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Big Tent closing worship encourages planting and cultivating seeds of change

Christine Hong preaches on the theme of reconciliation from the Parable of the Sower

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Christine Hong preaches a sermon titled “Planting and Cultivating Seeds of Change” at Big Tent 2017 closing worship. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

ST. LOUIS – In the New Testament, Jesus shared the Parable of the Sower with his disciples. In that story, Jesus explains that as the sower sows the seeds, some may fall on rocky ground or among the thorns, while other seeds flourish in rich soil.

The closing worship service at Big Tent focused on the parable and the second word in the conference theme: Reconciliation. The Rev. Dr. Christine Hong, assistant professor of educational ministry at Columbia Theological Seminary, asked attendees to focus on “reconciliation” as they returned to their homes.

“It’s what we hope for in our lives and church, but something hard to hear because reconciliation in the church has become a dirty word, weaponized,” she said. “We are still too comfortable with the oppression of those in our midst. We have forgotten that reconciliation is hard and lifelong work. The fruit of what we sow is sacramental.”

Hong said people are not comfortable today with what reconciliation really requires and often pay it lip service instead. She says Christians often domesticate Jesus to serve their own purposes and hold themselves up as the people who understand.

Referring to the parable, Hong said God is the sower in the story and the people are the soil.

“In the heart of the great sower, there is love and hope if only there is opportunity, she said.The seeds planted here, the words and stories we have heard are falling on different ears and different ways we live our lives. Many of our lives are still too inwardly focused and don’t do enough to dismantle racism.”

Bella Hobson floats a butterfly kite over Big Tent 2017 closing worship participants as they pray for God’s work to continue after the conference. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

Hong told attendees that churches are contented with concepts of social justice as long as they are just concepts and don’t disrupt personal comfort.

“This is a collective moment in our nation’s history, a new thing for many of us. Some of us have lived under the weight of racism from the minute we opened our eyes,” she said. “For some, our spirits have felt devastation and defeat at the hands of racism and white supremacy, long before we had a name for it. We worry about children’s lives in ordinary things like going to school because of the color of their skin.”

Hong said the sower has planted the word of reconciliation among all people within the church, but adds that it needs the right conditions to grow and flourish.

“In order to grow, we must be watered by confession that the church is complicit in racism across the denomination and our country,” she said. “Watered by confession and tilled by repentance. We have to stop longing for the good old days because what was good for some of us was traumatic for many of us.”

Hong closed her sermon by saying no ground or soil is left out, that all is possible with God.

“The seed of reconciliation takes longer to germinate and cultivate, and must be cared for. The soil of reconciliation must be good and must change,” she said. “The church must purge its rocks and weeds before seeds are suffocated.”

Worship concluded with attendees gathering around the perimeter of Graham Chapel asking God to equip them for service and ministry.

More than 600 people attended the numerous workshops, plenaries and meetings at local churches, focusing on the theme of “Race, Reconciliation, and the Reformation.” St. Louis is also the site for the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in 2018.

Korean Translation

Spanish Translation

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