March 2, 2015

Foolish Signs of Wisdom

            As we journey deeper into Lent, our lectionary texts, especially the Gospel, turn sharply toward those precipitating events that lead to the cross.  We read these narratives with assurance of how the story will conclude; yet as the climactic events unspool, we long for greater insight into the nuances of God’s redemptive purpose through Jesus.

The Crucifixion. A Novgorod icon (side of a double-faced tablet) from the Saint Sophia Cathedral. The Late XV — early XVI centuries. Novgorod, The Museum of History and Architecture

            The preaching of the cross does not settle easily into the hearts of skeptics, of whatever stripe—then or now.  Paul offers this description of those who resist his Gospel: “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified . . . “ (1 Corinthians 1:22-23a).  And he claims that such proclamation, which is thought to be foolishness, is the power and wisdom of God.
            The Fourth Gospel offers an equally destabilizing vision of God’s work through Jesus.  As you recall, John places the “cleansing of the temple” at the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus, right after the miracle at Cana.  Whereas his encounter at the temple is seen as the final challenge to temple authorities in the Synoptics, John sets up a contested view of Jesus from the outset.  This “sign” must have seemed a fool’s errand to those who knew how things really worked in the politics of religion (John 2:13-22).

EL GRECO, oil on panel, probably before 1570

            We get both sign and wisdom in the cross, as challenging as that is.  While there are those who see crucifixion as Jesus’ foreordained purpose, others would see it as the culmination of a life lived confronting the injustice of powers and principalities.  One who speaks for God should be able to conquer detractors, critics argue, yet vulnerable, self-giving love turns out to display the power of God most fully—as foolish at it seems.

Pam Durso was ordained to the gospel ministry yesterday by Cornerstone Church and the Leadership Team of Baptist Women in Ministry.

            God delights to use what the world considers weak to accomplish divine purposes.  On Saturday I gathered with many other women and men to affirm through ordination the humble and gentle work of Dr. Pamela R. Durso.  Her approach to ministry is to support and highlight the work of others, not to trumpet her own gifted accomplishments. (I play in the brass section; she does not!)  As I witnessed the long line of those who streamed down the aisle to lay hands on her and bless her, I noted the bounteous fruit of her faithful work.
            More than any other season, Lent tells us where wisdom is to be found.  By following the courageous path of Jesus, we wind toward the cross, where it is on full display.
            Molly T. Marshall

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

February 24, 2015

The Righteousness of Faith

            Even though Lent reminds us that we are not righteous, the Bible tells us stories of exemplars of faithful living and trust that God counts as righteous.  Abraham was not blessed because of fidelity to the law, but “through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13b).

            The promise to Abraham and Sarah was that they would be forebears to “many nations,” thus we cannot read this covenantal overture in an exclusive way, focusing only on the election of Israel.  Paul’s focus is on the hopes of all who would put their trust in God’s redemptive purpose.  To believe in God is to believe in the one “who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (4:25).

            Over the past couple of days I have been serving as Theologian in Residence/Visiting Scholar in Religion for our neighboring community of Lawrence.  Sponsors of this initiative are Ecumenical Campus Ministries, Lawrence Jewish Community Center, Islamic Society of Lawrence, KU Department of Religious Studies, and a variety of mainline churches, including First Baptist Church.  The theme of the lectures has been “Living Religiously in a Pluralistic Culture,” a very timely topic given the signs that religion can either be a force for good, or can turn evil, even lethal, in the words of Charles Kimball.

            After hearing a panel comprised of a rabbi, a Greek Orthodox priest, a representative of the Islamic society, and me, a young woman asked: “But how can I know which one is the truth?”  She voiced what many ponder, which makes the issue of faith all the more central.  Humans cannot be absolutely certain of their claims, but live in faith and dependence upon the mercy of God.  Her question also assumes that only one of the sacred stories contains truth.

            God has been at work through the whole of humanity’s religious history through God’s Spirit.  God is drawing persons to the righteousness of faith, even though “we see through a glass darkly.”  Christians cling to the story of Jesus as God’s word of grace to us; others follow pathways only God can judge.

            As I have listened to the religious “other” in recent years, I have felt that some of the most important work in our time is interfaith dialogue.  Roman Catholic theologian Hans KΓΌng has suggested that there will not be peace in the world without peace among the world religions, and there will be no peace among the world religions until there is a concerted and sustained effort at dialogue.  I think he is right.
            Dialogue does not mean that we ignore our differences or make some conclusions about a coherent vision of God and what promotes human flourishing.  Gaining interfaith competency is crucial for Christian ministers, for we live in a religiously plural world.

            Molly T. Marshall

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