THE POWER OF VISION
August 23-27, 2015
Lake Junaluska, North Carolina
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
Have we heard of the following expressions about vision? 1. Vision is a picture of the preferred future. 2. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18) 3. “The essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” Catholic priest, former President of Notre Dame, Father Theodore Hesburgh offered his take on vision. Lest we forget, vision has life giving qualities. What follows are brief narratives of the power of vision. May they empower your leadership in leading the body of Christ to “dream dreams and see visions?” (Joel 2: 28)
At age 19, Amy Purdy had the world by the tail. The year was 1998. Amy had just finished college, had a job, moved away and was on her own. Snowboarding was one of her passions. Then, she contracted Neisseria meningitis. It ransacked her body. Consequently, both legs were amputated below the knee. Amy’s kidneys, her spleen and hearing in one ear went belly up. With a 2% chance to live, death beckoned but she survived. Amy spent the next two years on dialysis until her dad gave her one of his kidneys. During her lengthy recuperation, Amy envisioned a time she‘d become a champion snowboarder. It happened, eventually. Amy won a bronze medal in snowboarding at the 2014 Paralympics. Now 35, Amy has become a motivational speaker, author, dancer, actress, model, and a pitch woman for Toyota Camry in the 2015 Super Bowl commercial. In the last few months, she is now engaged to be married, prostheses and all. Amy imaged the picture of her preferred future. By faith and works, she and God made it happen and learned firsthand of what we speak, the power of vision.
Several years ago, Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference decided to raise one million dollars for the Africa University Endowment Scholarship Fund. When one million dollars is raised to educate African students yet unborn, it’ll be the work of God and the power of a vision, we reasoned. Bishop Joseph Crane Hartzell, a native of Moline, Illinois dreamed about Africa University over 90 years ago. Overlooking the African valley where the mission station and school was located, Bishop Hartzell looked down from Mt. Cherimba and quipped ostensibly I have a dream that one day “children from all over Africa will come to Old Mutare for education and training to lead Africa.” Hartzell’s vision came true over 20 years ago in Zimbabwe, Africa namely Africa University. Now, we’ve been given the privilege to keep the vision alive. Like Nobel Prizes awarded annually, Africa University will invest our million dollars in such a way that it educates 8 students every year till Jesus comes or long after we’ve joined Bishop Hartzell in the church triumphant. Visions have power.
When the Council of Bishop’s met in Berlin, Germany, we learned of a small congregation that ministered to children in the neighborhood whom they saw as “neglected.” Members played with the children and served them food. Handicraft sessions and table talk were enjoyed. If any child needed help with homework, it was provided. However, members shied away from encouraging the kids to attend worship, be confirmed or baptized. Why? Most of the kids were Muslims; their Holy Book was the Koran, their God was Allah and their prophet Muhammed. Instead of serving Christian children only, the church created a new vision. They decided to “bear witness to what it means to live as Christians” in their multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious neighborhood. Ministering to Muslim children, the church scored high in Cultural Competence. A postscript: a little girl asked a church member if she’d pray with her in the evening. Not sure if it would be proper to teach the child to pray like a Christian, the church member approached her Mom. Before the member could speak, the child’s Mom said “You are praying with her…please go on and pray with her, it is important that she learns to pray…” The power of vision: isn’t this a neat picture of God’s preferred future; God’s children crossing religious boundaries plus teaching children that “prayer changes things?”
During the Ordination Service this year, Richard and Rose Straeter introduced the Holy Land Offering for the Ordinands. The Straeter’s traveled with me to the Holy Land. Later in the service, I issued the call to Christian Discipleship. “If God is calling you, come,” I pleaded. Rose did not come forward but emailed me the following Monday. Excerpts of her email show Rose Straeter responding to God’s call.
“…God spoke to me during the invitation to Christian service…You can imagine my surprise when I felt God calling me…I didn’t understand what God was saying…while you were walking around I wondered if God was going to send you up there to get me. I went back to my room and began to pray about what God was saying to me. While it doesn’t make any logical sense I feel God is calling me to become a Deacon…at my age.”
Nothing is impossible with God; Abraham’s wife Sarah had a child at ninety years old. Jeremiah was a boy when God called him. Mary was a teenager when God called her out. God has called people to Christian Service regardless of age. Anybody can be used for God’s glory. The belief that persons will respond to an authentic invitation to Christian Discipleship before, during, after a worship service or church event is real. It happened to Wesley. When a leader was reading from Luther’s Preface to the Romans; John Wesley “I felt his heart strangely warmed. I felt that I did trust in god for my salvation and an assurance was given that he had forgiven me of my sin, even sin, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” Why have we moved away from invitational evangelism, by pulpit and pew? That vision has borne fruit. The Call happened. It can happen again, right here, right now.
FATHER FORGIVE THEM
They said their family had this vision Jesus implemented. As Christians, they had no choice but to follow suit. Why did the folks in Charleston, South Carolina do and say?
“I forgive you.My family forgives you.b. You hurt me.You hurt a lot of people.But I forgive you.c. I acknowledge that I’m angry.We have no room for hate.We have to forgive.I pray God on your soul.But God forgives you and I forgive you.d. We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible Study with open arms.You have killed some of the most beautifulest people I know.As we said in Bible study, we enjoyed you but may God have mercy on you.e. Repent. Confess.And you’ll be ok with God.”
Around the world, people were moved to tears. They admired the depth of love behind the forgiveness. Why hadn’t revenge shown its face? Hate crime was front and center. As Christ forgave every sinner who put him to death on Good Friday: so heartbroken members of several African-American families forgave Dylann Roof for putting their loves ones to death. Their forgiveness teaches us how we might deal with our difficult days ahead in the church, at Annual conference particularly and General Conference. They offered Dylann forgiveness for murder. Can we bring ourselves to forgive one another for positions taken on issues where our diverse pictures of a preferred future, raises havoc across the church? By the ability to forgive, one can lead. He who uttered the First Word from the Old Rugged Cross said it best “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Finally, Isaiah is one of the best loved books of Christians and Jews. Handel’s Messiah is full of it. The notes and lyrics of “Comfort Ye My People” have stirred my heart. Who has not felt the impulse and call of Isaiah 6:8 “Here am I, send me” or Isaiah 53:3? Surely, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Jesus loved the book of Isaiah too. When our Lord launched his ministry in Nazareth, he did not create his own vision. Instead, Jesus adopted Isaiah’s 700 year old vision of ministry as his own. Isaiah declared that “the spirit of the Lord is upon me for he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” In essence, Jesus’ ministry would be spirit driven, justice bound and God favored with the poor. Guided by Isaiah’s vision, Christ transformed the world. We can too.