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‘This is a time of pause’

The Stated Clerk of the PC(USA)’s General Assembly offers words of hope to a nation anxious over election uncertainty

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) had a pastoral message Wednesday for Presbyterians anxious about the outcome of Tuesday’s presidential election even as ballots are still being counted.

“I am convinced the Lord has given us this moment of pause to think through who we are in this present age,” said the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, during a virtual chapel service put on by the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness and attended by more than 90 people. “How will we respond? How will we conduct ourselves in ways that will remind the world that God, through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit” fills God’s children with love “even among the hatred and bigotry out on the streets of the United States of America.”

We’re in a period of waiting not unlike Jesus experienced when he asked his disciples to stay awake and pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane hours before the Lord was crucified. Instead, the disciples fall asleep.

Nelson said we’re being asked to pray “to the only wise God we know … This is a time of pause, of deep contemplation, over how we conduct ourselves in the midst of what seems to be a great deal of tension … I believe God has given us this moment for justice, to prepare ourselves to represent the peaceable kingdom, to an openness to God even though we don’t get the outcome we were looking for — or maybe we do.”

“We’re called to be repairers of the breach, which has always been there,” Nelson said. The population includes “demented minds and spirits” who have “created problems we could never imagine” and taken us “to places we thought we would never have to engage.”

“Our faith is in a God who never fails or forsakes us or leaves us alone,” he said. “We don’t get all we think we are promised, but we have a faith to hold onto even when promises are broken.”

During this moment of pause, “will it be anger that will consume some of us? Will it be the calm of Gethsemane,” when the disciples couldn’t stay awake with Jesus as he prayed “and Jesus got a little upset about that,” Nelson noted.

“The calling of discipleship is moments like these, when we offer our hearts and turn toward each other rather than on each other, because we know what God can do,” Nelson said. While we may not know who our next president will be, “we know what God has done for us, and we know the faith we hold. God was willing to give up the only begotten child of God for little old you and little old me. Let us never forget we took up the task as people of faith to follow that God to the end, no matter the outcome.”

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), spoke this summer during a vigil for justice for Breonna Taylor. (Photo by Rich Copley)

No matter the election’s outcome, Nelson said that the work ahead for Presbyterians and other people of faith “is to prepare for whatever the outcome and stand in solidarity with the poor and marginalized, to stand in places where others don’t want to go, to mourn — but not for too long, because there will be work to be done no matter who the president of the United States might be.”

Rather than being “disturbed or deterred by what is in front of us,” Nelson urged worshipers to “prepare for the journey ahead, through the One who gives us life, health and strength, my friends. No matter who the president or vice-president might be, God has a plan to lift the spirits of the faithful and love those who have been dispossessed. We know that plan. We serve in that plan. We have been blessed by that plan — and more importantly, we are still called to that plan.”

Then Nelson broke into song, rendering the lyrics to the old gospel hymn “Only Believe”: “Only believe, only believe, just trust in Jesus, only believe.”

Following a video of Presbyterians at work serving God and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, Nelson closed the worship service with a prayer and a benediction.

“We give thanks to a God who never fails us or forsakes us or leaves us alone,” Nelson said. “We walk toward a savior who died for our sin, and we live in the midst of a Spirit who has never abandoned us.

“We have nothing to fear, to mourn for in this moment, nothing to be truly distressed about. We have the same God who gives us mercy and peace and power. Use the power to transform the world. Go in peace, my friends.”

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