Encouraged by the charge of Co-Moderators Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston that the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) meeting would end at the end of closing worship, commissioners, advocates and guests joined in enthusiastically singing “Every Time I Feel the Spirit” as the final service of the assembly began.
Larissa Kwong Abazia, Vice-Moderator of the 221st General Assembly (2014) thanked the church for its support following her breast cancer diagnosis one year ago. Beginning her sermon based on Acts 1:2b-11, titled “Left Behind,” she asked, “Lord, are you going to restore your kingdom now?”
Pointing to current political battles that affect human lives, she said, “Borders are shut down when we think of quotas instead of families … We are fearful of our neighbors and anxious of what might come next? In Washington, we saw legislators sitting on the floor, attempting to compel action on gun control.”
In Portland, she said, “We passed by the largest homeless youth population in the nation right here, every day. People asking for food while we walked the sidewalk to the convention center.”
“I could do this all day, but I am tired, I am weary, I am worn down,” she said of her litany of social woes, then shifting her focus to what God’s kingdom may look like today. “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom, now?”
Noting the community in Acts was worried they would be swallowed up by other religious or political forces, she asked, “Were they asking the right questions? They wanted a leader who would restore their power and privilege.”
“It seems they wanted restoration, not reformation,” she said.
Likewise, pointing to the advances made by the General Assembly, Kwong Abazia, said, “It would be so easy to go back home and measure the health of our churches by membership, budget size or ability to have full-time staff … We could ask where people are, instead of going out to meet them where they are.”
Recalling the shooting of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, only two months into her term as Vice-Moderator, she reflected on the PC(USA) letter calling for church members and society to be calm during protests.
“How could we ask for people to be calm as their world was being turned upside down?” she asked. “As the only person of color on that letter, I should have known better than to ask for calm and prayer. I reminded myself and the PC(USA) that we are the church. I asked for statements around the church and posted them on my blog. I was determined to prove that we are the beloved community.”
“Words matter only when we embody them,” she continued. “Are you looking up or out? If we truly want to sing "We Shall Overcome," then we need to go out into the streets in solidarity with communities all around the country before one more black or brown body is shot. If we want to offer apologies to countless minority communities, then we need to dismantle the power structures that keep us begging for scraps under the table.”
Jesus’ answer to those questioning him in Acts, she said, “isn’t about when he will restore the kingdom, but how. We are not left behind. We are not a remnant. We are witnesses; we are called to be agents of reconciliation.”