It must be a function of my age and who I know, but it seems as if I always have someone that I am following on a CaringBridge site. At one point I had three persons whose healing process I was following simultaneously. (For those of you who are not aware, CaringBridge is an electronic site on which someone who is undergoing some form of health treatment can post their progress so that they need not repeat themselves hundreds of times to their friends and family both near and far. In this way those who care about their healing and want to be informed can go to this site on the Internet and be updated.) Many of the posts speak of recovery and healing, while others note the failure of medicine and their body to repel the disease. There can be both hope and despair on these sites.
A pastoral friend shared with me another site on which there was discussion within the Presbyterian Church USA about the relative health of their denomination. Some leaders consider the denomination “gravely ill” and are not hopeful about the outcome. In fact they are making plans for an alternative network of congregations of like-minded folks to create what they hope to be a healthier body. Alternatively, others within the denomination suggest that the Presbyterian Church is not “gravely ill” but diagnose the condition as “pregnancy.” They see, as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 8:22ff, that God’s people are groaning with labor pains.
It is sometimes difficult (especially for those of us not trained as medical professionals) to know exactly what the conditions we are experiencing mean. Sometimes even the medical professionals are not entirely certain what particular symptoms indicate. And often (as some of my friends on their CaringBridge sites note) some of the ways in which we seek to cure disease can temporarily cause increased pain and illness. At other times no form of treatment is successful in healing us.
I believe we share many of the same struggles as our brothers and sisters in the Presbyterian Church USA. And I believe that we are equally as unclear about whether or not the condition we are suffering means we are gravely ill or pregnant, about to birth a new life as a denomination. I do believe we all may be in agreement that change is happening, that we will not be able to return to where we were in 1960 or 1990. None of us physically can return to years past. However we can determine to live into the future as faithfully as possible.
I believe Paul, especially after his Damascus Road conversion, realized that the faith community would never be the same — it would never again be the one in which he had been nurtured and shaped as a follower of God. Yet he did not despair about that reality. Rather, he devoted himself wholeheartedly to becoming the new creature in Christ that God had in store for him.
I believe Paul understood, as we should as well, that ultimately we are not the ones who make the definitive diagnosis. We are not the ones who determine whether or not God’s church is gravely ill or pregnant. The stories of the first and second testament of the Bible show that God is always able to bring new life out of what is, out of what has been. Sometimes that means the death of something old, other times it means a transformation of the former into something else. Most often that new life is significantly different that what came before, yet there is still a continuity of God’s promises to God’s people. May the living testament of our lives demonstrate that we recognize, whatever our condition, that we are in God’s hands — and always will be. For that is good news indeed!