Summary: You can defeat what you know you want and ought to do by using immoral means or by destroying relationships to do it. But Christ is able to give us a new spirit.

The membership of this church is almost two-thirds female. That would be reason enough for us to have a series of sermons on the lessons that women can teach us. But that is not the only reason I have planned a three-part series of messages around the theme, Designing Women.

I have planned this series because it is time for us, in this year of emphasis on Christian leadership, to consider the unique and special gifts that women have to give to the whole church, as well as the unique and special issues that some of the women of the Bible raise for us.

And so I would not want anyone to think that these sermons, today and for the next two weeks, are sermons on feminism. They are not sermons built on the theme of women’ s rights. They are not even what some people call “women’s liberation" sermons, though there is a place for that. No, they are human liberation sermons. They are stories from the Scripture which feature women at their heart, but which address all of us. They are messages for the whole church.

I am bringing these messages to a church which ought not to have to be convinced any longer that women have capabilities for leadership and for insight. If you are relatively new to this church, it would be good for you to know that Takoma Park Baptist Church was one of the first congregations in the city, I may even say in the nation, so to recognize the spiritual gifts and leadership skills of women as to make it possible for a woman to attain any of the offices or positions in the church’s life. And that includes the ordained positions. We ought no longer to have to be convinced of the gifts and skills of women.

No, what I shall be doing today and for the next two weeks is to draw deep from the reservoir of Scripture and see what three designing women, purposeful women, can teach us. While there are numerous stories I could have drawn from, for these three weeks I am going to work with the designing women mentioned in Hebrews, Chapter 11.

Now the 11th chapter of Hebrews, you will remember, is the roll call of faith. The heroes of faith are called out, one by one, as example of those who lived by commitment to the purposes of God and who worked toward something greater and finer than they could expect to experience in their own lifetimes. The basic intention of the author of Hebrews in this 11th chapter is to encourage us to follow the summons of faith and to point toward the ultimate example of faith, its pioneer and its perfecter, Jesus Christ. The Book of Hebrews, this chapter of Hebrews, is obsessed with the possibilities in a faith-filled life.

Most of the faith-filled examples he mentions are men. But not all. Not all. Scattered through this chapter are three very special women. All of them are heroines of faith, but they are also all quite different.

One of them, the one we’ll work with today, is a genuine part of the people of God. In fact, she is the mother of the people of God. Sarah, wife of Abraham, seen for centuries as one to honor and esteem, but, as we are going to see, not without flaws, and certainly not without some lessons to learn about integrity and character and faith.

The second is one who was not a part of the people of God. In fact she was a part of the people who oppressed God’s people. And as the daughter of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, she represents that privileged class who somehow always seem to get their own way and who have it easy and who appear not to have a care in the world. But Pharaoh’ s daughter, mentioned in Hebrews 11, not exactly as a heroine of faith but as a part of the faith journey of Moses, will also teach us about character and leadership and integrity and purpose. A true designing woman.

And then on the last of these Sundays we are really going to get startled by the kind of person Hebrews includes as a genuine article, a true original, a designing woman of the first order, but one who was not only outside the people of God, but also outside the bounds of nice people. One who was an outcast, one who broke the moral law. Rahab the prostitute, doing a booming business in the ancient city of Jericho, practicing the world’s oldest profession in one of the world’s oldest cities, but still seen as a heroine of faith, a designing woman.

I think we are going to profit from these ladies. I suspect we are going to discover that it was pretty costly for them to have achieved nomination to the Faith Hall of Fame. And I believe we are going to learn about leadership from these three very different designing women.

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