One of St. Elizabeth’s Own is Going to Seminary in the Fall (Mark 3:7-19)by The Rev Daniel P Strandlund on April 8, 2021
I am delighted to announce that Bishop Reed, in consultation with the Diocesan Discernment Committee and with the full support of your Bishop’s Committee, has approved Rachel Joiner as a postulant for holy orders. This is fancy Church speak for, “Rachel is going to seminary in the fall! Woo-hoo!”
Our Gospel passage for this week is a timely one then: it’s about Jesus calling disciples into particular work and authority. We've already seen that the movement around Jesus is in some ways like any other large group of people. There are different levels of commitment amongst its adherents, for example, as we see when Mark distinguishes “the crowd” from “the disciples.” In our passage this week, we see other dynamics at work in the Jesus movement, ones with both practical and spiritual dimensions: organization, division of labor, and the conferral of special authority.
Jesus “appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons” (3:14-15). Note that these twelve are called by Jesus to also be apostles; they don’t stop being disciples. Jesus calls these twelve not from the crowd (3:9-11), but from the community of disciples who are already committed. They’re not becoming ‘super disciples’ but are being given a new role as disciples. They are given specific work and unique authority within the community of Jesus’ followers. This work and authority flow from the Lord’s call and are exercised with the consent, and on behalf, of the community of disciples.
It is at once practical and spiritual: it is practical because proclaiming God’s message is an important kind of work but not the only kind of work that needs doing. It is spiritual because, in Mark’s idiom, it involves the authority to cast out demons, an authority which is God’s alone. (Remember Jesus in the desert in 1:12-13?) Amongst the disciples, these twelve become vehicles through which God’s own power in Jesus is multiplied and spread. For Mark’s audience, this is seen in the apostles’ power to cast out demons.
In our own denomination today, we see similar practical and spiritual dynamics at work when God calls someone like Rachel into ordained ministry. It is not a call God extends to someone because she is more committed to following Jesus than other disciples; this is not a ‘separate the disciples from the crowd’ kind of distinction. Rather, it is a calling from the Lord that happens within the community of those who are already disciples—a community like St. Liz. Practically, it sets some of those disciples apart for particular kinds of work: preaching, pronouncing absolution, facilitating God’s sacraments. These are not the only kinds of work the Church must do; they simply form a particular collection of tasks that the Church must perform. God’s calling someone into ordained ministry is a very practical thing.
It’s also imbued with spiritual significance. The tasks I just named are tasks which can only happen, and can only be trusted, when the authority behind them is God’s own. It must be God’s Word that is preached, God’s forgiveness that is pronounced, God’s Spirit that makes this bread and this wine into Christ’s body and blood. God calls all kinds of disciples into this work so that God’s blessing might multiply and spread in a variety of places and contexts. It is not a role that is entered into lightly, but requires discernment and testing. (Rachel first came to me to talk about what God might be calling her to three years ago. She’s been actively discerning this call in consultation with Bp Reed, the diocesan discernment committee, and myself since then!) It is also essential that these persons should be as diverse as the human communities in which and for whom they serve as ministers. God delights that there should be a diverse set of people whom the Church raises up and offers as outward and visible signs of real spiritual authority, which is always ultimately God’s alone.
The Church must always endeavor to do what Christ has done. Jesus of Nazareth called particular individuals into special work and authority from within and for the empowerment of the community of His disciples. So too must the Church offer itself as the community through which God calls individuals for similar work and authority in our own day. Folks like Rachel, and folks like our seminarian, Krista.
I am delighted that St. Liz is the community through which God has called Rachel Joiner into ordained ministry, and I trust you will join me in celebrating with Rachel, David, and Fate as they prepare for her to begin seminary at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX this fall.