Tensions, hurt, and unrest permeate our world and even the church, but nothing can separate us from the love of God through Jesus, Heath Rada, Moderator of the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), told worshippers gathered at First Presbyterian Church of Portland.
Tragedy is all around and “we’re also a fragile denomination,” he preached. But the table still unites us, said Rada, who hosted the Moderators’ Conference here October 9–11.
“God has a plan that we don’t fully understand,” he said. “But God does.”
A few blocks away, at the Portland Hilton, the Reverend Larissa Kwong Abazia, Vice Moderator of the 221st General Assembly (2014) and director of church relations at Princeton Theological Seminary, preached at another worship service.
Both sermons closed the Moderators’ Conference and meetings of several other groups also gathered in Portland: the Association of Mid Council Leaders, the Association of Stated Clerks, and the General Assembly and Synod Committees on Representation. The 2015 Polity Conference runs Oct. 11–12.
Laughter erupted when Kwong Abazia introduced her sermon text—Acts 5:1–11—with the comment, “You never find this one in the lectionary.”
Acts 5 tells the story of Ananias and Sapphira, a couple who answered a call to stewardship by selling their property and donating the proceeds to the church. But they were struck dead because they conspired to secretly withhold some of the money for themselves.
More laughter ensued when a giant screen in front of the room displayed the sermon title “Who’s Next?”
“Here’s the thing about Ananias and Sapphira,” Kwong Abazia said. “I think the community failed them.”
The couple’s tragic story follows accounts of the amazing movement of the Holy Spirit and the rapid growth of the Christian community. But the early church’s stewardship appeal failed to address the question: “What happens when the fervor is gone?” said Kwong Abazia.
Ananias and Sapphira were never taught how they would live after giving up everything they valued.
Kwong Abazia drew a parallel with her recent diagnosis with breast cancer and ongoing treatment: “No one told me that I would have to figure out how to live when I was afraid of dying.
“Friends, death is all around us,” she continued, “and it’s our role to face it and to tell people how we are facing it. The church is in the business of helping people live.”
Kwong Abazia mentioned examples of gun violence and refugees fleeing war-torn homelands. Then she pointed to the table spread for celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
“This was the last meal of a death row inmate,” she declared. “Each time we partake of the bread and cup, we proclaim that this last meal is our meal. That it will feed us in our calls to ministry.”