St Mary's South Benfleet March 22nd, 1992 Year C Lent 2

A Case against Women Priests


Exodus 3: 18

I Cor 10: 16. 1012

Luke 13: 19

Imagine for a moment that the Church of God which is meeting at St Mary's South Benfleet this morning was simply a secular gathering something between a transcendental meditation class and a bingo club where like-minded people foregather week by week to enjoy themselves, practise relaxation or simply meet up with their friends.

If Saint Mary's were like that, then the wouldn't be the slightest reason why it shouldn't be a run, administered and staffed by men or women. The only question would be "who's the best person for the job? and how much should they be paid?"

In other words the question "why shouldn't we have women priests at Saint Mary's when we have women doctors, lawyers and bus drivers, simply wouldn't arise in fact women priests would have probably been a feature of Anglican life since at least the middle of the 19th century.

But then of course, if I believed that the Church of Saint Mary's South Benfleet was simply a secular gathering of like minded people, then I wouldn't be here this morning; and I guess that Father Galloway wouldn't have been ministering to you as he has.

For both he and I do what we do in the secure a belief that what we are dealing with is not a secular gathering, but God's own people, bought with the price of his own blood to be nothing less than the Body of Christ on earth.

We are dealing in other words with the supernatural.

Not the non-material, but the supernatural. We're dealing with men and women, and girls and boys, and wood and stones, bread and wine. But we're not concerned with them in the way, say, that a builder is concerned with stones and wood, or a social worker with people, or a baker and vintner with bread and wine.

We are, if you like, dealing with the whole of creation as understood in the mind of God who created and redeemed it through Jesus Christ, and our success or failure in doing so will be judged, not by whether we have measured up to the standard or principle by which the world works and thinks, but whether we have done God's will or we have not. So we shouldn't be too surprised if from time to time the two sets of principles, the earthly and the heavenly, are quite quite different from each other.

What the world expects will be one thing; what God commands may be, in an extreme case, precisely the opposite.

How then do we begin to find out what the will of God is?

This morning we shall consider just one specific way the way in which he communicates with us when we are reading and hearing and understanding the scriptures. Each Sunday we listen to these carefully-chosen passages from the Bible which provide the clues to answering the question "what is God's will for all mankind and for me in particular?"

This morning's passages are splendidly relevant to the question. We begin with the call of Moses.

From Genesis to revelation the Bible as about calling and choosing. Both calling and choosing are done by God, not by man. Man's choice consists in saying "yes" to God or "no" to him. Your patron saint is the outstanding example of someone saying Yes to God. Adam and Eve, Egypt's Pharaoh, Caiaphas and Judas Iscariot are examples of people who said No!

Well Moses was called by God to rescue his chosen people from the Pharaoh. And Moses you may remember, spent the next half hour arguing with God that he wasn't the right man for the job. "No matter", God's said to him "just get on with it and I'll see to it that things go right." But Moses still wasn't convinced. He wanted God to leave him alone. He wanted someone else to do the job. But in the end he obeyed.

The second reading takes as a stage further. Moses led God's chosen people through the desert, but most of them chose to break every one of his Commandments. And the result was that they never reached the promised land at all. They messed the whole thing up by a "doing their own thing".

Thirdly in the Gospel, Jesus warned his hearers that if they didn't produce the right fruit they too would be cut down like the barren fig tree.

How does this have a bearing on the sacred ministry of God's Church?

It suggests that the way God wants his Church to be ordered may be quite different from the way we all do things in secular society. It may depend much less on people's abilities or talents or wits and have much more to do with "hidden" things that even the person in question is unaware that they possess. So it's not a question like "choosing a career" or "doing what you're good at" but of allowing God to use you on a particular role in his divine supernatural drama.

And there we come to the heart of the mystery. For while some of the roles in the heavenly drama can be equally well undertaken by men or women, two roles at least appear to be exclusive to one or other sex.

One role is motherhood. I don't just mean the procreation of children though that is an important part of it. I mean the whole business of bringing up a family and turning a house into a home. Now of course not all women are suited to performing this role any more than all men are called to the ministerial priesthood. But the truth is that every individual during the early years of his life needs a mother or a mother-substitute to relate to. The fact that God himself when he became man did so in the womb of a particular woman, and became dependent on her for many years, should convince us that the pattern a motherhood and childhood and the relationship between them is part of God's plan for creation.

The other role is priesthood. As part of his scheme for the redemption of the world God created the role of ministerial priesthood in order that the process of redemption, brought about by the incarnation of Jesus Christ, should be extended through all ages in the sacrament we are in the process of celebrating. The ministerial priest stands in the role of Christ at the altar to be his image or Ikon in representing, sacramentally, with God's people, the sacrifice of himself on Calvary.

Now it wouldn't have occurred people like us until about 30 years ago after to think that a woman could or should play such a role. Not because they were unworthy; not because they were incompetent but because it would distort the whole pattern that God has given us to follow.

Of course there are Christians who believe that Jesus never intended to establish a ministerial priesthood at all. In that case we all and have many priests, either male or females. Again there are others who believe that God hasn't given us any "fixed" points, in which case presumably his Commandments aren't fixed either next year he made tell us "thou shalt steal, or commit adultery or don't do this in remembrance of me any more"

But for most of us the only real option is to believe that God does not change his mind in this way. It priesthood is going to be one thing on Monday and something different on Tuesday; it what was true of God in 1922 is false in 1992; if what was wrong in January becomes right in February and and vice versa I don't see how we can cope.

But the message of scripture is clear. "I, the Lord change not, therefore you sons of men are not consumed". We may speculate to our hearts content as to how much better God could have arranged things if it only he had asked to advise him on the beginning. The fact remains that if we follow the Maker's instructions we shall get the best results. If we ignore them, as the people of Israel did we shall end up by wrecking his creation and ourselves in the process!

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