26 January 2009

Reflections of a candidate for ministry

Brian S. Symonds

Hebrews 11: 8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.

9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;

10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised;

12 therefore, also, there was born of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.

With Ordination Exams already here and the prospect of graduation in the next year I have been reflecting a lot on where I have come from and where I am on this journey…this “call.” As a GLBT candidate for ministry I consider these milestones to be great accomplishments. Sometimes I even look to the next step and ask, “will that be when I am stopped again?” or “is this as far as I will be allowed to get?”

This passage from Hebrews offers a promise of hope and a promise of care. Abraham was called, he obeyed, and he went out to a place of which he did not know. That takes great faith for anyone to step out and venture into something, making great sacrifices, into a land that they don’t know…a place that may be uncomfortable. And he was honored for that.

Darn right it’s uncomfortable! Sometimes it’s outright painful. And yet, we still continue stepping out. I still get dressed and put on my clothes, and grab my bag and head out to class…to church…to CPM meetings…to Liaison meetings. I don’t know where I am going most of the time. But I go. I follow and I trust that something greater is ahead of me, something that is a blessing from our divine Creator.

We walk, we step out, we take the risk, we continue. We put on our clothes, we grab our bags, and we head out, dusting off our sandals and looking ahead. We do this because we know we must, we’ve been called, we will obey. There is something greater of which has the foundation built by God. Something greater than even the stars in the sky lies ahead.

May our beautiful, wonderfully unique and only Creator bless you and your journey, wherever she may lead you. May you be strong and wise. May your wisdom be spread in and throughout the minds of those who may challenge you. May you continue to look to God’s foundation.

Peace and Blessings are already yours!

12 January 2009

Remembering A Baptism

Michael G. Isaacs

Lectionary Texts: Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Mark 1:4-11, Acts 19:1-7

The writers of Genesis 1 never give God credit for creating water, yet baptism is the very thing that initiates Jesus into his public ministry and engrafts Christians into Christ. What else do we not give God credit for that is transformative and renewing? In Genesis 1, God separates the waters, but the waters that exist before the first day are a sign of an uncreated disorder and chaos. Where else does God’s order of grace, forgiveness, justice, and inclusion come from perceived disorder?

Similarly in Jesus’ Baptism in Mark, the Spirit of God descends on Jesus as he was coming out of the water, and a voice from heaven speaks of being pleased with Jesus. The following poem, based off of this week’s lectionary readings, is titled “Remembering a Baptism.”

Running my hand through the fount

I confront the voice of God

Speaking of a new order.

Where we are created in likeness

And not despair.

Somehow God is fashioning a new order,

Out from all of our chaos—

Our prejudiced laws, profit-driven violence

Our bigotries, avarices, and sadness—

Jesus is leading a new way. Selah.

It is not always easy to believe

That the Kingdom of God has come near,

But then my baptism demands that I see

Redemption and creation overcome disorder.

05 January 2009

Bumper Sticker-less Evangelism

By John E. Harris
Designated Pastor, North Presbyterian Church of Flushing
Officer, The Witherspoon Society

By the early 1980’s the Presbyterian Church had been declining in membership for years. Thinking that I would need a theological grounding in and programmatic familiarity with Evangelism in my ministry, I enrolled in Richard Stoll Armstrong’s “Service Evangelism” class at Princeton Seminary. I was one of only a few students to enroll in the courses, a course which was one of the few Evangelism offerings. A few years later and early in my ordained ministry I participated in the Evangelism Consultant Service Training which was part of the PC(USA)’s old New Day Dawning Evangelism Program. Energized and informed by my training, I led the church I served in a “Friend Maker for God” visitation evangelism program and consulted with another congregation to help them think about and plan for evangelism.

A few years later the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) produced a vinyl peel-n-stick bumper sticker. In bold white letters on a deep Presbyterian blue background it proclaimed “Open-Hearted Open-Minded” on the top half and “Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” on the bottom half. I have never thought of myself inclined toward “bumper sticker theology” but as the proud Pastor of an open-hearted and open-minded congregation that was one of the fattest growing congregations in the presbytery at that time, I put that bumper sticker on the bumper of my car because I thought it was true. It was my own subtle form of evangelism.

All that changed the day the presbytery of which I was a member voted to send a form of G-6-0106 B to the General Assembly for approval. After hearing vitriolic and misinformed arguments for why we needed such a constitutional provision, and unable to believe that we had actually approved the overture (I officially dissented), I peeled that ““Open-Hearted Open-Minded” bumper sticker off my car’s bumper because I no longer believed it was true. I was no longer proud to be a Presbyterian. I could longer engage in ministries of evangelism with passion because while I still believed that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life that will set us free, I no longer believed that the Presbyterian Church knew such a Jesus.

Over ten years later I am still waiting for us to once again be an “Open-Hearted Open-Minded” church.

How long, O Lord, How long?
How long must we wait for justice?
How long must we wait to once again be a proud Presbyterians?
How long must we wait to evangelize in good conscience?
How long must we wait to put bumper stickers back on our cars?
How Long?