The Healing of Our Planet

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series on the Sarasota Statement, which we unveiled a year ago and continue to promote for use in our congregations and communities, along with the accompanying study guide. You will hear from a variety of voices and contexts throughout March, reacting to phrases in the statement, and sharing ways it is being used. How have you used the Sarasota Statement? What is your reaction to these phrases? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

Editor’s note: In this blog post, abby reflects on the end of Part III of the Sarasota Statement, which reads, ” We work for the healing of our planet from the wounds our own carelessness inflicts.”

by abby mohaupt

I am running next to the ocean; this is the place I call home. While I divide my time between so many places because of God’s call on my life, it is this bend in the path that reminds me who I am. Running here, as the waves lap against the rocks, I remember what the coastline looked like when we first moved here. Four years ago, it was further out…. We could climb down the rocks and into the surf, letting the waves kiss our toes. Our first Thanksgiving by the ocean, the county brought in big rocks to stop the erosion from the king tides. The ocean has been rising; the place I call home is slowly disappearing.

So here, when I look at the sky with its purple and pink and green in the sunset, I fall in love again with this little part of the planet that is groaning.

We work for the healing of our planet

I can hear the leaves crunch under my feet as I wander through the arboretum. I’m picking up the litter the undergrads have left behind. I catch my breath when I see the upturned roots of the tree that fell last spring; I forget what it’s like to watch a tree return to the ground. Ashes to ashes, topsoil to topsoil. This is a death that is part of life. I pick up more litter. This is a death that is not natural but part of a life we have created for ourselves. These are left behind clues of consumerism that will not decay. I listen to the birds call to each other, wondering what they tell each other about us.

And here, when I look at the branches that are just beginning to bud into spring, I fall in love again with this little part of the planet that is groaning.

We work for the healing of our planet

I am on my third conference call for the day, and this time I push my niece in her stroller as I listen to my co-organizer imagine a world without climate change. We are writing an overture, arguing for the moral mandate to divest from fossil fuels. My niece wakes from her sleep and stares at me; I make faces at her to make her smile as we walk down the path back to her house. My mic is on mute because the wind keeps blowing. So, I listen and pray.

Then here, when I look into my niece’s face as she begins to smile, I fall in love again with this little part of the planet that is groaning.

We work for the healing of our planet

I do not know how to love God’s good creation. I know only that in the beginning God breathed everything into being and loved it — all of it. I know only that our first call has been to love creation with our whole selves — with our hearts and souls and minds and strength. I know only that we must do all we can in all the ways we can to love creation with our liturgy, ritual, buildings, and wallets.

So, here I am, looking out onto the whole big lovely world, falling in love with it and letting my heart break for the groaning of this little planet.

We work for the healing of our planet


abby mohaupt is a minister member of San Francisco Presbytery, a PhD student in New Jersey, and a native of Northern Illinois. She is the moderator of Fossil Free PCUSA, a member of the Presbyterian Hunger Program Advisory Committee, and co-editor of Presbyterians for Earth Care’s “EARTH.” abby is a long distance runner, multi-media artist, and deep lover of Jesus and all creation.

Workshop Materials: Keep Your Eyes on the Road

Workshop: Keep Your Eyes on the Road: Staying Focused on Core Mission
Presenters: Mark Elsdon

Attached you will find the worksheet from Mark Elsdon’s workshop “Keep Your Eyes on the Road: Staying Focused on Core Mission.”

Workshop description: There are countless good ideas out there, infinite causes worth supporting, and endless options for how to spend energy, time, and money. But many of these ideas are distractions from the real direction you and your organization are headed. Staying focused on your core mission is key to success. This session will explore the importance of remaining focused on core mission, and provide practical tools for saying “yes” to the right things and “no” to everything else.

 

2018 National Gathering Tuesday Evening Worship

Jennifer Barchi, pastor of Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, preaches at the 2018 National Gathering in Baltimore. The theme for this service: rising.

Jennifer Barchi serves as the solo pastor of Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church on the west side of Baltimore City, MD, where she focuses on redevelopment and reconciliation, and is the author of The Joy Thieves. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and Stanford University, she has served congregations in Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Groomsport, Northern Ireland. She loves writing, hiking, hanging from the ceiling on aerial silks, and just about anything that involves creativity. Jennifer currently lives in west Baltimore with her wife, Lauren, and their dog, Cinnamon.

The liturgy for the service follows.

Call to Worship

Voice One:Sometimes dying remains. It overwhelms us and then persists with stubbornness. This death is a wound that never fully closes, a wound that stays raw even as it grows old. This is the death we must learn to be with, beside, among, that we must learn how to witness as it seeps out from the safety of its boundaries and bandages. This is the dying that didn’t kill us but came so close that we can still taste it on the back of our tongues, hear it echo in memories behind our thoughts, feel it creak in our bones. Sometimes dying remains.

Voice Two: And sometimes dying is rising. Sometimes dying sparks a new thing, becomes possibility, potential, the fallow ground where new life slowly takes root, unfurls, grows wild. This is the death that we encounter in the parched, desert landscape that erupts with blossoms of magenta and yellow and crimson. This is the death that resides in the musty tomb where the Holy Spirit begins to breathe in the darkness. This is the death that razed our internal landscapes, bringing down our carefully constructed walls and disrupting our well-laid plans, but which offered us the opportunity to build something new, something we wouldn’t have otherwise imagined. Sometimes dying is rising.

All: Sometimes dying remains, and we carry it with us. Sometimes dying is rising, and we rejoice in the abundance of new life. We bring all of our experiences of dying into this community, and we watch for and bear witness to the God of resurrection.

Hymn: In the Bulb There Is A Flower

Call to Confession

Confession is the holy practice of telling the truth. In confession, we tell God the truth about our lives, the truth about our world, the truth about our churches. This evening we focus on what is true for us about death and resurrection. Our prayer tonight will be spoken and shared. For each question we invite you to share your answer with someone(s) sitting near you. At the end we’ll sing the Kyrie together.

The Act of Confession
What feels dead in the Church, in the denomination, or in your life?
What is killing the Church, the denomination, or you? Do you want to let go of it?
What in the Church, in the denomination, or in our world is killing you?
Where do you long for resurrection? Where do you resist it?

Music: Lord Have Mercy

Assurance of God’s Presence

One: In life and in death and in resurrection, we belong to God. This is true:
All: We are claimed by God’s love long before we even have language to claim God ourselves.
One: This is true:
All: Christ walks with us, even in death.
One: This is true:
All: The Spirit dwells within us, offering the light of peace in the fog of fear and hatred and violence.
One: This is true:
All: We are part of a community that mourns together in death, rejoices in new life, and hopes in the promise that God is making all things new. Amen!

Scripture

Isaiah 34:9-17

Silence

Scripture

Isaiah 35:1-10

Sermon

Hymn: Now The Green Blade Rises

Baptismal Liturgy

Voice 1: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God, so we too might walk in newness of life.

Heeding the word of Jesus, and confident in his promise of new life, we baptize those whom God has called. In baptism God claims us, and seals us to show that we belong to God.

God frees us from the fear of death, uniting us with Jesus Christ in his dying and rising. By water and the Holy Spirit, we are made members of a community, the body of Christ, and joined to Christ’s ministry of disruption, reconciliation, and transformation. In baptism, we proclaim that “to be a Christian is to be continuously undone and remade by a Savior who encounters us in ways we might not expect, through a collection of people we might otherwise reject, screen, or censor.” As we remember our own baptism, let us turn from the fear of dying, and embrace the Spirit of possibility with joy.

Voice 2: Together as one body let us reaffirm the promises made in our baptism.
One: Trusting in the God of new life, do you turn from fear and its tyranny in our communities?
All: We do.
One: Do you turn to Jesus Christ, the wounded and resurrected one, trusting in his presence and power in a world haunted by death?
All: We do.
One: Will you witness to the wild movement of the Spirit as she breathes the hope of rising into landscapes that appear to be dying?
All: We will, with God’s help.
One: Let us each remember our baptism and be glad.

You are invited to move to the nearest altar/memorial, remember your baptism, and bear witness to the promise of the resurrection.

Visual Prayer

Sometimes our prayers fall beyond the reach of language. This evening, our prayer will be made up of images that stirred a sense of resurrection, of dying and rising, for those who submitted them. As you watch the pictures on the screen, we invite you to pray for those who are experiencing dying and rising in our communities, in our churches, in our nation, and in our world.

The Lord’s Prayer
Our God who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Workshop Materials: Creating a Culture of Generosity

Workshop: Creating a Culture of Generosity
Presenters: Robert Hay Jr.

Attached you will find the powerpoint from Robert Hay’s workshop “Creating a Culture of Generosity.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Workshop description: Is your congregation’s approach to stewardship stuck in a rut? Are you living in a state of scarcity and longing for abundance?   This workshop will outline a program that has moved churches from a four-week stewardship campaign to a year-round culture of generosity. Learn how to form your Generosity Team, how to create an activities calendar for your church’s funds ministry, how to prepare a narrative budget, and how to integrate all aspects of your church into the life of generosity.

2018 National Gathering Monday Opening Worship

At the request of Rev. Billy Honor, video of this sermon is not being posted.

Here is the liturgy for the service.

Call to Worship

One: This is our ancient story:
All: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God.
One: In him was life and the life was the light of all people.
All: So no traveler, not even fools, could go astray.
One: God called us on the holy way where she was leading.
All: And he comes to us again today—to follow where he leads.
One: She promised to go with us, and she is with us now.
All: The wilderness shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom.

Prayer of Confession

Holy God, in this dry and weary land, our souls are thirsty. We long for wholeness, for justice, for peace, for You, and yet our longing doesn’t always lead us to those places. We recall the moments we’ve tried to quench our own thirst, make our own path, or be our own healer. Whisper to us the promises of your grace, illumine the way home, and hold us in your loving arms, where are shall be well. Amen.

O Lord, hear our prayer.

Silent Confession

One: In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.
All: Amen.

The Assurance of God’s Grace

One: In a world that offers so many old lies and false stories,
help us live into this truth:
All: We are held by a love that we are not required to deserve.
One: And nothing can separate us from that love of God. Nothing.
All: O Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief!
One: In the midst of our questions, doubts, and fears,
we are bold to make our home in your new creation.
All: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven, we are accepted
and everything is made new. Amen.

The Summary of the Law and the Passing of the Peace

One: Our Lord Jesus said:
All: “You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
One: “This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it:
All: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
One: And so that you may live connected to God,
to one another, and to your own truest life,
may the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
All: And also with you.

passing the peace

Scripture

Isaiah 35

Communion

Invitation to the Table

One: Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, the holy Supper which we are about to celebrate is a feast of remembrance, of communion, and of hope. We remember the new and eternal covenant of grace and reconciliation that we are accepted by God. We come to have communion with the one who promises to be with us always and with each other. And we hope that at this table, we might remember our deepest identity as children, beloved by God, so we might better live into who God has created us to be.

Two: The table around which we gather is not a Presbyterian table or a NEXT Church table. This is Christ’s table, and Christ invites everyone to dine with the Divine. Wherever you are on your own wilderness journey, you are welcome at this table. And because we don’t want anything we say or do to be a barrier between you and the love of God, we get out of the way. (Jeremy and Whitney move from in front of the table to behind it).

One: If you are here, you are welcome.

Great Prayer of Thanksgiving

One: God be with you.
All: And also with you.
Two: Open up your hearts.
All: We open them to God and to one another.
One: Let us give thanks to our God.
All: It is right to give thanks and praise.

One: Holy and right it is – and it just makes sense – to give thanks to you in all times and in all places, so we come to this table with thankfulness. You created heaven with all its hosts, the earth with all its beauty, and creation with all its charm. And we are thankful. Your light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. And we are thankful. You give us life and being. You hold us in your loving arms, but you have shown us the fullness of your love by sending into the world your son, Jesus. And we are thankful.

Two: We also come to this table with longing. Gracious God, in this brief moment of silence, we recall our longing with you (Allow 15 seconds of silence). We long to meet you at this table: to taste and see that you are good. We long for connection: with you, with others, and with our own truest self. We remember your unconditional love for all your children. We remember your love for us. We long for a world where everyone belongs, where there’s enough, where all of life can flourish. May this feast be a foretaste of that world.

One: And we come to this table with hope. In a life of dead ends and disappointment, loss and loneliness, we hold onto hope. We cling to hope. We hope that in this meal you might give us a taste of a future where we are okay, and perhaps with your grace we might live in the present trusting that all of life is your good hands. And as this grain has been gathered from many fields into one loaf and these grapes from many hills into one cup, grant O God that your whole church would soon be gathered into your maternal embrace. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Two: And in the spirit of remembering, we pray the prayer you taught us to pray saying, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” Amen.

Words of Institution

One: On the night our Lord Jesus was betrayed, he took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it (break bread), saying, “Take; eat, this is my body which is broken for you. Do this remembering me.”

Two: After they had finished, in a similar manner, he took the cup saying, “This is the new testament in my blood poured out for you (pour juice). As often as you drink this, do so remembering me.”

One: (raise bread) Taste, and see.

Two: (raise cup) Drink, and remember.

One: Come, for all things are now ready.

Closing Prayer

Two: Having been nourished at your table… (this was mostly extemporaneous) …May you direct our steps in the way of peace that we might become creators of justice and joy. Amen!

Charge and Benediction

One: Go into the world in peace.
Have courage.
Two: Hold on to all that is good.
Return no one evil for evil.
Three: Strengthen the fainthearted.
Support the weak.
Four: Help the suffering.
Honor all people.
Five: Love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Six: And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the sweet communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all,
now and forevermore. Amen.

2018 National Gathering Testimony: John Schmidt

John Schmidt, pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, gives a testimony presentation at the 2018 NEXT Church National Gathering.

John E. Schmidt is pastor and head of staff at Central Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland. A native of Louisiana, John served with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and as a PC(USA) Missionary in Japan before taking a call to parish ministry. He was a founding board member of HopeSprings, a ministry in the Baltimore area committed to removing the stigma of HIV/AIDS and mobilizing church volunteers to serve people impacted by AIDS. John currently serves as chair of the Commission for Thriving Congregations in the Presbytery of Baltimore. John and his wife Debbie have been married for 42 years, and have two children and 4 grandchildren. Their daughter and son-in-law are both ordained in the PC(USA).

Small and Imperfect

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series on the Sarasota Statement, which we unveiled a year ago and continue to promote for use in our congregations and communities, along with the accompanying study guide. You will hear from a variety of voices and contexts throughout March, reacting to phrases in the statement, and sharing ways it is being used. How have you used the Sarasota Statement? What is your reaction to these phrases? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Andrew Kukla

“We, a small and imperfect reflection of the church…”
– Sarasota Statement, Preamble

A friend and I have a little saying we use with each other: “Pulling out the splinter.”

Let me back up. A couple of years ago I posted on FB about one of my children having multiple splinters in their hand and how painful it must be and that I was amazed how long they had gone without asking for help. I was making a statement of part amazement and part empathy. That is all. A statement.

And then 25 people chirped in to tell me how to get splinters out of a child’s hand.

I didn’t ask for help. Frankly, I didn’t need help. I have 4 very active children; I’ve figured out my methods of pulling out splinters. But people just cannot help themselves when it comes to helping others. They must tell you what you are doing wrong and how to fix it.

Back it up some more. I sat in the room we used in my residency for Clinical Pastoral Education with tears streaming down my face. My colleagues had filed out of the room, and my supervisor and I sat there in silence. I was wrung out. I was in a place of despair. I had shared that, and my colleagues did everything they could to fix me. I told my supervisor, “I don’t want to learn from this… but all I’m thinking right now is about how much training we went through not to fix people and yet still we don’t get it. And I’m learning to be a better chaplain as they try to fix my grief, but I don’t want to learn from this.”

We cannot help ourselves when it comes to helping people.

We yearn to be helpful and end pain around us, but also… we crave being the authority. We crave it everywhere for everything — our own myth of omni-competency. Polity, parenting, theology, cultural decay and generational theory, chapter and verse of our canon within the canon of the Bible, politics, purity, and yes, even the best way to remove a splinter. We cannot pass up an opportunity to tell someone how to do things better if they just listen to us. It has me weary of many of the ways I used to enjoy being a part of the Church, and I will admit I have removed myself from most clergy groups I used to belong to because they began to feel like know-it-all groups and I wasn’t interested in what they were selling.

And so… I have grown jaded when I see a statement that starts out saying, “a small and imperfect reflection of the church.” Do we mean it? Will our life-our statements AND practices-bear it out? Do we see ourselves as small? Do we think, from beginning to end, that we are primarily… imperfect? Are we willing to abdicate the authority of perfection? Will we set aside authority at all? Or do we, while giving a tip of the hat to buzzy words and phrases, also imagine that we are right about most things, most of the time?

As I sit here at the beginning of the Sarasota Statement and read “a small and imperfect reflection of the church,” my hope and challenge to myself, and to you, is that we hold that thought close from beginning to end. We are naming big challenges here. Moral arc of the universe kind of challenges. And if we think we know the answers before we start — while we are walking and, frankly, any time before the work is done — we are wrong. Let’s take this journey to justice freed from our preconceived answers, our mantles of authority, and chains of righteousness.

Let’s admit, truly, that we are small (but of divinely ordained significance) and imperfect (beloved of God) and that is exactly why we have to sit in the room with the excluded, the disinherited, and the oppressed and let them speak for a while… a good long while. Before we ever — if we ever — speak. Because our job is not to fix it, but to bear witness.

I see you, I hear you, I value you, I love you. And that is all I know.

“We, a small and imperfect reflection of the church…”


Andrew Kukla is a pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho.

2018 National Gathering: NEXT Church Update

NEXT Church co-chairs Lori Raible, Shavon Starling-Louis, and Adam Fronczek provide an update on the work of NEXT Church at our 2018 National Gathering.

2018 National Gathering Tuesday Morning Worship

Jess Cook, John Molina-Moore, and Erin Counihan provided testimonies during Tuesday morning worship at the 2018 NEXT Church National Gathering. The worship service theme: dying.

Here is the liturgy for the service.

Call to Worship

People of God, we have a story to tell
of life and death,
joy and sorrow
as we live in God’s Holy Way.
God is with us, even when we fear.

People of God, we have a story to tell
of lives cut short,
of life-times fulfilled
as we live in God’s Holy Way.
God is with us, even when we fear.

People of God, we have a story to tell of
our cities, farms,
and towns, desperately wondering
how they will begin again
as we live in God’s Holy Way.
God is with us, even when we fear.

People of God, we have a story to tell
of heartache and brokenness in our bodies
as we live in God’s Holy Way.
God is with us, even when we fear.

People of God, we have a story to tell.
Surrounded by God’s Great Cloud of Witnesses,
we give testimony to our stories of grief and loss,
as we are sustained by water, songs and prayers.
We are living in God’s Holy Way.
God is with us, even when we fear.

Let us worship God.

Litany

“We are a resurrection people,” we like to say.
And we say it often.
It is true.
But resurrection doesn’t erase or replace
the real life that happens before, during and after.
The real life that we all know –
the places where we are broken,
where we are grieving,
where we are sad,
where we are angry,
where we are hurting,
where we are anxious,
where we are lonely.
For we are human – fully.
And we each carry around
the experiences of trauma, and loss, and hurt
that are a real part of life.
Those experiences live within us,
and they exist
before, during and after
resurrection.
Yes, we are a resurrection people.
But we are also human –
Fully.
And that means that we know death
just as surely as we know life.
Death is real, it is excruciating, and painful, and it is a part of life.
But God is not afraid of death.
God is big enough to hold us
in our hurt, in our brokenness,
in those places of death where we cannot hold ourselves.
When we find ourselves in those places,
when we cannot imagine
ever feeling joy again,
may we remember
that although God will not erase the pain,
God will hold us, God will stand with us.

Psalm 27 (from Ann Weems)

O God of my heart
it is your name I call
when the stars do not come out.
O God of my soul,
it is to you I turn
when the torrents of terror
drown me.
O God of mercy,
it is for your hand I reach
when I stumble
on the stones of sorrow.
O God of justice,
it is to you I cry
when the landslide of grief
buries me.
I stand beneath the night
where stars used to shine
and remember
gazing mesmerized
at the luminaries of the sky
until I could walk
the ink-blue beach
between their shining.
Then their shining stopped,
for they left the sky,
and you, O God,
left with them.
And I am left
alone
beneath a starless sky
with a starless heart
that barely beats.
Will your stars
never shine again?
Will they never again
speak of your mystery?
Will they never again sing
their songs
to my soul?
Will I never again know
the wonder
of the God
of star and sky?
O God of my heart,
peel back the night
and let the starlight
pour out upon
my upturned face.
Let my eyes drink
a sky of stars.
Let my heart bathe
in the stunning light
until my soul sings again
with the conviction
of the faithful.
In your mercy and justice,
O God of my heart,
call me by name,
and the stars will shine
once more,
as they did
on that morning
when they first began
to sing.

Sung Response (from Psalm 27)

[O God], Will your stars
never shine again?
Will they never again sing
their songs
to my soul?

Unison Prayer

O God of my heart,
peel back the night
and let the starlight
pour out upon
my upturned face.
Let my eyes drink
a sky of stars.
Let my heart bathe
in the stunning light
until my soul sings again
with the conviction
of the faithful.
In your mercy and justice,
O God of my heart,
call me by name,
and the stars will shine
once more,
as they did
on that morning
when they first began
to sing.

Scripture Reading

John 13:1-17

Invitation for Remembrance and Handwashing

As death approached, Jesus commanded his disciples to love.
even as denial and betrayal, rejection and unworthiness
was mixed-up in that love.
Holy One, in washing and remembering, call us to love.
As death approached, Jesus gave his disciples ways to grieve:
a tender touch, washing with water, telling of a story,
being together in community.
Holy One, in washing and remembering, call us to love.
As death approached, Jesus gave his disciples a place to be together:
a table, a water basin, a home.
Holy One, in washing and remembering, call us to love.

Unison Prayer

O God of our hearts,
peel back the night
and let the starlight
pour out upon
our upturned faces.
Let our eyes drink
a sky of stars.
Let our hearts bathe
in the stunning light
until our soul sing again
with the conviction
of the faithful.
In your mercy and justice,
O God of our hearts,
call us by name,
and the stars will shine
once more,
as they did
on that morning
when they first began
to sing.

Deeply Moved by Grief

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series on the Sarasota Statement, which we unveiled a year ago and continue to promote for use in our congregations and communities, along with the accompanying study guide. You will hear from a variety of voices and contexts throughout March, reacting to phrases in the statement, and sharing ways it is being used. How have you used the Sarasota Statement? What is your reaction to these phrases? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Jarrett McLaughlin

It was a rare moment of thinking ahead when I submitted my bulletin information for Sunday, February 18th, a full NINE days ahead. True confession though – it wasn’t actually me thinking ahead but rather the fact that our administrator was out of the office at the beginning of the next week and so the deadline had shifted.

At the time, all I knew was that I was preaching on the story of Jesus raising Lazarus in John 11 and that in my initial reading of the text, I was particularly struck by the emotional journey Jesus takes. As I would later observe in the sermon to come, John’s portrait of Jesus shows us a son of God who is so confident, so unflappable, so maddeningly divine. He never seems to get angry or sad but rather floats above those human emotions. At the beginning of the chapter he even speaks so mechanically about the death of his friend. But then he comes to Bethany and Mary is weeping and everyone is weeping and he’s face to face with real death and real grief and something inside of him breaks. John then gives us the shortest verse in all of the New Testament: “Jesus wept.” Christ’s tears are so important that they receive an entire verse just to highlight this moment of extreme pathos. It’s almost as if John shows us a Jesus who is learning what it means to be human and this scene is pivotal.

I hadn’t articulated all of that when I submitted that bulletin information, but even a cursory reading of the story shows Jesus in the midst of a profoundly emotional encounter. And yet he is not simply one who grieves and wallows in that grief. Instead he is moved by that grief – John specifically tells us that Jesus was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” He was moved to act – and this is when he performs his seventh and final sign – the raising of Lazarus and his haunting command to his disciples and to the Church in every time and place: “unbind him and let him go.”

What I didn’t know when I sent the bulletin in was that the next Wednesday, seventeen students and educators would be shot and killed at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School. What I didn’t know is how profoundly I would be affected by that shooting, especially as I sat with this text where Jesus is deeply moved by real death, moved to act. What I didn’t know is how I would be haunted by this Jesus who – when his disciples are standing speechless before Lazarus who is literally tangled up in the trappings of death – says to them “unbind him and let him go.”

What I didn’t know was how poignant the words of the Sarasota Statement would be – chosen nine whole days before they were spoken aloud, five days after another deadly mass shooting.

We are people of hope who confess Jesus is Lord over a kingdom in which no one is hungry, violence is no more, and all suffering is gone.
So strong is this hope that we lament any and all instances of its absence. When we witness hunger, injustice, discrimination, violence, or suffering, we grieve deeply and repent of our sins that have enabled such brokenness to persist.
Furthermore, we are incited to act and to be vehicles of change through which God’s kingdom breaks into the world and our earthly lives. Our commitment is to acts that feed, clothe, instruct, reconcile, admonish, heal and comfort – reflecting the power of God’s hope and an eagerness to see the Kingdom made manifest.

There are days when I am so tired of that kingdom’s absence. I’m tired of the flags flown at half-staff and the endless debates about guns and mental illness that never go anywhere. I’m tired of looking at pictures of tear-streaked mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends discovering their loved one is no more. I’m tired of flowers and ribbons and candlelight vigils. I’m tired of this kingdom’s palpable absence and I do feel moved. A statement of faith is just that – a statement. But at least it tells me and this community I love that when we are greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved – maybe we’re not so far off from the Christ whose love is stronger that death, whose passion is as fierce as the grave.


Jarrett McLaughlin serves with his wife Meg Peery McLaughlin at Burke Presbyterian Church in the suburbs of Washington DC.  This is a blog post about the Sarasota Statement, but it’s also a blog about a mass shooting in an American school, so perhaps this background is worth sharing: “During my first year of high school in suburban Raleigh, NC, a fellow student was shot and killed in the park next to my school – a student not even involved in the altercation but who came over to ‘watch a fight.’  That story and the trauma to the student body that followed forever shaped my views on guns and their place in society. As you read this post, you should understand this about me, because all of our stories shape who we are and how we react to any given situation. This is my story and these are my reactions – nothing more, nothing less.”