Saturday, June 18, 2016

What I wish we'd heard

I confess to you up front. It's an occupational hazard for preachers who are taking part in worship: we all write the sermons in our heads, and know that we can deliver it with more passion and fire than the current preacher. Even in a glorious setting like worship at General Assembly with probably 2000 of our closest friends, sometimes it's tough to just sit there and worship, and let the Word of God reach you.

Heath Rada, Moderator of the 221st General Assembly, preached a fine sermon this morning. But it wasn't about the referenced text. The text he actually preached was from Luke 15, the story of the "Prodigal Son," rehearsing God's extravagant and reconciling love for us. Always good to hear. And it's not at all bad for us as a denomination to hear a call to reconciliation in this time of ours.

But the text referenced was Genesis 45:1-15, the story of Joseph's reunion with his brothers in Egypt. I've preached from Joseph's story about a million times, but usually I gloss over this particular part of it. Today, it kind of hit me between the eyes.  This is the part of the story which falls after Joseph was given the "amazing technicolor dreamcoat," after his brothers in their jealousy threw him in the ditch, and after the great famine hit the land and sent the brothers back begging to Egypt, not knowing their little brother would be there and in a spot to help them. Catch this, as Joseph reveals himself to his brothers:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come closer to me." And they came closer. He said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God send me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God send me before you to preserve for you a remnant on eaerth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 

God has sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth. That's the sermon I wish I had heard today.

I looked around the meeting hall today and saw so much - lots of people that I know, lots that I don't. Commissioners who are wide eyed with hope, commissioners who look more askance at the process unfolding before them, commissioners who have that telltale "deer in the headlights" look. Some have recently lost loved ones, as we have in Mission Presbytery. Some are coming from small churches who aren't sure how much longer they can keep the doors open. Some have lost parts of the Body of Christ in their midst who have left for other denominations. A number of people here are weary and wary and hurting. It feels like we are in a time of famine in the PCUSA, and it's difficult to perceive an end in sight.

The key to this passage is a recurring theme in the Old Testament. Look at verse 7: "God sent me before you to preserve a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors." One of the most important recurring themes in scripture is the faithful remnant. Not since the flood has God broken God's promise to totally destroy. And even then, Noah's family (and some untold number of creatures) were the remnant. 

One of my favorite "remnant"  illustrations is found early on in the book of Revelation, in the seven letters to the seven churches. Some of those churches are in "deep voodoo," suffice it to say. But even to those in the deepest of it, God gives a promise. there is a way forward, and a group of the faithful who will see that it is so.

What I heard today is that we are "two years" into the famine. There are "five more years" ahead of us. Phyllis Tickle might rephrase it to say that we are through about 50 years of the "garage sale" cycle of the church, and that there are about 100 more left to go. But the famine will not destroy us. There is a remnant who will help to provide for us through this time.

I don't know whether that means that there will still be a PCUSA after our "famine" is said and done. I certainly hope so, and if I didn't think so I'd be in a different line of ministry. But whether or not the PCUSA makes it,  I look at the emerging leadership among the Young Adult Advisory Delegates, and at young pastoral leaders like Marci Glass and Jenny McDevitt, and I know we are going to be fine. The famine won't be over for awhile yet. But we are not going to starve. We are not going to be left to our own devices. God is still in the mix, and the church will provide for others, and be provided for, in ways that we cannot yet imagine.

That's the sermon I wish I'd heard today.

1 comment:

  1. Sallie-

    Thanks you for your reporting. I look forward to future installments.

    Perhaps the message of reconciliation can also prophetically provide hope and confianza for us. After 50+ years of secular and ecclesiastical isolation, seemingly irreversible reconciliation progress in Cuba is providing much hope for IPRC. Hopefully you will be able to greet Daniel Izquierdo, perhaps at the Monday morning breakfast at the DoubleTree. Message me if you, or others, would like details.