St. Louis

General Assembly Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, II loves Westerns.

In one film he watched recently, Nelson told 350 church leaders today (Sunday) gathered here for the annual Mid Council Leaders Gathering,20 people were locked inside a barn, assailed by a large gang of bad guys. In desperation, the besieged ones just started making as much noise as they could.

“Those outside the barn began asking, ‘How many of them are there? Who are they? They sound like a rowdy bunch – we may not have enough manpower,’” Nelson recalled. “The racket continued until the attackers decided they needed to go get reinforcements. While they were, those inside escaped.”

The message to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is clear Nelson said: “If we make enough noise, no one will know that we’ve lost members. If we make enough noise, no one will know what we’re going through in our internal struggles. If we make enough noise, those outside will begin to get interested. They’ll be saying ‘I want to hang out with that rowdy bunch!’

“We have to make noise, to stand with God and with those on the fringes. We may not know exactly where we’re going, but if we make enough noise, those outside may say, “We need to change our course because those folk know something we don’t,” Nelson said. 

What Christians know, he continued in sermon he titled “Reflecting the Power of the Kindom,” “is that we do not come on our own, but by the God who has led us through many dangers, toils and snares.”

Nelson characterized the PC(USA) as “a denomination in depression … While we lament the loss of members and congregations, it’s hard to see the power of God and Holy Spirit working among us.”

But he reminded those gathered for opening worship that “we are still the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. We have forgotten that we still have substantial global outreach across the world through our missionary movement. We have forgotten that our Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is a powerful witness … even as we speak in the Caribbean, Houston, Puerto Rico, the Napa Valley and in Las Vegas.”

Making plenty of noise of his own, Nelson said, “I come with no sad lullaby because God is not dead, but alive and well in us and in our work. So let’s get off our blessed assurance and do what God has called us to do.”

Preaching from Matthew 6:25-34, Nelson recited the familiar verse “seek ye first the kindom of God and all these things will follow.” We follow, he said, “because we know we are guided by something far greater than themselves. They who feel that this [material world] is all there is accumulate and accumulate, because they don’t know what we know – that all comes from God, who never forsakes us.”

And God has promised all that we need, Nelson continued. “Even in death there is still life: what an amazing possibility to follow, abide by and trust …. It may cost us to engage the world, but we serve a God who continues to give us all we need to run this race,” he said. 
It may not be as much as we had, or as much as we want, or as much as we pray for, but it is as much as we need.” 

So Presbyterians must do three things, Nelson concluded:

  1. “We must move away from this shallow thinking and ungodly demeanor that we are people who lack abundance. We are not poor,” he said. “We have more than we need … if we learn that we are a unit and not separate entities with varying agendas. This means closing ranks with one another but most importantly closing ranks with God through Jesus Christ.”
  2. “We must stop this talk about what we are losing. God is blessing us right now,” Nelson said. “Focus on the call that is before you … and give rise to the miracles that are occurring.”
  3. “Encourage people to come to St. Louis for the upcoming General Assembly (June 16-23, 2018) and let us model a revival of the Spirit related to the work of the kindom of God,” Nelson said, “not simply the church.”