Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

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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1/30 2014

Outside the Seminary Gates

I was pretty excited when I got asked to write this week’s post for the PTS  blog. I was excited because I was asked to write about something that is very important to me and that is something that I believe needs to be talked about a lot more. I am going to write about what I do outside of this seminary.

We always talk about what is going on in classes and in the daily happenings at the Seminary but rarely do I hear what people are doing outside of these gates. I just graduated from Eastern University this past spring and every day I see more how what I learned there and what I did there have impacted me.

Eastern is very social justice oriented and it has become a part of my ministry whether I wanted it to or not. While it will take time, commitment, and more resources than I currently have to figure out how to do both clerical ministry and social justice outreach together, I figure for the time being I can start small.

Through Bellefield Presbyterian Church I have gotten connected with a homeless ministry called L.I.V.I.N.G Ministry with which I  volunteer. Unfortunately I am only able to volunteer with them once a week and with other occasional events because of time constraints and other obligations.

This ministry is a unique ministry in that they really emphasize the relational aspect of what they do. While it is important to meet the physical needs of the homeless in Pittsburgh, they want to love them and serve them through building relationships with these people and getting to know them on a very real level.

The staff members for L.I.V.I.N.G Ministry visit the homeless in shelters each and every week so that they can create authentic reciprocal relationships with the people who stay in these shelters. As well as building relationships at these shelters, they also commit to doing Bible study together and sharing meals with each other.

On Monday nights I go to Womanspace East Shelter, a shelter for women and their children. The first three Mondays of the month, while one of the volunteers watches their kids, we have a Bible study with the women who are interested. The last Monday of the month is reserved just for cooking dinner and eating together. I normally end up watching the kids so that the moms can be a part of the Bible study. At first I was kind of bummed by this because being a “seminarian” and all of course I wanted to be involved in the Bible study (I know for me it has taken awhile to realize that often times it is outside the “typical” setting of where we see God working that I see Him the most), but then I really began to see the value in the importance of something as little as watching kids. Without someone watching these kids, their mothers would not be able to partake in the Bible study. It’s just that practical. It also gives me a chance to show these kids some attention and allow them to tell me about who they are.

I will be honest and say sometimes I leave wondering if I actually portrayed God’s love at all or if my presence there made any difference. That, I found, is one of the hard things about working in ministry and in situations where change is a slow, barely visible process. This is where I come to realize that it is not anything that I am doing or saying but rather what Christ is doing through me and through this ministry that is important regardless of if I can evidently see that or not.

Written by Maggie Smith, first year M.Div. student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
Interested in getting involved with L.I.V.I.N.G Ministry? Contact Maggie (mtsmith@pts.edu) or visit http://livingministry.org.

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