Wednesday, June 12, 2013

this is not business as usual


The bishop of the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church, James Swanson--our bishop is a preacher.

Bishop Swanson's supposed to make 'a few opening remarks', and he preaches. Bishop Swanson's supposed to deliver a report, and he preaches. Bishop Swanson's supposed to preach, and oh does he preach. He's just a preacher.

So, when we had our Annual Conference this weekend, and all the Methodist ministers and members of churches across the state gathered for prayer and teaching and business, we heard the bishop preach. Many times.

And it was exciting! Not just because he's an energetic preacher--a fiery preacher!--or because of how he gushes with enthusiasm and conviction. All of that can make for exciting preaching, but I was really excited about something else. The highlight of Bishop Swanson's preaching didn't come when he told a moving story from post-Apartheid South Africa, or when he was screaming and spinning in circles. The highlight came when he was calling the Church in Mississippi mission--to love, to generosity, to justice, and to sanctification--and he said "this is not business as usual."

So much about Annual Conference is business as usual. We're voting on resolutions and constitutional amendments, making recommendations, referring things to committees, administrating--we're following Robert's Rules! But what if the life of the church, the church at mission in our state and our world, weren't just 'business as usual'?

What would that look like for your congregation, in your community? Imagine with me here: if the church could make one change, start doing one thing--anything at all--what would you hope to see?

Going into Annual Conference, I was pretty underwhelmed (to say the least) by this year's theme: "The POWER of We." Every time the theme came up, it sounded like a celebration of what we can do if we just put our minds/hands to it: 'prepare to be energized by the POWER of We!' 'This world can be transformed by the POWER of We!' 'Think big: we can do it by the POWER of We!' And on and on and on, with lots of exclamations points, lots of 'we's, and zero Jesus, zero Holy Spirit. Pretty disheartening stuff.
And then Bishop Swanson preached: he preached on Acts 2, where the apostles achieved these astonishing and downright heroic acts of faith and love (see 2:42-47), and how all of this was only possible because they had received the power of the Holy Spirit (1:8; 2:1-4). The power, the bishop reminded us, did not belong to the church, but came through there relationship to the Spirit: "There is no 'we' without this power... We cannot do anything without the power of the Holy Spirit." But when we're open to the Spirit, renewal comes in the Church.

What is the Spirit doing in your church now? How else might the Spirit empower your church for mission in the world? What could happen if we were open to the power of the Holy Spirit?

In a series of messages, the Bishop clearly laid out the Church's call to love, to generosity, to justice, and to apprenticeship--helping each other grow. These are four of the fundamental ways in which the Church, United Methodist or otherwise, can make God's love and grace manifest in our world. The Mississippi Conference leadership, we were assured over and over this weekend, aren't going to tell us 'how to do church', how to undertake this mission in our setting; the churches know best about the people and the needs where we are. We need to feel free to listen to our Lord's leadings, to receive the Spirit's power and direction, and to obey, and serve those around us.

So... how are we going to do it? How are you going to do it? How is God calling you and your church to love people, to give generously where there are needs, to insist on justice when you're faced with injustices, and to grow in grace together? The church, in the power of the Spirit, doesn't have to be business as usual. What should it be?

What is your church doing that needs to be celebrated? What does the church need to start doing? Where does the church need to be a presence, be at work, in your community? What would it take to make that happen?

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