Giving Thanks for the Secret Kingdom
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I want to laugh at Jesus’ many efforts to get people to understand what the kingdom of heaven is like. I don’t know if it’s a failure of language, or God’s kingdom is just too far out of our imagination, but it seems like no matter what he says, at least I don’t get it.
It’s not that I don’t get glimpses of the kingdom. My “a-ha” moment came when a Native Hawaiian man talked about his journey. Like many Hawaiian men, he joined the US Army and was a very patriotic American. But over time he became more troubled about who he was and why he was fighting for the nation that illegally took over his native land. He went through a period of great anger until he came to accept his identity as a citizen of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, a kingdom that was invisible to most of the world. But because he was committed to the kingdom and its values, he was able to have aloha even for people who treated him with disrespect, because he knew who he was, and how his people were a gift to the larger world.
To me, that is a great description of who we are as citizens of the Kingdom of God. We continue to live in this world, and at least we Presbyterians don’t change our clothing or physical appearance to announce our real identity—but we live out our lives following the ways of God’s nation, which are not the ways of the world. We are blessed to be a blessing to others, even if they don’t know it.
I was reminded of this at a recent community meeting. There were about 50 or 60 community leaders in attendance, all working to make life better in the Pasadena area. They asked everyone to introduce themselves, and I recognized eight Presbyterians present. But only three of us identified as Presbyterian. Perhaps because we are in a post-Christendom—certainly a post-denominational—world, people who are in helping professions, or who are leading new faith communities, know that a label like “Presbyterian” can be off-putting. But I know that all of these people are a blessing to the world, and perhaps they are able to bless even more people by keeping their church membership a secret.
But there are times when we are meant to celebrate our Presbyterianness out loud, and this Saturday is it!
We have the regular year-end decisions to make, electing the leaders for next year and approving the budget. But we will also be considering some significant milestones in the life of our Presbytery. This is the 50th anniversary year for our host church, Praise Community Church (formerly known as First Thai Presbyterian Church), and as it happens their pastor, Peter Tan-Gatue, will be our incoming Presbytery Moderator. This church has been a place of welcome and grace for the Thai community but now they are receiving members of many backgrounds. And they are the partnering congregation for GKI-LA. GKI-LA will be recommended for chartering in early 2024, which will make them the first chartered Indonesian congregation in San Gabriel Presbytery! They have a committed group of young gifted leaders in the church, and Praise’s session has been an excellent role model for them as they already act as a session in partnership with Pastor Pipi Dhali.
In this meeting, we will also receive a recommendation from the Administrative Commission for Eagle Rock Presbyterian Church. For almost two years, the Presbytery has been working with the Eagle Rock congregation. Perhaps more than any of our churches, Eagle Rock was impacted by the COVID pandemic: they had several key leaders pass away, many of the church members struggled in their work in healthcare, their preschool had to close which depleted a major source of income, and their pastor took another call. The AC has worked to stabilize the church and continue to hold weekly worship for a regular but small group of members. The campus of the church has an excellent location and potential for various uses, and there are several partners in ministry who provide outreach to the community. But the plant needs significant work to restore the property, which scared off any prospective new ministries who might relocate there.
The Eagle Rock AC is proposing a significant investment on the part of the Presbytery to renovate the property, and to welcome the new worshiping community Interwoven to make it their home base. Like many new church starts, Interwoven has envisioned themselves to be not only a place for worship but also for community development, and the Eagle Rock property has potential for supporting that. This will be a significant and very exciting commitment on the part of the Presbytery, enabled in God’s providence by the sale of the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church property, and by Interwoven pastor Harlan Redmond’s experience in funds development.
In a troubled world, there is great need for God’s people to be channels of God’s grace. We do that in our lives in the world, acting out of faith to be a blessing for others, sometimes without anyone knowing how Christ leads and empowers us to serve. We also do that by acting as a body of Christ, taking bold actions of obedience, and showing a hurting world what great things God can do through us.
I love how we are like leaven, raising up the world often without the world knowing it. But I also give thanks when we can be a glimpse of God’s kingdom, offering hope and inspiration especially for those who long to find a welcoming family of faith, who yearn for places of grace and reconciliation, who dream of moving beyond the cycles of poverty and struggle that constrain many of our neighbors. Thank God for the resources entrusted to us, and for all of us being willing to be that welcoming community— for new immigrants, for long-term residents who never knew the Presbyterian Church might be for them, for veterans of the faith, for young families and folks just coming to know who Jesus is, for cradle Presbyterians, for people with privilege looking for ways to share God’s generosity with the world, for folks who never thought God cared about them, for God’s children who just want to let others know the love we enjoy . . . that is who we are, and that is who God is for us. Thanks be to God!
See you Saturday—and stay for lunch and celebrate!