Bishop Steiner Ball- Sermon at Opening Worship
This is from a rough transcription provided by Loveeta Baker, Realtime Captioner.
Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball: Thank you for asking to participate in your opening worship. We gather an around this table this morning to remember and to be remembered, to be remembered with God, and to be re‑membered, knitted together with one another. This table and the story and its host, where we can learn again, so that we can take in, so that we rehearse, practice, literally swallow the story of a loving God who will not let us go. We do all of this, so that God's spirit might empower us to share the invitation and to teach the story of love, which brings eternal life. Let us pray.
Almighty God, we give you thanks for your Son who is the host of this teaching table and as you host us here and teach us once again, may your Holy Spirit come and fill this place and be poured into each of us once again so that you remove the blocks that keep us from a closer and deeper walk with you, and now dear Lord, may the words of my mouth and meditations of all our hearts together be acceptable thy sight, our Lord and redeemer.
Jesus appeared on the mountain to his disciples and go "go, go make disciples of all nations, go everywhere." Did you notice? There's no qualifier, no age qualifier, no education qualifier, there's no look qualifier, no stature qualifier, there's no qualifier, young old, middle age, go teach.
Jesus said go, go into the world and do the things that he did. Teach, heal, feed hungry people, speak out against injustice and call the world to more faithful living.
It is because of a few believers, thousands of years ago, that we are the church of Jesus Christ today. It was because of a few more believers, 50 years ago, that we gathered here as the United Methodist Church today. It is because of the people in this conference area that many years ago heard and acted on this call that we are here today celebrating this Annual Conference session and the mission and ministry accomplished in Christ's name since last conference session.
Jesus said, "Go, go and teach." In too many places we have lost that sense of going, of being a movement and we have convinced ourselves that is enough to gather in our building and to wait for people to come find us. It's enough to hold our seasonal or weekly Bible studies for those who show up. It's okay to do what we have always done.
It was because of this exact phenomenon, this exact phenomenon that John and Charles Wesley began the Methodist movement in the first place, calling Anglican Church to get up out of their Sunday morn pews, to call these people to go out into the world, teach, so that disciples can be made.
To make disciples who would in turn continue Christ's teaching so that people around the world would be not just for the moment, but continually, continually fed, continually healed, make disciples Jesus said so that people would be continually equipped to speak out against injustice and have the wisdom to call the world to more faithful living.
Go and teach so that disciples are made who will keep the message and the invitation to salvation and eternal life alive.
The church is not a building. It is people. Dr. Junius Watson is right, Dr. Junius Dodson is right. See all the people, know, really, look. See all the people. See those people walking around with smiles on their faces but are midst of a living hell. See the people caught up in addition, the people who encounter violence and bullying every day of their life. See, see the people who are hungry and [indiscernible] on the streets. See the children, separated from parents, family. See.
See those who are differently educated, differently gifted. See all the rich diversity of people who are created in God's image. This movement and teaching, Christ calls us to, is about children, families, friends, connections, Jesus calls us to move beyond our bricks and mortars to engage a world longing for love and compassion, longing for healing and hope.
Jesus says go, and the writer of Timothy reminds us that the command to go and teach begins with training ourselves in Godliness. To set our hope on the living God who is the Savior of all people and to be an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity. Yes, we are an unfinished church, but it's because we are an unfinished people who need to delve deep and nurture Godliness within each one of us.
Now, the call of Timothy to teach is not a new one. It is a timely and persistent biblical call to action. One of the earliest biblical characters made this call and challenge in Deuteronomy.
Moses says, teach and remember, Moses, if you remember, took that first generation of the children of Israel to the border of the Promised Land and as they reached that border of the Promised Land fear struck them. They forgot that God who pulled them out of slavery and saved them, they forgot the promise that God would be with them. Fear struck them and they could not remember who whose they were. They had not learned the promises and protection, the care and love of God in ways that this teaching had been imprinted on their hearts and minds, so fear caught hold of them and paralyzed them and immobilized them and that first generation did not, because of fear enter into that promised land.
A generation passes and now the children of Israel are ready to cross a new generation, to cross the border again and Moses knew it was essential as we got ready to go into a new future. It was essential to teach and remember. In the midst of the unknown Jesus teaches them, things will be different in this new Lang, this future will be different, the people will be different, some of them will not know the one true God and some of them may be worshiping different things, so here is the key for making your way in this new opportunity that has been promised to you. Here all is real, our church, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone, you shall Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your might. Keep these words in your heart, recite them to your children, talk about when you are at home and when you are away and when you lie down and when you rise up. Bind them as a ‑‑ on your hand, wear these words on your forehead so that all might see. Write these words on the door post of your house gates. This is the promise land you are going to, the land promised to you by God. You are going to prosper in this Promised Land. You will build home and plant fields, you will have children and grandchildren. You will prosper. Some of this sounds familiar doesn't it?
But Moses says, church, in the midst of prosperity do not forget. Moses says do not forget who brought you this far by faith, it was not yourselves. It was not your own doing. Do not forget that the Lord who made a way for you and brought you is the Lord who also prospers you. Teach this to your children, teach them to remember, teach them to tell the stories.
As we begin this Annual Conference we honor those who have heeded the call to go and teach, the people who came before us, they knew, had experienced the power, fear has to stop us in our tracks. They also knew the power fear has to exaggerate difference and to invite separation and shattering. So knowing that fear and its power, they grasped God's vision for a future, and they intentionally taught in ways that empowered people to see the possibilities and to trust in the promise of God who would be with them always.
These are the teachers and the examples of a living God, those who were and are the resources through which we learn about true faith in Christ, we are here today because of these persons. We too are teachers. We are teaching our children and everyone around us whether we realize it or not. What are you teaching? What are you teaching with your word and deeds? Words are powerful.
Words are powerful. We need to pay attention to the words. We need to pay attention to what is coming out of us. Words focus us, words, they give birth. Words give birth intentionally and unintentionally. To what are your words giving birth?
Paul, the writer Timothy could say from infancy he had known the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, many of us could say the same thing. Many of us were baptized as infants, attended youth group, raised in the faith and had instilled the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. People taught us the scripters through their actions, words, commitment to be present with us, to show us that in God's eyes they are valuable, sacred and beloved.
That is why we have faith today, because of their teaching and example. These persons in our lives were the vehicles through which God birthed the good news of Jesus Christ in us. The only gospel teacher, the only gospel example that someone might allow to influence their life is you.
Our world is filled with thousands of people who are paralyzed with fear, who are looking for hope and light everywhere, how will they find the true source of life if we aren't out there continually, out everywhere in the world teaching and sharing and telling stories of what Christ did for us. Modeling what Christ through others' efforts have taught us.
As Christians we know the only real hope for people in this world is not found in human potential, but in divine power. Only as God the Holy Spirit working through the word of God gets ahold of our hearts and changes us from the inside out will there been any hope for improved life on Earth and eternal life in heaven.
So what are you waiting for, church? Don't leave this teaching job up to a few. Go, teach. But as you go teach don't go unprepared or unequipped. This table calls us to remember that it's got to start with us. Our personal relationship with the Savior Jesus Christ.
If you have never really had that relationship, if you have fallen away from that relationship, if you have 1340U allowed something to come between you and God, then today is the day to commit or to recommit yourselves to that relationship.
Clergy, laity, leaders of the church in this room, it may appear like what I have just said is speaking to the choir. Unfortunately, I have seen people sit in our pews year after year just going through the motions. [Applause]
I have seen clergy become disheartened year after year after year over a variety of things and that has become a block to the personal relationship we are called to have as we lead the church.
There is a world full of children, youth, young adults, and maturing adults who are lost, church, who are living in fear, who don't have the information or relationships they need, who are seeking and who are finding things that cannot and do not satisfy or bring hope for life. There are people paralyzed by the fear of addition, poverty and racism and violence.
Heeding the call of Christ to go and teach can literally mean the difference between life and death for these persons.
We do not need, we do not need and God does not want this generation passing away, not having known about the ability to receive and say yes to God's promise of forgiveness. We know that we all teach something by how we live our lives, by what we say and how we treat others. So what are you teaching?
I want to remind you that when Jesus said go and teach, he was pretty specific about what he said we were to teach. He said to teach all that I, all that Jesus has taught and commanded. How will those who are lost, how will those who do not yet fully know Christ come to know the saving life and hope of Christ if you have not placed yourself fully in God's hands relying on the promise of Christ?
You see, you cannot go and teach, you cannot go and give something, teach something, model something, that you have not yet acquired, spent time in, consumed or learned for yourself. To know, to learn from, to grow stronger in the good news of Christ, that's what we are called to today, as we come around this table. Today as we gather around this table we praise God for those who shared and showed us the good news, taught faith to us, our children, those who helped continue the life and teachings of Christ in our community, we thank God and praise God for those who God uses to bring us to know Christ and help us grow in Christ. We are unfinished. We have more growing to do. Most of all, we need to thank God as we gather around this table for a love that will not let us go. A love that is revealed in Jesus Christ. So, church, go and teach, make disciples by teaching. Make disciples by being living examples of the way of Christ through your actions and words and deeds. This world is in desperate need of hope, desperate need of love, and life, desperate need of the salvation and life that only Christ can give. And you, and you, and you, and me, we may be the only gospel they meet. Go, and teach. Amen.
Resources for Vital Congregations
GBHEM Leadership Resources
A Disciple’s Path; A Guide for United Methodist
RESOURCES TO CONNECT WITH THE COMMUNITY:
The Appalachian District Church Vitality Team has been prayerfully seeking ways to help support you and the ministries of your local congregation during this COVID-19 pandemic. Together they have diligently researched and connected with others throughout the conference and our denomination to identify resources and offer them to you. We hope they will be helpful to you and bless you greatly in leading your churches and communities through this unprecedented time. We are very grateful to the District Vitality Team and other contributors for their great work on this resource.
This faithful team has created three documents, two of which you are receiving today. They include:
- Family Home Worship – designed to help families establish a regular worship space within their homes as well as a time where they can worship together.
- Tech Strategies – to help guide you in selecting effective tools and resources within your budget to best communicate in the digital world.
We believe these resources will be of great benefit to you. Also know that the District Vitality Team is available to answer any questions you might have in regards to the documents attached. If you have questions, you may email Rev. Howard Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org.