So, 2016 is turning out not to be my favorite year. Between the craziness of our Presidential race; state of our world economic, interfaith and geopolitical affairs; and the seemingly unbridled human misery that abounds, it’s tempting to just circle the wagons and focus on home. But at home, my people are dying.
Over the last three months we have seen 4 deaths and are about to have a funeral for a fifth this weekend. In addition to that, we have had a rash (if you can even call it that) of folks suffering from pneumonia, delicate operations, and various kinds of cancer. Then there are the number of families I’m counseling (and referring) that are in utter crises: threats of divorce, suicide, substance abuse and just plain strange family dynamics. And in the midst of this, people are leaving the church.
Whenever I hear people talk about growing the church or turning the tide on our declining membership, I keep coming back to something Sam Jenkins said to me: Shepherds don’t grow sheep, sheep do. For all the hand-wringing many of us in leadership do, the truth is God is the one responsible for growing the church. God is the one who sent Christ. God is the one who created the world. God is the one who poured out the Sprit on a burgeoning church and healed nations. God did that.
But we weren’t exactly spectators. In fact, God’s mission for us is the same as it ever was: we are witnesses (Isaiah 43:10; Acts 5:32).
Something that keeps coming up in all of these funerals, hospital visits, office visits and home visits is this nagging sense that we are following someone who rose from the dead. Like the spectacular vision in Ezekiel 37:1-14 or the astounding discovery of the empty tomb we just celebrated, we didn’t make those things happen, we didn’t even ask for them.
God just did them.
The only thing we’ve been asked to do is to be witnesses. To tell what what we know, to tell what we see. That’s it. We aren’t experts in resurrection matters, we’re hobbyists at best. Even in my prayers for others I am only a partner in what GOD is doing, not the other way around. I think that same thing is true for our churches. Adversity and challenge aren’t conspiracies against the good of our congregations, they are a part of life. They always have been. They are a part of the created order. The visions of peace that God lays out for us aren’t something we accomplish, but they are dreams that we are a part of. Even when surrounded by death, life, in all its splendor, is unmistakeable and inescapable. But it does require courage.
We must bear out the courage that adversity and death aren’t just a part of our lives as human beings. They are a part of our lives as congregations, churches built according to God’s purposes, not ours. This means following the advice given to us in Philippians 4:4-20. We have a tendency to really zero in on verse 13 (“I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.” -CEB), but the whole chapter (and, frankly, the whole letter) points to something more than just the moment. If it is our time to live as a congregation, then let us do so with dignity and passion. If it is our time to die as a church then let us live so with dignity and passion (Philippians 1:21).
Whatever we do, let us always be mindful that our walks of faith are always services of witness to the resurrection.
Secret of the Universe:
Rev. David Ealy
Hawfields Presbyterian Church