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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Midweek Lent 2017 + Justice, Kindness, Humbly Walking

Week 3: “It Is Not So Among You”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen; Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Minneapolis
Texts: Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 24:1-12

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

James and John were feeling pretty good about themselves.

They were in the leadership group of the disciples, top three with Peter. They were, they liked to think, Jesus’ right-hand men. In a singularly misguided moment, the brothers asked a favor of Jesus: when he came into glory, could they have the seats of honor, at his right and left? We know the story.

But we need to hear Jesus’ response clearly: You know, he said, that among the nations, the Gentiles, the world, their leaders lord it over the others. “It is not so among you,” he said. (Mark 10:43) “Whoever wishes to be great must be a servant.”

“It is not so among you.” In just a few words Jesus forever declares Christian life counter-cultural, not like the others, not like the world. There’s a new order of how we relate to each other when we are brought into Christ’s life in baptism. We are different than the world.

The great tragedy is the Church of Christ has far too easily kept the ways of the world rather than the ways of Christ. Many times the Church has even justified the world’s way as if Christ demands it, it’s how things were meant to be. One of the Church’s greatest sins in this is the treatment of women for most of the Church’s life.

“Do justice. Love Kindness. Walk humbly with God.”

Micah’s command shapes our midweek Lenten worship this year. This is the faithful response God seeks from us. This Lent we are looking at five areas in our life where these words challenge us, where we ask if we’re doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with God.

Three of these are amply commanded in Scripture: welcoming the stranger, the immigrant; caring for those who are poor and hungry; loving our enemies. It’s impossible to read the Scriptures and not find these clear mandates. The other two, the issues of race and gender, are less clearly delineated. Maybe that’s why it took nearly 2,000 years for the Church to face its sin of racism and its sinful treatment of women. Maybe that’s why the Church still struggles with these two things, and in many places hasn’t even begun to address them.

But the more we carefully read Scripture the more we see God views all people and genders as equally beloved, valuable, gifted, and needed. There is ample clarity if we have eyes to see. And none are clearer than the apostle Paul.

Paul’s ringing declaration of the new reality in Christ is a sun shining over the whole of Scripture.

In Christ you all are children of God through faith, Paul says. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” The radical love of God in Christ reveals that God views all of us as children, without distinction.

This isn’t just rhetoric for Paul. Though many translators, pastors, and theologians try to mask this truth, Paul clearly regarded women as equal co-workers in the faith, using the same terms he used for male leaders. Phoebe, Priscilla, and Junia, for example, were all clearly the same kind of leaders as any of the men in Paul’s congregations.

Jesus obviously treated women as he did men, radically against the culture. He debated theology with them, treated them as equals in conversation, gave them apostolic callings. A number of his disciples, including leaders, were women.

So ask yourself: why have we only noticed this recently?

When you hear the phrase, “Jesus’ disciples,” what first comes to mind? Twelve men? Why is that? What does that say about how you’ve been taught to read the Scriptures? It took until the 1970s for Lutherans to ordain women as pastors, even with the evidence from Paul’s communities. What happened?

It seems clear that, by the end of the first century, women were being sidelined from leadership roles in the Church. We can see evidence in the Timothy letters, supposedly from Paul, but clearly coming from a time decades after his death. The Church may have started to feel its radical acceptance of women was so counter-cultural it was hindering their mission. Maybe people couldn’t handle that women were key Christian leaders.

But our culture shapes us without our being aware of it. The Church was born in a deeply patriarchal society. It may be the next generation of male Christian leaders themselves just got squeamish about having women in leadership. Jesus and Paul, close to the beginning of the movement, started to fade a little into the background, and old habits lingered.

But don’t we see this human nature already in Luke’s Easter story?

The four Gospels clearly agree that the women disciples faithfully watched Jesus’ burial and came, by themselves, with no men, on Sunday morning. They were the first witnesses, and they were sent to declare the good news, to be apostles, to their fellow disciples.

But when they witness, the male disciples dismiss them, calling their story “an idle tale.” The word means “foolishness,” “nonsense.” They didn’t trust that the women were reliable. They were just babbling idiocy. The men had to see for themselves.

Ask any woman today if she’s ever experienced the same situation, where she said something and no one paid attention, but later in the same conversation a man said the same thing and everyone picked up on it and agreed with it. It happens all the time.

This is both our grace and our urgency, that Jesus says it is not so among us. We must make that true.

Women in our culture are regularly harassed sexually, often assaulted. Women are paid on average 20% less than men in our society for doing the same work. Many jobs are still denied women, even if it isn’t openly stated, because they are not seen as capable. We who are men must face this truth: our sisters and daughters and mothers and aunts, equal in God’s eyes, fully gifted as we, consistently face discrimination, harassment, and diminishment.

In Galatians Paul makes an unassailable claim that overrides all other claims about distinctions. It is a travesty of life in Christ that the Church took nearly 2,000 years finally to be dragged into doing what it was already doing at its birth. We still deal with the legacy of a patriarchal culture in our structures, our leadership. We still have serious language issues with regard to women. We still have the reality that, though Jesus called the First Person of the Trinity “Father,” we have too often ascribed maleness to the whole of the Triune God, which is not only heretical but unscriptural. The Church has much to do to live into Jesus’ reality and Paul’s breathtaking claim.

And we need to pay attention to this before we can be a true witness in the world to these injustices. If we are meant to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God,” the Church needs to work on the culture and society to fully welcome all genders into equality of life in all phases. We can start on that now. But we have to clean our own house as we go, and be willing to look into all the dark corners of our prejudice and blindness.

“It is not so among you.” That’s our hope.

In Christ we are drawn into a life where all God’s children, in all our marvelous variety and diversity, are seen and welcomed and treated as equal, as beloved, as blessed, as gifted. We are all made in the image of God. And Christ is life and hope for the whole world because in Christ all are loved, everyone, without exception. There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but all are one in Christ Jesus.

That’s the hope the Church has held for 2,000 years, even if we’ve struggled to live it, even if we’ve done sinful things to work against that hope.

But we are in Christ. The Spirit is moving in us, changing us. If we stop resisting the Spirit, and look clearly at the places we need to see uncomfortable truths about ourselves, if we seek as truthfully as we can to be faithful to the mind of Christ, we will together find the path Paul says is the path of life. A path where all are needed and loved, where all are one in Christ Jesus, and in the love of God for this world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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