Sunday, October 11, 2015

Yesterday at Seminary...

Confession: I am a geek.
So seminary classes on Saturday are my favorite time of the week.
Well, except for when I'm at church.
And when I'm reading.
And when I'm doing laundry and vacuuming.
One of the lowest moments of this past week was when my washing machine stopped working.
One of the highlights of the week was when the new one arrived.
See? Total geek.

Anyway, yesterday at seminary, I was responsible to read the Scripture passage for the midday worship service, Acts 12:1-19, the account of Peter's friends praying for him to be released from prison and then being incredulous that he was released. Powerful story that challenges us in our belief in prayer. That story reminds me of the quote I heard first many years ago: "If you are gonna pray for bread, you had better bring a basket."

I cannot begin to explain why prayer works, but I do know this: prayer changes me. It opens my eyes and my heart to the needs of others. It reminds me that I cannot do "it all" by myself or for myself, whatever "it" is. The joy about prayer for me comes through releasing my worries and concerns into God's hands and returns again when I hear and see the outcomes, the results of those prayers. Perhaps a friend finds a job. Perhaps a friend's child feels better. Perhaps my own family finds healing in some wounded place. Perhaps the families of people who have been grieved find some sense of peace and comfort. I am grateful when those positive answers come.

In Peter's case in Acts chapter 12, their prayers were answered with "yes." He was miraculously freed from jail. But sometimes, the prison sentence is not reduced. Sometimes execution happens anyway. Sometimes the answers to my prayers are not what I hope for: the storms still hit and towns are flooded anyway. Perhaps the friend's husband dies anyway. School shootings keep happening anyway. But even then, even in the grief, even in the devastation, eyes and minds and hearts are opened. Important conversations happen. Old expectations may be dashed, but new ones develop. Lives are changed forever. Towns and cities are changed forever. Communities come together to welcome refugees. Attention is paid to the desperation that sends people fleeing their homes, their families, their fears, their enemies. Suffering sucks. Grief sucks. Loss sucks. But God is faithful and present, even when we don't feel it. God provides hope, even in the darkest hour. God shows up in the form of donations, a meal, and card, a smile, a nod, a word of welcome. God shows up through how we respond to sorrow and pain and devastation. One of the great challenges of this life walk and this faith walk is to find reasons to be grateful even in the midst of suffering, grief, and loss.

When those difficult moments happen, when the answer to my prayer seems to be "No" or "Not this time," I am reminded of one of my favorite passages in Habakkuk 3:17-18.
Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; 
though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.

Even though... even though...
I will keep on praying. I will keep on hoping.
I will keep on finding out what I can do to make a difference in someone else's life.
I will also keep on looking for reasons to give thanks.
I will keep on seeking reasons to be hopeful.

Anyway, after I read the Scripture in Acts, I had the opportunity to translate a sermon from Spanish to English for a Cuban pastor I met just a few minutes earlier. You know me: I'm a geek who loves the Bible, worship services, and the Spanish language. What happens when all three of those factors come together? Great joy happens, that's what. I was a very happy geek as I stood there, listening to the language of heaven itself and translating those angelic words for those in attendance who do not yet speak it.

The stories of the challenges Cuban churches have faced in the past fifty years have given me more to pray for. Churches that were reduced to two or three or four members during the early decades of the Castro regime. Churches that began to meet in homes because they couldn't maintain the large buildings they owned. Fortunately, the government did not confiscate the property, so the churches, if they are financially able, can reclaim those spaces nowadays. The government of Cuba recently loosened their grip of fear on those who live a life of faith. Just as felons have to check a box on job applications in this country, people of faith had to check a box on various applications - including job applications - in Cuba. Their forms went into a second pile or perhaps the circular file. That and other discriminatory actions have lessened. Thanks be to God.

The two Presbyterian Cuban pastors I met this week and the testimonies they shared about all that is happening in their home country have planted yet another seed of desire to travel into my wandering soul. I want to visit the Presbyterian churches and the Presbyterian seminary in Cuba to encourage them to stay strong in faith, to persevere in their work, and to remember that they are loved and supported and prayed for on a regular basis.

Often I am asked what I hope to do after seminary - if I can imagine a dream job for myself later in life. Yesterday someone asked if I see myself in a non-traditional work setting as a minister. I told her that it was only recently that I became aware of alternate possibilities for someone with a master's degree in divinity. I could serve a local presbytery or the national PCUSA denomination as a traveling encourager of sorts - going to churches and other ministries to listen to their stories, to take notice and account of their needs, to pray with them, to preach, and to offer the support of other followers of the Christ we all love. Put me on a plane and send me out to bring hope and joy and laughter and good news as well as several boxes of tissues so that we can lament, weep, and grieve together too. It's all part of this life journey we are all on. Combining my love of travel with my love of Spanish and my love of teaching the Word of God would most definitely create my dream job.

Yesterday at seminary, I sang and served. I read and wrote. I listened and learned. I took notes and read notes. I looked into the eyes of students, faculty, staff, and that courageous pastor, and I felt the Spirit of God at work uniting us, preparing us, and calling us deeper into each other's hearts and lives, as well as out into a hurting, broken, needy, Good-news-hungry world.

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