Today we celebrate the feast of Florence Li Tim-Oi, the first woman ordained priest in the Anglican Communion; she served during World War II during a time of duress in Asia. Because of the controversy of her ordination, she resigned her license after the end of the war. I want to consider why our church ordains women and what that means for who we believe God to be, and what we believe to be the vocation–or job–of every Christian.
Having been raised–theologically-speaking–in the house of Stanley Hauerwas at Duke, “rights” language makes me very uncomfortable. It’s not that women have a “right” to serve just like men do, as priests–none of us, as followers of Jesus, has a right to do anything, so the argument goes. What I mean to say is that when we were drowned in the waters of baptism and raised up out of them by the grace of God, all our rights were washed away–the only claim that any baptized person has is our belonging to God in Christ–we follow the lifestyle that leads to the cross. It’s not about us as individuals anymore, it’s about what’s best for God’s kingdom and God’s people. Our only right is to pick up our cross and walk in Jesus’ footsteps.
Looked at this way, women ought to be ordained and to serve as priests, bishops, and whatever else in the church because God gifts both women and men with the sorts of talents that are useful for church leadership, development, evangelism, and the like. Part of my frustration growing up was that my parents told me that I should use the gifts God had given me–which were pretty clearly gifts for leadership, teaching, and speaking in public–and my church was telling me that I couldn’t do those sorts of things because I was a girl. An early Christian and theologian said, “that which God has not assumed, God cannot redeem”–what was important about Jesus–God in the flesh–was not that he was male, but that he was human. God assumed humanity, became a person, not God-became-male.
So if God doesn’t care if you are a man or a woman, as the passage in Galatians says today (3:23-28), I wonder if God cares if you are ordained or not. In the Gospel (Luke 10:1-9) lesson, Jesus sends out 70 of the people–probably all men–who had been following him around, instructing them to try out this ministry-and-evangelism thing. Perhaps they were like itinerant preachers, or circuit-riders, the way that Methodism spread in the United States, but I suspect they may have been more like immigrant workers, or bi-vocational evangelists–people who did “normal” work, but who shared their faith in the God who became a person because of his love for each human.
My uncle was visiting this week, and one morning he told me about his work at a major home-improvement store. He talked about how he builds relationships with customers, whether they are regulars or someone he just interacts with for 30 seconds or a few minutes. When someone is looking for a realtor key holder (those cases that have a code to punch in that holds the key–i don’t know what those are called otherwise!), he shows them where they are, but if they seem open to it, he asks them what it’s for, and as they start to have a conversation, he helps them think through the implications of the change they’re making to their home (whether it’s for security, or convenience, or whatever). Even though he’s just a “normal” worker, he reaches out to the people he comes in contact with and walks with them in their lives, if only for a few minutes, to help them know they’re not alone, to offer his expertise and wisdom, and to help them to make the best decision for their project.
Every Christian in every job is called to this kind of work. God came to earth in Jesus to prove how much he wants to know each of us; Jesus didn’t run away even from being murdered on a cross to show us that he loves us more than he loves anything else, even life; God raised Jesus from the dead to reveal that he is the most powerful force in the universe.
As baptized Christians, we come forward to receive the Eucharist in order to be healed and be filled with that same power; when we allow God to be active in our lives–giving up our “rights,” he does more through us than we could know or imagine on our own. God has called each and every one of us to be missionaries for the sake of his kingdom and his people, to go out as sheep in the midst of wolves, trusting in his will. We are primarily identified by our status as Christians, not as men or women or as priests. We’ve all been given a vocation in baptism, and that is to grow in relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and to introduce others to Him. Amen.