I was about to begin my education at Andrews University. Morris Venden had just returned from China. My parents were in the middle of their divorce and I had traveled to Azure Hills with my father for church.
On that Sabbath Pastor Venden reflected on the billions of people who were not Seventh-day Adventists around the world and did not turn to evangelistic platitudes as had the pastors of my youth.
Pastor Venden said something in his sermon that day, the exact words of which I cannot quite remember, but the truth of it made me realize that Adventists will never offer the entire living world the Three Angels’ Messages. He seemed fine with that. Instead he focused his sermon on the God-man who turned water into wine, subverted the religious hierarachy, and cared for the least of these.
I still remember that my thinking shifted. My teenage flitations with literalism seemed small-minded. The picayune parsing of texts seemed pathetic to this larger idea: God became human to make the world righteous.
That day I remember Pastor Venden seemed almost melancholy in his homiletical reflection. The man who dedicated me as an infant to God in an Adventist church quoted a statistic about the rates of births and deaths in the world. More humans are coming than going. It was clear that the rhetoric promolgated by traditional evangelists was false. Adventism would never go into all the world, or give everyone a chance. Texts or globalized tracts were not the key to truth.
Venden spoke reasonably and as a result I reflected more on my faith.
In that center of powerful Adventist institutions I realized that Adventism was historically contingent and yet more than a remnant. I left Pastor Venden’s sermon with hope in my Adventist heritage and a new awareness of what it means to be human—not in light of some fantastic future, not because of some miraculous past, not because of my church presence.
I still remember his fearless openness. By honestly facing the challenges of that present, he pointed me toward the great eternal truth—divine righteousness is made present in humanity.
For the passing of that witness, I mourn. And yet, that kernal of social justice carries me on—the power of incarnated righteousness prevails over all. If we act by faith.