Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Preparing for General Assembly: Keeping a Long View

Psalm 90:2 “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

Two of the congregations of the Presbytery of Carlisle – First Presbyterian in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and Silver Spring Presbyterian in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania - celebrated their 275th anniversaries in 2009. Both of these congregations continue to be vital, growing and forward looking communities of faith. It was a deep joy for me to participate in their joyful birthday celebrations. Of course, we are in Pennsylvania where the Presbyterian Church is planted deep in the soil. Indeed there are Presbyterian congregations to the east of us, in Donegal and Philadelphia Presbyteries, that are older than 275. As we prepare for another meeting of the General Assembly, I believe it is inspiring and helpful to ponder our long Presbyterian heritage. Ponder in your heart 275 years of church life. Faithful Presbyterians were sitting in the pews of these churches wondering about the ability of George Washington’s rag-tag army to defeat the mighty British Redcoats; these congregations may have lifted up joyful prayers for our nation every time a new state joined the union throughout the 1800s, and, I am sure, these congregations gathered for deep prayer during those fateful days of July when rivers of blood flowed in the fields of Gettysburg; these congregations would have named in prayer the people from among their flock who boldly served during the Great War and then again during World War Two. These congregations would have prayed deeply and reached out with care and compassion to neighbors during the dark years of the Great Depression. Through it all the church continued; all the way down to this year of the Lord 2010.

I am not encouraging us to rejoice in some great imaginary, bygone era when “all the men were strong, the women good looking and all the children were above average. (Yes, Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion is in Minneapolis.) I am not encouraging us to spend too much time remembering and reminiscing. I am simply encouraging us, as we gather for General Assembly, to maintain a long view. This year’s General Assembly is not the first, nor will it be the last, it is not ultimate, and the whole fate of God’s universe does not rest on the shoulders of our commissioners. Take a deep breath of Presbyterian heritage. We have been doing this for a long time; and faithful Presbyterians in ages past have struggled and argued, debated and decided concerns and questions that are as important as the ones we will consider. Maintain a long view of time and providence. There is indeed a long view behind us as we remember our heritage and history. And I believe there is also a long view in front of us as we begin each new day to build on the gifts we have received and live into the church which God is bringing forth for our life together.