Hope Through Connection, Unhindered By Walls

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

Synod Sunday, August 23, 2020
12th Sunday After Pentecost/21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scripture reading – 1st Thessalonians 1: 1 – 3
Message: “Hope Through Connection, Unhindered By Walls”
By Elder Shelley Hernandez

Scripture reading – 1st Thessalonians 1: 1 – 3
Message: “Hope Through Connection, Unhindered By Walls”
By Elder Shelley Hernandez

3 “For we remember before our God and Father how you put your faith into practice, how your love made you work so hard, and how your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ is firm.” (Good News Translation)

Good morning, and Greetings from your Brothers and Sisters within The Synod of the Sun on this Sunday we have designated as Synod Sunday, a day set apart to share with Congregations the ministries and mission work within the Synod boundaries and beyond.

You may recall from the past two years, as we’ve recognized Synod Sunday here at Heritage PC, there is always a Theme for Synod Sunday…and this Year’s Theme is Hope Through Connection, Unhindered By Walls and our Scripture passage is found in First Thessalonians, Chapter 1, verses 1 – 3. I’ll be referring to this text throughout my message.

Hope through connection…the word “Connection” is spoken often in my circles…and many times, “it’s all about connections” is overheard. We Presbyterians value the benefits we find through connecting. Our connections with God, with Christ, with our fellow Christians, with the World, even with Nature. We find meaning and assurance in these Connections. And Scripture is filled with them!

I find that the more connections I make, my world becomes larger but somehow less overwhelming…??? I find there are many more similarities than differences between myself and others that I meet and connect with…sometimes surprisingly so…and it brings a smile to my face whenever I hear, “Oh, I know so and so”…

What can also happen when making new connections within the larger Church, is that the “concerns” we may have, become less “looming” when we realize that our concerns are the very same ones discussed and prayed about within other Congregations. And by making connections with others, we can bounce off ideas and thoughts that have worked or not worked for them…it’s been said, that no one needs to re-invent the wheel… 

This has become so apparent to me as serving our Presbytery – and even more so in our Synod. We are all in the same boat, so to speak…some might have a larger boat with more people able to handle the rowing efforts, some may be borrowing a boat while deciding what type of boat is best for their ministry, some may be floating along, not knowing where to go and no “wind” to help them find their way. Dwindling numbers of all kinds, older congregations, fewer “young” people, energy, money…we all have this same baggage within our boats.

Hope can be found through connection…

So…what does “Hope through Connection” mean to you?

And what are the walls that can hinder our Hope?

At this time, I’d like to show you a Video that was created especially for Synod Sunday. Included are a wide variety of persons who have connections with the Synod of the Sun. Roll ‘em, Mark!

[Insert Synod Video Here: https://www.synodsun.org/synod-sunday]

I hope this video gives you a little insight to the connections made throughout the Synod of the Sun…and the joy those connections bring.

Hope through connection, unhindered by walls

Since early March, we find ourselves subjected to and hindered by walls unlike most of us have ever encountered. 

  • Stay at Home Orders
  • Wearing Mask Orders
  • Social Distancing
  • No Groups larger than 10 people allowed to gather
  • Limiting Travel to essential places like grocery stores and pharmacies

We have been restricted and cut off from family and friends by a virus that has taken control over our ability to connect…but not completely…

Like our ancestors, when faced with change we are learning to adapt as best we can, working from home is more important than ever, cooking at home and not eating out has become the norm, vehicle usage so minimal our insurance companies are sending us credit checks since we’re driving far less than we used to. 

Our children are attending school virtually, meetings have gone from in person to virtual almost overnight, even families are finding ways to stay connected via the internet…can you imagine going through this pandemic without the electronics and the world-wide web??? I shudder to think what would happen if we lost electricity…

So…we can connect with pretty much anyone, anywhere, at any time…but on the downside, what about the physical connections? Handshakes? Hugs? We hear reports of how depression is on the rise…I know I for one am having a very difficult time with no personal contact…the extrovert in me is getting grouchier by the day…

And what about the Church??? You may ask, the physical building, or the church as the people? Well friends, we are in the midst of “the church has left the building”…or maybe it’s more like, “the church is temporarily unable to enter the building”? 

We are having to realize, maybe the hard way, that the “Church” or the “Mission/Discipleship” of the Church, has nothing to do with “a building”, whether the building be brick & mortar, wood frame, or a suite in the local shopping strip center. 

What does Scripture tell us about the “Church” and her People?

I love Paul’s Opening Statements in his Letter to the People of Thessalonica, from “The Good News” translation:

To the people of the church in Thessalonica, who belong to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be yours. We always thank God for you all and always mention you in our prayers. 

Paul is…reminding the People of the Church to whom they belong…

Asking that Grace and Peace with each one of them…

Thanking God for each of one of them…

Praying for each of one them…

This, my brothers and sisters, is connecting through ministry at its highest form.

But back to my question…what about the Church? The “People” as the Church?

Paul continues in his Letter, “For we remember before our God and Father how you put your faith into practice, how your love made you work so hard, and how your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ is firm”.

Put our faith into practice…

Our love will make us work hard…

Our hope in Christ is firm…

So…according to Paul, we belong to God and we are called to put our faith into practice, to love, and to hope…we don’t need a building to be the Church at all! 

I’d like to share with you some of the Good News Stories of Mission and Ministry found on The Synod of the Sun’s website…some prior to and some during this pandemic…and some without Buildings, I might add…

  • There is the Diaper Drive-In – a way for Hope Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX to respond to the needs of their Community. People donate diapers and people in need drive up and are given diapers.
  • The Westover Hills Literacy Team, formed by Westover Hills Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, AR, have touched more than 3,200 lives by teaching literacy classes to incarcerated men, women, and children.
  • Presbyterian Women from across the Synod of the Sun have made quilts and other bed coverings for the families of Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services, along with support and prayer.
  • First Presbyterian of Plano, TX when faced with the closure of their clothes pantry they had been operating for 53 years, due to the pandemic, partnered with a local organization called “Street Showers” which provides weekday mobile showers for the homeless. The Church hauls the available clothing to where the mobile showers have been set up and gives them away.
  • And just like here at Heritage, many of our Pastors and Congregations are using virtual applications to make and renew connections, an example is the story of Pastor Josh Kerr serving First Presbyterian Church in Claremore, Oklahoma.

This Year, like no other, has brought change within the Synod as well. Our Assemblies have been virtual as we have cancelled all face to face meetings. And we have become more and more aware of just how much “Justice” winds its way throughout almost all parts of Synod’s ministries and mission work…especially now, as we see the upheaval that racism is having throughout our Country. But, Racism has always been an issue, hasn’t it? When has there been a time when “racism” or “prejudice against one’s color or nationality” has not existed in the World?  

The Synod of the Sun has this Year approved a newly organized Network, “The Network for Dismantling Racism.” This Network includes folks of all colors and geographic areas within our Synod and believes so strongly in studying, educating, and talking about racism that they are presenting a series of four webinars on First Steps to Dismantling Racism, led by Warren Chalklen, Ph.D, who’s published issues related to anti-racism practice, critical literacy and leadership. This and future Events are sponsored by all 11 Presbyteries within The Synod of the Sun. Information can be found on our website, synodsun.org.

Another opportunity for study and education on the topic of Racism comes from Presbyterian Mission, entitled the “21-Day Racial Justice Challenge” and is found on the PCUSA’s Presbyterian Mission website. The list of ways to bring awareness of racism and how we might respond in action, vary from: reading Presbyterian Policies (most are short), studying Lessons from the “Facing Racism Study Guide”, and watching videos with information on Environmental Injustice and a PBS documentary on the unspoken, “American Native American Boarding Schools”. The Synod’s Coordinating Team is working on this Challenge together. It is not very time consuming, but to be very honest, it’s been a little difficult and sometimes makes me uncomfortable. It’s hard to hear of the plight of so many for so long…

This same Coordinating Team oversees the Synod’s Budget, and has charged themselves with looking at the 2021 Budget as a blank slate and reviewing each of the ministries and organizations currently included, and those we might want to add, and prayerfully selecting which of these missions and ministries to allocate monies, in order to best reflect how we discern Christ calling us to serve as disciples in this part of God’s Kingdom. Kind of a “money follows mission” exercise…

One item we are focusing on, and a Team of people are already planning for, is our “Imagine” Event for 2021. Imagine Events are opportunities for anyone to come and learn about, participate in, have conversation with, to “make a connection”…on various topics. Some Years we’ve had several topics to choose from, but just lately the Events are centered around a specific topic, one’s that currently in the forefront and on our hearts and minds.

In Fall of 2019, our Imagine Event was held in Brownsville. Included were several opportunities to participate in mission work being done by organizations across and/or near the Border at Matamoros. For example, Folks took food into the Tent City in Matamoros, visited homeless shelters that accommodated immigrants legally allowed to cross into the US, and listened to those on the front lines how best they could be assisted to help these Border towns. The Event was an overwhelming success…for lack of a better word…but for those who attended, it brought a face, or a connection, to the Border.

Our plan for the Imagine Event for 2021 is to meet in Tulsa, OK, which will be recognizing the 100thYear of the Tulsa Race Massacre. The planning team is focused on educating and remembering, so that this never happens again. 

And I repeat, anyone is invited to attend, and if you are at all interested, I would be happy to provide information.

I’d like to remind you of Synod’s Mission and “WHY” Statements:

OUR MISSION: The Synod of the Sun of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) serves Christ by connecting, equipping, and empowering Presbyterians for Christ’s mission within and beyond the Synod’s bounds.

BECAUSE: We believe when we work together across boundaries, we make visible the Good News and find wholeness as the Body of Christ. In our common calling, we impact lives together.

I’ve been associated with The Synod of the Sun now for over 3 years and we try our best to live into these two statements. 

We pray that God finds us:

Putting our faith into practice…

Loving so much it makes us work even harder…

And that our hope in Christ becomes firmer…

As Presbyterians, as Christ’s followers, as God’s own People, we are accountable to Him who made us, who made each human being on this Earth, in the image of God himself. From the Good News Translation, Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us. They will have power over the fish, the birds, and all animals, domestic and wild, large and small.”

I jotted down a few comments that spoke loudly to me from Mark’s Sermon last week…”The Dogs under the Table”:

  1. Jesus is poking us at our own thoughts about others
  2. Everybody is welcome to the Table
  3. Christians are called to rise above prejudice

It is sometimes hard for me to see myself as “prejudiced”…but then I catch myself judging another, sometimes for no reason other than they are different than me, and I have to stop myself and focus my attention on the fact that God created all of us in his image…how can one color or status be any better than another? I know this practice is easier for some than it is for me, and yet there are others who are not even close to being able to have this thought…what I do know is that the more connections I make, with people like me and people not like me, I am able to more easily recognize God’s image in others. 

Hope through connection, unhindered by walls…today I challenge each of you to ponder, pray, and listen for what Christ may be saying…for your ministry…and for the ministry of the Congregation known as Heritage Presbyterian Church. 

If we are filled with hope through connections, and there are no walls to hinder us, what might we be called to do? 

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!