August 23, 2010

Listening for a Voice

                Today is the first day of school at Central, and all seminary systems are at the ready.  Faculty and staff have shifted gears from the summer’s work of preparation to high gear for the compressed rhythm of the semester.  While seminary students may not require exactly the same school supplies as their elementary school counterparts, they begin the fall with similar enthusiasm and unknowing as they enter a new horizon of learning.  New books (wonderful theological tomes!), new teachers, and new learning environments invite professional formation for a vocation in ministry.   

                The lectionary reading from the Hebrew Bible is apt for this reflection on what prompts students to embrace the rigor of theological studies.  They come in response to the beckoning of a Voice.  The prophet Jeremiah (1: 4-10) offers his testimony to the impact of hearing the voice of God.  His commission was clear: “…you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.”  It was only his certainty that God had called him that sustained him through the arduous years of service in one of the most critical times in the history of Israel.  His prophetic ministry warns of the destruction of the temple and the threat of exile as divine judgment; more than any other prophetic literature, his writing helps the reader comprehend why such tragic events could occur.

                It was Jeremiah’s experience—and it is our experience, also—that listening for the Voice is a lifelong expression of faithfulness.  Thankfully, God will speak more than once to those who listen.  If the prophet heard only the Word of the Lord that promised destruction, he could not have persevered.  Thankfully, he also heard: “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David…” (33:15).  It was because of his trusting response to the Voice that he was able to hear more.

N.T. Wright’s wonderful book, Simply Christian, describes the “echoes of a voice” that pervade God’s creation.  What is lacking in so many of us is the willingness to listen, or perhaps we have not cultivated the capacity to discern the Voice among competing voices.  Part of the formation process in seminary is precisely this: to learn to listen to the varied ways the Voice will speak.  So we longingly pray, “Speak Lord, for your servants are listening.”

                Molly T. Marshall

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