Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Teacher, Baker

UMC wants to place female pastors in the pulpits of their largest churches

Yesterday The Wahington Post reported this in their Religion Briefing:

The United Methodist Church, which boasts a history of ordaining women clergy, is seeking to shatter the so-called “stained-glass ceiling” blocking female pastors from its largest pulpits.

The nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination has launched a new initiative, the Lead Women Pastor Project, to examine barriers to women being appointed pastors to Methodist churches with more than 1,000 members. The Nashville-based United Methodist Church has 44,842 clergy, and about 10,000 are female — or 23 percent. Yet just 85 women lead those largest churches, compared with 1,082 men in those positions.

Church leaders say more women are needed to shepherd large churches, given that women make up more than half of those enrolled in master of divinity programs in United Methodist seminaries. Also, almost 58 percent of the 8 million-member denomination is female.

I’m glad the UMC is taking steps to make sure that their female pastors lead in churches of every size. It’s great that they are wanting women in leadership to reflect the percentage of their women in both seminaries and in their denomination.

The National Prayer Service Sermon: Harmonies of Liberty

Here is the full transcript of Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins’ sermon from this morning’s National Prayer Service from The Christian Church/Disciples of Christ. You can watch a webcast of the service at the Washington National Cathedral’s site.

Isaiah 58:6-12, Mt 22:6-40
Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
National Prayer Service; January 21, 2009

Mr. President and Mrs. Obama, Mr. Vice President and Dr. Biden, and your families, what an inaugural celebration you have hosted! Train ride, opening concert, service to neighbor, dancing till dawn…

And yesterday… With your inauguration, Mr. President, the flame of America’s promise burns just a little brighter for every child of this land!

There is still a lot of work to do, and today the nation turns its full attention to that work. As we do, it is good that we pause to take a deep spiritual breath. It is good that we center for a moment.

What you are entering now, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, will tend to draw you away from your ethical center. But we, the nation that you serve, need you to hold the ground of your deepest values, of our deepest values.

Beyond this moment of high hopes, we need you to stay focused on our shared hopes, so that we can continue to hope, too.

We will follow your lead.

There is a story attributed to Cherokee wisdom:

One evening a grandfather was teaching his young grandson about the internal battle that each person faces.

“There are two wolves struggling inside each of us,” the old man said.

“One wolf is vengefulness, anger, resentment, self-pity, fear…

“The other wolf is compassion, faithfulness, hope, truth, love…”

The grandson sat, thinking, then asked: “Which wolf wins, Grandfather?”

His grandfather replied, “The one you feed.”

There are crises banging on the door right now, pawing at us, trying to draw us off our ethical center – crises that tempt us to feed the wolf of vengefulness and fear.

We need you, Mr. President, to hold your ground. We need you, leaders of this nation, to stay centered on the values that have guided us in the past; values that empowered to move us through the perils of earlier times and can guide us now into a future of renewed promise.

We need you to feed the good wolf within you, to listen to the better angels of your nature, and by your example encourage us to do the same.

This is not a new word for a pastor to bring at such a moment. In the later chapters of Isaiah, in the 500’s BCE, the prophet speaks to the people. Back in the capital city after long years of exile, their joy should be great, but things aren’t working out just right. Their homecoming is more complicated than expected. Not everyone is watching their parade or dancing all night at their arrival.

They turn to God, “What’s going on here? We pray and we fast, but you do not bless us. We’re confused.”

Through the prophet, God answers, what fast? You fast only to quarrel and fight and strike with the fist…

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice… to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house . .? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly…

At our time of new beginning, focused on renewing America’s promise -yet at a time of great crisis – which fast do we choose? Which “wolf” do we feed? What of America’s promise do we honor?

Recently Muslim scholars from around the world released a document, known as “A Common Word Between Us.” It proposes a common basis for building a world at peace. That common basis? Love of God and love of neighbor! What we just read in the Gospel of Matthew!

So how do we go about loving God? Well, according to Isaiah, summed up by Jesus, affirmed by a worldwide community of Muslim scholars and many others, it is by facing hard times with a generous spirit: by reaching out toward each other rather than turning our backs on each other. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “people can be so poor that the only way they see God is in a piece of bread.”

In the days immediately before us, there will be much to draw us away from the grand work of loving God and the hard work of loving neighbor. In crisis times, a basic instinct seeks to take us over – a fight/flight instinct that leans us toward the fearful wolf, orients us toward the self-interested fast…

In international hard times, our instinct is to fight – to pick up the sword, to seek out enemies, to build walls against the other – and why not? They just might be out to get us. We’ve got plenty of evidence to that effect. Someone has to keep watch and be ready to defend, and Mr. President – Tag! You’re it!

But on the way to those tough decisions, which American promises will frame those decisions? Will you continue to reason from your ethical center, from the bedrock values of our best shared hopes? Which wolf will you feed?

In financial hard times, our instinct is flight – to hunker down, to turn inward, to hoard what little we can get our hands on, to be fearful of others who may take the resources we need. In hard financial times, which fast do we choose? The fast that placates our hunkered-down soul – or the fast that reaches out to our sister and our brother?

In times, such as these, we the people need you, the leaders of this nation, to be guided by the counsel that Isaiah gave so long ago, to work for the common good, for the public happiness, the well-being of the nation and the world, knowing that our individual wellbeing depends upon a world in which liberty and justice prevail.

This is the biblical way. It is also the American way – to believe in something bigger than ourselves, to reach out to neighbor to build communities of possibility, of liberty and justice for all. This is the center we can find again whenever we are pulled at and pawed at by the vengeful wolf, when we are tempted by the self-interested fast.

America’s true character, the source of our national wisdom and strength, is rooted in a generous and hopeful spirit.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,…
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
1

Emma Lazarus’ poetry is spelled out further by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,: “As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy… I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made.”2

You yourself, Mr. President, have already added to this call, “If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child… . It’s that fundamental belief – I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper – that makes this country work.”

It is right that college classes on political oratory already study your words . You, as our president, will set the tone for us. You will help us as a nation choose again and again which wolf to feed, which fast to choose, to love God by loving our neighbor.

We will follow your lead – and we will walk with you. And sometimes we will swirl in front of you, pulling you along.

At times like these – hard times -we find out what we’re made of. Is that blazing torch of liberty just for me? Or do we seek the “harmonies of liberty”, many voices joined together, many hands offering to care for neighbors far and near?

Though tempted to withdraw the offer, surely Lady Liberty can still raise that golden torch of generosity to the world. Even in these financial hard times, these times of international challenge, the words of Katherine Lee Bates describe a nation with more than enough to share: “Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain…”

A land of abundance guided by a God of abundance, generosity, and hope – This is our heritage. This is America’s promise which we fulfill when we reach out to each other.

Even in these hard times, rich or poor, we can reach out to our neighbor, including our global neighbor, in generous hospitality, building together communities of possibility and of hope. Even in these tough times, we can feed the good wolf, listen to the better angels of our nature. We can choose the fast of God’s desiring.

Even now in these hard times let us

Lift every voice and sing Till earth and heaven ring,
… with the harmonies of Liberty;

Even now let us Sing a song full of hope…

Especially now, from the center of our deepest shared values, let us pray, still in the words of James Weldon Johnson:

Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us… in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.
3


1. Emma Lazarus
2. The Words of MLK, Jr., selected by Coretta Scott King, 21
3. James Weldon Johnson

Crossposted at Street Prophets.

Most Blessed of Women? Jael

Deborah: Words, Women and War by Nathan Moscowitz

"Deborah: Words, Women and War" by Nathan Moscowitz

During the times of The Hebrew Scriptures, the tents were women’s work. Women spun the goat hair, wove it, and made the tents. They pulled down and packed the tents when the household left for another place. When the day’s journey was done they would unpack the tents and set them back up. This means that Jael knew her way around a tent peg and a hammer.

We first hear about Jael’s husband in a verse that comes out of nowhere in the middle of the Deborah and Barak story. Deborah has called Barak and told him that God want’s him to attack the Canaanite army that has been oppressing Israel for 40 years. Barak will not go into battle without Deborah, God’s envoy. Deborah tells Barak she will go, but that Sisera will die by the hand of a woman. Deborah, Barak and the Israelite army march out. In Judges 4:11 we read, “Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the other Kenites, that is, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had encamped as far away as Elon-bezaanannim, which is near Kedesh.” In the next verses Sisera, the Canaanite general, hears that Barak is gathering an army at Mt. Tabor, and he and the Canaanite army march to meet them. Who is Heber, and why is he mentioned now?

We find out in the next few verses. Deborah gives the command for Barak and the army to attack, and God sends the Canaanite army into a panic. The Israelites rout the Canaanites, and Sisera abandons his post and runs away. Now we find out why the reference to Heber appears earlier: “Now Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite” (v. 17).

Jael welcomes Sisera into the tent, gives him milk, and then covers him as he lays down to sleep. He commands her to tell anyone to come by that she has not seen him. Jael waits until he falls asleep, and then she graps a tent peg and her hammer and quietly goes to Sisera. She pounds the tent peg through his temple, and then goes out of her tent to wait for Barak. When he and the army arrives, she tells him that Sisera is in her tent.

Why would Jael kill Sisera when there was peace between her husband and Sisera’s king? And why would Deborah sing in Judges 5:24 that Jael is “the most blessed of women” (the only other woman called “most blessed of women” is Mary). In her book, Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen: Women in Judges and Biblical Israel, Susan Ackerman outlines the clues that suggest Jael was acting in a cultic role. Earlier in Judges we are told that the Kenites were descended from Moses’ father-in-law (1:16). The biblical traditions don’t agree on what his name was, but they all agree on one thing concerning Moses’ father-in-law: he was a priest. Judges 4:11 is the first time we have seen “Kenite” since chapter one, and the writer once again points out that the Kenites are descended from Moses’ father-in-law. The writer wants us to connect Heber and Jael with their priestly ancestor. By connecting Jael to the Kenite community the writer is giving her actions priestly authority. By inserting one word he is telling his readers that Jael is functioning in a cultic role parallel to Deborah’s prophetic role.

The second clue we are given is that Heber has moved away from the Kenites, and he and Jael have encamped at Elon-bezaanannim, near Kadesh (4:11). Elon-bezaanannim, which means “the oak of Zaanannim.” This is a clue the place where they encamped is sacred space, because oaks were often used to symbolize the holy. In other places in Scripture oaks are places where divine revelations and teaching occur (see Gen. 12:6; 13:18; 14;13; 35:8; and Jud. 9:6). Ackerman also notes the root that oak is from in the Hebrew is the same root that “God” or “gods” comes from, el. For Jael’s tent to be pitched by or under an oak tree is to signify that it is a sacred spot, holy ground.

This is further confirmed in the next place name given to show where Heber and Jael live: they live near Kedesh. In Joshua Kedesh had been designated as one of the cities of refuge where someone who unintentionally committed murder could flee to escape the revenge of the kinsman redeemer. It is also a city whose lands were given to the Levites, so they could graze their animals. Kadesh was identified with both a sanctuary and Israel’s cult. It is also the only city in Naphtali that has this dual claim.

The writer of Judges 4 has given us three major markers that Jael is to be seen in a cultic role: she is a Kenite, descended from Moses’ father-in-law; her tent is under or near a sacred oak, and she lives near Kadesh. Jael’s tent is seen as sacred ground, and this is the reason why Sisera enters. Sisera believes himself to be safe.

But that leaves the question: why did she kill him? Sisera is on sacred ground, and the rules of hospitality are that you will fight, and if necessary, die in your guest’s place, not kill them. First she was in danger if Barak did find Sisera in her tent. She would then be seen as Israel’s enemy. The second reason is possible rape. In Deborah’s song the verses that follow Jael’s murder of Sisera have Sisera’s mother saying that he delays because there is a woman (literally “womb”) or two for each man to rape (5:38-40). She did not want to have the same fate befall her. It is also worth noting that if Sisera’s intentions were honorable, he would have gone into her husband’s tent and not hers. In my “Judges” class in seminary, we learned that the tradition of the time was for the husband and wife or wives to have their own separate tents. There was no reason for Sisera to be in her tent. If her husband came home, she would have been accused of adultery. She was protecting herself from possible rape as well as the possibility of being killed.

There is a third reason for why Jael killed Sisera. Staying with Ackerman’s argument that Jael is functioning in a cultic role, she acts because she is doing what God has told her to do. She knows that this is a holy war God is waging against the Canaanites to deliver Israel from their oppression. This suspends the rules of sanctuary she could provide for Sisera. Jael is acting as Moses, Phineas, and the leaders of Israel acted when the men of Israel had sexual relations with the women of Moab and worshiped Baal of Peor (Numbers 25). Phineas’ zeal for upholding the covenant by killing an Israelite man and the Midianite woman he brought into camp, is commended by God, and he and his family receive a blessing (verses 10-13). As Moses and Phineas protected Israel’s heritage as the people of God, so Jael does. She knows the deeds of this man, his arrogance, brutality, and what he would do if she were a woman of a tribe he defeated. She would finish the battle Deborah had started and help to insure 40 years of peace in Israel. With Deborah she would bring shalom to God’s people by obeying what she knew to be the will of God.

As a priest it was Jael’s duty to stand between God and the people–to intercede. In order to save her family and possibly her people, Sisera had to be turned over to the Israelites. He became her sacrifice. Jael reminds us that standing between God and the people can be a very dangerous place. Hard decisions must be made, and in the end, there are times we wonder if what we did is what God wanted.

Career Women of the Bible: Phoebe

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well (Rom. 16:1-2). Paul trusted Phoebe enough to entrust his letter to the Romans to her. She is a woman Paul highly commended and respected. She is a “sister,” “deacon,” and “benefactor” to the church at Cenchreae as well as a sister and benefactor to Paul.

Paul uses the word, diakonos to describe Phoebe. The odd thing about Paul using this word to describe Phoebe is that it is the masculine form used to describe a woman. The feminine form is diakona. Most versions translate diakonos as “servant” here, but when it used to describe men, it is translated as “deacon.” It is also paired with “of the church of Cenchreae” This is the only place in the New Testament where diakonos is followed by a specific congregation in a genitive construct: she was the deacon of the church in Cenchreae. This is the only place linking a specific person’s ministry with a specific church. This seems to indicate that Phoebe served as a deacon or pastor in the church at Cenchreae.

Paul uses another word to describe Phoebe: prostatis. This is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament. It is also another word that is translated so that its main meaning is not obvious in the translation. The normal translation is “helper” or someone who has helped. In secular Greek sources, the basic and most obvious translation of the word is patron or benefactor, and women in this role, are well attested in the Roman world. Women who were benefactors in the Roman world supported the arts and temples, as well as philosophers and debaters. Phoebe was a wealthy woman who served the church out of her means as the women in Luke 8 served Jesus out of theirs.

Aida Besançon Spencer has also suggested that prostatis could be derived from the verb proistemi, which means to “to stand, place before or over,” or “to help by ruling” (Before the Curse, 115). The times the verb appears in the New Testament it has the meaning of ruling or governing (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thes. 5:12-13). In the Pastoral Epistles this word is used to describe bishops and deacons governing their households well. In other Greek sources, such as Josephus, the masculine form of the verb is used to describe rulers and leaders like Moses, Herod, and Agrippa (ibid). This word could mean that Phoebe was a ruler or another overseer in the church.

Phoebe was an independent woman who had her own means, and served the church in a leadership role. Paul comes very close to commanding churches he had no hand in planting, and Christians, most of whom had never met him, to welcome her and provide anything she needed because she was both a deacon and a benefactor/ruler in the church. She was not only the benefactor and leader in the church at Cenchreae, but Paul himself had also benefited from her generous rule.

Find out more about The Career Women of the Bible.

A Daughter of Eve

From Kimberly Roth at Jesus Manifesto:

I am a daughter of Eve.

I am a daughter of the woman who plucked fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because it seemed good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom (and was also kind enough to share with her husband).

I am a daughter of the curse.

I am a son of God.

Through faith, I have been clothed with Christ Jesus and am neither male nor female but Christ, Abraham’s seed, living in me through the Spirit.

I am a son of the promise.

<snip>

Why is it that women in vocational ministry seems to be Christianity’s final frontier?

Ok, God, we can accept those Gentile believers, and we can even give up our slaves… but you can not be serious about that female thing?! Surely you’re not going to let Eve off the hook that easily. Did Jesus put you up to this? Do you have any idea how long it took us to live down that whole Deborah thing (and don’t even get me started on her friend Jael…)?

There seems to be a lot of fear surrounding what would happen if women were released to run amok in ministry, at least down here in the Bible belt. Children would be abandoned, meals would go unprepared, men would be disrespected in their own homes and left to pick up their own dirty underwear. Chaos would ensue. Theology would be twisted beyond recognition. Salvation as we know it would cease. Sunday school is one thing, but the entire Body of Christ… that’s just too much to consider.

I grew up with this attitude. It took God a long time to convice me that yes God could call me into leadership positions, and that it was okay that I DID NOT want to be a traditional wife, and do not want to have children. God used women like Deborah and Jael who were not typical wives, and the Bible does not even mention if they have children. God also used women like Mary Magdalene and Lydia–single women who were not linked to men, other than Jesus. God also used Priscilla and Aquilla who worked side by side making tents and pastoring churches. It’s been a long, and at times hard, road. I know I need to write about it. I have said that I would. I guess I need to start writing. I always put off telling my story. I guess I don’t think it’s that important. But may be it is important. May be I need to tell my story, so I can tell other women’s stories. I know that is far past time for Eve and her daughters to be redeemed.

How do you feel about telling your story?

Updated Book Review: Saving Women from the Church

I have upadated my book review after comments Susan left. Please make sure you read her comment. There’s somef good stuff there. Thank you Susan for stopping by!

Today is the release date of Susan McLeod-Harrison’s first book Saving Women from the Church: How Jesus Mends a Divide (Barclay Press, 2008). Upfront I have to say I’m not sure I can review this book objectively. Susan’s story is very close to my own. Reading this book, I wished it had been published about eight years earlier. That is when I was going through my own struggle on whether or not to remain in the Church. And I do mean Church with a big C. I wasn’t thinking of only leaving my denomination, I was thinking of leaving the Church period. I was in seminary and on the ordination track. I did not see a place for myself in Christian ministry. I was single; I was evangelical; and I was called to preach and pastor. I was also asked in various churches if I was going to seminary to be a pastor’s wife. I had come to the point where I wanted to leave. I wanted to walk away. I just did not see a future for myself in the Church.

Saving Women from the Church addresses several of the myths that woman hear in church. Some of the chapter titles are: “If you’ve felt alienated and judged in the church,” “If you believe women are inferior to men,” “If as a single woman, your gifts have been rejected or overlooked,” and “If you’ve been encouraged to deify motherhood.” In the Introduction, she starts with my favorite starting point on women in the church: creation. Both men and women are created in the image of God, and therefore, image God with their gifts and talents God has given them. In each chapter she starts with a fictional account of a woman who is experiencing and living one of the myths. She follows it with a imaginative portrayal of how Jesus treated women in a similar position in the New Testament. She follows the biblical story by explaining what Jesus was doing and with questions for discussion. Each chapter ends with a meditation meant for healing. Saving Women does a great job of translating theology into practical, everyday examples in language normal people use. The history and sociological work she does for each passage, explaining the culture of the people, at the time is also well done.

I think this book would make an excellent woman’s study or small group study. It addresses most of the myths women in the evangelical church have grown up with and still deal with. It would be a great conversation starter, and it is a valuable addition to other books on this subject. The language and tone of the book make it much more accessible and understandable to the typical lay person than most books in this genre. In the conclusion, Susan recommends women in abusive churches leave and gives a list of churches that are egalitarian and open to women in ministry. Saving Women does a good job of acknowledging and describing the myths, and encourages women to get out of these environments. The Recommended Reading at the end of the book also has books that would help in this regard.

Overall I am very pleased that this book is on the market. It starts with the premise that women are made in the image of God and called to build God’s kingdom. Then it deals chapter-by-chapter with the destructive myths that have prevailed in evangelical culture to keep women as second-class citizens and powerless in the pews. It is an excellent resource to begin busting these myths and helping women find their God-given ability to be equal partners in building God’s kingdom with their brothers.

Reviewing a Book

Last week I found out that my blog is getting noticed. I received a pre-publication copy of Susan McLeod-Harrison’s book Saving Women from the Church: How Jesus Amends a Divide from Barclay Press. This is Susan’s first book and will be released on Febuary 20. She looks at traditional myths about women such as women are inferior to men, women’s emotions disqualify them from ministry, and women cannot lead because they are to submit to men. I am very excited about this book. In a lot of ways Susan’s journey has mirrored my own (I’ll get more into that in my review).

This book also came at a very good time. I had just finished reading Carolyn Custis James’ Lost Women of the Bible: Finding Strength & Significance through Their Stories. I had been excited about this book too and that Carolyn showed how women were equal to and ministered beside men to build God’s Kingdom throughout the Bible. Her scholarship is excellent, and she is a great storyteller. Then I hit the last chapter. She made it very clear that she did not think this included leadership positions such as pastor. In a footnote, she says that Choe, Lydia, and Priscilla were “hostesses,” not leaders, of the churches that met in their homes. She also has two or three paragraphs about how women can be a support and help to their pastors. Pastors are always referred to as “he.” No talk of men supporting their female pastors or women coming alongside and helping their female pastors. I was so disaapointed. I need to write a review of it, but I just haven’t wanted to go back to it. It has been a long time since I was this disappointed in a book.

In the promotional material that came with Saving Women from the Church, they asked if I could read the book and put up a review on my blog, which I am now doing. I’m about halfway through the book. Susan’s publicist also wrote that if we wanted to do an interview to email her. I think I’m going to do that too. I’d love interview Susan and put that up on the site as well.

Jan 20 Sermon: Salvation to the Ends of the Earth

Jesus: Salvation to the Ends of the Earth

Isaiah 49:1-7; John 1:29-42

 

 

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Is. 49:6) This is what God says to God’s servant in Isaiah 49. It is too light a thing for you only to raise up and restore Israel. That just isn’t enough for my servant: you are going to be a light to the nations: the very nations that destroyed you and now hold you in exile. Yeah to those nations. You’re going to bring my salvation to the ends of the earth–that’s right the ends of the Persian Empire you are a part of, and no it’s not small. It’s not enough that just Israel is restored: you are going to show to the world the kind of God I am, and they will see my light and salvation. Wow, what a job description. And this is after the servant sighs, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.” May be he should have stopped there, but no, he goes on, “yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.”

 

 

This phrase has been going through my mind all week: It is too little of a thing for you just to save your own people, or one people, or just those who are like you and you agree with. That is too little of a thing for the servant of God. In the context of Isaiah, God is telling this to the Jews. The Jews that are in exile. The Jews that are enslaved and indentured by other countries. They’re not at all sure about this whole return to Jerusalem thing anyway. They know what they’re going to find: rubble. They know what they’re going to have to do: rebuild. That’s why the servant thinks they have labored in vain. But oh no, that’s not all God has in store for the Jews. God has a much bigger plan, a much broader agenda. Much bigger than the Jews wanted. And let’s face it, most of the time bigger than we want.

 

 

As we discussed last week, the servant of God began as Israel, then Jesus fulfilled these passages, and as the Body of Christ, we are now the servant. And what does God tell us? It’s too light of a thing to reach out just to our neighbors, just to our friends, just to those who look like us and agree with us. As God expected Jesus, and as God expected Israel, God expects us to bring God’s light to the nations and God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. Admittedly in Chicago, this is a little more palatable since the nations have come to us. But still it is a monstrous call, to say the least. It’s enough to make a pastor freak out. It’s enough to make most churches freak out. What are we going to do with this call?

 

 

Let’s take a look at how Jesus started. This week our Gospel is from John. Right after Jesus’ baptism in John’s Gospel, John is pointing him out to his disciples and yelling everywhere he goes: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” John’s disciples start paying attention, but two actually do something about John’s testimony. Two of them started following Jesus. When Jesus ask them what they are seeking, they answer that they want to know where he is staying or abiding. Jesus tells them to come and see, and the two abide with Jesus for the afternoon. The next day the two bring two more to Jesus. Andrew brings his brother, Simon, whom Jesus renames upon meeting, and Phillip brings a sarcastic Nathaniel. In all the gospels Jesus starts the same way, with two to four people. He starts small–he does start with the Jews, and it is only later after his resurrection that his light goes to the nations of the world. And then it takes some doing on God’s part to get the Jewish Christians out of Jerusalem and taking the Gospel to the ends of the Roman Empire.

 

 

God’s call is to take God’s light and salvation everywhere. We do begin in our homes, buildings, and neighborhoods. That is what we are supposed to do. But we are always to keep in mind that is not where we stop. God’s call is still for God’s love, compassion, and salvation to go to the ends of the earth. God’s call is still for us to show God’s light to people that are not like us, to people who don’t agree with us, with people who could be our enemies. Yes, we are small, but so was Jesus and the first disciples. The mission to be light to the ends of the earth always starts small. It grows as we give faithful witness to Jesus and live how he commanded us to live. As more and more of us live this way, people will start asking questions, and then we can say to them “Come and see.” Come and see what this Jesus person is about. Come and see why he makes such a difference in our lives. Come and see why we believe he is the Son of God and Savior of the world. Come and see the light to the nations and the salvation to the ends of the earth. And like John the Baptist that’s what we have to remember. We are not the light. We are only witnesses to the light. And as we live as faithful witnesses to the light of Christ, people will see his light, his love, and his compassion in our lives.

Made in the Image of Godde: Female

Gifted for Leadership’s most recent post is What Our Feminity Means. Here is an excerpt that sums up the entire post:

The benefits of modesty aside, femininity became a new way to behave, a role I played, a corset I wrapped around my soul and tightened down to get approval. Femininity quickly became something I did to get what I needed or wanted in life. It was something to use, not something I owned.

I don’t think this is what Godde intended when he created Woman. In Genesis 1 Godde wanted to splash more of the Trinity onto Earth. So Godde made Man and Woman to mirror Godde’s image (Gen 1:27). Femininity in its truest, original sense was one way Godde’s image appeared, and this image was not weak, catty, emotionally crazy, or inferior because Godde is none of these things. Femininity wasn’t a role Eve played to get what she needed; femininity was part of who she was. Even after Eden, as broken image bearers, we reflect God. If a child is humble, she mirrors her Godde. If a man is gentle, he mirrors his Godde. If women are feminine in the original sense, we reflect our Godde.

My main problem with this is that “feminine” and “femininity” are social and sociological constructs, not biblical or theological terms. Genesis 2:26-28 states:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Godde did not make “masculine” and “feminine” in Godde’s likeness. Godde made Male and Female in God’s likeness. And what does this image and likeness look like? According to these verses it means that man and woman subdue the earth and rule it as well as being fruitful and multiplying. Both the man and woman are commanded to have a family and to have a vocation.

In Genesis 2, we find that Godde created a human being and placed the human in the Garden of Eden. Godde decided that it was not good for the human to be alone, so Godde made an ezer cenegdo for the human. After the ezer is made there is now man and woman. What exactly is an ezer? Outside of Genesis 2, it appears 20 times in the Bible*. Seventeen of those times, ezer is used to describe Godde. In each instance military imagery is used to describe God coming to help Israel against its enemies. I found Psalm 146 particularly fascinating:

1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!
2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
5 Happy are those whose help [ezer] is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,
6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;
8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!

After telling the congregation not to put their trust in human leaders, the psalmist proclaims: “Happy are those whose ezer is the Godde of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah!” (author’s paraphrase). The psalmist then goes on to describe how Godde helped Israel: Godde executed justice for the oppressed, gave food to the hungry, set prisoners free, opened the eyes of the blind, lifted up those who are bowed down, and loved the righteous. Godde watches over the strangers, upholds the orphan and widow, and brings the way of the wicked to ruin. Godde’s help is not to dominate the people, but to lift them out of poverty and hunger, to set them free from oppressors and oppressive debts (most people in prison then were in debtor’s prison: they could not pay their debts). God helped the orphans and widows: those in society who have no one else to help them and be strong for them. Godde uses Godde’s strength and power to help those that no one else will help because they are seen as weak, poor, and marginal. Again we see military imagery used to describe Godde as Israel’s ezer or helper.

Carolyn Custis James does a wonderful job of exploring the word ezer and its military connotations in her book, Lost Women of the Bible: Finding Strength & Significance through Their Stories, in the chapter on Eve. She translates ezer as “strong helper.” Woman was created in the image of God to be a helper to the man as God was a helper to Israel. But this does not make her superior to the man. That’s where the second word of the phrase comes in: cenedgo, which means standing or sitting face to face. It means equal. So the full translation of ezer cenedgo is a powerful helper equal to. Woman was created to be a powerful helper equal to the man the way God is a powerful helper to God’s people.

Man and woman are created in Godde’s image to image Godde in our world. Psalm 146 gives a description of what Godde is doing in the world. Godde is not only fighting enemies and saving God’s people. Godde is also taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves. This means that both man and woman should be doing the things Godde does to image Godde to our world. This includes fighting systemic and spiritual evil, but it also includes tenderness and compassion toward those who are poor, needy, and those whom society overlooks.

I want to look at two women in the Bible; one in the Hebrew Scriptures and the other in the New Testament. First we’ll look at Deborah from the Hebrew Scriptures. We are introduced to Deborah in Judges 4. She was a prophet and judge, and she led Israel. The Israelite people came to her with problems and disputes, and she mediated Godde’s will as Moses once did. She was married, but she was a working woman. Godde called her to be a prophet and judge, and she answered. When Godde commanded Israel to go to battle with their enemy Sisera and the Canaanites, Deborah summoned the military commander Barak, and told him what Godde said. But Barak would not go into battle without Godde’s representative, Deborah. Both Barak and Deborah led Israel’s armies into battle. Here we see a man and a woman working together to fight the people’s enemies and obey Godde’s words and will. And irony of ironies is that Deborah’s husband, Lappidoth, was probably in the troops following his wife.

Deborah, Barak, and Lappidoth do not resemble or act according to the societal constructs of masculine and feminine, but they are obeying Godde and building Godde’s kingdom side by side. Leading men into a battle is not considered “feminine” in Western society, but Deborah was obeyed Godde. Godde called her to lead her people and protect them from their enemies. She was an ezer who was imaging Godde in her every word and action.

The next woman I want to look at in the New Testament is Priscilla (or Prisca). Priscilla ran a business with her husband, Aquilla. They made tents together. They worked in Corinth with Paul where they heard the Gospel and were saved (Acts 18:1-3). Later the couple would meet Apollos who had heard only of John’s baptism and not heard of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When Priscilla and Aquilla heard him, they took him aside and “explained the Way of God to him more accurately” (v. 26). They also led a home church when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans (Romans 16:3-5). It is very odd during this time for a wife’s name to be mentioned before her husband’s, and yet four times Priscilla’s name is put before her husband’s. Many scholars believe that she was the dominant one in ministry: the teacher and pastor of the churches that met in their home.

Again we see a man and woman working side by side making a living and building Godde’s kingdom. There is no mention of what is masculine and what is feminine. They worked together as the team Godde created them to be.

I think being made male and female in the image of Godde has very little to do with modern notions of femininity and masculinity. It has everything to do with faithfully imaging Godde to our world by obeying God’s callings on our lives and working together–both men and women–to build the kingdom of Godde on earth.

*Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:7, 26, 29; Psalm 20:2; 33:20; 70:5; 89:19; 115:9-11; 121:1-2; 124:8; 146:5; and Hosea 13:9.

The New Revised Standard Version is used for biblical quotes unless otherwise noted.

The picture is Thomasz Rut’s Insuspenco.

Crossposted at Emerging Women.