By Donna Tourneur
Let me begin this week by saying I love being a minister in these modern times. Even as I loom ever closer to the six-decade mark, and even when I look out at my congregation knowing that the majority are older than me, and even when I wonder who will be left when my time to pass the torch comes.
Church goers these days are not there due to social pressure, or to pay it forward for eternal life, or out of guilt or fear. There are far more positive reasons to be in church. While some admittedly go because they always have, most love being challenged to think theologically, to delve into the great stories of faith and to build community. They want to respond to the ancient call of discipleship, in a way that matters for today even if they may not articulate it exactly like this.
I love these people. They give me hope for a broad and inclusive tomorrow, even as they build on today. They have the tradition and the community to build with them. Yet, the scope of a preacher goes beyond the walls of the comfortable Sunday morning crew.
When disaster strikes, professional pastors are often invited to respond. In those moments, one cannot assume a basic theological understanding. Often the big questions, that no one can actually answer, stand like the elephant in the room. Why did this happen? What did I do to deserve this? Why do so many people who don’t deserve to live long lives when our loved one, who cared, has died? Huge questions, and important ones, I agree. They speak to a theological understanding from another era. Good questions, lead to bigger ones, and invite us to explore and embrace infinity and wonder. Fixating on blaming or discarding God for letting us down is drawing upon an unexplored theology.
Sometimes, during lent it is tempting to move back into that era, even for those who still connect with a community of faith. Somewhere along the line, we began to let the idea of a God who willed the sacrificial death of Jesus in order to account for our sins, take the lead. It is an idea I have difficulty with, because it discounts the place in the story of God that allows for an abundant and overflowing love that is graciously available to all. Jesus’ death was an expression of his depth of love and commitment to a new kind of kingdom.
Think of it like this. What can your child do to make you stop loving him, or to love him more. You may appreciate certain things about your child sometimes more than others, but I’ll bet the love is constant.
A faith for today invites us beyond the hard questions to a place that embraces that unconditional love, and reflects that love as we respond in small acts of kindness and charity and in global acts of generosity and caring. It challenges us to think differently and act as if it matters. This is the kind of transformation that can and will save the world. I believe it is what Jesus lived and died for, and is within the heart of the stories of faith passed through the generations. It is our hope as we persist in being a living story.
Rev. Donna Tourneur ministers among the people of Trinity United Church in New Glasgow.