December 4, 2011: Confusing Directional Signs

Posted on : Dec 1st, 2011 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Confusing Directional Signs:

“Why it is so Hard to Make the Crooked Straight (so to speak)?”

I was still in high school, about 29 years ago, when I first felt the call to ministry.  It all sounds well, except for one roadblock: women were not allowed to be pastors and preach. Wide-eyed and naïve, I thought that when God calls one to ministry God will open the necessary doors to realize this divine calling. Straighten the path; prepare the way, so to speak. To become a pastor in the Reformed Church in South Africa, one has to first enroll in a Bachelors of Theology program, learn Greek and Hebrew, and then you are deemed ready to enter seminary – a seven year journey to prepare for ministry.  And so in order to answer God’s call on my life to serve as a pastor I enrolled in the BA Theology undergraduate program at the University of Pretoria in 1986.  All’s well so far, except it turns out it’s hard to make the crooked straight.

A week after graduating I married my now husband of twenty three years. At this stage I had to face reality.  Although the church opened ordination for women a year earlier, there was no real prospect for a call.  The church was still very much patriarchal. The sentiment was that female pastors would not be accepted or welcomed by congregations. Matters were further complicated by the fact that I was now married to a seminary student.  Clergy couples were unheard of in the South African context.  With a heavy heart I decided not to pursue ordination further and consequently did not attend seminary. By now realism and pessimism had set in. I could not foresee how I would be able to answer my call to serve as a pastor in the South African context.  So I did not enroll in seminary, did not pursue ordination as a pastor. Instead I walked away from God’s call on my life. I settled into my role as pastors’ wife and practiced ministry wherever women were allowed to practice it, as a volunteer of course.

When the Israelites were first taken away into exile, they naively thought they’d be back home within a few years. God will straighten the road; prepare the way, as the prophet Isaiah proclaimed. But one year after another passed. Then one decade after another. The dream to return home started to fade. They settled in, found work, made themselves at home, and married the locals.  The signs they were looking at were surely confusing. “I’m your God, I’ll take you home, I’ll prepare the way” – and seventy years later their children’s children are raising children in exile.

John the Baptist’s calling was to prepare the way for Jesus. The signs were surely confusing when Jesus came to Galilee to be baptized by John: as Jesus came up out of the water the Spirit of God descended on him and said: “This is my own, my beloved, on whom my favor rests.” But in the end, John literally lost his head for his effort to prepare the way, and Jesus ended up alone on a cross.

Why it is so hard to make the crooked straight?

We’ll talk more about this on Sunday,



~ This Sunday’s Scriptures ~

Isaiah 40: 1-11

The prophet announces the coming of God.

“Console my people, give them comfort,” says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem’s heart, and tell it

that its misery has ended,

that its injustice is atoned for,

that it has received from God’s hand double punishment for all its sins.


A voice cries out:

“Clear a path through the wilderness for our God,

make a straight road through the desert for our God!

Every valley shall be lifted up,

and every mountain and hill shall be brought down and made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

and the rough places as level as a plain.

And the glory of God shall be revealed,

and all flesh shall see it together,

for the mouth of God has spoken.”


A voice says, “Cry out!”

and I said, “What shall I say?”

All flesh is grass and its beauty is like the wildflowers:

the grass withers, and the flowers wilt,

but the promise of our God will stand forever.


Go up on a high mountain,

you who bring good news to Zion!

Shout with a loud voice,

you who bring good news to Jerusalem!

Shout without fear,

and say to the towns of Judah

“Here is your God!”

Our God comes with power and rules with a strong arm!

You, O God, bring your reward with you, and your reparation [the wages paid to a laborer] comes before you.

Like a shepherd you feed your flock,

gathering the lambs and holding them close,

You lead your flock like a mother [ewe], with gentleness.


Mark 1:1-8

Here begins the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God: as it was written in the prophet Isaiah, “I send my messenger before you to prepare your way, a herald voice in the wilderness crying: ‘Prepare the way for our God. Clear a straight path.'” And so John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to John, and were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and he ate nothing but grasshoppers and wild honey. In the course of his preaching, John said “One more powerful than I is to come after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie his sandal straps. I have baptized you in water, but the One to come will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.”


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