The following sermon was preached by Elaina Salmon, LSTC Senior M. Div. Student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, September 28, 2006.
Good morning, dear friends! We're going to do things a little bit differently today. I'd like to invite you to come up front to sit. I invite you to gather around as children do in a children's sermon. So, yes, I am giving you permission to come up here and sit on the floor. If you're not so inclined to get your pants dirty or don't like the feel of a stone floor, I still invite you to come up front and sit in the front row, or pull up a chair. So, come on down.
Well, thanks for trying something new. Seminary certainly time of new experiences. One that I am now finding new appreciation and gratefulness for, but one that has also at various points had me shaking in my shoes. I can think of that first semester of trying to make my way in a theological program at the masters level. I remember sitting in Ralph Klein's Pentateuch class, my very first class of my seminary career...I sat in the back row, in the back corner, hearing words that I hadn't heard before or perhaps heard but didn't have any idea what they meant. It was words like...Pentateuch...TeNaK...and there was talk about a priestly writer and these other writers, nicknamed "J" and "E." All news to me. And I remember sitting in that class, sometimes on the edge of my seat thrilled by this new knowledge, and at others times cowering in the corner, shrinking into my seat, hoping that I wouldn't be called on. And of course, if I was called on, my heart would start to race, in a way that I'm sure was not good for my health. And then I'd spend the next twenty minutes analyzing my answer, wondering if I had spoken a heresy, but also knowing I still didn't know what heresy was. After all, we weren't that far along in church history only covering a few of the heresies of the past 2000 years. And I remember looking around at these new classmates, men and women that I was hoping to call "friends," and yet I was sure that someone who didn't know what the word "Pentateuch" meant might surely be called a nitwit from the beginning be left out of the friendship circle. There were days were I felt small, a bit inconsequential in this place called seminary. Days were I longed to cuddle up in God's presence and just be, as that small child, fearful and courageous and timid all at the same time.
Perhaps this is part of our journey...this feeling of being inconsequential. The ironic thing is we spend so much time trying to prove that we are not inconsequential. There is of course the Candidacy Committee. A place where we have to articulate a consequential sense of call...even though it seems that Greek has us questioning if there is a God and CPE lays out on the table the parts of us we may prefer to hide and internship has us wrestling with our sense of call. And in an odd way, sometimes we vie for that first place, to have the greatest handle on truth, to speak the most essential and crucial words on the doctrine of the trinity, and to form the eloquent prayer for chapel services. We may feel like we're last, but we long to be first, and yet we may find ourselves occupying both first and last and the same time.
We've always got the disciples to look to, don't we. What was it that Amy said last week...a rag tag band of Jews, following Jesus. Not far before our text today, we Mark telling the story of Transfiguration, where Peter and James and John were with Jesus on the mountaintop, the glorious day when Jesus was transformed and the beloved Moses and Elijah appear. Even though, Jesus ordered Peter and James and John not to speak a word of it, I'm sure there was a weak link in this chain. So, no wonder the disciples were talking about who was the best! Peter and James and John were invited by Jesus to the top of that mountain. They had seen the glory of God, surely that would win them first place. Perhaps they felt courageous and excited as they argued with the others about who was first.
And yet perhaps they felt fearful and timid when Jesus confronted them with the question, "What were you arguing about on our journey to Capernaum?" Perhaps this is when those disciples cowered in the corner, shrinking into their seat, hoping that the teacher would not call on them, because no one volunteered an answer to Jesus' question. Perhaps a moment of feeling inconsequential.
But what perhaps speaks more profoundly is Jesus' next move, when he opens his arms to a child, the most inconsequential of all in antiquity. A child, one almost invisible, but to her mother who nurses her and waits for adulthood. A child, practically a non-person. Jesus wraps his arms around her, embraces the inconsequential, the invisible, the non-person. And this child matters, curled up in the arms of a savior.
We come to worship just as we are, with confidence and questions, burdened by failure and celebrating success while fearful of the future. Caught between, or perhaps moving back forth from feeling first and feeling last. But it is God who embraces the inconsequential of our lives.
I now know what the word Pentateuch means, but there are other words like epistemology and soteriology which often trip me up. My heart no longer races and at an unhealthy rate when I speak in class, but I sweat a class presentation. And there are moments when I hear about the first call process and envision my life as pastor, when I start to feel fearful, and courageous, and timid and excited all at the same time. And that is when, I long to sit in the presence of God. As that child, curled up in the arms of a savior, as one who matters.
God embraces us in the moments that we are between first and last or the moments that we are just stuck in last. And the gift beyond that, is that God shows us that first and last is inconsequential, and rather, God shows us our sisters and brothers in the same place we find ourselves, in the arms of a savior, as ones who matter.