#LetHerSpeak

Momentum is gaining for the recent social movement for rights for women, with a series of hashtag quotes to promote justice for women especially those suffering various forms of abuse. While these gain popularity on social media, they do not seem to influence change where it is needed.

It seems to take a Royal Commission for fairness, justice, and equality to get a hearing. We are led to believe that the church, the Christians of this world, are the ones to uphold morality and ethics and be a shining light in society – however, since the #metoo, #churchtoo #missiontoo exposure, this has proved to be incorrect. The horror of the reality of this situation will continue as long as victims are not heard. There is currently a court case to investigate a former Church Leader in my state, for a cover-up of abuse that spanned decades and led to offenders claiming more victim’s livelihoods. Yet, due to the Leader’s poor health, the court case has been suspended – leaving victims without any opportunity for justice.

Justice vs Justifying

When confronted with serious errors of judgment from our church leaders, who are meant to guard and guide the ‘flock’ we would hope there would be repentance, as we are often told – to turn around and commit to another course. There seem to be two responses – a case for justice or to justify behaviours.

When a long string of offenses spanning many years is presented about a church leader the tendency is to defend the leader and justify the behaviours. What does this do to the victims of abuse? It silences them, it denies the authenticity of the claims, it leads to the further demise of their social, emotional, mental wellbeing – it reoffends the victim.

A test case – if a list of a leaders’ offenses were to be published in the newspaper, would the Church Leader be mortified to the point where all credibility is lost, character questioned and career coming to a standstill? If yes, then the behaviours require a consequence that includes demotion. This enables victims to continue to live a normal life. Otherwise, it is the victim’s credibility that is lost, character questioned and career coming to a standstill. It reoffends the victim 70 times 7. When the Church Leader tries to question the character or emotional health of the victim to use as evidence for the offender’s innocence – this is a tragedy. Such a Church Leader should step down and allow a more competent person to guard and guide the flock.

Often it is a church worker/volunteer or attendee who is abused by the leader – here the leader has a paid salary and benefits (= right to protection by fellow leaders/authority). However, it is the church worker/volunteer or attendee who has sacrificed their time and potential salary for building up the church. In speaking out, there is no goodwill in this scenario – only lawyers and litigation. It is a crying shame when abusive leaders are protected so as not to bring public shame or humiliation on the church – because that would harm ‘gospel growth’. Conversely, it is very difficult for church attendees to want to bring friends or family to church when it is a toxic environment. Instead, having safe leaders means a growing church – based on the love of Jesus and not the power of money and authority.

Blindness to offenses is not part of ‘forgiveness’ – when a person in power denies justice to the vulnerable, they are using their power to re-abuse.

What kinds of behaviours have you experienced that continue to cause you harm?

What can be done to break the silence on these issues?

 

‘But you were washed’ – Denying the spirit of judge-mentalism

In my former years, I would go outside for a durry, but now I go out to breathe fresh air. For some of us, this statement rings true also for our whole lives. The toxic habits we used to live by may have taken their toll on our health – emotional, mental, physical or spiritual. Some of these old ways become ingrained, in our speech, actions, appearance, even the lines on our face tell a story.

We can judge another person without even speaking to them, we judge by what we see, perceive or hear about them, allowing our own motives and prejudices to guide us. This kind of judgementalism is unjust and is a sign of our humanness. Though broken, humanity still bears the image of the invisible God that is his glorious creation, despite our misgivings concerning one another.

We’ve all gone the wrong way, and we’ve all suffered pain. Who should judge their friend for being a smoker; for being tattooed perhaps at a time when life, love or grief overcame them; for having been admitted to a hospital because their emotional pain was too much to bear alone? When we judge one another for outward appearances or for our experiences during times of stress, suffering and pain, we deny one another an opportunity to be loved. The love of God is the source of all comfort, help and wisdom – it is expressed through one another by His word and Spirit, in our words and deeds.

A spirit of judgementalism has crept into our churches in many forms over many centuries. Are you saved? Are you from this place or that? Are you learned? Are you friends with those people? Are you faithful enough not to despair in times of suffering? What work do you do?  …  (Are you better than me?) Did you pass the test?

This testing of one another reminds us of the disciples jostling for pole position next to Jesus’ side (Luke 22). It is a false gospel that is proclaimed, it is not what Jesus taught his friends. Jesus’ friends also struggled with this spirit of judgementalism time and again. They did not fully understand who Jesus was nor did they understand what the kingdom of God would bring.

Christ-culture. We, as friends of the resurrected Jesus, come to him just as we are, every day. We come to him first, knowing that ‘there is only One who is good’ (Mt 19:17) before we open his whole word and listen for his Spirit which is one of love, unity, fellowship and forgiveness. It is God who teaches us how to love and serve him and one another because he is motivated by love – he is Love.

Turn around from that treacherous road you were travelling upon and believe and understand with your heart, mind and soul that Jesus is Lord of all Creation, our communities and our lives. Live in light of that knowledge, relying on God’s wisdom and the Spirit of gentleness and discernment. Give glory and power and honour to him who is the Just Judge over all things, forever. Amen.

Less-quoted sayings of Jesus: (Recommended reading in context)

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…’ Mark 14:32-34

“Leave her alone… why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” Mark 14:6

“Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” Luke 20: 46-47

“Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.” Luke 21:17

“Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” John 7:24

“…why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” Matt 15:3

“Get behind me Satan. You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Matt 16:23

“Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matt 20:14

“For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials.” Luke 22:27-28

aaron-burden-267491


Image credit:

A lost sailor photo by Michael Olsen on Unsplash

Dewdrop reflection photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Focus on Ephesians 5

Ephesians 5:21-33

Many years ago my husband and I studied Permaculture, a system of gardening for food production which can be used for self sufficient farming. The belief is that in nature all things are good and have a purpose. This often led us to wonder what was the purpose of the snail or cockroach, the poisonous or prickly plant in the garden? What’s the purpose of the plague of annoying birds in the yard and all of those weeds?! Well, weeds are actually edible, prevent erosion of soil and you can ferment them in water for liquid fertiliser!

Nothing in nature is bad in Permaculture as long as it’s used for its purpose. Sounds like a perfect garden, right? It sounds a bit like the motto of Mona museum ‘There is no sin’.

My permaculture teacher was a passionate lady, a nature lover one day she complained to our class about an angry and unreasonable man in her apartment block who was desperately trying to cut down some banana trees in the yard because they were messy and attracted noisy possums near his bedroom window. She was very distressed because “He thinks the banana trees are weeds and that the native animals are pests!”

The following week I went to work and asked my boss how he was going, to hear all about a “crazy hippy” who lives in his apartment block who is ruining his life over a few rubbish banana trees and if he had the mind he would go out there at night with a chainsaw and hack them down along with the noisy possums that lived in it – so he could get some peace. These two friends of mine saw this situation so differently and it was making their lives miserable.

Thinking about this man and woman, arguing over a fruit tree with an animal living in it – not much has changed since the Garden of Eden. We are all fallen to sin, our human frailty pits us against one another. In the Garden, in the book of Genesis, God casts Adam and Eve out of His presence because of sin.

The bible tells us that God is an awesome Creator God who is holy and perfect and therefore cannot be near us when we are fallen and broken.

Our view of ourselves and each other is tainted by our belief system and values our ‘World view’ is the tinted glasses through which we see everything and everyone around us. The way we view other people is determined by our values and beliefs, our skin colour, our gender, our age, even our occupation – the family and society that we were born into.
The way we view God’s created world has been tainted. The truth is that everyone is made in the image of God. Let’s take off our tainted glasses for a moment and see others around us as God’s good creation. Today’s reading lays the foundation on male and female relationships. This not only extends to marriage relationships, but to all men and women, to the church and our relationship to God.

It all started in Genesis chapter 1 v.27, it says ‘ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them ; male and female he created them. ’ this was the crowning glory of Creation, God then pronounced it all ‘GOOD’.

God chose to create woman to be suitable helper for the man, the hebrew word for helper implies ‘strength’ and does not suggest inferiority. Men and women were made by God for each other.

A man does not need to be married to experience this ‘goodness’. Adam’s problem was not singleness, but solitude, aloneness. (Claire Smith, God’s Good Design)

We relate together as men and women in many different relationships in the family, friendships, work, and social life.

Yet when we look around, we see men and women not getting along very well together, unable to see each other as God sees them, unable to help or support one another. What happened to this created ideal of our world that we all so long for.. where the weeds are delicious and useful and there is no sin? Well, let’s explore this with the help of today’s reading in Ephesians.

Ephesians is written to God’s people, not just people from one nation or culture, but a great colourful mix of people in a city of the Roman Empire called Ephesus. These people, although all completely different, have all turned to Jesus Christ as their Saviour and are called to strive to live together as God’s family. Paul tells them they are one body in Christ, they are born again into God’s family, they have Holy Spirit DNA that unites them as God’s family and helps them to live according to God’s family values. Ephesians is teaching us how to live as Christians in a world full of sin and temptation.

Ephesians 5 puts the microscope on our relationships with each other. We read it to learn what God desires of us. Earlier in this chapter Paul urges the Ephesians to Follow God’s example, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love… v 1. “For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.”

This is our challenge today. To shine a light on our relationship with God and others and find out what pleases the Lord.

Our reading begins: ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’

The sacrificial relationship between Christ and the Church is the theological foundation for all relationships. It gives us a new way of seeing people a new way of loving people as God sees them and loves them.

God created us and it was ‘good’, but because of our sins, we are broken, hurt, afraid, ashamed. How can this be redeemed?

Paul tells us in Chapter 5 how Christians should live as children of the light to walk in the way of love. Mutual submission, Christ-centred relationships; obedience to God; obedience of children to parents; obedience to those who have authority over us. This is not easy for anyone but if we look ahead to Chapter 6 we are told that to do this we must put on the full armour of God. Because our battle is not with each other, it is Satan who attacks God’s crowning glory of creation the union of man and woman.

Among our human relationships there is no greater union than the marriage of husband and wife. Satan also attacks the unity the body of Christ. Satan messes with marriage relationships and and relationships between members of Christ’s church, Christ’s bride. This is why Jesus gave up his life for us, to make broken people and broken relationships whole again .

Jesus loves us and cares for us because we are His body. It is only through Christ we are redeemed our relationships with God and one another can be redeemed. Paul directly relates the union of marriage to the union of Christ to the church. The wife submits to and respects the husband, just as the church submits to Christ. Woman was made for the glory of man, so for a woman to try to rule or dominate her husband would be to mess with God’s created order. But wait, there’s more.. The husband is to love the wife sacrificially as if she were his own body, just as Christ gave up his life for his bride, the church. Jesus loves us sacrificially by taking his own life to repay our sin debt.

In Ezekiel 16 there is shocking imagery of God’s people who have abandoned their one true God for idols. They are depraved, living their own way, naked, shameful, dirty like a homeless woman on the street. It’s a very graphic portrayal of the end result of sin and separation from God. Christ takes this woman, representing God’s people and cleanses her, makes her spotless and white like a bride in a wedding gown. This is what Jesus does for all of us, and it is this kind of selfless love that He desires from us and to give to one another.

Our quarrel with each other is a spiritual battle that Christ has already won. But still there are so many heated issues that divide men and women, even among the faithful. This demonstrates to us that we are sinners who are saved by the grace of God alone. It is only by putting on the full armour of God and putting Christ first, can we enjoy a redeemed relationship with our Creator God. Loving one another selflessly can feel like such a huge sacrifice, well it is –  it is a living sacrifice to God.

Many of us here may be willing to submit to a loving, all-powerful God.

Many of us have no trouble in submitting to a Saviour who loves you so much that he gave up his life for us.

Looking at Paul’s reference to marriage, many wives would find themselves willing to submit to a loving Spouse who would make their life a living sacrifice to them. Breakfast in bed every day, help around the house, flowers and chocolates? Paul makes it sound so easy! It is not easy.

The meaning of the word ‘Submission’ in the bible is not the image of a man wrestling a woman to the ground until she can stand it no longer and taps out ‘I submit!’ No, in the bible, submission is willing , we have free choice , it is done wholeheartedly and joyfully.

The church is not made to submit. We Christians choose to submit to Christ in everything! Just as a Christian woman in loving humility, trusting in God, submits herself to her own husband.

The husband is to love her, to feed and care for his wife as his own body. Because they are one flesh in the unity of marriage. The husband is to be like Christ! So real is the unity of husband and wife that loving her is loving himself (v 28). Her good is his good, he cannot separate his interests from hers.

Three times in this passage Paul says men are not to rule women, but to love them. Men and women together are called to rule and subdue all creation together, using their gifts for the good of each other. (Gen 1:28)

‘Men and women are equally made in God’s image with dignity, purpose, moral choice and responsibility, and all of us are individually accountable for our conduct.’ (Claire Smith, God’s Good design)

So, in marriage, how do we love someone who rejects us or mistreats us?

How do we love or submit to a sinner?

How did Christ love those who rejected and tortured him to the point of death on a cross? It was in God’s strength alone.

In the fallen world, in our distorted image of the garden, there are poisonous plants and dangerous animals? Things that will harm us. This passage in no way suggests that toxic,harmful relationships should be endured to the point of death. God desires to protect us, and preserve life.

Joyful submission and sacrificial love – this is the shining light of a redeemed Christ-centred marriage, yet it is meant to speak directly to all of us as faithful believers, The Church, in our relationship with Jesus.

Paul is using the marriage illustration to teach us about our union with Christ. The ‘goodness’ and ‘helpfulness’ of man and woman in all their Created splendour was not limited to Adam and Eve or to marriage. Men and women were made for a purpose, to serve and complement one another with their God given uniqueness to love God and love one another as members of Christ’s body. We rely on one another, we cannot live or function fully without the other members of the body being healthy.

There are so many issues in the world that arouse anger and division and cripple the body of Christ. However, just like the pesky animal in the tree Satan has been cut down. Let’s do as Paul suggests and take off our old self, take off our tainted glasses, and be made new in the attitude of our minds and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. God’s forgiveness is a free gift that is given for eternity to receive it, we are called to submit to God and one another, in the name of Christ.

Dear Lord,
Thank you for redeeming us from our fallen, sinful nature by sending your Son to conquer sin and death, so that we can enjoy an everlasting relationship with you, our Creator. We ask for your strength and the power of the Spirit to enable us to love and serve one another in all our relationships, so that Christ may be glorified. In Jesus name, Amen.

Sermon transcript, (C) Lisa Haynes, St Luke’s Anglican Church, Richmond. 10th July 2016.

Claire Smith, God’s Good Design, Matthias Media:Sydney, 2012.