Pain and struggle are part of human life, the Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, told worshipers at a Sunday morning worship and communion service Oct. 30 that opened the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s annual Polity Conference. 

“The question is, how will you respond? And what will God do with it?”

Preaching on John 9:1–12, the story of Jesus healing a man blind from birth, Nelson noted that there must have been confusion among Jesus’ disciples about Jesus’ statement that the man “was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” 

“Jesus is saying in a sense that we need to take lemons and learn how to make lemonade,” Nelson said. “Blindness is not a good thing—the question is what will God do with it? There is something to be learned by the experiences we go through.”

Nelson said when he was growing up in the small town of Orangeburg, South Carolina. “I could not wait to get out of town. “But when he left to go to Johnson C. Smith University, something kept pulling him back to Orangeburg. “I wanted to go back to what was familiar.”

Finally, after seeing Nelson at church almost every Sunday that first semester, his Uncle TJ told him, “Don’t come back again.” His uncle told him he needed to stay at college and learn from that new experience. 

“You cannot live into a new experience of being transformed if you’re not grounded in it, even in the moments of being uncomfortable,” Nelson said. We need to learn to “encounter moments of struggle and alienation with faithfulness.”

In a similar way, the Presbyterian Church needs to move forward, expecting that God is using our struggles to transform our denomination, Nelson said. Conflicts may have subsided in some presbyteries following the exit of disgruntled congregations, Nelson acknowledged, but he added, “If we merely believe that removing the problems makes us better, we’ve lost sight of what faith is all about.

“Let us not get comfortable because some of the problems have left,” Nelson continued. “Where you are right now is not the end of the story. Look down the road to where the Lord is really leading you. Don’t stay stuck here. You’ve been sent into the world to make a difference in Jesus’ name, to transform lives.”

But Nelson also reminded listeners that if our focus is only on our church, our vision is too limited. “Jesus does not call us to save the church, but to help people live into the Kingdom of God.” 

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