Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

3/26 2014

A Mission Reflection: More Than a Building

Our group of seven students and two leaders spent the better part of two weeks in Brazil.  The first week was spent in Manaus, a city in the heart of the Amazon.  We visited numerous churches and pastors and tried to soak up as much information as possible.  These pastors are so passionate and humble about their work! They pray for numerous hours a day and dedicate their lives to doing the work of God.  Their churches thrive on small group ministry.  Held in the houses of congregation members, these small groups are used as a way to invite and minister to non-believers and show them the love and grace of God. Each person is involved in a small group Bible study, and the groups come together on Sundays to worship.

What amazed me about these people was their passion and immediacy about evangelism.  They see Christianity as a life or death situation, and therefore they find evangelism to be a crucial element of the faith.  They are certainly not ashamed of the gospel message!  It was not uncommon for grocery stores to have “Jesus is Lord” written on their signs, nor was it uncommon to see a man with a speaker strapped to the roof of his car, preaching the gospel as he drove through the crowded city streets.  Since they do not fear offending anyone, they are always willing to share the story of how God changed their lives with anyone who will listen, having full faith that God will work through them.  Their courage and passion was contagious!

After a week in Manaus, we flew to the eastern side of Brazil to the city of Sao Paulo and spent time in the surrounding cities of Campinas and Sorocaba.  We continued to visit churches, learn from the pastors and observe how they worked to expand and plant churches.  Many of the churches here seemed to be niche churches.  For instance, we went to one church that reached out to rock-n-roll fans and people with tattoos.  Another church evangelized through jiu jitsu! (and we even got to learn some moves!) After each jiu jitsu lesson, the pastor would sit the students down, read a Bible passage, share the gospel message, and close with prayer.

What struck me about Brazil is that the church building itself seems to be of little importance.  One church met in a local workout gym, another met in a jiu jitsu school and a third met in a small rented warehouse.  What matters exponentially more is the body of Christ itself.  The people in Brazil are very relationship-oriented, and their best evangelism seems to be done through real loving relationship with each other and with God.  By loving each other, they are showing each other God’s love. We asked one pastor what his biggest challenge was when it came to evangelizing to his church of rough, rock-n-roll, tattooed, motorcycle men, and his response was “changing my heart first.”  This was huge to me!  It is important, I have learned, to humble ourselves and admit our shortcomings in order to more fully share the transformative power of the grace of God.  Evangelism is not something that should be viewed as something that we do to people, but rather a dynamic experience that develops through loving relationship with another person.

This trip to Brazil allowed me to see what God is up to in other parts of the world, but also reinforced in me the importance of living a simple life.  When we schedule every hour of each day, we do not leave time for God to speak in the silent, still moments of our lives.  What would it look like if we let go of our tendencies to schedule ourselves down to the half hour, and instead created space for God to work in and through the silences of our lives?

By Stephanie Martin, first year MDiv student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Learn more about WMI and the work they do by liking their page on Facebook or going to their website: http://worldmissioninitiative.org/

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3/20 2014

Go. Just Go.

As the seminary community rounds the corner into finals, spring break, and the last term of the year, the Juniors are finally getting adjusted to this crazy life that we call seminary, the Middlers just want this year to be over so they can be Seniors, and Seniors like myself become flooded with very conflicting emotions. On the one hand, if we have to write one more paper, take one more test, read one more interesting but extremely dry book, or sit for another three hour lecture on subjects that we are supposed to understand by now but really just make our brains hurt, we might just run away screaming. On the other, graduation is exciting, but it means that we are going to have to leave this place soon. We don’t want to say goodbye to all of our friends and move out of our campus housing, and go to… go to… well, we have really no idea where we are headed because we have circulated our PIFs and resumes and done a few interviews but have no offers so far, or our bishop hasn’t appointed us anywhere yet.

But while my own internal monologue has been in a similar panic, I am reminded of Abraham: “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’… So Abram went.” (Genesis 12:1, 4a). Did Abram know where he was going, or why, or what he was going to do when he got there? No. Did he relish the idea of leaving the familiar things behind? Probably not. Still, “Abram went.” Now nearing the end of our journey, Seniors are called to go from this campus community and go to the land that God hasn’t yet shown to us. So we will go. It will not be easy.

When I was preparing to graduate from undergrad, I had very specific plans. I was going to go to seminary (a different one) right away (it was 5 years later), and graduate in 3 years (I’m doing it in 4) finish the ordination process (I’m staying lay), and be in full-time ministry before I turned 30 (I’ll be 31 in March). As you can see, NONE of those plans came true exactly the way I wanted them to! This time around, things are much different. I have no plans, trusting this promise: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). I just know I have to go.

I hope that Seniors know that somewhere out there, there is a call for us. There is a congregation, a home, and new friends ready for us there. God is preparing places for us, even as God is preparing us for those places. So until then, Lord, keep our hope alive and faith strong!

Written by: Heather Runser, recent MDiv graduate at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

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2/13 2014

Coals, Tongs and Human Mediation

In the lectionary, we have just finished contemplating Jesus’ presentation in the Temple—or, as we call it in Orthodoxy, “the Meeting” of the Lord. That is a particular gift to me, since my decision to enter the Orthodox church came partly as a result of this feast. (But God works in mysterious ways!) Five years ago I was working through Isaiah 6 for my worship book, Grand Entrance. I was struck by the numerous tensions or paradoxes when the heavens are opened for Isaiah. The Lord is transcendent (holy! holy! holy!) but also immanent (“the earth is full of his glory”). The seraphim have faces like us, yet cover their strange forms with wings. There are two seraphim, and yet one voice calls out. The coal is not to be touched, picked out gingerly with tongs, yet carried in the angel’s hand and placed immediately upon the prophet’s lips.  It is the last paradox that struck me.

What is it about our Lord that makes it both possible for him to come to us personally, and that demands that this “coming” be mediated? I had always thought that the immediate presence of the Lord and mediation were incompatible. But here, Isaiah blithely puts the concepts side by side, without comment. Visions are indeed wonderful, for in them the mysteries of God, the things that we find paradoxical, can be poignantly and convincingly pictured for us. Could it be that my suspicion of mediation was an over-reaction to mediation wrongly pictured and unhelpfully taught? Medieval stories of exaggerated and magical intercession of the saints certainly figured in my thinking at the time.

In my memory also echoed the chorus that I sang as a child Sunday after Sunday, “For there is one God and one Mediator, ‘twixt God and man…the Man Christ Jesus!” (Oops! 1960s exclusive language!) Yes, it is true that “only One is holy; only One is the Lord”—but this Holy One is not jealous of his own glory, and in his incarnation has shared it with us. This includes the grace of mediation:  “How do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband?” (1 Cor 7:16);  “[Saul,] rise, and enter the city, and you will be told [by a human being] what you are to do!” (Acts 9:9); “Whoever brings back a sinner …will save his soul from death” (James 5:19).  Evidently, our God delights to use human mediators!

So what does this have to do with baby Jesus in the Temple. The answer is in an ancient Orthodox hymn: “Christ, the coal of fire, whom holy Isaiah foresaw, now rests in the arms of the God-bearer Mary as in a pair of tongs, and He is given to the elder” To Simeon, and to us!  Jesus the Christ, comes to us by human as well as divine agency, born of the Holy Spirit AND the Virgin Mary. So I learned to give thanks for her, and for others who have borne Him to us. That thanks does not rob him of his unique glory but celebrates the wonder that we have seen his glory since he has met us, used us, and enlightened our darkness.

Written by Dr. Edith M. Humphrey, William F. Orr Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

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