Epiphany 2C — Isaiah 62: 1-5, That New Name…

Have you ever been in a place where you needed a fresh start? Maybe wanted to get a whole new identity and start over?

During my last semester in seminary, we were required to attend a Spiritual Formation class that included a short retreat with our classmates and professor. My prayer partner and I arrived on campus exhausted and ready for a break. She was in the throes of denominational schism and conflict, her application for ordination in the netherlands of bureaucracy. I was in a difficult ministry setting and was ready to quit ministry completely.

One morning at the retreat center, I headed out with my camera. It was quiet and crystal clear. I wrestled with my doubts.
Why was I in seminary?
Why was every door of opportunity being slammed shut?
Why wasn’t I drawn to the typical “women’s ministry” or “children’s ministry” positions?
(It’s not that I don’t think women should NOT fulfill those roles — they just weren’t for me.)
And why, above all, were the alternatives not clear?

I was silent. I watched. I looked. I prayed. And took pictures. Several photos later the images spoke volumes to me. It was as if God said, “Do not fear the opposition. Do not assume that conflict means you are in the wrong. I will make a way. I have a place for you.”

Stubborn stump growth from a beaver-felled tree
Persistence and perseverance on my path.
Finding my way through the forest.
Letting God see the depths of my heart.
Goose paddling contentedly in the swamp
Geese paddling contentedly in the swamp

The beauty of this week’s passage is rooted in a theme of recovery and restoration. The Jewish people had been restored to their Land. Weary and wounded, they wanted assurance that God had heard their prayers for relief.

And God, the Faithful One, had responded. In this passage, in the context of the post-exilic era, God makes several precious promises to the people. And they are for the Church today, too!

Hear the Word of the Lord from Isaiah 62

1 For Zion’s sake I won’t keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I won’t sit still
until her righteousness shines out like a light,
and her salvation blazes like a torch.
2 Nations will see your righteousness,
all kings your glory.
You will be called by a new name,
which the Lord’s own mouth will determine.
3 You will be a splendid garland in the Lord’s hand,
a royal turban in the palm of God’s hand.
4 You will no longer be called Abandoned,
and your land will no longer be called Deserted.
Instead, you will be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land, Married.
Because the Lord delights in you,
your land will be cared for once again.
5 As a young man marries a young woman,
so your sons will marry you.
With the joy of a bridegroom because of his bride,
so your God will rejoice because of you.

God answered the hurting by promising that instead of being called Abandoned and Deserted, they would be God’s Delight. They would be married again to their Land and their God. And the most beautiful promise of all was this:

You will be called by a new name,
which the Lord’s own mouth will determine.

ָח ָדׁש ֵׁשם Yes! The NEW NAME!!!

The New Name
The New Name

At the Spiritual Formation retreat, we were each challenged to lay aside our goals, dreams and plans and to allow God to remake them and redirect us. For my prayer partner and I, this was especially poignant. Lay down our old dreams and hopes, and take on God’s? But what we wanted to do for God was not bad! In fact, we thought it was exactly what God asked. We set down a rock we had found on our morning walk, and picked up a stone with the NEW NAME on it.

It is a humbling thing to be brought to the place of “losing” everything, as the exiled Jewish people had experienced, only to be restored with God’s glory shining more glorious than before. They could not have known or predicted how God would do it. It was enough to know that God was at work. And that God would rejoice because of them.

In the almost three years since that retreat, I’ve had my “new name” rock with me on my desk at work, at home, in my pocket when I preach. It is present to remind me that I can keep going where God leads, as God leads. I don’t have to know all the specifics. I just need to know WHO leads me. There have been times that the journey has been disappointing, and other times where I knew in the depths of my heart that I had LISTENED and God was pleased.

37336_440866366342_5108995_nAs the Spirit has led, I’ve been challenged, encouraged and filled with peace. I have been given that New Name which is God’s gift to me. Not the same as anyone else’s. I nodded in agreement as I read Paul’s words in I Corinthians 12:

4 There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 and there are different ministries and the same Lord; 6 and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.

Where you are today – I hope you sense that God has led you into the “activity of the Spirit” that makes God’s glory shine. As for me, I’m learning how to shine on! It is not easy. And doubts and questions will still come. But I know I’m on the right path, because God makes the way. It requires no wrestling, or worrying, just following!

Thanks be to God!

The Model Seminarian (Reprise!)

It seems ONLY fitting! I am reposting this ditty from my first semester at Regent. 
23 days until graduation!


With apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan
and “The Pirates of Penzance”
(but please feel free to sing along!)

am the very model of a modern seminarian
I’ve information critical of languages grammarian
I know the verb and tenses of languages antiquarian
And quote from Aramaic and now even some Sumarian..

I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters analytical
I parse and line my Greek, both the simple and emphatical
I read my ancient Hebrew text with understanding little
Though profs tell me I must attend to every jot and tittle!

Though profs tell her she must attend to every jot and tittle!
Though profs tell her she must attend to every jot and little tittle!

I know biblical history, from Aristotle to McLaren
I’ve know all methods, points and sermons capable of reaching ’em
I hobnob with all leaders in the field of missiology
And hold my own regardless of one’s view on eschatology

I’m very good at ancient earth and natural theology
I am the one who can defend most facts of anthropology
In short, in matters dogmatic or egalitarian
I am the very model of a modern seminarian!

In short, in matters dogmatic, or egalitarian
She is the very model of a modern seminarian!

With all my holy knowledge I’m quite plucky and adventure-y
My Call has not been questioned since the starting of the century
But still, in matters dogmatic, or egalitarian
I am the very model of a modern seminarian!

But still, in matters dogmatic, or egalitarian
She is the very model of a modern seminarian!

YES! I am the very model of a modern seminarian!

I’ve been humming it all day…

Back to school

Sunset, Harbor Island, SC

It’s sunset time for Academia… I’m back in the swing of my LAST semester of seminary. (Can I get an AMEN?) It’s a good feeling and yet a bit surreal.

Before the semester gets going full blast, I finally finished writing the reflective essay that accompanies my CPE application. I think that if I were in my 20s instead of (ahem) something higher, it wouldn’t have taken as long. There was a lot to write about! The ministry is my third “career” and degree program. All those years of thinking “women can’t be pastors” really kinda mucked with my life journey. But in a way, it’s all good. I’ve had some time to deal with junk in my life, see our girls through a lot of their school years, and take a wild faith journey. It was gratifying to re-think my spiritual and vocational journeys as I wrote my background essay.

I’ve gone back to Brennan Manning for my devotional reading (as well as reading through the NT letters) and am finishing up my re-read of The Ragamuffin Gospel. I truly love his writing. He and Anne Lamott and Henri Nouwen help me keep things real and fresh.

In today’s reading I came across two quotes which were thought-provoking:

“When a tornado comes tearing down the street, it is not time to stop and smell the flowers. Let go of the good old days that never were — a regimented church you never attended, traditional virtues you never practiced, legalistic obedience you never honored, and a sterile orthodoxy you never accepted. The old era is done. The decisive inbreak of God has happened.” (page 110)


“Most of us postpone a decision hoping that Jesus will get weary of waiting and the inner voice of Truth will get laryngitis. Thus, the summons of the crisis parables remains suspended in a state of anxiety, so long as we opt neither for nor against the new dimension of living open to us. Our indecision creates more problems than it solves. Indecision means we stop growing for an indeterminate length of time; we get stuck. With the paralysis of analysis, the human spirit begins to shrivel. The conscious awareness of our resistance to grace and the refusal to allow God’s love to make us who we really are brings a sense of oppression. Our lives become fragmented, inconsistent, lacking in harmony and out of sync. The worm turns. The felt security of staying in a familiar place vanishes. We are caught between a rock and a hard place. How do we resolve this conundrum? We don’t. We cannot will ourselves to accept grace…” (page 113)

The first quote was just one of those obvious ones — reminding me that a faith that matters is a faith that moves and deals with life in one of those “where the rubber meets the road” moments.

The second one is probably an encapsulation of the last few years while I’ve been in seminary. I’ve been pushed to leave some old, comfortable, well-established religious opinions and grind out some new ones. And where I can’t find some way to articulate the changing aspects of faith, to be willing to not concretize something that is not yet fully formed. But in any case, to be willing to be UNstuck by letting God’s irresistible love wash me onward.

Onward, kicking down the rubble, pulling out of the mud pits… here I go. Another year. Another reminder of God’s faithfulness.

worth re-reading…

When I left full-time ministry when our first-born was a baby, one of the books that my Beloved Bearded Spouse gave me to read was Henri Nouwen’s The Road to Daybreak. It is one of those books that I pull out from time to time to make sure that I have kept my “ministry compass” pointing north.

I re-read it recently and was amused to find this quote with the date of April 2006 – the month I found out that I was accepted into divinity school…

I feel a tension within me. I have only a limited number of years left for active ministry. Why not use them well? Yet one word spoken with a pure heart is worth thousands spoken in a state of spiritual turmoil. Time given to inner renewal is never wasted. God is not in a hurry.

There are zillion things (OK, maybe only half a zillion!) that I dream of being able to do for God as I finish my degree and begin working in ministry… and yet what is more important in the long run is the continued work of inner renewal in my heart.

I am grateful I serve a merciful, compassionate God!


A milestone!

It seems like it has taken me forever to get this far, but today I registered for my last semester of classes at seminary. It’s been a four year journey, one that has definitely changed me and the goals I had set when I started this.

The process I’ve gone through didn’t happen quickly. Or easily. There have been many days where I was ready to just toss it all and go get a job in retail somewhere, or write the Next Great American Novel. (Who knows? I may still do that, some day!) But over time and with a lot of support and encouragement from my family and friends, we have finally reached this milestone.

In some respects, I am much the same person. And in others, I know that I have changed. I still have unanswered questions and concerns, but I have assurance that I will understand the what/why/when/how some day. But more than anything, I have indeed “seen the goodness of the Lord.”

I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.

Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.

Psalm 27:13-14 (NIV)

Taking the other road…

Instead of obsessing about my paper (due this evening), I blew it off to go see Star Trek with my husband and kids. I know, I know. Just about everyone else has seen it. What can I say?

At any rate, mission accomplished. We saw it in the itty-bitty theatre at the multi-plex, a sure sign that it was about to leave the theaters. It was grand. Enjoyable. Altruistic. Funny. And had enough of that Star Trek ethos to make me happy.

The paper got submitted with 30 minutes to spare. I probably missed some typos and didn’t get my Turabian formatted 100% correctly. But quite honestly, I don’t mind.

Now, if I could drop the angst on this Church History final that’s next weekend (and for which I have not studied, not even one paragraph or dateline) that’d be… perfection.

But I’ll settle for a B.