Many of you know that I like to sing John Bell's song, “Glory and Gratitude and Praise.” These are what we have to offer God. Similarly, I begin this new year and new decade with three sentiments: gratitude, joy and challenge!
I am grateful for my recent respite after eight weeks of daily radiation treatments. I was reminded again and again of God’s love through many expressions of support and prayers. Support came sometimes in the form of rebuke such as an email that said, “If you are reading this, you are working. Stop it!” I made sure to not hit the reply button on that one. Such permission giving helped me to let go of the guilt of not doing. In a performance based culture and profession, clergy often struggle with “inactivity.” What a gift we have in Christ and in Christ’s body, the church, to be valued and loved not for what we do, but for just being—claimed, redeemed, loved by God. Gratitude is the right place to begin a day, a week, a year, a decade.
I am joyful for a couple of reasons. In both cases, joy is the sister of relief, and the brother of trust. Specifically, my oncologist told me on Friday that my post treatment blood test numbers were really, really good! Better than expected! See you in three months! Yes joyful relief and trust affirmed. Praise God! I also have been watching our Presbytery treasurer, Larry Nelson’s face as he works to close Presbytery’s financial books for 2009. I observe a smile of his face. He’s given me no number yet, but assures me it will be a healthy position number! Praise God! Again joyful relief after two brutal years and trust affirmed. We could not sustain the financial deficit we experienced in 2008. Instead it looks like we will recoup much of that lose! I am proud of our Presbytery leaders who did not panic, kept their cool, managed what was in our control, and trusted God and each other. I am grateful for the dedication and sacrificial giving of many members and Sessions!
I am also feeling pretty challenged. I bet you are, too! Our Presbytery foci are to grow our congregations and to support our church staffs to do so. After years of declining membership and aging demographics, growth is an unfamiliar synapse. The last growth year was 1966, the year I was confirmed! Growth is a tough measure for success, but an important measurable outcome to which we must aspire. Today’s leadership requires an ability to focus on matters over which we have control and dismiss those which we don’t. And it requires us to learn things we don’t know and which our experience will not provide us. Albert Einstein once described insanity as doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. We are not called to do things better and harder these days. Rather God is calling us to be adaptive communities of learning, including the leaders, who must lead without having all the answers.
Yet, we have God's promise still as we enter the second decade of this wild, young, scary, exciting century. And if some of us are feeling our age to be part of what God is doing, remember Abram and Sarai. Yes, God’s people have been there and done this before. Like them, may we also be transformed as we live the promise. May the decade before us be equally adventurous, filled with trustful risk taking and new mind bending learning about our mysteriously awesome God. May it be a time of learning who our neighbors are, what their needs are, their language and how they communicate. May we recognize Jesus in “the others” we meet, and understand what God is doing and passionately join God in it. If we do, our foci will shift from self and church to God and community, the sacred story, our holy identity, and the precious gift we are commissioned to share with those in our neighborhood. It really is about “glory, gratitude and praise.” Happy new year!