“What is our vision, what is your vision?” the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson asked in the wrap-up to the inspirational sermon she delivered as part of Thursday’s ecumenical worship service preceding the day’s business for the 225th General Assembly.
Thompson, whose ministry is informed by her passion for racial justice, is the associate general minister of the United Church of Christ. She opened her sermon, “A New Normal,” acknowledging a season of open lament.
“Our hearts are broken as we watch the death toll climb and people get ill. If Covid were the only reason for us to lament, we would need a tremendous amount of time to grieve and to heal, and yet it is not the only thing plaguing us at this time.”
Thompson notes that the pandemic has just highlighted our faults, and points to racial injustice, polarities among religion and politics, the continued support for marginalization of communities, and the ills brought about by climate change and forced immigration.
“Over 84 million people have fled their homes due to crises,” said Thompson. “And in the U.S., we witness over and over the heartbreak of deaths from mass shootings. With the emergence of each new crisis, we experience heartbreak and pain. How long, O Lord, can our crises continue?”
But crisis is not new, notes Thompson. As the psalmist wrote — weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.
“We are not to the morning light. Instead, we are finding our way to that joy, attending to the injustices that prevail among us, creating hope and vision for a new world out of where it is we understand ourselves to be in this moment,” said Thompson.
Referencing the Scripture for the day, Revelation 21:1–6, Thompson notes that its author, John, was an early Christian who was exiled at a time when Christians were being persecuted and suffering and pain were present. It is from this context that the Scriptures emerged, providing a new hope, a new vision and a new world of possibilities.
“Today as we envision what will emerge beyond these days of disease and unrest,” Thompson said. “What do we imagine? What is the prophetic word that we bring for this moment? What is the vision that we cast for the church and the world as we gather at this moment?”
The journey toward that vision, as the Presbyterian Church and as an ecumenical movement, requires care for each other and a commitment to being honest, open and vulnerable. Thompson offered three points of consideration to the nearly 400 worshippers who joined the prerecorded service online:
Creating space for mourning losses.
Moving from lament to hope requires taking risk.
It is time for us to do a new thing.
“A new vision requires that we push against the status quo. John imagined a new heaven and a new Earth, a new Jerusalem and a more vibrant presence of God among people,” said Thompson. “He was well aware of what it meant for him to offer this vision at a time of religious persecution, but he offers it nonetheless.”
“Our current world crises require a new vision, one that takes boldness and courage in John’s vision. The definition of hope hinges on vision and expectations and a desire for something to happen,” Thompson said. “What is our vision for the future? What is your vision for the future?”
Thompson closed her sermon with a poem she had written that reflects on resurrection and relinquishing past practices that no longer serve the light for the spirit-filled journey that lies ahead.
After Thompson’s powerful plea, a video was played celebrating 25 years of A Formula of Agreement. Representatives from the PC(USA), including the Stated Clerk, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II; the Revs. Mark Pettis and John Dorhauer, United Church of Christ; Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and Kathryn Lohre, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; and Eddy Alemán, Reformed Church of America, spoke. Each provided testimony to the agreement that establishes full communion with each entity.
The Invitation to Worship and Benediction was offered by the Rev. Mamisoa Rakotomalala of the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar. Worship music was provided by New Hope Music, the Chancel Choir of First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the Celebrate Ensemble from Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.