This morning, little Elly got baptized and in so doing, reminded us all who we are and whose we are. By water and the Holy Spirit we are made members of the church, the body of Christ, and joined to Christ’s ministry of love, peace and justice.
Next Sunday we will hold a congregational meeting – another sacramental moment when we show who we are and whose we are, and in a very practical way we figure out in community where God is calling us at this time; as we consider our holy work.
For guests and friends, I apologize that today’s sermon is particular and local. I hope there is a word for you.
But I want to share with you why I am excited about the Session’s vision of calling a Co-Pastor; why I believe it is in line with God’s call for us and presents us a good hope for our future.
What kind of church are we going to be? That is the question. What kind of church are we going to leave to Elly and all the children? How do we remain grounded in our tradition and style and yet remain open to the Spirit at this particular holy moment in history?
The Session has discerned that we should move from the Senior Pastor – Associate Pastor model to a Co-Pastor model where leadership and power is shared. And while this will be an open search process, it is my hope, and, I believe, this is in line with the Holy Spirit and the Session, that the new Co-Pastor will be someone who doesn’t look like me: both in gender and in race.
I believe that our future depends upon this. We need to pour new wine into new wine skins! But first i want to raise a “toast” to some good old wine – vintage 1967.
Back in 1967, the Presbyterian church, reflecting upon and responding to the upheaval in American society–remember these were the days of Civil Rights, riots, Vietnam War, the arms race, assassinations, rock and roll music, the pill, integration, it seemed as if the whole world was being turned upside down–Presbyterians wrote one of the most significant confessions of faith in the history of our denomination.
Many of you who were around in those days know how influential “The Confession of 1967” was.
The scriptural foundation of that confession was the passage from 2 Corinthians we read today and particularly these words in verses 18 and 19: “…in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself…and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”
Reconciliation: In Greek katallage, which means among other things “to restore,” “to bring together what was separated,” “to change enmity to amity,” and “hostility to friendship.”
Reconciliation: God with creation, human with human, race with race, nation with nation.
Reconciliation: even a reconciling of the disparate pieces and parts at war within each of us.
Reconciliation: becoming the beloved community, no longer segregated but whole. That’s what biblical reconciliation means.
This was Paul’s great insight: In Christ there is no slave or free, no Jew or Greek, no male or female – Jesus was calling everyone together – breaking every barrier down and calling us to be one not only in theory but in practice.
And so, Paul planted, throughout the Mediterranean world, these transformational communities that would show the world what God intended.
I read the papers and observe our nation and world, I ponder my inner space and know full well that we haven’t gotten there yet – we are not in the peaceable kingdom, yet. We haven’t become the “beloved community,” yet.
We all are horrified at the shooting last Wednesday as Republican lawmakers were practicing softball. The verdict in the Philando Castile shooting by a police officer has left many wondering if there will ever be reconciliation between African Americans and the larger society. The hung jury in the Bill Cosby – Andrea Constand case– will the glass ceiling ever be broken so that women’s voices are heard and honored?
In this day and age reconciliation seems a chimera, frankly a joke. We are a divided people.
But I believe, right here on this corner, we are being called further along the road of reconciliation.
We have been moving along that faithful pathway for some time. Sometimes confidently with long strides and sometimes stumbling.
Sometimes it is a festival parade, and sometimes it is a disheartening slog.
Sometimes we see the goal up ahead and we want to rush towards it, even while knowing that the pilgrim’s progress takes time.
Sometimes the goal shines with crystal clarity, and sometimes it is engulfed in so much fog and shadow that we do not see the way.
But as Dr. King once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” In faith, we step anyway towards our highest aspirations and seek to embody, incarnate, the message of Jesus.
I believe that the Session’s vision moves us beyond talk, and beyond prayers. We are being called to take the first step not knowing what lies ahead.
We know there will always be questions, many without clear answers. We know there is no guarantee for success – even this first step will call for sacrifice. But it could just transform the world, or at least our little piece of it!
Today, people don’t want to belong to institutions — they want to align themselves with communities that witness to justice and righteousness; communities that don’t just say what they value but actually embody the things they value.
So I think we need to trust our leadership. I think we need to trust those who worked for months on the discernment task force: members who gave countless hours to listening to you, and consulting other churches, reflecting upon best practices and praying and staying open to the Spirit.
And while the issue of “Can we afford it?” is fair, let me say this: Money follows mission. Money follow vision, not the other way around.
And if we only see “mission” as the benevolent money we send to other organizations to do good works that align with our interests, well, that’s fine…but I am talking about the mission of the church which is to proclaim the nearness of God’s kingdom, to be the beloved community, to be transformative agents of reconciliation, to show the world how it can be, what we can be.
We are not a poor congregation. Yes, hiring a Co-Pastor will add to our annual budget and it may mean cutting some things in the short term for a long-term gain. But my hope is that what we envision and what we become will inspire even more generosity and growth. My hope is that by showing something different to the world; something unique and risky – people will be drawn to this new way of being church.
So put away your stereotypes of angry black women; or that somehow Forest Hill Church’s profile will be diminished; or that my authority is being threatened; or you won’t feel at home here. Imagine rather, that right here on this corner, we become the change we seek.
The buzz of what is being discussed here is already making its way around the Presbytery and indeed the country and what I’m hearing is: “If this can work anywhere it will be at Forest Hill; they are always out in front, doing something good.”
There will be no retreat from our active and engaged faith outside of these walls, and we will continue to care for the walls and this building. We will continue to do that, but we must, in the words of St. Francis, re-build the church from within, for a new age. The mission is both a journey inward and a journey outward. It is a call to change structures and institutions—including this church—so that we can, with clarity and integrity, tell the world what we mean by showing what we mean and by being what we mean.
In Matthew, Jesus gave power to his disciples to caste out demons and power to heal. You and I are being called now as disciples, to cast out the demons of social ills and to show just how close the kingdom of heaven is – perhaps right here on this corner of Monticello and Lee.
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory and continually calls us from strength to strength; who has given us the ministry of reconciliation.