First message after Synod 31

Today was the first Sunday back from General Synod 31. The scriptures used were Romans 7:15-25a and  Matthew 11:16-19 & 25-30. The title in the bulletin was, “Our Challenge.” Below is what they heard or as close as the script can get us. I know that I was off it a few times.

When we stepped off the plane in Aberdeen and finally outside of the terminal with our suitcase in hand and carry-ons on our backs, we were hit squarely in the face by some pretty oppressive heat. When I sat down to pull this message together I was hit squarely in the heart with the notion that this wasn’t going to be a one morning message. And I promise, we will do this is stages because there is just so much material.

We left Baltimore trying to remember and hold close all the things we had done and experienced. Before I get too far here, the scripture passage of the week was Psalm 46, and the theme was Make Glad. We will hear that scripture before we leave, and the logo is on the front of our bulletin. While in Baltimore we spent time in meetings at least I did, time on the water front, sometimes eating together with the other representatives from South Dakota, some breakfast meetings with SD, Iowa and Nebraska, sometimes eating alone just the two of us. We listened to presentations, debates, heard messages, participated in music, and saw and met people from places all over the country and even the world. We had group discussions and quiet one-on-one talks, and then finally we boarded the plane for home.

In those few short hours (6:25 a.m. Eastern Time to 12:28pm Central Time—7 hours when you count the time change) we tried to absorb and synthesize or maybe the word here really should be metabolize all that we had done and seen and been a part of. The truth is I still don’t really know what happened there. [What in the world just happened there?] I watched a clip on U-tube of the Sunday, July 2nd worship service, and I seriously began to wonder if I had accidentally missed a session. Finally, I realized that by sitting in the visitors section with James that afternoon, we missed some of the action up in the front. And the more I dig around on the website news, the more I realize that we each saw Synod 31 from our own perspective, and what is on the news feeds was not necessarily the same view-point that I had from my spot in the South Dakota delegates section off to the far left side of the stage.

In coming back James and I landed on a hot Wednesday afternoon and drove another two hours to home. You all know what that is like around here. No one in this part of South Dakota gets off a plane and is home in half an hour. We got off the plane and drove home to find life of a different perspective. There was a garden to tend, a garden that though Paulina did her best to keep watered, needs lots more watering if anything at all is going to grow. It also needs some serious weeding, to which Dan can attest from when he stopped by on Thursday. Right now the plants that should thrive are sharing with those that should not, and then there are those lovely cosmos that according to James are weeds this year. And they are all over the place, and my reaction is, “How do we dare pull them out?” And as we look around the rest of the yard and inside the house we find more and more and more that should be done before it is time for fall and our sort of harvest and school beginning and I just want to get back on that plane and forget about all the things there are to do around here, and then I consider what we as a church need to do.

Some of you may have heard me say that last Sunday in June that we are at the 60th Anniversary of the United Church of Christ and we should have done something about that on that Sunday, but I figured we could do something later this summer. I don’t think we are going to talk about that in terms like you do most anniversaries where you look back to where we started and discuss the past. I think if nothing else, attending this Synod, going through these sessions and meeting these people has made me realize that the past is there to shape who you are today, not to dwell in. The past is what develops us, but we can’t get stuck in it. We need to live in the here and now and we need to put our face to the future.

Maybe if you think about it that is what caused the death of Lot’s wife, she refused to give up the past; she wasn’t willing to look to the future. Interestingly if you look closely at the history of our denomination, you see a people who has always been looking to the future, and if we want to be a congregation that doesn’t turn into a pillar of salt like Lot’s wife, we too need to turn our faces forward to the future. Jesus as he was speaking in the passage we read for today was lamenting the generation of his time. He spoke of them as whining children for whom nothing was ever good enough or right. Jesus wants more from us, Jesus wants us to stand up and act, to do what we can while we can. And if we listened to the ending of this reading for today we hear that going to Christ will give us help, he will teach us what we need to know and gives us rest for our souls.

One of the most exciting things that came from this Synod was not something that was debated or resolved or voted on. It was the new purpose statement and its initiative that was announced by the General Minister Rev. John C. Dorhauer.

It came about from the surveys that members of the church were asked to complete last year. I know that at least a few of us in our church did them. At first I was confused when I saw it written, but on Monday morning he came to our breakfast caucus to talk to just us. Caucus was South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. I kept thinking that this affected our motto which is: That they may all be one. It has not and that has not changed, but for the next two years we will be working, and by we I mean us too because you will probably laugh with me when you hear the purpose and the three initiatives that go with it because it will be easy for us.

The purpose statement is based on the Greatest Commandment as Jesus told it in Matthew 22:37-39: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul and mind, and the second… to love your neighbor as yourself. This will be enacted through the 3 great loves initiatives, the 3 great loves call to action. They are: love of children, love of neighbor and love of creation. (Show the t-shirt) How easy will that be for us? We already do these things. Here is where I must have been asleep or talking to those around me during Rev. Dorhauer’s Saturday morning presentation. This is what I found on the news portion of the national website. Yet when I got to the ending of this reading, I remembered what he said as he wrapped up his message to us.

I read a portion of the what I found on the UCC website under news about General Synod. It talked about three initiatives that the church will be involved in including: drives to donate to those living in shelter, school supplies for children and a walk at the next General Synod to raise awareness for the earth. He noted that there is a website to keep track of this and they will be collecting stories about how we are all participating. He invited us to sign up at the exhibit hall and I told the congregation that I must have missed that booth and wondered if they didn’t have chocolate there which would have made me miss it. HA! One last piece from that article had Dorhauer saying, “As disciples of the Risen Christ, we call ourselves to embody love and incarnate justice.”

Maybe I sound like I have jumped on a bandwagon, and you might be sitting in the pew thinking, oh no, or why us? I know that I am a skeptic and probably would be thinking that about now. And maybe we might be thinking what does this justice stuff have to do with us around here? We certainly aren’t going to go around marching with posters and banners and acting like a bunch of radicals. Does anyone remember the final verses that I added the last Sunday of June because I wouldn’t be here last week? Those last words were: Matt. 10:42 “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” That is justice work!

I would like to take the next 2 months the rest of July and all of August to listen to some of your ideas. Give me some ideas of things that would interest you to do. It certainly could be things that we have been doing, or something new, or a different way. Or tell me what you don’t particularly like. I will listen, I will take phone calls, notes, emails and I will put them together to see what shows up the most or the least. I want to be able to put together some ideas for the first Sunday in Oct., and by the Oct board meeting maybe we can discuss a plan for some future missions/some justice tasks.

Let me just close by reading Psalm 46.

I finished by giving them this line. Churches are reaching out to those in need of being churched because they are willing to be the river that flows through the heart of the people to make glad the city of God. Let us be that river here. Amen!!

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