Give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. – 1 Timothy 4:13 (NRSV)
Scripture came alive for me as an undergraduate student when I had a Hebrew Bible professor who taught us that wrestling with scripture requires more than studying the words on the page.
During the first week of class, we read Hagar’s story in Genesis, studying the life of a woman who was enslaved, raped, and forced into pregnancy by Abraham and Sarah before escaping into the wilderness where she encountered God. We learned about historical context and explored themes of gender, race, class, and power.
As the lecture ended, our professor told us to close our study Bibles, put away our notebooks, and follow her out the classroom door. She led us out of the building, tramping across the green grass of the quad and under the stone arch that separated our pristine campus from the surrounding neighborhood.
When we reached the fourth house down the street, we stopped. This house looked like every other house on the street save for a tall privacy fence that surrounded it.
Behind the fence we were introduced to Hagar’s House, an emergency shelter for families with children, a refuge in the wilderness for hundreds of women over the years. Residents received a safe place to live, job training, childcare, and the support they needed to write the next chapter of their story.
The invitation to us students was to volunteer in the shelter throughout the semester. At Hagar’s House we learned that the sacred stories we study find their power when we allow them to form our faith and transform our lives.
Thanks be to God for the teachers who challenge and exhort – that is, encourage – us to make connections beyond the classroom walls.
Liz Miller serves as the pastor of Edgewood United Church (UCC) in East Lansing, Michigan.