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NEXT Church National Gathering ends with the challenge to ‘make America America again’


Paul Roberts encourages a ‘redirect’ toward God’s goodness

May 4, 2017

The 2017 gathering of NEXT Church concluded March 15 with worship and a sermon by the Rev. Paul Roberts Sr., president of Johnson C. Smith Seminary in Atlanta. In its seventh year, the three-day conference was attended by 550 people under the theme of “Wells & Walls: Well-Being in a Thirsty World.”

Paul Roberts delivers the benediction at the close of the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering in Kansas City. (Photo by Robyn Davis Sekula)

Preaching on John 4:19-26, the interaction between Jesus and the woman at the well, Roberts’ sermon “The Power of the Redirect” reminded those gathered that worship liturgy is defined as the “work of the people.”

“We didn’t come to NEXT to usher in what has already been and to sit on our laurels,” he said. “We came to NEXT to be active participants in what God is doing in the world. We are here to mount a massive redirect. We dishonor what we’ve done here these last three days if we don’t leave this place and mount up a redirect in our churches, in our cities, in our states and in our country.”

Using the example of the Bolivian town of La Paz that has suffered drought due to receding glaciers in their area, he spoke of the people’s wait for water to arrive, for the government to turn on taps, and how to plan for transporting the water, comparing it to the woman’s journey to and conversation about the Samaritan’s claim to the well.

“This obsession with possession will be the downfall of us all,” he said of the tendencies to restrict access to God’s gifts, including natural resources. “We need a redirect where the people of God not only change the subject but reframe the discussion. … We need to open the book of Hebrews and proclaim that everything was created by God for us to share.”

Turning his attention to the current social and political situation into which he said the church must testify, Roberts urged the audience to remember Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again” whenever they hear the refrain “Make America Great Again.”

Reciting the poem that includes the stanza, “Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—Let it be that great strong land of love, Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme, That any man be crushed by one above. (It never was America to me.),” Roberts concluded his sermon by saying, “Let us take up this charge. Let us mount a massive redirect. … Let us make America America again. Do it!”

Tamara John plays flute during a Hope for Life Chapel RV Ministry worship service. (Photo provided)

Earlier in the day, Tom Cramer, co- executive for vision and mission in the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, and Tamara John, pastor of Hope for Life Chapel RV Ministry, presented on efforts to promote and support new missional communities.

Saying the expansion of the mission of the church must be supported by the “mixed economy” of established churches and presbyteries forging partnerships with these new communities, Cramer called this work an “essential act of being a flourishing community of faith.”

John gave an overview of her life story that brought her to her RV ministry among those who live in trailer parks, saying her former life of affluence that led to drug and alcohol abuse was “an insatiable way of living. … The more you have, it’s never enough.”

“The Bible is not a book of rules,” she said of the realization that started her path of recovery and pursuit of theological education. “The Bible is a book of freedom.”

Rodger Nishioka, longtime professor of educational ministries at Columbia Theological Seminary and now director of adult educational ministries at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, also spoke on the topic “New Ways of Knowing for the NEXT Church.”

Using Jeremiah 31:31-34 as his text, Nishioka said experiences of faith are not complete without reflection and action. “Jeremiah is talking about a shift from episodic [experiential] knowledge to semantic knowledge—where meaning is derived from experience,” he said of contemporary ways in which people are approaching faith. “In my experience and research, there are a lot of people looking for something greater than themselves—that’s transcendence.”

Saying reflection on and relations within these shared experiences of faith call the church “together to be the body of Jesus Christ,” Nishioka said they are essential for the future of Christianity as a presence in society. “Shared experience allows us to be adaptive and agile in the church. That whole relational piece is huge—it’s vital to us all.”

Gregg Brekke, reporter, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus:  NEXT Church National Gathering

Let us join in prayer for:

Johnson C. Smith Seminary Staff

Paul Roberts, president
Steve Bacon, chief financial officer
James Costen Jr., program director connecting
Carlton Johnson, operations officer
Tony McNeill, program director
Itihari Toure, academic officer

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Martha Clark, PMA                                                                                      
Tim Clark, FDN            

Let us pray:

Dear God, your blessings are always evident and give us the good pleasure of enjoying your presence. Continue to abide with us as we love and serve those in need. In Christ’s service. Amen.

Daily Readings

Morning Psalms 47; 147:12-20
First Reading Daniel 5:13-30
Second Reading 1 John 5:13-20 (21)
Gospel Reading Luke 5:1-11
Evening Psalms 68; 113

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