The moderator gamely looked around for a musician or song leader, but no one appeared. Meanwhile, someone to my right began to sing, attempting to get us started. Her voice was lost in the cavernous hall. A cluster of people behind me started singing, as did another cluster to my left and one near the front. However, they were singing different words from different places in different keys. At one point the screens flashed words something like this (I didn’t write them down):
“May we all be united, so that our song be heard … ”
We weren’t and it wasn’t.
It is for me an image of our church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): an ever-dwindling remnant singing different words from different places in different keys. And, I believe, here’s why: We have forgotten to include our Leader. Oh, we have summoned him, even by name, but often it has been an imposter:
• a political revolutionary who pursues every cause to the “left of The New York Times;”
• a meek and mild Jesus who pats us on the head and says, “Go and sin … more;”
• a weak and limp Jesus who has no power to transform us personally from places of brokenness, struggle, or sin;
• a “tolerant” Jesus drained of passion to “go and make disciples” lest we offend.
The Jesus we summoned at General Assembly seemed more like a cardboard cutout than the flesh-and-blood-and-divine Jesus of Scriptures, the one who exploded with power to convict and forgive, heal and transform and bring life.
Did we lose him in our battles to the death? Or in our insistence on blessing what Scripture calls sin, including our own? Or in our insistence on winning no matter what the cost? Or in our labeling of opponents while clustering with allies? I do know this: without the clear, authentic, and compelling Christ at the center we will continue singing different words from different places in different keys. Our song will not be heard.
What can we do? We can start by summoning our leader, Jesus Christ. We can seek him in the Scriptures with an open, humble heart. We can invite him into our hearts in prayer and reflection. We can ask him to forgive us in humble repentance. We can see him in the faces of the lost and lonely, the broken and beaten, and those with whom we deeply disagree. We can obey his call to go and make disciples with a new and joyful passion.
And we can trust that — in spite of all appearances — we ARE one by the grace and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As Paul writes, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
After a minute or so of confusion, our voices did unite in our closing song. We did eventually sing the same words in the same key at the same time. We finished united and strong. Our song was heard.
I will take that as a sign of a deeper reality — that we are one in Jesus Christ, that the one hope that belongs to our calling is still our hope for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Let’s invite our leader, Christ, to lead us. I’ll start with me.
John G. Hamilton is pastor of First Church, Rochelle, Ill.