October 27, 2014

Remembering the Saints

            A cluster of important days crowds the liturgical calendar in late October and early November.  We will celebrate All Hallows Eve, All Saints, and All Souls during this week, and it is a good time to give thanks for our forebears in faith whose witness continues to inspire us.

            The book of Revelation gives us a vision of the faithful gathered in the life to come:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.  They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the lamb!” (7:9-10)

          This encompassing body expresses the hope of Christians, that ultimately we will be found in God’s safekeeping.
            Along with confessing our belief in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, Christians confess that we believe in the communion of saints, a “Christian symbol that speaks of profound relationship,” in the words of Elizabeth Johnson in Friends of God and Prophets.

            This relationship is surely enjoyed by those “whose rest is won,” but the communion of saints speaks of an ongoing connection between those alive in Christ this side of death and those treasured in memory and hope.  It is possible to be near to them both, in the thinking of theologian JΓΌrgen Moltmann.  Because we are the one Body of Christ, we are closer together than we may realize.

            Remembering those who have shaped our lives is an instructive spiritual discipline.  Yesterday at First Baptist Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan, I encountered the daughter of my great teacher, Dr. Dale Moody, long time Professor of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Dr. Moody helped me integrate Scripture and science in creative ways, which was a lifelong scholarly passion for him.  He encouraged me as a woman in ministry and theologian, even as he continued to interrogate a patriarchal system where women were not welcome in the pulpit or as professors in theology.  It was his advocacy that helped me become the first woman to teach theology at Southern Seminary.  Seeing his daughter Linda prompted a flood of gratitude for this saint in my life.
            Even more important than our remembering these who have moved through death to life is the reality that God remembers them.  As the Psalmist says, “The Lord redeems the life of God’s own servants; none of those who take refuge in God will be condemned (Psalm 34:22).  God knows the names of those who have been largely forgotten; God remembers them and creates a space for them in God’s eternity.  For this, we give thanks.

            Molly T. Marshall

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

October 20, 2014

Loving God through Worship

            The recent lectionary readings from Matthew narrate Jesus’ encounters with those who would “test” him.  Religious leaders want to know about competing claims; how does one live in the empire yet serve God?  Jesus manages to silence his critics with nuanced understanding of human obligations in an oppressive political environment; however, he reminds them that they also have accountability to render to God what is God’s.

            The Gospel reading for this coming Sunday offers another conversation, this time between Jesus and certain Pharisees who were concerned about his treatment of the law.  With legal precision, one asked: “Which commandment of the law is the greatest?” Jesus responded: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).  This is what we are called to render.

            I have just returned from a gathering of the Alliance of Baptists in Dayton, Ohio.  The focus of the meeting was worship in the progressive church.  Carefully crafted liturgy invited participants to love God through worship.  It was a bracing and renewing opportunity, and I felt that we were loving God with our whole selves—heart, soul, and mind.
We know that humans are created for worship; it is just that we usually worship the wrong things.  Donald Hustad described worship as “rehearsal for life.” It is hardly necessary to argue the proposition that as persons we tend to be changed by what we idolize, what we worship.  We begin to resemble what we worship.

Aquinas said certain things were to be used, and only God to be enjoyed—yet we tend to use God as a means to some supposed greater end.  A utilitarian view of God is hardly worship.  So what are we to render to God? 
We are to give our whole selves to God.  The worship service is practice for a lifetime of giving to God; our “living sacrifice” is what God desires—not because of divine vanity, but because God wants us to understand our place of dignity and humility in the cosmos.  We become like the Triune God as we worship—more loving, more generative, more hospitable, and more joyful—for we are dwelling in the richness of community, divine and human.
Worship is essential to our humanity.  I love the venerable proverb: “More than the Jewish people have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.”  So it is with Christian worship—it will keep us; God will reveal divine glory, and we will reflect God’s likeness as we rehearse together for the performance of Christian living.

Molly T. Marshall

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