(Palm Sunday / Passion Sunday)
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
The Passion of Christ:
Philippians 2: 5-11
Luke 22:1-8, 31-71; chapter 23
... at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
- Philippians 2:10-11
In my Sunday sermon, I wanted to challenge us to show our love for Jesus in every good way possible.
One area that I chose not to speak about was the so-called “worship wars” that have been waged within churches during the past forty-plus years. Many congregations have found themselves divided over styles of music, as well as by conflicting desires for formality or casualness.
I know very well that some individuals at Bethel have a taste for quiet and orderliness in worship, while others prefer a different kind of joyful noise.
Thank God, we don’t have to butcher birds and sheep and goats and heifers and bulls in our sanctuary, as in the Old Time Religion.
It always tickles me when folks say they want “the old songs”— by which, in most cases, they mean, songs that they learned when they were kids... but they feel the threat of something new and strange when asked to try songs from more like a thousand years ago. Meanwhile, some of our people get a big kick out of novelty, hearing something exciting and new.
Thank God, God isn’t terribly specific about style.
At the Shenandoah Association Spring Meeting, yesterday, our new Conference Minister, Rev. Dr. Freeman Palmer put us on the spot: He was answering a question about his plans for leading our conference forward, and he suddenly stopped.
He said, “Jesus prayed, ‘That they may all ______’.”
He smiled his gigantic, brilliant smile, because quite a few of us quickly filled in the blank: “be one!”
When you’re the United Church of Christ, it’s important to remember our motto, Jesus’ prayer, which we hear him pray in the Gospel according to John, 17: 11, 20, 22-23. Rev. Palmer was emphasizing that we are called to be a uniting church, to draw close to each other, and also to continually invite others to be with us in following Jesus. He discussed numerous initiatives that are ongoing or new or in-the-works, to support our local churches as well as to make room for others to join the UCC. Rev. Palmer stated that all of creation is “soaked with Christ,” and that our Central Atlantic Conference, with its widely diverse congregations— rural and urban, small and large, rich and poor, all colors and languages— is a great cross-section of the UCC spectrum of people.
Rev. Palmer cited the by-laws of the UCC, which state that the purpose of our Conference is to strengthen and connect its local churches. He shared with us the findings of a recent study of our current strengths and weaknesses:
Our greatest strength is our diversity.
Our greatest need is to connect local churches to one another to receive the benefits of that diversity.
Rural churches have much to teach urban churches, and vice-versa. Large churches need to learn the lessons that small churches know. And so on. “That we may all be one.”
Rev. Palmer’s prior work experience in the church includes a lot of “congregational vitality,” including building membership and including the spectrum of generations (young, middle, and old, together).
Rev. Palmer’s goals as our Conference Minister are
1) to develop a pattern for the work of the Conference staff that can maintain things that our Conference already does well, while also capitalizing on opportunities to do better. Any changes that are made will include changes to his own duties, not only those of the rest of the staff.
2) to establish long-term financial stability for our Conference finances. Currently, we are doing “OK,” but more needs to be done to balance our budget, both on the income and the expenditure sides. (The Our Church’s Wider Mission offerings that we local churches send provide the bulk of the income to pay our Conference ministry and administrative staff, as well as workshops and programs.)
In answer to a question about turmoil in other denominations, Rev. Palmer said that the UCC is very well positioned to benefit from the changes going on today, but success will require continuous re-training and effort on our part.
This year’s Central Atlantic Conference Annual Meeting is scheduled for October 3-5 in Bethesda, Maryland.
You will be interested to learn that the 2020 Conference Annual Meeting is slated to be held in Harrisonburg!