As we approach the Third Sunday in Lent, we find the biblical texts urging us to seek God. Isaiah 55 invites people of all nations to find the nourishment and mercy they desire by calling upon the one God. God’s ways and thoughts are not our ways and thoughts, but clearly God has purpose for all humanity, and Israel is to be a light to the nations.
The Psalmist understands that hunger and thirst for God are even more essential than bodily needs. “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).
The Epistle reading speaks of spiritual food and drink, which is nourishment provided by God for those who yearn for communion with the holy (1 Corinthians 10:1-13). Even though God’s provision was available, many succumbed to idolatry. “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play,” an allusion to the golden calf episode (10:7).
The enigmatic Gospel reading urges repentance if one longs to encounter God (Luke 13:1-9). Yet, the parable of the further opportunity for the unfruitful fig tree displays God’s patient mercy, which has universal implications. As Richard Rohr suggests, the biblical texts move inexorably toward merciful inclusion.
This coming weekend I will be a part of an interfaith conference at the University of North Florida. Alongside Rabbi Donniel Hartman, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and Imam Abdullah Antepli, Chief Representative of Muslim Affairs at Duke, I will be speaking about ways forward in constructing peace in the Middle East. Our time together will explore the ways in which we seek God’s peace through our discrete religious traditions.
This is the not the first time that Central has participated in interfaith events. Just a week after the Boston marathon bombing, Central was hosting a Baptist-Muslim dialogue. I have participated in local conferences with Muslims and Jews for several years. Last summer, I was a part of a panel with a distinguished Jewish scholar, Amy-Jill Levine, and Muslim expert in Sharia law, Zainab Alwani, to speak about our respective texts’ approach to human sexuality. The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (TN) hosted this gathering.
Other Central faculty members have participated in key interfaith initiatives. Wallace Hartsfield II and Sally Holt were a part of the Christian Leadership Initiative sponsored by the American Jewish Committee and Shalom Hartman Institute. As a recipient of a Luce Foundation grant, Central has sought to live into their mission of “cultivating respect for the lived religion of others.”
We live in a time of globalization that brings the great religions of the world into ever closer contact. As a seminary that prepares leaders for churches and communities, it is imperative that we learn how to live with religious “others” constructively. As Hans Küng observes, there will be no peace in the world without peace among the religions. Central wants to be a part of that movement.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares creative leaders for the church and for the world.