Passage: Micah 6:8
Date: August 10, 2008
Preacher: Rev Laurie M. Vischer
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The summer seems to be speeding by. Until today, I haven't had a chance to give a full report to you on my experience as an elected commissioner to the 218th General Assembly of the PC(USA) in San Jose in June. So, today I will share some highlights of the experience with you. I'd like to show a selection of my slides. See the large screen, (You will have to use your imagination, though.)
* This first picture is one of me with the other seven elected commissioners from our Presbytery-the Presbytery of the Cascades. As you can see, we are 2 men and 6 women; four are elders and four are ministers. We come from all over the state. One of our members-See the distinguished looking-gentleman--the Rev. Sung Man Kim-he was one of the co-sponsors of a Commissioners Resolution that the Assembly passed. The resolution was for immediate hunger relief to North Korea and Zimbabwe.
* Here we are at the opening prayer of the business session. I was moved to tears, in this room full of people of all ages, with ecumenical partners from around the world, people of many races, people differing in experience and political views, as we silently opened ourselves to discerning what God's Spirit is doing in our gathered midst.
* This is the new Moderator of the General Assembly-The Rev. Bruce Reyes Chow. At age 39, he is the youngest moderator ever elected. He serves a vital new church development in San Francisco. This is the photo of his installation service. You can tell because he announced "This is the last time you'll see me in a tie." He brings an energetic intelligence and warm humor to the office of Moderator. The Vice Moderator, The Rev. Byron Wade is from Raleigh, NC and is 45. Together, these two leaders show a younger face of the PC(USA). Because of Bruce, I'm now using Facebook and getting emails from him each week-to keep up with his travels and the happenings in our church.
*This is where we gathered for daily worship-San Jose's Civic Auditorium. We heard marvelous preaching from a variety of people. The Rev. Elias Chacour, Archbishop of Galilee for the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, spoke on justice. We also heard from the Rev. Jin S. Kim, pastor of All Nations Church in Minneapolis. He gave a very challenging sermon on racism. The Rev. Cathy Rigby from Austin Theological seminary preached on "Umble Pie." See the banners and the scales of justice up front? These illustrate the theme of the GA, from Micah 6:8.
The prophet Micah was a peasant who personally suffered under the war and injustice practiced by the rich. One day he went to Jerusalem to proclaim God's indignation with the oppression of the vulnerable. If we were to remember just one verse from Micah, it should be Micah 6:8, in which he succeeds well in combining the message of three prophets of his era. In the northern kingdom, Amos, who preached justice; Hosea, who preached God's steadfast love (hesed); and in Jerusalem, Isaiah-who preached a humble faith. At the GA, it was that latter part, the part about humility - that was highlighted throughout the event. Each day's sermon and worship focused on that verse, and specifically upon humility.
Here now these word from the scripture.
"God has told you, O mortal, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"(Micah 6:8)
* In this slide, the assembly approved a carefully prepared and debated resolution on Iraq. I'm going to read just part of what was approved. This shows how the assembly dealt with one very important issue. Listen, for the theme of humility:
1.Pray, in a spirit of deep humility, for God's justice and peace to prevail in Iraq; and recognizing and heeding God's call to love all persons as made in God's own image, and even to pray for our enemies, encourage all Presbyterians to be in intentional and regular prayer for everyone in and of Iraq: for Iraqi civilians, Christian, Muslim, Jew: for soldiers and armed actors; for the refugees and the displaced; for the tortured and their torturers; and for insurgents, kidnapers, and terrorists, for all are God's beloved, all are in need of the transformation of God's love and God's peace.
2. Commend and thank the peacemakers who have worked nonviolently to end the war in Iraq. . .
3. Commend and thank members of the armed forces, and their loved ones, for their service and sacrifice.
4. Call upon the United States government to support our military personnel by granting speedy discharges to conscientious objectors; fully funding veterans' benefits; ensuring that injured service personnel and veterans have the best medical, mental health, and rehabilitation care available; and providing generous benefits to surviving family members.
5. [Call upon the United States government to develop and implement a lasting peaceful solution, responsibly bring the troops home,. . .
* Here I am with my finger poised above the button, about to vote on the issue on ordination standards for ministers, elders and deacons. The GA voted to change the Book of Order. The change is to remove the section that requires all officers of the church to live in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness." The new proposed language is: "Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation, pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ as Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation establishes the candidates sincere efforts to adhere to these standards."
Because this is a change to our Book of Order, this amendment will come to the Presbyteries for a vote.
As I voted "yes" for this change, my heart was leaping for joy for the faithful people I know who have been blocked from ordination because of whom they love. Their faces and their families were in my mind. At the same time, as I voted, I was praying with all my might for all those faithful Presbyterians-also people I love-- who are on the other side of this issue. I knew this vote was causing them real pain, too.
The debate and voting on this issue and on all the controversial issues, was done with respect and care. Before the assembly, I had braced myself for rancorous outbursts. But it seemed that there was true care on the part of most people to refrain from attacks; to try to listen with the heart and not just the ears.
*Here's a commissioner from the Presbytery of the East Tennessee, who brought forward the resolution that the assembly passed, by which we were reminded at each controversial vote, by the Moderator, that "We affirm as sisters and brothers in Christ, our common faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; and sharing our common faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and walking humbly with our God, let us proceed to vote on the question before us."
* See this wonderful group of YAD (youth advisory delegates)? Before each vote, they registered their own votes, so that the assembly could be advised. They had full voice, and many of them spoke on the floor of the assembly on a wide variety of issues. I had such hope for our church, then. What an articulate, faithful, compassionate group of people.
There really isn't time for me to share much more. More than 400 items of business came before the Assembly. Much was reported on disaster relief from Katrina. Support financially and in volunteer power. Amazing work in shared mission efforts were reported. We began work on passing a New Social Creed for our time that addresses human rights, a living wage, living simply and protecting our environment. Our Presbytery was honored for its outstanding giving record. Many significant pieces of business were discussed and reviewed. They can all be found on the Church's web-site: www.pc-biz.org.
*Here is the last slide. This was made in the hall with all the booths and exhibits. One organization called "One-by-One" is a group that attempts to change same-sex oriented people into heterosexuals. I saw the woman from that booth approaching me. My first instinct was to duck away. But then I remembered that my hope for time at GA was to engage with people with whom I disagree, so I stayed and had a conversation with her.
She shared her story with me. She told me that she had been lesbian. But when someone close to her died, it shook her up. She relied more upon God, and in the process of her faith changing, she was no longer attracted to women. Upon hearing her story, I was still a bit skeptical, but thought, who am I to question her experience? There is too much about sexuality and love that is a mystery, and I'm not going to judge her experience. But I made clear to her my intention to vote in such a way that would expand ordination to all qualified Christian leaders living faithful lives, regardless of whom they love.
It was clear we weren't going to agree on things, but as we listened to each other, things softened. Then she said to me, with great emotion and tears flowing, "You wouldn't believe the hateful things that have been said to me by people who are for the ordination of gays."
I told her that when she encountered hatred in that way, it was wrong, too. But it came from a place of hurt and injustice. It is my hope that as we Presbyterians will continue to walk humbly- to do more careful, caring listenin, that we will correct the injustice and that we will do with the steadfast, self-giving love and mercy.
What would the world look like? What would church look like if with all our energy we did this? Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God. What would our lives be like then?