when women preach

She had just blazed through a list of reasons why she did not like the Church and, ‘did not like’ is perhaps too polite because the emotion of it was anchored in something deeper and stronger: She was not the first during that weekend to express anti-church and anti-God sentiments. In conversation after conversation it became evident that we were possibly the first living, breathing Christ-followers with whom these 70 students had ever authentically interacted. The majority of who or what they believed Christianity to be had been gathered from the media and sound-bites.

My current conversational partner described herself as a half Canadian and a half French human rights activist studying gender equality at a German university. The voice in my heart inserted itself, “Tell her.” I questioned the wisdom after her statements about the Church, but followed what I felt was the Lord’s prompting.

“What if I told you that I am an ordained minister?”

She literally stopped and I watched her weigh ‘church’ with ‘woman in spiritual leadership’. I watched her weigh ‘Christian’ with ‘concern for human rights’. I watched her weigh ‘minister’ with ‘woman’

“Hmmm. I’ve never heard of … well, that is quite intriguing. A woman as a minister in the Church? Is that possible? I like that. Yes – that does give me hope.”

WHEN WOMEN PREACH

And, it should give hope because women and men working together with equal authority in the kingdom is a life-giving, God-honoring, redemptive step forward in Christ’s reconciling plan for humanity. It is part of God’s will for us, his creation.

When women preach, the new kingdom is proclaimed – it is a kingdom where God’s spirit is poured out and both men and women prophesy. (Acts 2:17)

When women preach, the new kingdom, where we are baptized into Christ and clothed with Christ,  where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female is proclaimed. (Galatians 3:28)

When women preach, the world sees a glimmer of the Christ kingdom breaking into today and we are able to prophetically imagine the shalom of the kingdom that is to come.

When women preach, we become the visible reality of Christ’s redemptive work bringing healing today to our broken systems.

BROKEN SYSTEMS – GENESIS 3

Eden is a marker in our story of what the kingdom we await once looked like. But, as Adam and Eve shouldered the crushing blows of their sinful choice, the walls that sin built became apparent. The Genesis 3 story is a descriptive, rather than a prescriptive, account of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin. After Eden:

  • Intimacy with God in the garden in the way that they had known it ended.
  • Work took on new and unpleasant characteristics.
  • Woman’s desire became for a man and that gave him rule over her.
  • Bringing life into the world was now filled with pain.
  • Physical death became a new reality.

The results of the fall, seen here in Genesis 3, represent the reality of sin’s dreadful work. They describe sin’s consequences, but this is not God’s prescription for how men and women should relate to one another. It is a statement of sin’s distortion of the world, of nature, and of our relationships with one another and with God. The descriptive nature of Genesis 3:15 rather than the prescriptive nature of this passage is important to note.

EARLY CHURCH 

Just as Genesis is the beginning of our story, Revelation gives us the end of our earthly story and it reveals to us our ultimate hope in Christ. Humanity is ever-journeying towards a return to the shalom of Eden – that Kingdom where earth and heaven exist together in and with Christ.  However, we do not press on only for the hope of eternity, we believe that God’s redeeming grace transformatively affects our world today and in this very moment. Where hope can seem to be fleeting amidst the brokenness of our world, we join our voices with the prophet Amos and cry, ‘let justice roll on like a river.” (Amos 6:2)

In a world so broken and fractured by sin, our only real hope lies in God’s transformative work in us, in our broken systems, and in fact in all of his creation.

•God is transformatively moving  all of creation forward back to the Garden where heaven and earth are perfectly held together in Christ. This is our final state of redemption and shalom.

•And, God’s presence and grace in this place at this moment is redemptively establishing the Christ kingdom now. It renders transformative change now. The kingdom is breaking into and redeeming systems of injustice and sin, it is healing broken people, it is redeeming all of creation … now.

Therefore, the Christ-follower journeys knowing that though I yet live outside of the garden, having been redeemed, I orient my heart, my mind, and my actions to the new kingdom’s principles. I am called to live today amidst the brokenness, amidst the pain, amidst the injustice, amidst the hopelessness in faith – clothed with the naked shalom of Eden – for the kingdom that is and the kingdom that is yet to come. This is the essence of Peter’s message in I Peter 2:11 – that having received mercy, we live as strangers and aliens in this world. This is a radical and intentional choice to live by faith for what we do not yet fully see but choose to believe, and as such, we journey through our life clothed for a kingdom, living by a kingdom code, and speaking of a kingdom that is not fully yet come.

This understanding of the Christ kingdom which is and is yet to come defines our interpersonal interactions with one another. It becomes the baseline for how I enter into the flow of Christ’s grace extended to all of creation and it becomes the lens for how I view the world. I can no longer say that because sin corrupted the balance between male and female, God’s redeeming power leaves this relational state untouched. Rather, I receive his gift as a new creature in Christ – the old has passed away and the new has come. Paul’s words here speak so clearly to this particular point. 

So from now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view…‘  Why?  Paul continues in verse 18, ‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:…‘ and in verse 20, Paul concludes, ‘We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us, …’ (2 Corinthians 5: 15-21)

When gender hierarchy stands as the ideal within society, or our relationships, or ministry in the church, we allow the stain of sin to continue to function where the power of Christ’s blood and resurrection would wash away the old system’s reign. Genesis 3:15 is not God’s plan, rather it is a consequence of sin. The resurrection of Christ restores that which sin distorted, makes us new creatures, and redefines how we relate to one another. ¹

THE TEXTUAL MEANING OF ‘HELPER’

Genesis gives us a clear understanding that Adam and Eve, as male and female, co-existed in beautiful harmony with God. They labored together in shared authority. When woman is introduced in Genesis 2, she is defined as an ‘ezer’ – a word used 21 times in the Old Testament. In 16 instances, this word is used as a reference to God as helper, which would not be understood as a subordinate or submissive role. 

Neither the connotation nor the denotation of ezer is connected to subordination or subservience, rather the biblical texts where it is found use it as a reference to vital and significant help. An example of this would be in Psalm 33:20 where the Lord is ‘our help and our shield’ or Psalm 70:5, where God is ‘my help and my deliverer’. Auther Walter Kaizer uses Rabbi David Freedman’s treatment of ezer to  suggest a more suitable translation for Genesis 2:18 to be, “I will make a power (or strength) corresponding (or equal) to man.”²

 JESUS ESTABLISHED A KINGDOM PRINCIPLE REGARDING WOMEN

It is both our responsibility and our privilege to live as Christ followers in a sinful world with kingdom principles. Certainly, we see Jesus living out that kingdom principle

  • as he welcomes women on the journey with him to the towns and the cities
  • as he accepts their financial support of his ministry
  • as he welcomes and affirms their right to be students of his rabbinical teaching (Luke 10:38-42)
  • as he affirms a woman’s faith over and above that of his disciples (Matthew 15:24-28)
  • as he engages in theological discussion with women (John 4:1-42)
  • His first resurrected message is to a woman with the instructions to ‘Go and tell.’ (John 20:16)

Each of these actions, by themselves are already radical cultural shifts, but taken as a whole, it cannot be denied that Jesus is establishing a kingdom principal that challenges the gender barriers of the ancient world and that pushes the boundaries of his own Jewish culture.  We must look to Jesus to define how we relate to one another in this world as we serve in his kingdom.

WHEN WOMEN AND MEN PREACH

When women preach, we become a proclamation of God’s gracious and mighty healing power for our societies – those that are fractured racially, ethnically, economically, politically, socially. But, to be completely accurate; when both women and men preach, serve, minister, and lead spiritually according to the call of God on their lives, it is then that we most fully proclaim Christ and the hope of his kingdom.  As we give ourselves to Christ as his ambassadors, may the world see in us more than our gender of male or female. May they see the reflection of the Christ that dwells in us and swells out of us in waves of hope and love. Indeed, for the love of Christ, let us – all of us – Go and Tell. 

CITATIONS

¹I borrow here from Eugene Cho’s article in which he pulls from a portion of a larger document, Called and Gifted, produced by the Evangelical Covenant Church. Click here for Cho’s article. Click here to go to the download of Called and Gifted.

²I draw from Walter C. Kaizer, et al, in their book, Hard Sayings of the Bible. Kaizer sources Rabbi David Freedman for his treatment of the word ezer. Click here for an excerpt of the book dealing with this explanation.

AUTHOR NOTE

I have the privilege of serving as an ordained minister along with an ethnically diverse group of Nazarene women and men from 12 countries across the Central Europe Nazarene field as well as many more across the EurAsia Region. Women serve as district superintendents, pastors, church planters, district advisory board members, presidents of theological colleges and educators right alongside their male counterparts. I am personally encouraged, indebted, and proud of the men in our larger denomination for being vocal and active advocates for the calling and inclusion of women at all levels of the church structure. Most personally, I am thankful for my husband, Dr. Jay Sunberg, who has encouraged, prayed for, and made space for women at the table of leadership and service on the Central Europe Field.

A special note of thanks to Dr. Dan Copp, Director of Clergy Development, and to the International Board of Education who are intentionally emphasizing the inclusion of women to all ministerial roles.

WHAT IS IN MY LIBRARY?

Why Not Women by Cunningham and Hamilton is my personal favorite for exegeting various passages in the Bible and a general, cohesive conversation regarding the topic.

Two Views on Women in Ministry by Beck and Gundry

Reclaiming Eve: The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God by Sunberg and Wright. Co-written by my sister-in-law, Dr. Carla Sunberg, who serves our denomination as president of Nazarene Theological Seminary.

Paul, Women, and Wives by Keener

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Finding Thankful

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As Americans find their way to the ballot boxes today, we celebrate the freedom to choose. I am personally compelled and convicted by Susan B. Anthony, who believed that a girl from Kansas growing up in a home governed by one great-grandmother, who later became a mother of 4 girls and an ordained minister, had the right to cast a ballot. I am elated that my daughter, who grew up far from the shores of the U.S. makes her way to the ballot box today and casts her vote for the first time in her life. Continue reading “Finding Thankful”

The Power of Women – peace and play-dough in a Refugee Camp

The Power of Women – peace and play-dough in a Refugee Camp
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play-dough peace

Her olive-toned fingers work the purple play-dough, shaping and rolling. She giggles.  Working with her friend, their fingers push and dance on the rough-hewn table. We are just women here, gathered in this temporary refugee camp, ironically named Hercules, situated right off of the tourist-bound Aegean coast of Greece.

I pause in conversation with my new Syrian friend, O, and feel the prick of tears. It is not the first time that I will wipe moisture from my eyes, not the last time that I reach out a hand in love when I cannot find words, or hold my belly in laughter. I am on a roller-coaster of emotions as the sweat pools between my breasts. Continue reading “The Power of Women – peace and play-dough in a Refugee Camp”

women who go and tell

DSC02502And so the story goes.

It was a cold and weepy dawn when Mary came. The ancient word does not tell us if the sun rose in golden splendor during that hour, but the tears that Mary wept were enough to shadow the sun. And, I imagine her with that jar of spices that weighed more than the world itself. I imagine the heaviness of every single step that drew her sobbing heart closer to the tomb. The thick eyes from tears, the tired soul from grief, the aching head from the stress.

Because you don’t loose Jesus without thinking the world is going to end or wishing that the world would end.

IMG_1057Those wise men brought myrrh when Mary heaved a baby into the world. And, Mary Magdalene brought myrrh to his death chamber.

Who can bear the weight of that kind of responsibility?

To bring life into this world.

To bring closure to a life.

Oh, Mary. Mary. How you weep for the pain of Love lying in a death chamber. When all that was good was dead and the sunshine of his smile had faded and Hope was cold, all that was left was to bring that stinking myrrh.

And it does not seem like enough. Does it?

IMG_1451IMG_1125I remember when you broke that alabaster jar of essence on his feet and wiped away the day’s heaviness. How the scent spread throughout the room. How his tears filled and flowed and washed away every stupid mistake and dirty deed that you had done. How his presence reached down deep into your soul, and you knew that He saw there the one that God created you to be.

Not the woman that you had chosen to be.

Not the woman that others had forced you to be.

IMGP1378So you came with that stinking myrrh in the dark dawn, because you don’t loose Jesus without wishing that your world would end.

We know how the story goes. The words that come next. The gardener who inquires. The answer that Mary gives. We know it so well that we miss its power.

10388631_10152463050387934_6744048749536271614_n - Version 2I wonder when the women with her and the disciples that she ran to caught the force of the command? Jesus told Mary to go and to tell. Go and tell. The first words spoken by the resurrected Christ are to a woman and they are, Go and tell.

You see, the world speaks to us in languages and voices and images that would define our ideas of worth and beauty. Mommy blogs and books and sometimes the voices from the pulpits and the pews can define the perimeters of our ministry.

‘We are women who CAN …,’ we say.

‘You are a woman and therefore CANNOT …,’ they say.

IMGP1376 - Version 2And the words are just people-words until Jesus speaks. Until the Word speaks. Go and tell.

A woman’s word meant nothing in that ancient culture, but Jesus stubbornly points us to a woman over and again.

Mary with her heaving to birth the incarnated Christ into the world. Mary Magdalene with her stinking myrrh to lavish upon a dead Jesus. Women. Women who had no idea how God intended to use them in His story, yet there they are pointing the way to Jesus from conception to resurrection.

We can debate the issue theologically. We can text proof and exegete Paul’s letters.

But ultimately, it comes down to the story in the garden.

God trusts a woman with the responsibility of carrying the Good News into the world both at his birth and at his resurrection.

Do not be afraid, Mary.

Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers …

From Luke 1. From Matthew 28. From conception to resurrection. We are called to point the way to a world that has lost Jesus. We are sent and we have no need to fear.

That, my dear sister, is how the story goes.

Now, go and tell.

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IMGP1698Ten days from now, I will be kneeling at an altar to be ordained as a minister in the Church of the Nazarene. Those words in the garden to a weeping woman with a stinking jar of grave spices reach down through the centuries. I am called. Jesus is calling me. Go and tell.

I dedicate this post to the 82 women who gathered in Sighisoara, Romania last week. We came from the farthest parts of our European and Asian globe and we settled into the heart of Transylvania. We came with the weight of the world on our shoulders. We carried it in and we carried it around, but somehow Jesus took that weight from us.

We laughed and we learned and we worshipped the One who has called us and equipped us.

We are not enough for this task. A world that has lost Jesus requires more help than we can possibly provide. We teach, we preach, we bandage bodies and souls and care for kids that nobody else wants unless sex is an option. And our efforts alone are not enough. They can never be enough.

We know the impossible situations, the heart break, the broken and dysfunctional cycles, the sin that works in our cultures. It seems like such a hopeless story. Yet, God has called each and every one of us.

Remember what Mary said to the angel, Gabriel. ‘But how can this be?’

Only the incarnated Christ in you is enough. Only the incarnated Christ flowing through you is enough.

Let him write His story through you.

Go and tell.

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They thought that the bullet would silence us. But out of that silence came a thousand voices. Nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, fervor, and courage was born.

Malala Yousafzai, in a speech to the UN this week.  She is a Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head by the Taliban.  Watch her entire speech