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Stop acting like the house isn’t on fire


Preacher urges Presbyterians to get serious about ‘always reforming’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Revs. Rola Al Ashkar, at left, and Adriene Thorne used dance to deliver a cover for the communion table during Wednesday’s Reformation worship at the Presbyterian Center Chapel  in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Tammy Warren)

LOUISVILLE — We might be a Reformed Church, but we’re not reforming.

The Rev. Kate Murphy, pastor of The Grove Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, reminded worshipers celebrating the Reformation on Wednesday in the Chapel at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville that God’s kingdom, which many refer to as God’s kin-dom, is multiethnic, as described in Scripture including Acts 2.

“A segregated white church is an idolatrous lie,” she said. “We act like the house isn’t on fire. We act like the multiethnic church is one option. It’s not a way to be the church — it is the church.”


The Rev. Kate Murphy, pastor of The Grove Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, preached Wednesday in the Chapel at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Tammy Warren)

Murphy was part of a panel working in Louisville since Monday to discern what it will take for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to become an intercultural denomination. The denomination’s membership is about 90 % white and about 10 % people of color.

Last year, the 223rd General Assembly declared the coming decade beginning in 2020 as the Decade of Intercultural Transformation.

For her text, Murphy used Luke’s account of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet with ointment in the home of Simon the Pharisee, who she said “invited Jesus because he might be the Messiah, or he might not be. He was given the chance to be heard and prove himself.”

She called the setting “a space for holy chaos” into which “a notorious sinner came uninvited.” The woman “came in and made a spectacle of herself” by “weeping, worshiping and wasting.” The sight of her and the sounds she made were offensive, and when she smashed her alabaster jar and poured out the perfume on Jesus’ feet, “even the smell of her offends,” Murphy said.

The woman, Jesus tells the host, Simon the Pharisee, as Murphy put it, “had to break into your house. She provided everything that you in your dignity have denied.” Jesus “declares to her everything that he and she already knew to be true: your sins are forgiven. She is sent out empty, full of forgiveness and peace.”

We are like that Pharisee, Murphy said. We “see the church as our home, and we think we are brave and generous for inviting Jesus into our space.” With so many churches that are even more segregated than the community in which they operate, “we don’t have a crisis — we have a catastrophe.”

Bringing communion elements forward are, at right, the Rev. Adriene Thorne and, at left, the Rev. Rola Al Ashkar. (Photo by Tammy Warren)

The body of Christ “is not waiting for our approval,” she said. “It is what it has been since the first fires of Pentecost. If we’re not that, we are just the crowd considering Jesus and deciding whether or not we are going to follow him.”

“We love Jesus,” she said, “but we also love bagpipes and bow ties and the word ‘kirk,’” a word she called “so white.”

Hardly immune to her own critique, Murphy labeled herself “a Pharisee in recovery, a Pharisee with relapses.”

“Church makes me feel chosen because of my worthiness,” she said. “It makes me feel safe and comfortable, necessary and vital and righteous. But God almighty doesn’t condone any of these illusions.”

The seeds of Reformation are repentance, Murphy told worshipers, many of whom applauded and encouraged the preacher throughout her sermon.

“Face the truth that it’s not your house; it’s Jesus’,” she urged. “If you won’t host him, he will raise up a leader who will.” All those things the woman with the alabaster jar “used to see as worthy, she brought them to the feet of the One who freed her. In the kingdom of God, that’s not extravagant at all. It’s a reasonable, rational response.”

The Rev. Andrew Davis asked worshipers to face the Chapel’s large windows to be reminded of the work that needs to be done welcoming people to worship. (Photo by Tammy Warren)

Other panel members also provided leadership during worship. The Rev. Adriene Thorne, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, New York, and the Rev. Rola Al Ashkar, pastoral resident in multicultural ministry at Parkview Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, California, used dance to elegantly deliver the elements and table coverings to the communion table. The Rev. Samuel Son, the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s manager for Diversity and Reconciliation who’s been working with the panel, played guitar and welcomed worshipers.

Toward the end of Wednesday’s service, the Rev. Andrew Davis, pastor of Union Presbyterian Church in Saint Peter, Minnesota, asked worshipers to turn left and face the large windows through which the Ohio River and southern Indiana can be seen. It’s the world to which panelists must return and continue the work of welcoming and inclusion.


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