I spent this past week in Baltimore at the 31st General Synod of the United Church of Christ.
Synod is the gathering of our denomination, every two years, to make decisions about how we will use our shared resources, and to give voice to shared values and commitments.
Every two years, delegates from all over the United States, as well as our mission partners around the world, all gather into a windowless convention hall, and subject ourselves to a 6 day long conversation governed by Robert’s Rules of Order.
I know most of you have been to a few congregational meetings in your day.
Just try to imagine one that lasts a week.
Every time I go to synod, there is a moment when I look over the crowd, and watch the people running back and forth between microphones and parliamentarians because they just have to get their favorite word or phrase added right before the end of line 72 in paragraph 5, dashing from table to table lobbying for someone to second their motion…
There is a moment when I see it all and I remember why the United Church of Christ i often called “a heady and exacerbating mix.”
But something else always happens to me in the midst of those long, exhausting days.
Every time I have been to synod. Without fail. A moment hits me.
I remember the alternative.
I remember that for most of the history of Christendom, powerful men, made sweeping decisions and grand pronouncements from behind closed doors, and the faithful were meant to fall into line.
I remember that people like you and me were not trusted to know much about the church, other than that it demanded our obedience.
I remember, in fact, that reformers crossed oceans, and some even died, for their belief in the simple idea that the faithful could be trusted to govern themselves, that ordinary Christians in community could discern the mind of God, and follow the dictates of their own consciences without interference or pronouncements from the halls of power.
I remember that that heady exacerbating mix of ordinary faithful people has also brought some serious beauty into the world.
I remember that on July 4, 2005, it was in a hall like that, in Atlanta that the 25th synod adopted a resolution called “Equal Marriage for All” becoming the first Christian denomination in the world to affirm the rights of all people to marry who they love.
And this year I remembered the words of Psalm 46.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
God speaks, the earth melts.
Be still. And know that I am God.
I am exalted among the nations
I am exalted in the earth.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God!
Like a river, our United Church of Christ is somewhat unruly. It has it’s twists and turns.
And the mighty river that we witness at synod has it’s source in thousands of tiny mountain streams, little trickles of diverse origins, that begin, slowly, and surely, to gather, and to run as one. Build, and grow, and swell.
A river, that brings God’s presence into the world more powerfully than any one of our local settings could alone.
It is always amazing at synod to think about all the beautiful ways that our local church, here in Milton, brings God’s love to life in this, our little corner of creation. And then to look around and realize that in ways both similar and different, each of the churches represented there is doing their part, in their place, too.
So I wanted to bring you this word of my testimony. Of the powerful experience I had spending a week with our kindred in Christ from around the world.
In case you happen to be afraid.
In case you feel that the earth is changing, our that mountains are shaking, our that waters roam and foam.
In case the world feels like it might melt at any moment.
If it feels like the nations are in an uproar.
If you feel like kingdoms might totter.
In case the state of it all makes you afraid.
I want to bring you this simple word of my testimony.
There is a river.
There is a river, whose streams make glad the city of God.
There is a river, a heady, exacerbating, unruly, chaotic, frustrating, imperfect, beautiful, hopeful, river, that has gathered and is gathering still, to refresh the world with a vision of love and justice for all people.
There is a river.
There is a river.
I wanted to bring you this testimony, in case, like me, you have ever been tempted to believe that you had to solve every problem you met alone.
In case you have been overwhelmed, feeling like there is too much pain and suffering and injustice in our world and feeling like you cannot rest until you have confronted it all.
What I was reminded this week, is the beauty of our connection, our covenant, with this hopeful mix of folks called the United Church of Christ.
I was reminded that our task here is not to become a rushing river, taking on every possible task that comes before us.
Rather, our task is to tend to our stream. The small source of living water that we tend to here, in our little corner of creation. To pour into it the very best of our lives and our love, but not to be dishearten when it is not enough.
That small stream might seem paltry compared with the crisis of our world. It might seem inadequate to the task.
But I am here to tell you that our small stream is flowing into something even greater than we could ever do here alone.
I just want to tell you that there is a river.
I just want to tell you what gives me hope.
There is a river.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.