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‘The new thing before us is the now thing’

During APCE’s opening worship the Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle delivers a powerfully prophetic sermon

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

the Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle

LOUISVILLE — Thoughtful, moving and imaginative worship was front and center during the national event of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators Thursday afternoon, when more than 1,000 people from four continents joined for an online opening worship service anchored by prophetic preaching from the Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle.

Brooks-Lytle, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, preached mainly on the “Coming of the Holy Spirit” account found in Acts. 2:2-21. The Old Testament lesson came from Isaiah 43:1-13, 18-19.

During the hour-long service, worship leaders jumped in from across the country. While Beca Torres-Davenport read the Isaiah passage, singers from the church where she works, First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, quietly sang the Taizé Community song, “Holy Spirit, Come to Us.” Dallas vocalist and guitarist Zach Light-Wells, music director at First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, performed “Spirit of the Living God.” Phillip Morgan, music director at Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville, responded to Brooks-Lytle’s sermon by singing and playing “Every Time I Feel the Spirit.” Vocalist Mark Miller and cellist Niles Luther of New York City combined for an exquisite version of “The Lord’s Prayer,” which Miller adapted and wrote the music for.

During a “Prayers of the People, Dreams of the Church” session, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said he’s grateful for the wisdom God has given him — “not because I have any real insight, but because God doesn’t leave me alone and follows me to make sure some of the things I would do, I don’t do.” He also expressed gratitude “for the goodness and love that has been in my heart to share.”

Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart, Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly (2020), asked God to “open our eyes to see the lessons you are teaching through others around us … May we come together to be more of who you created us to be.” She prayed those gathered will choose “hope over fear, light over darkness and community over chaos.”

During her sermon, Brooks-Lytle said the Pentecost passage found in Acts 2 speaks directly to the church today.

“Every step of their journey, they were doing something new,” she said. The early church was promised “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. Whoa!” Brooks-Lytle said. “That sounds like a new thing, filled with excitement and wonder.”

That new thing, she said, quoting Scripture, is that God’s Spirit will be poured out on all people, “and that same Spirit guides us as a church [today], when the winds of change seem insurmountable,” she said.

As a presbytery executive, Brooks-Lytle said she’ll always remember the weekend of March 14-15, 2020, when pastors and worship leaders across the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta overnight became televangelists, social media content creators and Zoom specialists after churches and new worshiping communities were shuttered during the early stages of the pandemic.

“This new thing was scary at first, and it continues to shake us,” she said. “We still have concerns about what it means to be the church at this time and for evermore.”

Like the couples she marries, Brooks-Lytle wants the church to learn new love languages to help it “proclaim the gospel to those who are hungry and thirsty for words of love from the Lord.” The church must become “virtual and vital,” which might mean considering that some congregations will be virtual only.

“At first I said, ‘No way!’” she said. “No one can experience God with virtual stained glass.”

But “perhaps the Holy Spirit is asking us to relearn how to be the church in virtual ways so the gospel can be heard in digital space by all,” Brooks-Lytle said.

One component of the church’s love language must be around justice, she said, particularly in the wake of protests following the deaths last year of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor “and too many names to keep on naming,” she said. “We had no idea we would have to be the hands and feet of justice in the midst of a pandemic.”

“Church, we have a choice: We can lead with fear and trembling until we go back to the way things used to be,” she said, “or walk in power with the assurance that God is walking beside us every step of the way.”

“The new thing before us is the now thing,” she said. “We can’t go back to the way things used to be. Now is the time to ask, how can we engage people, both in person and online? How can we make more disciples until we can once again walk hand in hand together to do God’s work? How will we truly demonstrate hospitality?”

The good news, she said, “is that God has equipped us to be disciples in this digital space.”

Living into the new thing before us requires these four responses, she said:

  • Rejoice, because “a new thing means there is still life in you. God has plans for you to fulfill and will give you everything you need.”
  • We must “let go of our fixation on the church we once knew.”
  • Rely on God’s Spirit “to live into this new thing.” We won’t make it for even one day, she said, if we “don’t fully rely on God, who loves you so much.”
  • The season of quarantine “has the ability to build in us resilience if we let it.”

During this “anything but ordinary season,” she said, the theme for the three-day APCE event, “may we be open to learning languages of love so that those around us will hear and know our love is genuine, that our love cares for neighbor and stranger, that we love because God has taught us how to love first.”

“God’s love,” she said, “has the power to save, transform and make all things new.”

The APCE national event continues Friday morning at 11 a.m. Eastern Time with worship led by the Rev. Paul Roberts, president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary. His sermon, “Repairers of the Breach,” will be based on Isaiah 58.


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