Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!
By Carolyn Grohman
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us about the day when Jesus called his first disciples. We can presume that Jesus called them by name: “Simon!” “Andrew!” “James!” “John!” And immediately they all left what they were doing and followed him.
I believe that Jesus still calls people to follow him, calling us by name (reminiscent of the verse in Isaiah 43, when God says, “I have called you by name, you are mine.”) Have you heard God or Jesus calling you by name, perhaps through the voice of the church or through a trusted colleague or mentor or friend or relative? Or perhaps through a relatively new hymn that can be the voice of Jesus calling us to be his disciples: John Bell’s “Will You Come and Follow Me?” (Glory to God, 726)
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known, will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare, should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the pris’ners free and never be the same?…..
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around, through my sight and touch in you and you in me? [from verses 1, 2, 3, and 4]
We usually think of these words of John Bell, the Scottish Presbyterian theologian and musician, as Jesus’ call to us as individuals to follow him as his disciples. But what if we look at those words as Jesus’ call to our church, our denomination, to follow him as his disciples? What can we learn from John Bell’s words that could help us as we look toward the future of the PCUSA and our many congregations? I invite you to re-read those words above with that question in mind.
As I reflect on those words, I believe, first of all, that Jesus is still calling us by name: “Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” or “First Presbyterian Church of Anytown, USA.” Second, I think Jesus is calling us to “quell” or let go of our fear that has held us hostage—fear of conflict, fear of the “hostile stare,” fear of offending our sisters and brothers in the PCUSA who are on the opposite side of the hot-button issues in the church, fear of offending our Jewish friends and neighbors if we speak out on behalf of the Palestinians, fear of decreasing numbers and dollars, fear of our diminishing influence in our country, fear of change, fear of the unknown. Instead of being fearful, I think Jesus is calling us to be faithful in following him, wherever that leads us.
Third, I think Jesus is calling us to be courageous in moving into the future, “to go where we don’t know,” where things will never be the same. For people who are my age (80), this is perhaps the hardest thing to do, because we want the church to be like it was when we were younger (though not totally—women and LGBT people were not able to be ordained back then, and gay marriage was not possible, so we don’t want to go back to those days!). But we do yearn for the days when our churches were full, and most congregations could afford to call a pastor. However, it’s clear that those days are behind us, and we need to move forward into a new way of being church. Jesus is calling us to “reshape the world around,” and that includes reshaping the church. As John Bell says in verse 5, “Let [us] turn and follow you and never be the same.” Amen!
Presbytery of Genesee Valley