Sermon Decoding – Part 8

So a couple of questions to ask yourself as you try to think so what does this look like for me? Have we bought into the idea that if the roles aren’t equivalent that it means that people aren’t equal? Are we believing in some way the culture story or the Biblical story that’s shaping us to be men and women? Do we take the initiative and lead as servants if that’s our calling? Do we take the initiative to respond graciously and help if that’s our calling? Is submission a dirty word for us? Is it something that because it’s so not the kind of wider cultural value that’s hard for us to see that actually it’s a good thing, that all all of us are called to submit? And it’s working out what does that look like in which relationships?

Am I willing to lay down my authority just like Jesus did? Am I willing to listen to and to respect the contributions every member of my household? Have I died to my own selfish pride enough to let someone help me? Am I willing to let my helper take the lead? Do I understand equality, sameness, likeness? Do I take correction well? There are all sorts of endless questions people could ask themselves. It’s typical for sermons such as this, but since they’re designed to point people in a specific direction, the better question is: “What questions aren’t being asked?” Like: “Do two people really need a leader?”

Now here’s the thing, there are hard cases, there are all sorts of ways in which this has been messed up and even now you may be experiencing that you go: “I don’t know what that’s supposed to look like because I don’t think that where I’m at in life and in the relationships that I’m in that it fits neatly.” And that may be true. And the reality is that at the ultimate level, the deepest level to live this out takes repentance and forgiveness precisely because our sin is so there to distort, to turn leadership into domination rather than than service, to take the suitable helper and instead go our own way and so we’re gonna need the gospel. We’re gonna need to understand how much God is expected of us if we’re gonna be able to live this out.

Have you ever heard this joke: “So a guy goes into the doctor and says ‘doc, it hurts when I do this’ and the doc says ‘well don’t do this.”? Christianity is like the doctor that says: “Well keep on doing it.” Instead of stopping to diagnose what went wrong, discern the root cause of the issues, healing old issues, monitoring the recovery – the advice that the doctor is famous for is to tell women to continue to submit, to submit more often, to submit more fully. Men aren’t told to get professional help for their anger issues, talk to someone about their fears or resentments, they aren’t put through a course in healthy emotional management. So looking at his “it takes repentance and forgiveness” aspect of this advice, I wonder who he’s talking to most in that. Must women repent for not submitting enough? Must men forgive women for their failure to submit? Or must men repent from abusing their authority and forgive what exactly?

Because I think that God has given us a gift here. These gender differences are good and they’re a gift from God. And the question is are we willing to open up that gift? Or have we already so made up our mind and know what we think is in the box that we’re not actually actually taking the top off and looking and seeing the goodness of what God calls us to?

Imagine that before you there are two boxes. Same size and shape. One box will always have the first place ribbon in it. The other will always have the second place ribbon in it. It’s in human nature to want to have our cake and eat it too, to have the greener grass that’s on the other side of the fence, to want the best or to want to be the best. The ancient world recognized the first-place status of men. It was men who wrote the rules, regulated worship, and reinforced their ideology to favor their own interests and protect their own power it shouldn’t be a surprise that a book written in their day and age would do just that. Having the gift of being a woman in that world was to be a second-class status person, never quite up there with the men. In the name of difference, men chose ‘better’ leaving the ‘worst’ end of it all to women. Some time ago, I took a pink high-lighter to one of my Bible. Everything a woman said or did, every time she was named, or hinted at “the daughter of so and so” or “the wife of so and so” I high-lighted her name and her interaction with the Bible. Many women were either wives and mothers or prostitutes, some women seemed like they had no agency of their own and were always manipulated by the men in their lives. Like Bathsheba, she was the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, the mistress of King David, the widow of Uriah the Hittite, Wife number ? to King David, Mother of the child that died at one week old to punish King David, and the Mother of Solomon – who was Bathsheba as a person outside of the context of these relationships? Rahab is always ‘the prostitute’. Can you imagine what that’s like? “So you’re Saul the Pharisee, you helped to kill Stephen didn’t you?” “Actually, it’s Paul now. I’m not the same guy that I was.” “So you’re Rahab the prostitute …” “Actually, I’ve been faithfully married to my husband for thirty years.” Gender is a gift? Is it right up there with the gifts of the holy spirit?

At the end of the video that we watched last week about being single Lori had a great line, she said: “single or married, neither are better, they’re different.” And I think that’s really appropriate for us today too: “men and women, neither are better, despite some ways that we want to distort it, despite history and legacy and culture and all those ways in which we can twist it, neither are better, they’re different.” All of us with our calling from God, all of us with our gifting and an opportunity to trust God and to flourish and all of us needing each other to do so. All of us together looking to Christ as our model and as the one who empowers us. And the promise is that if he open this gift that we can learn something deep about who we are and about who God is when we engage ins the goodness that is our differences. And this text is an invitation precisely to wrestle with that and to love each other through it and on the other side.

‘But how can we say that “neither are better” when the teaching is designed to promote men by demoting women? “Neither are better” but only men may teach. That must mean that women are worse teachers. No, it doesn’t It just means that men are better. So women are worse? No they’re equal. If they’re equal, then why can’t women teach? Because women are like Eve and easily deceived. So all women are easily deceived and men aren’t? No, but Adam wasn’t deceived. So it’s better to be not deceived and Adam wasn’t deceived and so he was better and by extension men are better? If “neither are better” then we should see a fifty/fifty sharing across the board of leadership authority and strong helping submission, men and women both.’ Flourishing isn’t men leading and women submitting. That’s been done the whole of human history and ‘flourishing’ isn’t the word for it. It was only in recent decades when women and men were fully equal, both affirmed as leaders, both submitting to one another did centuries of oppression finally start to melt away.

Let’s pray together. Father, thank you so much that your word to us is good and that your purposes in our lives are good thanks that together that we show who you are and what you’re like and thank you that you are renewing and and remaking that image through the Lord Jesus. We pray that would you give us grace and humility and encouragement and indeed courage with each other to explore what this looks like to listen well to you and to live it out together that all of us might flourish as you have made us and created us to be. And it’s in Jesus’ name that we ask, Amen.

That’s not exactly the prayer I would have gone with, but it’s as good as any I suppose. I did notice one thing, this whole conversation it’s been ‘men and women’ or ‘man and woman’ or ‘male and female’ … the masculine is always first. Just as Adam, the first man was. Circuses are well-known for this introduction: “Ladies and gentlemen …” The man’s not first. Like it or not, language matters. What we put first is often prominent. I don’t know how far back it goes – if we think that’s true because Adam was the first man, the first human, the first father, the first grandfather, the first of a lot of things. From ‘first come, first serve’ to ‘being first among equals’ we have a tendency to put what matters most, the most prominent person, place or thing, the most recognizable person first. That’s probably why the order in which we refer to God in the trinity is: “God the Father”, “God the Son”, and “The Holy Spirit/Ghost”. I recently saw a post that said that the reason why God the Father was first was because he had the most authority. Likewise, the idea that men are first suggests that they have the most authority. When we have this tendency to say “man and woman” “men and women” “male and female” we might not even realize that we are emphasizing the first-ness, the prominence, the importance and the authority of the masculine, which automatically puts the feminine in last place, unimportant,  and without prominence or importance. If we flip the order: “Women and Men” “Woman and Man” “Female and Male” that emphasizes the feminine. To convey equality, it takes using both forms equally: “women and men” in one sentence and “men and women” in the next. Changing how we talk about things can have a profound effect on what we believe about what we’re saying. Not changing anything will keep the status quo. It reminds me what I learned about certain languages. In some cultures, there are masculine forms of words that only men may use, and feminine forms of words that only women may use. It’s dishonorable for a man to use a feminine form or a woman to use a masculine form. It proved to be a problem in certain Asian cultures because a subordinate always had to choose less powerful words. Airline co-pilots, would be out of line for saying: “There is ice on the wings. Let’s take action.” He would have to choose his words carefully: “I think that there might be some ice on the wings. It could be dangerous. What do you think we should do?” Would be more appropriate. Quite a few planes have crashed over the years because pilots didn’t listen to their co-pilot’s concerns and decided to ignore them. It’s strangely similar to John Piper’s advice about conversations between a wife and her husband. Since women aren’t allowed to speak in direct or authoritative ways, she cannot say: “No!” but she can say something like: “Honey, I want so much to follow you as my leader.  I think God calls me to do that, and I would love to do that.  It would be sweet to me if I could enjoy your leadership. … But if you would ask me to do this, require this of me, then I can’t – I can’t go there.” Talking like that – choosing your words to be as indirect and impersonal as possible does have an effect about what you believe about yourself. You don’t have enough status or rank or aren’t the right kind of person to say something simply or directly, you aren’t the right gender to just say “No!” You have to downplay the situation and make it seem less urgent. You have to remember that you’re not the same and unequal. Our words often convey more than just what we say.

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