March 2023

This past Saturday, I attended Presbytery at First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, North Carolina. There we worshiped with representatives from most of the 111 churches of the New Hope Presbytery. It was such an affirmation of the connectional Church we Presbyterians hold so dear, from the wall of sfound rom the congregation singing hymns to the candidates presented for ordination and even the collegial disagreements over motions proposed. I was there with Taylor Baloga, our voting Ruling Elder, and Judy Wilson, who used to attend that church and who was reunited with dear old friends. It was a long day. It was a dreary, rainy day. But it was a wonderful day.
Three quotes from the sermon by Rev. Rob Jackson stood out to me, and I have not been able to shake them. The first question was “Who is in charge of the church?” Who is in charge of the church? I think sometimes we (the universal “we”) fall into the belief that the folks who contribute the most money are in charge of the church, or the Elders or the women of the church are in charge or the men of the church or the folks who have been in attendance the longest. Often, ministers think they are in
charge, but the fact is, the church belongs to Jesus Christ as ordained by our triune God. This not only means the Church Universal but also includes all local congregations. As such, we are subject to the leadership of his Holy Spirit. However, we are human, so we allow human things to get in the way of following the Spirit
and wrestle the illusion of control into our own hands. This leads me to the second stand-out quote. “There is nothing in the bible that says
we are responsible for the survival of the church.” Wow! That is a powerful statement. I pondered it in the context of the budget report we received at our congregational meeting, which stirred in me, as I am sure some of you as well, a bit of a panic. It is scary to think we could be out of money in a few short years if we do not grow or give more. Rev. Jackson went on to say that this kind of thinking comes from fear, and I agree, but what is the difference between faithful stewardship of resources and lack of faith in Jesus to see us through wherever he may be leading us? I do not know the answer to that question. I do know that we hold that tension in our hands, and we need to be careful not to be afraid of stepping out in faith because we fear for our survival. And now, we come to the final statement that has held me captive. “If a church goes under because they spent their money on God’s kingdom…well, do we believe in the Resurrection or not?” If we follow where Jesus is leading us and grow, we feel rewarded. It confirms our bias that we were following the Spirit. But if it goes south, we somehow failed and did not follow Christ faithfully. We never think maybe we did precisely what Jesus called us to do, and we died for the sacrifice, and shouldn’t we be willing to die for the sake of the kingdom?
And isn’t it possible that God will raise new life even amid that death? Let me be clear; I do not think this church will run out of money and close its doors. I just don’t, but these statements by Rev. Jackson are worth considering as we move through Lent and into the rest of the year. We have a challenge before us. There is no way around that, but the lens through which we view that challenge should be in keeping with our faith. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:33-34)