5/13/18

Womanhood, As Heaven Sees It   (Mothers Day 2018)

Ah, Mother’s Day… the 3rd biggest church day of the year… We welcome all who’ve come to celebrate their wonderful mothers.   

Today we’ll be God’s people who “rejoice with those who rejoice…” it’s a day of joy and fulfillment for mothers of many sorts: “biological,” adoptive, relationship (by position, friendship, or love), and father-moms (father’s serving as moms, too).  And for sure, “church mothers” – Jesus said anyone “who gives up… mother… for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” will get “one hundred” back from God.  What a blessing! 

It’s a day of rejoicing for all children – whatever sorts or ages – who have been or are being blessed by loving, caring, taking-care-of-business mothers.

But we must also “weep with some who are weeping,” whose hearts ache today.  Days of joy for some mean days of pain for others.  May God bless women who so longed to be mothers but have never been, or cannot be… and, alas, may God smile with His warmest warm today on any child whose mother failed them. 

I will shift away from preaching solely about mothers but include them in a lesson that focuses on all women and their value to God, especially looking at how highly Jesus valued women, and He did so in a day of entrenched patriarchy.

OK… So I’m glad you’re all sitting down because you’ll need to be for what I’m about to say now:  I’m dead certain that Jesus was a feminist.  Does that sound like somebody scratching fingernails along a chalkboard? 

Yes, He was a feminist, but not a stereotypical modern-day American feminist – bitter, screaming man-hater, abortion pusher, spitter at motherhood, homemaking, religion, and a Bible that calls God “He,” blaring that there are no important differ-ences between men and women, and, if there are, women are better in every way.  My word “feminist” just means “one who favors more rights for women in their economic, social, political, and private lives.”  History shows many times and societies that repressed women.  Jesus lived in one.  Study Him and we’ll find He wanted to make, and made, radical changes in women’s situations.

We Christians should thank God for the good done by feminism and women’s movements:  status as “persons” under the law, voting, holding office, owning property, and legal defense.  In this light, we all should be feminists, working for justice for ourselves and others in every area of life.

Indeed, women are people, too, no greater than but no less than men… yes, ordi-narily less than men in the area of physical strength, but made by God to be stronger than men in other areas, e.g., unique biological function in bearing and temperament to rear children (OK, some might want to butt heads with me there… we’ll save it for another day).  The point is that in terms of spiritual favor from God, there is no dif-ference between genders. 

Look at Bible evidence.  When women were invisible in literature, the Bible affirms and celebrates them.  Fact is, God has always esteemed women.  In the OT:

(1) Eve was one half of the whole, created to fill what Adam lacked. 

(2) The “virtuous woman” in Proverbs 31:10ff. (maybe an real woman King Lemuel knew, but maybe an

embodiment of wisdom (note: a woman).  Whichever, no wallflower… multi-talented, acting on social, economic fronts (maybe political as advisor to her husband who “sits in the city gates”). 

(3)  Children must “honor [both] father and mother.”

(4)  Women inherited property

(5)  Moses’ divorce laws were aimed to protect the wife’s rights. 

(6)  Miriam was a prophetess and leader in Israel (led worship, too). 

(7)  Deborah, with no man to do it, led an army and defeated a foreign oppressor, assisted by Jael

(8)  Hulda and Isaiah’s wife were prophetesses.  (Noiadah – rejected by Nehemiah, but not because of

Her gender, because of her false words). 

(9)  Ruth’s loyalty and Esther’s courage makes them heroes if Bible books named for them. 

(10) Jochabed, Rahab, Hannah, and Bathsheba are  OT heroes.  The NT’s look back at a collection of OT

heroes commends such women and other “women who received their children back from the dead” (Hebrews 11). 

 

And the NT…

(1)    Esteems by name Mary, Jesus’ mother, Elizabeth, three (four?) other Marys (notably Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalene), Anna, Martha (I’ll jump over the gospels and come back in a bit).

(2)    Esteems Tabitha, Lydia, Priscilla, and Phillip’s prophetess daughters (Acts)There are many unnamed women in the Acts account – Paul names eight Christian women in Romans 16 who had blessed his work significantly.  Most prominent there is “Phoebe, a servant-or-deacon-or-minister (diakona) of the church in Cenchrea.In 1 Timothy he names Lois and Eunice, mother and grandmother of Timothy, for the way they reared Timothy in faith.  In Philippians he names Euodia and Syntyche who had “contended at [Paul’s] side for the cause of the gospel” (Philippians).  The “elect lady” of 2nd John may be a prominent Christian, or otherwise, the church embodied as a woman.        

 

But… back to Jesus in the gospels… Though the Mosaic system of law and morality lifted a Jewish woman’s status far above women of the nations around them, Jesus took it higher – He loved, honored, championed, and interacted with women in a way that takes it back to God’s ideal.  One scholar describes Jesus’ words and actions toward women as “controversial, provocative, and revolutionary.”  God’s Son, Jesus, loved women!  They were in His life and ministry… there for it all, start to end.

 

Jesus treated them as people.  He didn’t think of them as dainty like china.  He wel-comed them to understand His work and contribute to it.  They were not too weak to be gifted with the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2 – Peter said the day fulfilled Joel’s prophecy that “sons and daughters shall prophesy”).  He didn’t see them as emotionally or constitutionally defective so as to keep them out of the battle against darkness.  He never once made fun of a woman – never a “Well, what did you expect?  She’s a woman”, never a “dumb blonde joke” never had His masculinity threatened by them, never viewed them as sex objects, and never once spoke a word that would even hint that He saw them as a scourge in the world.  Remember, He was there when Eve was created!

 

He came to redeem women, too.  He never excluded them from His company, never positioned them outside the community of God.  As a “rabbi” who spoke directly to women, not through male “heads,” His teaching to them and about them subverted all norms of His day.  He likely had more women disciples than men.

 

Just a few specific proofs:

 

(1)    He honored Mary, His mother (worthy of her own long sermon) God chose her because she already had an obedient heart that never changed despite a “sword piercing her heart.”  Her song is about how God lifts up the lowly (including her, a woman).

(2)    At the house of Simon the Pharisee, when a sinful woman came to anoint His feet with her tears and

wipe them with her hair, He did not recoil in horror.  Though He drew criticism from some in the crowd who arrogantly thought themselves better than other people and thanked God for it (Luke 18), and deduced He couldn’t be a prophet if He didn’t perceive this woman’s sinful reputation, Jesus, unfazed, saw her cry for forgiveness, have it, and sent her away “in peace, saved by her faith.”

(3)    When men threw a woman “caught in adultery” at His feet to set a trap for Him, He quickly leveled the playing field.  He protected, forgave, restored, and showered grace on her (shame on the men) with a finger in the dust, and admonished her as He had men on occasion:  “go and stop sinning.” 

(4)    When a woman with a 12-year-hemorrhage dared touch Him, He might have brushed her off as insig-

nificant (unclean by law).  Instead, without revulsion, He touched her back and praised her faith.

(5)    He healed a woman bent over for 18 years and called her “a daughter of Abraham.”  Folks had heard

“sons of Abraham” hundreds of times but “daughters of Abraham”?  She got place alongside the sons – sons that might have been miffed that their king-of-the-hill privileges were being jostled.  For Jesus, women are family, always part of His family.

  

(6)    When Mary of Bethany sat at His feet, she sat in the place of rabbis-to-be, all boys, no girls.  Rarely did

men and women sit together at all, certainly not in religious training.  But there she sat learning among the men.  When her sister criticized her, not for being at Jesus’ feet but rather for not assisting with woman’s work of showing hospitality, Jesus defended Mary’s right to be with Him, honored her choice to be there as “better,” and said her right would not be taken away.

(7)    He met the five-times-married-and-shacked-up Samaritan woman at Sychar well and treated her like any other dying-of-thirst soul needing “living water.”  She must have been as dishonored and least valued as any woman anywhere.  But He had a theological discussion with her (the longest personal conversation He had with anyone).  So far as we know, she was the first to hear His declaration, “I am the Messiah.”  And she became His evangelist, immediately leading others to Him.  When the disciples returned to see all this happening, they were taken aback.  Jesus treated it simply as it were Heaven’s way of doing things.

(8)    When a woman shouted in synagogue, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that

nursed you,” He replied, “Even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and practice it” – saying in effect that women are blessed by being mothers, yes, but blessed too, by being His disciples.

(9)    At a time when women were never allowed as witnesses in courts, Mary Magdalene was the first

resurrection witness and was commissioned to “Go and tell the others that I am returning to my Father and your Father (God was Mary’s Father, too.). 

(10)  Women in the gospel stories ministered to Him and with Him, providing for His physical needs.

 

Have we overlooked women because the Bible story for several hundred years now has been told in male-dominated circumstancesAnd because stories involving them are told without much fanfare?  They’re just there, sometimes named, some-times not, sometimes a giver, sometimes a receiver, sometimes in the background, sometimes front and center – but always beloved ones, and ones He came to save.

This should be an eye-opener:  to men who look down on women, repent and stop it.  To women who look down on men, repent and stop it.  We need to leave our sinful acts and opinions regarding the sexes behind.  God sent Jesus to bring both men and women to His side.    

To women who may have never seen their value to God – find your talent and use it in love for God and neighbor. 

To a church that may have been guilty for a long time – and maybe still – of dis-valuing one of its greatest assets and stifling ability that God wants loosed in the world, LET’S LEAD IN GRANTING EQUALITY EVERYWHERE GOD GRANTS IT.