Occasionally it is fitting for a pastor to address his or her congregation in terms of a stark realism so that the people may discover a fresh hopefulness. I think now is such a time.
Pity the poor salmon having to swim upstream against the river current after the deluge our region has been experiencing. Fortunately for the energetic creature the strong waters have come after the spawning season.
This past summer Carolyn and I spontaneously decided to rent a kayak near our house one Saturday and propel it past the old Folsom bridge into the canyon. A strong current ran between the Folsom and Nimbus dams and it took us more than two hours. I consoled my tiring spouse that the same current would carry us swiftly back to where we started. I was wrong. By the time we turned around a stiff wind was blowing toward us and it took us even longer, zigzagging for the leeside of the lake from shore to shore, all that on the fuel of one bottle of water and a granola bar.
Sometimes that is how life is and for some life is almost always like that. It’s like swimming or boating upstream. Aware or not as we may be, this congregation has swum upstream for about a century, against an inhospitable ethnic environment, against the cruel government imprisonment orders of the Second World War, against the forces of secularism that saw traditional Christian faith as antiquated and irrelevant and against the competition of so many new forms of entertainment. The thinning mainline Church and the decreasing enrollment at seminaries have resulted in less interest in our groundbreaking residency program than we had anticipated. Now suddenly the country’s political divisions have crested into the noxious slick of a dark spirit of discrimination, misogyny, disrespect and intolerance flowing down the water ways of our nation and into the ocean we share with the world. This is dampening our optimism and draining our positive energy. The Church must avoid being carried off in this slick, double down on swimming upstream toward clearer waters and speak with an authentic voice, lest we will be held responsible for the poisonous atmosphere by a young, inclusive and incredulous generation.
Now as a congregation we are forced to deal with the reality of a changing city that is hungrily looking for land to fill in and redevelop. Partly because of this we will be losing the use of the parking lot which has been a free blessing to us for nearly two decades now. We knew this was inevitable, but still it has us eyeing the future somewhat anxiously. For congregations in other parts of the world this would be a laughable hindrance, but this is America where we have become dependent on the automobile.
This is why I am planning to do a Lenten sermon series on “How to Keep the Faith” starting the first Sunday in March. May we be reminded that being Christ’s church entails a long, persistent swim upstream. The current is particularly strong right now. Start doing your pushups while wondering: “What would Jesus say?” May God bless our ministry. See you in church. Aart