Gary Torrens, D. Min.
Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
November 4, 2018
As we view the changing color of an occasional tree around the city, we know that the transition from summer to autumn has begun. In the not-too-distant future, we may be chipping ice or scooping snow from our sidewalks as the transition from autumn to winter moves forward. These seasonal transitions come to our lives year after year. We become so accustomed to these transitions that we take little note of them. Most of us do not get anxious about the change of seasons.
We pay much more attention to those transitions in our lives that are not so regular or customary. Many of the transitions of our lives are filled with high emotion. Seldom do we look at the transitions of our lives through the eyes of our faith, but that is what I suggest we do this morning.
Many of the transitions of our lives have to do with the cycles of living. These kinds of transitions are often filled with great emotion for us. We grow up, leave home and make a place for ourselves in the world. Many will find a life partner and make a new home. Some will raise children and see them grow through their own transitions of life. The later year of our lives may present other transitions into health challenges, or mobility concerns, or facing our later years in new living circumstances. Each of us here will be able to identify which of the transitions of our lives have been the most stressful and also most meaningful for us. We will be able to identify which of our transitions have been filled with the most emotion for us. Sometimes it takes special resolve to make it through the most difficult transitions. Usually, reflecting on the transitions, after they are over, can give us a larger perspective on our lives. It is not quite so easy to reflect upon them when we are in the midst of them. (For example, I have heard parents reflect in later life that they thought the teenage years with a certain child would never end.)
The Old Testament gives encouragement as we look at the major transitions experienced by the people Israel. One cannot read of the long, long journey of Israel in the wilderness without identifying with the stress that the people were experiencing. God guided Israel through this wandering through the wilderness, even giving them “Manna” to sustain them when they were starving. These stories of faith from the Old Testament give us hope that God will help us through the difficult transitions of our lives. In the midst of that wilderness journey, God gives Moses the 10 commandments to lead the people. As Moses comes down from the mountain, he discovers that the anxiety of the people causes them to make a golden calf to worship (trying to relieve their anxiety). In the end, God prevails, and leads them to the Promised Land. God WILL lead us through our transitions!!
We here at Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church are in a special kind of transition. A much beloved, long-term pastor is no longer with us, and added to that, our Transitional Pastor is gone, too. The grief of the loss of our beloved, installed pastor is compounded by our hearing that she now has special medical challenges in the form of cancer. A new, permanent installed pastor is nowhere in sight. Most of us have not lived through this kind of transition before. Even if we have, it likely was decades ago. Moreover, there is confusion about how and why the contract with the Transitional Pastor was not renewed. One should not be surprised that there is much anxiety around here.
My children grew up watching public television: Mister Rogers Neighborhood and Sesame Street were a stable part of their TV diet. One of the characters of Sesame Street is Kermit the Frog. As a parent watching this show over the years, I heard Kermit singing the song many times, “It’s not easy being green.”
Reflecting upon a major transition, while in the midst of it, is sort of like that. It is not easy to step back and reflect upon a major transition while it has an emotional grip on our lives. It’s not easy, but today we will try it. I have chosen two scripture passages to help in this reflection (Psalm 90 and John 2:1-11)
Psalm 90 gives perspective on the events of life and helps us see our circumstances in the scope of God’s long presence with God’s people: “Lord you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You turn us back to dust: “Turn back you mortals.” “For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past or like a watch in the night.”
In typical Hebrew poetic fashion, this Psalm brings us powerful images of God’s long presence with God’s people: God has been here…
-through all generations
-before the mountains were formed
(One could say in the face of current circumstances” God was here before the pastoral transition and God will be here after.)
Moreover, we mortals have God as the very source of our life – we come from dust and return to dust. In the midst of complex transitions of our lives it is soooooo easy for us to assume that WE are the source of our lives and that WE are chosen to find the best path through the transition, forgetting all the time that we come from dust and, finally, return to dust. (I believe this is another way to say, “trust the process.”)
The Psalm reminds us that God’s time is nothing like our time. “A thousand years is like yesterday, when it is past, or like a watch in the night.”
The point of the Psalm can be summed up with the phrase, “A God’s eye view of our circumstance is different from our own armchair view of things.”
God HAS been our dwelling place through the many, many transitions of our lives, and God will be with us now!
As we continue to use the Scriptures to reflect upon our current transition, I turn now to the Gospel of John.
Jesus, his mother, and Jesus’ disciples have been invited, so tells Mark, to a wedding at Cana. It is not common for the gospels to include stories about Jesus with his mother, so this narrative has special interest for me. Jesus’ mother sets up the main point of this story: She tells Jesus, “They have no more wine.” Jesus tries to brush her off at first, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?”
Anyone who has had a mother can imagine Jesus saying:
But the story does not end there. Jesus goes on to say to her, “My hour has not yet come.” (Message, “Mother, do not push me into the limelight just yet.”)
Many bible scholars are united in the conclusion that the Gospel of John has as its central purpose to show that Jesus is the Son of God. Here, very early, in only the second chapter, Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus and his mother appear to have differing opinions of whether or not THIS is to occasion to begin to reveal this to the world.
But mothers have their way of winning the day, and as the story continues, Jesus is giving instructions to the banquet servers on filling six empty stone jars with water. Once the jars were filled, Jesus asked the servers to take them to the chief steward. The chief steward tasted the wine and asked where it had come from. The stewards shrugged their shoulders (perhaps not wanting to be blamed for bring water to their boss?) So the chief steward summoned the bridegroom and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But YOU have kept the good wine until now.”
So what does this mean?
To John’s gospel it means that “Jesus did this, the first of his signs in Cana of Galilea and revealed his glory…and his disciples believed him.”
As the gospel of John recounts it, Jesus appears to have taken this moment, at the wedding in Cana, to begin showing to his disciples that God has saved the very best for now!
And that, I believe, is the message for Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church for your current transition: GOD HAS SAVED THE VERY BEST FOR NOW!
In the midst of uncertainty, anxiety, confusion, and conflict of the present state of the church here, from these verses from Mark’s gospel assure us that GOD HAS SAVED THE VERY BEST FOR NOW, so we, each one in this church family, must SAVE OUR VERY BEST FOR NOW!
We believe that God has SAVED THE VERY BEST FOR NOW. Jesus Christ, God’s only Son came so that we could have new life, day after day…THE VERY BEST FOR NOW.
None of us knows what this means for the days ahead. Yet the lessons of faith tell us that God is with us and has, indeed, saved the very best for this time in our lives and in the life of this congregation.
One implication of this reality is that each one, member, elder, deacon, parish associate, other officer needs to save (and give) the very best NOW. Each one must figure out what this means for them.
The Generosity Team has not asked that I turn this into a stewardship sermon, nor does this Team know this in advance, but here is it: One way that each one here can give the very best is to be extra generous in financial contributions. It is rather common knowledge that when there is stress and conflict in a church, the giving goes down. Moreover, where there is a pastoral vacancy, some folks seem to think that the church does not need them to give at their usual levels since the expenses will be less (no pastor to pay), so one of the things you can “GIVE YOUR BEST” in is in your financial contributions. You cannot believe how much this can help your Pastor Nominating Committee. Imagine how eager candidates for this vacant pulpit would be, IF the PNC could tell ALL of those candidates that in the last quarter of this year, the financial giving of members has exceeded pledged income by 15, or 20 or even 25 percent!!
The same is true for your prayers. Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church needs to be in the top of the prayer list for each one of you!!
The same is true for your support of all who serve in special roles of responsibility. Pray for and support your elders, your deacons, your specially gifted staff, your wonderfully dedicated Parish Associates, and especially for Connie. Service in a church office is always a challenge. If you do not believe me, try it sometime! During this transition time, Connie is faced daily not knowing what unusual question or request might come to the church office. And she is stuck here alone to answer them all by herself.
Of all the churches in the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky…of all the churches in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A, NONE is filled with more gifted members and leaders than Crescent Hill Presbyterian. The message of John’s gospel is clear: God has saved the best for now, and the challenge goes out to each member and officer of this church: GOD HAS SAVED THE BEST FOR NOW; SO GIVE YOUR VERY BEST NOW!
Thanks be to God for giving us the VERY BEST: Jesus Christ, God’s only Son!
Rev. Gary Torrens, D. Min.