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All My Hope on God Is Founded
Words: Joachim Neander (1650-1680)
Music: Herbert Howells (1892-1983)

All my hope on God is founded;
He doth all my trust renew,
Me through change and chance He guideth,
Only good and only true.
God unknown, He alone
Calls my heart to be His own.

Pride of man and earthly glory,
Sword and crown betray his trust;
What with care and toil be buildeth
Tower and temple fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour,
Is my temple and my tower.

God’s great goodness aye endureth,
Deep His wisdom, passing thought:
Splendor, light, and life attend Him,
Beauty springeth out of naught.
Love doth stand at His hand;
Joy doth wait on His command.

Still from man to God eternal
Sacrifice of praise be done,
High above all praises praising
For the gift of Christ His Son.
Christ doth call one and all:
Ye who follow shall not fall.

We sang this little-known-in-America hymn in church yesterday and it reminded me how much I love it – both the music and the text.  There is a grandeur in the sound and a passion in the words that are hard to match.  I wondered aloud to the senior pastor and one of our choir members: “what inspired this song?” None of us had heard of Joachim Neander or knew why his life was so tragically short: he died at only 30 years of age.

Neander, originally from the city of Bremen, is probably best known for the hymn Praise To The Lord, The Almighty, The King Of Creation.  Like many upper-middle-class men of his time, Neander studied theology at university but wasn’t exactly on fire about his faith at first.  Hymnary.org writes: “German student life in the 17th century was anything but refined, and Neander seems to have been as riotous and as fond of questionable pleasures as most of his fellows…

“In July 1670, Theodore Under-Eyck came to Bremen as pastor of St. Martin’s Church… a Pietist and holder of conventicles. Not long after Neander, with two like-minded comrades, went to service there one Sunday, in order to criticize and find matter of amusement. But the earnest words of Under-Eyck touched his heart; and this, [and] subsequent conversations with Under-Eyck, proved the turning-point of his spiritual life.”

As for the inspiration behind this particular hymn text, history leaves us no specifics. But Hymnary.org writes: “Many [of his hymns] are of a decidedly subjective cast, but for this the circumstances of their origin, and the fact that the author did not expect them to be used in public worship, will sufficiently account. […] But the glow and sweetness of his better hymns, their firm faith, originality, Scripturalness, variety and mastery of rhythmical forms, and genuine lyric character fully entitle them to the high place they hold.”

There’s an interesting footnote to Neander’s family history: the family name was originally Neumann (“New man” in English) but Joachim’s grandfather changed it to the Greek Neander.  Before he was given his own church to lead, Joachim, who was a nature-lover, would hold gatherings and services and preach in the valley of the Dussel River.  The word in German for “valley” being “thal”, this area became known as Neander-thal or “Neander’s Valley”.  It was in this valley, in the 1800’s, that the remains of a man were found that became known as “Neanderthal Man”.




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Prayer request: The latest update from Bishop Grant LeMarquand and his wife Doctor Wendy who are ministering in Gambella, Ethiopia.


An update from Bishop Grant & Doctor Wendy LeMarquand.

More Sorrow

As I drove through the town of Itang, little seemed amiss. Luke, our deacon in this area, asked me to stop. “We can walk from here,” he said. As I got out of the vehicle the smell of burnt wood struck me. A hundred feet or so past where we parked we came around a corner – nothing but charred wood and ashes – more than 200 homes gone in one night. Our Anglican church was still standing – perhaps the attackers here had a sense of the fear of God that led them to spare that one building. If only they knew that the people they attacked were made in God’s image and more precious to Him than any building.

2016 has been a difficult year for Gambella – and it is only April.

The refugee crisis

Two years of civil war in South Sudan has brought 300,000 refugees into Gambella, roughly doubling the population of the region. The increased population has resulted in many stresses on the resources of an already fragile social system. Water, electricity, internet service have all been in short supply. Although Gambella is not densely populated, access to arable land and to river water for the needs of agriculture, animals and humans is becoming more and more contested.

The Anuak-Nuer conflict

Perhaps the most important challenge, however, has been the change in the ethnic make up of the region. The Anuak, for generations the majority people group in Gambella, are now vastly outnumbered due to the influx of refugees fleeing the conflict in neighbouring South Sudan, almost all of whom are Nuer. Tension resulting from different views and uses of land has once more sparked conflict. The Anuak, as well as hunting and fishing, are more settled in the land, planting crops and having a sense of ownership of the land they till. The Nuer, are traditionally nomadic cattle herders who drive their cattle through all land; the land that they believe belongs to God and is therefore free for their use. 

At the end of January this tension became violent. The details of the fighting are vague and under-reported, but the short version is that a few dozen people were killed, many injured, and hundreds of homes burned and looted. Some of the Nuer and Anuak youth actually looted the villages of their own people who fled from fear of violence. The town and region are still filled with anxiety two months later. Nuer cannot safely travel into Anuak areas and Anuak are afraid to enter Nuer enclaves. The Federal Police and Army are seeking to keep order, but violence has flared up in several places.

Our church life has been deeply affected. Our theological students (five Nuer and five Anuak) must have classes in separate places for now. Travel to some places is too dangerous and many people are stranded away from home and are being cared for by church members and family. Some are running out of food or the ability to purchase more.

If these troubles weren’t devastating enough, bad turned to worse in mid-April.

The Murle attacks

Early on the morning of April 15th, large, heavily armed groups of Murle people crossed into Ethiopia from South Sudan. The Murle have had a long history of raiding the cattle of neighbouring ethnic groups, killing any who stand in their way (or happen to be in the wrong place) and kidnapping children who are then assimilated into their people. The reports were truly horrific. Young Murle men with automatic weapons killing indiscriminately in the areas of Lare, Jikwao and Nininyang – all places where we have Anglican churches.  The first reports said 140 Nuer people, mostly women and children, were dead. The death toll went up steadily – 160, 182. It is now being reported that 208 have died, at least 82 treated for bullet wounds in the Gambella hospital (others have been moved to hospitals in Metu and Jimma), as many as 108 women and children have been abducted. 

David Yao Yao, a former Murle politician turned cattle rider has denied responsibility. He did claim (truly enough) that the war in South Sudan (mostly between Dinka and Nuer, although this is an over-simplification) has so destabilized the eastern regions of South Sudan that the area is virtually lawless. It seems that it was only a matter of time before the chaos ensued. The Ethiopian government and the South Sudan government have said they will work together to track down the perpetrators of this brutality and rescue those abducted. We will see. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia declared two days of mourning.

The only good news is that the rains have started – it is harder to raid cattle in the rain, so this event might not be repeated (this year).

These overlapping tragedies of civil war and the massive influx of refugees, the ethnic violence over land between the Anuak and Nuer, and now these appalling Murle raids have left our people feeling raw and fearful.

Jewi camp 

Just a couple of days after the Murle attacks, a truck owned by an NGO and driven by a “highlander” drove into Jewi Refugee camp just a few miles outside of Gambella town. ‘Highlander’ is the name given to non-Gambellan Ethiopians – Amharas, Tigrayans, Oromos and others – who are lighter skinned and quite different culturally from those groups native to Gambella. The truck struck and killed two Nuer children. Enraged refugees, no doubt already tense and on edge, responded with vengeance killing at least nine (perhaps more, reports are conflicting) highlanders. Vengeance leads to vengeance. Highlanders in Gambella began a march to the camp to kill Nuer. A highlander mob tried to attack Newlands, the Nuer part of Gambella town. Many were praying. Thankfully, perhaps miraculously, highlander retaliation was turned back by the Ethiopian (highlander) army. Although cars were burned in the centre of town, blocking the roads, and gunfire was heard sporadically throughout the day (warning shots thankfully), fewer casualties than expected were reported. As of April 25th, Gambella remains in simmering, tangible fear and anger.

The Anglican situation

Information has been hard to obtain from the villages and refugee camps. The internet has functioned only part of the time. Quite a number of relatives of our church members were killed during the Anuak-Nuer clashes. Many members were looted or had their houses burned. We have so far learned that, during the Murle raids, three members of our Anglican congregation in Kowkow (near Lare) were killed and 1 child abducted. The sister of one of our clergy was also killed in another village and her child abducted. I have little doubt that we will hear similar details from other villages. Pray for our clergy and lay readers seeking to bring comfort to those who mourn and practical aid to many in need.

Thanks for asking

Many have been asking us, how they can help respond to the suffering in Gambella, and the needs of those who have lost loved ones, whose houses have been burned or looted, who need food, clothing and shelter. As one of our people told us, “There are many who are very suffering”. Some have been directly hit, others have been stranded without means for food, unable to return to their home area. The simplest and quickest way to help would be through a donation to our ‘Samaritan Fund’. See below for donation links, but please specify that the gift is to be given to “Ethiopia – Samaritan Fund”.

For those wishing to make a contribution in response to this crisis, please click on this link for “The Friends of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt”:
Funds can be donated online or by cheque. Please specify:
Ethiopia – Samaritan Fund.


There is a wonderful African saying, “I am because We are”. Identity is known in relationship; in belonging to your community.
This can be unfortunate in places that have a tradition in which baby boys are blood covenanted at birth to the revenge
of their grandfather’s enemies. The revenge of family and community can be a part  of identity. It is very hard, especially for a young man, to say, “No. I will not join in the fighting”.
Now our churches have a saying “One Lord, one family, one blood”. The blood of Jesus speaks a stronger word, than the blood of Abel; the blood that cries out for revenge. Heb 12:25

~ Please Pray with us ~

Please pray for Peace in Gambella and in South Sudan

Pray for a functioning government in the eastern regions of South Sudan. 

Pray for evangelists to reach out to the Murle people so that their society can be transformed by the saving and healing love of Christ.


Pray for comfort for those who mourn and for wisdom for those bringing comfort.

Pray for an end to the culture of vengeance.

If you would like to share in our work,
see the following charitable donation links:

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Grant LeMarquand and Dr. Wendy LeMarquand
are missionaries of SAMS (Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders).
Bishop Grant is area bishop for the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia, Eretrea, Djibouti); under the Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa.


Copyright © 2016 Bishop Grant and Doctor Wendy, All rights reserved.
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c/o SAMS

PO Box 399

Ambridge, PA 15003


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The Leadership of Women in the Bible: One Protestant’s View of the Ordination of Women

By Grant LeMarquand, Anglican Bishop for the Horn of Africa, Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies, Trinity School for Ministry Ambridge, PA USA

Reprinted with permission (and thanks!)

This paper will argue that godly women should not be barred from ordination as deacons, priests and bishops simply by virtue of their gender. This may sound, in this context, like a bold statement, so allow me to make a few preliminary remarks before we turn to the biblical material.

First, let me assure you that I actually do know where I am – I am aware that this is a paper for the Pan Africa Association of Catholic Exegetes. I am aware that I am a bit of an anomaly here. I am not a Roman Catholic but an Anglican, and a rather Protestant Anglican in many ways. I know that what I am about to propose is, shall we say, in some ‘tension’ with the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church concerning ordination. However, I also believe that you tolerate me here in your gathering (much more than ‘tolerate’ actually – you have always welcomed me warmly!) partly because you know that I will bring a somewhat different perspective. I have found an openness to ecumenical insights in this gathering and so it is my hope that this paper will, if it does nothing else, give you an idea of how some other groups of Christians approach the question of the ordination of women. At the very least my musing may lead you to a better understanding of your ‘separated brethren’ as the Second Vatican Council called the non-Roman churches.

I must also mention a caveat. The subtitle of this paper begins with the words “One Protestant’s View.” Protestants, as you probably know, have a difficult time agreeing on anything. This is, I am sure, one of the curses (or blessings) of not having a magisterium. Protestants, at least until more recent years, have generally argued that Scripture takes priority over Tradition and that only what could be proved by Scripture should be believed by Christian people. For example, the 39 Articles of Religion of the Anglican Reformation states, “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation” (Article VI. Of the Sufficiency of the holy Scriptures for salvation). Although the priority of Scripture has been normative for most Protestants since the Reformation, it cannot be denied that a new source of authority (one perhaps implied by the very idea that Scripture can be interpreted by any Christian) has emerged in modern and postmodern discussion, that new authority being so-called “Experience.” Indeed for many “Experience” is now seen as the trump card and many feel no guilt or unease about throwing aside the clear teaching of Scripture if it contradicts their own personal Experience. Of course this new reality has brought not only a crisis in authority, but also much more difference of opinion: Protestants (and some Catholics I must say) no longer differ only in the interpretation of Scripture, but in what constitutes the foundation for interpretation itself. At least since Schleiermacher much Protestant interpretation has been sadly individualistic and anthropocentric. These hermeneutical issues are well beyond the scope of this small paper. It is enough to say at this point that by no means will all Protestants or all Anglicans agree with the opinions in this essay. The Anglican Communion, consists of thirty-eight autonomous Provinces, all in Communion with but not under the authority of, the Archbishop of Canterbury. We are not agreed on women in Holy Orders. Some Provinces (or dioceses within Provinces) do not ordain women to any order. Some ordain only to the diaconate. Many now ordain women to the priesthood, but not the episcopate. Several (Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England) now have women bishops. So my paper is the opinion of one Anglican Protestant. Other Protestants or Anglicans should not be judged according to my views!

Finally, I must say a word about the Holy Spirit. Some in the Western world have attempted to short cut the hard work of exegetical and theological thinking by asserting that the Spirit has led the church in such and such a way. I am not saying that we should neglect the work of the Spirit in our midst. In fact I think we need more, not less dependence on the Spirit in our corporate life as Christians. Certainly, I consider myself a “charismatic!” And if anyone has a claim to be a charismatic – I have more: a charismatic of charismatics, converted to Christ at a charismatic revival meeting, filled with the Spirit as a teenager in a Pentecostal church, a witness of healing (and other!) miracles, a speaker in tongues (“I speak as a mad man” – let the reader understand). My concern is that the claim to being led by the Spirit has been made by many who seem to have been led in opposite directions. The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church of The United States, for example, claimed (in her 2010 Pentecost letter) that The Episcopal Church was led by the Spirit to its liberal position on homosexual practice. It seems to me, however, that if one claims to be led by the Spirit, one is saddled with the burden of proof to demonstrate how the alleged movement of the Spirit coheres with the Word of God. Any claim to the Spirit’s inspiration or guidance must be consistent with what God has already revealed in Christ and in the scriptures.

I propose, therefore, that on this issue of women’s ordination, as with any issue in the church, we examine the biblical text in order to discover what God would have us think and do. In this quest I believe that Tradition can also be helpful in clarifying the biblical message, but I must confess at the outset that I am one of those Protestants who believe that the canon of Scripture trumps Tradition and that if we must chose, it is Scripture which must prevail. I believe that the church must always be reforming (semper reformanda) because God continually puts new situations and issues before us which require careful, patient discernment, but also courageous action.

And so, to Scripture.

Scriptural Foundations


Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

   So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Gen 1:26-27)

These verses from the first Genesis creation story make it clear that God not only made human beings in his image, but that a major part of the concept of being in God’s image is that humans are male and female. Orthodox theology has always affirmed that God is not male but beyond gender. Only a humanity which is both male and female can adequately image God in his world.

Closely related to the statement that humanity, both male and female, is created in God’s image is the mandate given to humanity – the mandate to have authority over God’s creation, to rule as stewards of God’s world. We should note that the text of Genesis is clear that authority to rule is not given to the man alone but to both the man and the woman: “let them have dominion.”

Some will argue (on the basis of the second creation story) that since the women was created second, and (according to Genesis 2:18-23) since she is called his “helper,” (the KJV says “helpmate”) that some kind of leadership is given to the man, implying that an unequal relationship between the genders is built into creation itself. It is true that the Hebrew word (ezer) can imply a hierarchical relationship. Of the 128 uses of the word in the Old Testament, approximately 70% describe the “helper” as an inferior helping a superior. This is certainly not always the case, however. At times the “helper” and the one helped are clearly perceived as equals, and in other texts, the “helper” is the superior partner.[1] In some texts it is even God himself who is described as our “helper.”[2] The context of a given passage must provide the interpretative clues for making a decision in a case like this, not the word itself. And in this case, it seems clear that the man and the women, after they are put together by God, are not put into a hierarchical relationship, but are described by God as equals – they are made in his image and together they are given the authority to rule the earth.


The third chapter of Genesis describes the Fall, the entry of sin into the world through the human rebellion. Among the many implications of the entry of sin and death into the world is the reality that relations between the genders are now damaged. Although the curses pronounced by God to the man and the woman differ, they are balanced – both are cursed with ‘labour’: the man with labour in his work in the field, the woman with labour in childbirth.

But along with the balanced curses comes an unbalanced hierarchy. The woman is told: “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” We should take note: the hierarchy of genders which is so ingrained in most cultures of the world in various ways is not a part of the created order, but a part of the fallen state. Patriarchy, the authority of males over females, enters into the world as a consequence of sin. This pronouncement of the ‘rule’ of women over men by God is clearly embedded within in the context of the curses given to the serpent, the man and the woman. Just as the curse on Adam has the effect of bringing a curse on the ground (Gen 3:17), so the curse on Eve has the effect of bringing a curse on the relationship of husband and wife: “he shall rule over you”, Gen 3:16. The curses are as balanced.[3]


The story of Israel takes place in the midst of the world’s fallen reality. Unequal gender relations characterize the life of Israel as well as its neighbours. In the midst of this situation, laws were given which protect women, especially widows, from the power of men. The laws of Israel are not only commands to be obeyed, they are a revelation of God’s compassionate and merciful character. The Torah reveals a God who cares for the weakest in society – the stranger, the slave, the indebted, the poor, the orphan, the widow. Among other effects, God’s Torah provides a context in which, in spite of living in a fallen and a patriarchal world, women would be given a community in which the women are respected and protected.

But even in the context of patriarchal Israelite society not all leaders in Israel are men. A multiplicity of leadership roles is given to women by God throughout the Old Testament narratives. Miriam is one Israel’s first prophets and a leader of worship; Deborah is called to be a judge; Hannah is shown to be a faithful pray-er in the house of the Lord even though the male priesthood has become corrupt; in the Song of Songs we hear the voice of a female author, a theologian-teacher; the “woman of worth” in Proverbs 31 has a clear gift of administration; the courageous actions of Naomi and Ruth are used by God as part of his plan to give his nation a just king.

There are of course no women priests in the Old Testament. We must keep in mind, however, that in the Old Testament period there were also no priests who were gentiles, no priests who were eunuchs or had any physical disability or deformity of any kind, and no priests from any tribe except Levi. As the book of Hebrews makes clear, even Jesus would not have been qualified to be a priest of Israel. We cannot simply argue that on the basis of the Old Testament priesthood being male, that ordination to ministry in the Church ought to be restricted to males.

In fact, I would argue that the Old Testament priesthood is a very different form of leadership from any new covenant ministry. The Old Testament priesthood was responsible for that set of things which characterized Israel as a nation under the old covenant: sacrifice, food laws, and so forth. Now that Israel has been redefined around the crucified and risen Christ, there is no need for a sacrificial system presided over by “priests” in that Old Testament sense, that is, priests who function as mediators between God and human beings. In fact one could argue that this is one of the main arguments of the letter to the Hebrews. I will say a bit more about the possible meaning of ‘priesthood’ later.

Ministry of Jesus

Mary the mother of Jesus was not simply a vessel for the incarnate Son of God. Mary was not merely a passive recipient, but an active and willing servant of the Lord, following the pattern of the suffering servant in Isaiah, exemplified, of course, by her Son. Mary’s willing participation in the incarnation provides a model for discipleship: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to thy word.” (Lk 1:38)

Mary the willing servant is also a theologian. An examination of the Magnificat reveals a brilliant, carefully constructed re-working of the Song of the Sea in Ex 15 and Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel which ties together the hopes of the people of Israel with God’s new work of salvation for whole world. Because of Mary’s unique, pivotal role in the history of salvation, we have, perhaps, been distracted from her ministry as a teacher, a theologian who has provided us with one of the most beautiful pieces of poetic theology in the history of the church.

Another woman mentioned in the infancy narratives is the prophet Anna (Lk 2:36) who is paired with the prophet Simeon in what is one of at least thirty instances in the third gospel in which Luke pairs a story of a man with a story of a woman. It is a commonplace in New Testament scholarship to note Luke’s pairing as a characteristic of his composition which functions to draw attention to the central roles played by women in the ministry of Jesus. According to Luke 2, Anna fasts and prays and gives thanks to God in the temple (vv. 37-38), but she also prefigures the work of the early Jerusalem church in the book of Acts who use the temple as the primary locus of proclamation. In Luke 2:38 “she spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” That is, in the gospel of Luke a woman is the first person to publicly proclaim the gospel of Jesus, in function paralleling the preaching of Peter on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.

“The twelve and the women.” Another characteristic feature of Lukan style is his inclusion of summary statements which form points of transition in the action of his narrative. One of these transition/summary statements is found in Luke 6:12-16, which functions in the text to bring the story up to that point to a conclusion and introducing a section of teaching (Lk 6:17-49) and healing stories (Lk 7). Luke 6:12-16 portrays Jesus praying (another prominent theme of Luke’s gospel), and then choosing “from” his disciples. The implication here is that the disciples were a rather large group from which “the twelve” are chosen and named. The consistent impression we have from the third gospel is that most of Jesus’ peripatetic ministry is carried on in the presence of a large group of disciples who travel with Jesus from place to place, the twelve being a special group called out from among the disciples for a special symbolic purpose (as representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel now being renewed in Jesus’ ministry), as well as for some unspecified leadership role or roles among the larger group of disciples. That Jesus chose only males to be a part of the group of twelve does not necessarily imply that the church after Pentecost is bound to ordain only men. We noted in the case of the Old Testament priesthood that Gentiles and even Israelite non-Levites were excluded, as well as many other categories of men. Similarly, although Jesus disciples were all male, this does not mean that ordination must be restricted to only Jewish believers in Jesus.

The very next Lukan summary statement specifies another group of disciples, some of whom are also named:

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.  (Lk 8:1-3)

It seems clear that some of the women among Jesus’ disciples were benefactors – they “provided” for this large group of disciples “out of their means.” Joanna, wife of Chuza, may have been a key figure in this group. The translation used above says that Chuza (the name is Nabatean) was Herod’s “household manager.” A more accurate translation would be “minister of finance,” probably sent to Tiberius (Herod’s Galilean headquarters) as part of a political treaty arrangement, where he met and married the daughter of a Jewish aristocrat. He may have converted to Judaism or he may have been a god-fearer. Perhaps he was the “royal official” mentioned in John 4:43 whose son (and, on this theory, also Joanna’s son) was healed by Jesus and whose entire household came to believe in Jesus. Such an historical reconstruction would explain how Joanna had become a disciple and how she was able to provide for Jesus and his followers (perhaps with funds from her husband, perhaps from her own personal finances).[4]

The women who followed Jesus, including but not limited to the ones named in Luke 6 were more than just the servants and benefactors. These women were most probably members of the 70 (or 72, there is a textual variant at that point in the manuscript tradition) whose mission of preaching the kingdom and healing is described in Luke 10:1-24. Note that this group seems to grow. In Luke 10 it is 70 (or so). At the triumphal entry it is a “multitude of disciples” (Lk 19:37); on the day that Judas is replaced at least 120 gather to deliberate, pray and cast lots (Acts 1:15-26), a group which seems to include the eleven, and also “the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers” (Acts 1:14); it is presumably this same group who “are all together in one place” (Acts 2:1) on the Pentecost, and therefore preach in tongues and aid in the baptism of the thousands who believe that day.

The women, according to Luke, accompany Jesus during the time of his ministry, follow him into Jerusalem at the beginning of passion week, and become witnesses of,

  • his death: “And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance and saw these things,” (Lk 23:49),
  • his burial: “The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid; then returned, and prepared spices and ointments,” (Lk 23:55-56),
  • and his resurrection: “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8And they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Lk 24:1-11)

The significance of these female disciples of Jesus is often missed or glossed over. They were with Jesus throughout his three years of ministry, they heard his teaching, witnessed his mighty acts and were full participants in the mission work which Jesus sent his disciples to do. (Note the words of the angels at the tombs: “remember how he told you when he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered…” [24:7; italics added] – the women, in other words, were present for Jesus’ passion predictions.) At least some of them made a significant contribution to the support of the band of disciples – especially Joanna, wife of Chuza. They were the primary witnesses of the saving events of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. All four of the gospel writers are careful to mention the presence of the women at these events, even when most of the twelve, except for the beloved disciple (according to John’s gospel) have fled the scene. Mark’s gospel, indeed, underlines the courage of the women as opposed to the flight of the twelve.

But what is the significance of women “disciples”?

The story of Jesus in the home of Mary and Martha of Bethany helps to clarify the women’s role. The story is well-known; Martha is working in the kitchen while Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet.” (v. 39) Although many have attempted to portray this story as exemplifying two kinds of good and helpful dispositions towards the Lord (service and contemplation), there is much more significance to Mary of Bethany’s behaviour than simply to exhibit an example of a godly woman at prayer. Two things are to be noted. First, Mary is transgressing into male space. In the first century world, the kitchen is the place for the women when there are male visitors in the house; the gathering room is male space. Second, the phrase “sitting at the feet” is code language for the behaviour of a disciple who is learning from a Rabbi. Note that the same phrase is used in the book of Acts to describe Paul whose credentials include that he had “sat at the feet of Gamaliel.” (Acts 22:5) Far from being the archetype of the submissive woman, Mary of Bethany is acting with great presumption – she is in male space, and taking upon herself a male role, that of training as a disciple of a Rabbi in order to become a Rabbi herself. (To be a disciple is to take on an apprenticeship to be a Rabbi; one does not become a disciple merely for one’s own personal spiritual benefit!) Martha is scandalized about Mary not just because she needs an extra pair of hands in the kitchen, but because Mary is transgressing gender roles – and Jesus is encouraging it. Women disciples of Jesus, in other words, were in training to be missionary preachers and healers, Rabbis of the good news of the Rabbi Jesus.

And, in fact, the female witnesses of the resurrection, especially Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), become the first preachers of the message of the resurrection. The disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus (a married couple, perhaps?) say: “Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive” (Lk 24-22-23). They become the apostles to the apostles.[5] Mary Magdalene herself, according to John, used the phrase “I have seen the Lord.” (Jn 20:18) Bauckham’s comment is pertinent:

This is exactly what the other disciples later say to Thomas: “We have seen the Lord” (20:25). In Paul this is the defining content and terminology of the apostolic witness: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord?” (1 Cor 9:1).

The work of witness and proclamation by Mary and the other witnesses of Jesus ministry, death, burial and resurrection is apostolic work, apostolic work which continues past the first post-resurrection days into the post-Pentecost period.

Early Church

We must turn now to the practice of the earliest church, and especially to the letters of Paul where we find texts often used and misused by advocates of both sides of this discussion of women’s orders. There are some obvious texts that we must examine, but let me begin (having spoken of the women at the tomb as ‘apostles to the apostles’) with a text that may seem perhaps a bit more obscure – the list of greetings in Romans 16.

Several women are named in the greetings of Romans 16. This is significant in itself, since Paul’s usual practice is to greet the leaders of the congregation to whom he is writing. The first person named in the list is Phoebe, who is described as a deacon (v. 1) of the church of Cenchreae. It is difficult to assess exactly what the function of deacons was at this stage in the church’s history. The book of Acts, of course, has them set aside as administrators who perform a particular ministry for which they need to be filled with the Spirit – but at least two of them, Stephen and Philip, have significant preaching ministries. As well as being called a “deacon” Phoebe is also described as a ‘”benefactor” (v. 2: prostatis). The RSV has the very weak translation of “helper” at this point. A benefactor, rather, is one who provides the material needs for a person or organization. Phoebe is the ‘patron,’ (or, rather, ‘matron’) it seems, of her church in the suburbs of Corinth. As such it would have been expected for her to preside at the community meal, which for Christians was the Eucharist. Certainly, other benefactors in the Greco-Roman world, who hosted organizations in their homes, would have been expected to host the meal.[6]

The next people named are Prisca (or Priscilla) and Aquila, also known to us from the book of Acts. Significantly Prisca is named first, as she is three out of the four times the couple is mentioned in Acts. This may be because she has had the more significant ministry. The two are known to us as the teachers of the already eloquent Apollos (Acts 18:26). Apollos has sometimes been suggested as the author of the epistle to the Hebrews – a suggestion which led Adolf von Harnack to argue that since Priscilla was the teacher of Apollos, perhaps she was the actual author of Hebrews. Harnack’s suggestion has not always been followed of course (since it lacks any real evidence!) but it might explain why Hebrews is an anonymous work – who would have believed the work of a woman? What we do know, whether Priscilla authored Hebrews or not, is that she is known as a woman with a significant teaching and leadership ministry.

There are several other women mentioned in Romans 16, including Mary (v. 6). Sadly we don’t know which Mary this is. The gospel writers are always careful to distinguish between women named Mary since at least a third of all the women in Palestine in the time of Jesus had that name. Sadly, for us, Paul does not help with this question.

Of great importance to us for our discussion is v.7. The RSV is now widely regarded as the worst of translations on this verse. It reads:

Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. (RSV)

Several things should be noted about the RSV translation. In the RSV the second member of the pair is given a masculine name (Junias) even though the masculine form of this name is completely unattested in the ancient world and is found in no ancient texts. Most scholars have abandoned any attempt to argue that Paul was referring to a man.[7] Most likely Andronicus and Junia were a married couple. The RSV makes it worse, of course, by calling them ‘kinsmen’ and ‘men of note,’ terms which (wrongly) emphasize the masculine gender.

Correctly, however, the RSV says that these two are “of note among the apostles.” The ESV corrects one problem of the RSV translation, only to introduce another:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. (ESV)

The ESV leaves out the second masculine note, but keeps one. ‘Junia’ (a feminine name rightly included in the ESV) is still (surprisingly) called a “kinsman.” Of course what Paul means is that these two are both Jewish – an interesting piece of data since neither name is Jewish – but then neither is the name “Paul.” Most Jews living in the diaspora were given or adopted Greek or Latin names which were similar to their Jewish name (thus: Saul / Paul; Cleopas / Clopas; Simeon / Simon; Joseph / Justus, etc, etc).[8]

The ESV describes Andronicus and Junia as “well know to the apostles” thereby implying that they may not be apostles themselves. The exegetical question is whether the Greek preposition “en” should be considered inclusive (“among”) or exclusive (“to”). Aside from the observation that Paul would probably have used a different preposition if he had wanted to make it clear that his meaning was exclusive, perhaps the strongest argument in favour of the inclusive meaning is found in one of the early Greek fathers (who, after all, spoke the language fluently and would have understood the nuance intended). The father I have in mind is Chrysostom, who, in a sermon on Romans 16 stated the following,

“Greet Andronicus and Junia…who are outstanding among the apostles”: To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles – just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was deemed worthy of the title of apostle.[9]

Paul had a wider view of what apostolic ministry was than is portrayed in Acts 1. In Acts 1 the term apostle is limited to the twelve. The criteria for replacing Judas, however, (including it seems that the replacement should be male) include that the person has been a member of the wider group of disciples from the time of Jesus’ baptism until his Ascension, and was a witness of the resurrection. Paul’s use of term seems to be similar in that an apostle (like Paul himself) should have “seen the Lord.” Junia (whether or not she is the same person known in Luke as Joanna) must at least have been one of the “more than five hundred” (1 Cor 15) to whom Jesus appeared after the resurrection. More likely, she and her husband were probably followers of Jesus before the passion and have now become missionaries to the church in Rome.

For Paul to call a woman an apostle has important implications. First, it is clear that for Paul apostles are in a special category. They are the first “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” as Luke puts it. (Lk 1:2) If the New Testament says that a woman was an apostle it is difficult to see how we can refuse ordination to any order of ministry to a woman. This might especially be true for more Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans who see continuity between the apostles and their successors in the episcopate. A more evangelically minded person might not see apostolic succession in those terms at all, seeing the true apostolic succession to be a succession of teaching rather than persons in episcopal office. In either case the presence of a woman apostle in the pages of the New Testament appears to remove all objections to the ordination of women. I think it is already clear that the New Testament calls Phoebe a “deacon” and that she probably presided at the Eucharistic table in her Corinthian house church. That women are, in the New Testament, leaders, presiders at the communal table, preachers, eyewitnesses of the saving events would, to my mind, remove any objections to the ordination of women as presbyters.

But what of the texts in Paul that are often used to argue against the ordination of women?

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

On any account this is a difficult passage. Does this mean that women must not preach? Many argue that, especially those who believe that ordination is the setting aside of a person to preach and govern, which is common among Reformed Christians.[10] However, a surface reading of this text actually seems to say much more than ‘women shouldn’t preach.’ It seems to imply that women should not be lectors, or give announcements, or lead the prayers of the people.

The text has other problems. Numerous scholars (not just liberal ones who want to avoid the ordination of women question) argue on good grounds that this text is not an original part of Paul’s letter. These verses do not appear in all of the ancient manuscripts (see Fee’s commentary for a vigorous argument excluding this text from the New Testament). I tend to agree with that evidence.

However, even if it was not written by Paul, some will still say that it is canonical on other grounds, as part of the textus receptus. So it needs to be discussed (just as the story of the woman caught in adultery needs to be discussed).

But it is highly doubtful that the text means that women must be silent all the time. In 1 Corinthians 11 (another difficult passage – on the subject of head covering), Paul is clearly talking about the correct way for women to ‘pray’ and to ‘prophesy’ in church. If Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 says that women may pray and prophesy (and the term prophesy itself probably includes preaching as well as other more spontaneous Spirit-inspired speech[11]), how can he turn around three chapters later and say they must always be silent. The answer appears to lie (as it always does) in the context, in this case, the cultural context. Ken Bailey suggests (based on years of experience in the Middle East) that some of the women in Corinth and other places, would have been less educated and therefore have had a more difficult time following the teaching in church. If the sermon was long (Paul’s sometimes were – remember Eutyches, falling dead from the window!) the women may have become impatient and begun to ask their husbands questions or to talk among themselves. Paul’s answer (if this is a Pauline text) is that they should ask at home. Here is the important point: Paul wants them to be taught so that they will be able to pray and prophesy and participate more intelligently in the future.[12]

1 Timothy 2:8-15

I suggest that a similar situation is behind Paul’s (yes, I think Paul wrote the Pastorals!) words in 1 Timothy: “I permit no women to teach or to have authority (or “be authoritarian”) over men; she is to keep silent.” (v. 12) There are some who take heart from Paul’s words here because it sounds as if he is reinforcing and giving (literally) sanction to their prejudices against women. There are some, therefore, who argue that Paul’s words reinforce the view that men are strong, macho leader types, and women are air-headed, shallow, indecisive and must be led. Women should stay at home and take care of the children and the house work. I have heard these views expressed in my classroom by students from time to time (and certainly on the internet!), and 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is sometimes used as the proof text.

The key to understanding the text, once more, is to understand the context. Verse 11 says the issue is that women “should learn.” Learning, Paul says, precedes any teaching. Verses 13-14 seems at first to make things work against those in favour of women in the pulpit, because Paul’s admonition ‘to learn in silence and not to teach’ is given biblical (Old Testament) sanction as Paul’s provides the theological reason – Eve sinned first. For many, this means that Paul is appealing to the order of creation (Adam came first, then Eve) and the order of the Fall (Eve sinned first, then Adam) to bolster an argument to have only men in teaching authority in church. Paul’s argument would then be: ‘Eve sinned first, therefore, if we allow women to be in charge, we will be back in the same trouble we got ourselves into in the garden.’ This would imply that, according to Paul, women are weaker not just physically, but morally and spiritually, and that they are, therefore a danger to men.

But we must pay careful attention to the purpose of Paul’s admonition. The issue which Paul is addressing has to do with those who have the qualifications to teach in church. Those who do not know must learn before they can teach. The problem that Paul is addressing is that most women (not all – see Joanna, Junia, Priscilla, the Corinthian women prophets, and Philip’s daughters) in his day lacked the appropriate education to teach. So they must learn first (v. 11). The problem that Eve had was that she was ‘deceived.’ (v. 13) What women need, therefore, is the opportunity to study and learn – and therefore not be deceived as Eve was.[13]

I would argue, therefore that Tom Wright’s translation of this passage is the most accurate and helpful:

 So this is what I want: that men should pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, with no anger or disputing. In the same way the women, too, should clothe themselves in an appropriate manner, modestly and sensibly. They should not go in for elaborate hairstyles, or gold, or pearls, or expensive clothes. Instead, as is appropriate for women who profess to be godly, they should adorn themselves with good works. They must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God. I’m not saying that women should be allowed to teach men, or try to dictate to them, rather they should be left undisturbed. Adam was created first, you see, and then Eve and Adam was not deceived    but the woman was deceived, and fell into trespass. She will, however, be kept safe     through childbirth, if she continues in faith, love and holiness with prudence.[14]

We may conclude, therefore that, like the Gospels and the book of Acts, Paul has no objection to women serving in any leadership positions in the church, so long as they are appropriately called, gifted and trained.

Theological concerns

Christ and culture

We can agree, I believe, that many churches in the West have become conformed to a certain spirit of the age. The Zeitgeist which has made idols of self-expression, unregulated so-called freedom, have led us to the point that some churches support freedom of choice to abort babies over the need to protect the most vulnerable, and support complete freedom of sexual expression. I am deeply aware that many who would call themselves theologically conservative believe that the ordination of women fits into this same basic category. There are bad arguments for the ordination of women – arguments based on particular ideas of freedom or notions of human rights or ‘equality’ (I myself have never believed in the equality of men and women – I have always considered women to be superior beings in almost every way!).

Africa is not immune from these philosophical and theological currents. The trends of modernism and postmodernism are not confined to Western culture. The mass media is now a global phenomenon, the internet comes from everywhere and goes to everywhere. There is no place isolated of insulated. It is crucial, therefore that the Africa churches examine proposed cultural changes carefully and thoughtfully. Africa has traditionally had quite defined roles for men and women. One might argue that some of thee roles have not benefitted women. In 2013 I led a retreat for male and female Anglican theological students in Juba, South Sudan. At one point we were examining Genesis 3 and the ‘curses’ placed on Adam and Eve. I pointed out that both the man and the woman received a penalty for their sin described by the same word – pain, labour. The man is told that by ‘labour’ he would work the earth; the woman is told that by ‘labour’ she would bring forth children. A woman’s hand went up: “If this true,” she said, “why is it that in Africa the women get both?”

At the same time, women in Africa have never been completely shut out of religious leadership roles. Women have been prophets, evangelists, worship leaders, teachers, both within traditional religions and within the church. I believe that it is time to look again at the roles that women play in the church and ask whether they have been too restricted, not because of what Scripture says, but because parts of our culture have kept women confined to certain roles and tasks.


By far the strongest argument against my position is that I have not demonstrated how the tradition of the post-New Testament church came to exclude women from ordained ministry. The answer to this question is beyond my area of expertise, but let me make a few suggestions. First, as I have said before, for me the Bible is a trump card. If the Bible teaches that women were ministers of the gospel in the New Testament period, then the church must restore that ministry.

Second, there do seem to be some indications that women were ordained in the post-apostolic period. Let me just mention three.

The first is the early church father Chrysostom. We have already seen his expository comment of Junia, the woman apostle of Rom 16:7. The quote from the silver-tongued bishop is worth repeating here:

“Greet Andronicus and Junia…who are outstanding among the apostles”: To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles – just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was deemed worthy of the title of apostle.[15]

It seems clear that at least this early church father believed that there could be a woman apostle. If Junia could be an apostle should not other women be called to apostolic orders?

Second, a late second century Orthodox document, The Acts of Paul and Thecla, probably from Asia Minor, but which circulated widely in the early church (texts are found in Greek, Coptic, Ethiopic and Armenian) and was even found in some of the early biblical canons of the Armenian and Syrian Churches, portrays Thecla as baptizing and as being sent by Paul to teach and evangelize. A fresco (from near Ephesus, dated around the 4th c) of Thecla (or Theoclia) was defaced when, at a later date, it became clear that women were not going to be ordained, or continue to be ordained. It should be noticed that the fresco which portrays Paul and Thecla together, defaces only Thecla (her eyes are gauged out and her right hand is marred). As John Dominic Crossan notes, “Both the right hands of Paul and of Theoclia are raised in identical authoritative teaching gestures.”[16] If the partial destruction of the fresco was the work of an iconoclast Paul would also have been de-faced. It must have been done by someone who believed that Thecla, as a woman, should not have been so honoured.

Similarly, the alpha at the end of the word “Episcopa” in the icon of “Episcopa Theodora” in an early 9th century mosaic in Rome has been defaced, probably because the iconoclast understood the word to mean “a (female) bishop.” Some have argued that the word meant that she was “the wife of a bishop,” but the fact that it was defaced would surely imply that the term was understood to mean “bishop” and that this was found offensive. This is evidence is certainly far from sure, of course.

There is, of course, much more evidence that women’s ministry has been accepted in Protestant, especially holiness traditions. John Wesley commissioned women preachers, General Boothe of the Salvation Army said that his best men were women, the Pentecostal movement has long ordained women pastors, the 19th century missionary movement sent at least as many women to the field as men. This too, I would argue, is a part of the ‘Tradition’ which we must consider.

Although it is clear that women could not be ordained during most of the post-apostolic and medieval periods, I have not yet seen any convincing arguments from those periods as to why women are excluded.

What is ordination?

I think it is clear that I have barely touched the issue which is the important one for many of you here, which is that limiting the priesthood to males is seen as right and proper because the priest stands in the place of Christ as a sort of mediator figure between God and his people. I have not addressed this, except perhaps by implication in a few places in my paper, because I do not see ordination referred to in those terms in the pages of the New Testament. This is, of course, a major issue for Roman Catholic doctrine and so let me add just one alternative possible view. Most Protestants, myself included, have some difficulty accepting a mediatorial role for the Christian priesthood. The English word priest is closely related to the Greek word ‘presbuteros’ (elder) rather than the term ‘hieros’ (sacrificing priest). For Protestants, “there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5) Even if it should be accepted that a Christian priest has some mediatorial role, should we speak of the priest standing in the place of Christ? There is an alternative view. Until recently the Eastern churches rejected the idea of the priest standing in the place of Christ, preferring instead to see the priest standing in the place of the Church. Surprisingly, although the Church is the bride of Christ, the Eastern view did not lead the Eastern churches to insist that all priests be female in order to fulfill that role. Why, then, should we insist that only a male priesthood could stand in the place of Christ. For me, of course, these are moot points since I see ordination primarily as the setting aside of a person for ministries of equipping, leading and teaching. But if we must speak of a mediatorial role for the priest in Christ’s church, would the female priesthood not remind us all of the church as Christ’s bride; would the female priesthood not also remind us that God made us all in his image – male and female he made us (Genesis 1:27); and especially would the female priest not remind us all that actually Christ is the only mediator between God and humanity?

[1] See W. J. WEBB, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (Downers Grove, IVP, 2001) 128.

[2] See for example Psalm 46:1. Cf. P. TRIBLE, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Philadelphia, Fortress, 1978) and M.J. OBIORAH, << Insight into the Community’s Faith in Psalm 46: Its Relevance for Africa >>, Bible et sujets pastoraux en Afrique – Bible and Pastoral Issues in Africa. Proceedings of the Sixteenth Congress of the Panafrican Association of Catholic Exegetes (ed. M.A. ADEKAMBI) (Abidjan, APECA / PACE 2015) 110-45 [especially pp. 129-30].

[3] What is more, the next chapters of Genesis detail the many other ways in which the sin of Adam and Eve has repercussions in every area of life: the whole world is now broken. The natural world is effected (“cursed is the ground because of you”, Gen 3:17), patriarch enters (Gen 3:16), the family of the first ancestors experiences jealousy leading to murder (Gen 4:1-16), the life span of the ancestors decreases (compare Gen 5:1-31 with Gen 11:10-32), the boundaries between the material and spiritual worlds are disrupted (Gen 6:1-4), and after the flood we see the emergence of Empire (Gen 11:1-10). Patriarchy is merely one of the many ways in which sin infects the fallen world.

[4] For much more corroborating evidence, see R. BAUCKHAM, Gospel Women. Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2002) chapter 5.

[5] For the history of the use of this phrase, especially as regards Mary Magdalene, see R. BROWN, The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York, Paulist, 1979) 190.

[6] For more on patronage and the role of Phoebe as a patron see, B.W. WINTER, Roman Wives, Roman Widows. The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2003) 193-99.

[7] Exceptions are M.H. BURER and D.B. WALLACE, “Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Rom 16,7”, NTS 47 (2001) 76-91; for a clear refutation see, R. BAUCKHAM, Gospel Women. Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2002) 166-86 and E.J. EPP, Junia. The First Woman Apostle (Minneapolis, Fortress, 2005).

[8] As an aside, it may be the case (and it has been argued cogently by Richard Bauckham) that this Junia’s Hebrew name may have been the sound-alike name Joanna, that woman from Galilee who was a prominent member of “the women” among Jesus’ disciples and a witness to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. See R. BAUCKHAM, Gospel Women. Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2002) chapter 5.

[9] In Ep. Ad Romanos 31.2; PG 60.669-670.

[10] This is why, by the way, the Anglican Diocese of Sydney opposes women’s ordination, but is in favour of lay presidency, even by women, at the Lord’s Supper. They don’t consider ordination to be ordination to the table, but to the pulpit, or to governance.

[11] For this discussion see the commentaries by: G. FEE, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1987) and A. THISELTON, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2000).

[12] See K.E. BAILEY, “The Women Prophets of Corinth: A study of aspects of 1 Cor 11:2-16”, Theology Matters (Jan-Feb 2000) 11-14; “Women in the New Testament: A Middle Eastern Cultural View”, Theology Matters 6/1 (2000) 1-11. A similar argument can be found in D. WILLIAMS, The Apostle Paul and Women in the Church (Los Angeles, BIM, 1977), and in C. S. KEENER, Paul, Women & Wives. Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, Hendrickson, 1992) chapter 2.

[13] I am grateful to Tom Wright, former Bishop of Durham, for this basic line of reasoning. See N.T. WRIGHT, “Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis”, a conference paper for the Symposium, ‘Men, Women and the Church’, St John’s College, Durham, September 4, 2004, which can be accessed online on the “N.T. Wright Page”: http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Women_Service_Church.htm&gt;. Accessed September 1, 2015.

[14] T. WRIGHT, Paul for Everyone. The Pastoral Letters 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (London:SPCK, 2003) 21-22.

[15] In Ep. Ad Romanos 31.2; PG 60.669-670.

[16] J.D. Crossan, “The Search for the Historical Paul: What Paul Thought About Women”, The Huffington Post (November 8, 2011), online at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-dominic-crossan/historical-paul-gender_b_921319.html. Accessed September 16, 2015. The article includes a clear photograph of the fresco.


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When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. (Mark 11:1-11)

This Lent we have been following A Disciples’ Path, and this Sunday is the final installment in the series. This week we look at the Path of Witness. And I’m going to get to that… but this being Palm Sunday I’d like to talk about Palm Sunday first!

Palm Sunday is kind of a strange holiday. On the one hand it’s a celebration, and on the other hand it’s a day of gathering gloom. On the one hand we celebrate the arrival of King Jesus into His royal city… and on the other hand, this is the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ life.

Looking at our reading from the gospel of Mark, let’s become people in the crowd for a moment. As people born and raised in Jerusalem back in those days, what would we see? What would we hear? What would we know?

We know Jesus has arrived in town. He’s the prophet from Galilee everyone’s talking about. They say he heals the sick. They say he gives sight to the blind. They say he even raises the dead. They say he’s the most amazing teacher – he speaks with authority, not like the scribes and the Pharisees. They whisper this must be the Messiah. They don’t say it too loudly because the rabbis say anyone who says ‘Jesus is the Messiah’ will be put out of the synagogue. But with all the amazing things he has done, who else could he be?

We’re walking through a small town called Bethany, where Mary and Martha and Lazarus live – Lazarus being one of the people Jesus raised from the dead. Jesus and his disciples are there, and Jesus tells his disciples to go find a colt and bring it, and they do. And he gets on the colt and we all start out in the direction of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem: the city whose name means ‘God’s peace’ is being visited by the Prince of Peace. And as the crowd moves we start to shout and sing. The crowd gets bigger as we walk from Bethany to the Mount of Olives, about a mile’s journey. As we walk, people are cutting palm branches and throwing them in front of Jesus as a sign of praise and respect. At the top of the Mount of Olives, Jesus and the crowd stop for a moment, looking out over Jerusalem.

I’d like to pause our story here just for a moment to share some photographs with you so you can picture what they saw. This is the view of Jerusalem from the top of the Mount of Olives. The city wouldn’t have been quite as large back then, but the old Temple Mount can be seen just to the right of the gold dome.

Jerusalem, from the Mount of Olives

Jerusalem, from the Mount of Olives

The path down the mountain passes through the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s a very peaceful place, and these are olive trees we see, some of them old enough to have been touched by Jesus as He passed.

Garden of Gethsemane

Garden of Gethsemane

On the far side of the Garden the path crosses the Kidron Valley before ascending to the Temple Mount.

So picking up our story, Jesus and everyone in the crowd are at the top of the Mount of Olives looking over Jerusalem. And the crowd begins to sing a praise song written by King David: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” And at the thought of King David, the words of the song change and become, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David.”

Jerusalem is the City of David, and Jerusalem is the city of David’s heir, the Messiah. We begin to realize that this, today, at last, is the day our people have been waiting for, for over 1000 years. The king is finally here. The Son of David will sit on David’s throne again! As it says in the prophecy of Zechariah:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

But as the crowd continues to celebrate, the people closest to Jesus begin to realize something’s wrong. In the middle of the celebration, Jesus is weeping. He stops again midway down the mountain, and says, ‘oh Jerusalem!’:

“If you… had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Luke 19:42-44)

The Church of Dominus Flevit ("The Lord Wept") marks the spot where Jesus stopped

The Church of Dominus Flevit (“The Lord Wept”) marks the spot where Jesus stopped

As the crowd reaches the city, Jesus does not go to the palace (as expected) to overturn the throne of Herod and claim the throne for himself. Instead Jesus goes to the Temple and overturns the tables of the moneychangers. The crowd is happy to see this, but a little confused. And then Jesus and the disciples walk back to Bethany for the night.

And the crowd is left wondering: what just happened?


Jesus was right. The people of Jerusalem didn’t know what it was that made for peace. They didn’t understand that God’s kingdom is not of this world, and that Jesus’ mission was not to overthrow the civil authorities but to bring in a heavenly kingdom.

In the Old Testament King David wrote:

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.’” (Psalm 122:6-7)

We see in the Palm Sunday story how passionately Jesus loved this city, and across the centuries we join King David in praying for Jerusalem, not just for an end to hostilities, but that the people who live in Jerusalem and the people who visit, as tourists or as pilgrims, will know the Prince of Peace, who is the only one who can bring lasting peace.

So that’s the story of Palm Sunday: a blending of celebration and sorrow, and the beginning of God’s kingdom on earth.


So where does that leave us today, and how does it tie in to the Path of Witness?

The book A Disciple’s Path has a lot to offer in its final chapter and I recommend the whole thing to your reading. But for today I’ll just pull out two important questions: What is witness? And what is our story?

Christian witness is primarily sharing Jesus’ love and Jesus’ teaching. Christian witness is also, like Palm Sunday, often a blend of celebration and sorrow. The author of A Disciple’s Path suggests three ways to get started on the path of witness:

  1. begin with friendship,
  2. listen well, and
  3. know our own story and be prepared to share it

Which leads to the second question: what is our story, and how do we share it? The author of A Disciple’s Path gives us an example. He mentions the story of Coventry Cathedral in England. Some of you may remember this or may have heard your parents tell the story.

Coventry Cathedral was built over 1000 years ago. It stood in the center of the town of Coventry, a small English city about the size of Erie PA. There’s a lot of manufacturing in the area around Coventry, not in the town itself, but surrounding it.

During World War II, German bombers targeted the town. There are a lot of stories about why things happened the way they happened, but the bottom line is the bombers somehow missed most of the strategic targets and hit civilian areas instead. On the night of November 14 1940, bombs fell on Coventry for 12 straight hours, dropping over 500 tons of explosives on the town. One of the first things hit was the cathedral. By the time morning dawned, over 500 people were dead and over 1200 injured. Schools, hospitals, churches, shops and over 50,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

In the months and years that followed, the people of Coventry chose not to clear up the rubble of the old cathedral, but to leave it standing as a witness to the depths of inhumanity human beings are capable of. Yet “shortly after [the bombing]…the cathedral stonemason… noticed that two of the… roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross.  He set them up in the ruins… [with the] words ‘Father Forgive’ inscribed on the… wall [nearby].”

The people of Coventry built a new cathedral right next door to the old one, and their mission is to tell their story and to work for peace and reconciliation. They have created what they call “The Community of the Cross of Nails” – a fellowship of churches that were bombed during WWII, including those in Germany bombed by the Allies. The Coventry Cathedral website says this:

“Because of our history, and especially the events of 14 November 1940, we believe Coventry Cathedral has a special responsibility to take the message of reconciliation across the world. We consider this ministry to be our particular calling from God – sometimes described as ‘God’s thumb-print’ on us.”

What I would like to leave all of us with today, each one of us individually and all of us together as a church, is to ask this: What is our history? What is our story that we can share? Where can we see ‘God’s thumb-print’ on us? Can we put it into words and share it with a world that needs to hear it?


So to kind of pull things together…

Did you know in Greek, the word for ‘witness’ is spelled m-a-r-t-y-r? The truth is A Disciples’ Path is difficult. The Christian message is not one of easy grace or easy prosperity. A disciples’ path requires prayer and a spirit of generosity and sacrifice and sometimes letting go of what is good for the sake of what is best.

Like Palm Sunday, the Christian message has aspects of celebration and of sorrow. The writer of Hebrews says:

“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus… who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:1-2, edited)

The joy that was set before Jesus is… us! And the joy that is set before us is eternity with Jesus. This is our witness… and this is the good news we share. AMEN.

Preached at Castle Shannon United Methodist Church and Hilltop United Methodist Church, 3/30/15


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Scriptures: Philippians 2:1-13 ~and~ Matthew 21:23-32

Last week the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the worldwide Anglican church, made international news when he was quoted as saying he sometimes doubts the existence of God.

Here’s what was quoted in the press. When asked the question, “Do you ever doubt?” Archbishop Welby replied “Yes. I do.” He went on to say: “The other day I was praying as I was running and I ended up saying to God, ‘Look, this is all very well but isn’t it time you did something [about a certain situation] – if you’re there’ – which is probably not what the archbishop of Canterbury should say.” He added: “It’s not about feelings, it is about the fact that God is faithful and the extraordinary thing about being a Christian is that God is faithful when we are not.”

I don’t know about you but I find the Archbishop’s honesty refreshing. It’s good to know even the big guys have doubts from time to time. Because when you get down to it, we can’t prove scientifically that God exists. The scope of science is too limited for that discussion. And the limits on our own senses can lead us to doubt: we can’t see God, and most of the time we don’t physically hear God. So how can we be sure?

And what is faith really? If we begin to doubt God, where can we turn?

After skimming a number of comments on the Archbishop’s statement, I was attracted to an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times written by Julia Baird. She wrote: “much of the reaction [to the Archbishop’s statement has been] predictably juvenile… But Archbishop Welby’s candor only makes him human. […] Faith cannot block out darkness or doubt. […] Just as courage is persisting in the face of fear, so faith is persisting in the presence of doubt.” She goes on to name many well-known Christians who have experienced doubt, including Mother Teresa, John Calvin, and C.S. Lewis.

I think ultimately where it comes to faith the proof of the pudding is in the eating. As John Wesley often said, it is not enough to know about God and religion – experience is essential to faith. Faith grows across the course of a lifetime, and not always at a predictable pace.

But having said that, when my faith is feeling a little shaky, one of the greatest arguments in support of the faith – that I have found – is to listen to the people who oppose Jesus. Listen to his enemies and consider the alternatives.

When the baby Jesus was presented in the temple – in Luke chapter 2 – the prophet Simeon took Jesus in his arms and one of the things he said was that this child would be “a sign that is spoken against, so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.” What people say about Jesus reveals their hearts. So as I listen to Jesus’ opponents, I ask myself: What are they really getting at? What are they really after?

Our scripture reading from Matthew this morning is an excellent illustration of this. As the scene opens we find Jesus sitting in the temple teaching. Most likely he would have been in the outer courts, sort of like on a porch with marble columns (as opposed to in the sanctuary) because this is where people would congregate.

As he is teaching the chief priests and elders (and some Pharisees as well, as we find out later) – dressed in their long robes, with the insignias of their respective offices – interrupt Jesus and ask him: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

This of course is an attempt at intimidation. It’s like they’re asking him, “excuse me, who gave you permission to be here?” As a group they appear united; they represent the religious establishment; and from a purely human standpoint, they out-rank Jesus. They are educated; Jesus only has the basic education of the working class. They are ordained; Jesus is not. They have the approval of the Chief Priest; Jesus does not. They are… at least tolerated… by the Romans, in that ever-changing balance of power between religion and politics. Jesus on the other hand is nothing to Rome: a potential victim for a cross, nothing more. They are in power, Jesus is not. Or so it appears.

On top of that, this confrontation takes place in front of the people Jesus is teaching. So he’s also in a position where he might lose face.

With all this going on around him, Jesus is not the least bit rattled. He’s not intimidated by the religious leaders, and he’s not troubled about what his followers are thinking. He is, however, concerned with what he is always concerned with: communicating God’s truth and God’s love.

The high priests asked him, “By what authority do you do these things?” And the answer seems simple: “by God’s authority” would be the obvious reply. But Jesus doesn’t say that… because they’re baiting him, and Jesus isn’t fool enough to take the bait. If Jesus gives them the obvious answer they will argue with him. They will demand that he “prove it”. They will accuse him of blasphemy. They will try to drag him into a convoluted, esoteric, endless theological argument, argued on their terms and on their turf. As Paul will one day advise the young preacher Timothy (II Tim 2:14) “avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.”

Jesus knew this. So instead of giving them a straight answer, Jesus calmly looks them in the eye and answers with a question of his own. He says, “If you answer my question, I will answer yours.” Is he bargaining? No; Jesus is in control of the situation. Rather he is taking an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel one more time… even to people who are actively resisting it.

Jesus’ question is this: “John the Baptist – was his baptism from heaven, or from men?” In other words, did John’s teaching come from God or merely from human wisdom? Brilliant question! John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, of returning to God… but more than that, John was preparing the way for the Messiah. When people asked John if he was the Messiah, he answered in Luke 3:16, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

Under John’s ministry all kinds of sinners – prostitutes and tax collectors – came for baptism, and came to God, and their lives were changed. And because of this the people held John in high honor. They knew where he was from.

I imagine at this point Jesus has the entire crowd’s full attention. You can imagine the silence hanging in the air. Because the chief priests and the Pharisees are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They can’t admit John the Baptist was a servant of God; if they do Jesus will ask, “why didn’t you believe him?” But if they say John’s authority was merely human, the people know better. The religious leaders would lose credibility.

So they answer with a lie. They say, “We don’t know.”

In John chapter eight Jesus has an interesting discussion with these same men about their not being sons of God but rather being sons of the Father of Lies. For now, though, Jesus simply answers, “Neither will I tell you where my authority comes from.”

Is this a tit-for-tat answer? No. Jesus just doesn’t waste time trying to have a conversation with people who refuse to be honest with him.

However, Jesus is also God’s son, and as God’s son, he loves the chief priests and the Pharisees enough to point them in the direction of God’s kingdom. So he continues and in v. 28 tells a parable of a man with two sons. The man owns a vineyard, and he tells his sons to go out and work in the vineyard. (Side note #1: In Jesus’ parables the ‘vineyard’ represents the nation of Israel.) The first son says “no” but later on he changes his mind and goes. The second son says “Yes sir!” but doesn’t go. Jesus asks, “Which son did what the father wanted?”

The high priests and Pharisees answer “the first son,” to which Jesus replies, “the tax collectors and sinners are entering the kingdom of heaven ahead of you.” Why? “Because John taught the truth and you didn’t believe him. What’s more, when you saw that John’s ministry caused tax collectors and sinners to turn their lives around you still didn’t believe.”

Side note #2: When Jesus talks about belief he is not talking about intellectual agreement. Faith is something that brings about a change in how people live. Belief without action is not really faith.

The thing is, whether they wanted to admit it or not, the high priests and Pharisees knew who Jesus was. They knew he was the Messiah. But the arrival of the Messiah meant that their work as intermediaries between God and humanity was completed.

There’s a great illustration of this kind of phenomenon in the movie Lord of the Rings. In the final movie of the trilogy, The Return of the King, we meet Denethor, the last Steward of the city of Gondor. Denethor was descended from a long line of Stewards who had ruled Gondor in place of the King for many generations. And now, at a time when prophecies of the return of the true king looked like they might be coming true, Denethor decides he has no need for a king. He and his ancestors, the Stewards, had ruled Gondor for hundreds of years, and they didn’t need anyone’s help. And who was this upstart that people were saying was the real king?

In the movie Denethor ends up committing suicide rather than confront that question. In Jesus’ story the high priests and Pharisees have something worse in mind. So in Matt 21:33, which is next week’s reading, Jesus will tell another parable. This parable is also about a vineyard. A man owns a vineyard and goes away on a trip and leases the vineyard to tenants to take care of it. When harvest time comes he sends servants to collect the crops, but the tenants beat the servants and throw them out. Finally he sends his son, saying “they will respect him” – but the tenants say to each other, “this is the heir! Let’s kill him and the vineyard will be ours.” In Jesus’ parable, instead of suicide, the evil stewards choose murder. They knew who they were dealing with. They knew.

What’s more, remember the original question the high priests asked? “By what authority do you do these things?” Isn’t that just another way of asking, “Did God really say…?” Which is the question the serpent asks in the Garden of Eden: “Did God really say you shall not eat from any tree in the garden?” He’s keeping something from you. He knows that if you eat it you will be like God, knowing good from evil. “Did God really say…?” That’s always the question deceivers ask, human or otherwise.

So there can be no doubt the leaders of the temple and the Pharisees knew who Jesus was. In fact a number of them actually became believers. Nicodemus was one. Saul, who later became Paul, was another. And there were others.

So when times of doubt come, it may help to reflect on the fact that Jesus’ enemies knew. They were sure. If they were willing to go so far as to as to commit murder in order to put an end to a man who was changing peoples’ lives for the better, healing the sick and giving sight to the blind and raising the dead… a man who was God’s promised Messiah – none of which these eyewitnesses denied – isn’t that a pretty convincing argument in favor of the faith?

In the words of the Pharisee Gamaliel, Paul’s teacher, in Acts 5:38, “if this teaching… is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow [it].”

And 2000 years ago that’s exactly what happened.

Let’s pray.

Lord when we are honest we have to confess sometimes we wonder where You are or how it is that You are. Thank you that the words and actions of Your enemies only help to prove Your point. In our moments of uncertainty, strengthen our hearts and spirits with Your words and Your presence. In the name of the one who taught with Your authority, AMEN.


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The situation in Iraq with IS (formerly ISIS) persecution of Christians and other religious minorities continues to worsen.  Eyewitnesses living in Iraq report mass deportations and executions, including children, as well as executions of entire families in their homes if they refuse to convert to Islam.

For first-hand updates this blog tells what is happening and how we can help.

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South Sudan – a new nation that came into being in 2013 – has been wracked by violence in recent months, sparking a mass migration of refugees across the borders of neighboring countries.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled to neighboring Gambella, Ethiopia, where the Rt. Rev. Grant LeMarquand, former New Testament professor at Trinity School for Ministry, is joined in ministry by his wife, Dr. Wendy LeMarquand. Between the two of them they are ministering to both the physical and spiritual needs of the refugees.

Last month Grant and Wendy were joined by the Baroness Carolyn Cox in an appeal for the refugees of South Sudan:

This crisis has had little to no attention in western media. Please share the information with others you know, and consider supporting their relief efforts if you can.

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Today is the feast day of St. Barnabas, so it seems only right to say a few words about him this morning. Scripture actually has a great deal to say about Barnabas. He was a ministry partner to Paul for many years, traveling with him on the first of his missionary journeys. He was a prophet and teacher. He was much loved among the leaders of the early church. They even gave him nickname – Barnabas. His original name was Joses, or Joseph, but they named him Barnabas, which in Hebrew means ‘son of encouragement’.

It’s a rare gift, being able to encourage others. When you think about it, there are so many sources of DIScouragement in the world! Illnesses, losses, maybe a grouchy boss, or a grouchy spouse, or grouchy kids… maybe what we hear on the news, or find in our mailboxes. But how often do we hear ENcouraging things? And when we do, doesn’t it tend to stick with us?

I heard a wonderful example of encouragement this week. Some of you may know Ms. Martha who has been on our prayer list. She’s currently in the hospital for leukemia. This past week was a particularly tough one for her. When word of this got out on the internet a group of around 25 people came to the hospital and took Martha to the chapel and prayed with her, shared communion, read scripture, sang songs, shared stories. If you’ve ever been in the hospital you can imagine how encouraging this would be! If healing is going to happen, encouragement like this lays the foundation for it. Sadly, encouragement like this is all too rare in our world.

Barnabas was an encourager like this. Just by way of background – Barnabas was a Levite – a member of the priestly tribe of Israel. He was born on Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean, an important stop on a lot of trade routes. As a result Barnabas grew up being comfortable with foreigners and outsiders. He became a Christian early in the history of the church and was of the five “prophets and teachers” of the church in Syrian Antioch.

But this morning rather than giving you a biography of the man I’d like to try to tell his story from the point of view of someone who might have known him, a member of the church in Jerusalem. Speaking as that person, who might say something like this:

“Life hasn’t been easy for us believers here in Jerusalem but we are a joyful group anyway. 1500 years from now a guy named Shakespeare is going to write the words, ‘we few, we happy few, we band of brothers…’. And it kind of feels like that to us. Many of us here are poor, and there are lots of needs but we share whatever we have with joy. Seeing these needs, Barnabas went and sold some of his family’s land and brought the money and gave it to the apostles to provide for our poor and our widows and our children. (Acts 4:36) He wasn’t doing this to show off, he gave quietly, happy to know his land would be producing a crop of a different kind from now on.

“Some time ago there was this Pharisee named Saul. He had nothing better to do with his time than to go around persecuting the church and throwing people in jail and accusing them before the Sanhedrin. He was one of the ones to blame for the murder of that wonderful young man Stephen. Such a gentle soul Stephen was. This Saul… he stood and watched while they killed him… and he said nothing. Then a few months later he shows up calling himself Paul and claiming he saw a vision of the Lord Jesus on his way to Emmaus! Sounds like just the kind of thing he would make up to fool the simple. But Barnabas – he listened to Saul/Paul. He asked questions. He was thoughtful. And he became convinced Paul was telling the truth – not so much convinced by Paul’s words, but convinced by the Spirit of God. Barnabas was the first believer to call Paul ‘brother’ and invite him into the church. He introduced Paul to James and Peter and the apostles and spoke on his behalf until they trusted him. (Acts 9:27) As it turned out, Paul ended up being one of the most convincing preachers our church has ever seen!

“Some time later we got word here in Jerusalem that the church in Syrian Antioch was growing like crazy – and mostly with Gentiles! We also heard a lot of the new believers were from Cyprus. Barnabas – being from Cyprus himself – volunteered to travel to Antioch at his own expense to support these new converts. And when he got there he sent us back glowing letters saying how deeply these Gentiles loved Jesus. Barnabas’ preaching was so powerful the church grew by thousands! Ended up the church got so big he needed an assistant pastor, so he sent for Paul. A few years later, when famine broke out here in Jerusalem it was Barnabas and Paul who took up a collection for us and brought it as a gift from the church of Antioch. (Acts 11:19-30) They don’t just talk the faith up there, they live it.

“But I think the thing that really showed Barnabas’ true colors was the way he always defended the underdog. Like the time a bunch of old-fashioned religious types started saying the Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved. They almost caused a church split! But Barnabas, along with Paul, went and spoke to the church leaders in Jerusalem, and told them all about the miracles and faith among the Gentiles. And after searching the scriptures the leaders decided Barnabas was right. They wrote a letter to the Gentiles putting their minds at rest about circumcision. In that letter they described Barnabas and Paul as ‘beloved [disciples] who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ And that’s pretty much how we all feel about them. They are much loved by all the people.

“Another time Barnabas defended the underdog was the time he defended the disciple John-Mark to Paul. (Acts 15) Paul invited Barnabas to revisit the cities they had preached in together and Barnabas agreed but wanted to bring John-Mark along. John-Mark had been on their first journey but never got to complete the mission – he was called home about halfway through. We never did find out why, but Paul thought John-Mark was a quitter and said so to Barnabas. Barnabas stood up for John-Mark, which ticked Paul off big-time, and they had such a falling out they decided to go their separate ways. Paul took Silas with him on his journey instead of Barnabas, and Barnabas took John-Mark on a journey to Cyprus. It was a sad day for us to see Paul and Barnabas divided against each other like that. It didn’t last though. True, the two of them never traveled together again, but Paul had wonderful things to say about Barnabas in his letters. And rumor has it that Paul, talking to Silas one night, said he was sorry for the way he had treated Barnabas, saying ‘…but love is supposed to be patient and kind, not arrogant or rude, not insisting on its own way…’. They say that’s where it came from.

“So if you ask me about Barnabas – ask anyone who knows him for that matter – we’ll tell you he’s a man who is generous and courageous, faithful and dependable, discerning God’s truth, risking his life for the gospel, putting his reputation on the line to support others. He’s full of mercy and forgiveness. And he’s not one to fall for ‘proof-text’ arguments. You know the kind of arguments I mean: where you get caught between a rock and a hard place, like ‘should we pay taxes to Caesar or not’ – remember that one? Jesus was always good at finding a third alternative to these proof-text arguments, and Barnabas is good at that too. A better prophet and teacher would be hard to find.

“The world could use more like Barnabas, but I think they broke the mold when they made him. Still we could do a lot worse than to take a few pages from his book. We don’t all have the same gifts, but all of us can be encouragers.

“One word of caution though – where it comes to a man as good as Barnabas, people sometimes forget that he’s just the messenger, not the message itself. God, Father Son and Holy Spirit – is the best encourager of all. Not to take anything away from Barnabas, mind you – but even he would say that his life is meant to point to Jesus.

“In Scripture, the Holy Spirit says Barnabas is “a good man, full of the Spirit and of faith” – and the Spirit doesn’t say things like that about just anybody! He’s someone whose footsteps we can follow. But even better, he gives us a picture of how much God wants to encourage us with His mercy and His kindness, His faithfulness and His truth.

“A blessed St. Barnabas Day to you all.” AMEN.

Preached at Church of the Ascension, Oakland, Wednesday June 11, 2014





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It only took seven years attending part-time but I finally made it!
Master of Divinity degree, 2014.

Trinity School for Ministry Class of 2014

Trinity School for Ministry Class of 2014

Trinity (formerly “Episcopal”) School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA is an evangelical seminary in the Anglican tradition.  Founded in the 1970s as the only evangelical Episcopal seminary in the United States, Trinity quickly became the fastest-growing seminary in the Episcopal denomination.  The name “School for Ministry” (as opposed to “Seminary”) was given because its founders wanted the focus of Trinity’s education to be on reaching the people outside the school’s walls, not hunkering down in ivory towers.

With the fragmenting of the Episcopal church in the 21st century, Trinity has chosen to shed an exclusive denominational relationship in favor of growing ecumenical and international partnerships.  Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians are now trained for ministry at Trinity as well as Anglicans and Episcopalians.

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I was taking a stroll through our garden the other night, a little bit before sunset, and I was noticing how fast the plants are growing. In spite of all the weird and sometimes scary weather we’ve had lately, the garden is going gangbusters!

Blueberry Flowers

Blueberry Flowers

And it encourages my heart to walk there, see how things are growing, picking the first veggies, noticing how the plants are becoming… the plants they were meant to be.  And I think sometimes God feels pleasure like that when He walks among His people.  We are, in a sense, His garden, his church “plant”.  It gives Him pleasure to see us growing into what we’re meant to be, to see us bearing fruit.


Each one of today’s scripture passages [Amos 7:7-17, Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 10:25-37] deals with fruitfulness in one way or another.  We don’t have time to look at all of them, but touching briefly on each one:

  • The reading from Amos speaks about a time in the history of ancient Israel when God’s garden was producing bad fruit, if it was producing fruit at all… when God was providing the richest of soil and the people were using what He gave them to oppress each other.
  • In the reading from Colossians on the other hand we hear St. Paul praising the Colossians for their faithfulness and encouraging them to keep on bearing good fruit.
  • And the story of the Good Samaritan?  I’ll come back to that one in a moment.

But I want to spend a little time with Paul’s letter to the Colossians first, because in many ways our parish has a great deal in common with the church at Colossae.

I know it’s usually not advisable to take a letter written nearly two thousand years ago, to people we don’t know, living in a culture that is foreign (if not downright exotic) by our standards… to take that letter and to read it as if it’s directly and exactly applicable to us today.  You usually have to ‘translate’ it a little into 21st century thinking, otherwise it’s easy to misinterpret what is being said.  But in this case it’s amazing how directly the letter to the Colossians fits us where we are.

First, the context is similar.  The church at Colossae was not one of the larger churches in its day.  It wasn’t a prominent church or a cathedral.  It was essentially a church plant, started by a disciple named Epaphras.  And while the city of Colossae was on an important trade route, the town itself had seen economic hard times and never quite fully recovered.

What’s more, from a theological viewpoint, the church at Colossae had some ‘interesting’ neighbors.  The nearest Christian church was Laodicea, a church that in the book of Revelation is criticized for being lukewarm and for thinking too highly of itself.  On the other hand, the Colossian church grew out of a synagogue where Judaism had been mixed with Greek Gnosticism, creating some rather ‘innovative’ theology.  In fact one of the reasons Paul is writing this letter is to help protect and promote an accurate understanding of the faith in the Colossian church.

And yet in spite of all these hindrances both the church at Colossae… and our church, Incarnation, here above Bar Marco… have a lot going for them.  In particular Colossae was a church, like Incarnation, that is known for its faith and its devotion to prayer.  In fact Paul tells them in the letter, basically, ‘I’ve never met you but your reputation for loving Jesus and your faithfulness in prayer has reached my ears where I am’ – which was most likely in Rome.

So Colossians could almost have been written to us.  And if it had been, the letter might have sounded something like this:

“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and brother Timothy,
to the holy and faithful church at Bar Marco, brothers and sisters in Christ,
grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We always give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray for you…
…for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love you have for all the saints…
…because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, which you heard beforehand in the word of truth, the Gospel which has come to you.
Just as in all the world it is bearing fruit and increasing, so it has been bearing fruit in you from the day you heard and understood the grace of God in truth…
…as you have learned it from Fr. Paul and Fr. John and Fr. Laurie and Mother Ann – by the way, they and I serve the same master – faithful servants of Christ on your behalf…
…and they have made known to me your love in the Spirit.”

I need to stop there for a moment because these words describe Incarnation Church so well.  Speaking as a relative newcomer to the church, I am still learning just how much grace has been poured out on this congregation.  And the fellowship here is remarkable.  The peace between the members and the care for each other is exceptional – and (sad to say) not easy to find these days.  And I heard about your faith even before I came here.  When I said to Fr Laurie last year that I was looking for a church where people have a heart for God’s word, he immediately said ‘come to Incarnation’.

And then last fall when I was in the hospital and I was visited by Fr. Laurie and then by Fr Paul and they told me all of you were praying for me, that wasn’t just words.  I mean, people say it a lot – ‘oh, I’ll pray for you’ – but too often that’s as far as it goes.  But that’s not how it is here.  You all were actually praying.  You know how I can tell? Because of the way people reacted when I finally showed up.  People acted like I was somebody they already knew!  Only prayer can do that.  As St. Paul says — I give thanks to God the Father for you whenever I pray for you.

One other thing I should point out in the passage we just read – in verses 4 & 5: that wonderful Pauline triangle of great spiritual gifts: faith, hope, and love.  Faith in Jesus Christ; hope laid up in heaven, love for all the saints.  We give thanks as these gifts take root and grow among us.

Continuing on with Paul’s letter, Paul’s prayer for the church is:

“that we be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with spiritual wisdom and understanding, living lives worthy of Jesus, pleasing to Him…
bearing fruit in good work as we grow in the knowledge of God…
that we be strong in His glorious power…
and prepared to endure with patience… with joy giving thanks to God the Father…
who Himself makes it possible for us to share in the inheritance of the saints…
and who has rescued us out of darkness into the kingdom of His Son, by whom we have redemption and forgiveness.”

That last bit is a real mouthful.  Paul is known for running on with his sentences… so let me parse this a little.  Keeping in mind the context – Paul is seeking to maintain and encourage the purity of the faith — he asks God to help the Colossians live in such a way as to ‘obtain the goal’, which is “the hope laid up for you in heaven” (v 5); “a portion of the share of the saints in light” (v 12), “the kingdom of his beloved Son” (v 13).

And most of the rest of the book of Colossians has to do with striving for that goal.  It’s worth a read, it’s short, and it’s highly relevant to our culture and times.

But how do we live into the future that God has in store for us – that great hope, that great kingdom?  Or to put it another way, “What do we need to do to inherit eternal life?”

Which leads us to our Gospel reading for today.

In Luke’s Gospel we see a lawyer coming to Jesus to test him, and he says, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

It’s an odd question… and Jesus bounces it right back to him.  He says, “what is in the law? How do you read?”

And the lawyer answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”

And Jesus says basically, “Right.  Now go do it.”

“But wanting to justify himself” the scripture says, the lawyer asks “and who is my neighbor?”

I find it interesting that the lawyer doesn’t quibble over the first part of the commandment, the bit about loving God with heart, soul, mind, and strength… does he think he’s got that part nailed down already?  But I digress…

So Jesus proceeds to tell the story of the Good Samaritan – how a Jewish man, traveling the rough and often dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho, falls among thieves and and is beaten within an inch of his life.  Left by the roadside, he is passed by, first by a priest and then by a Levite.  But a man from Samaria –a foreigner, considered an enemy of the Jewish people – has compassion on him, and rescues him, and cares for him, and pays for his care.

And the lawyer questioning Jesus is forced to admit that the Samaritan was the one who was the true neighbor.  And Jesus tells him, “go and do likewise.”

Because this story is SO well-known and has been preached SO many times, I feel a need to back up for a minute and lay down a few disclaimers.  There are a number of things the story of the Good Samaritan is not about.

  • It is not primarily about who is right and who is wrong – it does touch on that, but that’s not the main point.
  • It is not primarily about avoiding self-righteousness… although it does confront self-righteousness and defeat it
  • It is not a blanket condemnation of lawyers. (This is not history’s first lawyer joke.)
  • It is not a blanket condemnation of priests, Levites, or any other clergy… however it does point out that not everybody practices what they preach.
  • It is not a blanket commendation of Samaritans. Jesus’ choice of characters does speak to the issue of prejudice but the allegory can sometimes be stretched too far.

Charles Simeon, an English theologian and preacher back in the 1700s said this: “The distinctions of religion or politics should be forgotten, whenever [someone] stands in need of our assistance; we should sympathize as truly with our bitterest enemy, as with our dearest friend.”

That is the point.

The Samaritan’s kindness and mercy, to an enemy, is Christlike… because Jesus also showed kindness and mercy to us by dying for us when we were enemies of God.

Here’s the key: when Jesus says “go and do likewise” he is inviting us – everyone who hears his words – to let God’s heart of compassion take root in us and grow in us.

It’s not just “be like the Samaritan”.  That’s cool, but it’s not just that.  To really grasp this concept I had to go back to the original Greek.  In verse 33 – where it says, “and when he saw him, he had compassion” – the Greek word translated compassion is a word I’ve never seen before and I can’t even pronounce it. But I looked it up and it’s only used five other times in the Bible, and all five times it describes the heart of God:

  • Three of the five times describe Jesus’ compassion for the crowds. [Matt 9:36, Matt 14:14, and Mark 6:34]  Here’s one example, from Matthew 9:26: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
  • The fourth occurrence describes Jesus’ compassion for the widow who had lost her son, in Luke 7:13.  “As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town.  When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her…”  So much so that he raised the young man from the dead.
  • The fifth and final occurrence describes the compassion of the father for the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:20. “While he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.

The story of the Good Samaritan invites us to do more than just sympathize.  We are invited to have empathy with God:  to know Him better; to know His heart; to let that heart grow in us.  God is inviting us to feel what He feels, to be moved by what moves Him, and to be moved to action by the things that move Him to action.

This is Kingdom living.

It’s what the people back in the day of Amos were missing… and it’s what the Colossians were being praised for as they began their faith journey.

Which brings us back to Paul’s letter.  Paul was praising the Colossians for their fledgling ability to empathize with God.  And I think that applies to us here at Incarnation too.  We’re not full grown yet.  We’re still fledglings.  But we’ve made a start.  My prayer is that God will hear and answer Paul’s prayer in us, in this church, and continue to grow in us His heart of compassion.  AMEN

“An Invitation from God” – preached at Church of the Incarnation, July 14 2013, 3:30PM service

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In response to the violence and deaths in Cairo, Egypt earlier this month, Anglican Archbishop Mouneer Anis in Cairo wrote the following public letter (copied here in part):

“The situation in Cairo is very sad for us as a Christian community. On Friday 6 April 2013, sectarian clashes erupted once again, this time in El Khosus, in the outskirts of Cairo. The story, according to the director of the police, started by a 12-year old Muslim boy drawing graffiti on the wall of an Islamic school. Two Muslim men rebuked him for doing so, and a Christian man also came and rebuked him. This developed into a big argument and fighting between Christians and Muslims in the area. After the Friday prayers in the mosque, a group of Muslims came out and attacked the Coptic Orthodox church in the area. The result of this was the killing of four Christians and one Muslim, and many injured. Many stores were also vandalized and looted. The Grand Imam sent his assistant, together with a Coptic Orthodox bishop, in order to do a reconciliation. However, one hour after things calmed down, the fighting erupted again.

“The next day there was a funeral at the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Abassayia the centre of Cairo for the Christians who died. Thousands of Christians attended the funeral. Amidst their mourning and grief they were shouting words against the government and against the Muslim Brotherhood. Because of this, as they exited the Cathedral and the church grounds, they were attacked by other Muslims. The police then interfered throwing teargas. At least one person was killed with over 80 injured. This was the first time in history that the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral was attacked, especially during a time of mourning.

“It is worth mentioning that in the last two years, since the beginning of the Revolution of 2011, the number of incidents of sectarian clashes has increased. No one who committed violence or killing has been brought to justice because the government is content to solve the sectarian clashes by reconciliatory meetings. In a statement I made, I urged the government to apply the rule of law as the only way to stop these sectarian clashes. I emphasized the importance of the reconciliatory meetings which we as an Anglican Church are facilitating at several levels. I also emphasized that they are not a substitute to the application of the law. Unfortunately the current government is inexperienced and is not doing enough to include the different political parties in building up Egypt after the Revolution. This contributed to the instability of the Egyptian society, the decrease of tourism, and the bad economic situation.”


It brings me great sadness to hear that Egypt – one of the oldest and greatest civilizations on earth – is so divided against itself, and its leadership seemingly helpless to stop the violence. I invite all reading this to join me in prayer for peace in Egypt and safety for all those who live there.

I also want to take this opportunity to point out how inaccurate news reporting has become.  We can no longer depend on news agencies of any stripe to supply us with anything more than headlines.  From the reports below the only FACTS we can gather are (1) there was violence in Egypt on April 6 and (2) people died.  Beyond that the reporting differs sharply from what people with feet on the ground tell us.

Here are two different reports, one from a respected liberal secular news agency, the other from a respected conservative Christian ministry.  Neither is an eyewitness account, and neither reports the events as Bishop Mouneer — who is not only physically present but actively involved in reconciliation efforts between Egyptian Christians and Muslims — reports them.

Mainstream media report: Five Die in Christian-Muslim Clashes

Conservative Christian ministry report: Egyptian Muslims Murdering Christians With Impunity

For those of us who care about truth, justice, peace, and reconciliation, it has become essential to build private networks to share information.  Agencies that report the news to us — regardless of political stripe — have a vested interest in forming our opinions for us.   Only information gathered person-to-person and face-to-face can possibly lead to sharing of truth, which is the foundation of compassion and peace.


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I haven’t said a whole lot on this blog yet about the new church I’ve been attending the past few months.  But with the official launch now a little more than a week in the past, it’s time to share.

It’s a great place – the best of high Anglican tradition mixed with broad Evangelical theology, and a major emphasis on the arts… from music to drama to graphic arts… ways through which the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is expressed.

Check out the Church of the Incarnation in this review written by a charter member now living in England.


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Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

In a move that comes as a surprise to many, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has announced he will step down from his post at the end of 2012.  He plans to return to teaching and writing and will take a position at Magdalene College, Cambridge, beginning in January.

The Guardian offers details of his decision and a balanced perspective on Williams’ tenure in Rowan Williams Resigns as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Williams’ successor will be poised to have a profound impact on the Anglican Church worldwide, including The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in North America.  Readers are invited to keep both the outgoing archbishop and the choice of incoming archbishop in their prayers.


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Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt is calling for prayer for Egypt as the country struggles to redefine itself in the wake of last spring’s coup.  Troubles continue as 74 people are killed and 400 wounded at a football game in Cairo, followed by rioting in Alexandria and Suez.

The story can be found here:  Egypt on the Edge


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Classmate Abraham Nhial, serving as Bishop in Abyei, Sudan, asks for our prayers.  Article quoted from the website of the Anglican Church in North America.

South Sudan Under Siege Days Before Gaining Independence


Northern Sudanese attacks on the southern region of Sudan have erupted as the South prepares to secede from Africa’s largest country in July.

The town of Abyei and the neighboring region of South Kordofan in Southern Sudan have been devastated with violence and human rights violations. News reports state that some 140,000 people have fled due to recent clashes.

Nearly 99% of Southern Sudanese voters opted for independence in hopes of ending two decades of north-south conflict that has left some 1.5 million people dead, but the transition has come with much turmoil.

Amid the looting, destruction, bombings and shootings, there are now reports of ethnic cleansing to deter pro-southern groups.

Bishop Abraham Nhial leads the Anglican Diocese of Aweil in Abyei, Sudan.  He sends the following message to the Anglican Church in North America family:

“I ask you all to remember in your prayers and advocacy for our brothers and sisters of Abyei who are still missing, those in the bush, and those on the streets in Southern Sudan towns. As always, your prayers are needed to people of Abyei and the world.”

The Rev. Stephen Muo, Secretary of the Diocese of Aweil, offered the following recount of what has happened in the town of Abyei:

“The whole town was completely set on fire [by Sudanese forces]. All the civilians are now down on streets and in bushes, with no food, no shelters, no water and no medical assistant. Majority are still under the trees with children, sick people and elderly people. Aweil Diocese is left with no choices but raise the voice of voiceless for relief assistant.

“Aweil Diocese is calling for urgent support for the civilians who are now lying on the ground without medical attention, shelters, food and water. People with communicable diseases are forced to sleep together with healthy people and this could spread the effect of disease [to] all displaced people if no urgent humanitarian relief intervention reaches them.”

Photo Caption: Northern forces seized the disputed town of Abyei last month, raising fears of a new north-south war. Credit: AFP

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