by Amber Remillard
Here is a thoughtful sermon by our Admissions Director, Amber Remillard, from a recent Lenten service here at PLTS.
"Welcome to our first regular Lenten service of the year. I noticed the sign coming up on to campus yesterday says "Lent, a time to wander". Of course that's true for all of Lent and it is especially in line with today's reading.
And, it actually sounds pleasant enough. Let's wander.
Jesus wanders in today's text. He is led out just after the glorious experience of seeing the spirit descend on him like a dove and hearing the voice of God call him beloved. We picture it with people standing all around. Jesus hearing love and encouragement from God the Father. Lots of love for Jesus!
...And then Jesus was led into the wilderness by the spirit. Very shortly thereafter, it seems, Jesus was led by the spirit into the wilderness. So much for love fest. Now there are devils all around him and he is in a desolate place.
It isn't a pleasant wander that He is having. Not at all. In fact, it doesn't even sound like a wander by Luke's account. Other gospel writers throw in things like wild beasts, make it sound a little more...wandery. Not Luke. Here Jesus is being led from one painful moment to another. No room to breathe, no reflection time. He is led by temptation, doubt, pain, fear. When it is all over he is famished and his work has only just begun. The wandering perhaps has only just begun. How exhausting and discouraging.
Lent is a time to wander.
Many of you know that at this time last year I was still serving a parish, two little churches in upstate New York. Churches l loved.
And, just for the record, never in my life have the heavens opened up and told me where to go next. Discerners out there in the world always want that, I've heard more than once that this whole call to ministry thing would be easier if there was a neon sign in the sky with an arrow pointing where to go (and I think ideally, in the work I do, it would point to 2770 Marin Avenue). Maybe you'd like an arrow still.
At any rate like you, and unlike Jesus, the heavens didn't open for me when I left New York but I was and am sincerely convinced that I was called here to this place in this time. To do this work.
More poignantly perhaps I am sure that I was called away from that place. It was time to go. They needed gifts that I didn't have. We'd been through some tough stuff together; it was time for them to process in new ways. We were called away from one another.
And it felt good. But then I started to realize that I wasn't their pastor anymore. At key times. I miss less the things that I thought I would miss the most, holding newborn babies over the font, hanging out at the big, important annual events.
I miss most the simple everyday of being their pastor. I held back some anger at hearing that, though I feel quite settled here, they JUST now installed a call committee so that they can start working towards calling a new pastor. I realized this week that the very hard work that we had put into healing services during Lent over the past few years just wasn't going to happen without me there...we were led apart and we are wandering apart from one another.
This is wilderness for me. It might be more like the 30 or so word wilderness that St. Mark described: (paraphrased) The spirit drove him into the wilderness. He was there for about 40 days. Tempted by satan. He was with the wild beasts and angels waited upon him.
On the scale of Mark to Luke, I'm in a kinder and gentler wilderness right now. No one is threatening to throw me off a pinnacle, or making me feel like I want to jump. But there is wilderness here and I'm sure that there are devils in it.
And I'm not the only one. I often get anxious calls from seminarians here and elsewhere. I don't know if you know, but seminary is an anxious time. This especially is an anxious time. Did you know that? [here there were amused grins from the community] Oh you did know that.
There are some things that are being assigned. Or that's what it feels like but perhaps the better way to say it is that there are some people being assigned to some places.
CPE sites: Where do I live this summer, how do I decide? Who will be upset if I am where? I feel like I just moved here and back, now I'm moving again?! Wandering...
Interns: Oh I've gotten calls, mostly from former students in PA. What happens if, what if they send me...? How can I...I might not even...And there isn't much for it. Some meetings. Some prayer. Some patience. Some wandering.
And those awaiting first call: Those assignments are happening too. Today. They're happening today! Where will I be for the next 2-5 years? Who will go with me? Who will stay behind? How will I live? Will I get a call? Oh my GOD, what if I get a call?!
Graduates not being assigned somewhere with the same type of questions: What's next, the semester goes quickly and then the real world? More school? More debt?...Oh my GOD, what if I get a call?! This is all wilderness and I'm sure that there are devils in it.
And these are the things we inflict on ourselves or the spirit leads us to, it depends on who you want to blame at any particular moment.
Then there are all the other forms of wilderness. The ones we didn't jump into with our eyes open. You know them. You've had them: Broken relationships. Sickness. Death. Pain. Threat. Fear. Loneliness. Abuse. You can name more. For yourself or someone else, in your head or heart. Even aloud if you're feeling it. Wilderness. Devils.
So we've established wilderness. It is a part of life. The next question, the obvious question, if you really think about it is why? Why would the church which is apparently an instrument of God, who apparently loves us no matter what, want us to do a commemorative journey with Jesus through terrifying wilderness?
I think the answer isn't that the church wants us to travel through the terrifying wilderness but that we know, God knows, that we already do.
Maybe not on schedule, maybe not always the 40 days before Easter. And maybe it doesn't look like we often picture it: Freezing dark forest or scorching hot empty, dry desert.
If it did you wouldn't go there.
That is part of the problem. It looks like nothing you'd ever know or even be able to avoid. Sometimes it comes right after you are in the midst of the greatest kind of affirmation. Like Jesus when he was called beloved.
Wilderness looks like a classroom. A congregation. A map. A bill. A hospital waiting room. It looks like a lawyers' office, it looks like the principal's office (or the president's office) or the police station, it looks like your dining room table, it looks like your desk at work.
Or maybe it doesn't look like anything but it feels like your racing heart, your short breath, your empty home, your broken heart. All these things that feel like they could overwhelm us, just swallow us up. We don't label these things very often anymore, but we could. And if we did we could call them satan, evil, the devil. Devils in our lives.
Our text does. And Jesus encounters them in it.
But then after that, even, depending on how you read these accounts of wilderness, during that same time. Angels attend him. Then He goes out and teaches and preaches and heals and loves and eats and drinks and lives.
And then more wilderness comes. We're not there yet, but Luke foreshadows it for us. Jesus and the devil depart from one another until an opportune time it says. If you read it just right it gives you chills.
The opportune time comes in the midst of another wilderness place. For Jesus, and for so many others, the world comes to an end on Good Friday, less than forty days away now.
But then Easter comes. Like the angels at the end of this forty day story. Easter comes, with the promise that no wilderness is too much or too far for God the Holy Spirit to reach us in. That even there, especially there, we are not alone, we are not abandoned. The devils, whatever and wherever they are will not win.
Lent is a time to wander, we tell ourselves, and many of us in this room go out and tell folks in congregations who already have wilderness in their lives too. We say it not because we need to be forced through wilderness times but because we need to be reminded that we are not alone in them and that they come to an end. We wander for forty symbolic days. At the end, Easter comes and Easter cannot be overcome.
Exciting things are happening with the PLTS Master of Divinity degree – we will be offering an option for a first full year of the M.Div. degree fully online. The faculty has been working hard over the past couple of months, learning the ins-and-outs of online education and reviewing both pedagogical and technological issues. When Fall 2013 rolls around we will be completely ready to provide online study to first year students enrolled in our “Flexible Life M.Div” option. Additionally, fourth-year internships, already a common and popular choice amongst students, will be standard at PLTS. New online possibilities allow us to offer this model while maintaining the integrity of theological reflection and integration during internship, rather than waiting to do so in the classroom the following year. Traditional third-year internships, if required by a student’s candidacy committee, will be easily accommodated.
Both of these changes are in response to the needs of students and the make-up of modern theological students. Many come to us with careers, families, high debt, owned homes, and other resources and responsibilities. A fourth year internship provides more stability for families and has the potential to reduce moving and other transition expenses related to the traditional third-year internship. By reducing living expense and mitigating possible loss of family income, a first year online offers cost-reducing possibilities to ministry candidates in order to reduce long-term debt. The Flexible Life M.Div. option reflects PLTS’s commitment to developing church leaders for the 21st century with both an academically-rigorous and pastorally-sensitive approach, while remaining attentive to the formational needs of our students and the leadership needs of the church.
Online courses of study are becoming common at seminaries, uniquely, however, our Flexible Life M.Div. courses are taught by regular residential faculty at PLTS so students receive the same high quality education no matter which option they choose:
Introduction to Old Testament –Professor Steed Davidson
Reading Congregations –Professor Carol Jacobson
Church History I – Professor Christopher Ocker (at SFTS)
Living Tradition – Lecturer Kyle Schiefelbein
Church Leadership – Professor Tom Rogers
Biblical Language Tools* –Professor Steed Davidson
Church History II – Professor Jane Strohl
Gospels – Professor David Balch
Biblical Greek I* – Professor Gary Pence
Spanish for Worship I* –Professor Alicia Vargas
Introduction to Christian Ethics – TBA
A year-long formation component will be facilitated by Professor Carol Jacobson. The language courses with an asterisk (*) are detailed below. Students who wish to come to the campus for all three years of coursework (known as “Full Residence”) will have online courses spread throughout their three years residential.
We will begin offering a full year of Spanish for Worship as an option for students; Spanish language students will also be required to take a Biblical Language Tools course for Greek and Hebrew. Providing this option increases our commitment to being mission-oriented while maintaining our commitment to biblical language. We will continue to offer a full year of Biblical Greek. Students may enroll in both options if desired, and as always they can also benefit from other biblical and modern language opportunities at the GTU and the University of California Berkeley.
For more information about the Flexible Life M.Div., visit http://www.plts.edu/online.html or contact Amber Remillard in the Admissions office at firstname.lastname@example.org
In her new book, Life in the Heart of God - A Journey into Relevant Faith, readers are invited to explore what it means to live more fully in God's presence and light. Margaret retired in 2008 from Christ Lutheran, San Clemente, CA, the ministry which inspired the writing of this book. A lover of nature, especially water, and serving as Pastor of a small church a mile from the beach, Rev. Duttera decided to take worship out to the people. She shares:
"At our very first service on the beach we had a total of 12 worshipers. At the time of my retirement, worship on the beach was a year round, every Sunday outreach ministry. What began with a handful of congregational members in 1993 grew to an average attendance of anywhere between 75 to close to 200 on any given Sunday depending on the time of year and the weather. On Easter Sunday it was the norm to have as many as 500 in attendance. The service also grew to be televised weekly on local public access TV. When dolphins were spotted, we would pause for a moment of wonder and awe and also wave a greeting to each passing Amtrak Train. One week I received an email from the train conductor. He had found our contact information and wanted us to know that all the staff looked forward to seeing us worship on the beach each Sunday morning, and that they had begun announcing our presence to the passengers. The wonder of "Beach Church" was that individuals and families taking a walk on the beach, walking the dog, riding their bike would stop, listen and sometimes stop and sit on the large rocks in the back of the gathering and listen intently. Often these casual visitors would return to the rocks and in some cases eventually venture into a chair. Going to the people, stepping outside the box, we were able to reach people who were unlikely to ever step foot inside a small Lutheran Church on the bluff. Worship was casual, contained all the core elements of Lutheran Worship minus those elements which in that context would be barriers to the diverse population we were praying we might reach. Our hearts soared as the worship gathering grew and individuals began to share regarding their journey of faith and the power of their encounter with God at "Beach Church".”
Her advice to church leaders is to simply "love the people". "Knowing them and loving them, empowers them to be the love that God has created them to be." She recommends reading the book slowly, giving plenty of time for the "Spiritual Pause" in each chapter. The book is an easy read and is probably most helpful when read more than once. The book is A Journey into the Heart of God, and a journey is seldom a race. "How would your life be different if your perspective on life was from within the Heart of God?"
In her retirement, Margaret continues to preach occasionally, lead workshops and retreats, and travel. She recently visited Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the island of Maui. "I am blessed to have the opportunity to travel and I really believe that traveling expands our heart and mind." Other things she enjoys include: Kayaking, fishing, and scuba diving. Her book can be found on all major online bookstores.
These articles is from the March 2013 issue of Above The Fog, the PLTS monthly e-newsletter. Click here to subscribe, and receive great articles and seminary news right in your inbox.