Attend a large gathering of the Maine United Church of Christ, like the Conference Annual Meeting, and one sees a lot of gray hair. In addition, there are quite a few heads with little or no hair at all, as well as some—like mine—that would be gray, except for the miracle of chemistry. What does this mean for our churches, our associations, our conference? What kind of future will we have? What kind of present are we a part of?
Last weekend, the Maine Conference gathered for its Annual Meeting and during the course of that meeting, installed a new conference minister. One of the scripture passages chosen for the installation service was the passage from Genesis where Sarah laughs when she discovers that she will become pregnant, even though she is beyond normal childbearing years.
The preacher chose to focus on the laughter in the passage and what the passage tells us about God and that all things are possible through God, etc., etc. I was disappointed that the preacher didn’t take the opportunity to observe what seemed to me to be an obvious, and significant, message to be shared in light of the actual congregation gathered in front of him.
If I had been preaching that day, I would have pointed out that the story shows new life emerging even in the midst of the lives of older people—gray-haired people. Sarah and Abraham were older, to be sure. The story makes that abundantly clear. There are a number of lessons to be gleaned from the story, but the one that jumped out at me on Saturday with remarkable clarity was this: the promise of new life, the wondrous nature of what can happen one God is trusted, is possible not just among the young, but among the old as well.
Perhaps even in the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ.
In the sea of gray hair that is the Maine Conference United Church of Christ, we may find ourselves laughing at the notion of new life in our midst—or, more likely, we are apt to find ourselves crying and grieving for the life that we once had but have no longer. For the most part, though, we seem to expect that new life will come from the young. Worship at the Annual Meeting was planned by the “20/30” group (clergy in their twenties and thirties) and reference was made, at least a couple of times, to the sizable gathering of young people from the State Youth Council that was spending the weekend at a Conference camp facility not far from Augusta, where the Annual Meeting was taking place.
It is indeed important to raise up the young in our midst, especially since they are in short supply in this state that is the oldest state in the country. But, the story of Abraham and Sarah reminds us that new life is not solely for the young. It is for the older too. And, when God is trusted, new life can emerge even for those who think that they are beyond such productivity.
Sarah, even as she laughs at such a remarkable moment, also demonstrates other important aspects of faith: doubt and fear.
We have those too.
To have faith, to trust in God, requires that we believe the unbelievable and travel the unbelievable path. For those of us with gray hair, or no hair, or hair that’s been cleverly altered, the life of faith is one that never gets easier, or more manageable—or at least it shouldn’t. We might laugh, or we might cry, but when we trust in God, we just might find new life. Is there anything too wonderful for God?