But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of the One who called you out of darkness into this marvelous light.
1:1 Peter 2:9
We are in Advent, the season of anticipation. Coming to the end of this most difficult year, marked with overlapping crises and erratic waves of terror and boredom, it is easy for us to feel Isaiah’s prophecy:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)
There are many ways that the birth of Jesus changed the course of human history. One thing I’ve been dwelling on this year is how God’s choice to be one of us brings us closer to being God’s own people, partners in mission with the Almighty. It’s sort of like the difference between sympathy and empathy— you can feel sorry for someone else, or you can be that someone else. In Jesus, God chose the latter.
As Presbyterians, we believe in the priesthood of all believers. So when Jesus raises us to be God’s own, we are not just talking about the clergy; we are talking about everyone who answers Christ’s call. When I ask people, especially ruling elders, why they became Presbyterian (as opposed to being born Presbyterian), the most frequent answer is the way authority is shared between all presbyters (elders), teaching elders and ruling elders alike. We believe everyone has a piece of God’s wisdom and power, and everyone has been gifted by the Holy Spirit to contribute to God’s mission in this place.
When we had our Presbytery meeting last month, Ally Lee put together a beautiful necrology, with pictures of loved ones who had passed on to eternal life since our November 2019 Presbytery meeting. Our tradition has been to name current minister members of the Presbytery, and invite church leaders to name elders who had died in the prior year. This year we included a few past minister members (such as Jake Kim, who died on December 22, 2019, just a few months after leaving our membership), wives of minister members, and church leaders.
It is especially hard when we lose loved ones around the holidays. Another beloved member of our Presbytery family just passed away: Lee Hawthorne, wife of Rev. Donald Hawthorne. Lee was a partner and support for Donald all the way to the end, as he is in the Health Center. This year we have said good-bye to several wives of pastors, and we give thanks for their lives, as we know how they served Christ’s church with just as much faithful dedication as their husbands did.
Indeed, there are so many ways to further God’s mission. During the Presbytery meeting, I got a chat asking about George Inadomi. I felt badly that we hadn’t mentioned him in the necrology, but I was reminded that I wanted to write about him and his witness when he died in September of this year.
George had been ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament to serve El Estero Presbyterian Church, one of the traditionally Japanese Presbyterian churches that run up and down California. He had graduated from UCLA in 1950 and Fuller in 1955. He also served at Church of Christ Presbyterian in Chicago in the 1960s, and there he began his lifelong ministry for social justice, participating in protests for civil rights in Selma, and in the March on Washington in 1963. (Many Japanese-Americans had personal reasons to be committed to human rights based on their own experience; George was only 11 years old when he and his family were incarcerated at Gila River camp in Arizona.)
In 1965, George was called back to Southern California to help with his family’s grocery business. He decided to give up his ordination as minister of Word and sacrament, and he and his wife Jeanette became active members of Calvary Presbyterian Church in South Pasadena. George became a ruling elder instead, but again in the PC(USA) that did not hinder his ability to serve and lead. He was active in San Gabriel Presbytery, and served on the national level, including as Vice-Chair of the General Assembly Council. (As I understand it, the GAC back then could act as the General Assembly between General Assembly meetings; we no longer have a body with that kind of authority in the denomination.) George continued an advocacy of inclusion for all noting, “the PC (USA) is a diverse group that is reaching out in a broad range of ministries to the world.”
This inclusion which George appreciated and worked for takes many forms in the PC(USA), and its root is our deep belief in the priesthood of all believers, and the fundamental understanding that the Bible tells us many times how God can and does do mighty things through whomever God chooses. Every one of us is a child of God, no better or worse than any other human being that God crafted out of God’s creative genius. God makes each one of us unique, so that we can serve in different ways, and all service and offices are needed and appreciated for the body to be whole.
So as we enter this holy season, may we wait with eyes open, and with thankful hearts, for the lives of Lee Hawthorne and George Inadomi, and all who gave their lives to Christ’s service. Indeed, the church would not have been the same without them and their leadership.
Thanks be to God for blessing each of us, that we may be a blessing to others. You are a blessing to me.