Looking ahead

Published 8:52 am Thursday, July 18, 2019

Next month the church I am privileged to serve – Farmville Presbyterian Church – will celebrate its 175th anniversary as a chartered congregation. If you have driven past our church and noticed the numbers “1828” above the doorway, and do a little math, you might think our figures are off. There has been a church on-site since 1828, but we were chartered as a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in 1844.

So on Aug. 11, during and after our 11 a.m. worship service, we will gather and celebrate and reunite and share stories – in other words, do all the things that happen during a family reunion. It will be great to be back with people we haven’t seen in a while, people who have played a significant role in making our church what it is.

But as wonderful and special as church anniversaries are, they can also be a danger. They can make us look backward and yearn for the ‘good old days,’ which on further examination were not really all that good. They can make us wistful for a time that never was, and keep us from looking ahead to ways that God’s Spirit is transforming us now.

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In the prophecy of Hosea, the prophet is called upon to take some rather unorthodox actions that demonstrate how the people of Israel have been faithless to God. Through the prophet God shows how deep and unrelenting God’s love is for them, even in the midst of their waywardness. In the sixth chapter, God speaks through Hosea: “… I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Our church, like so many other churches, is going through a tough time. We are in our own exile, a time distant from the days when people flocked to churches. But looking backward to those days is not going to help us navigate through the turbulent waters of the deep paradigm shift we are in.

We need to look ahead. But paradoxically, we do that through remembering what God has told us in the past. God doesn’t care how well we go through our rituals; God cares more about how we demonstrate the steadfast love God has given us to share with each other. There is nothing you can do to earn God’s love. No matter how good you are, you cannot make God love you anymore than God already does. But we can share that love with those around us, even with those who know how to push our buttons.

We are also called to engage in the knowledge of God. Not just head knowledge, but a relationship which senses God in everything, in every person, in every event that happens to us. God is all-around us. God is all within us. We don’t sense that by looking backward. We get it by looking ahead, and being open to the ways God is transforming us now, and in the days to come.

REV. DR. TOM ROBINSON is pastor of Farmville Presbyterian Church. He can be reached at robinw216@embarqmail.com or (434) 808-3038.