In a few short weeks we will be in Peoria for Annual Conference. This is the 14th session of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference. Wow we really sound young don’t we? But if count figure our age from the oldest antecedent conferences this is session 188.
Could it be that we are really old, by some calculations? Or is the angle of view that we are new and fresh in ministry but we have a deep heritage? Not a bad position to be in. So from that bi-focal viewpoint we might sing with gusto A Charge to Keep We Have with a keen awareness that we are called “To Serve the Present Age”.
During these Lenten days I have been thinking a great deal about the practice of forgiveness. I did not necessarily begin this season with a plan to spend a lot of energy focused on forgiveness as a Christian practice, but for a number of reasons it took a prominent place on my radar screen. This was mostly as a result of things that I was invited to help tend through my work. As these things came to me the fractures in relationships especially in the body of Christ simply could not be ignored. So beyond the work, I needed to claim anew the reality and power of forgiveness.
These past few weeks have been filled with headlines of disaster around the globe. Whether it is in the Philippines, Haiti or Chile, the United Methodist Committee on Relief has been there as the hands, the heart and the hope of the church wherever people are suffering.
As a church, we are able to accomplish great things because of faithful and generous giving to the One Great Hour of Sharing offering, one of six denominational offerings. Funds received from One Great Hour of Sharing pay the administrative overhead of UMCOR. Because UMCOR does not receive World Service funds or any other apportionments, support of this offering is vitally critical.
To conspire is to breathe together. I want to invite you to conspire with me and your sister and brother United Methodists across the Illinois Great Rivers Conference by engaging a six-week study of the biblical book the Acts of the Apostles during the 50 Great Days (Easter to Pentecost).
I solicit not only your continued prayers but also your gifts and energy to assist with the long haul of recovery. The attention that is needed is both short- and long-term. Occasionally you hear calculations about attention span in the news cycles. When Haiti is no longer the lead story it will not be a sign that the work is complete. The tsunami at the end of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina have taught us that well.
I am persuaded that that it is to the latter that we are called. Now would be a great time to claim this pattern for living. It can and will make an enormous difference in the church and in the world. It may seem like a small and insignificant thing to be so claimed by God’s love in Jesus Christ that our way of being is marked by compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. But it is the little ostensibly insignificant things that make a world of difference. After all wasn’t it just Christmas and we were celebrating the gift of life in a fragile, vulnerable baby; a seemingly insignificant birth of just another poor kid. What a world of difference he has made. What about us?
What if the efforts of this season to come along side the needy continued with the same intensity all year long? After all the rearrangement of our priorities around the things of God, but especially being in solidarity with the poor, was never intended to last for just four or five weeks. “when the time had fully come God sent forth the Son” not just to save or change us for a few weeks. No, the plan was and his to change us and the whole cosmos for ever.
All Saints Day is a specific opportunity to not only remember but to be re-membered to the whole Christian communion. We are bound to all Christians in every time and place. That is a humbling, awe inspiring and scary thought. It’s not hard to think about the best qualities and characteristics of other disciples that we admire. Those things tend to humble and awe us. The scary part is that we are also connected to fellow disciples with all of their warts and shortcomings. But the miracle and mystery is that God manages to use us warts and all. And the extraordinary good news is that God desires to perfect us in God’s love.
I want to assure you that I haven’t the slightest interest in our becoming more conscientious about the evangelistic task because we are motivated by the getting more members to help pay the bills. That is frankly unworthy of the gospel and of us. We bear witness in all that we do to the transforming power of Jesus Christ because we are in love with Jesus and want to others to fall in love with him too. We are called to bear witness to the power of the Risen Christ because we love the world that God loves.