Rev. George Miller
1 Timothy 2:1-15
Sept 22, 2013
A Pastor gets a new set of false teeth. That first Sunday he preaches for just 10 minutes; the second Sunday he preaches for 8.
But the following Sunday he preaches for 2 hours and 45 minutes. The congregation almost mobs him to get him down from the pulpit. “What’s going on?” they angrily ask.
The Pastor explains the first Sunday his gums were so sore he could only speak for 10 minutes. The second Sunday his gums hurt much worse so he could only speak for 8. But that day he put his wife’s teeth in and couldn’t shut up!
I want to thank the person who shared this joke with me but I also want to say that I realize how offensive and sexist this joke is.
Lord knows it’s not just women who can go on and on; I was just in New York- I know.
But this slice of humor segues us into a very painful reading. Painful because it has been used to silence one half of the population.
Painful because over the centuries it has robbed us of the possible voices, dreams and leadership that could have brought us along much sooner into the prophetic words of Joel 2:28.
First, let me share with you a painful experience I just came back from.
I was the guest preacher at a church in Connecticut; a church that is historic and the only church in a town of 1,000.
A magnificent, large church that sits atop a hill overlooking the forest and country roads, guarding the street where the fire station, school and library dwell.
Though they are rich of finances, they have become poor of spirit. Though they are part of the UCC, they long for the days of old and disagree with many of the new things the UCC has done and stood for.
2 weeks ago, they held a special meeting in which they voted (by a narrow margin) to deny their relatively new pastor the right to perform a same-sex union on church grounds or anywhere else for that matter.
3 days after the vote, only 2 people showed up for the Spiritual Renewal Service.
But we still worshipped and we still gave thanks to God.
The next day, 5 people arrived. But we still worshipped and we still gave thanks to God.
The last day there were nearly 30 people present, but most of them were members or fans of the Methodist Praise Band that had driven in from New York to sing for us.
But we still worshipped and we still gave thanks to God.
Last Sunday, their attendance was done 20 people from the year before.
Because while some members embrace the notion that “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here”; though some members embrace the notion that “God is Still Speaking”, their vote on what the pastor can or cannot do stated clearly that not everyone is welcome and that God actually stopped speaking about 40 years ago.
All because of a few peoples understanding of roughly 8 sentences in the Bible that reflected a different culture and a different era…
…I love the Bible. Lord knows I do. But sometimes something pops up that makes me proclaim “Say what!?!”
Perhaps no more so then this one.
To do our reading justice, we have to do a little history.
First, the question is who wrote this. The author makes claim to be Paul, the infamous missionary who started many churches and wrote many letters between 45-60 CE.
But most UCC theologians disagree. First off, this letter was written during a time when copyrights did not exist. Nor did news clips, reruns, YouTube or Facebook.
It was common practice back in the day that if you had something to say, and you wanted to make sure it was read, you signed another person’s name, a famous person’s name.
If there was a disagreement or a controversy over an issue, you might just “unearth” a letter from a particular person to prove your point.
When it came to matters of the church, who would be better to imitate then Paul, the father of many of the earliest churches?
Why do scholars believe Paul did not write this letter? 1st, there are words here that did not exist in Paul’s day.
2nd, in Paul’s time, there was a looser church polity; back in his day they did not yet have such a complex structure of governance as we read about in this letter.
3rd, in Paul’s other letters he praises women and specifically names and gives thanks for women who have played significant roles in the churches he knew.
Taking all these things into account: words, polity, social structure, scholars believe this letter was most likely written between 95 and 105 CE.
It was a time when churches were taking place in people’s homes.
It was written in a culture where there was an accepted notion of how home life was structured. It went husband-wife-child-slave.
It was written when Jewish law forbid women from learning and being students; when Greek culture wanted their women beautiful but silent.
It was written when Christianity, the new faith on the block, was struggling to fit in and to survive.
Here they were with this radical new faith in which they called each other brother and sister and they reached out to the poor and sick…and perhaps it was just too radical for those around them.
Perhaps they were a little too liberal, a little too loving, a little too free.
And the women who were participating in worship were dressing a little too flashy. They were talking a little too loud. They were enjoying just a little too much the idea that whoever they were, no matter where they were on life’s journey, they were welcome.
So someone thought that it would be best to hush them up. Someone thought that if the church was to survive it would have to do a better job of fitting into the local culture’s ways.
Someone thought that if the Gospel of Jesus Christ was to be heard, it would have to be proclaimed by the mouths of men and not the wonderful words of women.
And with one sweep of the pen, they changed history forever…
…The question is, what do you do with today’s reading? Do we use it to silence the voices of our sisters, our mothers, our daughters?
I can tell you what our denomination didn’t do. We didn’t blindly take this reading at face value. We didn’t accept it as is and say “What do we know?”
We wrestled with it. We studied it. We fought with it. We danced with it. We prayed about it.
Though we are not perfect, though we have had many bumps in the journey, we realized that God is Still Speaking and that women should too.
For the past 3 weeks we’ve featured bits of history about the UCC in our bulletin. On pg. 3 by the sermon title is another.
You’ll see a picture of Antoinette Brown Blackwell, the first women in history to be ordained in a recognized denomination. That was in 1853.
Of course the getting there was not easy. Born in New York she started attending school at age 3. By 9 she joined a Congregational Church and began speaking at meetings and testifying about God’s love.
She dreamed of being a pastor, a dream she kept in silence.
At the age of 15 she became a teacher, but that Still Speaking voice kept calling her, and at 21 she attended Oberlin College.
Though her grades were superb, faculty grew angry that she wanted to study theology, but she found her way in anyway.
Though she completed her degree, she was refused a license to preach. Her family pleaded with her to give up her foolish dream.
She was invited to be a guest speaker at a convention which led to more speaking engagements about women’s rights and the abolition of slavery.
Then in 1853 she was offered a position at a small Congregational Church in South Butler, New York.
She married, had children, wrote books, lectured and preached until she died at the age of 96.
Antoinette Brown Blackwell had broken the glass ceiling of speech.
Because of her refusal to stay silent each and every woman here has the right and the ability to not only be the head of a committee, or the Moderator of the church, but can also be ordained to serve the Lord and preach the Gospel.
That is the spiritual stock that we, the U.C.C. are made of…
…I love the Bible. Lord knows I do. But sometimes something pops up that makes me say “Say what!?!”
This is one of those times.
And I can’t help but to wonder “Why would God create us only to turn around and silence 50% of the population?”
What possible reason could that be?
And then I have to think: that the author of 1 Timothy was just one all-too-human, flawed person, writing for a specific group, in a specific culture, during a specific time, with clearly a specific agenda.
Then I think of all the other things the Bible has told:
That it was Sarah who gave birth to Isaac and said “God has brought laughter to me!” (Genesis 21:6)
It was Miriam who took her tambourine and proclaimed “Sing to the Lord, for God has triumphed gloriously.” (Exodus 15:21)
It was a Samaritan woman at the well who told her entire village “Come and see the most amazing man” and brought them all to meet Jesus. (John 4)
And when the world seemed at its darkest it was women who witnessed that the stone had been rolled away, who saw that the tomb was empty and it was women who were the first to exclaim to the world the mystery of the resurrection!!!
…Last week the Pope offered an olive branch of sorts when he said “The feminine genius is needed whenever we make important decisions.”
Thank you celibate, single man in a dress.
I much prefer the words of a bumper sticker that I saw last week in Connecticut.
It said “Well behaved women rarely make history.”
Sarah, Miriam, the Samaritan Women and Mary Magdalene would certainly agree. As would Antoinette Brown Blackwell.
Silenced, submissive voices deprive dreams from being realized and history from being made.
Spirit-filled, spoken, active voices are what bring us into our future and allow for flourishing to take place.
If God is indeed Still Speaking, as we boldly proclaim, then so should we, all of us.
Amen and amen.