Back when it was “a different time” – in this case, just 1992 – the pastor warmed up our mens’ Bible study with, “Why did the woman cross the road…What’s she doing out of the kitchen in the first place?” Before the chuckling died down, he continued his opening act: “How do you fix a broken dishwasher…Kick her in the butt.”
Twenty-five years later, my oldest of three daughters says, “Daddy, when I grow up, I want to be a boy.” She’s helping me set up the Communion table for worship in an hour, because the advantage of being a pastor with three daughters is every Sunday is “take your daughter to work day.”
“Why?” I ask, unprepared for this conversation when my brain is tangled with mic cables and my upcoming sermon.
“So I can be a pastor like you,” she says, pouring Welch’s grape juice into a chalice.
I wince. “Who says you can’t be a pastor when you grow up?” Answer her question with a question. Make her think about it, I tell myself.
“Because aren’t all the preachers in the Bible men?” she says.
It’s the season of Advent, so we talk about Mary, the mother of Jesus. About how she’s the first disciple, because she was the first to lay down her life for Jesus. And how before she delivered the baby, she delivered the first sermon in the New Testament:
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.” (Luke 1:46-49)
We don’t often look to Mary as disciple or preacher. We take our cues from Moses, David, Peter, Paul; we only look at Mary once a year at Christmas, and even then to reduce her and her womb to a utilitarian role.
Opening Scripture, my daughters find a world where prophets and leaders from the home to the throne were determined by bloodline, gender, and birth-order (a.k.a. the firstborn male of the right tribe). All because of the dreaded word, patriarchy: when women were property of their fathers and dowry-ed off to be the property of their husbands, their children and legal rights belonged to him. He could divorce her with a word, so she kept her head covered and mouth shut.
But – in those same Scriptures, my daughters read stories of women encountering God and leading God’s people. Like Hagar, the slave woman whose womb was also reduced to a utilitarian role. She is the only person in the Old Testament to directly give God a name, and she names him, “The God Who Sees Me.”
Or Deborah. When Israel was under oppression because of their corruption and dysfunction, they cried out to God for help. God gave them a woman. Before they had kings, Israel was led by judges known for either their legal or military leadership. Deborah was a prophet who happened to be a judge, and she had both – so much so that when Barak, the leader of the Israelite militia, was sent into battle, he said, “I will go, but only if you go with me.”
And Ruth, who is described by the Hebrew word meaning “warrior.” Oh, and she was an illegal immigrant who saved Bethlehem with integrity and courage. Or Esther, who did the unthinkable and went public before the king, saving her people not with looks, but devotion to God.
How about Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin and the first human to prophecy the coming of Jesus while her husband doubted, and so an angel shut him up. Or the five-time divorced Samaritan Woman, who encountered Jesus at the well. She went back to testify and lead others to him, and a lot of folks in her village were saved.
And my favorite, Mary and the other Mary. Just as two women were the first to preach about Jesus’ birth, these two women were the first to preach about his resurrection. They went to the tomb while the men were scattered.
Daughter, look at these women who, like Moses, David, Peter, and Paul, are used by God to preach the good news and disciple your dad. And not just in the Bible.
My grandmother, who when I asked why some of the words in the Bible were in red, took that Bible and told me who Jesus was; Cindy, the pastor who led my confirmation class; Jeanine, a mother who called me out on some sin my freshman year of college and set some boundaries; Peg, who led me through inner healing and warned me numerous times of hang-ups in my life; Jo Anne, who’s preaching challenged me to not compromise the call on my life; Miriam, who’s preaching taught me what holiness really is and how to pursue it; Amanda, my co-pastor in college ministry who called out my weak points in ministry and stood up to fraternity boys dehumanizing women.
Most importantly, there’s Jennifer, my wife and our kids’ mother. She’s in the garage using her tools and air compressor to repair a car engine or refinish furniture while I’m cooking dinner or cleaning the toilet. But she also leads our house, makes the rules, and assigns the tasks. We both do, and so in our mutuality I can be led and submit to her because we submit to each other.
Daughter, someday you can preach and disciple me too.. You already are.
So I stand my daughter in the pulpit, where she is pretending to preach like her dad, and tell her about Peter’s sermon on Pentecost when he drops the words of the prophet Joel: “‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy…’” (Acts 2:17)
Did you catch that, daughter?
Prophets are the preachers who declare, “This is what the Lord says.” And now the prophets are your sons and daughters, no longer determined by bloodline, gender, and birth-order. There is only one manner of leadership in the church, and it isn’t gender or even credentials. The qualifications are to be called by God, anointed by Jesus, and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit
This is no joke, but the story of good news for women. And as Dr. Sandy Richter, the woman pastor-professor who taught me reminds us: we need to tell that story, and tell it well.
Featured image courtesy Joshua Hanson via Unsplash.