Women Should Be Silent!

Women Should Be Silent!

Scripture: 1 Timothy 2 If we could land on one book of Scripture that would convince us that Scripture is NOT all of a piece, and that there are many variations in genre, authorship, and authenticity through the ages, it’s this letter to Timothy.   Those who shy away from making distinctions among the books may have to accept some of the responsibility for what 1 Timothy has done to women through the centuries, especially this second chapter.  The issue of the roles of women in our contemporary world was brought home to me in a blog warning that climate change is going to affect ALL of us, no matter how far away we are from the melting glaciers.   The author (from United Nations Development) states that “We know that in 38 of the 48 countries surveyed by the United Nations in a 2010 report, women (over 15 years old) are responsible for searching and collecting drinking water. The harder it is to access it, the further they will have to walk, the worse their health will be, and the less time they will have to educate themselves.” Luckily, we have scholars such as John Dominic Crossan, who distinguish between a radical Paul (in his seven authentic letters), a liberal Paul, and a conservative Paul.  As Crossan puts it, “someone was cleaning up Paul” from his radical notions.   [See his talk on YouTube here: http://youtu.be/txdUXCY0clU]. Scholars are convinced that Paul didn’t even WRITE 1 Timothy, although it has been the cause of much dislike of Paul by women. Chapter two of 1 Timothy is fascinating in how it has been (and still is) interpreted.  The Jewish scholar, Dr. Amy Jill Levine (The Jewish Annotated New Testament), reminds us that the delay in the Second Coming of Jesus, which was the issue in Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians, led the scribes writing in the name of Paul to support the status quo; namely, that women were to find their salvation in having children and their husbands were to rule the household, in the patriarchal culture (and in popular moral treatises) of the time. Dr. Levine even writes, in her notes on chapter two of 1 Timothy: “The view that women are subordinate to men and that the subordination derives from Genesis [note that the New Interpreter’s Study Bible calls 1 Timothy 2:14 a ‘somewhat forced’ reading of Genesis] appears in later Jewish circles and is native to some rabbinic understanding of womanhood…”   When I remind my wife that Scripture says she should be subject to me, she gives me that look that promises: “In your dreams!”    Rightly so: we are partners who love each other dearly, and hierarchy is not even...

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Passages That I Hate

Passages That I Hate

Scripture Passage: Matthew 17:1-13 I want to pose a question that you might find too disrespectful to answer:  Are there any passages in Scripture that you absolutely HATE?   I have a number, especially those that have been used as a weapon against other people in God’s creation.  But I suppose my all-time favorite to hate is that one from Genesis, when Abraham is asked to take his only son up the mountain and kill him (Genesis 22:2).  [I can’t even stand to post the most common depictions of it]. I learned many of the interpretations of this passage as I’ve wrestled with it over the years.  Paul uses it to point out Abraham’s great faith (Romans 4).  Or you can view it as the supreme test to see if you are obedient to the Almighty and can count on His goodness no matter what He requires you to do.  Then there’s the real possibility that this passage was put into Genesis to call an end to child sacrifice to gods who had altars in the high places.   Christian writers were eager to point out that God’s son was not spared like Abraham’s was—because of our terrible sins that needed washing away with blood. But once my wife and I had a firstborn son, this passage went right to the top of my all-time hate list.  I could understand the terrible possibility that something might happen to him.  I used to listen to him breathe at night in his basinet, just to be certain he was okay.   Being conceived, born, and growing up are all miraculous, given the number of things that can go wrong.  I could only hope my faith would be strong enough if the unthinkable happened.  But being told to end his life as if the answer were needed for some high stakes loyalty test—well, that would be too much for me.  I hesitate to write, but it’s true, that I can’t believe in a God who would ask that. So, you may legitimately wonder:  Well, then, how can you believe in a God who requires His own Son to suffer a criminal’s death so that YOU might live eternally in happiness, instead of in perpetual torment? To answer that, let me explain what all this has to do with the Transfiguration, the story in Matthew 17 and in all three synoptic gospels: I always thought the Transfiguration was a great story!  It’s so visual!: there’s a mountain, a transformation that involves Jesus’s body and his clothes, there are appearances of two prophets long dead (well one of them, at least), and there is this thunderous voice from heaven claiming Jesus as the Son of God whom...

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“You Have Heard That It Was Said, But I Say…”

“You Have Heard That It Was Said, But I Say…”

Scripture: Matthew 5:17-48 “You Have Heard That It Was Said…” This passage is difficult because Jesus says that he has come to fulfill the law, not to abolish it (nor the Prophets).  But then he goes on to quote the law about murder, adultery, oaths, retaliation and enemies and goes way beyond it in most cases.  “You have heard that it was said, but what I say to you is…”    Jesus seems to be on the side of the conservative interpreters of the Torah, stating that not one smallest part of a letter of it should ever be changed.  The Jewish scholar, Dr. Amy Jill Levine, in her Annotated Commentary on the New Testament, reminds us that not everything in the Torah is a law, and that way back at the time of Hillel,  Jews believed that there was an oral Torah and a written Torah, and both had equal value.  But the one can be interpreted by the other.  The Hebrew word for law (nomos) can be translated “teaching” and so gives further credence that not everything in the Torah, whether written or oral, has the force of law. Still, Jesus seems to be pointing the way to a higher standard of conduct.  He didn’t seem to have much tolerance for external observances, rituals or practices that were not accompanied by an interior purity of intention.  He knew that what comes out of our character and motivation and instincts means more than what we profess to believe.   He knew how difficult it is for us to accomplish even the most unselfish-looking deeds without having mixed motives for doing so. For those who celebrate or know about Ash Wednesday, with ashes so recently traced on our foreheads and the accompanying words assaulting our ears: “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return,” perhaps we have a context in which to interpret this difficult passage from Matthew’s Gospel. Our lives go so fast—we are old before we realize the years have passed.  We can’t believe the ages of our children and grandchildren.  You never thought you would live to be forty, and then suddenly find yourself in your sixties or seventies or eighties!   Ashes indeed.   I know this is a little far out, but what if Jesus, in these words recorded by Matthew, were trying to teach us something about life and death? We are, are we not, used to playing up certain laws in Scripture and ignoring others.  I was in a discussion group of teachers just the other day, and they were complaining about how little respect students seem to have these days.  They don’t respect each other, nor do they respect their elders, their...

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Laborers in the Vineyard: a Difficult Passage?

Laborers in the Vineyard: a Difficult Passage?

Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16 After a pause for six weeks of meetings, we can now go back to our “Difficult Passages in Scripture” theme.  Does this passage from Matthew 20 surprise you? I want to bring several sources to bear on this Scripture.  The first, of course, is the scripture itself, and its commentary in The New Interpreters Study Bible.  The second is this poem called “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver, a poetess born in Maple Heights, OH (now lives in Provincetown, Mass.) and winner of both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry that many modern spiritual writers are quoting these days: You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — over and over announcing your place in the family of things. The third is this passage from Rev. Cam Miller, in his “Subversive Preacher” blog of this past Wednesday 2-19-14: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=wm#inbox/1445266a8557d6e1 The fourth is this poignant blog of 2-20-14 by Rachel Held Evans, an Evangelical: “I asked my friends to share their Sacred Scared here because I wanted to prove to you that folks who are showing up BIG TIME and doing REALLY hard things are just like us. Everybody is the same. No one has it all figured out and No one ever will. We just gotta show up for our dreams and each other before we’re ready. We can be scared and still show up. We can be completely UNHEALED and still show up. We must just show up in all our beautiful, messy glory. Because all the good and all the beautiful in the world is created by people who show up before they’re ready. – See more at: http://momastery.com/blog/2014/02/19/sacred-scared-day-one/#sthash.vPj5HdH8.dpuf “Imagine that you have a new friend that you just love, and she’s coming to your house, and you finally liberate yourself enough to skip the panic-clean before she arrives. You decide that you trust her enough to walk in and see your messy house and you just KNOW that she will GET IT. She will LOVE that you...

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Infancy Narratives

Infancy Narratives

Infancy Narratives (Matthew 1:18 – 2:23; Luke 1:5 – 2:52) Very few would put these two gospel passages down as “difficult passages in Scripture.”  After all, what can be difficult about the birth of a baby and the fulfillment of prophecies that had survived through almost a thousand years? Besides, we have all known hard times when external forces like storms and natural disasters, or even minor occurrences such as a broken water pipe or a tax audit have thrown our homes and households into a  chaos that may take days, weeks, months or years to overcome and get beyond.  Many of us have set out on a long journey without much planning and found motels full and had to settle for shabby accommodations or rooms formerly used by smokers.  A few of us have possibly slept in our cars. John’s Gospel doesn’t have an infancy narrative, but the first words of his gospel epitomize an astonishing problem here:  He claims and millions of people after him have believed, that the Word that existed before creation has now come to join that creation—not as its creator, but as one of its billions of births. John and the other evangelists knew of writings, or sacred texts, that seemed to apply to this birth and this life, to this Jesus born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. There were lots of creation stories floating around when the author of Genesis put his quill to parchment.  We can imagine people wanting to know: where did all of this come from?   Sit outside your dwelling on a clear, frosty night.  Where did these stars originate?  Why do they move and some seem to gather in recognizable shapes, like dippers and swans and a belt with a dagger hanging from it? In fact, where did WE come from and how to we fit in?  Speaking of daggers, why do we so often wound and kill each other.   The author of Genesis explains this.  God made it.  It was all good.  We lived in a peaceable kingdom until the flaw that was always in us—the untamable desire for knowledge, power and pleasure brought us to know hatred, pain, and death. Who would believe such a story?  Does it make sense?  And how about this Creator who wouldn’t let his creatures divorce Him/Her, but kept coming after them with help and promises and an unquenchable desire to be loved and to love? The gospel writers looked back on the whole panoply of those promises and brought some of them forward to apply to their time and ours: This is he who was foretold in Genesis and Isaiah and typified in Exodus and Samuel and Kings and...

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Are You Chosen? Am I?

Are You Chosen?  Am I? The difficult line in John 13, in Jesus’ words after he has washed his disciples’ feet is: “What I say is not said of all, for I know the kind of men I chose.”  Right after that, he hands a morsel dipped in wine to Judas and tells him to be quick in what he is about to do. This idea of being “chosen” by God has deep roots and many examples in Scripture. Isaiah has God fondly refer to “Israel, whom I have chosen” (44:1).  Peter calls his early Christian readers  “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, …a people [God] claims for his own” (1 Peter 2:9).  There are detailed, exciting and deeply emotional stories of people being chosen to carry out God’s plan of salvation.   Think of the people chosen for the covenant relationship with God: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.  Sometimes they had their names changed: Abram to Abraham; Jacob to Israel.  If you were chosen, your status would be passed on to your children.  There are careful records of genealogies to show who this favored status included. Think of the choice of Moses to lead the most portentous deliverance in history; or how about the choice of his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam?  Think about the call to Samuel and the Judges, and Samuel’s anointing of that great King, David, son of Jesse.  Women figured into the plan as well: Sarah and Rachel and Ruth and Deborah just to name a few. Then there were the prophets, with some pretty dramatic choices in Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah.  How about the choice of Job to be tested by the Accuser to the depths of his being?   In the New Testament, we have Zachary’s story and Elizabeth’s and Mary’s and Joseph’s, John the Baptist’s and Jesus himself.  In his time, Jesus chooses his disciples and apostles.  After his death, they chose Stephen and the deacons, and Saul—sprawling on the ground, unable to see, the voice of Jesus ringing in his ears–got chosen in spite of his venomous actions toward Jesus’s followers. Are WE chosen?  By whom and for what?  Do we want to ‘be among their number, when the saints go marching in’ to eternal life and happiness?  In his “priestly prayer,” was Jesus talking about US when he said: “For these I pray—not for the world but for these you have given me, for they are really yours” (John 17:9)? Don’t we imagine that we are chosen for some special purpose, some special mission?  Isn’t Paul implying that the Corinthians are chosen because they have different gifts, each one a benefit for the community (1 Cor. 12)?   Don’t we imagine...

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