online book group: What’s the Least I Can Believe, chapters 4 and 5

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Well, Monday’s storm put a damper on our ability to get online for the book group, but it didn’t dampen our reading spirit! So today we’ll talk about chapters 4 and 5, to catch up. Then, because the chapters are so short, we will start doing 2 chapters per post next week.

Chapter 4: Women Can’t Be Preachers and Must Submit to Men

Well, obviously anyone at RCLPC has already come to terms with this myth, since we have a woman preacher!  In addition to the Galatians 3.28 text cited in the chapter, there are lots of examples of women surrounding Jesus and even Paul–women who clearly do ministry and even some who preach. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but among them would be: the women who followed Jesus and used their resources (which must mean their independent wealth) to provide for other disciples; Mary and Martha, who live alone and provide for themselves as well as being disciples in their own right; the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, who is arguably the first preacher to tell the good news; the women at the tomb who rush back to proclaim He Is Risen!; Paul’s fellow leaders Junia and Lydia, who were apostles and teachers. There are many more, though they don’t always have names in the written record.

The bigger question in this chapter, which is not adequately addressed (in my opinion) is submission. Now obviously I’m not going to advocate for all women to submit to all men, or for unequal relationships of any kind. I am, however, going to advocate that ALL people, women and men, should submit–to Christ. We do not submit to one another as simple human beings, we submit when the Spirit of Christ is present and we recognize that authority. To submit to the Lordship of Christ is not to abrogate our responsibilities as human beings, nor is it to demean ourselves–instead, it is to recognize our true selves and to whom we belong (as the first questions of the catechism say: “who are you? I am a child of God, and I belong to God, who loves me.”). This kind of submission is something to strive for, not to avoid. But to be clear: it does not mean demeaning, using, objectifying, or hierarchy-izing (yes, that’s a new word) our human selves or human relationships. period. It is before Christ that EVERY knee shall bow. For the rest of us, it’s about mutual love and upbuilding, bearing one another’s burdens, having compassion for one another, respecting one another as beloved children of God–and that goes both ways, gender-wise.

Chapter 5: God Cares About Saving Souls But Not About Saving Trees

If RCLPC believed this to be true, we wouldn’t have an Earth Care Team, would we?! 🙂

As I was reading this chapter, I kept thinking, “I’m going to blog about how faith is personal but not private!” and then I turned the page to find the Jim Wallis quote staring me in the face. So I guess we are going to talk about how faith is personal but not private–because it’s right there in the book! While faith is intensely personal–God desires our transformation into people who are more and more Christlike–it is also intensely public, because our transformation is not for ourselves but for the world. Jesus did not talk about simply thinking the right thing, he talked about (and lived) doing the right thing. Paul did not write only about worshipping correctly, he talked about the whole community being changed together into the body of Christ. The Old Testament is almost never about our internal faith situation–it’s about a whole people, interconnected, interdependent–when one does wrong, all suffer, and when one does right, all celebrate.

The issue at the title of the chapter, but then neglected for the rest of the content, is that of environmental stewardship. While Thielen uses it as just one small example of doing justice, I think it deserves more time and space and energy than that. The very beginning of our story involves God creating and calling everything Good, then asking humans to take care–to be good stewards of a gift meant for all of us to enjoy together throughout generations. Scripture is littered with references to the land being sacred–and not just any land, not just “the promised land” but all Creation. Indeed, we might even suggest that all of God’s creation is promised land–in the sense that it is a sign and symbol of God’s promise and God’s trust in us.

Too often it seems that trust has been misplaced–and scripture is concerned with how we exploit, whether we exploit people or resources or land or God or ourselves. Any exploitation is the opposite of good stewardship. So how can we, as people who follow Christ, be better stewards of the gift of God’s creation? And how can we encourage others to be better stewards? This world was not given to us to use up, it was loaned to us by a Creator who wants to see all creation redeemed. As of now, creation groans (Romans 8), but we know that all the earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24)–and God will always fulfill the promise. And oftentimes, God fulfills promises through the most unlikely of people–maybe even us.

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One response »

  1. Not only does our church have a woman pastor, she is a fantastic preacher. RCLPC is so blessed to have the current pastoral leadership. Regarding this topic of submission, it is still unbelievable that some churches cherry-pick their verses and keep women out of the pulpit and any positions of leadership. I’ve been ready for a long time to turn over leadership to women in all areas, not just of church but in the community, state and nation. We would have less aggression and more compassion in all our dealings! Preach on sister!

    I am going to print out your “sermon-like summary” of chapter 5 regarding stewardship. It’s excellent for its synthesis of what stewardship means. Teri, you pointed out that Scripture uses both words: stewardship and dominion. We have seen that our human egos have mostly turned our actions toward dominion of the flora and fauna and less toward stewardship. Big mistake! If we don’t drastically reduce our use of fossil fuels, especially coal, the rest of this century, already doomed to be miserable because of our carbon output into the sky, will be a much different and dangerous planet for my grandchildren. The greed of capitalism right now appears to be winning, but nature eventually settles all scores.

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