BALTIMORE – “Welcome, siblings, to Big Tent.” The co-moderators of the 2018 General Assembly, Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri and Cindy Kohlmann, greeted the participants gathered for opening worship at Big Tent, a summer reunion of sorts for Presbyterians being held Aug. 1-3 in Baltimore.
I hope “you will feel deeply spiritually uncomfortable,” because that’s where God is, Kohlmann said. “What will you do when you return home to your places of ministry? What will you take back to your churches and ministries?”
The first hymn was “Feliz la Gente / How Blest the People.” Soloists sang: “How blest the people who direct their every step on holy pathways. God will make them like a tree, green and majestic, that gives shade and joyful rest to weary travelers.” Worshippers responded with the refrain: “Feliz será, feliz será, feliz será.”
Preaching alternately in Spanish and English, Amaury Tañón-Santos preached on Luke 10:15-37, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Tañón-Santos is the synod networker for the Synod of the Northeast, connecting people and ministries throughout the synod in New England, New Jersey and New York.
In his sermon, “¿Serías prójimo? / Would you be a neighbor?” Tañón-Santos said: “For the next few days we will be gathering to consider a movement beyond an institution.”
“What is the question you are bringing to this gathering? … Do you have a question that has been sitting in your heart and causes you pain?”
To find the answer to the question of “who my neighbor is, I must be a neighbor first. … I must allow myself to be led by the power of grace which I have received.”
“The good news tonight is that Jesus is here.” “He might not have the style of answer you want, but Jesus is here.”
“I know a savior who on the cross on Calvary – and while in that liminal space between life and death – listened to and considered the one hanging at his side and extended an invitation to him.”
“I know that Jesus is sitting with us tonight. … And he will give us the answer that we need in order to be faithful witnesses.”
“I know Jesus is here today for God has gathered us throughout the church in order to answer those questions.”
“Bring your questions to Jesus. He is here tonight. But be ready to engage Jesus in a conversation. … Perhaps the response is not what you expect. And the first response to your question may even be a question: Would you be a neighbor?”
The Community Concert Choir of Baltimore, directed by Marco Merrick, sang “Order My Steps.”
Worshippers were invited to reaffirm their baptismal vows with the question, “As the baptized people of God, do you renounce Satan and all the forces of evil that rebel against God?” Their reply: “We renounce them!”
The closing prayer implored, “We are hungry for peace. We are hungry for justice.”
All photos by Jen Jones. Video by Jill Duffield.