November 28, 2016

A Fresh Supply of Hope

            Hope perches in the soul of every human.  (Thank you, Emily Dickinson, for the lovely imagery).  Like breathing itself, it is an intrinsic practice that sustains life.  When reflecting on Paul’s trilogy of faith, hope and love, hope usually gets negligible attention, for it seems more ephemeral, less practical.
            Thankfully one theologian in particular, JΓΌrgen Moltmann, began to study hope, finding it to be the bearer of the longings of humanity, including faith and love.  Hope constructs the framework for the implementation of its sister virtues.
            The Apostle knows that without hope, humans will not flourish in their creaturely vocation.  So he writes:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
What better text for us to consider as we make our slow way across the earth!
            For Thanksgiving I made my annual pilgrimage to San Antonio to gather with a treasured family and select friends.  Food is abundant; balmy weather is welcome; and generative conversation renews the heart.  In the midst of the palpable gratitude for life amidst challenges and setbacks is the undercurrent of hope.  Hope helps us imagine different horizons beyond the existing vista.
            Hope helps us see beyond the present limitations and craft a different narrative for the future; or hope empowers us to embrace the limitations of health with renewed vigor and resolve.  Hope supplies the resilience to walk through grief and trust that healing is possible.  Hope kindles belief that we are loved and accepted precisely for the unique persons we are, not what we accomplish.  As Henri Nouwen reminds us, our lives as Christians are more a matter of what we are willing to receive than what we achieve.
            This season is all about leaning into God’s hope for the world.  The lectionary passages for the second Sunday of Advent point to the realization of God’s ancient promises for those who believe.  A shoot will sprout out of the stump of Jesse; righteousness will prevail; the forerunner will urge repentance in preparation for the coming one; and the Holy Spirit will guide all creation into the way of peace.

JESUS MAFA. John the Baptist preaching in the desert, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            A fresh supply of hope is available for the asking.  It is a gift of God, not something we have to try to muster.  It is poured into our hearts like living water, and God wants nothing more than to fill God’s beloved ones with all joy and peace, so that we may abound in hope.

Hicks, Edward, 1780-1849. Peaceable Kingdom, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Abounding in hope creates the possibility of receiving God’s blessing of life in its fullness, which always includes the shadows of failure and loss.  Hope tells us that these are not the final acts of our lives.

            Molly T. Marshall

Hope sustains Central as we continue to trust in God’s loving care for the seminary.

November 21, 2016

Keeping Awake

            One of my favorite cartoons depicts two little creatures watching the ark pull away from the shore.  One remarks to the other, “Oh, shoot.  Was that today?”  Apparently they are the only ones who miss the departure.

The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent tells a similar tale.         
For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away . . . (Matthew 24:38- 39).
Jesus offers a warning about ignoring the working of God in his time, and the text surely pertains to our own time, as well. 
            Matthew’s purpose is not to calculate the calendar for the return of “The Human One”; rather, it is to urge people to be attentive to the work of the Reign of God while there is time.  The Reign of God will come in its fullness, and the faithful work of the present participates in that realization.    
            We sift the news and try to remain engaged for the common good, while the world seems more turbulent than ever.  Our nation is deeply divided, and our friends and enemies around the world are wary.  The United States has sent many conflicting signals, and no one is quite sure what to expect.

            As the Christian year begins again, we are summoned to frame our lives according to the redemptive trajectory God marks out in our world.  The coming of Christ in human flesh unveils God’s trinitarian history with humanity.  The Triune God draws humanity into the divine life, which is surely the story of Jesus.  It is our story, too, as the Spirit invites us to find our true home in God.
            The Gospel urges us to “keep awake” for we do not know when the consummation of the age will be.  Rather than spending time trying to decode the apocalyptic texts of Scripture—even Jesus pleads ignorance—we are to give ourselves to what can be done now to ease suffering, enact forgiveness, and testify to inclusive grace.

            Too many of us are slumbering through the time we have been given.  We always think we have more time, but life teaches otherwise.  We have today, hopefully.
            My great-grandfather, W. S. Wiley, was a pioneering Baptist preacher in Indian Territory.  Traveling by horseback on his faithful friend, Morgan, he helped plant churches over what is now northeastern Oklahoma.  I recently found one of his prayers, and it speaks to keeping awake in the present.  In an early morning prayer he writes:
Relying upon Divine help, I hereby promise and affirm, that I will be kind to everyone, considerate of the feelings and rights of others, will think pure thoughts, be honest and truthful in everything, and seek to live this day in keeping with God’s will.  To do this, I invoke of blessings of God upon myself.
My prayer for this Advent season is a new sense of where God is urging the people of God to join in the holy work of salvation.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares leaders to participate in God’s trinitarian mission for the sake of the church and the world.