Becky and I are leaving this morning on a trip to California, the middle piece of which will be the West Coast Presbyterian Pastor’s Conference that I have attended for many years and which Becky is able to share this year. The speakers should be excellent, the fellowship rich, and the setting in the coastal redwoods of North Monterey Bay peaceful and rejuvenating. For those of you who remember and might ask – no, I have not yet thought of the word I will use to describe my year since eight days after Easter last year.
As much as I am looking forward to the conference, and I am, it may be what is at the edges of the conference week that excites me most. I will be away from the LPC pulpit, but still preaching – my busman’s holiday.
This coming Sunday we will be at Canoga Park Presbyterian Church in the Los Angeles area where Jonathan and Kristy LaBarge are co-pastors. Some of you remember Jonathan and Kristy from their time at Princeton Seminary and LPC where they were active participants and served as interns their final year as students. They have become the best kind of friends for Becky and me, even though they are of our children’s generation. The joy of this Sunday will be bringing the Word and then pouring the waters of baptism over the head of six-week Amayah Jade, Jonathan and Kristy’s second child.
The following Sunday, I will be preaching at the chapel service at my 92-year old mother’s retirement community with a congregation I have come to know over 15 years or so of annual preaching.
In Canoga Park I will be preaching to a congregation that is in the midst of renewal and growing hope as Jonathan and Kristy faithfully respond to God’s call to share the good news of the gospel in word and deed with long-time members, a multi-generational Hispanic congregation, and new members drawn by creative ministry and a clear proclamation of the gospel.
A week later I will be with wonderful people who, by definition, are in the last chapters of their lives. These are people who have accomplished much and accumulated recognition and wealth. But frailty and death are no respecters of persons. Some who I have come to know and with whom I shared a meal last year will be gone. Death takes its toll.
This has been a hard winter health-wise for my mother. She seems to be bouncing back as she has before, but maybe not so quickly or completely as in the past. I am aware that every visit with her may be my last. It is a humbling privilege to preach God’s Word to my mother and her friends and neighbors.
If Amayah LaBarge lives out her baptism for as long as my old mother has lived out her baptism, it will be a faith and a witness to grace that carries into the 22nd Century. I wonder what God intends to do in and through Amayah. I know what he has done for her; he has bought her with a price and she is his. As is my mother.
What bookends to a week away. Good friends and the baptism of precious gift from God six weeks old. Old saints and the Word proclaimed to those who have fought the good fight, run the race, and kept the faith. And in between fed by good teaching, wonderful fellowship, and warm sun shining through towering trees.