Our passages this Sunday were Exodus 36:8-19 and 1 Corinthians 14:26-40.
It would be quite a shame if I were to talk about the new baby and fail to post a picture of him with his proud (although tired after church) Auntie:
Well, this is certainly an interesting passage for me to stand up here and preach on. I wonder how many people heard me read the sentence, “Women should remain silent in the churches.” And thought, “Now what on earth is she going to do with THAT?!” Because let’s face it. . . rarely have I, a woman, been known to remain silent in church. I’m so talkative in church, at some point people started saying, “Just give that woman a microphone and make it her job to talk in church.”
Yet, here we read, “. . .it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
This is a weird sentence, even for Paul because back in this same letter in 11:5, he talks about when women prophesy and pray. He was also known to have worked closely with women who were anything but silent in the new Christian movement. They were leaders and speakers as well.
This is also an odd interjection when we look at the context of what’s been happening in this letter. Paul has been talking about how to be the Body of Christ and how we all have an important role to play. Then he goes into this section about worshiping God decently and in order, which is all fine, but then he drops in this thing about women staying silent and moves right back to orderly worship.
In this chapter, following his encouragement about spiritual gifts and love and community, Paul is talking about order in the church service. He has covered our interactions with one another and now, at the very climax of his letter, he looks at how we interact with God. His goal is not prescription for every church’s worship, but rather he’s giving this church ways to make sure everyone understands what’s happening. There shouldn’t be a bunch of people speaking in tongues that aren’t interpreted. There shouldn’t be chatter in the back from those who don’t understand, they should ask later about the things they didn’t understand. Questions are good, but there is a time and a place for them.
I really like how Eugene Peterson translates this passage in The Message translation of the Bible.
“Wives must not disrupt worship, talking when they should be listening, asking questions that could more appropriately be asked of their husbands at home. God’s Book of the law guides our manners and customs here. Wives have no license to use the time of worship for unwarranted speaking. Do you—both women and men—imagine that you’re a sacred oracle determining what’s right and wrong? Do you think everything revolves around you?”
The way that traditions like ours - denominations who fully affirm the ordination of women as elders and deacons and teachers and preachers – interpret this passage is not that women should never be allowed to teach or preach or lead, but rather that this is an extension of what Paul is saying in regards to order in worship. It’s a recognition that there is something special in our worship of God and we need to be mindful of that. Recently, we read together about the call of Moses in which he heard the voice of God and he took off his shoes he was so in awe. We need to recapture that awe and respect when we’re in the presence of God, says Paul.
We Presbyterians love things to be decent and in order. In fact, that’s the line I use when my kids are a little too wild. “Remember we’re Presbyterian, children! We walk through the grocery store decently and in order.” This is a great passage of scripture for Presbyterians. We can, for example, use this passage if we want to try to justify a very rigid liturgy and lots of pomp and formality on Sunday morning. After all, Paul is speaking out against chaotic church services here. But to say that he’s demanding we be orderly and organized to the point of being stuffy is taking this passage too far in the other direction. Any time we try to take a passage like this and try to make hard rules out of it, we’re missing the point. This isn’t as much about rules for worship as it is remembering what worship is.
There are many things that Sunday morning becomes for us in the shuffle of life. Sometimes it becomes mere tradition. It’s not that tradition is bad, in fact tradition is important on Sunday morning. But if it’s all about tradition and not about worshipping, we’ve missed Paul’s point. Sometimes it becomes for us the one time in the week we’ve set aside for learning about God, we’re like the women who are chattering distractedly in the back of the church when they should be setting aside learning time throughout the week. Sometimes it becomes rigid – something we can’t change. But even in the lines that Paul is drawing in this morning’s passage are flexible. Yeah, if there’s too much chaos, it’s hard to worship together as a community. And that’s his warning. But as we see from the chapters that have preceded this one, he’s also encouraging the church to embrace the gifts and passions and personalities and histories and whole being of everyone in the community. Any time we’re not doing that, we need to grow and change as a body. All of us have skills and talents that are meant to be used. Just as all those with skill were called upon to help build the tabernacle, all those with skill – which is all of us – are called upon to build the church today. That can’t happen when the rules are too rigid, when it’s all too structured.
My friends, when we gather together on Sunday morning, God is present. We are standing on holy ground. Look around you.
This place is full of the presence of God.
Soak that in.
One of my favorite authors is Sörjen Kierkegaard. In a lovely little book called Purity of Heart, he sets up a great illustration to help us frame the idea of worship. He talks about the sanctuary as a theater. Normally when you think of a theater, the people in the seats, or the pews in this case, are the audience. The people up on stage, or in this case behind the pulpit and lectern, are the actors. But Kierkegaard says that’s all wrong. We’re all here to participate in the worship, not just to sit back and enjoy the show. He says that the people in the pews are in fact the actors. Those up behind the lectern and the pulpit are the prompters. We’re the ones holding the cue cards for you all. And GOD is the audience.
God is the audience. The really present right here with us in this place audience. And we are here to offer our best to God. Not some stuffy formal thing we do just because that’s what the rules say to do. Not some crazy willy nilly thing where people just do whatever. This is where we come together to take all our gifts, all that we’ve been learning and doing throughout the week – after all the actors have to rehearse - all that we are worried about or excited about, all of our shame, all of our triumph, everything . . . and present it to God. We are to present it to God in a way that is mindful that this is GOD that we present it to. We are standing on holy ground.
That’s what we’re here for. This isn’t just an organized hour on Sunday morning. This is the combination of all the days in the week leading up to it for each of us. We gather together to present it all to God and this becomes holy ground.