March 23, 2015

Palms and Passion

Morgner, Wilhelm, 1891-1917. Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.            

One of the teaching methods in Incarnational Theology is to watch a truncated version of the Gospel of John.  The biblical words provide the script, and the vivid images of familiar scenes such as the wedding at Cana, the healing of the man born blind, and the encounter with the adulterous woman who was drug before Jesus, transcend language barriers.
            The portrayal of the “triumphant entry” in the film is almost comical.  Jesus is tall; the donkey is short.  Jesus’ legs almost drag the ground, and clearly there are detractors among those who provide a more jubilant welcome.  In the fourth Gospel, this procession is placed at the midpoint of the book, and it comes directly after the raising of Lazarus.  It was because of this sign that the Passover crowds thronged to see him.

So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13)
 
Entry into Jerusalem, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            This prophetic act brings to boil the simmering conflict with Pharisees and temple authorities.  They said to one another: “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him” (12:19).  Jesus well knows that he has limited time to complete the work God has given him to do.
            The readings for this coming Sunday carry two titles: the Liturgy of the Palms and the Liturgy of the Passion, and they narrate the whiplash of emotions as Jesus enters Jerusalem to acclaim, only to be arrested and executed before the week is out.  John’s version of these climactic events depicts a fully self-aware Jesus who discerns that it is his “hour.” 

Entry into Jerusalem, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            In this final days of Lent, we seek to follow Jesus ever more attentively, and we marvel at his courage.  He will not be dissuaded from confronting the powers that oppose him, and he beckons his disciples to be stalwart.  They are not, at first, but ultimately recognize him as the One through whom they meet God.  Their story is our story, too, and we trust that Jesus prays for us, just as he did for them.  Our faithfulness requires his support.

            Molly T. Marshall


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

March 19, 2015

Holy Conversations


            
            As a part of the Incarnational Theology seminar, Dr. Heather and I use a case study method to foster intercultural conversation about the nature of ministry.  Each student presents a ministry event from his or her discrete context. An event is a decision made by the minister, among viable alternatives, for which he or she takes responsibility for the outcome.
            Ministry colleagues then give feedback and affirmation about the case, and all participants gain insight into the nature of ministry from this respectful exchange.  Students from the US as well as from Myanmar marvel at the similarity of ministry challenges, and share the good humor born out of seeking to be faithful leaders even when their “sheep” are a wayward group.




            Yesterday we processed events related to conflict over pastoral leadership, preferential treatment of rich in congregations, mixed-marriage, i.e., between Buddhist and Christian, people so divided in a congregation that one group destroys the church’s building, competing views of sexual purity, the nature of evangelism, only to mention a few.
            These are holy conversations as we listen to the journeys of pastoral leaders seeking to embody the grace of God in these situations, the real test of incarnational theology.  We probe significant theological issues such a the nature of the church, the role of the Holy Spirit, forgiveness and restoration, and the meaning of God’s atoning action in Jesus.  As practitioners share from their widely varying contexts—from tribal villages to urban centers—common themes emerge.  Humans are vulnerable, prone to self-interest and seduced by power.  Pastors, too, learn to acknowledge their brokenness and offer ministry as fellow humans.





            How grateful I am for this kind of learning among scholar-practitioners.  It is a healing process to delineate a ministry situation that had caused one great anguish and hear gentle words from other ministers.  In my judgment, if ministry colleagues could regularly pursue this practice, some of the isolation and self-doubt that can plague practitioners could be overcome.
            On Friday I will begin the journey home.  Once again I return with gratitude for the privilege of learning together how to strengthen the witness of Christ’s church.


            Molly T. Marshall

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