The Future is in God’s Hands

meditation for Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy gathering, November 14, 2015 …. 1 Samuel 3:1-20, John 1:43-51 …. 

Today’s texts are regularly read in tandem in the cycle of readings suggested by the Revised Common Lectionary, Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B. As you heard them again, you probably remembered a common trait: each tells a story about the calling of a new generation of leaders. Whereas the calling of Jesus’ first disciples is an exciting new step in the progress of Jesus’ ministry, there’s something bittersweet about the calling of Samuel. Samuel’s calling represents a change in direction from a dynasty of priestly power held by Eli and his sons. Looking at things from Eli’s perspective, it must have been deeply disappointing when his expectations for a certain kind of future were crushed by God’s announcement of a new plan.

Thinking about my progress through ministry, it’s amazing how quickly things change. In the ’90s, I won an award for outstanding “young” religious leader. I was a finalist for pastor at a congregation I really wanted to serve. But, in the end, I was told that I just didn’t have “enough gray hair.” Now, I’m quite certain that some in younger generations believe I have TOO MUCH gray hair to address them in a relevant way. A few years ago, I was at a preaching conference, just before a milestone birthday, and was shocked to hear my former preaching professor Tom Long say that the pastor in danger today is not the youthful one just out of seminary, or the veteran preparing for retirement, but rather the pastor who is fifty years old, who was trained to serve a church that no longer exists. Somewhere between 33 and 53, a minister can go from being described as “up and coming” to a “has been.”

It doesn’t take too much imagination to feel what Eli must have felt when he learned that his sons wouldn’t be taking over the family business, that God had sent his eventual replacement in the form of Samuel, just a young kid.

These days, most of us are thinking about shifts in patterns of leadership and in ways of being the church. In the recent past, our presbytery’s design team called attention to the work of experts like Richard Hamm, who wrote Recreating the Church: Leadership for the Postmodern Age, and Ronald Heifetz, who wrote The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, background which I took seriously as I guided and moderated the work of the Presbytery Leader Search Committee that recommended Anita’s call. Now, every week someone somewhere writes a new blog post on the six things your church should be doing, or the nine ways a pastor can make a church more effective.

When I feel overwhelmed by all the advice, I remember a concise bit of theology penned about eleven years ago by Anna Case-Winters.[1] I’m sure that some of you have called it to my attention. In it, Dr. Case-Winters examined what the Reformers meant by the motto: Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda. In good Barthian fashion, I think, she tells us that the motto does not absolutize change for the sake of change, that it does not mean “newer is always better.” She calls attention to the passive voice in which the Latin verb is rendered, saying the motto is better translated “the church reformed, and always being reformed.” Being reformed by who? By Jesus Christ. God’s Word and Spirit, she reminds us, guide the Church’s forming and reforming. And the Church perpetually needs reforming because we are sinners, who never get it entirely right, and because God is living and dynamic.

Today, organizationally speaking, we mark the end of another year in the life of the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy. In preparation, I attended meetings, processed e-mails, engaged in phone conversations, helped organize the agenda, and coordinated worship. As I did so, it struck me that very little about our life together feels settled anymore. The process of adaptive change goes on, and we continue to discern together the movement of God’s Word and Spirit in forming and reforming this part of the body of Christ.

Many times, the congregations and people of this presbytery have been called to change their perspective about God’s plan for the future. Many times, they’ve had to accept the inevitable transition of leadership from one generation to the next. Through all those times, they’ve displayed enough flexibility and grace that God has continued to use and bless them.

Like them, we are challenged to be as humble as young Samuel, seeking out the advice of his mentor Eli in discerning God’s call. We are challenged to be as accepting as veteran Eli who, when confronted with the call of God to Samuel, said “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.” We are called to share Christ with invitations sometimes as simple as the one Philip gave to Nathanael: “Come and see.” We pray that as people get to know us, the Holy Spirit will open their hearts, and they will come to know Jesus as we have, as expressed by Nathanael: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” We trust that as we step forward in faith, the promise of Jesus will be fulfilled, that we “will see greater things than these.”

May God continue to bless us in our mission “to be a community of vibrant congregations and dynamic leaders ….”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

[1] Anna Case-Winters, “What do Presbyterians believe about ‘Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda?’: Our misused motto,” http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/today/reformed/

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~ by JohnH1962 on November 15, 2015.