In preparation for leading a student disciple now weekend that dealt with how our faith sees us through the hard times, I sat down with some of my old journals for a little trip down memory lane. Yes, some of it made me cringe, some entries elicited giggles, and some entries stopped me in my tracks. You see, it was in junior high when I first began to write about my calling “to be a pastor’s wife.” At the time, this was all the vocabulary I had to express God’s call on my life. It wasn’t until much, much later that I would begin to have the language and worldview necessary to see this for what it was: my earliest inklings of a call to vocational ministry.
In a twist of irony, I actually AM a pastor’s wife. But simultaneously, I am a pastor. Since my middle school ramblings about calling, I have grown up, gone to college and seminary, spread my ministerial wings, been ordained, and preach/teach at various ministry events. This past Sunday, I was given the honor of being the Martha Stearns Marshall preacher for my newest faith community, First Baptist Church of Middlesboro, Kentucky. A beautifully intentional faith community nestled into a crater in Appalachian Kentucky. The lectionary text for last Sunday was about the worst I could have picked . . . the Sermon on the Mount section about adultery, divorce, cutting off sinful appendages, and the fires of hell. Not exactly inspirational. That is, until I really dug into this text and realized that Jesus’ formula here was intended to paint a wide picture of what the realm of God could and should look like: a place where the bearers of said Kingdom are those of integrity, who honor their commitments, who value truth and compassion, and who seek reconciliation above retribution.
And yet, these are but a few of the passages of scripture that are still misinterpreted in our day. And they are not alone. Far too many Christians choose portions of scripture to interpret “literally” whilst creatively bending other passages. 1 Timothy and Titus come to mind as a few used to “keep women in their rightful place.” As someone who has felt the sting of exclusion based on literal interpretations, it was a breath of fresh air this week to grapple with these texts. Jesus came not to abolish “the law,” but to put into place the overarching law of love. And this is hard for those who love the law to deal with. But time and time again, Jesus valued the intent behind the law over the literal letter of it. And what was the intent? To bring about the realm of God in which all of God’s children are afforded love, justice, reconciliation, and a place to belong.
Martha Stearns Marshall matters to me because it is the legacy of some faithful disciples who decided to value the law of love over the historic love of the law. It matters to me because it widens the Kingdom of God to include all of God’s children. And it matters to me because time and time again, I have been blessed by congregations who choose to walk in that legacy . . . because they follow Christ’s legacy. Congregations who repeatedly open their hearts, their arms, their doors, their baptisteries, and even their pulpits and say, “Who is welcome here? YOU. All of you, because you are all children of God.”
Kristy Bay is a minister, pastor’s wife, writer, musician, and friend to teeangers. She and her husband, Zach, live in Middlesboro, Kentucky.