Meditation of the Week
Keywords: Annual Meetings, Presbyterians, Frozen Chosen, Common Good, Not That Kind of Christian, Sin and Salvation.
We have a full day here at The Kirk,
so we should just jump right in.
Toward the end of January, every year, we pause for an annual meeting,
which is a particularly Presbyterian way of being church together.
The two most common jokes told about Presbyterians are
either about our ordinarily calm and collected demeanor:
that’s what they mean when we’re referred to as the “frozen chosen.”
That’s not a reference to what it’s like when our boiler isn’t working, by the way.
The other most common joke, of course,
is about how we Presbyterians love our meetings.
How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb? They ask.
Only one, really, but ten more to have a meeting about it first.
Our annual meeting is a moment for us to pause and take stock of the prior year
and to do a bit of business.
Because we’re required to incorporate with the state
we have a meeting of our corporation.
They’re run by tireless and faithful members of the congregation that we elect
to the board of trustees, and they help keep an eye on the civil side of things:
deeds and contracts and getting the paperwork right.
Thank God for people who know how to do all of that well
and, more than that, who are willing to do it.
We also see reports from the various groups
that have been doing the day in day out work of our church.
Some of them have been planning church school activities
for kids and youth and adults,
and some have organized our worship services
and all the things that make it work out just so.
Others have been organizing ways for us to care for one another
when we’re sick or one of us just had a baby.
We have a group that helps with our building
and the peace park outside and the annual budget,
and another that gets us excited about serving our community,
places like Center Elementary, and Harvesters Food Bank and Christmas in October.
It takes many hands to do all of that. To make a church. To BE a church.
We will have staff reports and conversation about plans we’re looking at
to shuffle some of those groups around, for good and important reasons,
and we’ll elect members of the congregation to some important work.
You’ll consider some changes to your pastor’s terms of call.
All of that in a 20 or 30 minute meeting. Not bad.
Sometimes all of that gets to be a bit of a blur, though.
I wish it weren’t so, but it’s true.
There’s a lot of words on the page, and we’ll hear a lot of words during the meeting,
but behind all of them are the people of this congregation
the members and the friends
that make up a community.
And it’s a community that is made up of many different people
with different lives and needs and perspectives and histories and worries and joys.
What God does in a church like this is, quite honestly, breathtaking,
taking all these disparate people and helping them all find some purpose
and some happiness
and some challenge
and some acceptance
and some rest
and some hope
all by working together toward something bigger than themselves.
One of the things that makes me sad
is how fewer people are finding that sort of place in our society.
Many people by now have offered some reasons for why this is so.
Some don’t know it’s there.
They honestly don’t.
One of my friends, a pastor of a church in Boise
was out at a local rally up there this month
in her clergy collar and stole
and there were pictures of her in the local paper.
The next week, when she was out and about
she was at a store and someone working there
had seen that picture and started talking with her about it.
“Hey, why were you dressed up like a ‘lady pope’” she said.[i]
My friend explained that she was a pastor, and that the collar and the stole
were symbols that pastors wear in public so that they are recognized as such,
and the employee was stunned.
There are female clergy? What church was that, that has female clergy?
This was last week. In 2019.
Some people just have only had the experience of one kind of church,
so any other is just foreign to them.
Her church, incidentally, Southminster Presbyterian Church of Boise
is a home for people who once didn’t know there were churches
that would be about acceptance, and finding your place in God’s story, and hope.
Presbyterian Churches all around the country are like that.
But some people don’t know places like that exist. Could exist.
In an article in the New York Times I read this weekend,
there was a couple raising their children without ever introducing the idea of sin.[ii]
The reason for that, they wrote,
is because sin is all about guilt and judgment, ostensibly,
and that’s not what they want their children fretting about, their whole lives.
But, rather, these parents want their children to focus on other things:
care and compassion and empathy and doing the right thing.
There’s a whole sermon to offer about that article. Maybe two.
But the main point I want to raise is that THIS is precisely what so many people
think about church: that it’s about hellfire and damnation and sin
and scaring people to walk single file on the right side of the road to glory.
Now, WE ALL know that sin is about falling short of what God desires of us.
The word in Greek literally means ‘missing the mark,’
missing out on the fullness of what God wants for us,
for what makes for flourishing lives and families and communities and relationships,
and so all of OUR talk about sin, in this community, in our church,
is about how we are seeking to bring wholeness to the world,
to heal brokenness, to actually love one another,
to do, basically, exactly what this couple is trying to do in raising their kid.
But there are whole swaths of people who don’t know
that there are, or could ever be, churches that are not
based on guilt and thought control and imposition of a certain kind of puritanism.
And that is so sad to me.
There’s a similar feeling when I encounter others who just plainly say
they don’t believe in God
(though, honestly, when I talk to many of them about
the sort of God they don’t believe in,
I don’t believe in that God either. Neither, I bet, do you).
Or they don’t see the need for God,
though, if we trust the surveys over the years
these so called “nones,” people without any claimed religious tradition
still report being spiritual, in large part.
They’re seeking after God, or open to the divine.
They’re just rejecting certain views about God,
and often don’t fill it with better, healthier, more life-giving perspectives—
views, I would argue, which are more in line with the scriptures in the first place.
And there are other things we could say about all of this,
but, ok, you get my point.
All that’s to say that we know we have our work cut out for us.
It is tempting to long for a moment like Jesus had,
that day, early in his ministry,
where, according to Luke, he entered into his home town,
and the whole community was gathered at the synagogue,
and he could stand up and read the promises of God in Isaiah,
clear enough for everyone to hear and see what God was doing:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
Because he has anointed me
To bring GOOD NEWS to the poor…
To proclaim RELEASE to the captives
The RECOVERY OF SIGHT to the blind
To let the oppressed go FREE
And to PROCLAIM the year of the Lord’s favor.
Where we ended our reading today, Jesus got through to them,
this ancient vision of God in Isaiah,
inspiring everyone who heard it to see God behind it:
Good news; Release of the bound; Freedom from oppression; The Lord’s favor.
The very heart of what the church’s message is, then, today, and forever.
Thank you, Jesus. Preach for us, Jesus.
Show us all the way….
For a long time,
it was easier to be the church.
These days, we have to keep at it with a bit more determination and commitment.
But it is also a really exciting time to be the church, too,
because the message of the Gospel is timely, and alive, and relevant,
as much so now as ever before:
How amazing is it to be the people called to share good news,
during a time of such stress, such collective anxiety
such weariness that we find going on these days?
What a release it is for people
when they find themselves motivated to go march
for the freedom and the health and the wellbeing of their neighbor,
rather than being motivated by anger or rage or discontent?
What freedom from oppression is it
when we find ourselves part of one human family,
and we act like it,
seeking to love our neighbor
and to reconcile with those with whom we disagree,
rather than to assume we’re immutably broken down
into little tribes and provincial parts?
This belief that it’s not us vs them, but all of us, we, together,
because we’re all made in the image of God.
And at the heart of all THAT work is the people:
all of you,
all of our friends who are part of this community but who aren’t here today
our neighbors, our families, those God gives us love.
That’s the heart of our community.
Every annual report we produce.
Every time we gather in a meeting.
Every song we sing.
Every prayer we raise.
Every dollar given to the offering plate.
Every sermon we sit through.
All of it is about the people that God gives us to love,
and the God that is at the heart of the love we share.
The Good News is right there:
God’s commitment to heal and renew and build.
That’s what we call salvation:
the amazing power of God to bring new life in abundance.
Paul wrote to a church that was trying to figure out its future.
You have many gifts, Paul said to the Corinthians.
They’re not all the same.
Some of y’all are hands, and some are feet.
Some are ears and some are eyes.
There’s probably a spleen and a collarbone in there somewhere, too.
That’s his way of saying:
some of you are good with spreadsheets.
Others can teach a group of grumpy teenagers.
Some of you may be good at making salads for a community meal,
or perhaps want to help fix the leaky faucet.
Maybe you are a good leader and should be an elder,
or maybe you have a heart for care and compassion and community
and you might be a good deacon.
Or you would be, but you just don’t know it yet.
All of them needed for the common good.
Every gift matters. Because the future will be built upon those gifts,
and upon those gifts, the real nature of God will come alive in our world,
and, God willing, more people will find a sense of hope and belonging
right here with us.
But it starts with us.
Our gifts. Our commitment.
Our trust in God’s abiding and enduring support.
Those two things—our gifts, and God’s support—is all we need
to be the church that God calls us to be,
and to be a community that makes a real difference in this world
that God so loves.
May we renew our trust,
and follow where God is leading us,
as we grow more closely into the type of community
where all will be welcomed and cherished,
where every gift can be celebrated,
and where no one is told that they don’t matter to God.
Because we all matter to the God who loves us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
May it be so.
[i] Marci Auld Glass, from a facebook post and personal correspondence. See https://www.facebook.com/marci.glass/posts/10156450107079006
Image Credit: Pixabay photo from tyaqakk, available at https://pixabay.com/en/social-work-hunger-volunteering-2356024/. Pixabay photos are available without a license. See https://pixabay.com/en/service/license/