Come to the Waters

Phyllis Anderson—September 9, 2009
PLTS Chapel
Opening of the 2009–10 School Year

Isaiah 55:1–13, Ephesians 4:1–16, Luke 8:4–15

Ho! Everyone who thirsts—Everyone who thirsts for knowledge—Everyone who longs to know God more truly—Everyone who is curious about all things theological—Everyone who seeks to follow Jesus more fully—Come! Come to the waters!

And you that have no money—you who do not know how you are going to pay for lunch today or buy books for the class that meets tomorrow: Come! Come to the feast! Buy and eat without money and without price.

Isaiah first offered this wild invitation to the Jews in exile in Babylon. But an invitation like this has come also to you: Come to the waters. Come here now and be part of this community of faith and learning. Drink deeply of the wisdom of the ages. Share in the feast of faith and formation for ministry. The PLTS faculty has put the invitation this way:

Come share your life with us. Together we will seek to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ in the Lutheran tradition, committed to public leadership among God’s people in diverse and challenging cultural contexts.

Come, come to the waters.
Turn from the lovely, lazy days of summer.
Walk away from the job that gave you a measure of security.
Let go of the dreams that might have taken you another way.
Leave the career that formed the structure of your life.
Say good-bye to people you count most dear.
Interrupt for a while the ministry that was so compelling on internship or CPE.

And you have said yes. You are here. You came back.

An invitation from God is a summons into a sacred covenant, where we make promises that are mutual and binding. In Isaiah’s poem, the voice of God says:

Incline you ear, and come to me;
Listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant.

You have answered the invitation to come—whether you are here for one term or for a degree program or for a whole career—as Carol Jacobson did. She will be installed today as associate professor with tenure. You came. You are here. That is your side of the bargain. Now hear the promises of God to you. The lessons for today are brimming over with what God will do for you. We’ll focus on three. They may touch on some of your anxieties as you begin this year.

1. From Isaiah we hear the promise: If you come, you will be fed. You won’t go away empty. You will delight in rich food. You will be satisfied—not all in the first year. There is a vast smorgasbord of courses and experiences here for you served up by brilliant teachers and gifted guides. I hope you find what you hunger for here at PLTS. If not here, then keep looking. There is a feast waiting for you. Seek, and you will find it.

Isaiah says that you will not only be satisfied. You will also be able to pay for it somehow. The invitation to buy wine and milk without money and without price is not just wishful thinking. If you start on this journey and trust in God, if you use the resources available to you, you will get through. And others will help you. Lots of people are helping you already.

These ringing passages from Isaiah do not imply that it will be easy. Or that you won’t be changed in the process. They come with a challenge: Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy? This invitation calls you into a new way of living, a different way of seeing, a deeper kind of joy and satisfaction.

2. In the second reading from Ephesians, we hear the promise: When you come, you will fit. You will find a place. You will belong. God has an all-encompassing plan: One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all. There is an overarching unity. And you are part of it. In all your particularity, you fit. Each of us was given grace according the measure of Christ’s gift. … The gifts that he gave that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. Read here: It is part of God’s gracious plan and necessary for God’s mission in the world that some should be associates in ministry and some bankers and some pilots and some pastors and some professors and some diaconal ministers and some missionaries and some administrative assistants. Each is essential. Each has a role to play. Each is extravagantly gifted for their particular role.

By extension we could say that you belong in God’s plan and you belong here at PLTS whether your ancestors came from Africa or Asia or Europe or the Americas, whether you are male or female, whether you are gay or straight, whether you are liberal or conservative. All of us are necessary. Each plays a part. The PLTS community put its whole heart into developing a expansive, explicit welcoming statement last spring and we want to live into it with gusto this year. I say to each of you: You are welcome. You belong.

3. In the Gospel from Luke, we hear the promise: When you come, you will bear fruit. You’ve come here out of a hunger to learn more about God, to walk with God in this community, and finally to minister in ways that feed the hunger for God in others, that console and change lives and build communities. You have come to grow. That’s what seminaries are for. Seminaries are places where seeds grow and flower and bear fruit. In the Parable of the Sower we hear the promise that seeds planted in good soil grow strong and tall and bear fruit—one hundred-fold.

I urge you on this the first week of school to do the best you can to be that good soil—open, aerated, fertile, porous, focused, prepared. We could go on and on about the seeds that bounce off unresponsive surfaces or get choked among the distractions of this world. But you get the idea. If you do your part to be good soil, God promises a harvest of mythic proportions. You will grow wiser. You will grow more faithful. You will come closer to the maturity that Paul writes about, closer to the full measure of the stature of Christ. And you will have an effect. You will make a difference.

You have come to the waters. You have come to PLTS for the first time or for your second year or your fourth year or, like Carol, for your 15th year or more. You have said yes to the invitation to think long and deep, to follow a discipline of study and prayer alone and in community, to stretch and grow together again this year. You have entered into a covenant with God who assures you, despite your anxieties: You will be satisfied. You will be fed. You will more than survive in ways you cannot imagine now. You will find a place where you belong and where your gifts are needed and valued. And you will grow and bear much fruit—one hundred-fold.