Embrace Geneva's Future: Pentecost, Trinity Sunday and Making Disciples
Being An Example: a Reflection on Exodus 32:7-14, Psalm 51:1-10, 1 Timothy 1:12-17, and Luke 15:1-10
I began my 41st year of ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA) August 15th. I have served seven congregations prior to Geneva as a pastor and Sterling College in Sterling, Kansas as a professor. Today is the 21st Anniversary of 9/11. I was teaching my course on Church History, when a student ran into class shouting, “The World Trade Center is on fire and crumbling to the ground.” Life in America changed September 11, 2001. The United States of America, its relationship in the world changed that day. And violence, in all its forms is on steroids, not only in our country, but around the world. The Church continues its decline in participants that began in the late eighties. We are living in a post-Christendom world.
Jesus told us that the Church will never die, “But churches have and are dying.” Slow erosion in church participation and membership continues. Often, participation and membership in churches erodes, because people are not experiencing the unconditional love of God. Of those who exit our churches, many begin a journey searching for love, acceptance, and inclusion. People are hurting and many life circumstances seem to go unaddressed by local congregations. Many walk out the back door because they don’t feel understood or loved.
The texts in Exodus 32:7-14, Psalm 51:1-10, 1 Timothy 1:12-17, and Luke 15:1-10 speak to the unsettled lives of people who no longer see the Church speaking to their lives in the midst such events as 9/11, wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, the tensions between Israel and Palestine, racial tensions, protests, COVID, political polarization dividing Christians and churches, domestic violence, the shooting on our campus May 15th, and inequities across the spectrum of humanity. Yes, these are some of the things that people on spiritual journeys and Christians alike, are not finding hope being dispensed from pulpits and podiums.
Today is Homecoming Sunday. Today our invitation is for people to come home and experience healing, hope, acceptance, and the unconditional love of God. I am so grateful to see so many here. And each of our texts helps us in this regard.
Exodus 32:12, 14 reads with Moses saying, “Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster upon your people… And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on the people.” Moses negotiates with God to ease the pain of judgment. The people engaged in perverse things and forsook their relationship with God. Moses reminded God of the covenant established with Abraham. God realizes the brokenness of the people and does mete out punishment, but not the intended destruction. God loves the people even in their straying but continues to pursue the people to ensure their return home. God acted out of love and mercy.
Psalm 51:10 reads with David saying, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” I bet every one of us has said at some time in our lives, or even more than once, “There is no God.” In Psalm 51, David repents of his despicable behavior in his infidelity with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband Uriah. No matter how angry God was with David, God’s goal was redemption. Psalm 51:10 is David’s prayer of repentance and God heard it and responded in love and mercy.
Paul, in 1 Timothy 1:15-16, states his experience of God’s love and mercy in this way: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.” Paul openly received God’s love and mercy and his life was transformed.
The text in Luke 15 informs us that God’s initiating love and mercy is freely given to all. This is what encourages the traumatized to be found. To know they are loved unconditionally. The two parables point out that Jesus, unlike the Pharisees and scribes, believed that one should have compassion for the lost. The text in Luke gives us two examples of the lost being found and the resulting celebration. First, in Luke 15:3-7, one sheep goes astray, and the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and goes to find the one lost sheep. The shepherd returns with the one and gathers around all the other shepherds and his friends and says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” In Luke 15:8-10, the woman in this parable has ten silver coins and loses one of them. The one coin was most likely a drachma, which was worth the price of a sheep or one-fifth the price of an ox. In this instance, the woman takes a lamp and searches diligently for the lost coin. She did whatever was necessary to find the coin. And after finding the coin, she like the shepherd, called together her friends and neighbors and said, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin I had lost.” Jesus redefined the meaning of community by encouraging the found to seek out the lost.
No matter how bogged down you might become in the traumas of life on earth, God is with you and much bigger than the traumas. God seeks you out amid the quicksand and rescues you in God’s love and mercy. The point of the parables in Luke is how we seek out the traumatized in love and mercy. Decline is everywhere in the church. My friends, God is passionate about loving people. Are you passionate about loving God and others? Demonstrating love and mercy to the traumatized, many of whom have left churches around our country, including Geneva, is imperative. Being an example of God’s love and mercy to others is transformative because it demonstrates hope. You are loved. Welcome home.
Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 7. Psalm 14:1 In the four paragraphs of biblical interpretation above, I have benefited from the thinking of Joseph J. Clifford, Allie Utley, Gerald C. Liu, Robert W. Wall, Magrey R. DeVega, Donald K. McKim, and Lynn Japinga in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 303-305, 306-307, 308-310, 311-313, 313-315, 316-318, and 318-319.