Thursday, June 21, 2018

223rd General Assembly - Day Six

The Assembly acted on a lot of important matters today.  Heard from ecumenical and interfaith partners (Jewish), received reports and approved a guiding statement which will help brand the PCUSA---Prayerful, Courageous, United, Serving, Alive.  Approved the Way Forward recommendations.  Acted to fund new initiatives for addressing the genesis root causes of the exodus of refugees from Central America to the USA, saw a trailer for a film the Presbyterian Mission Agency produced  Please watch it, share it, and discuss it.  New Mission CoWorkers will be funded to work in El Salvador and Central America where violence and economic collapse has caused families to flee.  Another new initiative will be engaging and supporting a ministry with North Korean refugees in South Korea.  Everything thing today seemed to pass with near unanimous support.  Amendments only seem to strengthen overtures, and the only debate was over money, how the cost of new initiatives will effect existing initiatives and staff.  Sounds like the challenge of a Session, right!  Then we were taken to Sunday School by a YAAD who reminded us that we live in God's economy where there is enough, not scarcity.  There is excitement in this Assembly that we are on the move, trying to catch up with God.

This Assembly continues to be different, in that instead of slogging through a Thursday night plenary business, we took the evening of celebration and hope.   Many of us attended a Hands and Feet Celebration featuring Kirk Whalum, Blues/Jazz musician, preacher's kid evangelist in concert with his band.  He is the saxophone soloist in Whitney Houston's hit song "I'll Always Love You!"  He ministered to our tired souls and had us Presbyterians singing and swaying, and clapping and praying with arms lifted like a bunch of Pentecostals! 

Hands and Feet is an initiative envisioned by our Stated Clerk, J. Herbert Nelson shared two years ago when he stood for election.  He has called upon the Church to focus its resources on St. Louis to make a difference here.  Encouraging Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Self Development of People, U-Kirk Campus Ministries, Presbyteries to join the Presbytery of Giddings Lovejoy and their strategic partners to come and engage here to join God's hands and feet to do what needs to be done here in this city.  A video was shown telling the story.  Find the video at this link.  The celebration concert was a stewardship gift of the musicians and a sponsor, so that all the ticket sales went to support Hands and Feet initiative.  The focus of Hands and Feet for the next two years is Baltimore, the host city of the next General Assembly in 2020.  Think about joining this initiative with your next mission trip!

Eileen and I spoke with Vernon Boyles, a long time PMA staff and then volunteer since his retirement, leading Presbyterian voice for the social justice witness of the PC(USA) for as long as I've been in ministry.  He was beaming from ear to ear, and said, "This has been a wonderful week!  J. Herbert is a wonderful leader."  I couldn't agree more.  This is NOT your normal Assembly.  Get ready to receive your commissioners home.  We are on fire for the Lord!  It's about Kin-dom building.  "Seek ye first the kin-dom of God, and all these things will be given to you?" 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

223rd General Assembly - Day Five - Ecumenical Worship - Plenary Begins

Denise Anderson, who just completed a two year term as the 222nd GA co-moderator, fueled the justice fire burning in my heart this morning in her sermon/proclamation/address at the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Breakfast.  It was video taped.  Look for it to be posted at their website soon.  Powerful preaching!  A young mother herself, she called us to jiggle the pacifier, take away what comforts others, and let them cry.  Jesus got angry and engaged the indifference of the synagogue, and abuse of the temple, offered a different  economy of abundance in contrast to the zero sum economy of scarcity of the Roman Empire, in a way that healed and saved and liberate without condemning.  We should get angry, too.  Fifty years after the first Poor People's March, she has helped lead a renewed Poor People's march.  Fifty years is too long to wait.  Jiggle the pacifier.

Then at the Ecumenical Worship, Najla Kassab, moderator of the National Synod of the Church of Syria preach on 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2 "Towards a Kingdom of Reconciliation" called on us to see others not from a worldly point of view on nationalism, wealth, physical appearance, power, etc. but from a spiritual point of view on kinship and seeing Christ and angels in others, and to build bridges across the boundaries which separate us. 

During Kin-dom Time this Assembly is still on a high from the Stop Cash Bail Public Action March yesterday.  "One of the Best Experiences of my life!"  There were a lot of first time marchers.  Our return home will be like the Holy Spirit blowing on the dandelion seed head.  We are charged to take the gospel to the streets to the public square with our ecumenical brothers and sisters, interfaith leaders and whoever wants to address the needs of a broken world.  Our Denise Martin brought the Assembly to its feet with her new embrace of the PC(USA) advocacy.

Plenary Work on the Business before the Assembly began today.  Among the many actions:

  • The Assembly approved Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr's Letter from the Birmingham Jail for study by the churches, and to begin the process for considering it for inclusion as a PC(USA) constitutional confession. 
  • Commended the Reclaiming Jesus movement for study by Mid Councils, Sessions and congregations.
  • Urges the session of each congregation, as well as each mid council, Presbyterian seminaries, Presbyterian Women’s groups, and other organizations to confess their complicity and repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and calls for the engagement of mid councils and their congregational members to start a flow of ideas and information back and forth between mid councils and congregational members, directed at understanding how the Doctrine of Discovery has been present in our history and our theological positions, and continues to be present today.  Recommends a two-step process: confession, repentance, and calls for an inventory and assessment of Native American Church property needs and report back.  This could empower Presbyteries in possible future action to follow up on our confession and repentance.
  • Approved appointing an Administrative Commission to inquire and address conflict in the Synod of the Covenant.
  • Recognize the 10th anniversary of the “Comfort My People: A Policy Statement on Serious Mental Illness” approved at the 218th General Assembly (2008) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and acknowledged the relevancy it still holds for our church and society in 2018.  And established $250,000 funding for grants to be used to implement congregational Mental Health Ministries.  
  • Direct the Presbyterian Mission Agency to report to the 224th General Assembly (2020) on its efforts to strengthen the mission and ministry of small congregations, including the progress of implementing the Vital Congregations and Christian Formation initiatives.

223rd General Assembly - Day Four

Today was the second day of committee work, but the power was at the Bible Study which began the day, and the Public Witness on the streets of St. Louis and on the steps of the St. Louis Court house in the heat of the afternoon.

New Testament scholar Raj Nadella, professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary where Leanne VanDyk is president, led the Assembly in a Bible Study entitled "Imperial Paradox and the Kin-dom of God in Matthew's Gospel."  He explored several stories:  a deathly birthday banquet where John the Baptist was beheaded, and Jesus' encounter with the Canaanite Woman in 15:21-28, where the Canaanite woman moves past the zero-sum worldview and stretches the kin-dom family to include the foreigner/enemy.  Matthew's Gospel shows us how Jesus stood against the Roman Empire and occupation where the Roman elite lived in opulence and peace at the expense of the conquered people living at the margins of the empire.  A few elite lived blessed opulence at the expense of the masses.  Matthew sandwiches this story of an enemy seeking to eat the crumbs under the table, while Jesus fed the thousands in the wilderness before and after her appeal.  A fresh reading of Matthew's gospel shows how "Jesus' acts of kin-dom undermines borders, redefines community, and challenges Rome's oppressive economic structures--which ultimately got him killed."
"Kingdom is defined by greed, competition, oppression and violence and it closes borders to anyone who looks different from us and separates kids from parents in the name of keeping us safe.  In Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz's definition, Kin-dom is about love, compassion, mutuality, and solidarity.  It makes you cross dangerous borders for the sake of the very other.  Kin-dom makes neighbors of enemies and of people who look and think very different from us...Reading the Bible is somewhat like reading American history or like reading the history of Presbyterians.  We get to read about the times when we Presbyterians stood up for what was right, about times when we were ambivalent about justice, but also about times when we were too timid to speak up for the oppressed.   Our job as Christians is to grapple with the difficult parts in the Bible and in our history, ponder the mysterious, and build upon the liberative aspects."

"What does Kin-dom building today in America entail he asked?  Cross borders-literal and metaphorical--and make neighbors of people who look and think differently than us.  Advocate for the immigrants and refugees as we would fight for our own siblings, children or parents. Leverage your privilege wherever you need to.  Get on the phone and be persistent; act like the nasty Canaanite woman.  Expose the American imperial paradox."

Then after some committee work, at 3 o'clock in the heat of the day, the Assembly took to the streets of St. Louis and marched to the Court House and delivered $47,000 bail money for the release of the untried prisoners held for misdemeanor offense charges, who can not afford bail.  End the cash bail system which unjustly oppresses the poor.

This is a most powerful Assembly.  It was a most powerful day.  None of us will return home quite the same persons. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

223rd GA - Day Three

The day began with a powerful Bible Study lead by Deborah Krause, professor of New Testament at Eden Theological Seminary.  She focused on the Gospel of Mark as an early church witness in the context of the Roman Empire's dominance.  This and Romans 12:1-2 provide a Biblical mandate and foundation for today's church witness in the context of the cultural dominance of empire.

Today the committees went to work with public hearings, hearing overture advocates, and beginning to make decisions on the work before them.  There are 13 committees.  It's always interesting to see how committee members struggle at first to understand things about which they are not experts, to get the rhythm of discernment and Roberts Rules of Order for decision making.  But they always seem to figure it out by the end of the first day of deliberation.  The listen, ask clarifying questions, sometimes amend, and perfect responses for the plenary's consideration later in the week.

Some items I followed today:  Committee on Mid Councils spent most of the day on whether to have an Administrative Council to assist the Synod of the Covenant with some conflict.  They are unanimously recommending the plenary to do so.  The Committee on Environmental Issues will recommend 35 yes, 20 no, and 1 abstention to direct the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation to divest from fossil fuel industries.  The Committee on Theological Education and Church Growth will suggest that Martin Luther King, Jr's letter to the churches from the Birmingham Jail be present to the churches for study for two years as a non constitutional confession, with the thought that it might some day be considered to be included in the Book of Confessions as an additional confession.

Then there are the multiple options for lunch and dinner banquets.  I attended the World Mission Luncheon with World Mission Staff, mission coworkers, and global partners, and dinner with Middle Council leaders sponsored by the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

223rd GA - Day Two

The Assembly worshiped with congregations of the host Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy this morning.  Eileen and I worshiped with the First Presbyterian Church of St. Louis, the oldest Presbyterian Church west of the Mississippi.  Jessica Vasques Torres preached on the Lord's Prayer reframing this prayer as a call to revolution, to boldly join in insurrection against evil.  It will be a while before I say this prayer without pause.  We lit a candle for Eileen's brother who has been recently in the hospital.

The afternoon plenary was given to reports from the Stated Clerk and three committees/commission mandated by the 222nd GA in Portland.  J. Herbert Nelson lifted up the theme of this assembly, "Strive first for the Kindom of God and all these things will be given to you as well," Matthew 6:33.  He called commissioners to make this a turn around Assembly, to move our aim from success to significance in addressing and bringing healing to the brokenness of our time.  Imagination is the only way to usher in the Kindom of God.  Note "Kindom" is not misspelled here.  The Assembly planners have coined this new word to point to our oneness in Christ.

The 2020 Vision Committee grounded their report in scripture, "Write the vision, make it plain so a runner can read it" from Habbakuk.  They presented a guiding statement based on the PC(USA) which will be considered by the Assembly:
We are encouraged to incarnate and live into these.  Focus on these in sermon series, Bible studies, word for the year, VBS and Camp themes.

The Way Forward Commission and the Agency Review Committee reported together, sharing that they collaborated in much of their work.

At dinner the Board of Pensions gave us a new book "Our Connectional Church: The Hopeful Future of the PC(USA)" by Gradye Parsons, commissioned by the Board of Pensions.  The book begins identifying elements of what Gradye describes as our Presbyterian Aquifer, what we all hold in common.  He then tells the stories of four congregations as examples of innovation and vital ministry.  Then Frank Spencer, the President of the Board of Pensions gave an insightful report of the research on congregational data and of exciting new Board of Pensions initiatives to address our challenge.

All in all, it was a very inspiring, hope filled day.  The committees met for the first time this evening.  They are meeting in closed session doing group building and organizing their work these evening.  Tomorrow they will hear from overture advocates and others who have come to speak to items before them.

Happy Father's Day!

223rd GA Day One

This is my seventh General Assembly.  The first day is always overwhelmingly powerfully wonderful!  Today was particularly so.  Most Presbyterians are members of larger churches, but small churches make up the large majority of congregations and the pastors who serve them.  Worshiping in a large space with thousands present is an elixir for the soul.  But the music, the mass choir of 200, the brass and the organ accompaniment, the Native American flute, the Hispanic and world music, the liturgy which speaks to the crux of our experience, heart ache and passion, the preaching and teaching, all work together creating a mystical magic on one's soul on the first timer and frequent participant.  I experience the power of the Holy Spirit working in me when singing the hymns, I can't get the words out.  Only tears come.  Opening worship at GA is like that for the newcomer and veteran alike. 

The Office of the General Assembly arranged for Liz Theoharis, co-moderator of the Poor People's Campaign, to speak at the pre-Assembly Gathering, prior to worship.  So by the time worship began, my heart was already on fire.  This was true for everyone else who went to the Pre-Assembly Gathering.  Then, the Assembly opened with worship.  The service began with the filling of the baptismal font.  Families of various races, ethnicities, all ages young and old and of a variety of make up carried pitchers of water to the font and poured in the water.  The final family was two husbands and their young son.  This ritual showed the churches growing diversity, of our growing deep and wide showing the height, depth and width of the loving hospitality of God, and the rich diversity of God's creation.  The PC(USA) has come a long way since 2006, when I began attending GAs on a regular basis.  

After an afternoon of orientation, and preliminary reports by the Committee on Local Arrangements introducing us to St. Louis and the witness of the host Giddings Lovejoy Presbytery, and the Co-Moderators reflections on their two years of visiting the church here and around the world, this evening the GA elected new Co-Moderators Vilmarie CitrĂ³n-Olivieri and Rev. Cindy Kohlmann on the fourth ballet.  They embody a commitment to lead the church in a time when racism, misogyny, homo and xenophobia embedded in our culture continues to rear its head.  This Assembly is poised to speak truth to power and empower the church to work for social justice in the name of Christ.  

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Presbyterians Gather in St. Louis for the 223rd General Assembly

Presbyterians are arriving in St. Louis from Presbyteries across the country and partners from around the world for the 223rd General Assembly.  All of Lake Michigan's commissioners have arrived safely.  Two of our Inquirers, Daniel Van Beek and Theresa Larson and one candidate, Ashley Bair are here also, along with Fran Lane-Lawrence, Eileen and myself.  I haven't yet seen Ailih Weeldreyer, our Young Adult Advisory Delegate (YAAD). YAADs have their own orientation events.

The Committee on Local Arrangements welcomed us with a reception with food and music as we greeted acquaintances.  Denise Martin and Laurie Hartzell are seen here enjoying the music.

You can sign up to receive the Assembly News Posts and watch live stream events at   Opening worship, a must watch is Saturday, June 16 at 11 a.m.  You also can access all the overtures and Assembly business at PCBiz at that link.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

OpEd on Senate Bill 897

As Christians, we are called to live out our faith through kindness and generosity to others and by pursuing justice and reconciliation. In a time when so many families are struggling with rising health care costs, stagnant wages, and constant economic upheaval and instability, it’s particularly disheartening to see some of our brothers and sisters in Christ, who find themselves in positions of leadership, overlooking this suffering.

When I first heard of Senate Bill 897, a punitive bill that will force thousands of Michiganders off of affordable health insurance because of arbitrary restrictions, I admittedly was not sufficiently concerned about the reality of the threat. After all, just a few short years ago, the Healthy Michigan program that this bill threatens was passed with strong bipartisan majorities and hailed by Republican Gov. Snyder as a win-win for access to affordable healthcare, reducing costs from uncompensated care, and creating thousands of new jobs.

Sadly, weeks later this bill has passed both houses of the legislature and Gov. Snyder appears poised to sign it.  Gov. Snyder, please veto this bill.  As a practicing Presbyterian, surely you see the folly of imposing new arbitrary standards, creating new impenetrable layers of bureaucracy to make it more difficult for the poorest among us to access affordable healthcare.

Nothing about this bill advances the causes of generosity or justice for our fellow Michiganders. In Michigan, a large part of our state’s economy is driven by seasonal employment in tourism and industries driven by the tourist cycle. Most recipients of Medicaid work, but these kinds of seasonal disruptions that are a fact of life for many Michiganders will end up forcing them off health coverage. In addition to cruelly depriving them of access to necessary health care, this will drive up the costs of uncompensated care, causing many rural clinics to close.

In my family’s case, my 28-year-old daughter has Medicaid medical insurance due to special needs.  She works for a nonprofit organization which provides programing for persons with autism 24 hours a week and gets paid for 15 of those hours at minimum wage.  She has tried to work for other employers, but her limitations beyond her control make that impossible.  She is happier now working in an environment which overlooks her quirks and challenges and uses her gifts.  However, her employer cannot afford to pay her more.  This legislation threatens her medical coverage, which is critical for her because of many health conditions.
Adding extra bureaucracy will hurt people who are eligible but may have difficulty navigating additional red tape, as well. Thousands of Michiganders, including families like mine who may have children who are special needs or are otherwise ill-equipped to deal with these kinds of restrictions, face the possibility of losing healthcare coverage despite actually being in compliance with both old and new standards.

The bill asks for the Trump administration to approve punitive 5% premiums, which are unprecedented in the Medicaid program and could result in people with low incomes losing coverage should they fail to pay. If the Trump Administration fails to re-approve changes to Michigan’s plan, cancels the waiver in the future, or if litigation invalidates the waiver a program that provides affordable healthcare to nearly 700,000 Michiganders, the program will simply die.

One of Gov. Synder’s most meaningful achievements was fighting through partisan roadblocks to do the right thing in designing a Healthy Michigan program that increased access to healthcare for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders. The program saved lives from Detroit to De Tour Village, it allowed many rural clinics to continue providing care to their neighbors, and it created jobs. Most importantly, it carried out the Presbyterian mission of putting one’s faith into practice by providing necessary medical attention and care to Michiganders who needed it most. Killing this program would be a mark on the governor’s legacy and on all of us as a state.

Gov. Snyder should veto this cruel and arbitrary bill and preserve access to affordable healthcare for Michigan.  Signing these cruel and arbitrary restrictions to health care into law would be shameful. And all of the candidates vying to replace Gov. Synder in November should take note: taking steps to rip health coverage away from people not only harms our state’s well-being and economic vitality, but could plunge families of special needs children like mine into crisis.  We must, and can, do the right thing and preserve health care access for Michigan families.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Blessing of the Fleet

I led worship for the Pennfield Presbyterian Church in Battle Creeks on Sunday, June 10th, as they prepare for the retirement of their pastor.  It was also the last occasion for me to lead worship and preach in my role as General Presbyter.  The congregation's response was strong.  They encouraged me to share the sermon with the Presbytery via my blog.  Here it is.
“The Blessing of the Fleet”
Numbers 11:11-17     Mark 4:35-41      Acts 4:31
Sermon by the Rev. Dr. John Best to the Pennfield Presbyterian Church
June 10, 2018

Every year on this day, the 2nd Sunday of June in Montauk where I served as pastor for 12 years prior to my coming to Michigan, the community comes together for the Blessing of the FleetMontauk is a fishing village and ocean side resort community on the very east end of Long Island. There's a saying, Montauk, a drinking village with a fishing problem, and the blessing of the fleet captures both of those identities.  The fleet of commercial fishing boats and sport fishing boats gather on this day every year to bow before their maker, briefly though it may be, and then have a huge season opening party.

So this afternoon, my successor, the Catholic priest, the Greek Orthodox priest, and Jewish Rabbi will board the Coast Guard Cutter at the Coast Guard Station. The crew will take them across the harbor and tie up at Gosman’s dock near the inlet.  Over the radio they’ll read the story of Jesus calming the storm at sea.  They’ll pray asking God’s blessing on those who venture out to sea.  Then some 140 boats will pass by the cutter one by one in single file.  The religious leaders will make eye contact with each captain, and each in his or her own way will pray for blessing.  The priests genuflect sometimes holding a large brass cross, the rabbi waves and smiles.  I would raise my arm like when giving the benediction at the end of a worship service and whisper, “God bless this boat and all those who travel on it."  140 times!
After all the boats passed by, they go out the into Long Island sound and form a flotilla around a buoy a short distance out from the harbor entrance.  When we join them, a memorial prayer is said for those in the boating community who have died in the past year.  Their family members and loved ones, guests on the cutter, drop wreathes in the water as the names are read over the radio.  For several years the Jewish cantor came and sang into the radio in Hebrew the blessing we say in English. “The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make his face to shine upon you and give you peace.”  Followed by silence......excepted for water lapping against the side of the boats, and the seagulls.  Then the captain of the boaters association who organizes the event, sounds a boat horn, followed by the blasts of all the boats' horns and the spraying of water canons, and the party that launches the summer season begins.  If I was still pastor in Montauk, that's what I would be doing this afternoon.

I entitled this sermon “The Blessing of the Fleet” because to me, sailors, who venture out to sea into the raw elements of nature understand their vulnerability to nature and their dependence on a power greater than themselves.  They may not be the most religiously devout people, but they know their vulnerability.  They symbolize for me our fragile human condition and our spiritual journeys.
Today also, happens to be the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, a holy day which society has not adopted and corrupted, a day on which the church was born.

The sailboat at sea was a symbol for the early church.   Such a vulnerable and fragile thing so small on the vast sea, sometimes tossed to and fro.  The symbol was a boat with its sails unfurled, catching the wind which propels it forward.  Skilled sailors know how to catch the wind for speed and power.  Unseen on sailboats is the keel underneath the boat.  The keel keeps it stable in the water from rolling over and gives the wind and sails a counter weight to push against.

Carl Jung, an pioneer psychologist, used the sailboat at sea as a metaphor for a person living the conscious life, the sea being a mass of unconsciousness, collective subconsciousness of history.  He taught that the deeper one probes the mystery of our dreams, like a keel reaching into the water below, the healthier one will be, and the less likely to be blown over.
Our scripture lessons today are a trilogy of sailing/journey stories of people at sea so to speak, vulnerable in the world.  In Numbers freed slaves were navigating uncharted territory in the Sinai wilderness.  Moses, their captain, had led them out of slavery but into a vast wilderness, where they had never been before.  They were scared, hungry, thirsty, disoriented outside their comfort zone, vulnerable.  The text begins with them crying not knowing where to get food or water.  Moses heard their cries, and turned to God and most of what we read was his prayer.  He had been that way once before alone, but now he was responsible for 600,000 people.  Showing signs of leadership frustration and fatigue, Moses confronts God saying, “What in the world did you have in mind bringing so many people into this wilderness?  What did I do to deserve this responsibility?”  God’s response was to send quail if you read further and manna and water from a rock.  But here God’s answer is to spread the burden of leadership. “Bring me 70 elders… gather them at the tent of meeting…I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself.” Numbers 11:17

This is an early “elder” story in the Bible.  In Exodus, we read of Moses’ father in law Jethro’s visit.  He suggests to his son-in-law the same thing. Select some trusted leaders and empower them to share your burden.  Here those 70 are empowered by God’s spirit, and sounds very much like an early Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit comes on the disciples of Jesus.  These elder stories are foundational for us as Presbyterians because we are the church of elders. “Presbyter” in Greek meaning “elder.”
Like Moses, sometimes pastors over function and think they must fix everything, blow gaskets and need someone like me to sit and listen to them vent their frustrations.  Leaders have responsibilities and sometimes our burden’s weigh heavily.  Leaders today are especially vulnerable as we journey in this uncharted wilderness called the 21st Century, the digital world of social media, facebook, twitter.  No one has navigated this territory in business or the church world.  And people are anxious and pine for the church life or career that once was the going thing. 

This story teaches us it’s ok to vent to God in prayer and to trust God, and each other.  The story teaches leaders to share their burdens, to delegate responsibility. The story shows how the Lord empowers the elders with the same spirit God gives to leaders.
At a retreat day for our Elders in the Presbytery some years ago, a former GA moderator Joan Gray spoke on the spiritual role of Elders, how we often think of our pastors as the spiritual leader, but as our lesson in Numbers today indicates, as far back as Moses, God has sent the Spirit to empower elders for ministry.

Then Joan asked the question "Are you a row boat or a sailboat."  It sometimes feels like we are doing all the rowing, all the heavy lifting ourselves! Joan challenged us to stop straining so hard at the oars rowing, and start lifting our sails to partner with the Holy Spirit.  Spiritual leaders raise their sails to catch the wind of the Holy Spirit, to partner with God in what the Spirit is doing. We lift our sails by continually asking the Spiritual leader’s questions:  What is God doing?  Where is the wind blowing? How can we partner with God?

Our Second Story in Mark tells of Jesus calming the storm when he and the disciples were out in a boat crossing the lake. A storm blows up, scares veteran fisherman to death. Like the Montauk fisherman, they knew those waters like the back of their hand. Yet they still were vulnerable there.
They wake up Jesus, who is sleeping through the crisis.  He gets up from his nap and calms the storm. He is Lord of the wind and sea.  I don’t suggest walking into the path of a thunderstorm or tornado, but God does call us to walk into the storms of injustice and conflict, to speak truth to power with a calm confident peace in our hearts.  COM members, Mediation Team members and I have occasion to do this in congregations, when like in our first story, people are weeping, complaining, and fighting.  We step into chaotic stormy situations with the trust and expectation that God is there in the midst of us, and low and behold, storms calm.
The third story in the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts ends with what we heard read, “When they prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.”  What precedes that is a story of the days after Pentecost, Peter and John had been teaching and witnessing to the resurrection. In Chapter 3 we read that Peter, like Jesus, healed a crippled beggar.  In Chapter 4 Peter and John are arrested and taken before the Council and questioned.  They gave their witness saying, We can’t keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard,” and because the man who had been healed had been crippled for over 40 years the baffled council decided they couldn’t punish them.  So they sent them away, threatening them to restrain themselves from their witnessing about Jesus.
So Peter and John returned to the other believers, shared what had happened and prayed and “the place in which they were gathered was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.”  They prayed, they put up their sails to catch the wind of the spirit.  The Book of Acts and the Story of the Church is the rest of the story, and we, you and I are apart of that ongoing story here today.  Our circumstances all different, but the same story.

The church is like a fleet of ships sent on mission journeys of our lives. The church is also like a fleet gathered in the safe harbor marina where we dock and tie up and rest, unload the burdens of our voyages, tell the stories of our adventures, share the new learnings for updating our chart maps, for other sailors, and restore our energy and stock up on supplies replenished from the store house of love.  Doesn't that sound exactly what we are about when we gather as the church, the call to worship, prayer of confession, sharing joys and concerns, telling our mission stories, hearing the word of God read and proclaimed?  Churches are safe harbors, congregations marinas where we do these things, and then set off on our week to join God and give witness to what God is doing. 

So I’m here to bless this fleet. We travel in vulnerable places and scary times. We are navigating unchartered territory, and you are navigating a transition of pastoral leadership.  Be bold, raise up your sails to partner with our invisible partner Holy Spirit. Share the burdens of responsibility. And when the way is not clear. Be alert to the wonders of God in your midst. Be alive in joining in what God is doing.  Be bold in witnessing to the wonders God has done.

God bless this boat/fleet and all those who travel on it.”

Lord, you send us off on adventures in mission, and gather us together again. We thank you for the shelter and provision of this harbor marina where we can tie up our boats and rest awhile, where we can reconnect with the landed world, and take refuge in a storm and replenish energy and supplies. Be with us as we tell our stories, as we unload our burdens accumulated on our journeys.
Help us repair the damage incurred from journey’s taken. Mend the sails and nets which get tangled, and from this place you commission new journeys we go into the world with strength and courage knowing what Jesus promised, that we are not alone. that no matter what happens, we are loved.  And let the people say, Amen.