On a recent road trip through southern Kansas, I witnessed a spring rite, the burning of the prairie. The billowing smoke and red glow of distant fires are quite the vista—and a sign of renewal. Lightning strikes have lit up dead trees and overgrown pastures for centuries. Seeing the benefits, farmers and ranchers now set controlled times of burning so that new life may come.
As I drove through the haze in the late afternoon, I pondered where some Christian ministries might require some “controlled burns” in order to move from surviving (barely) to thriving. Churches and nonprofits and institutions of higher learning have a hard time ceasing to do what is no longer productive. We often preserve programs or patterns rather than clearing the brush so that the power of greening (how Hildegard described the work of the Spirit) might flourish.
Resurrecting power requires death. The life of Jesus conveys this most clearly; however, it is the paradigm for all creation. Old forms of life become the nutrients for the new to emerge.
I recently saw a brief documentary on the production of bananas. It is a complicated, labor-intensive process that moves from the plantation to our cereal bowls and lunch bags. Most interesting is how the stalks and leaves of the no longer productive mother plants are left between the young plants to nourish the new harvest. They have completed their bearing cycle and now die in the service of their progeny.
Over the years, I have witnessed congregations and individuals willing to relinquish their present life so that they might encourage a new yield. Central has benefited from those who looked toward the future and sowed their lives into the promise of theological education.
Our lectionary texts from Acts narrate such generative activities. The wind of the Spirit propels new patterns, as the old cannot contain the mighty power of resurrection. God has plans for the entire Roman Empire—and beyond.
When Paul encounters Lydia, he realizes that the new mission to Europe depends upon her faithfulness. The beckoning man from Macedonia turns out to be a woman! He has a new apostolic partner, and he relies on the church birthed in her household more than any other. Not only has he turned toward the gentiles in his ministry, he now has a female ally, a business entrepreneur. We know that his beloved Philippians were a continuing source of encouragement and support, no doubt prompted by the witness of Lydia. Prompted by the Spirit, the earliest proclaimers of the gospel cross many borders and put to death many notions about whom God chooses to include in a cross-shaped church.
As we move toward Pentecost, where wind and fire blow in new directions, I pray for discernment about the paschal rhythms—the dying and rising—of ministry in the lives of the many communities Central’s faculty and students serve. The joy of the resurrection renews the whole world!
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares leaders for global Christianity.