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.

July 14, 2014

Celebrating Judson Day

            July 13, 1813, is the day the Judsons arrived in Burma, and many there continue to celebrate the day.  Because of the many resettled people from Burma (Myanmar) now present in the US, many Baptist churches are once again marking this distinctive day.
            Yesterday I preached at the Crescent Hill Baptist Church, Louisville, KY, spiritual home for many Karen in that area.  The church made some critical decisions as these refugees began to trickle and then pour into their doors.  They decided that they would be one church.  As much as possible, they would share in all the things churches do together.

            The relationship with Karen people began several years ago when the church sent a team to Thailand where they met Karen refugees streaming over the border from Burma.  Two on that mission trip, Steve Clark and Annette Ellard, sensed a calling to work alongside these people.  It is not surprising that as Karen arrived in Louisville, they remembered and sought out Steve and Annette, now appointed as CBF missionaries.
            Many congregations simply share space and an occasional greeting from some official representative of the “real church,” but not here.  Karen members of the church read Scripture, led in prayer, and provided special music; importantly, the worship bulletin had Scripture in both languages.  Karen received simultaneous translation, which the older persons needed more than the younger ones!

            A Karen pastor serves as part of the staff, and his presence is making a significant difference in caring for this part of the flock. There is a Sunday School hour for Karen, and American friends are a part of that.  I was impressed that one of the non-Karen pastors of the church came to that gathering, greeted them in Karen, and then spoke with person after person, calling each by name.

            The church is hosting citizenship classes, English classes, and finding ways to bring youth together.  The nursery is brimming with babies, most of them Karen.  The children’s sermon was a lively event, and I got a prime seat to view all the energy and curiosity as the children acted out the Parable of the Sower by planting seeds in various kinds of soils.  Some fell on the carpet, and I bet they will sprout there, also.
            Yesterday was a joy to me, not only because this was my former congregation, but also because I was able to witness a church embodying God’s welcome as they have been welcoming strangers.  As one of the long time members remarked, “I cannot imagine our church without the Karen.” Christian hospitality is at the heart of the Gospel, and when it is practiced, something like resurrection occurs.

            Molly T. Marshall

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