Tag Archives: Education for Ministry

Transformed by the renewing of our minds | Sermon for June 28, 2015

I subscribe to the daily emails sent by the Franciscan priest and teacher Richard Rohr, who said once at a lecture at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena that:

Religion distinguishes between education and transformation. They’re not the same thing! You can be educated and not transformed, and you can be uneducated and profoundly transformed.

But the apostle Paul blends the two in his letter to the Romans, where he writes:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Education and transformation go together in the program called Education for Ministry, or EfM, which Joanne and Barb invited me to talk about today here at St. Luke’s.

EFM as education

Students in EfM really are students. They read textbooks chosen by staff at the Beecken Center of the School of Theology of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee (one of the 11 historic Episcopal seminaries).

EfM was created 40 years ago as a “four-year distance learning certificate program of theological education,” and students will testify that they learn a lot.

EfM students in Year One listening to today’s Gospel might be thinking about the Old Testament’s (excuse me, the Hebrew Bible’s) ritual purity laws.

John Petty of ProgressiveInvolvement.com writes that:

Mark does not explicitly mention violations of the ‘purity code,’ but there are two of them in this reading. First, the woman with the hemorrhage touched Jesus, rendering him unclean. Second, Jesus touched the dead young woman, which also would have rendered him unclean.

EfM students in Year Two might be thinking about the New Testament and how to interpret documents written in Greek nearly 2,000 years ago.

Mark Davis, on his blog Left Behind and Loving It, translates the Greek of each week’s Gospel reading directly and comments on the problems or insights he discovers.

Mark the Gospel writer’s prose is urgent and breathless anyway, but this passage takes the cake:

And a woman being in a flow of blood for 12 years and having suffered much by many physicians and having spent all that she had and not having benefitted but having gone from bad to the worse having heard about Jesus having gone into the crowd she grabbed his garment from behind.

Davis goes on to say, “She is as defined by her determination as by her suffering. That is the value of respecting Mark’s string of participles and being patient for the main verb. After all that she suffered and did, she grabbed his garment.”

EfM students in Year Three might be thinking about how the political maneuverings and bloody wars of 3,000 years of church history are seemingly unrelated to today’s Gospel.

As one student in my group observes nearly every week, “The church history author hardly mentions Jesus at all!”

The church history we read is really the history of 3,000 years of religious change.

The last couple of weeks have seen momentous changes, with the events in Charleston and the Supreme Court’s rulings on the ACA and marriage equality, with President Obama’s eulogy at the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the Episcopal Church’s election of the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, another African-American preacher, as our 27th Presiding Bishop.

And yet we realize that the past is prologue, that history repeats itself, that even today girls in Zimbabwe, Kenya, or Haiti who have reached the age of menstruation often have to miss school because their period is seen as shameful. Girls in Bangladesh and India suffer infections for lack of clean supplies.

As for their hopes of an education or independence, they might as well be dead — like the synagogue leader’s unnamed daughter.

And EfM students in Year Four will have been reading stories and academic analyses about how people in different cultures read the Gospel differently, about how men and women read the Gospel differently, about how the powerful and powerless read the Gospel differently.

Deborah Blanks, associate dean of religious life at Princeton University, writes for the African-American Lectionary.org:

[Jesus’] message is clear – that the unnamed woman is of no less importance than the ill daughter of a person of power. She becomes a perpetual reminder that the socially marginal have a conspicuous place in the realization of God’s reign.

EfM might help us learn a lot that enriches our appreciation of the Gospel, but it doesn’t stop there.

EFM as reflection

We don’t simply gaze in admiration at all of the pictures our teachers have painted.

Instead, we deliberately – in a process called theological reflection – look more closely at the pictures, entering into the emotions and dilemmas and questions they depict.

In our “TRs” (as we call them) we seek a glimpse of how God is acting in our lives and share with each other our transformed understanding.

If we were doing a theological reflection on efficiency, for example, we might picture Jesus as a paramedic and look closely at his presence in this chaotic and emotional scene.

Peter Woods, on his blog The Listening Hermit, writes an entry called “Jesus has no time for triage”.

With all the drama of a novel rushing to its climax, Mark inserts the older hopeless woman into the story of Jesus’ mission to heal the just girl. The old bleeding woman is an interruption and an energy thief to boot! Yet, as the story unfolds both are healed. The young and the old, the hopeful and the hopeless. There is enough time, power, compassion, and grace to go round so that no one needs be written off.

Or, if we were doing a theological reflection on vulnerability, we might remember that the woman is ritually impure, shunned because of her bleeding; the child is unclean (and her father prostrate with grief) because she is dead. We might see ourselves in the portrait before us.

David Lose of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia writes on the blog Dear Working Preacher:

We tend in our culture to avoid vulnerability – to avoid admitting that we don’t have it all together – because of the way it can leave you feeling exposed, desperate and, well, vulnerable. And there is something of that in these stories. But we’ve also seen that only in admitting our vulnerability are we able to receive help, and only by owning our moments of desperation are we willing to try something out of the ordinary, discover the courage to be and act differently.

Being transformed for ministry

Jesus’ presence in the whirlwind encounters with the woman and the child transformed them. The child was brought back to life, and the woman was brought back into life.

Jesus transformed and encouraged them both.

He encouraged Mark and the other disciples to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6), and the world keeps turning upside down.

Having “the courage to be and to act differently” – that’s what it means to be transformed by Jesus.

Admitting our vulnerability – admitting that we don’t have it all together – and receiving help, that’s the renewing of our minds in Jesus that helps us to “discern what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Transformation is for all of us. Reflection is for all of us. Education is for all of us.

Shameless plug: Education for Ministry is for all of us.

Being transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect – that’s for all of us.

Amen.

[Sermon preached at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Sister Bay, Wisconsin.]

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Surpassing human understanding

My God It's Full of Stars

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

In my Education for Ministry (EfM) group at St. Thomas Church is a priest who was ordained in 1955, about thirteen years before I was born.

He has embraced a sort of “second beginning” in his retirement, studying Old Testament all over again last year and now the New Testament this year. He has even gotten a scholarship to sign up for an online course in Biblical Hebrew!

In our reflections yesterday afternoon he shared his sense of wonder that the God who created everything that is — the universe, galaxies, stars, and planets — is present to us in the person of Jesus. “I’m having a hard time taking it all in,” he said.

After the Gospel reading at Morning Prayer today, we responded with Canticle 19:

O ruler of the universe, Lord God,
great deeds are they that you have done,
surpassing human understanding. (BCP 94)

It was in the light of this sense of wonder that I read Rabbi Daniel Brenner’s article about Bob Pollack, a Columbia University professor who teaches science to clergy.

The clergy in his class get restless and agitated when Pollack describes the universe’s origin “in a tiny particle fourteen and a half billion years ago,” but he responds with a lovely reflection on the second creation account in Genesis (2:4-25), which we also read this morning.

Look at Genesis. In Genesis the entire universe is made from words. The earth and sky and every plant and animal are made through God’s speech. But humans are not made in this way — God synthesizes humans from nature, from dirt, from a mix of organic and inorganic. In other words, we are made of live things and dead things. And we are the first example of chemistry and of transformation. As a result, we are the first species to have developed the ability to understand the bio-chemistry of the natural world. For this reason we are called “in God’s image.”

To the clergy’s objection (which I share) that understanding the natural world isn’t enough, Pollack also asked, “So what knowledge other than scientific knowledge do we need to thrive as humans?”

We also need, as we usually pray on Mondays at Morning Prayer, God’s help to “drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that having done your will with cheerfulness during the day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks” (BCP 99).

We need each day to reconnect to the God whose “ways are ways of righteousness and truth.”

May your sense of awe and wonder at God’s creation also lead you day by day to seek God’s help, and “may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (BCP 339).

Bound by the vow I made

Rothko grey blue

I am bound by the vow I made to you, O God;
I will present to you thank offerings.

For you have rescued my soul from death and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God in the light of the living. (Ps. 56:11-12)

The discussion in my Education for Ministry (EfM) group yesterday centered on two topics — rehearsing the stories of our faith and shaping our lives with practices that distinguish us from the society around us.

Those who are reading in Year One of EfM had read Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55) and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which recount and reflect on the return of the Jews from the exile in Babylon and the rebuilding of the Temple. While in exile, the Jews focused on the Torah, circumcision, and the Sabbath as practices that distinguished them from the society around them.

Those in Year Two had read the Letter to the Hebrews, which is an extended theological argument, as much a sermon as anything else, recounting Christ’s divinity and his humanity. The EfM commentary notes:

The recipients [of the letter] needed it to help them understand, but even more to help them endure, to remain steadfast in the hope that God had given them through Christ. This letter reminds us that, although we are not likely to suffer for our faith, we do need to remain faithful in a world that seems to be increasingly uninterested in or even hostile to the Christian faith.

How are you strengthened by hearing the stories of your faith? What practices help you claim your identity as a Christian distinct from the society around you?

Be still and know that I am God

My God It's Full of Stars

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament shows his handiwork.

One day tells its tale to another,
and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language,
and their voices are not heard,

Their sound has gone out into all lands,
and their message to the ends of the world.

(Psalm 19:1-4)

Another travel week begins on a Sunday evening, and this layover in the Detroit airport is just about the first chance I have had to catch my breath since last Sunday.

But for now, it’s good to be still, even for a few minutes.

It’s good to pause and reflect on a solid Sunday today: two Eucharists with healing services, another lively session of “Episcopal 101” after which a young man gave me a long, handwritten list of his questions for upcoming sessions, and a thoughtful Education for Ministry (EfM) session.

It’s good to remember the warm glow of conversation over a packed dinner table with friends last night.

It’s good to have finished some work yesterday morning and to have had a Saturday afternoon to read for a bit.

It’s good to be headed out to work again, headed to work with colleagues who are good at what they do and generous with their time.

The dark outside the airport window is full of stars, though I can’t see them right now. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” as do the myriad human encounters that fill our days.

For now, it’s good to be still, even for a few minutes.