Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Lessons in the Stylist's Chair

After 2 ½ months I finally went to get my hair cut.  Not usually good at keeping on top of those kinds of things, even I had to admit my hair was a shaggy, shabby mess.  I confess, I did not deny, but I confessed to my stylist, that I had actually cut my own bangs.  Bless her, she said, “oh, honey I can fix that”. Now I not only look good, but I can see (check out the photo).

The first time I came to her salon, she asked me about my work, and she listened.  I told her about my call to ministry, about the work I do with suicide prevention and recovery, and about my new project on calling in Christ, on vocation.  Then she said, “I know exactly how to cut your hair, now,” and before I knew it, she had cut off about a pound of hair.  We talked about church, and faith, and our families, and promised to pray for each other.  We even wept together, and she told me she could hear my gift in my words.  That was before the covid-19 pandemic.  It was before the murder of George Floyd, before Breonna Taylor. This second time when she styled my hair, both of us wore masks, we spoke a little more about my hair, and the trouble I was having managing it.  She said she would have to take some more weight out of it.  Then I asked her, because I wanted to know, her perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement.  She answered my question with a question: “Do you want to know what I think as a black woman?”  And I said, “Yes, absolutely.  I want to listen.” Her scissors flew and her talk flowed.  Another three pounds of hair fell on the floor which she deftly brushed over to the vacuum opening before I could grasp the full impact of my layered and thinned hair; I felt like Absalom who cut and weighed his glorious tresses.  Yet as she shared her thoughts, her words were worth all my time and attention. You see, none of us can understand the problem or how to solve it unless we listen. 

Astonishingly, she said that she believed that the pandemic served God’s purpose to get our attention.  Those are the sure words of a prophetess.  Plague, sword, famine, flood. When God wants our attention, He is wont to use our circumstances, natural disasters, conflicts, and illnesses to get our attention.  The point?  When we are forcibly confined and unable to be busy, when we are quiet and isolated, we have time to see these red flags of our continuing failures as Christians.  We fail to love other people as Christ loved us, we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves, and we live by our own feeble idea of justice rather than God’s.  Her biggest concern was that the church was not rising to speak.  It was not enough for us to participate in the world’s solutions, the church had to speak.  She said, “Black Lives Matter is the world’s solution.  What is God’s solution? Reconciliation.”  I was floored!  I hadn’t expected that.  How must the church respond? With reconciliation.  Reconciliation.  A message that is as old as the church, as old as the cross and resurrection, as old as the Gospel: reconciliation.  She said that we had to do the hard work of reconciliation, and the church had to show others how to do it.  It is not enough to believe in Jesus for salvation.  It is not enough to get our fire insurance.  It is not enough to evangelize and get people – black and white – into the Kingdom, or at least into church.  Our churches are plagued by the idea that once someone is saved they will automatically start being loving and just.  But Jesus taught that being born again spiritually is like being born; babies need to be nurtured and fed and loved and cared for, taught to walk and to talk and to use the toilet.  How many times in Scripture are Christians condemned for immaturity, for being satisfied with spiritual milk and not moving on to the solid food of mature faith?  How do new believers know what is true and what is false?  How do we know what we consume is of God and will feed us, or what is of the world and needs to be weeded out of our lives and discarded?  Once we are saved, that is when our journey begins, and it is a journey of sanctification, of becoming more mature, of always becoming more Christlike.  And, by the way, we are called to do this in community, not alone.  We are to help each other build more faith, help each other love and worship God more, build more love for each other, obey Christ more, serve Christ and serve others more, find our calling and do it, invite many others to receive Christ by grace, and we can only do all that in community.  The great commission does not stop with evangelization, with baptizing new believers; we are called to teach all that Christ commanded us, and keep teaching it, until He returns.  We are ambassadors for Christ, preaching the message of reconciliation.  And to whom are we reconciled?  We are reconciled first to God by Jesus Christ, and then we are reconciled to each other by Jesus Christ.  The most startling thing my hairdresser said to me? “There shouldn’t be a black church and a white church, it should all be the same church.”

We tend to think that the virulent prejudices and weaknesses of our culture are new and unprecedented, but in the primitive church there was prejudice and conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians that was just as destructive.  Ephesians 2:11-22 gives us God’s solution:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called “the circumcision,” which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off [Gentiles] have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For He Himself is our peace, Who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility. By abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  And He came and preached peace to you who were far off [Gentiles] and to those who were near [Jews].  For Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in Whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. 

Paul is kind of a pro at mixing his metaphors, but the point is this: the Church of Jesus Christ is a faith community built on peace, the price of which was the blood of Christ Himself.  His sacrifice on the cross ended the hostility between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, and made one church out of two peoples in the first century, a reconciled church where everyone was not only a citizen of the Kingdom of God, but a family member.  Brothers and sisters, all together, regardless of ethnic or religious origin. No more aliens, no more outsiders, once we believe in Christ, there is no wall of hostility, there is only one body of Christ, only one bride of Christ, made by peace for peace.

Reconciliation happened in the primitive church through hard work, some of which happened in the first church council in Acts 15.  The law of the Jewish Christians, the paganism of the Gentile Christians had to be swept away to make room for grace, grace that when it was fully functional in the hearts and gatherings of believers blasted through their prejudices and traditions and surpassed the law and usurped unworthy idols.  We face the same challenges: dismantling our prejudices, traditions, and trashing the idols that keep us from being the family of God, then reconciling with brothers and sisters, coming together from every nation, tribe, and tongue to be one church with one voice. 

Just a couple more questions from my hairdresser:

What would happen if the church of Jesus Christ would awaken and take up leadership in this crisis by reconciling within the church and modeling reconciliation for the world?

What would happen if the Holy Spirit burned through the Church?

Two things you can do.  Pray, pray, pray, a lot.  Find someone to listen to, someone different from you, someone who shares your deep faith in Jesus Christ, someone whom you can trust. 

~ by Elizabeth Stone 

Sermons online at

Sunday, January 5, 2020

“Savor Christmas” by Elizabeth Stone. 

January 5, 2020.

Today (January 5th) is the twelfth day of Christmas; it is the last day of our nativity feast for the coming of King Jesus, and most of us, myself included, felt rushed through the holidays.  Our rhythm of celebration seems to be dictated by the malls and stores, who even as early as 4 p.m. Christmas day, race to sell off all the holiday items at increasing discounts, taking down their decorations and pushing us all into the next season they want to sell us. 
My mother was unmoved by the Christmas rush.  A good Anglican, Christmas decorations never came down until January 6th, or Epiphany, the Episcopal celebration of the arrival of the wise men.  Epiphany is an “ah-ha” moment, a time when divinity is revealed, or when we grasp the reality of a person or event suddenly and it has life-changing consequences.  We have discovered the divine identity of Jesus the Christ Child; how does that change us?  How does our life proceed?  Once the Christmas decorations are all put away, what new directions do we take?
Psalm 6 is one of David’s songs of lament, when his life was not going well.  We seem to forget – in the mad holiday rush – that lots of people are in sorrow, suffering from illness, want, or sorrow.  Maybe they, like David, are feeling angry, weak, sick, sinful, and shamed, far from mercy and far from the glory that God’s children are supposed to enjoy, especially at Christmas.  At the end of his prayer, David says: “Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.  The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer.”  What greater gift can there be than to be heard by God?  What greater evidence of grace is there than the coming of Jesus Christ to save us, the ultimate answer to every prayer? If this has been a tough holiday season for you, let me assure you that you haven’t missed it.  You have been heard. 
Savor Christmas.  Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol says: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Charles Dickens had it right; the gift of Christmas is not to be pigeon-holed at the end of December and then packed up for eleven months.  The love of God that came to us at Christmas is an all the time gift. 
Tomorrow I will start taking down my decorations, because, after all, I am a true daughter of my mother.  But I will leave out a candle, something to remind me of Christ, the light of the world that came and dwelt among us, the guarantee that no matter what, our prayers are always heard. 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Beyond Church 12/22/2019

Dethroned Royalty by Elizabeth Stone

And the angel said unto her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David.  And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His Kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:30-33

Dethroned royalty.  That was the tribe of Judah and the house of David when the angel Gabriel came to announce to Mary that she would bear the King of Israel.  Caesar was on the throne of Rome, and Herod was ruling Judea (and he was Rome’s puppet and had no Biblical right to rule) so we can understand Mary’s confusion. Her betrothed husband was a carpenter, her people lived in poverty trying to eek out a living under the Roman occupation.  Not what we usually associate with royalty.  Kings are rich and live in palaces and wear great clothes and have political power over all the people in the Kingdom.  They have servants and armies and people obey them.  But not dethroned royalty.  When the people of France revolted against their monarchy, Louis XVI, his family, and all his courtiers were guillotined.  When Tsar Nicholas of Russia was dethroned, he and his family were assassinated.  And when the house of David faltered, the line of David survived, but his heirs lived in poverty and obscurity.  Dethroned royalty can be a threat to new rulers, so if they are not dead, they had better be powerless.  

How was the Kingship of Jesus Christ established?  Herod tries to kill Him when He is just a baby.  And then He, like His earthly parents, lives in obscurity, and learns and works at Joseph’s trade.  When He does come into the public eye, it is not as a military leader, but as a preacher, homeless and camping out in the open, traveling from place to place teaching about the Kingdom of God.  When He is illegally arrested and faces trial, He tells Pilate that His Kingship is not of this world.  Jesus takes up His royal position through suffering; He dies for us.  Now, after His death and resurrection He is King, seated in Heaven, and reigning with power.  Just as the angel Gabriel said, it is a forever throne and a forever Kingdom.  Every promise to David for a permanent kingship is fulfilled in Jesus Christ because Jesus reigns as King in eternity. 

The Bible tells us we are – like our Savior – royalty.  But also like Him, our riches, our power, are not of this world.  Like Him we live in obscurity and we work for a living, our service and obedience are to God.  Like Him we tell others about the Kingdom of God, and how to get there. And as we do, God’s family grows, and royal children are born of the Spirit.  We follow King Jesus imitating His life, so that in eternity He will crown us as His own. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Beyond Church 12/15/2020

Backwards Angels by Elizabeth Stone
Hebrews 5:7-14

Thanks to my children and grandchildren, my Christmas tree is up.  Knowing how important it is to  me, whoever comes for Thanksgiving brings the tree in, sets it up, adds lights that actually work, and decorates it. This year my son dragged in all the Christmas boxes, and his two toddler daughters helped Daddy and Grandpa decorate.  When the average height of the decorators is about two feet, we have a superabundance of ornaments on the lower branches, and some of the angels are, well, backwards.  One child put all of her ornaments on one branch, the other spread hers across maybe three.  But they were so proud, and they had such a good time.  It is expected because they are small, and immature, and super cute. 

Christmas brings us all back home, if not physically then at least emotionally.  Most of us have wonder-filled memories of childhood Christmases, and some do not, but the longing for home, for a simpler time, for love and joy, for a safe place at the holidays, is universal.  Christmas is, after all, about love; God’s love that sent His one and only Son for us, the greatest gift, the indescribable gift.  As we grow up, we become the providers for Christmas joy to the younger generation, the ones who are responsible for the simple, safe, love-filled celebration for the children, so I have to ask, are your angels backwards?

The author of Hebrews calls us to mature faith in Christ.  The Jewish believers have become dull of hearing, and have stalled out in their faith-walk.  All their angels are backwards and in the same spot. They haven’t grown up in Christ, they are still drinking milk, they haven’t advanced to the solid spiritual food of the mature.  Over and over they need to hear the basic principles of the oracles of God, over and over they need to review the discernment that makes them sharp enough to tell good from evil.  Their mature correspondent reminds them about Jesus’ time on earth, and points them to His prayers of Gethsemane and His passion:

In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him Who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.  Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.  And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Milchizedek.  (Hebrews 5:7-10)

What is striking about this is: Jesus was heard.  God heard every prayer that Jesus spoke, every request that Jesus made when He was on earth.  He was heard because of His reverence for His Father.  And He obeyed, not because it was easy, but because the goal was that He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.  Like our Savior, we too are heard, and we also must learn obedience by constant practice, by opening our ears to the deep things of God so we can discern good from evil, and do the good.  Mature Christians are invested in God’s purposes, and over time, we learn that those purposes always include His very best for us.

My granddaughters will grow up, and will know the backside of an angel from the front, and will be able to reach the highest branches. Will they understand the reality of Christmas?  Will they find their own way to the Source of eternal salvation?  Only if we who know Christ have open ears to His Word, and are living the example of prayer and obedience, and only if we tell them.  It is still true that we who are mature create the love and joy of Christmas for the young. You can move the ornaments around after they are asleep, but our witness, our sharing Jesus’ birth story, our worship with them, and above all our walk of obedience will call children to the Christ-child for eternity, which is the great WHY of Christmas.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Before Church ~ Sunday November 24, 2019

Consider Your Calling I Corinthians 1:18-31

We take ourselves way too seriously.  Have you watched the news lately?  Good for you, it’s really best to avoid the national outlets.  But if you have, like me you have seen all of the politicians screaming and yelling, people attacking one another, and it is so much noise. The wise, the scribes, the debaters of this age are as foolish in God’s eyes as were those of Paul’s time.  Culture holds up as sages: politicians, athletes, authors and speakers, entertainers, the rich who have and can make money, all of whom tell people exactly what they want to hear and who offer vain foolish promises they can never fulfill.  God’s wisdom is exactly opposite to the world’s; God’s power is exactly opposite of the world’s; God’s wisdom and power is the cross.

Cross = a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Greeks.
Cross = power of God to us who are being saved

Consider your calling.  Consider your calling not in the light of your abilities, gifts, or skills, but in light of what God has done – the cross of Christ.  Our calling is first to participate in the folly and weakness of God, the illogical upside-down plan of salvation that is the cross, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles.  Every human being falls into one of those two categories: those who bark their shins on the great big Cornerstone that the builders rejected, or those who dismiss salvation as complete foolishness.  That was us before we were called; it is the default setting for human souls.  Once we have received the love and grace of Christ, the foolishness of God, the weakness of God, these become our lifeline.  After we are redeemed, we understand that the cross is the power of, the wisdom of, salvation; we are spiritually dead and powerless without Christ. With Christ we have divine wisdom and power, upside-down eternal wisdom and power. 

“For consider your calling, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world – even things that are not – to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, Who God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (vs. 26-31).

Whatever calling we do, whatever mission we accept from God, it all starts with the call to the cross, to the folly and weakness of God.  Purpose, vision, mission, vocation, all flow from salvation; the simple surrender to the love of Christ displayed on the cross, the most illogical and incomprehensible example of servant leadership, of forgiveness, of grace – God’s spiritual buy-back of our souls in the sacrifice of His Son. 

What passes for wisdom in our time is what’s popular; the story du jour with no truth, no spiritual backbone, no longevity; worldly power is using force to control others.  But God’s wisdom and power are eternal and lasting, forever truth and forever strength that from age to age reveal the love of Christ in the cross.  From this salvation we also receive the righteousness, the redemption, the sanctification of Christ.  So consider your calling in light of the cross, and don’t take yourself too seriously. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Timing is Everything
by Elizabeth Stone

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end."  Ecclesiastes 3:11

I've been reading Ecclesiastes and Solomon was experiencing some severe depression.  There is this sense of futility to the opening chapters, but by the end of the book he has worked through a lot of his issues.  You have to read the whole book to get the picture, but it is oh so easy - especially for those of us who have lived awhile - to look back on the years and feel the same sense of vanity and uselessness, of not having done enough or not having fulfilled dreams and aspirations.  Ecclesiastes asks the questions - good questions - that all humans face.  "Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky. . ."  John Lennon posited the same questions in his lyrics, but the problem is, with no religion, no faith, no eternity, there is also no hope.  If we have no expectation of life after death, no expectation of grace and forgiveness, no conviction that God will put all things right, and the brokenness of the world will never be healed, it makes for a sad depressing life.  Solomon of all people had it all: power, wealth, education, wisdom, accomplishments, luxury, love, glory, etc., and yet with all the best the world has to offer, he hits a mid-life crisis, or maybe a late in life crisis, and asks all the right questions.  What is the use of all our human endeavors if we just return to dust?  
The answer: right here in chapter 3 Solomon realizes that not only does everything (and everyone) have seasons of beauty that God gives, but eternity is in our minds.  We have the capability of imagining that there is a Heaven, and that there is a time when all the problems of the world, all the sin, and misery, the devil's work, and even death will all end and we will live in eternity with God.  This perfection that we can clearly grasp with our limited imperfect minds is evidence that we are created for immortality.  Solomon didn't get to see it, but he had enough wisdom to ask the right questions.  And we, living in post-resurrection times, know that the answer is: Jesus.  Because of Christ the door to Heaven stands open for anyone who wishes to go through, for anyone who will lay hold of His salvation.  Solomon asked the question, Jesus is the resounding answer.  John Lennon makes the point for us: it actually takes some effort to imagine that there is no Heaven, because we were made for eternity, we were made to believe in God.  Created in God's image, our minds and souls naturally understand eternity, and yearn for it.  And God also yearns jealously for our spirits as well, because He has made a way for us to spend it with Him.  The light of eternity shining on us now makes the blessings of life sweeter, the suffering easier to bear, and the promise of life eternal gives us all the hope we need.  
The butterfly has a season of being a wriggly caterpillar, but eventually it has a season of being a beautiful butterfly.  Sometimes it takes longer than we wish for things to turn out right, and a season of beauty to begin.  But after all the ups and downs of life, eventually, like the butterfly, we will be permanently changed into something beautiful, something glorious, an eternal soul in shining glory. And we will be reunited with our God who made us with this concept of an eternity, beckoning us to our Heavenly home. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Not Skirting the Issue

Before Church: Sunday October 27, 2019
by Elizabeth Stone

A sermon written for 6/22/2008 and edited for 9/22/2019.  Longer than my usual, but in view of requests for the message, as well as the timeliness of the subject in the church, thought I would share.  

And after that, I will pour out my Spirit on all people;
your sons and your daughters will prophecy,
your old men will dream dreams,
and your young men will see visions. 
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days. ~ Joel 2:28,29

Last week I promised to take on the elephant in the room, so today we are going to talk about women in ministry.  Good, honest Christians come down on both sides of this debate.  Is it Scriptural to ordain women, to let them teach, preach or hold office, or is it not?  In the end analysis, that is the only question that matters.  So today I would like to take you on a journey to help form your own theology of women in ministry. 
Back in the seventies, an Episcopal bishop ordained three women to the priesthood against church law, and they were big news on TV.  Arrogant and defiant, they flaunted church polity using ordination as a protest.  Ministry was not about a call God placed on their hearts; they wanted a job that the church told them they could not have because of their gender.  Their feminism pre-empted faith and their Christian witness.  Had they in humility declared that God had put a Jeremiah-like fire in their hearts, and they had to preach or be consumed with it, I could have sympathized.  Instead their attitude shamed me as a woman, and I was pretty well convinced that women shouldn’t be ministers.  As the years rolled by, more and more denominations ordained women, and I hate to be hard on my own sex, but so many of them showed the same arrogance and defiance.  Many women clergy just didn’t do the job well; it disheartened me that once having attained what they wanted, they didn’t go at it with all their heart and soul, and serve with excellence.  Thus, when I went to college, in spite of all the best efforts of the Religious Studies department to woo me away from mathematics, I was convinced that I had no future in vocational ministry. 
Exposure to some excellent women in ministry began to change my mind; women pastors and seminary professors doing their jobs well challenged me to think that women’s callings might include ministry.  The Rev. Dr. Roberta Croker, the first woman ordained by the Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery in 1977, is the most astounding pastor I ever met: kind, compassionate, smart, and with a great work ethic.  She mentored both Greg and me, and all of her advice was golden.  Never have I seen anyone with a more passionate pastor’s heart, never have I been so loved and supported in ministry.  She used to laugh so heartily as she said, “I can’t imagine anything better than getting paid for loving Christ, just for loving Christ!”  When you realize that as she spent herself in service to others she was also battling cancer, her ministry is even more amazing. 
As you can imagine, this towering example of God’s love in action brought me to a faith crisis.  While more and more of my work in education faded, and ministry came to the forefront, I had to get into the Scriptures to see if women were allowed to do the job that more and more I felt called to do.  And today I will tell you, that if I believed I was truly in violation of God’s Word, then I would resign at this moment and never do pastoral ministry again.  So we have to ask: what does the Word of God say about women in ministry?
First question: where did the inequality of the sexes come from?  From Genesis, of course.  God created the man and woman as equal partners.  Although Eve was created second, she was not subordinate.  God’s parade of critters in Genesis 2 convinces Adam that he needs a human helpmeet, someone like him.  The Hebrew word “ezer” meaning “help” is the same word used to describe God as our helper, and word for “meet” best translated as “equal” and “similar.” Therefore Adam’s helpmeet cannot be inferior to him.  Adam and Eve are equal stewards, equal bearers of the God-image.  Before the fall marriage was perfect.  Human relationships were perfect.  All equal.  No tension.  When did it all go off the rails?  After the fall, when both Adam and Eve equally receive judgment.  Genesis 3:16 tells us the relationship between them was ruptured; Eve will desire her husband, yet Adam shall rule over her. The Hebrew here could also be translated as Eve desiring her husband’s authority. The inequality of the sexes we see in history is a result of the fall. 
As Christians we believe that everything is redeemed in Christ.  All of our sins, all of our curses, everything was bought back by Jesus on the cross and confirmed in His resurrection.  And although we live in the time of already and not yet (already saved, not yet glorified), we see the seeds of redemption sprinkled throughout the Bible, seeds that show us a glimmer of Heaven here on earth.  Spiritual victories, God’s people coming into their own, and the constant evidence of Christ’s salvation coming and happening and continuing even up to today.  This guarantee assures us that when Christ comes again, eternal perfection will set in, everything will be made right.  So we have to ask: are there seeds of Biblical equality that we see in redemptive history? In the Old Testament?  In the New? Who are the heroines of the Bible, the women who made an impact for God?  What was their historical and cultural context?  Well, strap on your seat belts, ‘cause here we go:
Let’s start with the Law; God’s temporary fix until the time of grace.  And let’s not rip it out of its context and judge it by our modern standards.  For its time in history, the Law of Moses was far and away the best religious and cultural environment for women, more than any other ancient nation.   No other judicial system valued women and protected their rights the way the Hebrews did; for example, women could inherit property, and they could not be sold into slavery. They could be married off, but not enslaved (I know, some of you ladies think it’s the same thing – that’s the fall talking – marriage isn’t slavery).
There’s a long list of extraordinary women in the Old Testament:  Miriam led worship in Exodus 15:20, affirmed in Micah 6:4 “I sent Moses to lead you, and also Aaron and Miriam.”  When the Tent of Meeting was first set up by Moses, women ministered at the entrance.  They even donated their bronze mirrors as an offering (awesome offering for any woman, to give up her mirror!). Rahab rescued the two male spies in Joshua 2.  Hannah composed Scripture recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 as did the mother of King Lemuel in Proverbs 31; the midwives in Exodus and later Esther are women who all stopped the annihilation of the Jews.  Ruth was more to Naomi than seven sons, becoming the wife of Obed and the ancestress of David and Jesus; Abigail saved David from slaughtering the household of her foolish husband, Nabal, in 1 Samuel; in 1 Chronicles 34:14-28 Huldah was a prophetess who gave King Josiah counsel.  When the temple was rebuilt choirs included male and female singers.  The Daughters of Zion figure largely in the Old Testament prophets, women called out to be a voice of joy and of promise.  Psalm 68:11 contains a specifically feminine gender, plural in the original Hebrew, and the NASB and ESV translate accurately: “The LORD gave the command; the women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host.” The most influential woman in the Old Testament has to be Deborah in Judges 4 & 5; not only was she a judge who governed the whole nation of Israel, not only was she the general of the Israelite army, but she was a prophetess, the prophetess who was the spiritual leader of the people of God.  If you want a one-word answer to whether or not women should lead, it has to be: Deborah.
Fast forward to the New Testament. Extraordinary in His time, the first thing a careful reader of the Gospels notices is that the Lord Jesus treated women well, as equals.  Christ spoke with them, taught them, healed them, and partnered with them in ministry.  He saw and understood the suffering of women in His culture and time better than anyone else.  He loved His mother Mary and submitted to her authority (Luke 2:51).  Jesus honors the widow who has only a meagre offering of a mite to give (Luke 21:1-4). In Nain He raises the widow’s only son who is not only her beloved child but her only financial security for the future (Luke 7:11-17), and He turns water into wine at the wedding in Cana at His mother’s request (John 2).  More than that, he accepts material support from women who were, in effect, the breadwinners for his ministry (Luke 8:3).  And in Luke 13 the Lord Jesus heals a woman crippled and bent over for 18 years, welcoming her into the “men’s only” section of the synagogue on the Sabbath day, proclaiming her freedom from the demon that bound her and then: touching her, completely against cultural practice and tradition.  When she glorifies God for her healing, Jesus doesn’t silence her, but lets her proclaim the high praises of God in the congregation.  His first missionary is the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.  When she brings her whole town to hear Jesus, He doesn’t say, “You stupid woman; what do you mean by bringing all these people to hear the good news?!”  No, He teaches them.  And then He stays with them.  Isn’t that our job, to bring others to Jesus?         
In Christ’s passion and death, it was the women who were the most faithful. The Gospels are unanimous in praising the women who followed Jesus through the steps to Golgotha, stayed with Him through the bloody hours, and watched to see where He was laid.  As if in answer to their faithful vigil, while many of the disciples cowered in a room or even denied Him, Jesus reveals Himself first to women after His resurrection.  When they make their way to the tomb early on the first day after the Sabbath, it is the women who are greeted with the angelic manifestations announcing the resurrection of the Lord, “He has risen!” “He is risen indeed!” And it is Mary who has the first sight of the resurrected Jesus.  In characteristic form, it is the women who are quick to believe the glorious news, while the disciples are eventually convinced through further testimony and their own encounters with the risen Lord.  These women become the first evangelists, sent by Jesus Christ to tell others the good news of the full Gospel: “Go and tell My disciples.”.  Go and tell.
Pentecost.  When the Holy Spirit falls on the gathered disciples in Acts 2, the assembled group is 120 people, male and female, and the Bible says that they all were filled with the Spirit and began to speak in other languages.  When a crowd gathers, Peter uses today’s verses from the Old Testament to explain what is happening to these people.  It is no accident that these Scriptures say, “I will pour out My Spirit on all people, and your sons and daughters will prophesy,” and “Even on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days”. Peter chooses this particular prophecy to describe what was going on.  Everyone there, regardless of their sex, was telling the glories of God and communicating the Gospel.  Joel foresaw a time when everyone would experience Spirit-enabled prophecy, and Peter declares “This is it!” This is the start of that epoch. 
After Pentecost, a revolution of faith began sweeping the ancient world, and house churches sprang up all over the Mediterranean Basin, many of which were held in the homes of prominent women, notably Lydia (Acts 16:11ff), and Nympha (Colossians 4:15).  Hosting a house church meant you were also a leader of the church.  Paul identifies fellow workers such as Priscilla (Romans 16:3,4) Syntyche and Euodia (Philippians 4:3) all women who have labored with him in ministry.  Priscilla was specifically involved with team teaching with her husband, and since Scripture names her first, it suggests that she was the lead teacher.  Moreover, the only pupil mentioned by name in Scripture under Priscilla’s tutelage was a man.  Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis are women mentioned in Romans 16.  Prophetesses speak in the early church.  Anna prophesied over Jesus when He was born (Luke 2:36-38), and there were four daughters of Phillip who prophesied (Acts 21:9).  Just as in the Old Testament, the office of prophetess is affirmed in the New.  Junia, a female, is named as an apostle in Romans 16:7, the highest office of the primitive church. 
Conclusion: faith communities of ancient Israel and the early church not only included women, but allowed them prominent positions as prophetesses, leaders, financial supporters, missionaries, evangelists, teachers, and heralds of salvation.  Example after example piles up in the Scriptures so that the evidence to support women’s full integration at all levels of ministry is overwhelming.  These aren’t just seeds of equality in redemptive history, they are full grown redwoods.  However, there are three passages in the Pauline letters, I Corinthians 11,                  I Corinthians 14, and I Timothy 2, that specifically address women’s role in public worship, and we cannot just set them aside.  These are the Scriptures that are most often quoted by Christians who want to exclude women from pastoral ministry.  And any woman who wants to do the job that I am doing must wrestle with these verses. 
I Corinthians 11: 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head and every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head.
I Corinthians 14:33-35 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.  As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches.  They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.  If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
I Timothy 2:11-15 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission, I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man, she must be silent.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.  But women shall be kept safe through childbirth, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety. 
So how do we reconcile this with the overwhelming evidence of women’s ministry in the Bible?  We look at it in its context, the surrounding verses and what we know about the book.  And we expand our search to look at other Scripture, because Scripture interprets Scripture.   Where there’s confusion, we see what else in the Word applies.  Mike announced in Sunday school that he has eleven pages, so if I miss anything, follow up with him. 
In I Corinthians, Paul in chapter 11 tells women to pray and prophesy in public worship with their heads covered, but in chapter 14 tells them to be silent.  Both are written by Paul, both are in the same letter.  How can women be silent while praying or prophesying?  And then, the real kicker, he throws in that we should be silent and in submission as the Law says.  As the Law says?  Excuse me?  Paul is the one who teaches that the Law was abolished by grace! Romans 6:14 says “For you are not under the law but under grace.”  And chapter 7:6 “But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.”  Every letter that Paul writes affirms that the law is dead, and is a dead-end road for salvation.  The only way we get to heaven is through the new order that Christ created, the grace available to us through the cross.  Galatians 3:10, “All who rely on works of the law are under a curse,” and verse 13 declares that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law. . .”  Chapter 5:4 says “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law.”. Putting women under the Law sends us right back into the “before Jesus” time, and makes us live under the curse of trying to fulfill the Law instead of enjoying God’s grace.  
The Timothy passage is more complicated.   Here a woman is not allowed to teach or have authority over a man.  Why?  Because Eve’s the one who was deceived and became a sinner.  But again, this passage contradicts Paul’s writing in Romans 5 that identifies Adam as the sinner, over and over.  “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, . . . the transgression of Adam. . .”  Remember Adam was present in Genesis 3 when Eve was having her fateful dialogue with the serpent.  Why didn’t he speak?  Why didn’t he challenge the serpent?  And why would God curse Adam if Eve were the only one to have sinned?  God made it clear that they were both guilty, and Paul, in his other writings, concurs.  Also, in all three of these passages, the Greek word for “woman” can equally be translated “wife”; the word for “man” as “husband.”  Reasonably, these passages could read that a wife not teach or have authority over her own husband in public worship.  In the Timothy passage it makes sense because the preservation of the hierarchy within the family is what saves a woman through childbirth.  Why would childbirth be mentioned in the context of the church?  It wouldn’t.  It would, however, make sense within the confines of family.  Plus the Greek takes us from the singular “she” to the plural “they” in that verse: “But she shall be saved through childbirth if they continue in faith. . .” She, the wife, will be safe through childbirth, if they, husband and wife, continue in faith. 
Silent. The word “sigao” that is translated as “silent” in I Corinthians can also be translated as “hold your peace.”  That has a whole different connotation than mere silence; to hold our peace means that we keep quiet for a reason, we are trying to promote peace rather than conflict.  The Timothy passage goes even further with the idea of peace because this word translated as “silent” is “hesychia,” one of the rarest words in Koine Greek.  It is used perhaps twice in the whole New Testament, and outside the Bible only once.  Other more common words that mean “silent” were not chosen.  “Hesychia” means not just “to be at peace with others” but also means “ending warfare”, and the “cessation of hostilities”.  The logical conclusion is that both in Corinth and in Timothy’s church there were women, hostile women, battling things out in public during worship.  It’s like those people who fight with their spouses on Facebook; please, please, please, keep it off the internet. Public worship should not be a battleground between husbands and wives, between church members and leadership.  Stop fighting; be at peace with others.
Are there any other groups that get so roundly rebuked in the New Testament?  Sure are.  False teachers.  II Peter 2 is entirely devoted to condemning false prophets and teachers, the whole lot of them.  And every noun and verb in the chapter is masculine: male false prophets, male false teachers.  Paul kicks them up in Galatians and Philippians, too, the Judaizers who wanted every male Christian to be circumcised; he calls them “dogs” and “mutilators of the flesh.” John calls false prophets the spirit of antichrist.  Conclusion? Any group that is doing something that harms the church, they need to stop, male or female. Be nice. Get along.  Be at peace. Teach the truth.
More generally, in Galatians Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all are one in Christ Jesus.” If this is true, then all of us are equal in faith and in practice.  And I Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” There is no gender mentioned in these verses; the priesthood of all believers includes women. 
            Tractors, epidurals, and tambourines.  The judgments of Genesis 3 restrict our sin and slow us
down, reminding us that we need God.  From the time of the fall, the people of God have worked to undo the curses, but Christ’s grace is the final solution.  Yet until He returns we have responsibility to redeem this creation, to share the freedom of the children of God with every person, to reverse the curse.  So when a farmer is faced with cursed ground, what does he do?  Does he dig in the soil with his fingernails?  No, he uses his gifts and resources to buy and use a tractor.  When a woman is in childbirth, does she endure the unnecessary pain?  No, she uses the gifts and resources available to her in modern medicine to get an epidural.  In exactly the same way, it is un-Scriptural to maintain the inequality of the sexes which threatens to squelch more than half of the church from using their gifts and sharing the good news.  With Miriam we women take up our tambourines and lead worship, because women are still called to be prophetesses and apostles and teachers and the hosts of God’s people.  If Christ’s cross truly brings us back to pre-fall conditions, then the inequality of the sexes has been handled by grace, and women are elevated once more to serve in all contexts of the church.  Ladies, pick up your tambourines! 

For further reading: 
Beyond the Curse by Aida Besancon Spencer
Discovering Biblical Equality,  Pierce and Grouothuis, editors

I am greatly indebted to my wonderful husband, Rev. Greg Stone, author of a masterful exegesis paper on I Timothy 2, with a word study on hesychia.