, sons and daughters, men and women, rich and poor, black and white, young and old, gay and straight, urban and rural, ADD or PhD, UCC or AME, left or right, healed or infirmed, married or single, divorced or betrothed, immigrant or indigenous, prisoner or privileged, free or oppressed, speaking Spanish or Ebonics, if you know bebop or you like hip-hop, you are welcome in God’s family” (The Gospel According to the Whiz, p. 71).

This woman knew that she needed to leave the margins, the shadows and take hold of her healing. Move from the margins to her destiny. She had to trust that she is bigger than her hurt. She is the captain of her soul. She is a daughter of the divine cosmic family!

In The Color Purple, Celie finds the strength within to stand up to and claim her space in the divine cosmic family.  Her power is in her ability to go through hell and still be able to stay in contact with heaven. In the scene from the movie that I am about to share, Celie is seated at the dinner table with family members and Mister. Mister says to her, “You’re black You’re poor. You’re ugly. You’re a woman. You’re nothing at all.” Celie has had enough. And she finally stands up to Mister. She leaves the margins, the shadows and takes hold of her healing. (Warning: This scene is a bit violent. I don’t ever condone violence. I am not suggesting that this is the way to stand up for oneself, but I have not been through what Celie has gone through. And Celie has had enough!) She moves from the margins to her destiny. (Show scene at dinner table with knife.)

Powerful scene! In essence, Celie is saying, “I am a child of God. I will not be defined by Mister anymore. I will not allow someone else to limit who I am. To belittle me. To deprecate me. To step on me. To abuse me. I am a daughter of the Most High God. The power of divinity is within me. And I am going to start living like it! I am going to claim my destiny.” And she did.

In the footsteps of Celie, in the wisdom of the woman we encountered today in our scripture passage, may we claim our destiny, too. Our presence is power. Our breath is life. Our words are potent. We are a part of the divine cosmic royal family of God!

In just a moment, Matthew Walsh will be singing the closing song from The Color Purple entitled “I’m Here.” A song sung by Celie. The words say, “Hey, I’m gonna hold my head up, I’m gonna put my shoulders back. When they walk by, I’m gonna sing out… And I’m thankful for each day I’m given. But most of all I’m thankful for lovin’ who I really am. I’m beautiful. Yes, I’m beautiful. And I’m here.” Amen.