Thursday, February 19, 2015

Reports, Deadlines, and Accountability

A value Presbyterians hold dear is doing things decently and in order.  Until it comes to filing reports!  Paperwork!!  Yuck....we hate it!!!  Or at least most pastors do.  This may be the difference between clerks and pastors, is the affinity and dislike of reports.  None the less, reports are part of our covenant life together.  They are a means by which we present ourselves as accountable each other.  Thus, Clerks of Session are busy with the statistical information for their church and the Pastors are busy with the Terms of Call Reports, and annual reports of ministers in non-parish validated ministries, parish associates, and Members-at-Large.   As of today, February 19th, 29 of our 67 pastors still need to send in their Terms of Call Reports;  26 of 45 minister members still need to send in their Annual Report.   Another way the Presbytery of Lake Michigan holds its members accountable to each other is to require attendance at a Boundary training.   Out of the 26 minister members of presbytery who have not yet attended the training in order to be in compliance with Presbytery Policy, only 1 has registered for the March 11 Boundary Training in Paw Paw on March 11th.  If you have done the training.  Great!  You are in compliance with Presbytery's Policy.  If you haven't, then you likely have received a communication from the Stated Clerk, with the invitation to register for the upcoming training.  Please do so.

Reports and required training are a pain.  Understood.  Just do it.  It's part of living in covenant community which we hold dear.


Monday, February 9, 2015

A Presbytery meeting on Valentine's Day?

Many of you have commented to me, "The Presbytery is meeting on Valentine's Day!?!?"  I'm pleased that so many of you keep your love life in mind when scheduling your work life!  For those of you who are blessed to be married, I pray that your marriage is strong, passionate and healthy.  Our meeting should conclude by 2:45.  I trust, hope, and prayer that you will make plans for a lovely evening with your beloved!  I know I shall!

The Presbytery has been meeting on the second Saturday of February for several years.  Ironically, this year when that day falls on Valentine's Day the topic of marriage will be on the Presbytery meeting docket.  To prepare to vote on the amendment which has to do with marriage at the April 14th meeting, we will engage each other on the topic at our Valentine's Day meeting.  Our new moderator, George Hunsberger, has recruited the Rev. Dr. Theresa Latini, professor of practical theology and pastoral care at Western Theological Seminary and member of the Presbytery of Twin Cities, to design and guide us in a process by which each commissioner will have an opportunity in a small group to be heard and understood in relation to this amendment. When better to discuss marriage than on Valentine's Day!

Joan Gray, the out going moderator, at the opening worship of the 219th Assembly in San Jose, in 2008, preached on John 13:12:  “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.”  She began by saying she had two years to select that text.  She chose it early on during her term, but had second thoughts, thinking it was too simplistic, unsophisticated.  Yet the more she thought about it, the more appropriate it became.  Love one another as I have loved you.  As she traveled throughout the church, she discovered, this is God’s message to us.  And it isn't the weak minded suggestion of Jesus, not his wisdom, but his heart filled, passion gripped COMMANDMENT!  Clear and simple, it’s what Jesus expects of us, his followers/disciples.  

OK.  Sure, no problem!  How hard can that be?” we say to ourselves.  Until we enter community, disagree with someone in a Bible Study, or with a decision at a committee, Deacon or Session meeting.  Or attend and experience a passionate debate at a Presbytery meeting or General Assembly.  You can’t obey this commandment home alone doing your own thing.  There is no such thing as a private practice Christian spirituality.  This command moves a personal relationship with the Lord into a communal practice with His body, the Church, brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom we do not always agree, but with whom we are united in Him in baptism, whether we like it or not.
The church got its name ecclesia, in Greek, from the practice of coming together, assembling, congregating--where we get the word congregation.  Lest we glorify the early church as an era of particular holiness, let us remember the stories in the Book of Acts.  The apostles did not agree and argued vehemently with Peter and then with Paul about sharing the gospel with the gentiles (Acts 10-11, 15).  Paul and Barnabus did not see eye to eye on taking, my Biblical name sake, John Mark on the second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41).  They did not always agree…they did not always share every mission God was calling some to do.  Later, John still includes in his gospel Jesus' command to disciples to love one another as he loved us. 

Gray concluded her sermon, "It is an impossible commandment to obey.  We do not tolerate difference very well."  Most congregations are pretty homogeneous.  People tend to seek out like minded persons with whom to worship and serve. Yet elders who serve on Sessions and are commissioners to Presbytery, the Synod and General Assembly are exposed to the lives, hearts and passions of people from a broader world and different contexts.  Presbyterians have always believed that God works through the larger, broader voice of the church, that no one person has a monopoly on the truth of God, and that there needs to be room for conscience in matters of faith (Book of Order F-3.01).
Sometimes living in community is difficult.  We are tempted to run away to our private sanctuaries, and do our own thing.  However, Jesus commands us to love one another as he have loved us, which is a self giving sacrificial love.  Not an “I’m taking my marbles home and play with myself self righteousness.”

I believe that the act of being in relationship, and loving in spite of differences is the way of Christ I am called to follow.  I believe the Church is a laboratory for living in covenant with each other.  It isn't easy.  Sacrificial love never was or will be.  It's the hard work of being in relationship, after the romantic body chemistry of attraction flees.  Encountering others who are different, and who bring a different perspective to the table is never easy.  But when we come together to discern the mind of Christ, we must come with an open mind, open heart, and open will.  In so doing, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, we become God’s beloved community.  The encounter is a spiritual discipline as Christ's disciple, and a spiritual encounter meeting Jesus in the other.

Few have ventured into this discipline as deeply as our past moderator, Joan Gray, as she traveled throughout the church during her two years as moderator.  In her sermon, which I heard during my first year as general presbyter, she surmised that it’s impossible to fulfill this commandment of Jesus.  "It’s the impossible commandment," she said.  "It’s not humanly possible, only divinely possible!  It is an impossible commandment…WITHOUT GOD'S HELP.  On our own we hit a stone wall and cannot fulfill it. It brings us to our knees. We are dependent on God’s love, which is larger than our love, higher, deeper than our love."
I sense God calling us to move beyond the win/loss legislating of moralityto a third way of walking humbly together with God’s help.  Focused not on what separates us, but what unites us,  And what unites us is the self giving love of Jesus.  He paid the price of staying in relationship with us.  So we engage on matters of importance, such as our deliberations on the nature of marriage today.   But just maybe, it's OK not to agree!  Jesus doesn't mean by loving one another to always agree with each other, but in spite of difference, to love each other anywayand to live in covenant life together as God’s children as a witness.  By so doing we will walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).  This Valentine's Day, we will have the opportunity to join a Saint of the Church, Valentine, to practice doing just that.