A reflection on Proper 13C, Ecclesiastes 1.2, 12-14, 2. 18-23; Psalm 40. 1-12; Colossians 3. 1-11; Luke 12. 13-21 by The Rev. Dr. Sarah Rogers
Last weekend, I spent some time at the ‘Big Cheese Festival’ in Caerphilly. For those of you who don’t know, Caerphilly is famed for its cheese, although these days it is no longer made here! Every year there is a festival, which includes a cheese race, a fun-fair, various stalls selling local foods and crafts, as well as many charities. We had a churches stall as part of the events in which we were asking people to fill in a postcard, asking God a question. The three most common questions will be addressed later in the year in three separate sessions. I helped out at the stall for a short time – not everyone wanted to take part, but some engaged and filled in the card – I have yet to see what the questions were! I became slightly distracted as one lady came up to me and was quite forth-right in telling me that I obviously don’t read my bible and that there is no way women should be in the pulpit, because Timothy’s letter says so!
So, when I came to read this Sunday’s readings I was in a shaking frame of mind, not having been in ministry very long and faced with real opposition for the first time. I wish I had had some witty retort prepared, perhaps an intellectual ‘well we are fairly certain Paul didn’t write that bit’, or even just being able to cite some of the other texts in the bible where women’s ministry is indicated and supported by the early church such as Phillipians 4.2; Romans 16: 1, 6-7, 12; Acts 18: 24-6– but I was too stunned. In reading that passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, I was of course reminded of that other quote from Paul in which he also states that there was ‘no longer male or female’ in Galatians 3: 28, that passage that is often used in support of the ministry of women.
Paul is clearly making sure that the developing church in Colossae know what they are letting themselves in for. They are putting off the old and taking on the new. They have a new life in Christ. He makes the point that there are certain patterns of behaviour that remain ignorant to the God revealed in Jesus. Paul is concerned with the behaviour of each individual Christian as well as the Christian community as a whole.
Christians are called to live and be seen to reflect the image of Christ. What greater calling is there?
I can’t help feeling that the woman I encountered should probably re-read this passage from Colossians, she was far from Christ-like in her approach to me, but she has a genuine faith and is doing her best to live out that faith. We all fall short sometime or other.
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori was visiting the Archbishop of Wales, who is also my bishop, last week. She said “I think the Anglican Communion is in the process of growing up and evolving into a set of relationships that will serve the wider church in the third millennium.” She was of course talking about the challenges that face the Anglican Communion and the way the Communion is currently divided over issues of homosexuality.
Paul wrote to the church in Colossae and effectively told them that they had to ‘grow-up’ if they were to live life in Christ. It is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn. It is so easy to produce the childish response when we are faced with a challenge to our firmly held beliefs. The church constantly faces new challenges and even now has to learn how to respond to these challenges with maturity. Even so, the age-old challenges of poverty and starvation remain. As Katherine Jefferts Schori is right in insisting that these issues are the most important when she says “I think in most provinces issues of life and death are much, much more central – starving people or disease that’s killing not just the Anglicans but everybody else in the nation.” We need to have a global outlook, to set aside personnal issues and look towards those who really need our help. There may no longer be “greek or Jew, circumcised and uncircumsized, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free”, but there should also no longer be any rich or poor, hungry or starving, diseased or cured. We are called to care for all those less well off than ourselves, if we persevere in persuing that calling, then one day then Christ will truly be “all and in all”!!
I have always thought that I would ask God why he created slugs, and I suppose that will still be my question. I wonder whether I should ask ‘why did you give us freedom, why did you allow us to hurt others?’, but I know the answer to that one…it goes along the lines of ‘because I love you, and because I had to let you spread your wings’!