Weird – yep weird. That is how Professor Kristine Ruffatto, from our STU partner at the Lutheran Theological Seminary, referred to this endeavour we call Christian Discipleship. I have to admit I totally loved that and will now completely borrow it … I hope she does not mind.
Let’s be clear, I am not borrowing this weirdness, to which she referred last week during Welcome Week, in a trite manner. I am borrowing it because in the use of play and mirth, she opened the door to reflect on one of the essential tensions that all who answer a call to Christian leadership must engage and wrestle: the tension between the pastoral relationship and the prophetic call.
in Proverbs we hear this stark challenge:
Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices.
This tension, which I would describe as just one of the legacies that we have inherited from the Hebrew Scriptures and unfolding Christian tradition, is indeed not easy.
How do those who are called to teach and educate, how do those who are called to minister and care, walk the balance between the prophetic and the pastoral? On the one hand we are prepared to think critically, so as to recognise the places in which injustice oppresses. We do this so that we might choose solidarity to foster our collective liberation.
On the other hand, we are equipped to care for those who are directly connected with either perpetuating systems of suffering and/or recognise that faith communities are composed of those standing at the Gates: those who are waiting for justice. The legal Gates – in the Hebrew tradition – is the place, literal and figurative, where prophets named, cajoled and admonished the people by demonstrating the suffering caused by injustice. They connected and identified those who suffered with the state’s choices. Often this suffering was evident in the lived experience of children and women.
Weird – what’s weird is we have each of us, as this new academic year dawns, as we continue to explore ways to learn and educate, share and reflect in community, answered a Call to not be complacent, to not acquiesce to a consumerised model in which we are validated by what we purchase or the brand we wear. What is weird is we have answered and journey in a Call that challenges us to not only bid others shine, but to do so for ourselves. If I, if you are indeed a blessed child of God, then how we live out this call often – if not always – stands in stark critique to the world outside of these seminary walls.
Yet that critique – the call to the prophetic – on its own leads to a ministry that is not relational. It leads to a place where speaking God’s truth might in fact – well is – faithful. But if I have learned anything in my own Christine discipleship, not only do people not hear the prophetic challenge, they resent it.
This resentment is often not because it is not understood or accepted. It is because whether we are 4, 8, 16, 32 or 64, no one ever likes being spoken, need alone yelled at. It’s really hard to hear someone when what drives them is righteous furor – and our Sacred Scriptures illustrate well those prophets who rail against the system.
A blessing – don’t get me wrong – but in this endeavour that St. Andrew’s has engaged in for over a century, the prophetic slams into the reality that the communities of faith to which this College prepares leadership are filled with people who are hurting and crying, laughing and celebrating. People for whom we bear an ancient trust. We are asked to help and heal – to awaken one another to the beauty within each of us and that binds and weaves us intimately to a Creator who is Love.
And yet – and another paradox of this weirdness – this legacy between the prophetic and pastoral carries with it another challenge. Solely engaging in the pastoral leads to its own problems.
To be loved is indeed a gift lived and modelled in the ministry and life of Rabbi Yeshua. But it is all to easy – tempting – to become coopted by the lull of pastoral relationships when the prophetic is abandoned or superseded by a longing to belong. For those called to Christian leadership, whether in pastoral charges or community ministries, whether formal or informal ministry, the weirdness is that we cannot choose one or the other: we must constantly reflect on balancing them and holding them together as both/and and not either/or. To ask ourselves difficult questions is not easy and this sense of self-knowing, which is nurtured in this journey of learning in which we are collaborating, can indeed be isolating.
From James, we heard the following:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness
To live into being a teacher, as Professor or Minister, as a parent or Elder, is indeed a blessed burden. One that is lightened when we are able to recognise the difference between confidence in faith and the enticement of ego.
This self-knowing is essential for those of you who are just beginning or have already begun on this path to minister within the United Church of Canada. It is in these learned walls, which I have heard affectionately called Hogwarts for the Harry Potter fans here today, that staff and teachers, help you recognise your own stuff, claim your gifts and to be aware that in faith’s confidence mountains can be moved, and in ego’s detachment lives are harmed. It is in this place that you begin to wrestle with the paradox – the weirdness – that requires us, you, to hold the prophetic and pastoral together.
And so let me us pause in our first conversation with an encouragement for the students in our midst and a reminder for the rest of us. As a place engaged in preparing people for Christian leadership through the prophetic call to justice, in which knowledge and learning can sometimes be diminished to simply mean words digested and assignments completed, embrace the places where your own spiritual practices allow you to integrate knowledge that may bear in you, in us, wisdom.
Wisdom’s whisper holds paradox. When there seems to be no answer or direction, solution or fix, the invitation to Sabbath, however you find ways to live into this practice, often reveals opportunities that ego alone can never birth. Trust in yourselves, trust in one another and this larger community of professors and staff and friends of St. Andrew’s. For as you so begin to shine, so shall we. So shall those with whom you walk in this beautifully weird, never easy, but paradoxically joyful adventure called Discipleship.