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s132o03 Lockleys 17th August 2003 Sunday 20

"Lay aside immaturity, and live" Proverbs 9.6

Wisdom here is conceived as female but patriarchal societies did not extend much dignity to women - and I suspect that wisdom was conceived as female so that men would be attracted to her. Women simply didn't count - they were meant to do as they were told. Yet men are also not thought of especially highly, they need to be seduced with bread and wine, even by Wisdom herself :-) What was the old saying: "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach"?

To this day the practice of giving the bride away betrays the old thought that women were chattels, with no independent existence apart from a male - father or husband. It is good that our modern marriage liturgies omit this practice.

However, for all I might disapprove of some of St Paul's alleged attitudes to women, the author of the letter to the Ephesians doesn't hold a subordinationist view. He tells husbands to love their wives "as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her" - that is - to be prepared to lay his life on the line for her. Obedience was and is a lesser, not a greater demand, in response to the quality of this love. We love Jesus, because we know he always has our best interests at heart - that he would never hurt us. So women are called to respond to this same quality of love from their husbands. It has got nothing to do with doing what men want all the time. Women have never been expected to contribute more to a relationship than men, always less.

So the words about laying aside immaturity speak to us all. Men to love in this way, and women to respond appropriately.

One of the sadnesses of the abuse of children is that invariably they believe that they have done something to deserve the ill-treatment. With maturity comes the realisation that others may have been at fault as much as ourselves. I was privileged to be invited to the birthday celebration for my cousin recently, and as I enjoyed the warmth of their hospitality I thought of my own fragmented family. My uncle commented that family dynamics are far different when there are daughters. I come from a family of all boys and likewise my father. We were expected to go our own ways and cut the ties to our parents. Sometimes it is the environment which is at fault rather than any particular individual.

So in laying aside immaturity and living - means not accepting a burden of blame when it is inappropriate.

I was reflecting recently how often we are called to forgive one another. I'm not sure that our society is all that much different from past ones - we all lead fairly private lives. It is easy to avoid people with whom we have a personality conflict. Perhaps these days members of a family can be spread right across the world, so the problems of sibling rivalry are much lessened than when people were restricted in their travels. I suppose there are a proportion of occasions when accidents happen and felonies occur, but most people, like you and I here, do try to avoid hurting others where possible, so that forgiveness is something one has to exercise as little as possible - and a good thing too! Yet we are bidden to forgive again and again. Perhaps we are so bidden to forgive differences rather than offences. When we begin to think that others have to earn our acceptance, this is when we are bidden to forgive.

And I suspect, when I come to think about it, that this will mainly concern religious differences. White supremacy, anti-semitism and apartheid are all based on interpretations of the Bible - they are all about rejecting anyone who is different.

Bullying stems from a lack of self esteem. So bullying on a personal or a corporate level is a function of the failure of our presentation of the gospel to uplift others. When we consider the gospel mainly about my salvation or my chances of eternal life - then there is something seriously wrong with that gospel, and it certainly has little hope of effecting much change in the present circumstances.

But as I reflect on my words, there seems to be a parallel between those who hold a subordinationist view of women and an absolutist faith where it is conformity that is "rewarded". The two rather go hand in hand. This might be fair enough provided one was male - but any "prestige" is entirely illusory - as I have explained already. Lurking behind this ultimately is an idolatry that men are head of the household - therefore a man is answerable to no one else. This is not the biblical view at all. Everyone stands under the judgement of God, and primarily men. A case could be made that women are not judged at all. I have little doubt that the question of whether women could be saved was one that not infrequently exercised the musings of male theologians. Those to whom much is given, much is expected. With authority comes responsibility.

For those who believe in the subordination of women effectively say that such a passage as my text "Lay aside immaturity, and live" can never refer to women.

It is simply not true that the plight of women was disregarded in the Old Testament. One has only to look at the story of Tamar, her father in law Judah and his two sons to realise how even a foreign woman was more precious in God's sight than the male patriarchs. (Genesis 38).

The Bible is a wonderful set of books, not because they give us a clear way in which to live our lives, but in the way that time and again people who meet God are consumed by a realisation of their sinfulness and insignificance. Adam and Eve hid in the garden, Moses at the burning bush, Isaiah when he sees God, Jeremiah when he is commissioned, Ezekiel when he sees the vision of God, Mary at the annunciation, Peter at the miraculous catch of fish, Peter James and John on the mountain, and even the soldiers who come to arrest Jesus cannot stand before him. And right at the end in the book of the Revelation, the Apostle John is told not to worship Jesus. Each and every time this happens, again and again, these people are lifted to their feet, their sins forgiven and they are given important jobs to do. It does not matter who they are, and whether they are male or female. I recall the woman who was a sinner who anointed Jesus' feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee - she is commended for her love. She is raised to a status above that of the religiously correct but unwelcoming host. If we in the Church are suppose to be speaking the word of the Lord, then we too will be lifting people up, encouraging them to lay aside immaturity and live - to say as Jesus said often enough to his disciples "It is I, do not be afraid!"

If we do not do this, or if we have a religion which does the opposite - keeping people "in their place" - lack of self esteem will continue - as well as the consequences.

Jesus offers us his flesh and his blood. Jesus was killed because he associated with the likes of us and of everyone. As we partake in this Holy Communion we too are raised up.

Archbishop Rowan Williams in his book "Lost Icons" laments the loss of childhood and un-competitive games. He says "Charity is bound up with the spirit of carnival". And this made me think of what I was taught as a young boy - that old fashioned notion - don't always win - it is better to lose a game occasionally rather than lose a friend. In some ways the Archbishop wants us to retain some immaturity and love. Isn't it interesting that different people can express very similar sentiments using almost the opposite turn of phrase?

I suspect that it is as we accept ourselves and our limitations that we begin to transcend them. Well, it is nice in theory, and I guess I could point to one or two examples of this in my own life, as no doubt others could too. But if we deny our limitations we will remain entrenched in them.

Being "in Christ" is not a static, boring state at all - trying desperately to avoid doing the wrong thing - or trying desperately not to be found out. Being "in Christ" is living with ourselves and others, simultaneously being fully human, being lifted to our feet along with others being similarly raised.

I was pondering recently that there must be a succinct way of expressing who Jesus was and what he sought to do which is inextricably bound up with why the religious authorities hated hm sufficiently to have him killed. And for me it is here in this constant raising up of others to their full dignity that is the clue. It is why Jesus was loved by the downtrodden and hated by those in positions of prestige and privilege.

With God there is always this great invitation to lay aside immaturity and live, not to be dependent and grovel. And just as no one is expected to be dependent and grovel before the Almighty, so women are not intended to be dependent and grovel before the male of the species.

So this great invitation to be fully human, to be creative, interdependent, as well as to be wrong occasionally, is extended to one and to all. It is the joy of the gospel.



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