“Treasure hunter.” Those two words might best describe what I do at the American Baptist Historical Society. More technically, I process collections. But that doesn’t sound nearly as fun as “treasure hunter.”
Many of the collections that arrive on our doorstep are a mess. Aside from knowing to whom the collection originally belonged, we don’t know much more about what we may or may not find. And so it’s my job to sort through the collection, organize it, preserve it, and create a finding guide for future researchers. The fun of the job comes from uncovering the unexpected, hidden treasures tucked away.
I like to believe if I were the archivist processing the collections of Martha Stearns Marshall and Lottie Moon that I might discover that these women were “fashion forward” for their time period. I’m not talking about Dolce and Gabbanna or Abercrombie and Fitch. These two women would probably sport the bright, teal blue colored and bold, white lettered “This Is What a Preacher Looks Like” t-shirt.
Martha Stearns Marshall began her service as a missionary to Native Americans in the New England area. With the start of the French and Indian War, Martha, her husband, and her brother all moved southward and settled in Virginia. Along the way, they became Baptists, received believer’s baptism, and soon started attending a local Particular Baptist church. And then the controversy began. A Baptist church isn’t complete without some good controversy, and Martha brought plenty with her. Church folks didn’t take too kindly to her and her leadership simply because she was a woman. She prayed, preached, and led worship with zeal and gifts that surpassed men. Scandalous! Her preaching has been described as enhancing her husband’s ministry. When Daniel Marshall later sought ordination, some ministers refused to participate because his wife was a preacher. This is what a preacher looks like.
Lottie Moon felt called to missions. She hopped aboard a boat and set sail for China. Lottie “operated a girls’ school, evangelized in villages, and cared for destitute women in her home.” And then the controversy began. She preached. And she agonized over her call to preach. The time period and culture in which she lived said to her and other gifted, called women that they couldn’t preach simply because of their gender. In one of her missionary letters, Lottie wrote, “‘It is not the custom of the Ancient church that women preach to men.’ I could not, however, hinder their calling upon me to lead in prayer. Need I say that, as I tried to lead their devotions, it was hard to keep back the tears of pity for those sheep not having a shepherd.” This is what a preacher looks like.
In these examples, God calls a person to partner with God in God’s extraordinary mission of redemption in the world. God calls. There is some obstacle or problem or roadblock. God doesn’t take “no” for an answer. God is persistent and provides a way. We find a similar story in Luke’s gospel.
It was life as usual—another ordinary day of work. Simon, James, and John had just come in from fishing. They were cleaning their nets. Does any of this sound familiar? We have our set routines and schedules just like these fishermen. Get up. Go to work. Time for home. Bed. Repeat. We know what to expect and when to expect it. There are no surprises. With God, however, we should expect the unexpected. And the unexpected happened with the disciples. Jesus showed up. He asked if Simon would cast the boat out from shore and to let down the nets. The nets were lowered and filled with fish to the point of breaking.
Simon then realized that he was in the presence of the Lord. How often do we go about our daily living and not even realize we are in the presence of the Lord, that Jesus is with us? We are so busy or everything is so mundane that we fail to notice Jesus in our presence. Simon responded: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8b NRSV). We think we can’t serve God simply because of who we are or who society says we are. But God has knitted us together in the womb, and God knows who we are even before our birth. When we choose to follow Jesus, we become part of the body of Christ. We soon discover, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).
When we choose to follow Jesus, we are also responding to his call to us to ministry. We are God’s instruments. In describing ministry to the Christ-followers in Corinth, Paul wrote that “we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (II Corinthians 4:7 NRSV). Paul said that the ordinary, common, fragile clay jars contained and ferried the treasure. We are the clay jars, and Jesus Christ is the treasure. We carry within each of us the image of God and life of Jesus Christ. We are the vessel God uses to share God’s love with the world. We are the instrument.
Jesus gave the disciples a new purpose and job. They were to fish for people now. The disciples left all they had and followed Jesus. The call to ministry changed their lives and the lives of other people. Jesus is calling us, too, to proclaim the Good News. How will we respond? Jesus can change our life and the lives of others, too, if only we will let him.
Jason Ranke is a student at McAfee School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia.