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Women in the Bible, Church and World

1. It was women who shaped our relationship with God – men only controlled and managed it – or thought they did. Actually, we women allowed them to think that, lest they discover the truth, namely, that it was we women who really shaped people’s relationship with God. After all, every man on earth was born of a woman – even Jesus. But not all of them were as virtuous as the mother of Jesus.

2. It all started with Eve, who damaged that relationship by eating the forbidden fruit, and took the blame when Adam refused to.

3. Later there was Tamar, who prostituted herself in order to ensure that she would be mother to the next generation of Hebrew sons.

1. It continued with those marvellous, pugnacious and resourceful Jewish midwives, Puah and Shiphrah, who defied the orders of mighty Pharaoh and let the baby Jewish boys be born safely.

2. Then there was Jochebed, the mother of Moses, who hid him and then made arrangements for his survival.

3. And how did Moses avoid being killed by God? Because of his wife, who took a knife and circumcised him!

1. And don’t forget the professional prostitute, Rahab, who helped make possible the Hebrew conquest of the Promised Land.

2. There were women who saved Israel by their courage and resourcefulness: Deborah, who used her beauty and stealth to kill the enemy commander; Esther, the queen of a foreign ruler who used her position to protect her people from a wicked politician.

3. And, before we leave the Old Testament behind, Ruth, the woman from Moab, deserves a mention for her loyalty to her Hebrew mother-in-law and for her cleverness in persuading Boaz to marry her, thus becoming the great-grandmother of King David.

1. The New Testament abounds with astonishing women. Elizabeth, the aging mother of John the Baptist – what kind of mother must she have been to raise such a fire-brand of a son?

2. Mary, the mother of Jesus, of course, the ideal of motherhood, submissive, meek, obedient, loyal, loving, and every other womanly virtue extolled by male churchmen during the last 2000 years.

3. But she’s not the whole story of Christian womanhood. Oh no – far from it. Even in the New Testament, Philip’s daughters were prophetesses; Junia was an apostle; Lydia was the church founder and leader in Philippi; and Priscilla, the wife of Aquila, seems to have been an equal partner in a ministry of evangelism and teaching.

1. And has the history of the church been a male-only club? Certainly not! Not in pre-Norman times, anyway. In Celtic times, women often led monasteries, the prime example being the formidable Hilda of Whitby.

2. In fact, a thumb through the Oxford Book of Saints will astonish anyone who thinks that leadership in the church has always been male. Among them we have Dwynwen, Brigid, Non, Catherine of Sienna, Melangell, Margaret of Antioch, Ebbe, Cecilia (the patron saint of music), Perpetua, and Theresa of Avila (whose blessing we will use at the end of this act of worship).

3. In modern times, there have been some remarkable women missionaries. The indomitable Gladys Aylward springs to mind, marching across China with her orphans, serving God in a way and in a place where the wise, cautious men of the missionary societies had refused to go and refused to allow her to go either. It took more than a bunch of lily-livered men to stop a Gladys Aylward!

1. And the same goes for Jackie Pullinger who, against all common sense and against all the odds went to live among the opium addicts in Hong Kong, and rescued many of them from drugs and for Christ.

2. And behind all these, whose names will live on because someone took the trouble to write about their exploits, are millions and millions of unsung heroines, serving God perhaps with their mothering and caring, but also in professional occupations at all levels of government and business; serving God through music, art, poetry, drama; serving God in academia.

3. And serving God in local churches up and down the land, as ministers, Wardens, administrators, magazine editors, sidespeople, welcomers, flower arrangers, cleaners, worship leaders, Sunday School teachers and a host of other vital roles.

1. In fact, the men who hold office in our churches may not yet be willing to let women be Bishops, but make no mistake: it’s the women who run the churches – the men just think they do!

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