Ladies First

Notes on the Sunday address by Rev Ric Holland, 14 May 2017

Don Chipp. I got to know Don Chipp well.  I had many coffee discussions with him, lunches and dinner parties with him and his wife Edun. Often there were top of the town Pollies, corporate CEO’s, folk in high public office including people like Tony Abbot and others.  At the dinner parties my whole family would be invited and so round this impressive group of influential people would sit his children and ours. At first I was expecting serious debate on the budget, social policy, political strategy etc. But no, Don would reach out towards our children, who at the time were probably around 6 to 8 years old and ask them questions. I remember on one occasion he asked them “Now tell me what do you most admire about your mother?” The children listed so many things about my gorgeous wife. It was really moving and revealing. Then after about a 10 minute concentration on Joni. He asked the same about Dad? “O Dad” they said “he’s just Dad!”

How refreshing it was to concentrate on mum. And this general rule applies today to all women. Like the front cover of our Order of Service depicts it’s important always to every opportunity, and today is just such a day, to put women (or ladies first). We take so much for granted re the role of women and it’s been so easy to bury and hide in the shadows, particularly because men have been in charge and have been able to control that.

So today to all Mums and women everywhere we put you first.


Well because women have been in the shadows for so long.

Here’s an example, in this story in Matthew RSV “This is the truth I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout he whole world this that she has done shall be spoken of so that all will remember her” we’ll have we remembered her? We remember the deed, but not the woman delivering it because the writers of the story didn’t think that she a mere woman important enough to actually record her name… She’s there, she’s central. Jesus says she should go down in history.  But the writers lose her name in the shadows.

Here’s another one…sadly of many….Mark 6 v. 3 lists Jesus’ family..we have the names..his brothers James, Joseph, Judas and Simon and his sisters ….but their names are not listed they’re just sisters.

And so it has been throughout history. I’m certain there were women disciples; Mary Magdalene is obviously one of them. Women were the last disciples at the cross and the first at the tomb.

Geoffrey Blainey maintains that women comprised by far the majority of early Christian congregations, yet an organisation which of course expressed it faith to a male god (Father, King, Shepherd, Master). Concentrated on the key male operators not the vital and world changing women.

Because Jesus reached out to women and had an inclusive and equal stance.

Even though the history was written by men with a patriarchal view of the world this Jesus view breaks through the shadows.

  Consider the woman at the Well.  She “had suffered from serious bleeding for twelve years”. This meant in Jewish law she was a total outcast. She was not allowed to touch anybody. Even if she drank out of a cup that cup had to be thrown away and never used. It was like her unclean. Imagine the stress, anxiety and pain that that lady had lived within the shadows for years. She dared to touch Jesus. Isn’t touching so important to our friendships, our relationships. The disciples were horrified. A woman and an unclean woman dared to touch the Rabbi Jesus. They would have then been prepared to severely punish her and make her pain even worse. At this wonderful moment, Jesus turns and face to face with her, at that moment it seemed that there was nobody else there. For Jesus. At this moment, this women living in the shadows was the only person in the world. She was a poor, unimportant suffering woman, an unclean outcast. Yet to Jesus she was the most important person in the world. A human soul in need.

Here again another littler story which screams out at us something unique about Jesus. He opens up a conversation and asks to share a cup of water with her. The fact that she is a Samaritan completely forbids this in Jewish Law, But even worse than she is a woman. Jewish Law forbade a Rabbi to greet a woman in public. A rabbi might not even speak to his own wife or daughter or sister in public. There were even Pharisees who were called “The bruised and bleeding Pharisees” because they shut their eyes when they saw a woman on the street and so walked into walls and houses! For a Rabbi to be seen speaking to a woman in public was the end of his reputation. And yet Jesus spoke to this woman. Not only was she a woman, she was also a woman of notorious character. No decent man. Let alone a Rabbi would have been seen in her company…and yet Jesus spoke with her. This was Jesus statement to those who believed in the inferiority of women. Keep them in the shadows? Not this Rabbi. Come share with me. Stand alongside with me.

Then there is the story of Jesus and the woman “Caught in adultery”. The punishment for which is execution by stoning. Note only the women. The men, and it does take two to tango, get off scott free). No retribution here. No laying on of guilt. But huge contradiction to Jewish law and practice and the very clever…let he (note the male term he) who has no sin cast the first stone.

These are all revolutionary and table turning moments. Jesus just accepting the equality of woman in a hugely male dominated world.

Because women have always played a key and even majority role in the life of the church

This is one of the best kept secrets in Christianity that women have played an enormous and even majority role in the life of the early church.

Although they leave much unsaid still, both Christian and secular writers of the time attest many times to the significant involvement of women in the early growth of Christianity.

We know that many women served as leaders of house churches that sprang up throughout the Roman Empire. This list includes Priscilla, Chloe, Lydia, Apphia, Nymphia, the mother of John Mark and the woman referred to as the “elect lady’ of John’s second epistle.

In the 2nd century Clement of Alexandria wrote that the apostles were accompanied on their missionary journeys by women who were not marriage partners (again no names).  Then there was Junia mentioned by Paul in Romans as “of high note among the apostles”. John Chrysostom wrote “indeed to be described as an apostle at all is a great thing, but to have the added description “of high note” is of great status.

Paul also mentions Pheobe as “a Deacon of the Church at Cenchreae”. He also uses the Greek word “prostatis” which means overseer or of high rank and is often used in the EC to describe someone who has the authority to preside over the Eucharist.

Celsus, a 2nd century detractor and oppose of Christianity once wrote in a deliberately unkind and taunting way that the church consisted of “the silly and the stupid women and children”. His contemporary Bishop Cyprian of Carthage acknowledged in his Testimonia that “Christian maidens were very numerous” and that it was difficult to find Christian husbands for all of them. These comments give us a picture of a church disproportionately populated by women.

There’s also evidence that women were better biblical scholars than men, in the study of Hebrew and Greek. The circle of women who studied with Jerome in the early years showed such scholarship that he thought nothing of referring some church elders to Marcella for the resolution of a hermeneutical problem. By the early 3rd century Augustine could declare “that Christian woman was better educated in spiritual matters than many a philosopher”.

Throughout the whole of the Early Church period women are seen out of the shadows if you look for them. There are many many more:

Pheobe, the four daughters of Philip, Ammia, Alce, the sisters of crescens, Grapte, 2 slave women prosecuted by the Roman governor Pliny, Catherine of Alexandria, Hypatia, Mary of Cassobelae, Maris, Eulogis, Sobelus, St Thecla.

The list goes on and on. We bits about many of them because they are recorded as martyrs or they are referred to in other often secular writings. But think of all those whose names we don’t even know.

We would have no church without women.

Let’s come a bit nearer to home and recall Mary Mcillop who founded the little sisters of St Joseph and after smashing through the glass ceiling in creating innovative education and support for the poorest was excommunicated in 1871.  Eventually of course she was reinstated and in 2010 was canonised…one might say a little bit late for her to fully appreciate the church’s recognition.

Catherin Helen Spence, 1825 to 1910, writer, preacher, reformer, feminist. She was the first woman minister in the world when she was ordained into the Unitarian Church, in the 1870’s, she founded education and accommodation for orphaned, destitute and delinquent children, she was a forerunner of kindergartens,  and secondary schools for girls,. She fought for electoral reform and ensured that SA was the first jurisdiction in the world to allow women to stand for office. She continued to fight for women’s suffrage. She became a symbol of what women could achieve and when she died in 1910 was described as “The grand old woman of Australia”……..sensational. But do we remember her name. No we recall fumbling and very silly men like Bourke and Wills but amazing women like Catherine Spence are left in the shadow.

So let’s identify some of the key roles that women can continue to play and honour them for them.

Here is a list of categories fully researched and verified by many university research depts..

Firstly women are better students than men particularly in maths and science and computer coding. Pick up things more quickly which then enables them to be better at imparting that knowledge. I.e. teaching; I know that women, again in the background have against all the odds demonstrated wonderful teaching results.

Here is Susannah Wesley.  This woman, although she never preached a sermon, published a book, or founded a church is known as the mother of Methodism. Why? Because Susannah, herself the 25th child of 25 children, had 19 children. She taught all of them who survived. They all male  female she taught six hours a day including classical studies, Latin and Greek and music. And of course from them emerged John and Charles who between them changed the church worldwide.

Countless women took up these roles and quietly but very impressively have left us all sensational legacies. Women like:

Hildergard of Bergen, St Theresa of Avia, Mary Wolstencroft, Jane Austine, Sojouner truth (a slave in the south of the USA who fought for black women’s rights), Harriet Beecher Stowe author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and great leader in the Congregational church…the list goes on. All great reformers and educationalists.

Women are great teachers. My mum, it’s mothers’ Day. I’m allowed to be personal. Taught my dad.

Women are better listeners. That’s why the listening professions of counselling, psychology, and organisations like life lifeline are dominated by women.

This leads on to consider that women are much better within what might be called the caring professions. I’ve worked for a huge chunk of my ministry with the not for profit and social sector.  I’ve worked as a senior Executive and CEO in a number of NFP’s both in Australia and the UK….and whilst I was the boss the vast majority of people working with and alongside me were women. 80% of the caring staff in MCM were women.

I could be here all day. Research tells us that women are better at multi-tasking, driving, empathising, tolerating pain, handling stress, and consistently across the world outstrip men in IQ testing. And listen to this fellars: The international journal of Business Governance and Ethics recently published research that concluded that female led companies are more successful than those led by men and a follow up poll by Pew research found that the public agree because women are fairer, more compassionate and trustworthy than their male counterparts!!

SO TODAY we honour women and mums everywhere. WE take time to consider the wonderful women of the past, present and future. We think of our mums, sisters, aunts, grannies, daughters, teachers mentors, carers, colleagues and friends, those who in many different ways have influenced our lives and we give thanks for them.


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