Sunday, December 31, 2006

Daily Visitation

Here is my sermon from Christmas Eve/Advent 4. Given that it was a light and fluffy sermon due to the chaos of the day, I thought it wouldn't be an awful second sermon for all of you who didnt get enough from morning worship.

Matt is going to talk brilliantly and wonderfully this evening about the Incarnation so all I want to do this morning, in a very low key way, is offer some scattered and refracted thoughts of my own. And I would like to do this through the prism of this morning’s Collect, which you can find in your bulletin. Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. Collects, for those of you who are new to the church, generally follow a formula—it’s a good way to pray out loud if you’re worried about what to say. You address God—O Eternal God—you say something about him—who makes all things—you ask some thing relating to your description—so renew us by your power—and then you bring in the trinity—through the Son and the Spirit Amen. That’s the formula. Our collect for this morning rearranges the ingredients but we get the same result at the end. First, God is called Almighty. That means bigger than everything here, in control, sovereign, able to do all things. Second, in the ‘description’ part, we find out that the Son, Jesus, will be coming. “that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming…” Most of us make the wild mistake, in Advent, of believing that we’re waiting and waiting—lighting the candles on the Advent wreath, abstaining from flowers on the altar and Christmas music—that we’re waiting for Jesus to be born. I even heard it from a preacher on the radio the other day—here we are waiting for Jesus to be born. Well, that’s not what we’re waiting for. Jesus has already been born. He was born once. He’s not going to be born again.We’re actually waiting, in Advent and in every other season, for Jesus to come back. Before he died, rose and ascended into heaven Jesus promised to come back at the right moment. If you’ve read the book of Revelation, you will know that when Jesus comes back he will judge. He will eradicate evil from the earth and restore all of creation, us included, to himself. He will get rid of every bad thing—all pain and suffering—and it will be wonderful for us who believe in him and have been called to be in his family. But it hasn’t happened yet, right. We’re still waiting. We wait and hope That, third, “at his coming, he may find in us a mansion prepared for himself”. When I am expecting company I usually go into a tail spin. First of all, I never have enough time, so I’m in a rush. And because I’m in a rush, I have to prioritize. So the bedroom doesn’t get touched. In fact, all the clutter and junk from the rest of the house gets dumped in the bedroom. And then I race around vacuuming the parts of the rug that you can see and trying to create a veneer of order and beauty. But if you look under the surface you will find that the house is still really a mess. I have a neighbor who comes over three or four times a week? So for her, unfortunately, I don’t even clean any more. I might clear off the coffee table but I won’t vacuum. So my neighbor might see my house filthy one day and then sort of picked up the next. Well, this is not the kind of preparation we’re aiming for. First of all, along with the fact that Jesus is coming back, we find that we’re being ‘daily visited’ by God—by your daily visitation. When you become a Christian, when you put your faith and trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and the redemption of your whole self, as we’ve said over and over, the Holy Spirit comes and lives inside of you. In other words, God, the Holy Spirit is going to see you every day—every moment in fact. So God is going to see you when you are a mess and he’s going to see you when you kind of have things pulled together. But you won’t be able to fool him either way. You weren’t fooling him before you were a Christian, given that God is Almighty, he can see everything and knows the state of every human heart So trying to come to church and pretend, to God and to everyone else, that everything was fine and you didn’t have any problems doesn’t work. But now that you’re a Christian, you’re going to feel it acutely when things aren’t sorted out God is not going to let you feel comfortable in your sins That’s what ‘purify our conscience’ means. The Holy Spirit moves in and says, wow, this is a mess. Let me get a broom, all this dirt has got to go. And gradually, and sometimes painfully, he cleans away the dirt and sin and brokenness and hurt and makes you beautiful, inside. I say painful because it takes a long time, and sometimes a dirty house can be kind of comfortable—familiar, easy. Getting up and cleaning it is hard. This is most acute for me on the question of pride. I would like to be perfect. And I would like God to notice how perfect I am. Ridiculous, isn’t it? You can see clearly that I am not perfect. I foul things up all the time. Nevertheless, it’s a source of frustration and discouragement to me, in my humanness that I’m not perfect and this desire, to be perfect, this desire is like dust. Every time I turn around, there it is again. And then the Holy Spirit walks through and says, wow, it’s horribly dusty in here. Let’s clean this up. The big question is why. Why do we need our conscience purified? We get the answer in the second line that he, Jesus, may find a ‘mansion prepared for himself’. Why on earth would he want that? Isn’t heaven good enough? Why does he want us to be like a mansion, prepared for him?
Very simple, because God, Jesus, loves us more than we can possibly imagine. From before time, from before the foundation of the world, God knew you, knew what you would be like, and wanted you to be in his family. And this being the case, he doesn’t want bad things for you. He doesn’t want you to be small and lean of soul. Just like you wouldn’t want someone you love to make a mess of their lives. But because he is merciful, God doesn’t swoop in and rearrange everything in your life all at once. He takes his time, he works with you, he works on you, he goes room by room, cupboard by cupboard, putting things in order. It’s a long, sometimes difficult process, but one not without consolation. Today is both Advent 4—we’re still waiting—and Christmas Eve. So in one fell swoop we get to concentrate on the hope by which we live—that Jesus is coming back, this present evil will not last for ever—and the grace that sustains us—both Jesus in his body and blood and the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. These two—grace and hope—mean that the Christian person, you when you have the Holy Spirit, go from being a mess—sinful and broken—to being made whole—forgiven, healed. That is, you, as a person, beloved of God, go from being small and narrow and impoverished, to being expansive and rich and beautiful in your heart and soul. The more room you give God in your life, the more work he can do in you. Let’s close with this prayer again, pray with me: Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, December 30, 2006


So here we are in Texas. And, Of Course, we’re very comfortable. Matt’s mother has impeccable taste and her house is covered, like a blanket, in Christmas. However, in a primal deep-seated way, there is a whisper of unease, for me.

It is that I require tea.

But I am alone in this requirement. Matt’s family drinks coffee exclusively. In fact there are three coffee pots set up in the kitchen to accommodate the demand. Matt’s must be brewed and hot as he is waking up, so it is timed (at home the beans are ground at 3:55am and the hot water hits the newly ground beans at 3:57 and he pours his first cup at 4am exactly. On occasion I forget to put the pot back in place the night before and the coffee brews all over the floor). Can’t imagine what it would be like if he didn’t have his coffee in the morning. May God, in his mercy, preserve us.

I don’t drink coffee. I only drink coffee under duress and when it is heavily laced with chocolate. So of course, when I met Matt’s family for the first time, and the awful truth came out, the household was thrown into mayhem. In the intervening years various efforts have been made. Matt’s parents now own a total of 5 teapots. They have an unheard of variety of teas. On our arrival, there is always half and half, cream, three kinds of milk and bottled water on hand. And, very importantly, there is in residence a new and efficient hotpot.

The trouble, of course, is that this is a nation of coffee drinkers. The fabric of national identity and purpose is woven through and supported by coffee. The drinking of coffee and the mishandling of tea is a point of pride, an under-girding means by which the people of this great land continue to live.

And so it is impossible to get a decent cup of tea unless one makes it oneself. And here is the source of the real trouble. As one drinker of tea in a land of coffee, I inspire real fascination and curiosity. Women especially think, ‘oh, that’s so cute, we should have a tea party.’ By which they mean a tea pot with tepid water, a bag on the side, a wedge of lemon (or something), some ‘cute’ cups and a cookie. And then we all sit around and talk and feel cozy. There are books to go with this experience. I saw one today called ‘A Cup of Comfort’ and a couple of other soupy looking items.

Well, all you fascinated and curious coffee drinkers, That Is Not a Cup of Tea.

First of all, tea Like Coffee, provides caffeine. Tea Drinkers drink it to survive, not to feel ‘cozy’.
Second, it has to be prepared properly (see below).

Third, drinkers of tea already have everything they need—pot, cups, cozy, hot pot and Tea. Giving a tea drinker a lot of fancy fluffy paraphernalia is a nice thought but probably misguided. For example, knowing that I drink tea, Matt and I were given a total of ten tea pots at our wedding. No dishes, no tableware, no household items (well, a few very lovely things) but really, overall Tea Pots. And almost 20 tea cups. Even though I was already properly equipped at the time of my marriage owning a sensible pot and cups to go with it.

So, here is how to make a cup of tea.

Fill a tea kettle or hot pot with cold water. Turn it on. Let it come right up to the boil. Take it off. Pour some blazing hot water into a pot. Swirl it around. Let the pot become good and hot. Put the kettle back on. Dump the water out of the pot. Put in the tea (loose, of course, is best, but don’t be above a good bag—At Least Two for a full sized pot, probably more if it’s bad tea). When the Kettle is back up to the boil, pour it directly onto the tea. Clap the lid on Immediately (don’t leave the lid across the room and wander around looking for it while the tea becomes cold). Put a cozy on the pot or wrap it in a couple of kitchen towels. Let it sit for about 3 minutes. Drink it. Either with milk or milk and sugar or lemon. Whatever you do, don’t heat water a little bit and the pour it on a bag in a cup. If you’re going to do that just go ahead and drink water.

And now, in honor of our good late President Ford, I will go and make a pot of my own and drink it all myself. Goodnight.

Friday, December 29, 2006

There was no reading

Had to leave the bookstore in virtual disgrace due to the screaming of many children. Matt managed to escape with Calvin's commentary on Acts and a large (and very heavy) Comprehensive Concordance. Glad expectations were very low.
So we’ve been shopping with all the children. And now we’re going to go to the book store to spend Christmas money. I haven’t been able to think about anything sensible, other than mediating small disputes of the rights and ownership of goldfish and balloons, holding baby, trying to pass baby off to anyone else, reading snatches of Stand Firm and last night making a large batch of pancakes.

Standard Pancakes
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar

2 eggs
1 /12 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 Tablespoons melted butter

And then a well buttered pan. I admit, I really went for the butter last night. I’m on holiday. I’m not going to skimp. But I ought, because I think I’m starting to look like I’ve been eating butter for several days. Matt is unfailingly disciplined. He ate a large bowl of bark like fiber this morning with water like milk on top. He continues to wake up every morning at 4 am in order to exercise and pray. I know it’s very holy of him, but it makes the rest of us look bad and we’re beginning to wish he would stop it. However, we’re not complaining loudly because he came shopping yesterday, providing a much needed calming male presence, producing good obedience in the hoards of children which surround us. I’ll let you know how the book store turns out. As usual, it could be one of the worst mornings of our lives, or, it could be a reasonable amount of good fun. Am keeping expectations at the bottom of the sea—we can only go up from there.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

All the Little Children

We are, for the week, visiting Matt's parents. There are a total of five children in this house aged 4 1/2 (Jackson), 4 (Emma), 2 1/2 (Adean), 2 (Caden) and 5 months (Rowan)-only three of them are ours. Its been complete and total mayhem. Plus, a little culture is developing-all of us living side but side but not occupying the same spiritual space. However, despite the chaos and all the crying (Aedan has been chased by the dogs all evening, poor child), Matt + cooked a very nice dinner.

Sweet Potatoes-peeled, cubed, lathered in olive oil and baked at 350 until fork tender and golden (plus salt and pepper).
Asparagus-sauteed, luscious
Chicken in mushroom cream sauce with a lacing of sherry
Various bottles of wine.

Must now go to bed and hope for the best.

Merry Christmas

Here we are all, in Corpus Christi, TX, the place of Matt's growing up and life before college. We managed to shove three children, two computers and a lot of other luggage through three very busy airports--leaving at 5am and arriving at ten to two. Am amazed that we are here. Still missing the bag with all the Christmas presents (and our clothes) but thank goodness the one with the diapers arrived safely. Am, surprise, horribly sick. But very grateful that the children slept through the night. Anyway, a belated Merry Christmas to you all and may God bless you in your feasting.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

rearranging the deck chairs

I see now that my discouragement yesterday was merely, as it were, a foreshadowing of today. The ABC has formally decided to seat KJS at the February primates meeting. Check out Stand Firm to read all the wild spinning.

But I hold with Matt's + pessimism. We've talked and talked. We've been respectfully coridal. We've analyzed the letters and papers and statements. What more is there to do? Wait for the parousia before acting? Enough.

Don't have the stomach to go read the crowing and delight in liberal land today. Will keep plugging away at these wretched bulletins and try to think of something lovely to say about Jesus for tomorrow.

Friday, December 22, 2006

I’m tired of all the emotionalism.

Everywhere I go—on the web, in my class, at coffee hour—someone is having pain over this Anglican crisis. Probably I’m tired because revisionists chalk conservatism up to ‘fear’ and ‘discomfort’ and ‘inflexibility’. When really, the present theological crises have nothing to do with fear at all, and neither are they causing me pain in the way most revisionists would believe.

If a whole church wants to head down the wide, broad, candy laden road to apostasy, fine. Go ahead. Go after all the bright shiny self indulgent liberal gobbeldy gook. If the church wants to elect a leader that cannot reasonably and coherently confirm the creeds, articles of the faith OR even the minutest understanding of Christianity, well then, go ahead. If the church wants to vilify and persecute the few remaining believing people, then bring it on.

But do not then expect me to get weepy and choked up over all the carnage and mayhem.

I am not afraid. I am not inflexible and unable to change or uncomfortable with diversity. I am just sorry and sad. I am sad that I am still part of a church where the biggest sin is belief in God. I am sad that the people who control this church do not havea basic understanding of what is at stake. I am sad that the head of this church can still be talking about ‘reconciliation’ and ‘peace’ and hey, why not throw in ‘the Magic of Christmas’, when all around her the church is a crumbled, decaying mess.

And I’m sick of the dripping gooey condescension. This, for example, from Telling Secrets:
However, there are two additional groups, and these two are far less noticed. I refer to these groups (they don't have a clear "party" identity) as "progressive pilgrims" and "emergent conservatives." These two groups tend to see "issues" like this one as secondary concerns to the practice of Christian faith and are more concerned with things like hospitality, living forgiveness, practicing reconciliation, learning to pray, feeding the hungry, caring for the environment, and maintaining the Anglican practice of comprehensiveness (being a church of the "middle way"). They may lean slightly left or slightly right on "issues," but reject partisan solutions to theological problems. Both progressive pilgrims and emergent conservatives are far more interested in unity than uniformity, and they appreciate diversity in their congregations as a sign of God's dream for humanity to live in peace.

I took a class with Diana Butler-Bass. This condescension and misunderstanding of the issues is all of a piece. That’s right, let’s not talk about belief and faithfulness and obedience to Christ. Let’s all just get along. How creative. How new. How deep.

So, in the ‘spirit of Christmas’ and because under (today) my overt hostility there abides some small sense of compassion and mercy (obviously coming from the Holy Spirit) I offer the following advice to KJS, Diana Butler-Bass and all those revisionists who are casting about for some meaning and purpose in what appears to be a directionless void:

The current crisis is not about unity. It’s not about fear. It’s not about extremism. It’s not about ‘reconciliation’. It’s not even about you. It’s about Jesus. God came down to earth, in the person of the Son, and lived and died and rose again so that you might be dragged out of the wretched mire of your sins. Wake up. Pay attention. Time is running out. Jesus is coming back. You could still be babbling about ‘reconciliation’ and find yourselves unreconciled to God when it really counts.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

How do I look?

I’ve been obsessively looking at pictures of women in “modest feminine dress”. You can find them through the Ladies Against Feminism site linked on the side. In principle I’m very much for both modesty and femininity. However, I find, in practice that it just doesn’t work out for me personally.

For two reasons.
One, I’m sinfully vain and Two, I love clothes.

This stems, and I’ve examined myself thoroughly on this point, from having every furlough to, after stepping off the airplane, go straight to the Burlingame Baptist Church Missionary Barrel. It wasn’t actually a Barrel. It was a whole room filled with all kinds of things missionaries would need—sheets, towels, pots, pans, toys, AND, you guest it, clothes, but not clothes that had been worn recently, or were being worn. They were all at least 10 or 15 years old which means that any female child aged between 10 and 20 would be mortified to have to wear any of them in public, especially an unknown public which was everywhere—school, church, the grocery store, anyone’s house, even, frankly, the privacy of one’s own room. I remember the acute horror of arriving for the first day of sixth grade in clothes from this very Missionary Barrel. Not only were they modest and ‘feminine’, as in bright purple, they were not at all what anyone else was wearing. Alpha girl, named providentially, ‘Charity’, looked me over with disdain and sniffed her nose. It was just down hill from there with her.

But I survived. And part of surviving has been developing a real appreciation of nice clothes—a really well cut suit, a beautiful pale blue wool skirt (A Line), with fabulous boots, or (for vacuuming and baking bread) a plunging neckline, pearls, and stiletto heals (I don’t actually wear my house work attire out, for those of you who might worry).

I know I’m sacrificing holiness for vanity. I do it every morning when I spend a full half an hour hot rollering my hair and being very careful about the even application of mascara. But I have a hard time concentrating on real life when I look cruddy. I don’t enjoy church, for instance. I spend time worrying that my shoes are the wrong shape instead of confessing my sins. Or I forget things on my grocery list when I know that my hair is wrong and my hand bag is wrong. Better to take the time to make sure that the bag and hair are right and come away with a full week of groceries.

May God have mercy in my weakness, but I hope and pray that in the coming kingdom, when Jesus comes back and the whole of creation will know and confess him, I will look fabulous, and so will everyone else.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Happy "Holidays"

Made the awful mistake of watching a movie called the Family Stone a few nights ago. All the reviews of it had been negative but thought (stupidly), oh, it can’t be that bad. It was. Fortunately watched half before Matt was subjected to it. And having wasted two precious hours of life watching something so awful, let me just spend a few minutes more complaining about it.

The Family Stone failed utterly as a movie because it staked everything—its plot, script, character development, even (though I know nothing about it) filming—on a failed Liberal System.

The perfectly liberal and unnaturally diverse family consisting of:
two girls
-one traditionally married to absent husband, with one child in tow and expecting another
-one single, unpleasant and ‘whitty’
three boys
-stoner son
-achieving business person son,
-deaf gay son with black gay boyfriend in tow.
Mother dying of breast cancer.
Father perfectly sensitive and submissive to will of everyone in the family, always reacting, never acting.

The plot
achieving business person son brings girl friend home for Christmas (or should I say ‘the holidays’). Family instantly and righteously rejects girlfriend for following reasons:
Appearance—slicked back hair, stilettos, new york veneer
Awkwardness—speaks too loudly to deaf gay son, doesn’t know how to sign, questions gayness of son, questions desire of gay couple to adopt child, refuses to sleep with boy friend in house of his parents, “Why won’t you sleep with your friend?” asks wise visionary peace loving child, insists on cooking breakfast for above described perfectly diverse family, eventually moves into a hotel because family is so awful to her
Racism—questions desire of gay couple to adopt black child rather than white one (who even does that any more?)
And finally, and most importantly, is rejected for having beautiful and loveable sister who is immediately and unquestioningly embraced by perfectly diverse family.

By the end I was completely fed up. Everyone had changed “partners” and been awful to each other. They had all made moralizing and righteously outraged speeches to each other. And none of it was funny. The icing on the cake was a scene of Diane Keaton (mother) gazing out of the window at the snow falling followed by scene of family gazing at Christmas tree. Ah, there’s the meaning we were all looking for—the snow is falling. Look guys! The snow is falling.

Liberalism in this age is a failure. Tolerance is not an acceptable replacement for respect, honor and good old fashioned love. Nostalgia is not substantive enough to replace belief in and obedience to God. Bad behavior and manners, however “morally motivated” are never appropriate.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Marriage as a Mystery, Husbands, Wives, Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5:22-33

I had planned to be efficient today and do some minimal housework and then indulge myself in a little light blogging. However, I appear to have come down with some sort of wickedly vile stomach flu and am cast up on the couch, shaking, feverish, and (I imagine) deathly pale. So, because I cannot think a whole three words together, I'm inflicting my recently turned in paper on you all. I took out all the end notes and tried to cite in the text, but its been a while so I've probably done it wrong. Keep in mind also that I had to grind out this paper in the pleasant and thoughtful environment of a filthy house crammed with small screaming children. So if it doesn't make sense I'm sorry. Enjoy!

First Reflection
Paul said some very difficult things about women: “the women should keep silent in the churches” (1 Corinthians 14:34); “every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head” (1 Corinthians 11:5); “wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:24). These pithy statements, whether dragged out of context or considered in the light of the whole Pauline corpus, make women and men uncomfortable in this century. These statements and others like them are therefore left, to a large degree, in a category by themselves, hopefully not to be noticed, or, when noticed, explained away with a quick exegetical twist. I myself have struggled with these admonitions and many others, both as I discerned a call to ordained ministry and now more so, as a married woman.

These three texts run against the grain of the culture in which I find myself. They are countercultural now in precisely the opposite way they were written, a time when women were not accorded even the most basic of human rights we now find so indispensable. I trust that the author, at the time of writing, was not intending to damage or otherwise degrade the lot of anyone, women included. But that belief does not change the reality that in the shifting of ages, times and understandings, these words have helped to keep women tied essentially to the home, and now present a stumbling block for many when they consider Christianity on its face. At the same time, as I read these lines over and over, I find a lovely movement, back and forth, in the duties of the man for the woman, the woman for the man. It is in the context of a life lived in submission and obedience to Christ and the joy discovered therein, that I consider Ephesians 5:22-33.

Historical Context
Ephesians is attributed to Paul, and while there has been doubt about his actual authorship (Brown 621, Mertz 113), NT Wright argues afresh for Pauline authorship of both Ephesians and Colossians (18-19). Pauline authorship requires an early date (60-62), during his house arrest in Rome (Dahl 1212). Ephesians does not address a particular controversy or heresy but rather addresses the new defining context of the Church over the world. Ephesians 5 addresses the relationships of men and women using the ancient but reworked household code. From Aristotle onwards various codes of conduct, or household codes, were available and normative.

Witherington notes the similarity of Jewish, Greek and Christian codes, particularly in their “patriarchal orientation” (44). That is, the formulators of household codes, at the time of Paul’s writing, took for granted the centrality of the man or husband as leader and center of his family and household. The household extended to include immediate family, extended family, slaves, servants and those enjoying the patronage of the father. It was the most basic unit of society at that time.

The code in Ephesians is one of seven in the NT. Annette Merz asserts that Ephesians 5 was written as a corrective to 2 Corinthians 11 which, she believes, had led to a devaluation of the married state among women. Ephesians 5:22-33 reordered women back to marriage and made the new church more acceptable to the surrounding culture.

Ian McFarland, on the other hand, argues for a “Canonical Reading” of Ephesians 5, whereby “biblical unity is the interpreter’s starting point” (346). A canonical reading does not allow that Ephesians 5 is a corruption of “some more pristine form of the gospel” but does consider the “devastating impact it has had on the lives of women in the church” (McFarland 347). More importantly, McFarland suggests that Ephesians 5 “offers a fully developed argument for gender hierarchy in consistently Christological terms” (347). In other words, the use of the household code is not a capitulation to the surrounding culture of the day or an effort to make Christianity more palatable, but rather a reordering of all Christian relationships in both Christological and eschatological terms.

Literary Context
Ephesians describes the church in seven ways—as a new humanity, a colony, a community of transformed people, a new temple, an organism, an outpost in a dark world, and finally as a bride (ESV Study Bible 12-4). McFarland notes that Ephesians chapters 1-3, as a doxology, “provide the theological warrant for three chapters of instruction” (347). Ephesians 5:22-33 develops the theme of marriage as the outward sign of the mystical relationship between Christ and the Church. It is practically structured as part of a household code, but contains the culminating theological image of the letter, the relationship of Christ to the Church.

Form, Structure, Movement
Ephesians varies from the usual Pauline style in that it does not address particular persons or controversies (Dahl 1212). Some scholars believe the book is “best understood as a summary of Paul’s teachings”, but it might also be an introduction to Paul’s collected letters or “a meditation on the theme of Christ and the Church” (Dahl 1212).

Arguably (Mertz disagrees, 132), Ephesians 5:22-33 hinges on verse 21, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ,” which sets the context of mutual love and submission, not just of members in the church, but of members of a family. McFarland maintains, however, that grammatically speaking the argument begins in verse 18 with an imperative upon which hang a series of commands. The whole thought is carried through into verse 23 and concludes with verse 24 (350).

The Household code begins in verse 22, verses 22-24 dealing with the submission of the wife to the husband, in the same way that the Church submits to Christ. The bulk of the text, verses 25-32 deals with the love of the husband for the wife, as Christ loved the Church. This kind of love is examined in detail and finally related to the Mystery of the Church itself. Verses 26-27, however, relate particularly to Christ and the Church, from which analogies to marriage are afterwards drawn (vs. 28-31) (Witherington 55).

Verse by Verse
The verb, “be subject” in verse 21 carries over into 22 as an imperative, rather than an indicative. F. F. Bruce notes that the pronoun ‘own’ does not require special emphasis and would have been ‘a feature of household codes’ (384). Verse 22 sets the context for the wife’s submission—to the Lord. Verse 23 explains/describes this submission in terms of headship. “Head,” in this setting is understood both as ‘source’ or ‘origin’ (Genesis 2:21-24) and ‘authority’ (Bruce 37). There is no particular need to extend the ‘saving’ work of Christ to the husband further than that of protector (Bruce 385). McFarland notes further that, ‘By setting of a wife’s subordination from the model of the church’s subordination to Christ as a savior, verse 24 implicitly acknowledges that the wife’s subordination is not a function of the husband being the wife’s savior. (351)” In verse 24 the church so obviously submits to Christ in everything that the argument easily carries forward—wives submit in everything to their husbands.

From thence forward the author addresses husbands, relating their role to self sacrificing work of Christ as that of the woman as related to the submission of the Church. Verse 26 is clearly related to the cleansing water of baptism, jointly with the sanctifying nature of the word, but the image draws in the ‘cleansing bath’ a bride received before being dressed in ‘bridal array’. The work of Christ continues in 27 where he presents the Church to himself. In this case Christ does the saving (vs. 23), the cleanser (vs. 26), and the presenter (vs. 27).

The commandment to love ‘as their own bodies’ (vs. 28) derives directly from Leviticus 19:18 but is brought closer and intensified by Genesis 2:24 (Bruce 391). Verses 29 and 30 further extend and concretize the image—nourishing, cherishing, membership—finally binding them completely in Genesis 2:24 “the two shall become one flesh.” Finally, in a move almost to offset the material nature of the previous verses, he brings it back into the spiritual realm, “This mystery is profound” (vs. 32). McFarland argues that the placement of verse 32 moves the significance of the marriage bond from creation to “the eschatological reality of Christ and the church (356).” The whole is, then, summarily reduced in verse 33, to the love of the husband for the wife, and the respect of the wife for the husband.

Synthesis Conclusion
Christ has a spiritual and intangible relationship to the Church, but one that is necessarily lived concretely day to day in the lives of ordinary Christians. This relationship is the norm, the context for all other relationships. So defining is it that the most basic of human relationships, marriage between a man and woman, can on one hand be elevated to describe the relationship between God and his people, and, then recast, on the other hand, spiritually through the language of baptism, salvation, sanctification, and creation.

Further, the salvific and sanctifying work of Christ, particularly in his actions as a servant, an obedient Son, and as the sacrificial victim, provide a new and counter cultural paradigm for the Christian person over against the prevailing paradigm in the world—that of self fulfillment and consumerism. Whereas in the world, relationships may be viewed contractually and for a time—as long as they are fulfilling—in the church relationships are characterized by self-sacrifice, service and grace.

This self sacrifice orients the husband and wife towards each other practically. The husband is commanded to love, to give the gift that is needed most. The wife is commanded to respect and honor, likewise a gift freely given regardless of merit. The wife requires love. The husband requires respect. And so, through the overarching work of Christ, the needs of both are met.
The task is only impossible or restrictive without the aid of Christ, who, in submission to the Father, sacrificed himself for the church. The Christian in first submitting to Christ, is then able to submit, out of love, to others. Without the work of Christ, Ephesians 5:22-33 not only becomes impossible to achieve, it becomes impossible to understand.

Second Reflection
Men and women are different from each other. They are ordered differently, they have different world views, different ways of communicating and different means of being. These differences are reflected in Ephesians 5:22-33. While the text contains admonitions—submit, honor, love, sacrifice—it is also descriptive. Homes around the world are ordered and divided along gender lines. But this description, this similarity, cannot be taken for granted.

In my own life, because of the cultural impact this text and the others like it have had, I had to discover the love of God for me as a woman, not the imperfect love of a man for a woman, but the perfect transcending love of God for me as I am in myself. It also meant marrying a man who would share every aspect of himself with me—work, worship, children, the care and upkeep of the household—a man worthy of my respect and honor.

As I considered this text and my own life, I discovered on one hand a need for what is given and commanded. I need a husband who will love me. On the other hand I recognized that this man, whom I love, accepts a less traditional ordering of the home. He participates fully in the life of the household, and I participate fully in the life and work of the church. It is therefore my choice to submit to him in all things. This choice is based on his continual sacrifice of himself for me. These two choices, to submit and to sacrifice, are lived out in the context of daily submission and obedience to Christ, Christ who overpowers and overshadows me with his love.

Works Cited
Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1997.
Bruce, F.F. The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Michigan:
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984.
Dahl, Nils Alstrup. “Ephesians,” Harper’s Bible Commentary. San Francisco: Harper San
Francisco, 1988.
McFarland, Ian A. “A Canonical Reading of Ephesians 5:21-33: Theological Gleanings.”
Theology Today. 57.03 (2006): 344-356.
Mertz, Annette. “Why did the Pure Bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:2) Become a Wedded Wife (Eph.
5:22-33)? Theses about the intertextual transformation of an ecclesiological metaphor.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament. 79.1 (2006): 131-147.
The Reformation Study Bible. Orlando, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2005.
Witherington, Ben, III. Women in the Earliest Churches. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1988.
Wright, N.T. Fresh Perspectives on Paul. London: SPCK Publishing, 2005.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Hem it with Quietness

His thoughts said, What if I have not much time to gather my portion?

His Father said, Hast thou only one minute? Hem it with quietness. Do not spend it in thinking how little time thou hast. I can give thee much in one minute.

Then the sun remembered the Jewish tradition about the manna and the dew. The manna fell on the dew, they said, then more due fell on the manna so that it was found between two layers of dew. And the thought of the quietness of the dew and how far it was removed from bustle of any kind. And he understood the word that his Father had spoken to him.

-His thoughts said...His Father said...

Monday, December 11, 2006

One thing after Another

Haven’t even booted my computer up for three days. I think this weekend was actually worse than what I can expect from Christmas in two weeks. Which leads me to reflect, for just a moment (before I rush off to a meeting On My Day Off), on the issue of busyness and being over extended.

I am constantly explaining to the women of Good Shepherd (and the men too when I can get them to pay attention) that life needs to be properly ordered. God comes first, then one’s husband, then one’s children, then you come last. Same thing with the church—church comes first, then other activities. So, for example, Sunday School should come before soccer practice and games, or, in this case, wrestling (since that seems to be the sport of the season). And, I say in all spiritual confidence, if your life is properly ordered, you should not be over extended. You should have Enough—enough time, enough money, enough food, whatever it is, you should have enough.

And the women of the church either nod and agree (because they’re trying to order things correctly), or nod and slightly purse their lips because they think I’m full of it.

But this weekend I worked and worked and worked and found that I came up empty. There wasn’t enough time. There were too many things that I had to keep track of.
For example.
*I have to get the bulletin out. This involves making seasonal adjustments to the liturgy, periodically changing the Eucharistic Prayer, rotating through prayers of the people, AND, at the church, for Advent, adding in an extra weird little prayer for the lighting of the Advent Candles. Well, I’m not used to this little tradition and I foul it up every year. We can’t remember to stop, after processing in, and light the candle and read the prayer. Matt usually just ploughs on into the collect and Gloria (or whatever). And then I can see various people glaring at the wreath—It hasn’t been Lit! It hasn’t been Lit! Well, of course, I’d like to dispense with this little tradition. We already have a perfectly fine collect for the day. I don’t see why we need another one. And it adds time to an already long service.
*I had to run around and find a font, make it bearable to look at, make sure it was clean, get it to church.
*I had to have my material ready for Catechesis Sunday morning along with the lesson etc.
*I had to run around and make sure our Evangelical Effort in Baking Bread and Distributing it was all set—I had to run out and buy little loaf pans, bags for the bread, recut Matt’s little service times cards ETC.
*I had to clean the house because my parents arrived the same day we were baking bread.
*I had to coordinate Emma getting to ballet in the middle of the bread making event because I would not be there to take her (and she’d already missed twice so we couldn’t skip again).
*I had to print the bulletin, prayers of the people, lessons, and Matt’s weekly update in time for services on Sunday morning.
*I had to organize the arrival of St. Nicholas in the service, complete with oranges, chocolate, cope, miter etc.
* I had to stop and feed the baby at regular intervals.
*I was supposed to work on and complete my paper for school.
*I had to fill my children’s shoes with chocolate and presents because St. Nicholas would be in church that morning and we forgot to do it on the right day.
*I had to make sure that the children were sensibly dressed so we could have a family picture at the baptism.
Well, you get the picture. And for those of you who would be judgmental and say, ‘she should delegate some of those jobs away’, I’d already given about 20 jobs to other people that were supposedly going to be on my plate.

And so of course things fell through the cracks. I ended up basically sprinting through Saturday and Sunday and actually arriving at the 10:30 service in a full sweat. It was a mess. We got through the service and everything went, but I was wrung out.

This will now be my life from now until after Easter, through Solemn Communion.

Of course, its possible that my priorities are in the wrong order. Church is our job. We are both worshiping and doing the job to make worship happen. And that’s a bottomless pit. There will always be more we could do, more we could do to make it better, more we could do to bring people in. And we are trying to do a lot. We want our children to be godly and upright, and so we are undertaking their education ourselves until we can find a sensible school. We want the church to grow, and so we are pushing and shoving and pleading and encouraging people to come. We want worship to be beautiful and accessible, so we print the whole thing up every week so that it will be easy to follow. Matt wants me to grow and have more theological depth, so I am in school. We love babies and so we are having lots.

And so here I am, Monday morning, exhausted. And my mother is racing around doing laundry and looking at me like I should be more energetic. And instead of drawing any theological conclusions about this, I now have to leap up and get ready for this meeting.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

First Snow

Its really coming down. Thank goodness its snow and not rain. Too much good solid work to do today to have time to fuss around blogging--sigh.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Eat! Eat!

"If you're good during the service you can have a banana at the end. If you're not good, there is no banana."

So started Morning Prayer. I packed the kids off with Matt so that I could work on this wretched paper. He took them in, plunked them down, made the banana speach and started the service.

Apparently, and I hear this second hand, they were so bad that Matt had to stop the service, get someone else to take over, take them out and exact justice. Justice in the denial of bananas.

"You were bad, you may not have a banana."

Emma came unglued. Matt offered her a cookie, but no banana. She didn't want a cookie. She wanted a banana.

Of course, I sent them off with bananas, knowing they would be hungry. They were supposed to eat the bananas Before the service, so that they would be good, not have them held over as a treat at the end. Matt is shocked and surprised at how naughty they were. Now he is trying to force Aedan to eat an enormous bagel. Dear Heavenly Saints Above may I get this paper done before all order disappears from the universe!

Monday, December 04, 2006


Have been in a low level bad mood all day. Tried various techniques to pull out of it—like sleeping in, sending my husband links to interesting Christmas Expensive Baubles, cleaning parts of the house, making the children pick up their room, drinking 4 consecutive pots of tea. Nothing worked. And my bad mood was further confirmed as A Good Thing when the checkout lady at my local supermarket rolled her eyes at me when I asked if I could have some of my groceries in a paper bag.

‘Ok,’ she said, ‘I’ll put the heavy things in paper.’
‘Oh, I’m so sorry, Ma’am, but I’d like Everything in plastic, Except for these few things at the end. I really need these ones at the end in paper.’

She rolled her eyes. Can you believe it? She Rolled Her Eyes. And she had to have been at least 50. I would expect a high school chicky with sparkly lipstick and the latest eye shadow to roll her eyes. But a sensible looking checkout Lady to roll her eyes and then look angry and clunk my groceries around, really. Spent the whole time in line trying to decide what to say—I’m sorry I made you unhappy but please don’t roll your eyes; or, I’m exercising Christian love and charity, so lay off (I was buying a cake for someone besides me); or, look, lady, do you want me to go to another line?

Of course, didn’t say any of these things. And didn’t complain on the way out at the service desk. But did stew all the way home and continue to dwell on it for the rest of the day.

However, I have just listened to Archbishop Venebles’ vlog sent to the Diocese of San Joaquin. And so now, on top of still being in a bad mood, am feeling terribly guilty—first of all for not suffering enough as a Christian, and second of all for bearing my minor suffering with ill grace instead of joy (as the Bible says).

So now I will stop typing, and stop watching questionable late night jokes on You Tube and will go to bed, even though it is only 8 o’clock. With a mood like this, the best thing is to end the day as quickly as possible before something really bad happens. As my father always says, “Cheer up, things could be worse. So I cheered up, and sure enough, things got worse.”

Sunday, December 03, 2006

What are you for?

We've just, for this year, scrapped the usual Advent Lectionary (as far as preaching goes) and are taking some time with some of the major (and minor) players in the Infancy Narratives. Matt preached today on Zechariah (excellently by the way, hope you'll check it out), next week I'll cover the Visitation and then Advent 3 Matt will probably talk about Joseph. Not that the regular Advent readings aren't good and beneficial, but our congregation hasn't heard these major stories and we wanted to catch them up.

And I know it was a really excellent sermon because it was brought home to me on a whole new level (I trust by the Holy Spirit) just how absolutely foul and vile abortion is. If you link to the sermon you will note that Matt is not preaching about life issues at all, he talks almost exclusively about Zechariah and his obedience/lack of faith etc. But the subtext (in Scritpure itself) about life and babies and women m'a vraiment frappe (cliche's always sound better in French, I think).

That God, first of all, should choose to move creation and humanity forward by means of conception, pregnancy and birth should be enough for us to honor this process and each life it produces. But that he should then choose this same method for saving humanity from certain eternal perishment takes it to a whole 'nother level. John the Baptist was set aside and chosen to be a prophet even BEFORE he was concieved.

The current Episcopal church crisis over homosexuality and the Scriptures is certainly reason enough to leave (for Any Believing Denomination, for heaven sake, just get out!), but I am convicted today and deeply sorry for my own sin in staying in a 'church' that supports the even more foul crime of killing God's most beloved--babies. May God have mercy on us all.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

And so we baked

One more bake sale come and gone. We ladies did manage to squash in a few moments of Bible Study before the madness began, but boy, it is hard to corral the forces away from organizing and fussing, even for just a few minutes. We started reading Esther at 8:06 and by 8:16 people were already showing up with pies and cakes. Managed to press on in spite of the interruptions. Got side tracked away from Esther, however, and on to the great difficulty of immersing someone in baptism without an appropriate font. We have a week to obtain either a metal bathtub, or a baby pool or SOMETHING. Will Somebody Please Suggest Something That Will Work!! Sorry about the yelling. Time's a running short and I don't want water all over the parish hall in 30 degree weather. Perhaps the Lord will provide. Or, we could pray. ("What! Prayer! Has it Come To That!?)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Bake Sale

When we arrived here at our present job (Church of the Good Shepherd) I was invited, as is good and right, to join the ECW chapter (what would be called The Dorcas Circle if we were Baptist). ECW stands for Episcopal Church Women and I imagine, not knowing much about its history, that it is some form of much earlier church auxiliary groups. Good Shepherd used to have a quilting guild but nobody knows how to quilt any more so all we have are the longly related nostalgic memories of all the quilts made.

So I was invited, and, in a fit of wisdom and sense, begged graciously out by reason of having too many other things to do. I had no idea at the time but I think it was one of the smartest things I’ve done in my whole life.

Let me just say, first, that all the ladies in the ECW are lovely—I love them all. The youngest is probably in her late 50s, the oldest in her early nineties. They work very hard. At funerals, they automatically do a luncheon after the service. For baptisms, they produce a cake. For fundraisers, they accumulate rummage and sell it, make soup and sell it, make cakes, pies, muffins, coffee cake, cookies and sell them. And they particularly minister to our poor intercity neighborhood by pricing everything very low or giving it away. AND, they save their pennies (I mean real old fashioned pennies) and buy birthday cards and support various charitable efforts. Just now they are collecting school supplies for the neighborhood school children, hopefully to replenish old and worn crayons and notebooks from the fall. They are Wonderful. They make the church go by sheer hard work and sacrifice.

But by some perversity, when asked to join, I just didn’t do it. And I firmly believe it was the work of the Holy Spirit. Because, for all the hard work and sacrifice, there is also an element of, what can I call it, Power, that resides with this group of women. Not all the time—not on Sunday morning, not at Bible Study (they all faithfully attend Bible Study), not in the general life of the church—but most particularly when they gather themselves together in the Kitchen or take over the Parish Hall for fundraisers or meetings. This is not a bad thing. These women do an immense amount of work and the power they hold to a large extent drives the practical daily life of the parish forward (along with the enormous super human work Matt does every day keeping up with people’s spiritual lives).

But as the priest’s wife, I had the power to foul this up.
Bring in the priest’s wife, and the delicate balance between Priest, ECW, and Parish is totally upset. Introduce her into the Holy of Holies (I mean the Kitchen) with all her opinions, direct access to the Priest, ability to bake (the list goes on) and the whole brew becomes toxic.
Why? Because what priest’s wife isn’t a little bit pushy? A little full of knowledge and pride? Able to straighten people out with a mere tweak.

No, I just steered clear, and continue to do so. Matt attends all the meetings and keeps up with all the ladies at daily Morning Prayer. I check in periodically and bake for the sales. But generally confine myself to Sunday School, office work, pastoral care, organizing the pageant every year (really, the list goes on and on).

But now I find myself a little torn. We have a new generation of young women who, very sensibly, are staying home with their children and even home schooling. In other words, they are mostly free during the day for the work of the church. I am torn. Do I encourage these young women to join the ECW? Would they be able to meld themselves in? The ECW hasn’t had anyone under 50 join in 30 years. What will happen? Will these young women even be interested? I know the ECW would be delighted at first but I have serious doubts about how long the delight would last.

I leave you, O Best Beloved, with all these questions unanswered, and go to bake several Enormous Christian Loaves of Bread to be sold tomorrow for the up building of the Church and its witness to the World. Amen.