Retiring United Methodist Bishop William H. Willimon recently said, “The best training for being a United Methodist bishop is, fortunately, exactly the work that is done by any faithful Methodist preacher: Tell the truth as God tells it to you; try to miss as many meetings as possible; expect the church to be thoroughly tainted with sin (including your own); try to love Jesus more than the praise of your people, and keep believing that despite all of the church’s setbacks, in the end God is going to get what God wants! Hallelujah!”
Because I try to be a faithful Methodist preacher, and because I’ve always admired Bishop Willimon’s prophetic voice, I share here some words I recently wrote for our church newsletter:
Too often the church that claims to follow the Risen Christ into the world is mostly absent from the real human needs that exist in all communities.
Do you care whether your neighbors experience the presence of God in their lives?
Do you want all people (and I do mean “all”) to feel welcome in Christ’s church?
Do you desire to live more deeply into the heart and mind of God so that your life becomes the reflection of divine grace it is intended to be?
Do you hope to make a difference in the world through an act of daring surrender of your will to the will of your Creator?
Dorothy Day once said, “The greatest challenge of the day is how to bring about a revolution of the heart.” This applies to individuals and to the church as the body of Christ.
There is more of God than you or I can possibly know. We are daily being called into a deeper and fuller humanity in which the lines of race, gender, religion, nationality, class, and sexual orientation are blurred, and we all breathe the same air of divinely offered potentiality as God’s beloved children.
As for me, I am a progressive, evangelical, ecumenical, open and affirming, contemplative, socially active and globally concerned Christian!
I do not believe that faith is primarily a matter of what one believes – I believe faith is mainly about trusting in the God who loves us and calls us to love one another!
I do not believe that worship is either traditional or contemporary – I believe that worship is either relevant to our lives or not!
I do not believe that orthodoxy (“right belief”) is more important than orthopraxy (“right practice”)! Indeed, Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” ~ John 13:35. Servant ministry trumps theology any day!
I do not believe that Christians are the only people whom God loves, or that God cares more about straight people than LGBTQ people. I do not believe that heaven is reserved solely for followers of Christ, but rather that God will bring into God’s Realm whomever God chooses to eternally embrace (and that just might be everyone; we cannot fully know the mind of God)! Indeed, Jesus said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold” ~ John 10:16.
Perhaps most importantly, I do not believe that church is mainly about having our personal or spiritual needs met; rather God’s message to the church is the invitation to surrender our lives to the Spirit whose grace transforms us and sends us out to be instruments of Christ’s blessing in a hurting world.
Bishop Mary Ann Swenson preached at the California-Pacific Annual Conference this June, saying that “People looked to Jesus, because Jesus looked for what God was looking for—justice, compassion, the kingdom come.” I say Amen to that!
Words (c) 2012 Mark Lloyd Richardson
Photo (c) 2012 Dallis Day Richardson (University of Redlands Chapel)