Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

12/27 2013

God Is With Us

  Praise the Lord! 
          How good it is to sing praises to our God; 
          for God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.  Psalm 147:1

Singing! Christmas nights were filled with singing when I was growing up.  Several generations of my family would gather in my grandmother’s kitchen or living room and sing. As children, my cousins, siblings, and I would reluctantly join in with the choir of voices, because it was Christmas day and “there should be singing;” it was fitting. The vocal playlist would range from “Joy to the World,” to “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and favorite Gospel melodies.

There, in the room, amidst the messiness of crumpled wrapping papers, half eaten dishes and sparkling lights, voices would emerge sometimes off key but always in concord. This is where the family tradition of Christmas singing began and continued year after year. The older I became the better I understood that something more than crumbled wrapping papers, half eaten dishes, and misplaced notes were in the room.

There, in the room, amidst the year’s joys and sorrows, hopes and disappointments, fulfillment and ongoing yearnings, singing was proclamation; singing became testimony; and singing reshaped reality. God is near! God is here! God is with us! Through singing we brushed up against and encountered an intangible wholeness, peace, and solace. Through singing, praises were offered to a gracious God who is inclined to come close to us. Through singing we were inclined to continue living in the beauty and messiness of life.

Today, on December 27th we no longer wait in Advent anticipation. We celebrate God’s presence with us. God has drawn near and God draws us near. We live in the midst of life’s beauty and messiness with the presence of God. We look ahead to a world shaped and reshaped by the presence of God. This is the joy and bidding of Christmas.

May we find wholeness, deep peace, and solace in the presence of God; may we be shaped and reshaped by the presence of God; and may we continue to shape and reshape the beauty and messiness of life with the help of God.

…and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”  Matthew 1:23

Written by: The Rev. Dr. Lisa Thompson, Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary


12/6 2013

An Advent Reflection

It’s Advent, and there are only a couple of weeks before Christmas break. Personally, I couldn’t be happier about that, and not just because this means I get to leave classes behind for a couple weeks soon. Well, maybe leave them behind is not the proper phrase; post-break midterms are such lovely little things, aren’t they? Like puppies… covered in spikes.

Truly, however, what excites me about Advent this year is the opportunity to step back a moment and reflect on recent events in my life. See, so much of our attention at this time of year is focused on the hustle and bustle our society makes the season into: find all your gifts, attend all the family functions, make sure you make it to church on Christmas Eve, and God help you if you forget to pick up the eggnog for the Christmas party you’re going to. Even in our spiritual lives, we get so caught up in looking forward to Christmas, to baby Jesus, the manger,  angel choirs, and “wise men” who apparently have no idea how to buy gifts for infants  (Honestly, myrrh? I think Mary at least would have appreciated some extra clothes for the kid, gentlemen.), we forget that Advent itself is a time of waiting and preparation for the arrival of a Savior who works in unexpected ways on behalf of unexpected people. We forget that He will flip tables in the temple, dine with the unclean and unfaithful, and dismantle the arguments of the pious.

As I hold up this reality of the Savior whose arrival I anticipate alongside my time here at PTS so far, I’ve come to a pleasant realization. Yes, I’m taking classes and working toward a degree, but I’m not really here to take classes. I’m not even here to succeed, really. Those are all things I have to do if I’m going to become ordained and work in the Church, but it’s not the deep reason for my being here. I’m here because I’m looking for the Savior, and hoping to get close enough through all my stumbling (and I’m pretty clumsy, ask my friends) to then point Him out to others. Likewise, I’m preparing myself in this time not to simply regurgitate the facts I’ve been fed in my classes here, but for a life in community with the poor, the suffering, and the heartbroken as we all wait for Christ together. PTS has been helpful in that regard, but true to God’s methods as I’ve seen them play out in my life so far, it hasn’t been through the channels I (or in all likelihood my teachers) expected. I’ve made new friends, each of us with our unique struggles and hearts that beat to unique rhythms; I’ve found myself in a new community at Upper Room Church in Squirrel Hill, with people and challenges I never expected to encounter. Most of all, I’ve been built up, broken down, and rebuilt into a person both wholly new and strangely familiar through a cocktail of pain, joy, and discovery that only God could make work. My relationship with the school through all of this has had more in common with that of Homer and Bart Simpson (minus the choking) than the pastoral images in my theology books, but truly I would expect no less as we wrestle together about what it means to seek Christ and work alongside Him.

So as Advent continues and Christmas approaches, I wish you all fruitful reflections as you watch and wait for the movements of the coming Savior in your own lives, and if you’ll excuse me, I’m sure Dr. Burgess is wondering why I’m writing this instead of the paper that’s due before break.

Written by Matt Morris, Junior MDiv Student


11/13 2013

The Quest for a Common Loaf

“Take and eat,” Jesus said, passing the bread around. And everybody did, except for Philip, who went away hungry, for he was allergic to gluten.

Oh, wait, that’s not how the story goes!

There is no evidence to suggest that any of the disciples suffered from a wheat allergy, but lots of Christians do today. And that makes it challenging to come up with communion elements that everyone in a given Christian community can enjoy together. Yes, there are other ways you can handle the issue.You can of course have a little plate of gluten-free wafers on the side for those who need them. But somehow it just doesn’t match the extravagant spirit of the meal itself—those forlorn little wafers for the complicated ones in the shadow of the big crusty loaf blessed and broken for everyone else.

Those of us who support the PTS chapel program have been on the quest for a common loaf for a couple of years now. We have tried many a gluten-free loaf, looking for that perfect combination of breakability and taste.

There have been some real disasters over these months: There was the loaf that was, yes, gluten-free, but exploded into a fine crumbly powder when broken, with each worshipper leaving behind a trail of bread crumbs that would make Hansel and Gretel proud. There was the one that didn’t show its true colors until a hunk of it was dipped into the cup of wine, at which point it promptly dissolved. What are you supposed to do as you watch your piece of bread sink beneath the waves never to be heard from again? The body of Christ, sunken for you? All you could do was choke out a mournful “Amen” and head back to your seat. Finally there was the one that worked beautifully for the gluten-intolerant members of our community, but it did so by adding ingredients from the nightshade family, thus rendering it off limits for another member of our community! Back to the big crusty loaf and the lonely wafers.

The turning point came a couple of months ago, when PTS M.Div. senior Charissa Howe found a recipe for gluten-free, nightshade-free, nut-free, vegan bread and did some tweaking. The final version calls for some uncommon ingredients: chia seeds, maple syrup, psyllium husks, and garbanzo flour, to name a few. It does not explode, crumble, or dissolve into the cup, and it has a wonderful taste and texture.

Four people from the PTS community have graciously been baking this new bread for our Thursday chapel service each week, passing the basket of unusual ingredients around: Kendra Smith, Charissa Howe, Shana Hutchings, and Greg Steible.  We also have some new volunteers who will soon join the rotation, but we can always use some more! If you are interested in baking bread for chapel, contact our chapel coordinator Greg Steible (gsteible@pts.edu).

So next time you come to chapel on a Thursday, take a good look at that uncommon, common loaf there on the table.

Kind of a parable, don’t you think?

Written by The Rev. Dr. Angela Hancock, Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Worship




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