Sunday, March 20, 2011

Blowing in the Wind (Sermon 3/20)

Lent 2, 11A
20 March 2011

1 Timothy 2:1-12; John 3:1-17

            So this is the first time I’ve ever preached on this text. Since my preaching life began within the Lutheran tradition and this passage doesn’t appear in the lectionary, then it’s never come up for me. Of course, I’ve had many heartfelt discussions regarding these verses. Ironically, many people focus so heavily on “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent” that they forget the fun verse “Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.” I’ve had many people express concern for my salvation because of my sense of call to ministry, but no one ever told me that I needed to pop out a kid in order to cinch a place in heaven. (Of course, I did have a caesarean, so I hope that counts.)

            We could very easily dismiss this passage of Scripture. By what method? Historical criticism. We could examine this passage, the context of the book and decide that this was late-first century Christians who were trying to blend in a little bit more in society. If they didn’t stand out quite so much, then they might not be so persecuted. Dusting our hands off, we could say, “That was then and this is now.”

            Arguably, we know so much more now. For example, in the Greek of the New Testament, the word for woman also means wife (gyne) and the word for man, husband (aner). Since we know that the early Christians churches met in households, two sets of rules ran into one another. On the one hand, you have an understanding of men and women as equal before God, that through Christ all people have equal standing to their Creator and, therefore, with one another. On the other hand, you have the Roman world order, which makes the father of the family the head of the household (paterfamilias). When a house church is meeting, a woman might have an insight into Scripture. If she shares it, perhaps in the context of the worship it’s fine, but it could upset the balance of the home life after church is ended.

            The author of Timothy is concerned with church order and the perception of Christianity outside the bounds of the community of believers. Knowing this and, of course, considering ourselves more enlightened now, we could then simply say they were wrong. We know it’s tough if husbands and wives have to learn from one another, but it has more to do with being married (and knowing one another’s foibles) than the concerns about family hierarchy.

            However, if the teaching portion is anachronistic, what do we do with the idea that women achieve or receive salvation through childbirth? How can we solve that problem?

            This is why we use Scripture to interpret Scripture. If we read this passage from Timothy within a vacuum, we can’t do anything except either accept it as true or live with it as false. Does anyone think it’s true? Does anyone think it’s false? Why?

[At this portion in sermon delivery, the bishop of our synod pointed out that we could consider that the passage was redacted, or edited in, by later editors, especially considering that the voice or writing style of the passage seems different. Though he is a man and very learned, I pointed out that while that may be true, the passage is still in the Bible and therefore we have to consider it with other Scriptures. If we are to be taken seriously as people with some trust in the written word of God, we have to deal with what it means to have this passage in our Bible.]

            If this were true, it means the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ doesn’t do anything for women. If women are saved through childbirth and through raising godly children, then we don’t need to baptize them or teach them the Catechism. All the women can go because we are either in the middle of earning our salvation or we should be lamenting that we aren’t going to receive it.

            However, as we read other passages of Scripture, we see Jesus speaking to women, encouraging the Samaritan woman to drink from the well of life, teaching the disciples the significance of the woman who anoints his feet, showing compassion to the woman caught in the act of adultery, allowing Mary to sit at his feet and listen and encouraging Martha to do the same. In Scripture, we see God using Sarah and Hagar, Deborah, Jael, Huldah and Michal. We see Paul’s ministry made possible by Priscilla, Phoebe, Eunice, Lois and Julia (Romans 16:15).

            For many years, the Church operated under the idea that it could control the Spirit. And, if it couldn’t control it, the Church definitely had the authority, the only authority, to recognize when the Spirit was at work. And that didn’t happen in women. So they thought.

            But consider what Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3. Remember, Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a man who knows Jewish law inside and out and has been hearing Jesus teach radical things inside and outside the synagogue. Nicodemus goes to him in the night, so he won’t be seen, to learn more about what Jesus is talking about. Does Jesus tell him, “You’re out, buddy. You’re a Jew,”?

            No, Jesus says, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is of the flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”

            Jesus goes on to say, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

            There’s no addendum about childbearing. What happens to Nicodemus after this encounter? He stands up for Jesus in the temple, when other Pharisees are accusing him, arguing for a fair hearing. Then we see him with Joseph of Arimathea, collecting Jesus’ body after the crucifixion and wrapping it for the tomb.

            Jesus attracts Nicodemus through his interpretation of Scripture, but he keeps him through his revelation of who God is and how God works in the world. Through Jesus, Nicodemus hears God’s call of love to all creation. That call of love, the love that saves and wins, stirs up faith and faithful responses. That call of love changes Nicodemus and anyone else who hears it and listens to it. God uses whom God chooses. We have to try not to get in the way.

            The overall arc of the biblical narrative does not allow us to believe that women are saved through childbearing. We’re saved by God’s grace in and through Jesus Christ, and that alone.

            The overall arc of the biblical narrative also shows us that God uses men and women of all kinds, in many and various ways, to accomplish God’s purposes for the world. Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, Paul, Peter, John, Joanna, Martha, Timothy, you and me.

            Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this… preaching, but I can’t help it.

I only know one capital T Truth and it is this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” This I believe. And I can’t shut up about it.


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