Happy Mother’s Day!
We’re going to begin our time together with a reading from the letter to the Galatians, chapter 3, beginning with verse 26. So if you have a Bible or a Bible app, please go to the letter to the Galatians 3:23-29. This is Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia. The church was already starting to veer away from the teachings found in the Gospels and listening to other teachings and Paul was writing to set them straight. The Galatians were starting to rely on their adherence to the law instead of the grace and forgiveness of Christ and Paul is trying to get it in their heads that they are turning away from what Jesus taught us. We pick up here in our reading this morning from Galatians 3:23-29.
23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
To celebrate Mother’s Day I want to share a little bit with you about my own mother.
My mom is great. She is the kind of mom all the neighborhood kids knew. My buddy Rick would come over and we’d play backgammon for hours at our dining room table. My friend Jay would come over and we’d go a few rounds of Rummikub and often times my mom would join in. Whenever we had study groups, she would always offer for my friends to come to our house. In fact, when we were studying for the SATs and pulled a couple of all-nighters, it was at our home that my friends crashed at. My mom would always bust out the popcorn and chips and soda for everyone, and there were times I wondered if my friends actually liked me or just my mom. My mom was always the cool mom. She listened to top 40 music, watched the movies we liked to watch, and followed along with all of our TV shows. But it was also my mom who got me into liking the Beatles. We’d spend hours on Los Angeles freeways and my mom would often turn it to KRLA – the “oldies” station and there I would hear the likes of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. My mom was the one who got me interested in Star Trek. She was a big fan and we’d watch them on KTLA channel 5 almost every afternoon. I used to do the Vulcan Death Grip on my sister Karen all the time and watch her wriggle to the ground in laughter. My mom also introduced me to Tommy’s Hamburgers, a culinary haven for chili burgers. My mom was an important influence on my life and maybe because she was so instrumental on who I turned out to be, I find it offensive for people to even hint that women are the inferior of men.
Yet in our society today, that still happens far too often.
What’s worse is that it happens in the church. There are people today who believe that women should not be leaders in the church. There are people who believe that women should stay silent. There are people who believe that women do not belong as pastors and preachers. And they use the Bible to justify their sexist attitudes. It’s not enough that they quote from Ephesians to tell women they should be subservient to their husbands and how they’ve used the Bible to justify the physical abuse many women have suffered over the years. But they also use the Bible to tell how women should behave inside the walls of the church. 1 Corinthians 11 – women should cover their heads. 1 Corinthians 14 – women should remain silent in church and bow to the wisdom of their husbands. 1 Timothy 2 – women do not have the permission to teach a man or to have authority over him. One Southern Baptist seminary even fired female professors because of this one passage of Scripture. The only female professor they kept was the new seminary president’s wife who taught home economics. She would teach classes on how to properly keep a Biblical household including of course the “biblical model for the home and family.”
But this is the same Paul we just heard from Galatians.
This is the Paul who said we are all equal before God. That there is no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, no man nor woman in Christ Jesus. Paul says very clearly that in all things we are equal before Christ. So which Paul was proclaiming the truth? Those who against women leaders in the church would have you believe that is not what Paul is saying. They would tell you that Paul is saying that although we ARE all equal before God, we have different roles to play in the greater order of things. That men are supposed to be leaders and women are supposed to be followers. That men are in charge of making decisions and that women are fit for sitting quietly. And yet. And yet, I tell you that this very same Bible these fundamentalists are deriving their support from shows us women ARE to be placed in positions of leadership. They ARE to provide guidance and instruction. And they are NOT to stay silent.
The Bible has many examples of women in leadership.
Take for example, Deborah from the book of Judges in the Old Testament. It was Deborah who held the favor of the Lord and to whom the Lord spoke. It was Deborah who led the Israelites to victory against Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite armies, and gave Israel their freedom. And it was Deborah to whom Barak the leader of Israel’s armies bowed down in submission. God had truly been working in Deborah as the leader of the Israeli people. The Bible tells us, “Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until you, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel.” (Judges 5:7) And what about Esther? Most of you know the story of this courageous young woman. How she was taken by force to be part of the king’s harem and instead rose to the king’s favor. How Haman, with hatred in his heart for Esther’s cousin and adopted father Mordecai, set about to destroy Mordecai and all of the Jewish people. And how Esther risked her life by coming uninvited before the king and eventually telling him of Haman’s plot to destroy her people. God was with Esther in this time and God was working in her by giving her courage, strength, and wisdom. What would have happened without these brave women and many others like them?
Was such bravery and blessing confined only to the Old Testament?
We see equally strong examples of women faithful to God in the New Testament as well. Even women in Paul’s own ministry who taught the Word of God. Phoebe, Priscilla, and Junia are just three of the women who Paul NAMES as instrumental in starting the Christian movement. Phoebe was considered a deacon and was likely the person Paul entrusted to deliver the letter to the church in Rome. Priscilla joined her husband in teaching others about the fullness of God, and she even taught Apollos, a man who was considered a great follower of Jesus. Why would Apollos listen to a woman if God’s Word was meant to be taught only by men to men? Maybe Apollos, recognizing the gift of teaching in Priscilla as given by God, felt he had much to learn and as a great disciple, allowed himself to go against man’s social structures and hear God’s Word. And finally, Junia. Although only recently discovered among the earliest of manuscripts, this person from the letter to the Romans (16:7) had long been translated as Junias, a male name. Some scholars believe that men, threatened by the fact Paul of all people would consider a woman to be an apostle, could not bring themselves to believe it and substituted a man’s name in the place of this dedicated woman. For a woman to be called an apostle, especially by Paul whose writings have long established the role of men and women in the church, would be to marginalize Paul’s writings about women.
So why did Paul write the things he wrote in those letters?
Why did he make it seem he was against women as leaders if he actually made them leaders? Many scholars believe Paul was writing to specific ministries and addressing their challenges in their context. He wasn’t writing to all women in all circumstances. If you notice, each of the arguments used to suppress women in church come from Paul’s letters to specific people in specific ministries or to specific churches like the church in Corinth. Unlike the Gospels which contain none of these difficult passages, these were letters written to specific people. His instructions then applied to these select societies for their situations only and were never meant to apply for all time to all women everywhere. Some argue that these arguments DO apply to all women and some even cite the book of Genesis as establishing this hierarchy of men over women. Since men were created first, then men were obviously meant to set the tone for the human race. But what about fish? What about birds? Since they were created before men, should we be subservient to them? Some will argue that because it was a woman who brought sin into the world that they should hold a lower place in society, but the that is a constructed argument and not one you’ll find anywhere in the Bible. And those same people forget that Adam sinned equally before God. He ate of the fruit as well and of his own free will. Instead, we should judge by the fruit of the Spirit as Christ commanded us to, instead of the workings of man. Judge the work by the fruit of the Spirit and not by the workings of man.
Today, it brings me to think of a mother who embodied this fruitful spirit.
Susanna Wesley, mother of all 19 children in the Wesley clan, was a person that God used mightily in the life of young John and in the lives of the people around her.  While her husband, Samuel was away in London she had begun to read to her children and teach them about the Bible as a supplement to what they heard in church. Her servants told Samuel’s parents about this and they came to hear. They were so impressed with her lessons that they told friends as well, and soon the number of people who came regularly to Mrs. Wesley’s lessons numbered in the hundreds. Over 200 to be exact which upset the curate to no end who had fewer people attending worship than Mrs. Wesley, a WOMAN, was receiving. He wrote in complaint to her husband and Samuel responded by telling Susanna that it was his desire for her to stop. She wrote back, telling him “what good the meetings had done, and that none were opposed to them but Mr. Inman (the curate) and one other. She then concluded (her letter) with these wonderful sentences: ‘If after all this you think fit to dissolve this assembly do not tell me you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience; but send your positive command in such full and express terms as may absolve me from all guilt and punishment for neglecting this opportunity for doing good when you and I shall appear before the great and awful tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ.’” Needless to say, Samuel didn’t send any such command. You could say that Susanna was Methodism’s first female pastor.
Anyone who reads the Bible knows that women play an important role in the shape of our faith today.
But it doesn’t take much to also know that women were often mistreated. There are countless stories of horrible things having been done to women and other stories relate to us how little society thought of them. But in none of those stories does it ever show Jesus thinking any of those things or treating women in any of those ways. And if Jesus is the barometer by which we judge our own actions, then shouldn’t we model Christ rather than society? To diminish a woman based on her gender is to do a grave disservice to all people everywhere. We should respect people the way that Jesus did. We should uplift people instead of forcing them down. We should seek to encourage their gifts instead of denying them. We should value all people everywhere as individuals and as God’s children for as God’s children, we are all equally loved by God. As God’s children, we are all equally loved by God. Imagine if it was your mother who was mistreated, downtrodden, oppressed, diminished, or made to feel worthless. How many among us would not be incensed by such treatment? And rightly so, for these women are the backbone of our society. In so many ways, it has been women who have encouraged, nurtured and pioneered the way for the rest of us and we owe them our love and gratitude. On this Mother’s Day, remember the women in your lives. Make sure you let them know how important they are and how much you love them. And not just today, but everyday, honor, cherish, and value them for the people that they are. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.