Fourth in series: 40 Days of Faith 2018
So we’re in the middle of this “40 Days of Faith” Prayer Experiment as our way to mark Lent (the 40 days leading up to Good Friday & Easter Sunday) Here’s hoping it’s been a good experience for you so far praying For your Big Ask For six people in your everyday life And for this church
So our theme for our Sunday talks during Lent has been looking at different pictures in the Bible of the Early Church -- We’re looking at how when people in the first century invested in those early churches, they were, more than that, investing in the wider communities and cities those churches were in And then we’re applying that same idea to us today -- when we invest in BLV, we are, more than that, investing in Lincoln Square, and in the wider Brown Line area, and in our city.
And to me personally, the most exciting thing I see in how the early church influenced the cities where the were, was how they ushered in social change.
The early churches was truly culturally radical in several ways. And the way the social fabric of these churches actually begin to shape the cultures around them.
I had a professor at seminary who said that Jesus and his followers in the early church were always pushing back against the parts of culture that were taking advantage of people, marginalizing people, and leading people down distractive paths.
What he meant by this was that every culture of all time and has beautiful and wonderful things, but there are also things that are ugly and leave people feeling disenfranchised and oppressed and injured, and it was these parts of culture that Jesus was pushing back against. Which is very different than Jesus being against participation in our wider culture, his followers still enjoyed music and food and the entertainment that was prevalent in their cultures, they embraced the beautiful things in their cities but always were pushing back against the evil.
And today I want to look at a something perhaps surprising from Bible to I think highlights this.
I want to take a look at something St. Paul, who helped start many of the earliest churches, wrote in his letter to the church he had started in ephesus. After spending the first 3 quarters of his letter primarily talking about unity, and how important it is that the culturally and religiously diverse people in the church see each other as valuable and essential to what God is doing in that city. He then includes what we are about to read. And fair warning, what I am about to read will hit our ears today as the exact opposite of positive social change. In fact what I am about to read has been used throughout history to stiffel several effort towards social change. But, if you can bear with me, I think we will find a powerful picture of the early church pushing forward towards a more just world. Ephesians 5 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Hmmm, interesting huh? When people ask me how they can get the most out of reading the Bible I usually tell them that the breakthrough for me in the Bible coming alive and feeling like the most relevant and helpful tool in my life, it was when I made an effort to understand genre and context. And of course! genre and context make all of the difference because without understanding what type of writing something is and what was the context of that culture, and the issues that are being addressed, we will inevitably read things out of context, We will inevitably grab on the things that are not actually the main point, And might misunderstand things completely So, if you’re interested in perhaps finding the Bible come alive in a new way there are two things I can point you to One, how to read the Bible for all it’s worth, by gordon fee. It is a book that will highlight how the different genres of the Bible are written in. And also has several other helpful tips for reading the Bible in context Two, read a brief context of what ever book of the Bible you’re about to read. I have actually found that bible.org generally has pretty good, short and straightforward context for each book of the Bible.
So, the excerpt we just read from Paul’s letter to the Ephesus would have been known as a household code.
Household Codes were a well known form of writing in the Greco-Roman world that instructed people on how to maintain their households - which included their family members, extended family members, servants, and sometimes more.
Interestingly enough, the first time I read this passage. I was introduced to it starting in verse 22. Which means it started with “wives submit yourselves to your own husbands” -- and that makes you think the point of this whole passage is going to be: wives being submissive. But that’s not the case if you start the passage with verse 21. “Submit to one another” -- that makes you think there’s going to be some give and take on both sides.
The reason I had been introduced to it that way was the Bible I was reading had a little section break with a header right after verse 21 and before verse 22. Interesting enough this section break and in fact all the verses and chapter notations would have been something added later.
This break with a heading between verse 21 and 22 was a choice made by publishers of the Bible in the 1950s.
In the original Greek this was written in, it is clear that verse 21 is where the section starts, it’s clear because verse 22 doesn’t actually have a verb in the sentence. Itis relying on the verb in verse 21.
That’s all probably way too much nobody cares, it’s just interesting to me how it’s something as simple as a section break put in by editors hundreds of years after this was written and you can have us totally change the tone of what we read.
Another thing we might miss, if we weren’t familiar with the genre of household codes or the context of Paul’s world at that time, is how revolutionary it was that the first person it addresses is the wife. It addresses the woman first. None of the other household codes of that time would even acknowledge that a woman could even be reading this let alone addressing her directly. Furthermore, The first time that the husband is addressed he is told to to love and care for and be faithful to his wife. He is being told to consider and see the value and his wife, in a culture where the wife would have literally been the property of the husband.
For the sake of time, I can’t fully go into all of this, there is even more here that is liberating and empowering to women, Like the notion of headship has more to do with being provider than a being have a sense of authority. And the language that is used throughout this passage would have been received as downright feminist by those in the ancient roman world. And even more than that into the next chapter it goes on to address children and slaves that is equally as powerful as what we see here with women. In short what we have a culture that is what I call hyper-patriarchical, Men had all the power socially and legally. They had the power to imprison, sell, or leave their wives, children and slaves with no repercussions. And we see here Paul challenging that, giving women, children, slaves, respect and value. And Including men under his statement of “everyone submit to one another”. I could preach here for another 2 hours and still not get through all the profound insights in this passage But, perhaps it will suffice to just read an excerpt from another household code. Written about 40 years earlier by the philosopher Arius Didymus It was of course only written to men, addressing only men, and pay attention to how different the tone is from Paul- He wrote “a man has the rule of this household by nature, for the deliberative faculty in a woman is inferior, in children it does not yet exist, and in the case of slaves, it was completely absent.” You see the contrast
Because of the early churches...
The powerless, the marginalized, the oppressed in Greco-Roman cities like Ephesus found dignity and care and protection.
And it’s inspiring to me to see how this has continued throughout history
that churches were at the center of the reformation which created more personal freedoms and liberties
Churches were those who fought for the abolition of slavery,
churches were at the heart of the civil right movement,
And they were at the heart of the women's suffrage movement,
I think more personally of my grandfather who was a professor at a Christian school in Missouri and he fought for the inclusion of the black community in his chapel services in the late 60s
How he pushed his all-white school with all white faculty and all white board members to consider whether they would fall on the right side of history.
And how against their wishes he invited black families from the area to come to the prayer meetings he was holding.
After the school threatened to fire him, he still invited black families to his prayer meetings
and when the school threatened him with revoking his tenure, he did not back down but rather called them out as people who only followed Jesus in name, because if they followed him in heart there would be no question of whether integrating the prayer meetings was something that Jesus would want.
And then he was fired and spent the rest of his life as a prison chaplain caring for and giving dignity to man who had lost hope and were considered worthless in society.
Or think of my own Mother someone who growing up in a conservative church and told her whole life that leading was for men, speaking in public was for men, pastoring unless it was other women or in a different country was for men.
In spite of this, she felt convicted that women needed to have their voices heard, that they needed to influence others, that had much to teach
That women needed to be empowered in every level of leadership within the church. Not as a favor to women, but because the church needed their leadership.
To me, today, the fact this was a questions sounds ridiculous of course. But this was the predominant stance in the church, that women can’t lead,
So she spent the better part of 20 years fighting for the vineyard denomination to affirm women on all levels of leadership
she spent the better part of 20 years being in meetings were men would condescend her and disregard her voice
she spent the better part of 20 years having people she respected tell her she was tearing apart the church,
but then she spent the better part of 20 years successfully moving the Vineyard movement towards full and complete affirmation of a women’s ability to lead on in highest levels of leadership.
BUT perhaps you caught the painful rub in all of those stories I just told,
yes it was churches that were helping usher in social change...
but it was also the church that they were fighting against.
It was the church that Martin Luther fought to take some power away from,
it was churches that were teaching that slavery was a God ordained thing for which the abolitionist were fighting against,
it was churches that supported the segregation of black and white people in our country for which the civil rights movement had to stand up for,
it was a church, a Christian school that fired my grandfather for inviting black families to the prayer meeting
It was a church that fought with my mother hoping to keep women in their place.
And so, it is clear that being a Christian or going to church does not automatically mean that you are ushering in social change like the early church did
But, this church, BLV, we damn well know we want to be.
We want to be part of what moves this neighborhood, this city, to be a more just, more equidible, more Jesus like place.
And when I look around the country right now and look for the voices that are ushering in change.
I see women standing up and saying that no more. That the behavior that has been excused for far too long needs to stop now, no longer will we stay quite. I see people like family matters, and Books & Breakfast, our partners doing before and after school care. I see them saying that the issues around race and education are not to be pushed down the road any more. We will no longer stand for the excuses that keeps passing the debt of educational inequity on to the next generation. I see followers of Jesus that have gotten fed up with the way that members of the LGBTQ community have been rejected by churches. I see these followers of Jesus looking to love and include and value people as human beings, willing to wade into the uncomfortable waters of loving and including everyone And I see people, like little rays of light here and there that are looking to learn from people different than themselves. I see people who are taking responsibility for the things they have done wrong, and areas they need to work on. I see people who are more concerned with becoming a mature loving adult, than being perceived as excellent and put together. And I am inspired by that… especially in a country where our leaders seem unable to take responsibility, unable to listen to a new perspective, and far more concerned with being seen as excellent than actually acting like an adult.
So, we want to be a church that is bringing about positive social change. But, that isn’t going to happen by Vince and I changing the world. No, it is going to happen when you see the impact you can have. We can support you, be there for you when you experience push back, we can be praying for you, we can even go with you in times, but the difference between being a church that fight for civil rights and one that resisted it was that the people in the church were fighting for it in their every-day lives. So, we of course want to help mobilize you and connect you to things like family matters and books and breakfast. But, we also want to be the place that is here for you when you decide that what you experienced at work was sexual harassment and we are here with you when you choose to speak out. We want to be the church that challenges you to think about your own behavior in how you treat others. And then is here to support you as you work through that. We want to be the church that helps you keep your heart soft so you keep loving and embracing people, especially if they are different than you, so you keep taking responsibility for actions and shortcoming instead of being defensive, so you can grow more mature as you grow older. And if that happens, then we will make a difference in each other lives, in chicago, and in lincoln square. Please stand with me