• Steven Marsh

Being a Morphing church: a Reflection on 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14, Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20, Galatians 5:1, 13

62 million people globally are displaced from their country. Let me share a story about a Syrian family in the Los Ranchos Presbytery who is seeking asylum. There is no cap on the number of asylum seekers our country will accept, but there is a time limit hanging over the heads of those seeking asylum.

“Over two years ago, a young, newly married couple arrived at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Costa Mesa from Mehardeh, a city in the northwestern part of Syria. They had fled as their home community was under attack from Islamic extremists. Soon after they arrived in the United States, they applied for asylum under existing immigration laws and have followed the process in order to be able to remain in the United States legally and begin to apply for work and start the process of becoming citizens in this country.

Along the way, Hanan and Basem Jarjour have established relationships, a home, and have given birth to their first child. To this date, they have not been granted asylum. Because of not having been granted asylum, the Jarjours must return to a situation that remains very threatening to their lives. While here in California, they have been active at Covenant and in the community, while aspiring to be supportive of family and friends who have remained in Syria. But if they are unable to live and work here, they must move back into an on-going crisis that is very threatening to each of them, including their one-month-old daughter.”[1]

In the compelling story of Elijah in 2 Kings, the parting of the Jordan and Elijah’s ascension demonstrate God’s sovereign power in history. The Elijah narrative conveys hope. God is committed to being faithful to God’s people in all ways and at all times.[2] It is our “work” if you will, to always be willing to ask, “What is God calling me to do in this situation?”[3]

With the psalmist, we know that remembering God’s wondrous deeds in the past provides hope in a time of felt absence of God. Psalm 77:11and 13a reads, “I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old…Your way, O God, is holy.” Being a morphing church, a church that is changing, requires remembering and recounting God’s wonders of old and today. Remembering and recounting God’s wondrous deeds turns fans of God into followers of Christ AND consumers into missionaries.

The text in Galatians 5:16-26 illustrates a context for change; for growth. Growth occurs in the tension between gratifying acts of the sinful nature and those of the fruit of the Spirit. The world in which Paul lived is not much different than ours in regard to the tension between gratifying the Spirit or acts of our sinful nature. Before regeneration, the human spirit is enslaved to sin. Ponder the sins of hatred, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, and envy. On the other hand, reflect on the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness. When the believer allows God to have God’s way with one’s life, fruit grows. The fruit of the Spirit have their false counterpart in acts of the sinful nature. Love is ignored with hatred. Joy is hidden in jealousy. Peace is short-lived in envy. Patience is momentary in dissensions. Kindness is fleeting in fits of rage. And goodness is absent in selfish ambition.

Jesus was single-minded in purpose. Take the story of Jesus walking the road to Jerusalem as told by Luke. Jesus demands obedience from those who say they follow him. Jesus says, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”[4]

In a letter to the Presbyterian Church (USA), the co-moderators of General Assembly 222, along with the Stated Clerk and Interim Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency write about the morphing PCUSA as reflected in the decisions made by General Assembly 222 in Portland from which I just returned and was a teaching elder commissioner:

“The business decisions made by the body…were transformative for the 1,572,660 members and 9,642 churches of the PC(USA)…Collectively, the body acted on nearly 100 overtures.

Among other things, we now have a new addition to our Book of Confessions – the Confession of Belhar. It is the first of our confessions that comes from the global south. And, the PC(USA) has a new Directory for Worship; and Child/Youth/Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy and Procedures. God is truly guiding us to be more faithful and just to all of God’s creations.

Much discussion has been taking place around the identity and purpose of the denomination, and this week the assembly voted to create a 12-member Way Forward Commission “to study and identify a vision for the structure and function of the General Assembly agencies of the PC(USA),” and a 15-member 2020 Vision Team to “develop a guiding statement for the denomination and make a plan for its implementation.” To quote Stated Clerk-elect J. Herbert Nelson, “We are not dead … we are alive, we are reforming and we are transforming this world, one person at a time.”

Looking outward, the assembly voted to engage in selective, phased divestment from fossil-fuel companies through the PC(USA)’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee, and re-affirmed a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine.”[5]

The Sandy Hook, Charleston, and Orlando shootings grieve us individually and collectively as a nation. Our inability to in-act common sense gun legislation creates new victims and ongoing victimization. Being unable to offer asylum to someone who is being victimized by terrorism in their homeland is thus to victimize them once again by a system that is overwhelmed and broken.

For Geneva, a morphing, changing church is one that transitions from gathered to gathered AND scattered.[6] Being a morphing church is moving on the continuum of degrees of missionality. To move along the continuum requires an understanding of gifting, calling, capacity, and variables.[7] Jesus stayed true to his gifting, calling, capacity by standing with the outcast and voiceless. And so should we.

Our worship of God should effectively connect us to God’s living Word, Jesus Christ.[8] Let us stand faithfully with those who need what we have as church and those who have what we need to morph, that is change, into a more authentic church.

[1]Provided by Tim McCalmont, pastor of Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Costa Mesa, California.

[2]Ideas gleaned from Hayward Barringer Spangler in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 173.

[3]Hayward Barringer Spangler in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 3, 177.

[4]Luke 9:62

[5]From a letter written by Co-Moderators Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk, and Tony De La Rosa, Interim Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. The body of 594 commissioners gathered June 18-25 in Portland, Oregon.

[6]Idea gleaned from Hugh Halter & Matt Smay, The Gathered AND Scattered Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010), 143.

[7]Ibid., 146, 147, 150, and 152.

[8]Idea gleaned from Carol E. Holtz-Martin in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 3, 185.

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