There are a few things in the Old Testament that are especially loud and clear, and one of them is this: idols are very dangerous and bad! If you are busy with a golden calf at the foot of the mountain, you are likely to miss the power of God up the hill. The Hebrews would evidently often buy little household god statues from the Canaanites, and carry them in the family stash just for “good luck.” I can hear folks today say: “Until God shows up, I am just taking care of myself; I’m covering all my bases.” It is hard to wait for God at the foot of the mountain in the chill of the dark night without any certainty of when and how or even if God is going to show up.
By the time we get to Jesus and the New Testament, idolatry is much more subtle. The idol of the Pharisees is the Torah itself which they have made into a dead rule book that separates the good people from the dirty people. Sadly, I have known a few Christians who have done the same sort of idolatry with the Bible and the Prayer Book. We become so certain of little things so that we don’t have to wait at the bottom of the mountain for the power of God to show up on God’s terms. How hard it is to wait in faith!
We live in a time of rapid change and much uncertainty. It is perhaps a bit like wandering in the wilderness and waiting from Moses to come down off the mountain. It is easy to grasp for easy answers, to make idols of the “good ol’ days” or of whatever quick fix we are sure will make it alright. Our God is not a god of easy answers, but of the grand complexity of the real world. Our God is not a god of yesterday, but of eternity. Our God is not a god of quick fixes, but of crosses and pilgrimages, journeys in the wilderness and transfigurations.
The Celts might call this time of change and uncertainty a threshold, a liminal time that will be full of challenge and also full of great opportunity. The old ways may not work as we walk through this threshold. The church is no longer the social center in peoples’ lives it once was. People no longer feel the need to belong to the institution, but they are searching for something spiritual, for an experience that gives life and points to truth with depth and honesty. I believe that we at Kingston have a special gift to face into this liminal time, to walk the threshold together. May we be up to the challenge. May we hold onto each new opportunity. And may we never simply hang onto old idols that have failed us. There is a new light on the mountain. God is calling. May we wait to hear the divine voice and then be brave enough to say with Moses and so many others: “Here I am, send me.”
2020. Good vision. And the year we shall begin about the time you get this newsletter. We call it a new year and it’s often symbolized by an old man walking away as a new baby takes charge. What will be new in your life? What will be new at Kingston?
God says: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19) And in many ways the people of God respond with the beginning of Psalm 98: “Sing a new song to the Lord for he has done marvelous things!” You will not find a place in Scripture that says God is just doing the same old same old. Nor will you find a request from God to the people of God to just do what they’ve always done before. God is always wanting us to do something new, different, better. “Change” may be a word that can easily make us uncomfortable, but in God’s ways “change” isn’t often strong enough; the words are transformation, metanoia, transfiguration, resurrection.
What changes might come among us in 2020? Do you have a vision for God’s transformation at our church/God’s church? It is easy enough to see some challenges and blessings:
1. More than 80 % of us look a lot like that old man that leaves when the baby new year arrives. We have been blessed this year with a new influx of young children who we need to build the church beyond us. How do we build the church beyond us? What can we do today, this year, to prepare for what will happen after us in God’s church?
2. Our music program for worship is still in transition. Some of us would like to see our Christ Church organ improved and an organ brought into Kingston Chapel. Some of us have a different vision. What is God’s vision for music in our worship experiences? How do we move ahead? (And is there any way I can get some of you to sing/pray the hymns?!!)
3. Health care seems to be more and more of an issue for our church family. As health care becomes more expensive and we age (so that it becomes more necessary), how does our parish family help? What can we do among us for our own and also beyond us for the larger community where I regularly see folks who must choose between paying the rent or buying a new medicine?
4. We have a beautiful ministry in our Celtic service that reaches many within our congregation and beyond. How do we support this ministry and use it to reach others and build our congregation?
5. Our Christian Formation programs for children and for adults have marvelous teachers, rich program, and a growing commitment of many of our people in the church and others who come from outside the church just for our education programs. How do we celebrate them, support the teachers, and continue or even expand?
While I was on sabbatical, I worshipped at three congregations – one in each location where I was. Each congregation had its strengths and struggles. Each was vibrant in its own way. What I found most powerful in all three was simply this: there were lots of people in these places who did not just come to church to recharge for themselves. They came to support others, to grow themselves, and to build the church. Faith and commitment among these people was such a palpable part of my worship as a visitor in each of these places. How do each one of us support others in the congregation and beyond? How do we grow spiritually and in our ministries as individuals and in groups? How do we build God’s church?
God is always doing something new. Are you a part of it? Is it bringing you fulfillment that makes you sing a new song for all the marvelous things going on? My prayer for the new year is that we each and all find our way into God’s ways for something new, holy, and true!
The Very Rev. Gary Barker