By Don Meyer
ST. PAUL, MN (June 25, 2010) – The theme of tonight’s message for those attending the 125th Annual Meeting worship service could not have been more appropriate to the venue – “Down By the Riverside.”
Worship services and business sessions as part of the Evangelical Covenant Church gathering are housed in the Saint Paul RiverCentre overlooking the Mississippi River. Click here for video coverage.
The preacher of the evening, Kris Causton, took advantage of the geography and the Covenant’s historic commitment to spiritual formation and discipleship in guiding her audience to the riverbanks of scripture where she challenged listeners to take a leap of faith.
The service also honored those who have gone to be with the Lord during the past year and concluded with communion. Click here to see additional photos.
Causton, who serves as associate pastor at Excelsior Covenant Church in Excelsior, Minnesota, began on a light note, bragging about the many notables whose roots are embedded in the land of 10,000 lakes – people like Judy Garland, Prince, Bob Dylan and Garrison Keillor.
Another notable feature of this state is the headwaters of the Mississippi River that originate just above Lake Itasca – it is possible to step across the tiny ribbon of water that eventually winds its way 2,500 miles to empty into the Gulf.
“Here we are . . . down by the riverside,” she observed, noting that the tiny stream has widened into a broad waterway by the time it hits St. Paul, and grows even larger as it winds its way south.
“Appropriately, in the Bible, God does stuff down by the riverside,” Causton said in turning her attention to the core of her message. In a rapid delivery, she traveled through multiple passages recounting the relationship of rivers to the work of God: the river that ran through the Garden of Eden, where God gave life, or the image of the river that flows from the temple in Ezekial’s vision where everything lives, or Revelation’s river of life.
Not only is it at the river that God gives life, but also where he gives us our identity, she noted. Moses’ mother floats the baby on the Nile – and it was God who gave him his name. Or Jesus being baptized by John – and God names his son. “By the riverside is the place where God gives us our name and identity,” she said.
It is by the river where the God of scripture instructs – the Israelites waited to cross into the promised land while God instructed them, telling them who he is and admonishing them to remember what he has done for them, and to pass that on to others.
It is by the river that God gives them their mission, and by the river where he heals as in the story of Nahum who dipped seven times in the Jordan.
It is by the river that God reveals his power – Pharoah in the Exodus account sees the Nile turn to blood. And in Joshua chapter three, the river is at flood stage, but when the toes of the priests touch the water it parts.
It is by the river that God brings justice, Causton continued, referencing the Revelation image of water from the tree of life that will bring healing to the nations. He also renews by the river, as when Paul went to the river and found several women praying. Lydia believed and was baptized . . . by the river.
It is at the river that God invites people to respond, she noted – “now that you have seen all of this, God says, it is time for you to get into the water.”
Rivers are not always placid places, but often are filled with rapids and swift currents. “What God is inviting us into is not a wading pool, but a swift current,” she said. “That requires faith.” The alternative is to remain in the wilderness and miss the opportunity to discover God’s greatness.
“God’s call to Israel was to go all in, all the way,” Causton said. “These biblical figures are there to challenge us. Are we willing to jump in and follow God today? Can you recall a riverside moment in your own life?” she asked her listeners.
Tying her message to the 125th Covenant anniversary theme, she observed that the Covenant has its share of people who were all in too – the Pietists, or the band of people who 125 years ago started the denomination. “That’s an all-in move.”
That mandate continues today, with current examples of people who are all in for God trusting God to transform their lives. “That’s the goal of spiritual formation – to get people down by the riverside to see what God will do and to hear his call to get all in.
“We are a denomination that takes spiritual formation seriously,” she said in citing the triennial CHIC event as one example. “CHIC is all about getting adolescents down by the riverside, a place where some hear the good news for the first time, a place where some hear the call to service and respond. All in.
“So, here we are, down by the riverside – 125 years of ‘getting in’ to celebrate,” she continued. “But, what’s next? We are here at the invitation of God. The question of the evening is simple: are you in? Are you still standing on the shore, or are you all in to see where God will take you?”
Causton outlined three “currents” she believes God is calling the Covenant to wade into as Covenanters contemplate the next 125 years:
- The called and gifted current – “1976 was a riverside moment with the ordination of women to word and sacrament . . . and 34 years later some are still not in that current.”
- The multiethnic current – “we proclaim that we want to reflect the whole of God’s Church, but it is not acceptable to stand on the shore . . . it is either in or out.”
- The current of justice – “we have been a church of compassion . . . but there is a call to go further into an even more dangerous current, searching for those who are oppressed and finding out why and doing something about it.”
“Are you ready to jump in?” she asked in closing. “For the next 125 years? If we are, we’re in for the ride of our lives. One day, we will see the river in the city of God and will understand what all these riverside moments were all about.
“Until then . . .”