LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — “What are a couple things you can let go?” Theresa Cho, pastor of St. John’s Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, asked this question of those gathered for the final plenary session of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) annual event, which met Jan. 29-Feb. 1 in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Cho spoke of the reality of compassion fatigue for church educators, who are often “compassion first responders” in their ministry settings. Perhaps something needs to be let go of in order to better join the work of the kingdom of heaven, she suggested.
Cho drew from Scripture in her exploration of the kingdom of heaven. For instance, the kingdom of heaven is unassuming, like a mustard seed — but has the ability to grow like a weed and can grow so large and dense as to protect and house birds. Or the kingdom of heaven is like yeast — a little mold that can spread through some flour to become bread enough to feed hundreds of people. There are so many metaphors, she said, yet she still finds herself wondering, “But what is the kingdom of heaven like? … Even the disciples who followed Jesus and had front-row seating didn’t understand.”
But then in Matthew 25, Jesus explains the kingdom of heaven: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner. “That is really concrete. That is what the kingdom of heaven is like,” Cho said, continuing an exploration started by Lisa Sharon Harper on Jan. 31 of this Scripture passage.
From time to time, worshippers in the California congregation she serves have said to her that they don’t want politics brought into the church. “When we talk about not bringing in politics to the church, I find that incredibly ironic, because nothing is more political that the church. And we all know it,” she said.
“If we say we won’t bring politics inside the church – inside the box – we tell people to leave” at the door their food insecurity, their worry about affordable housing, their concerns about education If this is the message, “then as a church, we deserve the reputation of being outdated and obsolete,” she said. “We have people with real issues” who have come to church seeking a safe place to be heard and seen. Cho said that their stories should transform Christians to change the world, or else “we are not being the church.”
In Matthew 25, Jesus gave concrete examples of how the church is called to be the kingdom of heaven, Cho said, and this is the church’s current calling.
She concluded with a two-part charge to conference attendees. First: “Get over yourself; bring all of yourself.” She explained, “Do the work to get out of the way of whatever is preventing you from getting out there to hear people’s stories” – work which may include spending time with a therapist or in support groups. Doing that hard work will allow a person to bring “all of yourself and all that God created you to be. … Bring all of who you are to the table, because we need all of it.”
The next charge: “Be better — be kinder, be more generous, be more compassionate.” At the same time, “know that you are good enough just as you are,” without reading more books or getting more education in order to be good enough for God.
“We are living in urgent times right now. There is no time to wait. It is time to go,” Cho concluded. And yet, “We are in it for the long game. … We know that the world is not going to change by 2021.” So, along the way, do what Jesus did: take time for quiet retreat; to pray and rest; to eat together and feed one another; and to share and hear one another, she encouraged. And then go back out into the world to serve God and the kingdom of heaven.