Text: John 8:31-36
Text: John 8:31-36
Text: Luke 17:1-10
There is a new tv show, set to come out this fall on NBC called Timeless. Maybe you have seen the commercials. As the storyline goes, A villain steels a time machine, taking back through time, with the intent to rewrite history. To stop him from succeeding a second time machine is used by a scientist, a soldier, and a history professor. These three follow this villain and try to restore history and correct the problems he creates.
Time travel can make for a fun and imaginative story. HG Wells, nearly a century ago, wrote a story about a time machine and since then the idea has often been recast and reimagined. I am sure this latest attempt will offer some thrills and chills and some fun along the way.
Speaking of time machines, our text for today seems like maybe it has come to us from some other place in time. A time maybe when women had less value and a less important place in society. Several of the themes in our text come across as sounding… how shall we say it? Ancient? There are some who would say Misogynistic… maybe even “Neanderthal”. At the very least, in our modern ears, this point of view is offensive.
Allow me to read the offending portions:
8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.
(We might wonder what St. Paul knows about women’s fashion and advise him to keep his nose in his own closet. But that is not even the worst part next he says)
11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing (?)—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
Like I said, it sounds like we have climbed in to a time machine and landed someplace where women are disadvantaged and underprivileged. Where women are exploited and mistreated. It sounds, in our ears, like this point of view expressed by St Paul here in our text has diminished and undervalued the role of women, in the home, in the church, and in society.
But, dear friends in Christ, and especially you, dear sisters in Christ, I am here to tell you that it is the exact opposite. In fact, I am willing to bet that if our dear father in faith, the Sainted Apostle Paul were to climb into a time machine and come here to our time and if he were to see the treatment of women in our own time during this age, our own age, he would weep! He would weep(!) because of the deplorable treatment of women today in this age. We would say that women have gained so much standing in the world over against this point of view presented for us in the Bible.
Now, it is true, that in our culture, our culture has undervalued women, our culture has repressed women, in our culture during our history, women have been taken advantage of. And, it is also true that those errors of our culture have been attributed to the bible, in other words, people like to say that women are undervalued and it’s all the Bible’s fault. Not true. Our culture has gotten it wrong before and I would venture to say that our culture is getting it wrong again. Neither error is the Bible’s fault. It is the sinful hearts of human beings that is at fault.
It is important to understand that our culture, the world that you and I inhabit here is 21st Century America, is entirely materialistic. The thing that drives our society is having lots and lots of stuff. You make a name for yourself by going out into the world, finding a job where you can be successful (in other words, where you can make lots of money and get lots of people to notice you). If that is the case, if success in the world is measured by how much stuff you have and how many people have taken notice of you, then in order to play a role in the world you have to leave your home, the domestic life, and you have to go get a career. We are a materialistic world. In a materialistic world, a career with a big name and lots of money are important. And this, horrible truth plays a huge role in the way we hear and understand this text. “Paul wants women to stay home and have babies. That’s all he thinks women are good for.” Do you see the way it works?
But, in order to understand a Biblical point of view on this whole thing, we need that time machine! We need to climb in and travel back out of this world and go back to a world that was not distorted, the way our world is distorted, by sin.
So we go back to the beginning. To the very beginning… we almost the very beginning, lets go to the 6th day of God’s creation. Over the last 5 days, God has taken a swirling mass of nothing, “formless and void”, and he has spoken into it his Word so that there has come a wondrous order. There is great green earth with flowers and trees that are budding and bearing fruit. It is the spring of the creation and everything is new. There are animals, imagine deer grazing in the grass, and lions lazily sunning themselves nearby while a huge dinosaur come stomping through the scene. They are all together, without fear of one another. And then, there is Adam. The man. He is with all the animals and everything is good.
Well… mostly good. It’s not all the way good because Adam is alone. For all this beauty the man has no companion. There is no one to talk to. No one to help him tend this beautiful world.
God looks and he sees the emptiness still in the heart of Adam and so he musters up all of his creative skill and he makes that thing that is the most beautiful thing in all of his world. The Lord makes one who is like Adam, but who is beautiful. Beautiful in her appearance, her form, her face, her hair, her voice, but also in her manner, her grace and her kindness. She is the crown – the highest achievement of all that God has made. This woman. God makes her and all of a sudden, the creation that was good” is now all of a sudden “very good”.
God brings her to Adam and he cannot even contain himself. He identifies himself with her (and who wouldn’t want to) and Adam says that she is woman for she was taken out of man. She is given to Adam, but not to possess and control and manipulate, but to care for and to attend. And likewise he is given to her, so that she shows him honor and respect, not because he is a superior, but because she has received from him care and attention and therefore she responds with gratitude and humility.
So we see this exchange, we witness the first meeting of these two first people. Adam the first man and Eve the first woman. And we are impressed with them and by them. But we have yet to hear what God has to say. God speaks to them.
Now, God is the creator. God is the one who brings forth life from his command. He says let there be and there it is. But God wants this creation to be ongoing. He does not want it to end here with only two people. He wants there to be more. He wants this world to be full. So he gives his command. And God’s command is ongoing – perpetual. The Word that God has spoken he continues to speak. And God says to the woman and to the man, “Be fruitful and multiply. And fill the earth.” And with this Word God enables and empowers this woman to do something in her body that only God had done. This woman now has the ability, the power, to bring forth life! And not just any life, human life. Children. Babies. Little ones. The flesh of Adam and the flesh of Eve are made into one new person that combines the flesh of both. These days we know that this has to do with genetics and dna but we already knew that – you can tell just by looking: the boy has his father’s eyes and his mouth is the shape of his mother’s mouth. We already knew.
God said that the man will leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh. It is from the union of the man and the woman that this ongoing creation comes about. The man plays a roll, he has something to offer, but according to God’s command, it is the woman, her body, that has this amazing power to give, to bring forth, life.
Do you see what God has established? A wonderful domestic partnership! The man and the woman come together. She and he together create life. She has the honor of bringing this life, this new child, into existence and raising this baby boy or girl, feeding and nurturing and caring. And he goes out to work, not because that is the most important. No, the domestic life is the what’s important. His work is to support hers! Hers is the treasure! Hers is the foundation. We, in our infinite stupidity, have decided that it’s all about leaving this beautiful thing behind and going out and earning piles of printed paper. We call it “cash” and we use it to buy shiny trinkets. We are wrong! It is all about this domestic life.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to diminish the importance of work. Because that too is part of God’s command. There are two of them – be fruitful multiply. Fill the earth. And subdue it. Adam’s job as earth caretaker, as earth subdoer, is a part of God’s command. But notice where it fits in the order of God’s command. What comes first? “Be fruitful and multiply.” (establish the domestic life) and then “fill the earth and subdue it”. (go out and tend the creation. God commands us to do both. But one definitely comes first.
If we were to travel forward in time… who knows how long. It’s the next page in our bibles, we would come to the moment of disaster. The world as we know it has taken this good domestic existence and turned it upside down. That came about because of what happened at our next time-travel-stop. Adam and Eve are serving God around his tree of knowledge of good and evil. There to obey God’s word and command about that tree, there to celebrate all the good that God has given them in the world, and the devil comes to Eve, the woman, to tempt her. She is deceived. She eats the fruit and gives it to her husband and the disobey God and the world is changed. When God comes to confront them, they are filled with shame. And God must inform them of the consequences of their actions. God says to the woman. "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." Gen 3:16-19
Eve’s greatest gift, the honor that she would bring forth children, had become for her a source of pain. And God’s greatest gift to Adam, that he have the privilege of overseeing the care for the crown of God’s creation would become for him and for her a source of conflict.
And all of a sudden the deceiver had abundant ammunition for destroying the good thing that God had made.
The Woman was beautiful. In the heart of the woman, the devil would turn this beauty into vanity and pride. She would celebrate her beauty and use it for power, to manipulate the man. In our text Paul talks about wearing gold and jewels and elaborate clothing - she would dress herself up to enhance her physical appearance to draw attention to her beauty so that the man would desire her.
And the man would desire her. He would in fact covet her. His desire would lead to greed. He would want to possess her. His lust for her would cause him, at times, to worship her as his idol, and at other times to diminish her as merely a possession, a thing and not a person. Their relationship together would turn to a struggle for power – her beauty vs. his strength. The cunning of each turned against the other. The good domestic life established by God would be shattered. God said to Eve, ”Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." Don’t we see that playing out in the way we hear the words of our text?
Women, can you see the way your role as wife and mother has been diminished and devalued in the world? That is not to say that all you can do or be is a wife or a mother. Far from it. God has given to you so many good gifts for you to use in love for God and in service to your neighbor. But you are made to feel like your value is your beauty. You are made to feel like your value is in leaving behind or growing beyond your domestic role and that you must occupy a role of power, both in society and in the church. And if you do not occupy that role then you are held back or held down.
Men, do you see the way you have diminished and devalued the work of your wives and mothers and sisters. Do you see the way you have treated them like their value is in their beauty? Do you see the way you have at times made them idols and at other times despised them by treating them as objects? Do you see the way you have undervalued their domestic work as wives and mothers and caused them to feel like their work is less important than yours?
Men and women we are to blame.
But as we stand there in the broken spring of God’s creation, we hear God speaking another word. This word He speaks to the serpent. He says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15) This is a word of promise, an ominous word for that serpent. The conflict begun on this day would be resolved when a son would be born from the womb of a woman and this son would destroy the work of the serpent.
So we leave this scene and travel yet again into the future. And we find ourselves at the base of a hill. At the top of the hill is a crowd of people. There is shouting, jeering, and weeping. There are three crosses. Three men are nailed to those crosses. There is one man in the center. A woman stands at the foot of his cross. She weeps. He looks over to a younger man standing nearby and he says to her, “Woman behold your son.” Even in his dying breath he honors the domestic estate of motherhood. He provides for his mother by entrusting her care to one of his friends.
And then, soon after, he looks into heaven and says, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” And at that moment, the serpents head has been crushed. The offspring of the virgin’s womb has fulfilled the promise given ages ago in Eden. The conflict and pain between the husband and the wife has been forgiven. Forgiven by God and then forgiven by the man to the woman, and the woman to the man. The husband to the wife and the wife to the husband. The father to the daughter and the daughter to the father. The brother to the sister and the sister to the brother.
Our time machine takes us back to today. Here, today, we live in a world where our understanding of who we are has been diminished and destroyed because of sin. Women and men devalue themselves and each other. But God has given us great value. He has given us value in who he has made us to be both as women and as men. But most of all he has given to us value by sacrificing even his Son for our salvation.
In the name of Jesus.
Amen. And now may the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
September 4, 2016
Preached on February 21, 2016
During my time at the seminary, I had a job working as a valet attendant at a parking garage. The job was fun in that it gave me opportunity to get behind the wheel of cars that I would never ever own. But it was also enjoyable because, when there were no cars to park, there was ample time to talk and get to know those other valets. There was time and opportunity for conversation, time to get to know and appreciate the people with whom I was working.
All of my coworkers knew I was a seminary student, and so they would ask me about it from time to time and ask me questions about my faith as a Christian. There was one man in particular. He was not a Christian. New Age religion was popular at that time, a belief not so much in a personal god but more of a spiritual quest to find peace and fulfilment among the spirits of this world (a very dangerous proposition from a Biblical point of view) but he wanted to relate our two faiths together, to make them the same. So one day he began to make the case… that in spite of the differences of our beliefs they were the same. He took out a piece of paper and he drew a few astral signs on the page, the path of the earth compared to the path of some other planet, and he noted that the general shape was that of a cross. As a believer in Christ, the cross is central. It is the foundation of the Christian faith. The cross of Jesus is the reason why we have salvation. He pointed to the cross shape made by the planets and said see we believe the same thing.
I wasn’t sure what to say. I was a little surprised to hear someone try to make the case that things were the same when they were so very different. For the Christian, the cross is not just a symbol or a sign of some cosmic principal; love or selflessness or good will. The cross is so much more than that. The cross is where Jesus died for all sinners… for all sinners and it is where Jesus died for me, where Jesus died for you. It is a real thing that really happened to a real man who was also really God. And that because this real man Jesus really died in this real cross I will really and truly be saved. The cross is the Gospel. To make it anything less, to take away from it or to try to add to it, is to diminish the sacrifice that was made by Jesus when he died on it. It is to be an enemy of the cross of Christ.
In our Epistle text for today, St Paul mentions just such a one, people who are enemies of the cross of Christ:
18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. Phi 3:17-19
That is an unusual statement when you stop to think about it. It is unusual, because to say that the cross has enemies infers that the cross also has friends, and that is a dire proposition to say the least. The cross is after all a thing that causes suffering and pain and death. Why would we want to think of it as an ideal or as a pattern for living?
But that isn’t even the strangest part. What is even stranger is that there are those who would appear to be friends of the cross. My friend from the parking garage was at best looking to be an acquaintance of the cross – he was trying to say that there was a remote connection between our two faiths. He was not a Christian and he did not pretend to be. Paul, on the other hand, is talking about those who are members of the church, maybe even leaders in the church, who pretend to be friends of the cross.
Now again, the cross is an instrument of suffering and death. Jesus says that those who come after him must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him. The strange part is that there are people who would swear their allegiance to the cross, but who would do so for the sake of satisfying some worldly or earthly desire.
Again, Paul writes:
18 Many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
Paul was warning his readers, the Christians in the Church at Philippi, about false teachers. There was this group that he called “the circumcision party”. Earlier in his letter he called them “dogs” and “mutilators of the flesh”. These false teachers went around teaching that the only way to “get right with God” was to follow old laws that Jesus had fulfilled and superseded through his death in the cross. These were things that God had commanded because they pointed ahead to Jesus, they were signs of what God was going to do when Jesus came. But then… Jesus came. He fulfilled those old commands when he died on the cross, so they were no longer necessary. The Christians has been brought into a right relationship with God, not because they have been made members of the Jewish community, but because they were members of the body of Christ through repentance and faith, and because they are grafted into the Body of Christ through baptism.
The enemies of the cross functioned like the cross didn't happen. They acted like the cross of Jesus, the cross where God himself died for the salvation of sinners, didn't matter. In the end what mattered was “living by the rules”. These false teachers were enemies of the cross and they were friends of the flesh. Friends of the flesh and its achievement. Their god is their belly, their glory is their shame.
To be an enemy of the cross is to be drawn away from the faith that looks to Jesus and his cross for salvation. We don’t want to be drawn away.
The epistle of St. James warns us that it is our own desire that tempts us and draws us away and tries to trap us. So what are those desires? Paul talks about the god being the belly, and those desires, the desires that satisfy the belly, can sometimes be greed – an out of control desire to have everything you can for yourself, sometimes it’s gluttony – the desire to fulfill every earthly plan and passion. But it can also be pride. Pride that likes to take credit, pride that likes to contribute, pride that likes to keep track. Pride that gets puffed up and satisfied by my own achievements.
The first Epistle of John says that the desires of the flesh are both the desires of the eyes and the pride of life. (1 John 2:16) And our pride, our desire to take credit for what God has done and for what God is doing in us and for us and through us, leads us away from the faith and leads us to be enemies of the cross of Christ. It leads us to take pride in our own goodness, to assume our own righteousness. Martin Luther said, “God must forgive our good works lest they condemn us.” A Christian author observe that your works “might be good in the eyes of men, but they’re done by a sinner. They have old Adam’s greasy fingerprints all over them.”
So… we do not set our minds on the things of this world, no matter what those things might be. We set our minds on Christ. Paul reminds us in our text:
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
So the goal then is not for this body, this flesh to be all it can be. No, the goal is for this flesh to die, to be done away with and to be completely transformed and replaced by that glorious body that will be ours in the new creation. The question is, how do we do that? How do we keep ourselves on track so that we are not thrown off course to become enemies of the cross and friends of the flesh? How do we keep on that straight and narrow path that leads to salvation?
I don’t know that anyone would ever define me as a motorcycle enthusiast. I can’t say that I have ever even been on a motorcycle – except for one ride when I was a kid from my friends dad around his back yard. Never the less, I have been told that when you are learning to ride, one lesson you need to learn is that you point the bike toward where you want to go and focus on that and don’t focus on what you are trying to avoid. Say there is a tree that is looming large in your path. And you don’t want to hit the tree. If you focus on the tree as that thing that you don’t want to hit, you are probably going to run in to it. However, if you discipline your mind to focus on the clear path, the place where you want to wind up, then chances are better you will arrive safely there.
This principal holds true for the life of the Christian. When we focus on ourselves, on who we are or on who we want to be or on who we think we are not, then we are more likely to wind up crashed an in a heap of spiritual ruin. Yet when we focus on Jesus, when we focus on him who is our leader and our guide, when focus on the one who bought you, purchased you from sin, who saves you and redeems you and sanctifies you. When we focus on Jesus, we will follow Jesus. And we will wind up where He wants us to go.
Christians can very easily get caught focusing too much on themselves, sometimes on their desires and that leads to sin but just as often we can get caught focusing on our own righteousness that leads to pride, that leads to being and becoming an enemy of the cross of Christ. So don’t focus on yourself. Repent of your sin. Repent even of your righteousness and instead focus on Christ. Focus on what he has done for you to pay for your sin and focus on his gifts of grace and mercy, and focus on his righteousness and he will lead you to where you need to be.
I will leave you with this word from Paul in Colossians 3 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:2-3)
In the name of Jesus.