Apr 22 2014

“What Does It Mean To Be Saved?”

The question came from a 13-year-old girl in leopard print skinny jeans and black Converse All-Stars.

This is exactly the type of question I had anticipated in teaching the confirmation class as part of my second year of Contextual Education. In fact, I had been trained to shape my lessons around the questions I wanted my students to ask. I had also been taught Wesleyan theology by Dr. Rex Matthews, so I thought I was ready to jump into these deep theological issues head first.

Despite all of this formal preparation, I was not ready for the responses that the lessons would generate among the adult mentors who had volunteered to be part of this process. My senior pastor, Rev. Dr. Cyndi McDonald, had told me time and again that the number one factor in determining whether or not a young person will return to church as an adult is the number of meaningful relationships that young person has with adult members of the church. So when we sat down to make plans for the confirmation class, it was a no-brainer to invite adults to participate. I had hoped they would share their personal stories and experiences with the youth and build lasting relationships. After all, I am only placed in this church for one year as an intern, and Pastor Cyndi is a United Methodist Elder, so she will eventually be appointed to a new congregation. That means that the adults of this church are the ones who must take responsibility for nurturing these youth into mature disciples, just as the community has done since they were children.

I was prepared to watch the intrigue and curiosity of the youth who are discerning what it means to be a follower of Christ, but I was shocked by the joy and delight that these classes generated among the adult mentors.

They are loving learning and re-learning why we do what we do. They marvel at how the youth raise questions about the Bible and their challenges to understand God in the confusing politics of middle school. They cherish the honest moments when we reach the point of admitting that God is good, but God is also mysterious.

I must admit, all of this excitement and education is not a direct result of my pedagogical efforts. Candler has absolutely prepared me to mold a lesson to fit the learners and the location, but Candler could not have prepared me for the moment that I could witness God moving hearts.

We recruited the adult mentors to help engage the youth, but the youth have engaged the adults. It only makes sense that love would grow in both directions, but my focus on the youth blinded me to that truth. We are in the process of affirming what we believe and how we worship, but God is in the process of confirming that the Spirit is moving among those who seek to be disciples of Christ.

–Clair Carter

Clair is a second-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler. Originally from Louisiana, she is a graduate of Oglethorpe University.


Apr 8 2014

What Kind of King Do We Want?

PalmThe excitement and anticipation in this passage is tangible (see Matthew 21:1-11). The crowds gathered in order to see this strange new prophet, Jesus. They must have heard many different things about him ranging from, “That guy Jesus is a nutcase,” to “Have you heard about Jesus? He is the one we have been waiting for!” There was probably a lot of pushing, shoving, and grumbling going on so people could catch a glimpse of Jesus. The people in the crowd even put their cloaks down on the road for Jesus to walk on. They are shouting “Hosanna,” which literally means “save us,” or “save now.” Obviously, they were looking to Jesus to be their savior—to overthrow the Roman government and bring them peace and prosperity. Jesus was seen as the Messiah—a great King who will liberate his people.

Jesus, however, was not the kind of king the Jews expected. Yes, he is a prophet, but he is much more. He is the son of the Living God, who came not just to rescue the Jews from Roman oppression, but to usher in all of us into the kingdom of God. Kings and rulers usually come with power, might and glory. I wonder if the people in Jerusalem who were shouting Hosanna remembered the part of the prophecy that described their king as “humble, and mounted on a donkey.” Humility is about the last thing one would expect out of a king, but humility is something that Jesus embraces.

Jesus was not the kind of king that the Jews expected. I’m sure that many of them wanted Jesus to overthrow the Roman rulers and put the Jews in a position of power. They wanted someone to take vengeance on their oppressors. However, Jesus was first and foremost a suffering servant. He emphasized love of neighbor and serving one another. In Matthew 5, Jesus says to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Surely, this is not what the oppressed Jews in Jerusalem wanted to hear from their supposed liberator. Instead of fighting against the Roman government, Jesus called them to pray for them.

Jesus came to bring freedom, but not the kind of freedom we expect. True freedom is found when one moves from anger and violence to forgiveness and reconciliation. Just as the Jews were during the first century, so we too are enslaved to anger. Jesus came to release us from this slavery and to free us for love of God and neighbor. Of course, it is important to acknowledge and give a legitimate place to anger—but anger must be translated into a vision of reconciliation. We must hold in tension the seemingly contradictory images of enemies found in the Bible: the cry to crush the enemies and the call to love them.

In his book The Journey Toward Reconciliation, John Paul Lederach says, “I cannot face the enemy unless I am rooted in God’s sustaining love and at the same time give myself permission to struggle with the seemingly impossible sacrifice it represents. To pursue reconciliation, we must accept the long sleepless night of fighting in ourselves with God before we can journey toward and look for the face of God in our enemy.” Friends, this is the key: we must see God in our enemies. We don’t want to be like the crowds that failed to see the face of God in Jesus and handed him over for suffering and death. We must have humility, just as Jesus did. He identified with the least of these and called for love among friends and enemies. For this, he was crucified. He was clearly not the king that the Jews had been looking for.

It is important for us to hold his entry into Jerusalem in tension with his subsequent suffering and death. The same crowds who openly praised and accepted Jesus as Messiah soon called for his death on the cross. Sometimes freedom isn’t what we expect. Just as we must move from lament to action, we must move from anger to reconciliation. So, we too can join in with the crowds in Jerusalem pleading for God to save us from our anger and divisive actions, saying “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

–Jessica Beverstein

Jessica is a second-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler. She graduated from Winthrop University in South Carolina with a BS in elementary education. She served as a volunteer missionary in Costa Rica and taught second grade in Atlanta before coming to Candler.

 
Art note: John August Swanson, “Entry Into The City,” “Last Supper”


Apr 1 2014

Staying Fit in Seminary

Katie O’Dunne describes her endurance training for a Half Ironman and how it informs her studies at Candler School of Theology.

Katie O’Dunne is a second-year MDiv student in the Faith and Health Certificate program, a graduate of Elon University in North Carolina, and a Candler Student Ambassador.