God Who Never Changes
Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you endure;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You change them like clothing, and they pass away,
but you are the same, and your years have no end.
The children of your servants shall live secure;
their offspring shall be established in your presence.
It has been my practice to focus the column just prior to a presbytery meeting to the business we anticipate, and in the column immediately following I try to recap what actually happened. I will continue that practice, though it seems odd to ignore what is taking up the news coverage all around us.
Our June meeting is our annual Day of Service, when we have a very short meeting to handle business that cannot be delayed, and then we spend a couple of hours doing service in the church and our community. This Saturday, we have two key actions to be considered: First Presbyterian Church, Altadena, is hoping to call Rev. Elizabeth Wang as their new pastor, so the presbytery will be asked to approve her call and receive her as a minister member of San Gabriel Presbytery. Second, the administrative commission for St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in La Puente will request that the congregation’s ministry be ended. After these two milestone decisions are considered, we will go to several different options to work and learn for just a couple of hours, and end with lunch.
We Presbyterians are known as people of the Book, people of prayer, people of learning, people for justice, and we are people who seek to put our faith into action in our lives. We will gather to pray and discern God’s will for our siblings in Altadena, and to give thanks for the ministry of St. Andrew’s over 67 years, ministry that was not limited to the members of the church, but a ministry that supported and shared with the children of the community, nonprofit missions nearby and around the world, and individuals in need who received care from the church’s generosity. During our time of service, there will be options to learn about restoring the native flora of Los Angeles or utilizing our property for the sake of our neighbors, especially those whose families have suffered from systemic poverty and discrimination. As we often do, we will also put together hygiene kits for patients of Los Angeles General Medical Center (aka LAC+USC Medical Center) who have no housing, and we hope to help the people of Eagle Rock Presbyterian Church as they care for their campus.
As we gather, it will be a blessing to see each other and worship and work together. And by the way, even if you cannot do both, commissioners are encouraged to come to the Presbytery meeting at 9:00 am even if you cannot stay, and those who want to focus on work can come at 10:00 am to join us.
But all are welcome to come for the full morning, and have lunch together; if you can register, it will help our planning. You can register here—and you can also give your offering at the bottom of the registration page. This meeting’s offering will go to Friends in Deed, an ecumenical organization that offers a variety of services to our neighbors in Pasadena.
As I write this, I am aware that we continue to experience great change in our lives. Altadena will be starting a new chapter of ministry, with all the hope and potential that brings. The people of St.
Andrew’s are completing their ministry, and saying good-bye to a faithful and loving community of God is painful. This last Saturday began with a memorial service for our friend and long-time legal
counsel Kay Gustafson, and ended with the commencement service for International Theological Seminary, marked as always with the joy of accomplishment and empowerment as students are sent to their respective missions, having been strengthened for ministry by their work at ITS. And floating above and around us are signs of climate change in the persistent gloom and chill of our May weather, and news that for the first time a former president of the United States is being indicted for criminal activities that may have endangered the very lives of loyal Americans he swore to protect. This has never happened before, and it is ironic to me that some of the unprecedented level of unrest and division we are seeing—and the impassioned support for this former president—is rooted in the fear and anger that many feel about fundamental changes in the culture and demographics of this nation.
It can be challenging to our faith when so much is changing. We often come to church to be comforted that our God never changes, and we seek this comfort by practicing traditions that do not change. The problem is, though God never changes, everything else is bound to change. According to Psalm 102, even the heavens and the earth can be discarded like old clothing, while God stays the same. The source of our faith, our comfort, our ability to sustain the momentous changes around us is not in trying to resist change, but to know that through everything, the all-saving, all-knowing, all-powerful love of God never changes.
Sometimes this can be hard to believe. The commencement speaker for ITS was Rev. Amos J. Disasa, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, the church that just called Charlene Jin Lee to serve as Associate Pastor for Practice and Formation. Rev. Disasa spoke about a recent visit to his birthplace in Ethiopia, and his recognition of the ways that small actions led to momentous change. Citing Revelation 21:6, “I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life,” he was able to see how small springs bear forth the water of God’s saving future for the world. Certainly we can all look back and see how someone once offered a helping hand to an ancestor, or a teacher gave us encouragement and understanding, or an unlikely stranger unknowingly spoke the word of God that we needed to weather a crisis, and how those small actions—sometimes actions that seemed inconsequential at the time—blossomed into significant pivots in our history.
As he spoke, I was reminded of the saying in the Jewish Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a): “Whoever saves a single life is considered by scripture to have saved the whole world.” This is also stated in the Quran (Surah 5 verse 32): “Whoever saves a life, it will be as if they saved all of humanity.”
Our Abrahamic cousins in faith see, as we do, that God who never changes is so infinitely wise that our ever-changing lives are filled with ever-growing possibility for new life, for grace unbounded, for the fulfillment of hope that we cannot create or even imagine for ourselves. May we look at and through the ever-changing crises of our lives and glimpse signs of the coming Kin-dom that Jesus invited us to enter. May we gather this Saturday, and remind each other of that hope as we smile, pray, deliberate, work, and eat together. And by the way, we are invited to meet again the following Saturday, June 24, as we take our first steps towards transforming our Baldwin Park church property into a place of new life for several families in our community. Details are in this Monday Morning Update.