September 6, 2020
The Pronoun is We
Take a good look at our world today. Look around. Pay attention to the news and to social media posts. We live in a culture of “me, myself, and I.” I don’t do anything unless I want to -- unless it benefits me -- and makes me happier, or richer, or thinner. Don’t tell me what I can’t do or what I can’t have. It’s all about me.
There’s some “Me, myself, and I” in the church, too. I only participate in activities that speak to my heart. My program is the most important! My area of ministry is the highest and most urgent priority. I’ll support your idea but only if you’ll support my project.
And then…every now and then…into the midst of our ‘me, myself and I’ world… comes a season unlike any we’ve ever experienced before: a season of virus and social isolation and fear and despondency. And we learn powerfully and painfully that we can’t survive without one another. The pronoun moves from “I” to “We.” I now wear a mask and practice social distancing not just because it keeps me safe, but also because it keeps you safe, too. From “I” to “We.”
And every now and then … into the midst of the “me, myself, and I’ mindset in the church comes a season of transition … a season of shifting leadership, of asking probing questions, a season of exploring and looking deep into who we are and who God is calling us to be. What I want and think takes second place to what “WE” need to be the church of Jesus Christ in this neighborhood, in our city, in the PCUSA, and in our world. In a season of transition in the church, if the season is to bear fruit for the gospel, the pronoun must move from “I” to “We.”
We are descendants of John Calvin -- children of the Reformed Tradition…and if we cannot set aside our ‘me, myself, and I’ mental attitudes for this season where we so need one another, we will have missed the point of what it means to live in community as Reformed Christians. There is no “me, myself, and I” in the Reformed Tradition. This season of transition which began on March 15 is not about you and it’s not about me. It’s about all of US. For this season of transition for Northminster Presbyterian Church, the pronoun must be WE.
There is no “me, myself and I” in Scripture either. I could offer countless examples. In the verses we read moments ago from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find a simple statement of the purpose of God’s gifts – gifts that are given by God to the believers, gifts neither acquired nor earned. All God-given gifts are given in order to equip the saints for ministry and to “build up the body of Christ.” To put it bluntly, God gives gifts not to elevate particular individuals. God gives gifts for the sake of the whole – for the sake of the body of Christ, for the sake of the world. God – the “I Am Who I Am” gives gifts so that “We Can Be Who God Calls us to Be.” When we take Scripture seriously, the pronoun moves from I to We.
On this final Sunday before the arrival of our Interim Pastor, our focus hymn is “Together We Serve.” The text was written by the Rev. Daniel Charles Damon. It was commissioned for the 1997 Centennial celebration of the First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo, CA. Notice there’s no mention of an actual church building in this hymn – truly the “church is not the building but the people.” The hymn reflects Paul’s words to the Ephesians and is a celebration and a reminder of what the church is called to be.
Stanza one celebrates congregational life and mission that is “together, united, inviting, glorious, extending.” Stanza 2 is filled with powerful images – “beacon of hope, lamp for the heart, light for the feet, and let love shine.” Stanza 3 lifts up social justice and reminds us that the church welcomes all – wealthy and poor, busy and lonely, the scarred, and all who need care. And the final stanza is filled again with togetherness as it names for the church the “sources of strength” – grace, remembering Jesus, and service in spirit and truth, always remembering love is the strength of our song. There is no “me, myself, and I” in our focus hymn for this Sunday, the Sunday before the arrival of our interim Pastor – our pastor for this season of transition.
A season of transition in the life of a congregation will move forward with energy and hope only if each and every one of us is willing to drop the words “me, myself, and I” from our thinking, our speaking, and our doing. For us to journey into God’s preferred future for Northminster Church, the future God alone can see, we must work together – serving, united, inviting, extending God’s love to each other and to the world. From this moment on, the pronoun must absolutely be WE.
It's not easy to set aside the “myself” in each of us. I’m guessing each one of us would like to be the first person to meet the new Interim Pastor and offer him all the thoughts and ideas we’ve been storing up for 6 months. Each one of us wants him to know… “I want this program… my committee or team is the most important … my questions are the ones to answer … my concerns are the ones to address.” If that’s how even 25% of us are approaching the arrival of Pastor Dave, and the start of the serious work of transition, we will make no progress at all. Only as we work together … only as the pronoun becomes WE … will we envision a future that lives out the challenge of Paul’s words to the Ephesians, the challenge of today’s hymn … a future where we are a beacon of hope for our community … where we are a lamp for the heart and a light for the feet of all who are scarred, for both the poor and the wealthy, for the busy and lonely, for all who need care. Only as the pronoun becomes a solid and unequivocal WE, can we offer a home to those who will come, our hands quick to help, our hearts ready to dare. Then and only then will we serve together in spirit and truth, remembering that love is the strength of our song.
Rodger Nishioka is the Executive Pastor at Village Presbyterian Church near Kansas City. For a number of years he served as the Associate for Youth Ministry for the Presbyterian Mission Agency in Louisville. While in Louisville, Rodger worshipped at Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church. One Sunday a new family visited with a small daughter. The little girl was warmly welcomed during the time with children. After worship, as her parents were greeted by church members, the little girl, obviously feeling quite at home, began to run around the sanctuary. Suddenly, another little girl ran up to her and hollered, “Stop!” “Why?” asked the visitor. “Because this is our church, and in our church, we run TOGETHER.” And off they went, hand in hand, running together through the church.
The next phase of our transition is beginning … the pronoun must be WE … so get ready to run -- for this is our church, and in our church, we run – TOGETHER. May it be so. And to God be the glory. Amen.
* Commentary on Ephesians 4: 1-16 by Sarah Henrich. Working Preacher – Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary
* History of Hymns: Together We Serve by Don McAvoy, Jr. Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church
* Story from The Rev. Dr. Rodger Nishioka, Association of Presbyterian Church Educators, 1998.