We got home Saturday afternoon, cleaned and returned “Harve” (the Class C we’d rented), unpacked, and then collapsed. I took a quarter dose of Tylenol PM, ensuring that I’d sleep through the night. Yes, I’m a lightweight.
The next day was Sunday and, although we didn’t discuss it, I had a feeling that we wouldn’t be making the 40-mile trek into the city to attend backyard church in my old hood … that instead, we would watch the service via Zoom. And we did. Coffee in hand and still in my pajamas, I took to the living room with both video and microphone off and muted, anxious to drink in what the Spirit had prepared for me … for us … for everyone.
Where do I begin?
Maybe some background first.
The church is tiny. I’d say there are no more than 30 people at any one time combined on zoom, and sitting on the lawn chairs facing the back porch of the pastor’s house. The first time we attended, the pastor told us that the church was exploring whether to merge with another church in the area. One that is also a small congregation. One that is also focused on serving the community. The updates have been more frequent of late. And there have been two joint services so far.
On Sunday, the pastor reported that talks are continuing. That they are exploring whether they “agree” on certain doctrines, denominational credos, and a select group of scripture passages that define required behaviors. I don’t know what they are, but I got the idea. He’s not sure if this will go forward or not, but so far they “agree” on everything. My little brain heard he means like the rules … the law.
I felt then, as I’ve felt before in recent weeks, that there’s something missing. But I held back on drawing any conclusions and continued to listen.
Here is a tad more background … I spoke with one of the leaders about a month ago; a leader who happens to be a woman. She spoke on Mother’s Day (her one preaching day a year), and it was excellent. When we talked, I could see that she was frustrated. She comes from a Methodist background in the Midwest (we’re on the left coast), and has been challenged by the exclusionary “doctrines” of the evangelical movement here … which is kind of ironic. Here, on the left coast, a good portion of protestant churches exclude women from serving in the pastorate, meaning preaching. For my female leader friend, who is very smart and insightful, this means she’s not allowed to do what she’s called to do. And what makes it more difficult is that she knows it can be different. Back where she came from there was “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Female preachers were common place.
Now, why do I bring this up? Because there is one passage of scripture in the first letter to Timothy that seems to provide the sole basis for excluding women from the pastorate. It is 1 Timothy 2:12. The language on its face is clear and strong. But … it contradicts Paul’s expressed and described view of women in many other passages in the Bible. And to me, it doesn’t make any sense that God would cut off half of the church body from leadership roles, many members of whom are capable, talented, and called. Seriously … when I was in the corporate world, I was entrusted with great responsibility. There was not a smidgen of doubt expressed about my capabilities or mental/emotional capacities based upon my gender. Yet … the moment I walk into a church on the left coast, I become invisible, spoken to only when being given guidance regarding how to get involved in the women’s ministry.
But I digress. Sort of.
Look at this as an example of a “rule” that the two tiny church pastors might be discussing and reaching “agreement” upon. And then think about all of the other rules that they might be discussing with the goal of reaching agreement. One good source of “rules” is the Sermon on the Mount, about which I have a Dallas Willard informed view; one that is contrary to the commonly held belief that these are “requirements” or “oughts.” No … Dallas viewed these as proclamations of access to the Kingdom of God, something that we humans can’t accept because we have some weird internal need to prove our worth, our righteousness, to come out on top … to measure up to “the rule.” Jesus was a manifestation of grace; why would He lay down an impossible grid of barriers to relationship with God knowing we are a bunch of flawed and struggling saints?
Back to the Sunday message. Yes … it pains me.
It focused on the rules, and falling short of the requirements, and how we must make ourselves believe the rules, and then follow the rules, and how we must stop sinning. Seriously. Even my husband, who never has a critical word for anything, said, “That was sorely lacking.”
It left us without context, and as we all know these days, context is critical to understanding.
I listened carefully … there wasn’t one word about our all-loving and all-powerful God who created each one of us, and sees each one of us as our truest selves (and loves us anyway). Our God and Father who wants to overwhelm us with His presence, who breaks down all barriers, destroys all strongholds, heals all wounds, understands all of our struggles, chases after us with bated breath, never gives up on us, becomes the One we love more than anyone or anything else, and who makes temptations benign because we have Him Who is so much more and better than anything we might come up with on our own.
His presence is like being gushed over every day, leaving me giddy, and reminding me that my self-condemning thoughts only crowd out his quiet voice.; receiving His breezy kisses that tousle my hair back and clear my head, and know … really know … that He has something amazing underway now and forever that’s emblazoned in gold with my name.
Okay, I’m not saying it’s all daffodils and roses. I’m saying that He is all in all, and I can look to Him without fear of rejection. And looking to Him means believing Him, acting in faith in Him, and recognizing when I’m getting uppity and arrogant (which is a really bad thing because it blocks my vision of Him).
You see, when you really know God … when you’ve spent time with Him … when you can almost see Him move in response to your thoughts and prayers and circumstances, your heart longs for Him … aches for Him. You cannot bare to betray Him, grieve Him, or turn your back on Him. He is the great lover of your soul. All of us are looking for Him. This … this relationship … is the Gospel, and it’s why Christ came.
This is a passage from my prayer book:
“It is impossible to plan on a breeze lightening relentless sorrow or depression, and yet it happens. God must glory in these astonishing victories of the poignant over the crushing, because it is a device unique to his service. A holocaust survivor tells of concentration camp misery being relieved by the song of a morning bird. A mother keeping watch at the children’s hospital is given hope by the smile of a sick child. Rage is turned aside by a soft word. Such tender mercies are potent because they are reminders of God’s presence in our days, His intimacy. The Lover of our Souls is the man of our dreams, the soulmate, the beloved brother, father, and comforter. He watches over us in the night, as He promises, He guides us through dreams that He gives, and brings us safely to wakefulness each morning with the promise of His company. The same troubled king David who struggled through the night watches determined, “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch” (Psalm 5:3). We watch for Him, yes. And He comes.”
The rules only point the way; they are not the goal. The goal is intimacy with Christ.
If the negotiators at the church-merge table focused on Him rather than wrangling through scripture passages to reach agreement on specific topics based upon their seminary training, they would find that unity can be achieved without having to create a checklist of all the rules they agree upon. They can just go to the Lover of their souls for direction when the dust-ups happen.There’s something about not having all the answers and letting God show the way, no matter how long it takes or how counterintuitive it might appear to be.
 Galatians 3:21-28 21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
 1 Timothy 2:12 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
 Praying the Hours in ordinary life, Lauralee Farrer and Clayton J. Schmit, Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon, pg 109.