Judges 4:1-10

Acts 16:11-15

This reading from Judges is a morality story, a shame story. The moral is, “Don’t question God or you’ll be humiliated by the success of women.” The moral of the story depends on the understanding that women are unable to lead military forces. That picture is still with us, but that’s a subject for a longer sermon. The same picture shows up in the New Testament, when the early church decides that it’s inappropriate for women to lead worship.

So now I could scold the U.S. Christian tradition for ceding quite so much leadership to women; in many churches, the men don’t even attend. There is certainly something ironic in the energy underneath this phenomenon: the church denied leadership roles to women for 1900 years, but it never would have survived without the leadership women provided anyway. The whole story from Judges is about irony. The real moral is that God works in ironic ways. But then, it’s not so ironic after all. Deborah was already a leader of Israel. She was already faithful and attentive to God, like so many women throughout the church’s history.

It’s the same in the New Testament reading: it’s not so surprising that Lydia becomes a leader in the church at Philippi. She’s already a faith-filled woman, she’s already a leader in her community. From the beginning, women have opened a space for the church in their homes, in their lives, in their families. For longer than we should have, we confined women to church kitchens and Sunday School rooms, playing supporting roles for men’s leadership in official positions. Yet even under that kind of restriction, the Holy Spirit was at work, building the phenomenal ministries we honor today on PW Sunday. The fact that the church has finally welcomed women into more ministries is a testimony to the endurance of the Spirit, a testimony to the enduring power of God incarnate in Christ. Thanks be to such a surprising and creative God!