October 24, 2016

Our Problem with Humility

            Humility has been called the master virtue.  If one can grow in humility the rest of the spiritual life falls into place.  Yet, being humble is really hard and goes against the grain of everything our self-actualized culture professes. Humility grows in importance in our time, especially since it has the power to restrain yelling, which might be very helpful in this political season.

JESUS MAFA. The Pharisee and the Publican, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            Jesus loves to tell stories, and the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector who went up to the temple to pray, is one of his finest.  The text begins: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody, Jesus told this parable” (Luke 18:9).  Just in case we might miss it, the warning is at the beginning: looking down on everybody disqualifies one for the Reign of God.  Trusting in ones own goodness is a fool’s errand.

Millais, John Everett, Sir, 1829-1896. Pharisee and the Publican, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            The Pharisee prays first, expressing how profoundly grateful he is not to be like others, and he lists the evil-doers, including the tax collector nearby.  He then recounts to God his spiritual practices--just to make sure God is proud of him, too.  Actually, he never gets around to asking God for anything since apparently he is convinced of his righteousness.
            The tax collector stood at a distance, and in humility would not even look up to heaven.  Displaying signs of repentance, he implored: “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Honesty about his own sin proved redemptive.  Jesus said: “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”

            Being humble is hard, and we fear it will make us vulnerable.  It surely will, and that is a good thing.  Yet humility remains a challenging spiritual posture because we live with incessant social demand for achievement and power.  Joan Chittister writes: “Lack of humility is a social virus, a plague that infects the whole culture.”  She offers this definition: humility is “the strength to separate our sense of the meaning of life from what we do.”
            Humility creates space for God and for the other.  When we are proud, we are self-referential about everything, and we fill up all the space.   Humility allows us to be receptive and delivers us from the burden of perfection, thus granting inner freedom.
            We can choose which pathway we will follow.  We can either recognize the truth of our lives as sinners and seek God’s mercy, or we can continue to bluff about how well we are doing and how little we need the outpouring of God’s grace.
            One way leads to joyful life; the other leads to self-protective striving.  We can learn the downward mobility of being humble, and it will draw us nearer to God and to one another.  And God will determine who is righteous, through God’s great mercy.

            Molly T. Marshall

October 17, 2016

Abundant Blessing

            The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:8, “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”  At Central Seminary, we trust in the provision of God for our mission, and that past week we were able to participate in God’s abundant blessing of Bethel Neighborhood Center.
            Each year, the Central Region of ABC churches gives Central a portion of its offering to support our work in theological education, preparing women and men for seeking God, shaping churches, and serving the world.  We are grateful for this long-standing generosity, and we have a fruitful relationship with our region.
            As many of you know, our sister ministry, Bethel Neighborhood Center, has been in a protracted capital campaign.  No one has worked harder than Mang Sonna in garnering funds, some of them matching grants.  At this point, approximately $85,000 is needed to complete the campaign.  Once they have this money pledged, the matching funds will kick in and Bethel can begin its construction and renovation that will expand its essential mission.

            By my calculation, the amount Central is scheduled to receive in 2017 is about $85,000.  This past Friday at the annual meeting of the ABCCR, I requested that Central’s allocation in the Kansas Plan (the funding formula our region uses for its institutions) be given to Bethel to complete their capital campaign.
            I made very clear that this is for one year ONLY, as we need our region’s funds to sustain our own mission.  Eight-five thousand is a significant amount, about 2% of our budget, and we will work hard to cover this loss.  It seemed the right thing to do, however, for Central to give sacrificially to another member of the ABC family.  As we do so, we trust the living God that we will have all that we need, and that this gift is an expression of abounding in every good work.
            As he heard this news, Central alumnus Mang Sonna, wept tears of joy and gratitude at God’s faithfulness.  We were able to celebrate together God’s provision in the midst of our ABC extended family, demonstrating that God is abundant in blessing every collaboration for good.

            My friend Dr. David Goatley, Executive Director of the Lott Carey Mission Society, has suggested that God’s people ought to be measured by what we scatter rather than what we gather.  If we trust that there is more than enough because of God’s abundance, we can be generous as an institution.  Central trusts in God’s generosity, expressed through faithful friends and churches.
            As we move into the season of harvest and Thanksgiving, we celebrate God’s bounty and give thanks for the grace that prompts a response of gratitude.  We are grateful to be an instrument of grace in the service of God’s great mission.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping churches, and serving the world.