Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

3/16 2018

How to Remember the Real St. Patrick

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saint patrick, missional saint, social justice saintYes, my family is having friends over this March 17, to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. And, yes, there will be a mandatory Danny Boy sing-along. And, yes, my son’s cupcakes will have green icing and shamrocks. And, yes, we will write Celtic blessings and bless one another. And, yes, I will offer in my best Irish tenor (even though I’m not Irish; Owens is Welsh) renditions of Who Put the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder and The Night Paddy Murphy Died, to the delight, no doubt, of all but my children.

Here’s what we won’t do: sentimentalize the memory of St. Patrick himself. We won’t tell the kids how he used shamrocks to teach about the Trinity or regale our guests with the tail of his driving snakes from Ireland. And not because these stories don’t help us understand the meaning of Patrick.

We won’t do these things because what we know about the real Patrick, from his own writings, is more compelling, and more necessary, for the church today than any legends about him.

 

The real Patrick, from his own writings, is more compelling, and more necessary, for the church today than any legends about him.

 

A Missional Saint

At 16, Patrick was abducted from the coast of Britain and forced into slavery in Ireland. Several years later he escaped and found his way home. But in dreams and visions God called him back to carry the Gospel to the very people who had enslaved him.

Patrick tells this story in his confessions. He also tells us how he loved the people of Ireland. He lived among them the rest of his life, as he believed Christ commanded him to do. He walked the island, conversing with the people and challenging pagan practices, all the while showing them the love of Christ.

He found himself caught up in the great mission of God to bring healing and hope to the nations.

The church today can learn from Patrick. Rather than staying hunkered down in the safety of the familiar, as Patrick might have done when he returned to Britain, the church is called to be a peripatetic church, as Patrick was peripatetic bishop—a saint on foot. He walked and lived and risked his life among the people of Ireland. He was a missional bishop, the perfect saint for a would-be missional church.

As Christ was the incarnation of God’s mission to restore a broken world, Patrick shows us a picture of what it means for the church to be the ongoing incarnation of that same mission.

 

A Social Justice Saint

A letter Patrick wrote shows a different side of his character: his opposition to one of the worst social injustices of his day, human trafficking. Some Christians, newly baptized by Patrick, had been captured and forced into slavery. As a former slave himself, Patrick knew the horror of this practice. Patrick says those who “committed these evil deeds are servants of the demons.”

One can imagine Patrick being equally horrified today as human trafficking continues. I believe he would also decry all sorts of injustices that cause the displacement of people. He would advocate for refugees seeking asylum, for the return of displaced people to their homelands, for the hospitable treatment of immigrants. For, as he says in his letter, “I live as an alien and a wanderer.” He knows what it’s like to live in a land not his own.

Imagine if the church today would learn these lessons from Patrick, if we would let these two commitments shape our lives: an intentional, missional orientation, a participation in the mission of God that gets us among the people of our communities, living, listening, loving, and speaking; and a cleared-eyed commitment to justice for people wandering, for whatever reason, from their homes—people suffering trauma, needing a new start, longing for hope.

Patrick’s witness—the real Patrick’s—might be the key for a renewal of the church in service to God’s world 1,600 years after Patrick lived.

 

Honoring Patrick

So maybe at our party this Saturday we should write blessings, not just to bless each other, but to bless our community. Maybe we should walk the neighborhood offering the blessings of God to people we meet, listening to their stories, learning to be with them.

And maybe we should write letters, letters to our representatives and letters to the editor, lifting our voices as Patrick did against the social injustices of our day.

Maybe this would be a better way to honor Patrick.

But we’re still singing Danny Boy.

 

The Rev. Dr. L. Roger Owens is associate professor of Christian spirituality and ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and teaches courses in the MDiv, Doctor of Ministry, and Continuing Education programs. Before coming to PTS he served urban and rural churches for eight years in North Carolina as co-pastor with his wife, Ginger. He has written multiple books including The Shape of Participation: A Theology of Church Practices which was called “this decades best work in ecclesiology” by The Christian Century.

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3/2 2018

The Gospel’s End: Knowing Christ, The End of All Things

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To possess eternal life is to know personally the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, the Triune God now and foreverI’ve pursued my fair share of gospel outreach, and during my time in evangelicalism’s corner I’ve listened to faith-inspired conversations many times over. But perhaps my greatest concern for evangelicalism is the narrow focus on which some—not all, but some—of these conversations rest, namely, telling others how to avoid hell.

 

The substance of salvation itself—eternal life—stands as more than just the avoidance of hell and a future-oriented posturing in a place of pain-free perfection with cherubim and seraphim effortlessly hovering, like Amazon delivery drones, above gold-laden streets.

 

Knowing God Personally

If we keep gospel witnessing to a mere “Claim your get-out-of-eternal-hell pass” (or, or to put it positively, your “get-into-heaven card”), then, as evangelistically potent the message may seem at first glance, we have missed the end of the Good News’s main locus. The substance of salvation itself—eternal life—stands as more than just the avoidance of hell and a future-oriented posturing in a place of pain-free perfection with cherubim and seraphim effortlessly hovering, like Amazon delivery drones, above gold-laden streets. Jesus defines eternal life in this way: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3, ESV). Eternal life serves not merely as a side-step from destruction that leads, post mortem, to a prance into a giant box of Little Debbie Pecan Spinwheels. To possess eternal life is to know personally the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, the Triune God . . . now and forever.

Ultimately, the end of all evangelistic encounters (and the end for which God created us all, actually) is to be in loving covenant with the God of all reality. There is nothing higher than to draw near to the cosmos-creating Christ. This knowing should propel us to serve compassionately the world at large. Furthermore, this knowledge is not a mere intellectual assent of God’s existence and power but rather an intimate, relational knowing that evidences itself in a changed life for the good of humanity and for the glory of God. (I am sinful, so I don’t always evidence this changed life. Thankfully, God is gracious, so I still strive.)

Christ is magnified when we choose to see him as more praiseworthy than anything (including that delectable McDonald’s, hot-fudge sundae at the end of a 20-week sugar fast), and then show him off as such. When Christ is viewed by us as the most precious all-in-all, then it signifies that we have eternal life now and forever. Eternal life is for today and forever. When we accepted the gospel of God, we gained eternal life—we gained God—and that makes all the difference.

 

In Relationship with Christ

My Lenten challenge, therefore, is this: When underlining the goodness of the Good News, let us put the focus on relationship with Christ. Let us define eternal life as Christ does, that is, as an all-fulfilling union of love with the Trinitarian God. When we see eternal life as merely crossing over hell, like getting a “GO” pass plus $200 in a game of Monopoly, instead of having true intimacy with a real person—the infinite and everlasting God, Christ—we make the Columbus-like error of mistaking the Caribbean for India itself. Nonetheless, God is in the business of changing our course so that we see him as ultimate as we go about our research, writing, test-taking, and ministerial tasks for his glory in the globe.

During this Easter season, my prayer is to keep John 17:3 as the definition of eternal life and as the impetus for my great-news sharing of Christ. The subjects of heaven and hell are only penultimate parts of the evangelistic conversation/equation. But the gospel’s ultimate end is for us to know Christ, the true end of all things, and this knowing shows Christ to be glorious. I pray that compelling others to know Christ will be the driving force of our gospel articulations for the worldwide fame of the Triune God.

Brandon Shaw is pursuing his Th.M. degree at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and plans to enroll in a Ph.D. program after graduation.

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2/23 2018

The Fight for . . . Not Against, Continues

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I want to express my sincere thanks for the concern and prayers that many of you had made related to our unborn daughter. I cannot fully verbalize what the prayers of the saints have meant but I can share a story. Yesterday, I went to a local coffee shop to do what I do best, and I met a young man who identified himself as a believer of Jesus Christ. He then proceeded to tell me that as I sat next to him he “felt” that I had some serious prayer over me. Either the spirit of caffeine was speaking or the Holy Spirit but I honestly believe this was a “God moment.”

 

The journey to this point has been one of the most spiritually deep and theologically challenging times of my life.

 

Since I last wrote, much has happened both concerning the condition of our daughter’s heart as well as my own. We have found out that our daughter’s heart defect is called pulmonary atresia, a closing of the pulmonary valve stopping blood flow from the heart to the lungs. If things go as planned (do they ever?), our daughter will need open heart surgery soon after birth to graft in a pulmonary valve. As her heart grows, she will need to continue getting new pulmonary valves grafted in. However, other than open-heart surgeries, our daughter will be able to live a “normal” life.  In a strange way, I am looking forward to our daughter getting open-heart surgery. Also, the journey to this point has been one of the most spiritually deep and theologically challenging times of my life. I have shifted from telling God what he must do for my daughter, of course in Jesus’ name, to “reminding” God of God’s faithful resume. In reminding God, I am actually reminding myself that the fate of my daughter is not in my hands but in the One who “got the whole world in his hands.”

Even deeper than my remembrance of God’s ability is the way that the Lord has put me in position to remind others of the nearness of Jesus. Last Wednesday, my wife and I took a tour of Children’s Hospital to meet our daughter’s surgeon and tour the floor where our daughter will be spending her newborn life (possibly for a month). As we met with the surgeon, I asked her is she would be offended if we pray with and for her. With her permission, we held her hands and reminded her (and us) that another pair of hands is involved in this process.

 

As we met with the surgeon, I asked her is she would be offended if we pray with and for her. With her permission, we held her hands and reminded her (and us) that another pair of hands is involved in this process.

 

We confessed that these mighty, nail pierced hands, held the power of life, death, and everything in between. Before we left the hospital, we found ourselves praying with two separate families that have become “neighbors” due to their children have critical congenital heart defects. As we stood in the “Sun Room” holding hands in prayer, I became increasingly aware that I was supposed to be exactly “where” I was. I have stopped trying to answer the deeper question as to “why” I was there. So, we continue to fight. We, those hurting families’ across the world, need to be reminded that God is not only present in our pain but active within it. We fight to not allow that fear and negativity that abounds around us, and often with in us, to control us. We fight to not allow our present circumstances to define us but the present memory and presence of a God who refuses to let us go.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col 3:1-2, NIV).

 

The Rev. Keith Kaufold ’07/’12 is the lead pastor of a circuit that includes United Methodist Churches in West Homestead, Swissvale, and Millville; pastor of Community United Methodist Church in Aspinwall; and founding pastor of Eighth Avenue Place—a church plant and Christian community that confronts the ignorance that perpetuates racism and lives and ministers together in the name of Jesus Christ. Keith is currently enrolled in the master’s in social work program at California University of Pennsylvania.

 

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