There are passages in Scripture that we'd rather avoid, and then there are passages that we wish would be excised from the Bible altogether. That's probably the case with the first two readings -- from Judges and 1 Timothy. In the first a community leader pledges to offer a human sacrifice in exchange for victory -- and it ends up being his daughter. We grieve with his decision, but what if it had been someone else -- would that make it easier for us? Then there's the reading from 1 Timothy that causes all sorts of problems for women in the church. We might be able to shake ourselves loose from it by separating it from Paul, but does that really help in the end. It might help our view of Paul, but it's still in the Bible. Both texts might make us join Jesus in his act of weeping. Of course, in this case it's weeping for Jerusalem, whose fate is determined by its failure to believe. This passage isn't quite as problematic, but it does raise issues about divine judgment and disastrous events. I invite you to consider these passages chosen by David Ackerman for his Beyond the Lectionary -- choices that raise questions of how women and children are treated inside and outside the church. Beyond this, these texts prod us to dig deeper into the Scriptures and discern a responsible way of reading that respects the integrity of the text and the broader message of the Scriptures that is rooted in God's love for Creation.
“Forgive Us Our Sexism”
Call to Worship: Psalm 57:1-3 NRSV
One: Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.
Many: I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
One: He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me.
Many: God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.
Gathering Prayer: Be with us, God, as we continue on our journey during this Lenten season. As we reflect on the injustices faced by women in the world today, empower us to act boldly on behalf of all women who suffer oppression.
Confession: Down through the ages to this very moment, women and children have suffered unjustly from evils committed by men that range from sexist discrimination to brutal violence. We confess that too often we have been complacent in this “man’s world” where we look the other way as injustices are perpetrated. These evils hurt not only the women and children who are victims but also the men who are both perpetrators and victims. Forgive us, God. Help us to break the cycle of abuse that keeps so many people enslaved in gender-based violence.
Assurance: God sets us free to have the kind of power-balanced relationships that make us most human. Let us also work to liberate others, so the world may know the blessings of justice.
Scriptures: Judges 11:29-40 – “Jephthah’s Daughter”
1 Timothy 2:11-15 – “How Women Will Be Saved”
Luke 19:41-44 – “Jesus Weeps for Jerusalem”
Commentaries and sermon ideas are available in Beyond the Lectionary.
- What do we make of a story like Jephthah’s (unnamed!) daughter in Judges 11? What does it reveal about human sacrifice in Biblical times? While we don’t know how old Jephthah’s daughter was, how does this text highlight atrocities against women and children in scripture? Also, what do you make of the young woman’s response to her father’s horrifying vow? In what ways does this story dramatically display differences between Biblical times and today?
- While some consider the New Testament to have more “enlightened” attitudes towards women, how does today’s reading from 1 Timothy 2 bring that into question? Why would the author of 1 Timothy want to silence women? What flaws do you see in his argument about Adam and Eve in verses 13-14? Does the reference to childbearing in verse 15 mean that childless women are condemned? Do you think that this is a writing more influenced by the culture of the time rather than God’s message for 21st century Christians? How do we make the case for that?
- Since Luke was probably written after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, how do you think that the first hearers of this gospel would have responded to today’s selection from chapter 19? Are there times when we fail to recognize the time of God’s visitation in our lives? What are some things that you think we need to weep for or repent of today?
- How has the Bible been misused to marginalize or oppress women and/or children? Is the Bible uniform in its treatments and understanding of women? Where may we find liberating messages for women in the Bible, and what do we do when certain Biblical texts are cited in order to keep women in imbalanced power relationships to men?
Prayer of Thanksgiving: Thank you, God, for breaking down barriers of gender inequality in our world. As we work for justice, may we proclaim your liberating good news with our lives!
Benediction: God has changed the power dynamics of life so that women and children may no longer feel the weight of the oppression of this world. As we go today, let us work for a world where this life-giving vision becomes a reality. Amen.