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”


Mar 11 2014

Snowpocalypse & Table Fellowship

Emory snowBy now I’m sure that all of you have heard of the crazy snow storms we have had down here in Atlanta over the last month. The first storm hit us with a gargantuan amount of snow—a whole two inches! Now, being from Missouri, I know that this amount of snow is tease for most people, but it was a blizzard for people down here. In fact, it was referred to as “Snowpocalypse”. People rushed to the safest place they know— the interstate—and were stuck in their cars for hours. Children were stuck at school and on school buses. It really was an awful situation for those people trying to get home. For those of us who were home, however, it was quite the welcome break. I not only go to Candler for class, but I also work part-time in the Admissions and Financial Aid office there. I also have an internship with Emory Wesley Fellowship, an undergraduate campus ministry. With these three things combined, I am on campus every day for about 45 hours per week. So, the idea of not having to leave my house was extra-appealing. I ended up getting an extra three days off from school and work! I got to spend the day in my pajamas, reading for class, cleaning my apartment, and watching Lord of the Rings marathons. It was amazing.

Less than two weeks later, the weather reports were saying we were going to get more snow, but this time, it would be accompanied by an ice storm. Of course, people started freaking out—some groceries stores literally ran out of bread and milk. My first thought, however, was “This is too good to be true!” I couldn’t believe we would get MORE days off. This gave me more time to finish assignments and catch up on my reading. We ended up being off of school Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I had a great time on Tuesday, but Wednesday, I started getting a little stir crazy. By Thursday, I was beyond ready to go back to school. Even though I was enjoying living life in my pjs and Charlie Brown sweatshirt, it felt like something significant was missing in my life. It wasn’t until the next week at work that I found out what that was.

ATL snowjamThe Admissions and Financial Aid Office was in an uproar when I arrived at work the next Monday. There were red files all over the place and the phone was ringing off the hook with panicked students wondering if we received all their materials before the priority deadline. (Okay, I may be exaggerating a little bit, but it was much busier than usual.) The entire morning I longed to be back at home in my pajamas, watching movies and pretending to read. We were all stressed and behind because of the snow. Around lunchtime, some of us congregated at the little round table near the office reception area to eat a quick lunch. Our conversation quickly turned to laughter as we caught up with each other and shared our experiences of the snow days. The stress and chaos was left behind as we communed together. Soon almost the entire office had congregated around the table. As we were eating, it hit me: this is what I had been missing. I hadn’t gotten to experience the wonderful fellowship with my Candler community in two weeks. I missed them and the experiences we shared.

All of this was made known to me around the table. By sharing a meal together, we were building up our little community and strengthening each one of us. In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the significance of table fellowship as a way to strengthen our bond with each other and our bond with Christ. He writes, “The Scriptures speak of three kinds of table fellowship that Jesus keeps with his own: daily fellowship at the table, the table fellowship of the Lord’s Supper, and the final table fellowship in the Kingdom of God. But in all three the one thing that counts is that ‘their eyes were opened, and they knew him.’” Thus, when we commune with each other, Christ is also present in the breaking of the bread. It took Snowpocalypse (parts I & II) to make me see the importance of my Candler community. The life we share together, no matter how hectic or stressful, is a life centered around Christ. We are a community that is bound to Christ, and because of this, bound to each other. The many birthday parties that take place in our office is a testament to this communal practice. We become closer to one another and with God in the breaking of the bread (or mostly, cake). So, instead of eating your dinner in front of the TV in your pajamas all the time, sit around a table and eat with the people in your community. The fellowship you share around the table will not only enrich your relationships with each other, but also your relationship with God.

–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.


Oct 15 2013

Leaving Room for Rest

JessicaAs I sit here in Pitts Theology Library, trying not to freeze and frantically trying to get four articles read and a systematics paper written so I can get home with enough time to work out and eat dinner, I almost miss it. Out of the corner of my eye, I see something moving, so I look towards the back of the library. I see an older gentleman, probably in his 70s or 80s, who is engrossed in some dusty old book that I am sure thousands of students have overlooked. This sight, though perfectly ordinary, becomes beautiful to me. This older gentleman (we’ll call him Jack), looks completely content sitting in the library reading about theology. Jack doesn’t have to be here, but wants to be. As I broaden my gaze, I realize how lovely this dusty old library really is. It is a beautiful scene, and I almost missed it.

Life for me has been like that since the beginning of the semester. I have been consumed with busy-ness. People have told me that second year is the most difficult at Candler, and so far, they have been correct. Along with my five classes, I am spending eight hours a week interning with Emory Wesley Fellowship (the United Methodist campus ministry at Emory) and working fourteen hours a week in the Candler Admissions and Financial Aid office.  Each of these activities is wonderful, but takes up a lot of time. Add in studying and my days and nights seem much shorter. I have been rushing through one thing to get to the next thing.

All this is leading up to the fact that I needed rest. Rest is portrayed as such a lazy thing to do these days, isn’t it? Productivity is one of the most valued qualities in our American culture. Our Protestant work ethic is deeply engrained in our society. Just the other day, as one of my classes was ending, our professor announced that we really need to focus on the reading for the next class period, because it was extra-long and dense. As I sighed audibly and put my head on the table, one of my best friends asked me “Do you enjoy doing anything these days?” This question almost seemed to stab me in my heart. When was the last time I did something I enjoyed? I realized that I had been rushing through everything and not taking time to be in the moment, to take in what I was really doing. I realized that I forgot how lucky I was to be here at Candler. I am so lucky to be here among such a terrific and supportive community, studying theology under outstanding and well-known professors. This is a place that people yearn to be a part of, and those that do come here yearn to return. Jack in the library is a testament to this.

It was also in that moment that I realized I needed to rest. I needed to slow things down so I could hear the voice of God in the midst of my chaotic life. If you don’t take time for self-care, you begin to grow deaf to God’s voice and the voices of the people around you. It becomes all about you and how “productive” you can be. We need time and space to rejuvenate, to recharge, and to hear from God. In Psalm 46, God tells us to “Be still, and know that I am God.” By giving myself time to rest, I am better able to live in the moment and appreciate where I am and what I am doing. I can focus on what is going on in each of my classes and learn something new. I can take the time to listen to a student at Emory Wesley Fellowship and grow our relationship. I can really listen to prospective students’ concerns and help them figure out if Candler is where they are supposed to be. In short, instead of constantly thinking about what is next on my to-do list, I need to be present in the moment. Allowing time for rest helps me accomplish this.

Finding a balance between papers, work, class, internship, meetings and rest has still been hard, though. I have found that exercise, in a strange way, is a type of rest for me. I feel much more centered after a good run. Taking a few minutes during the day to sit in silence if I am feeling especially overwhelmed has also been helpful. I have realized that those times of so-called unproductivity can actually be productive. Most times, it is in nature that I find rest. Whether it is in a cornfield, on a volcano, at the beach, by the pool, in the woods, or on the top of Stone Mountain, I can seek refuge from the chaotic world and listen for the whispering voice of God. I can also reflect on how thankful I am to be here. Lynn Ungar wrote a beautiful poem about rest and refuge called Camas Lilies. A camas lily is a purple/bluish flower that blooms in the wild meadows of the western United States and Canada.

Consider the lilies of the field,
the blue banks of camas opening
into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness,
how the natives ground their bulbs
for flour, how the settlers’ hogs
uprooted them, grunting in gleeful
oblivion as the flowers fell?

And you–what of your rushed and
useful life? Imagine setting it all down–
papers, plans, appointments, everything–
leaving only a note: “Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I’m through with blooming….”

Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass
from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.

May we take the time out in our crazy, busy, hectic, “productive” lives to go into the fields, to simply be lovely and bloom.

–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.