Acts 1

File:Carl Haag The Wailing Wall 1859.jpg

Prayer at the foundation stones of the Second Temple. Carl Haag, the Wailing Wall, 1859.

14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

In English the presence of the word ‘certain’ suggests that only certain women were present, but Luke will tell us later that there were 120 gathered together on Pentecost when the sound of a mighty rushing wind came. What Luke is telling us is that the leadership circle from the very beginning included women. The church will not be built on a foundation of twelve men. It will be built on a foundation of prayer and the Holy Spirit. The number twelve will matter because it corresponds to the twelve tribes of Israel. So twelve apostles will represent the twelve sons of Jacob. The followers of Jesus are the legitimate extension of Israel’s ancient faith. Jesus is the anointed of God. So there are twelve men we call apostles; but the community gathered in prayer is men and women.

The fact that it is men and women tells us that the church is a household. Public gatherings would be segregated, but the community of believers is a household. God is our Father. Jesus is our elder brother. We are sisters and brothers.

A household doesn’t mean nuclear family. Clan might even be a better word, certainly an extended family. But the defining character of these relationships is the solidarity of kin not the agonistic relationships of the public square. We are for one another not competing with one another. In the market we are trying to take advantage of one another to our own profit (measured in wealth in the U.S. and honor in the ancient Mediterranean). In the household we are seeking to defend, support and sustain one another. This latter is the meaning of the word ‘love’ in the first century.

So the community of believers is united in solidarity. They seek the welfare of all. They build one another up. They provide for all who have need. They are a household where women share in the leadership and children are welcome.

And on their unity, love and prayer, the church is built, the Spirit poured out, and the message of Christ crucified, risen and ascended bears its rich and abundant fruit.




John 4

File:Angelika Kauffmann - Christus und die Samariterin am Brunnen -1796.jpeg

Angelica Kauffman, Christ and the Woman at the Well, 1796

19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

There are things in the text that are jarring to ancient ears that seem perfectly innocent to us: that Jesus should speak to a woman in public; that a Judean would ask a Samaritan for a drink; that Jesus should discuss this woman’s her sexual life when she is not a relative.

We catch a hint of the scandal of all this when the disciples come back: Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” (v. 27)  But since we don’t find it shocking, the audacity of Jesus often eludes us.  It’s like listening to Holst’s “The Planets” without a brass section; you can still get the melody, but you are missing all the drama.

There is another shocking element in the text we no longer hear: Jesus discusses theology with this woman.  Theology was the domain of men.  It was men who gathered to dispute questions of the law and prophets.  It was men who held a synagogue service. Theology was part of the public square not the domestic one.  For Jesus to discuss the proper location of worship with a woman was remarkable.  Astonishing.

This is a narrative like Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, or Paul declaring there is now “neither male nor female.”  This is Junia (a woman’s name) called an apostle by Paul. This is Paul discussing the scriptures with the women in Philippi or Lydia being the head of the church in her home.  This woman of Samaria is not only a hearer of Christ, she is treated as a student – and becomes a teacher.  She gathers the men of her village and brings them to Jesus.  She is their first witness.

We misunderstand Paul’s injunction that women should be silent in the churches because we miss the dramatic and wonderful thing that women are present in the worshipping assembly.  (That a woman should be cautioned not to shame her husband in public shouldn’t make us hear Paul through the lens of the medieval church.  It is good advice still – for men and women.)

Women’s leadership in the community of the church is no shock to us now, but it is another element in this audacious reality of Christ Jesus in whom the day promised through the prophet Joel dawns and God’s spirit is poured out on all people, men and women, young and old, freeborn and slaves – a radical idea from an audacious God.

The front of the bus


Luke 10

Booking photo of Parks

Booking photo of Parks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.

She was sitting in the front of the bus.  It’s that simple.  Mary was sitting where she did not belong.  And even when Paul has to tell the wives in Corinth to be silent in the meetings (lest they shame their husbands), they are still sitting in the front of the bus.  They are present in worship where they could not have been before.  Women are leaders and prophets and one is even called an apostle.  “There is neither male nor female,” writes Paul to the Galatians, “we are all one in Christ Jesus.”  The misogyny of the Bible has become one of those falsehoods “everyone knows” – everyone except Jesus.  And the scriptures.

Mary was sitting in the position of a disciple.  Her cultural obligation was to be at her sister’s side.  You can even make an argument that “love of neighbor” should have placed her at her sister’s side.  But she is at Jesus’ feet.

Maybe Martha only wants help.  But if Jesus had conceded to her request there would be no church today.  Women would have been kept in the back of the bus.  The Gospel would have been reduced to a reform of the moral life.  The dawning kingdom of God that brings all the earth under the gracious governance of God would not have been proclaimed or made visible in healed lives.  The baptism of Samaritans, of the Ethiopian Eunuch, of the Roman Cornelius, and the gathering of the nations (all those excluded from the presence of God in the temple) would not have occurred. Those few followers of Jesus would have disappeared when the Romans crushed the rebellion in Judea.  Had Jesus conceded to Martha’s request, he would have been lost to history.

But the kingdom of God is at hand in Jesus, God’s reign of grace and life beginning.  Joel’s promise of the Spirit of God poured out on all people, men and women, young and old, slave and free is fulfilled.  Our debts to God are released.  Sinners and outcasts are restored to the community.  All the earth is gathered to worship God.  And all are commissioned for ministry.   Satan’s kingdom crumbles – like lightening fracturing the sky.

The women were not sent to the back of the bus.  There is no back of the bus.  Jesus has carried it to the cross and left it there.

Mary has chosen the good portion.  She has chosen the banquet of Jesus’ teaching.  She has chosen the fountain of life.  She has heeded the call of the Spirit.  She understands that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Churches look pretty old-fashioned sometimes.  But they are telling a radical story.  Like Mary we come to hear the story.

PS  I understand the Rosa Parks did not sit in the front section of the bus, but it is a shorthand description we all understand.  Ms. Parks was seated in the middle section which was open to African-Americans until the front section was filled and a white person needed a seat – at which point the whole middle section was redefined as an area for “whites only” and any African-American in the those center seats had to get up and stand in the rear.  Ms. Parks’ “crime” was to refuse to vacate the section in which she was seated when a white person arrived.  It shouldn’t have taken Christians 2,000 years to figure out this was wrong.  But we often get the “who serves whom” thing backwards.  We accommodate Jesus to ourselves rather than accommodating ourselves to Jesus.

Mary’s boldness was not refusing to get up – it was daring to sit.  And Jesus told her to stay.

Watching for the morning of July 21

Year C

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 11 / Lectionary 16

Bueckelaer, Joachim - Well-Stocked Kitchen, an...

Bueckelaer, Joachim – Well-Stocked Kitchen, and Jesus in the house of Martha and Mary in the background, the (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hospitality: the gracious welcoming of the stranger.  Abraham prepares a feast for the three men who visit his dwelling.  Martha, also, is preparing a banquet for Jesus and his followers.  Abraham hurries to get the fatted calf and Sarah quickly makes bread to set their best before these guests.  Martha, too, is hurrying to set before Jesus and his disciples a proper banquet.  The welcome and care of strangers is the highest moral value of the time, but Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet.  It is troubling to Martha but not to Jesus.  She occupies the place of a disciple, a student. She has chosen “the good portion.”  She has chosen the true banquet.

The Prayer for July 21, 2013

Gracious God,
with courage and boldness
Mary dared to sit at your feet as a disciple
and you defended her choice.
Give us hearts that yearn to sit at your feet
and, amid all the distractions of life,
help us dwell in your word
and follow in your paths

The Texts for July 21, 2013

First Reading: Genesis 18:1-15
“I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” – At the Oaks of Mamre, Abraham and Sarah host three visitors, and God announces that the time for the fulfillment of the promise of a son is at hand.

Psalmody: Psalm 15
“O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?” – The poet speaks of the qualities required of those who enter the sacred precincts to offer their sacrifices.

Second Reading: Colossians 1:15-28
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” –
The opening section of the letter continues, acclaiming Christ as the source and goal of all things

Gospel: Luke 10:38-42
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?” – Invited to dine at the home of Martha, Jesus defends her sister Mary’s decision to sit at his feet as a disciple.


PS  The appointed reading in the Revised Common Lectionary for the first lesson is Genesis 18:1-10a which cuts the narrative in the middle in order to fit with the Gospel.  This misuses the Genesis text where the promise is met with laughter (because the years for having children are long past) and the penetrating question is asked “Is anything to hard for the LORD?”