Feminism And The Church

Standard

A woman called a specialty store and asked the manager if he could get her one dozen mice and three dozen cockroaches. The manager said, the mice wouldn’t be a problem, but that it would take a little while to get the roaches. Then he said, “I think I know why you might want the mice, but why would you want three dozen cockroaches?” The woman replied, “Well, you see, my husband is a United Methodist minister. This is the time of year for our annual conference when Methodist preachers move. We’re moving and our District Superintendent told us we had to leave the parsonage the way we found it.”

The role of women in the Church has for a long time been a source of debate.
I remember the small rural church that I pastored as a student in seminary.
The congregation did not have women as Elders and Diaconate. The odd thing that I noticed was that the men where open to the idea but not the women. The C.W.F. would meet on the same Sunday as the Church Board. The Board met upstairs and the ladies met downstairs. On a Sunday when a serious issue was before the Board, “should the church allow the youth to put a pool table in the fellowship hall?” I overheard one wife tell her husband how he was to vote!

United Methodist Bishop Leontine Kelly was serving a local church early in her ministry when she met an older gentleman who said he had heard good things about her pastoral ministry. But, he had one problem. “The Apostle Paul said you should be silent in the church!” Bishop Kelly responded, “Sir, Paul didn’t call me to ministry. Christ did!”

The Church has always wrestled with the issue of the role of the woman in the life of the Church. We feel that we get mixed signals about this issue from Paul. 1 Tim 2:12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 1 Tim 2:9 I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes….

The study of women in scripture is a classic example of why culture (or society) cannot be divorced from the interpretation of scripture. The role of the woman in society was to bear and care for children. She was to be in subjection to the men in her life, her father and husband. She was a little more than a piece of property. To the untrained eye, scripture appears to perpetuate this mentality.

Why does Paul write that a woman is to be in authority under a man and why does he tell her to remain silent in Church? Cultural issues! The woman who was without a vale, the woman who was loud and open was the prostitute on the city streets.
If I came into this sanctuary wearing black leather and a tight fit, you would consider it wrong. Paul’s concern was that those inside the church not misunderstand or wrongly interpret what was going on inside the Church.

In the Book of Romans (16:1) Paul writes, I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me. Phoebe is a woman, yet Paul uses her gifts for the Church. Phoebe is even intrusted with this letter to the Church at Rome.

When Paul writes in his letters about Priscilla and Aquila, he always puts Priscilla (this husband and wife team) before Aquila. Sometimes it is the language itself that gives us difficulty. The Hebrew and Greek languages which the Bible are written in are like most languages in that they are filled with masculine terms. We want to understand God in terms of Father, because that is the way that God is portrayed in scripture. We understand God in those terms because we can only understand God in human concepts. God is sexless. To be created in the image of God has nothing to do with gender.

What does all of this mean? In the Church, in the Body of Christ, there is to be no gender consideration! You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. “Sons of God” is the limitation of the language not the exclusiveness of God. The passage would have been just as well written had it said, “You are all sons and daughters of God….” There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Should women be treated any less outside the Church? No!

Finding Peace

Standard

The old hymn goes, “peace on earth, good will toward men.” Christmas is surrounded by the theme of “peace.” (Luke 2:13-14) Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

A cobbler named Simon, his wife and children were peasants. He owned neither house nor land. He was able to support his family by making shoes. Bread was very expensive and labor was poorly paid. He and his wife had one sheepskin coat between them. And this coat was in tatters. For 2 years the cobbler had been hoarding in order to buy sheepskins for a new coat. He had saved three dollars. Five dollars more were due him from his customers. One morning the cobbler went to the village to get his new sheepskin coat. He put on the tattered coat, several woolen scarfs and a staff. He put the three dollars in his pocket and set out. He said to himself, on the way I will pick up the 5 dollars that my customers owe. With 8 dollars he could buy the new skin. At the first customer the wife said she didn’t have the money but she promised to send her husband when he got home with the money. The next customer said they had no money at all. The cobbler made up his mind to get the skins on credit, but the dealer would not give credit. The fur-dealer said, “I know how hard it is to get what is one’s due.” At first the cobbler was upset and then took a dollar and bought some whisky and started home. In the morning he had felt cold but after he drunk the whisky he felt warm even with the coat. As he walked along the road home striking the frozen ground with his staff and talking to himself. What would he do to those who owed him money? He would turn them into the police. He would never work for them again. Along the road there was a crossroads with a chapel. It was twilight but there behind the chapel the cobbler saw an object. Was it a stone? There had never been a stone there before. Was it a cow? But it doesn’t look like a cow. It was a man. He was sitting there naked in the cold and snow. The cobbler is frightened. Someone has surely killed the man. If I go near, I may get into trouble. And the cobbler hurried by. The cobbler was well down the road and looked back. The man was no longer leaning again the chapel but had fallen. The man needed help. The cobbler was still scared: If I go back something unpleasant might happen. Who knows what sort of man this is? What can be done with a naked man? I can’t give him my clothes. So the Cobbler hastened his steps. But his conscience began to prick him. A man is perishing of cold. You are frightened. Are you so very rich that you are afraid of losing your money? Simon turned and went back to the man. Simon felt at peace.

What is peace? Peace is an inner serenity that comes from knowing all is well. It is feeling the pardon of our sins. It is being set free from guilt. Peace goes deep in our souls.

I stand at my wife’s grave and yet there is peace. She is dead and I am alone. Where did the peace come from? Some would say, “Eighteen years of a good marriage.” Others would say time has brought healing. The truth, is that the peace flows from a relationship with God of knowing all is well. And that, the grave is not the end. It is merely the train station.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, Isa 26:3You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. One time when the church staff were having their Christmas party, the waiter was supposed to give me the check but instead gave every table a check. There was the panic look of some faces. It was obvious that they didn’t have enough money to cover the check. I went and gathered up the checks, there was a relieved look on everyone’s face. You know what I mean, when someone else pays the bill and you are free!

The worry belongs to God. Ps 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. That is peace. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. No wonder the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

When The Exile Is Not Over

Standard

John Killinger tells about the manager of a minor league baseball team who was so disgusted with his center fielder’s performance that he ordered him to the dugout and assumed the position himself. The first ball that came into center field took a bad hop and hit the manager in the mouth. The next one was a high fly ball, which he lost in the glare of the sun – until it bounced off his forehead. The third was a hard line drive that he charged with outstretched arms; unfortunately, it flew between his hands and smacked his eye. Furious, he ran back to the dugout, grabbed the center fielder by the uniform, and shouted, ‘You idiot! You’ve got center field so messed up that even I can’t do a thing with it!'”

Our scripture this morning is a Psalm of thanksgiving. I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; before the “gods” I will sing your praise. The whole psalm overflows with praise for God. You can almost feel every muscle in the psalmist straining to give thanks to God. But note, we are talking about the 138th Psalm, it has taken a long time to get to this point. The road for King David hasn’t always been easy. He has made lots of mistakes along the journey. He has had to wait for God and God’s intervention. David has matured in the years.

A student is on the verge of failing a class. In order to stay in school, the student needs to pass the course. Everything depends on the final paper. Work, work, work. Turn in the paper and again wait. Wait, wait, wait. The student comes to the office to pick up the graded paper. “Pass”, and without thinking says, “Thank God.”

The surgeon comes from the operating room and says, “It’s benign.” The woman grabs his hand and says, “Thank you…thank you…thank you.” In the service the pastor asked the congregation for prayer concerns, she is first to her feet to give thanks.”

Why all of this THANKSGIVING? Have you ever been delivered? The Hebrew people went through several exiles, two major ones. They spent 420 years in Egypt and when they were freed, they rejoiced. They came out singing and rejoicing. But still didn’t have the faith. So they spent another 40 years in exile in the desert.

When we are finally delivered we are happy and give thanks. Look at the deliverance in the New Testament! (Mark 10:46-52) Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” How many of us know that when we are in exile we shout all the more? We want deliverance, we want to be set free. Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. When the people return to Jerusalem following the exile in Babylonia, they rejoice. When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted. A short time before, they were in exile, 500 miles from home.

The problem with exiles, is that we are forced to go places we don’t want to go. In exile, the people around you don’t speak your language. They don’t have your type of food in their stores. My neighbors are from India. They have a different garden. In exile, they don’t know the name of your God. In exile, you have to do things you don’t want to do.

Chuck Colson writes that his first night in prison was that way. He heard the dull “thunk” of the door locking behind him. He felt like someone had hollowed out his insides.

Sometimes God exiles us, as painful as it may be, so that we will grow. According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man’s feet and gave him food and drink. The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So Abraham asked him, “Don’t you worship God?” The old traveler replied, “I worship fire only and reverence no other god.” When he heard this, Abraham became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out of his tent into the cold night air. When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, “I forced him out because he did not worship you.” God answered, “I have suffered him these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?”

Exile forces us to deal with things we don’t want to have to deal with. One day a friend of Phillip Brooks, a great preacher of another generation, called on him and found him impatiently pacing the floor. He asked what the trouble was. With flashing eyes Dr. Brooks exclaimed, “The trouble is that I am in a hurry and God is not!”

The economy is strong and yet some get laid off, exile. An active man all of his life, and now he spends his time in a nursing home in exile. What do we say, when the exile isn’t over? Our scripture provides the clue.

This psalm was first sung following the return of the Babylonian exile. That was not an easy time for the Hebrew people. They returned home to find their land desolate. Cities in ruins. Everything had to be rebuilt. However, it was better to be in Jerusalem than Babylon.

When I called, you answered me….To survive the exile, calls for patience. The secret of patience is doing something else in the meantime. Second only to suffering, waiting may be the greatest teacher and trainer in godliness, maturity, and genuine spirituality most of us ever encounter. Now I understand the Psalmist, I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart….

Computer Sins

Standard

Someone asked me, “How will this be a biblical sermon since “computer” isn’t mentioned in the Bible? This issue is not computers, the issue is what we do with computers! The big thing today is computer dating. If you don’t know how to run a computer, it really dates you. In the office it has been interesting watching the staff get used to the new computers, without pulling their hair out.

For all those born before 1945 – consider the changes you have witnessed… You were born before television, before penicillin, before polio shots, frozen foods, Xerox, plastic, contact lenses, frisbees and the PILL. You were before radar, credit cards, split atoms, laser beams and ball-point pens, before pantyhose, dishwashers, clothes dryers, electric blankets, air conditioners, drip-dry clothes — and before man walked on the moon. You got married first and then lived together. In your time, closets were for clothes, not for “coming out of.” You were before house-husbands, gay rights, computer dating, dual careers and commuter marriages. For you, time-sharing meant togetherness — not computers or condominiums; a “chip” meant a piece of wood, hardware meant hardware, and software wasn’t even a word. GRASS was mowed, COKE was a cold drink, and POT was something you cooked in.

The point of all of this is that sin hasn’t changed, sin is sin, but temptation has increased. I think it says something that the only form of life that we have created so far is purely destructive. Talk about creating life in our own image. Stephen W. Hawking telling a computer convention that computer viruses represent the only life form wholly created by humans.

Herod had arrested John the Baptist and bound him and put him in prison. John was preaching mainly out in the wilderness or desert. It was a simple message of repent and be baptized. But one of the important things that we rarely knew about John was that he often came into the large cities and preached the truth. Herod and Herodias were living together and they were not married. We think what is taking place in the White House is new to society. But in Jesus’ day, it was also happening in the palace. Like the White House, the palace, where Herod lived, was a very public place that most Jews knew what was happening. John was saying in public, “It is not lawful for you Herod to have her.” Herodias was not only not Herod’s wife, she was married to Herod’s brother Philip. Herodias was his sister-in-law and he was her uncle. Herodias was the granddaughter of Herod The Great.

Salome, the daughter of Herodias and Philip, danced a very erotic dance for her great uncle Herod. It was not uncommon to be married in your mid teens, so Salome was probably in her early teens, when she danced. Herod, an old man, was filled with lust and offered her half of his kingdom. Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet. A Jewish person was bound by their oath. If he broke his word, he lost his honor.

Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me, here on a platter, the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. One sin begets many sins.

Sin hasn’t changed a lot in 2,000 years! With technology we haven’t changed sin, but we have increased the opportunity for sin. The first computer at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946 was impressive in size. It occupied a space as large as a boxcar and weighed 30 tons. It had 40 units, each housed in a 9ft. high black metal cabinet. It had 18,000 vacuum tubes which created so much heat that industrial fans were needed to keep its circuitry from melting. Its first assignment involved a million cards for a top-secret numerical simulation of the still-untested hydrogen bomb. In the 40 years since, technology has produced a superior performance from only a quarter-inch silicon chip. From 30 tons to a quarter-inch in 40 years!

But where is our progress morally, spiritually, in compassion? I am finding a great problem arising with the proliferation of computers. Computers have made our lives easier and have even enhanced the quality of our lives. But just as they have brought good they have widened the door of temptation.

In the last few years I have seen a great increase in the number of people who are becoming addicted to computers. They spend hours on the computer and we are not talking work related. Surfing the Internet: There is nothing wrong with surfing the internet. But it is just like an endless TV commercial. I like a little show or movie mixed in with my commercials. Some truly are interested in fact finding, but others, it is control. It is like the man with the channel changer, who is in control? There has been a great rise in porn on the web because it is profitable. In the privacy of their homes people can enter an adult situation. It is no longer a public thing, to be seen going into an adult book store. It is even cheaper buying things electronically than in hard copy. The issue is anonymity! Anonymity is only an illusion! The Bible says, Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. One of the things that is beneficial about computers is the ability to communicate with people all over the world, fast and cheap. But for many lonely people or people who’s marriages are wounded, it can be a trap. Chat rooms off a place to find affection and address the loneliness. The problem is that nothing replaces flesh to flesh and nothing replaces true intimacy.

Do we throw our computers out? Jesus said, What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.'” The sin is not found in the computer, but what we do with the computer. All of life calls for us to live morally and responsibly.

At age 54, the Silicon Valley computer software engineer says that he has finally found what he was searching for during the ’60s. “I was always on a quest. I tried everything. I was a Jew, I studied the Sikh religion in India, and I entered a Hindu monastery. And, of course, I tried taking lots of drugs. None of it worked.” He joined Wavy Gravy’s traveling Hog Farm commune. Foster married his wife, Laura, in a memorable ceremony performed by Wavy in New Mexico. The groom wore ice skates, and to seal their vows the happy couple exchanged pork chops. When the Hog Farmers were hired to set up and manage security and facilities at the Woodstock festival, Foster was there. Now married for 22 years, he has three children and is an elder and youth counselor in his church. “The kids of that time were unhappy with what their parents had given them and they wanted something more,” he says. “I found that something more in my faith in Christ.”