July 28, 2014

Multiplying Resources

            All four Gospels record the miracle of the loaves and fishes, no doubt because it appeals to the ever present human question, "is there really enough to go around?"  This coming Sunday preachers will wrestle with Jesus' words, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat" (Matthew 14:16). Some interpreters see the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish as creatio ex nihilo, like the miracle of creation itself. 

            Others see a miracle of inspiration; persons are inspired by Jesus to share what they have so that each has what is needed.  One person started the pattern by offering his lunch to Jesus, and soon all are fed with plenty to take home as leftovers!  It is a story of abundance.
            One of the best aspects of my work is the opportunity to visit churches and say thank you for their participation in Central's mission.  Yesterday I was the guest preacher at Big Canoe Chapel, where Central board member Lamar Helms serves as associate chaplain. Clearly, he is a beloved pastoral leader, devoting himself to worship planning, music, and pastoral care.  He has a way of calling forth the best from others, even as he demands excellence of himself.
            This is a unique congregation; it is comprised of persons from varying faith traditions, and thus is "multidenominational" in its identity.  It provides ways for non-Christians to participate in affiliative ways, also.  More concerned to find ways to include rather than be defined by doctrinal conformity, the gathered people of God are flourishing there.
             Each year the mission committee looks over many requests to choose what ministries the congregation will support.  I am grateful that Central is among those receiving generous funds for our mission, and I was able to interpret the impact of their gift.  Interestingly, every person who had some sort of a Kansas connection came by to shake hands and ask about our location.  I trust we will get some visitors as they come through.
             Another recipient of the Chapel's mission funding was present.  The Luke Project supports inner city kids from Atlanta for a week of camp in the lovely mountain environs of Big Canoe.  About 20 of them were in worship, and I gave thanks for the respite provided by this generous congregation.  I sensed that this was a long term commitment, and it is surely a transformative initiative.
             Sharing our resources has a multiplying effect, and God can extravagantly spread them around. We need only open our hearts to the need of others; opening our wallets and purses will soon follow.
             Molly T. Marshall
             Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.
**** JESUS MAFA. Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48287 [retrieved July 28, 2014].

July 21, 2014

Sighing with the Spirit

            In the weeks following Pentecost, the epistle readings in Romans have focused on what it means to live in the Spirit.  For three Sundays in a row, passages from chapter 8 reveal rich insight.  Arguably there is no richer teaching about the Spirit of God, particularly as it relates to prayer.

            Clearly the Apostle states the reality: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”  The Spirit, who searches the heart, intercedes according to the will of God for those so intimately known.  God the Spirit is closer to us than our very breath, according to St. Augustine, “closer than I am to myself.”

         Yesterday I had the privilege of being the guest proclaimer at First Baptist Church, North Platte, Nebraska.  It is a tender time in the life of the congregation, as interim pastoral leadership has served it for about 18 months. The labor-intensive work of the pastor search committee continues, and they seek to stay encouraged.

            At the beginning of morning worship, the chair of this committee announced that a promising candidate had decided not to come.  He spoke of the commitment of the committee and their desire to be faithful in their work on behalf of the congregation.

            Then the chair of the deacons came forward, summoned the rest of the committee to come to the front, and offered prayer in their behalf.  It was a holy moment.  By this action, the church was affirming that they stood with their representatives; even more important, they were turning to the source of provision, One who knows what the church most needs.  The Spirit helps in our weakness, even in the process of waiting for a new pastor.

            Prayer is not always about stringing words together.  At times it is stillness that allows us to hear the prayer already being prayed within us.  It is listening for the deep sigh that transcends our fumbling theological rhetoric.  As a spiritual practice, prayer draws us into the life of God.  True prayer begins with God and returns to God.  It is a circular movement that welcomes our participation. 
            We do not pray to persuade God to do the right thing.  We pray so as to add our energy and love to divine purposes.  As we pray, we learn of God’s dream for our broken world, and we become agents of healing ministry.  The deep sigh of the Spirit is for the Body of Christ to fulfill its mission.  So it is a wise congregation that seeks the divine assistance through prayer.

Molly T. Marshall

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