Gender

Sermon Text – 11.10.2019
 
[1 Timothy 2:8-15 and Ephesians 5:21-33]
 
          Every generation has a few topics that are extremely sensitive, touchy and difficult. We put up walls, shut things down, close our doors. It’s a hurricane out there and we just want to wait until it blows over. This conversation that we are about to attempt is only possible from a safe place. This is a measure of your hospitality here at Flushing UMC – the ability to have an actual conversation. That’s a measure of security. Are we safe in this place to be broken people working together to love God? Today we are continuing our sermon series called Controversy in the Church – each week in this month we are engaging with a  difficult topic with both conviction and compassion, and today we are talking about gender. About women and men and their roles and what the bible says.
 
          When I was in college, I had an incredible group of friends, and we all grew very close. There were like 7 of us, and we spent all of our time together. We were best friends. Now, I should clarify from the beginning of this story – I believe women should be in leadership in the church. I actively encourage women who have the gifts of leadership to become leaders. And I honestly thought as a society we were all done arguing about that issue. I thought everybody wanted women to be in leadership. But then one day, I was talking with a very close friend of mine. It was in my third year college, having known these people for years now – they had become some of my most beloved friends. And I was talking with my buddy when he said, “I don’t think women should be pastors.” And I was shocked. This amazing human being, one of my best friends – didn’t think women should be in leadership. It was like the floor had disappeared beneath my feet, I was reeling. And so the next day, I was walking to class with another friend, a woman, and I said to her, “Did you know that he doesn’t think women should be pastors? Can you believe that?” And she gave me a super weird look, and she said, “I don’t think women should be pastors, either.” I stopped walking. Shocked doesn’t quite capture what I was feeling. This woman was one of my closest friends, and she was such a strong, independent, talented individual – why didn’t she think women could be pastors? But here’s what I noticed – if it had been some random person on the side of the road. I would have just assumed something nasty about them and moved on. But because we were friends. Because I love these people and I know them very well – I couldn’t just throw away their opinion. I couldn’t just write them off. I had to actually engage with love.  
 

 

Before we get into the scripture, I have to ask: Did anybody else tense up during the reading of the scripture? You know, you just sort of (squint/tense face) – when you hear certain phrases, or lines that upset you. I could’ve picked a lot of scriptures for today, but I choose the ones I don’t like listening too. The one’s people try really hard not to hear. Maybe if I ignore it, it will go away. But these issues are not going away. These verses are always going to be here and we have to figure out how to understand them. Now, this series, this conversation we are going to try to have – it takes a special approach. We are going to examine multiple sides of every issue, and so I can almost guarantee that you will, during this month, hear something you don’t want to hear. Now there are two responses – we can be people of offense or people of grace. If we hear something we don’t like – we can be people of offense. We can get offended, put up a wall, scoff, cross our arms, walk away – but if we do that we can never move past the conversation. People of offense shut down dialogue. They stew on an issue for decades, generations sometimes. And when you fill your life with bitterness and resentment for years, it seeps into your soul, and poisons who you are. On the other side, we can be people of grace. People of grace start with compassion – a desire to understand the other person. A recognition that they are a human being, created by God, a human being who is probably not a total moron. Who believes what they believe for a reason, and we have a curiosity about what that is. People of grace respect the conversation, the process – even if they don’t change their mind, they start with compassion, continue with respect and conclude with love – no matter what side they are on. So before we get into this – decide who you want to be. A person of offense or a person of grace. Because we are going to need a lot of grace before this month is over.
 
Now, I think this next part will be a little bit fun. Because I get to watch your faces while I read this stuff. [read 1 Tim. 2: 9-10]. Alright, so that’s not so bad. Women should wear appropriate clothing. If you look at the sentence structure of verse nine, it’s not about the hair – it’s about modesty, drawing attention to yourself. I really like verse 10, women should make themselves attractive by the things they do. Right? Not just superficial, but depth. So far, I don’t think we’re too offended. [read 11-12]. Oh no. You feel that antsy-ness? That tension? Husbands, don’t look at her. Well we can keep reading, pile on some more, [read 13-14]. Oofph. Now remember, people of offense vs people of grace. Don’t put your walls up just yet – let’s figure this out together. Now, I’ve never considered myself a feminist, not really, but it’s also very hard to work in a Methodist church, especially THIS Methodist church, without recognizing the power and talent of women in the church. Most of my staff is women and they are awesome at their jobs. So let’s go back to verse 12 – that’s the one people really don’t like. “I do not let women teach men or have authority over them.” There are a couple ways to understand this. First, face value – no women in charge. That’s how some people interpret it. This the position of the Catholic church, and the Southern Baptist Church and they’re not evil people for thinking this. They are trying to understand the text as best they can. They say things like, “Women are good at lots of things, just not leading the church.” And I see where they’re coming from, but here’s the problem. I’ve read a lot of the bible, and there are a few…. counterexamples that we need to consider.
 
I read a story like Deborah, from Judges 4, she was a judge, the sole leader of Israel, military leader, lead people into battle, Deborah. Miriam – moses’ sister. Huldah the prophet from 2 Kings, 22, Anna[1], the daughters of Philip[2] – all prophetesses. Abigail the king maker, Elisabeth (whose husband was struck mute until he agreed with his wife). Ruth, you know, from the book of Ruth. Well, she wasn’t a leader. Okay, then how about Queen Esther, you know, from the book of Esther. Mary Magdalene and all those other Marys – who were the very first people in history to proclaim the gospel, Jesus is alive. They are the women who taught the disciples about the risen Christ. The response is – alright, alright, those are strong women, but they’re not leaders in the church. That’s different, they’re not spiritual leaders. And then I read about Tabitha, first female disciple, from Acts 9:40, and Junia from first female apostle, and Phoebe, the first female deacon, and Priscilla who is named with her husband as co-workers, fellow missionaries with Paul –most of that comes from Romans 16. There are women leaders all over the bible. So you see the tension. Does that mean we throw away this passage in Timothy? Or the other one that we find in 1 Corinthians? Some of you are like, uh, yeah, grab a sharpie, let’s get it out of there. People of offense, put down your walls – let’s be people of grace – let’s try to see why would he write this. One thing we’ve talked about in this church is that when there is tension or contradiction in the bible, we don’t throw it out – rather we are invited to look a little closer. To go a little deeper in study.
 
So let me tell you the story of Timothy. Imagine a world where women are not treated like people, they are treated like property. They are not permitted to speak in public, a lot of times they are not even allowed to be in the worship space. They have no education, they can’t read or write – they are not allowed to go to school or to learn. Like I said, women in this world were treated like property. But then these women hear about Jesus – about the freedom that he offers, about the grace he gives. And they are ecstatic! They are so excited, they are in worship now. Timothy was dealing with a very specific problem in a specific church with specific people. And so these women are trying to teach, but they have no education. And remember the world we’re dealing with. Women are not allowed to learn. Women are not allowed to be educated – and yet what does he do? Does he say get out? You shouldn’t be in here, you shouldn’t be learning? You shouldn’t be educated? No, he says – sit down, stay, listen, learn. These women were not educated, so no – they should not be trying to teach. But Timothy does not try to keep them uneducated. He invites them to learn. When you put down the walls and approach this as a person of grace, rather than a person of offense – we can agree that when we are uneducated it makes sense to sit and listen before we try to teach. I know this passage is not a favorite for a lot of women – but I want you to understand that in Timothy’s world the idea of inviting a woman to stay, to sit, to listen, to learn – that was radically empowering.   
 
Alright, now I do have to deal with verse 14-15 real quick. Verse 14 again, [read 14-15]. If you read it quick, and you’re not paying attention – you can come up with some incorrect ideas. For example, some people quote this passage to say the only purpose, or the highest purpose, of a woman is the make babies. Two things on that. First, the end of verse 15, [read 15]. That word “assuming” is the most important. Making babies does not affect salvation. Second, I’m not sure Adam should be bragging. He was tricked by a human, it took the actual devil to trick Eve. Regardless, this verse points out an inequality between men and women. No matter how much we learn about the story of Timothy and his church, we cannot deny the inequality we find in this life. This is something we live with in our world. A hierarchy, patriarchy that has been around since that moment when Adam and Eve disobeyed. But that’s the whole point. Inequality has been around since sin showed up, inequality is a function of the fall. It was not God’s original design. The garden of Eden didn’t have hierarchy – a broken world does. If you insist on inequality, then you are insisting on a fallen world. If we want to bring the kingdom of heaven, to bring God’s world into this world – we have to get rid of that inequality.
 
Alright, so let’s move over to our second scripture lesson – which comes from Ephesians. [read v.21-24]. And all the men in the room were happy to stop reading right there. Jesus is the boss of the church, so men should be the boss of their wives. [squint]. Is that what is said? Husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. And as you all remember – Jesus totally came down to earth to boss the church around and get the church to make him a sandwich. Right? Wait, is that not what happened? Husband is the head of his wife as Jesus is head of the church – so ask yourself, how was Jesus the head of the church? Verse 25 [read it]. Oh that’s right, Jesus gave up his life for the church. Husbands are the head, just like Jesus and the model Jesus used was service. Self-sacrifice. Husbands, our instructions are actually much stronger than the words for women. Give up your entire life for your wife. The beginning of this paragraph gives us the framework: Submit to ONE ANOTHER out of reverence for Christ.
 

See I grew up in a very egalitarian household – meaning that I have always been taught men and women are equal. At every level – men and women are equal. And I was taught that submission is a dirty word. Submission is a word that has been used to oppress women and keep them down throughout history. Even a word used to abuse women. Horrifying example: there are stories of a woman being abused by her husband, and she goes to her pastor and tells him about it. And he says, “bible says submit, so go back to your abuser.” I grew up hating the word submission. When I hear submit, I put the walls up. I stop listening. I start thinking about all the stories of how that word has been misused throughout history. This passage doesn’t just make me cringe, it gives me a gut level emotional reaction. Until that day when one of my closest friends said, I think women should not be pastors, and that wives should submit to their husbands. It made me stop. It caused me to put down my sword, to tear down my wall because he was my friend and I wanted to learn more. I still disagree with him, but that interaction allowed me to re-evaluate the concept of submission. Perhaps I had spent so much of my life running away from the corruption that I had thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Maybe there was something I could learn from the other side. Rather than approach it as a person of offense, I wanted to approach it as a person of grace. I came back to this text and I rediscovered the beauty of submission. I began to submit my life to Christ. Jesus went from buddy-buddy, best friend, to my lord and savior. Submission is a concept that has been used to hurt people, but it is also an incredible, beautiful thing that can deepen every male-female relationship, especially marriages. Wives submit to your husbands. Husbands, serve your wives as Christ served the church. Give up your entire life for your wives.

 
 
          The good news for us this morning is that God models sacrifice and submission for us in our relationships. The example Jesus gives us is one of giving up your life for the good of someone else. If we want to be more like Christ, it is a good thing to submit to one another. There is a nasty history of men using these texts to oppress women – that’s just true. It’s unpleasant but it’s true. We have twisted and manipulated the bible to teach things it was never intended to teach. But I hope you have started to see that when we look closer, when we look at the whole story, we find the message God was actually teaching us. Do you see why I push reading your bible? Why I want you to be familiar with these words? The more you know your bible, the less likely you are to be thrown off by teachings that confuse or offend you. There’s this thing that happens in churches all the time – where they take a verse, they don’t understand where it comes from, they don’t try to look deeper – they take that one line and read everything else through that one line. They pick and choose what they enjoy, to justify what they already think. They call it proof-texting, or some people call it cherry picking. You want to justify inequality, slavery, racism, sexism – and so you pick those verses and you read everything else through that lens, like rose-colored glasses. But when we look closer, without cherry picking, we see that there are an abundance of examples of women in leadership all throughout the bible, and that God models submission and self-sacrifice for us, and so our response is to do the same in our life.
 

 

          So there are two pieces of application for us this morning. First, I want you to be people of grace – look a little closer, dive a little deeper. I still disagree with my friend who doesn’t think that women should be leaders in the church. But because he was such a good friend, and he had always treated women with NOTHING but respect, it made me pause. It invited me to look a little closer. Rather than label him as sexist and throw him out of my life – I learned about the positive side of submission, a word I had been running away my entire life. So first, be people of grace. The second piece of application for us today is that we must heal the pain of yesterday. Misunderstandings and bad interpretations based on selfish interest and not on Jesus have led to so much pain. It’s not our fault, but it’s our job to fix it. We must work backwards through the conversation. We have lost ground to make up for. Plant the seeds today to heal the wounds of yesterday. Remember, today’s footprint is tomorrow’s legacy. If we want tomorrow to be better than yesterday, we need to heal today. Realize the pain that has been dealt by the past and let that guide us in how to be people of grace and not people of offense.

 
 

          Whew, we made it. Sermon 1 of controversies in the church – done. And like I said, there’s so much more to talk about. Thank you for being people of grace, for having this conversation. Now you might be thinking, Pastor JJ, you keep calling this a conversation, but you are the only one talking – and you’re right. I don’t want this to just be one sided. If you have more to say about any of these issues, my email is open. Or Call me up and schedule a chat – I’ll buy the coffee and we can go much more in depth. OR, we were talking about this at Pizza With the Pastor last week – I think we’re going to introduce a question box where people can put in anonymous questions and I’ll just pull them out of the box and answer them at Pizza with the Pastor next month. But until then, I’ll leave you with this – May you be people of grace, people who dive a little deeper, look a little closer. May you seek to learn from people who have different opinions than you, and finally may you submit to one another in Christian love. Amen.

           
 

               

[1] Luke 2:36

[2] Acts 21:9


Leave a Reply