“But strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.”
There are moments in history when the church has found itself at critical intersections, where what we claim to believe collides with the cultural temptations around us. These are moments where Christians of all backgrounds, cultures, races, and traditions come face to face with a fork in the road that requires believers to choose a way forward. For us as a nation, the importing of a people from western Africa and enslaving them is one example of the church’s dance with silence, complicity and ultimately – its reluctant but faithful movement to decry slavery as a sin. These critical intersections have occurred over and over again throughout history. The truth is, we Christians have a high tolerance for co-existence with the culture around us – we get comfortable. It takes pivotal moments for the church to “rise up” and claim its counter-cultural voice – but when the church does claim its voice, when we break our silence – history has proven that mountains can be moved.
It is no secret that as a Presbyterian church we love words – so historically we respond with a written declaration or confessions that responds to a unique moment in history. Most of our confessions in our Book of Confessions respond to what was understood as a theological crossroads in history where the church was compelled to break silence. Many of the more recent creeds decry the injustice of their time. This is not about popular politics – this is not about red, blue or even purple states. This is more about finding our faithful voice for a time such as this -when we all know in our hearts that something is not right; that something is broken; that something must change – and we realize (perhaps reluctantly) that as a Jesus people, we are called to be part of that change. There is no other choice!
I believe that this reflects the spirit of the 223rd General Assembly that gathered in St. Louis, Missouri this past week. At a time when we as a culture are overwhelmed with negative newsfeeds, polarization, and violence, a faithful people came together from north, south, east and west. Strangers walked into the assembly, many wondering how their voices and gifts might contribute to what at face value can be an intimidating journey. Well, these men and women – from advisory delegates to commissioners – found their voice together. They embodied the Matthew 6:33 call of the assembly to “strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.”
Perhaps it was the powerful and gripping moral imperative of the images of children being ripped from their families that caused the consistent response. Perhaps it was the advocacy presence of our Stated Clerk. Perhaps it was simply the power of the Holy Spirit calling us out at this time in history – but voice after voice, action after action – the assembly spoke up against the violence and injustice prevalent around us. But this Assembly did more than just speak up – they took to the streets on behalf of injustices on immigration and cash bail and they raised money to accompany their street action. It became uncomfortably clear that gathering as a people of faith provided the prayerful discernment to move beyond our comfort zones and to rise up in ways I have not experienced in decades.
The truth is, it sadly takes much for the church to speak up together – I have found myself convicted by the sounds of this 223rd General Assembly. A powerful witness took place as we gathered by the river in St. Louis and I invite us to not take the voice and spirit of this Assembly lightly. This assembly is challenging us to not be silent. It is compelling us to step outside of our comfort zones. And they are reminding us that this is our moment in time to embody the kingdom of God.
So as we continue to consider how the assembly actions, statements and recommendations impact or speak to us as a presbytery, as congregations, and as individual saints, I encourage us to allow their discernment to shape our movement forward as a people of faith for a time such as this. May the breaking of our silence serve to move the mountains of injustice around us. May we embrace the challenges of this moment together. May we embody our commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ through continued evangelism – the invitation to follow; continued discipleship – the deepening of our faith; and faithful social response – our witness in the world in response to what is required of us – “but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8). May we work together to embody the ‘kin-dom’ to which we’ve been called.
Click here for a brief summary of actions as prepared by the executive staff of the Presbytery of Philadelphia.
Also visit www.ga-pcusa.org.