August 31, 2015

Sowing Justice


            The lectionary readings for this coming Sunday offer stringent words about justice, and the people of God will be shaped by their response to the poor.  “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail.  Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor” (Proverbs 22:8-9).  Likewise the epistle reprimands early Christians for preferring rich to poor in their assemblies, and it warns against favoritism with these words: “But you have dishonored the poor.  Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?” (James 2:6).
            In this political season, the population of the US is restive as people protest the widening gap between the rich and poor.  Those who struggle financially feel helpless to change much about their situation as their low wages and lack of educational privilege prevent any actualization of the “American Dream,” which is rapidly losing its luster.  Voters find little hope in candidates’ slogans and promised policies, and a level of cynicism emerges as they realize how much of an election is controlled by those who bankroll those who run.

            The migrant crisis in Europe mirrors the situation of undocumented residents in the US; desperate people will undertake desperate measures to secure their lives in the midst of untenable situations.  Fleeing violence, displaced people often face greater extremities at the hands of those who seek to profit from their migration.

            As our nation has observed the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we want to avert our eyes from the devastation that remains and those persons still waiting for justice.  It is so easy for the comfortable to move on, forgetting those for whom it is not possible.

            It is always easier to blame the poor for their circumstances rather than appraising the systemic realities that make upward mobility nearly impossible.  We prefer that they remain invisible, even in our churches.  When the prayers of the people at my church mention one who is out of work, a slight tremor runs through the congregation, and we find it hard to imagine that this trauma has occurred to one of “ours.”
The biblical writers remind us that the poor have a claim upon the people of God and that our giving is determined more by their need than our desire to give.  Luke Timothy Johnson warns people of faith against simply conforming themselves “to the acquisitive compulsions of contemporary American culture . . .” (Lake Family Institute on Faith & Giving, “The Life of Faith and the Faithful Use of Possessions.”)
So, how are we responding to the poor in our midst?  If we do not know any who fit the bill, we are living insular and perhaps overly self-protective lives.

Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

August 24, 2015

Voicing the Call


            As Central begins the fall semester, the seminary will receive new learners who have sensed God’s beckoning to ministry.  I am always interested in how one sensed her or his calling.  Who helped plant the seed?  What experience of service prompted deeper reflection on the direction of one’s life?  Was it a youth mission trip, a nurturing environment such as church camp, or a quiet conversation with a trusted leader?  These narratives hold promise, and as we listen to one another, we sense the unfurling of God’s longing for each of us.

            This past week I heard from a former doctoral student who is now a respected professor at a sister seminary.  His sixteen year-old son had attended youth camp and returned with a decision to pursue ministry.  This did not surprise his parents overly, for they have nurtured him in faith since his early days.  Yet, removed from his familiar context, he heard God’s summons in a fresh way.  I just hope he finds his way to Central!
God is still speaking in our day, and the church and seminary can work together in voicing the call.  I am also interested in how ministry studies can help guide and refine vocation.  Not all who come to seminary will become pastors, although that preparation remains focal in our mission as a theological school.  We seek to train the mind, form the heart, and inspire the spirit so that each learner can participate in God’s great mission of redemption.

            Christian vocation is a broader category than professional ministry.  Of course, congregations remain in need of inspired leadership, and the global mission of the church requires thoughtful and culturally competent persons.  God calls professors and administrators and denominational leaders; however, these are not the only persons who have a vocational call.
            God calls lay leaders who will make their livelihood primarily through business, education, health care, and social services.  These fields provide opportunity for persons to use their aptitudes, gifts, and personal commitment to fashion a more just and flourishing world.  As Tullian Tchividjian writes: “When we reduce the notion of ‘calling’ to work inside the church, we fail to equip our people to apply their Christian faith to everything they do, every where they are.” Our varied vocations are, in the words of Martin Luther, “the masks of our Lord God, behind which to be hidden . . . working in all things.”

            In the not too distant future, there will be a more comprehensive understanding of vocation as ministry and ministry as vocation.  It is time that our theology catches up with our practice so that we might celebrate all the ways God calls people to serve.  Such understanding grants our lives dignity and helps in crafting the future with God.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity. 

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