Why Are You Here?

Director of Admissions, Rev. Tripp Hudgins, offered this devotional to our incoming students this morning.

Good morning. My name is Tripp Hudgins. I’m the Director of Admissions here at ABSW. I’m the guy who sends you the nagging e-mails about matriculation forms and I-20 worksheets.

Hi.

I was ordained into the ministry of Word and Table in 2004 at North Shore Baptist Church in Chicago, IL. I am also a student here at the GTU working on a PhD in Liturgy and Ethnomusicology.

Welcome.

“In the beginning,” the Gospel of John begins with a song, a hymn. “In the beginning.” I like the idea that all creation begins with a song…a moving, sustained, pitched, Word; a sound.

It is a time for beginnings. Welcome. We’ve been waiting and preparing for you. And we’re very glad you are here. It is an exciting time in the life of a seminary when the new class of students arrives. It also makes us a little nervous.

Like you, we too will be changed by our time spent together over the next few years. We learn together in seminary. Learning is never a one-way street. We are excited and nervous. Perhaps, you have some idea what that feels like.

Welcome.

When Dr. Miles-Tribble asked me if I wanted to lead a devotional for you, our incoming students, I immediately said, “yes.”

It’s the preacher’s curse, you know.

“Do you want to say something?” they ask.

“Yes!” we shout without thinking about how wise it is to jump at such an opportunity. Maybe a little more caution would be the better course….a question or two in return.

Perhaps the response should be “Why?” or “Maybe. What do you have in mind?” We’ll have to be ready for the possible reply to those questions, of course.

“Because the Spirit has told me to ask you” (the least common but most often imagined response to the question, “Why?”).

The more common response goes something like this…

“Well, you were standing there looking like you needed something to do…so…how about it?”

As with a great many things, preaching always a little bit of both; ministry is comprised of the movement of the Holy Spirit and the need to get something done.

Welcome to the reality of this holy labor we call “seminary.” It is not glamorous, no matter how we try to spruce it up. It’s hard work, plain and simple. As the old song goes, “Jordan is a hard road to travel.” But it is always a labor of love for we serve the God of Love.

But you already know this.

You’ve likely been at the work of ministry for some time, working in your congregations, leading worship, teaching, or taking care of those in need. Of course you have. This is what it means to follow Christ Jesus, to follow the footsteps of the Savior, to do justice and to love mercy. You know that this road well.

Incoming Students 2014
The 2014 Incoming Class

This is what it means to be one of the baptized.

But the question remains…why are you here? Why this work? Why now?

Why are you in seminary?

Maybe you were just standing there looking like you needed something to do.
Or, maybe, the Spirit has asked you to do a new thing.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and
the Word was God.

Sometimes we’re simply called to begin again.

Look at the faculty. Take a moment. Look around you. They too had a first day of seminary. They too had this very beginning. They weren’t born with doctoral degrees.

They know the road. They know the work, the fun and the difficulty of it.

So, we know where you are. We are with you, even at the beginning.

I remember when I started seminary in 2001 (It was the second time I had started seminary, but that’s another story for another time). I was in Chicago. I remember that it was only a month after the Twin Towers were destroyed in New York City. I remember the media coverage. I remember what it felt like to begin seminary when it seemed like so much was changing in the world all at once.

I remember that beginning. And I call it to mind for us this morning because of the news of the last couple of weeks.

It’s hard to avoid the news in the United States.

It blares from every screen in every home, airport terminal, and sports bar. It tweets and updates at us relentlessly. So, it is likely you know about what’s happening in Iraq and Missouri. You know what’s happening in Kiev and Syria. You know about what is happening right here in Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, and San Francisco.

You know what’s happening here and back home.

And you know what’s happening in The Church, our congregations and seminaries, the challenges we all face. This is in the news, too.

This is why I have to ask you, at such a time as this, why are you here?
What are you responding to? Who are you responding to?

All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.

Not one thing…
Not one thing…
Not one beginning…
…begins without God being present within it.
Not one beginning is uttered without the Word being in it.
Every word a new Beginning
and every new beginning
full with the promise of the Word.

But it’s not an easy thing to live into, is it?
In the face of violence and racism;
of state-sponsored murder and
armed religious extremism,
the beginning can be an uneasy place.

Poet Langston Hughes wrote:

There are words like Freedom
Sweet and wonderful to say.
On my heartstrings freedom sings
All day everyday.

There are words like Liberty
That almost make me cry
If you had known what I know
You would know why.

When I asked Dean Flesher what this devotional should be about, she said something like “Get them excited about theological education.” I don’t know if I’m doing that yet. So, let’s get back to the text for a moment longer.

What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

There is darkness and there is light. John’s Gospel makes it very clear right from the beginning that people have the power to choose the light or the dark. We can act justly or we can act unjustly. We can live in the world as if love were real or as if getting our share were the only thing that mattered. But John’s Gospel remembers for us the reality of creation, the beginning of it…no matter what we have made of it since the beginning, but it’s purpose, it’s nature.

So, you will study Church history. You will study scripture. You will read several translations of this very passage at some point. You may even come to me and say, “Tripp, what you said about the Prologue to John’s Gospel doesn’t follow my translation of the Greek.” You may ask, “How did you come to your hermeneutical approach and the interpretation you presented to us?”

I will likely respond with something about banjos and Jesus.

You will learn more about worship leadership. You will construct theology. You will sing and pray and read and write, and write, and write, and read some more. You will learn what it means to serve a congregation. You will learn what it means to renew a neighborhood. You will learn what “liberation” means when freedom walks with pierced hands and feet. You will learn all this and so much more.

This is your labor of love for the next few years.

And here is where I rest my hope for you and for all of us here today.

In the beginning, God’s Word offered us a song.
And in the song was light.
And as The Voice was raised in a shout of praise,
the light spread throughout Creation
and the Song was called Promise,
and the song was called Peace,
Justice and Mercy.
The Song was called Truth,
The Song was called Beauty,
The Song was called Goodness.
The Song was Life and the Life is Christ Jesus
the prophet,
the poet,
the poor teacher
with no place to rest his head.

“What are you doing here?”
My prayer for you is that you will, in your time with us, find that song.

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