It’s time to take a leap of faith, Bishop Webb urges during AC2019 Opening Worship
“We need a fresh word! We need to be reminded of who we are and whose we are … we need to be reminded that amid this season, God is doing a new thing.” This sentiment was expressed by Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb during Opening Worship at the 2019 Upper New York Annual Conference session.
Though chosen in 2016, this year’s AC session theme, “Together in Prayer: Moving Beyond our Comfort Zones,” couldn’t be more pertinent.
After the Special Session of General Conference held in February, centered around the denomination’s divide on the issue of human sexuality, Bishop Webb said, “What General Conference 2019 [revealed] is that our form is impacting our function! Our division is impacting our ability to accomplish our task! It seems like we are spending more time arguing with one another, trying to convince one another to change than we are trying to convince the world to see Jesus! Our hearts are increasingly at war at the very moment we need hearts of peace.”
Bishop Webb explained that during this season, we need to remember the words of the prophet Isiah, quoting Isaiah 9 and 16:
“Behold, the former things have come to pass. Now I declare new things; before they spring forth, I proclaim them to you … I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, in paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them and rugged places into plains. These are the things I will do, and I will not leave them undone.”
Throughout his sermon, Bishop Webb repeated these prophecies of Isiah six times. He said, “You are going to get to get tired of hearing these words, but you need to have them etched into your heart.”
Each time Bishop Webb recited these words, he asked the AC session attendees, “What will be our response? Will we choose to step out of our comfort zones and into God’s promise and future?”
Bishop Webb used the account of Peter walking on water as an example of stepping outside of our comfort zone. He expressed how so many people focus on the negative – the fact that Peter sunk. Bishop Webb expressed how our focus should instead be on the fact that Peter took a leap of faith – and that this is what those who are part of The United Methodist Church need to do now.
Bishop Webb used the analogy of a little girl he saw recently in the grocery store, arms crossed, scowl on her face, exclaiming to her mother, “I’m not moving! I’m staying right here!” Bishop Webb expressed that so many people in The UMC are acting the same way amidst this season of uncertainty, when in fact we need to do the exact opposite.
There are several barriers that are holding us back from moving beyond our comfort zones – Bishop Webb touched on many of them, fear being at the top of the list.
Bishop Webb expressed his intentions on his personal spiritual journey.
“I’m not willing to stay where I am – I want to move into the new thing God is calling me to – calling us to,” he said. “I’m not certain what that is, but I want to trust the promise of God, the words of the prophet and be moved!”
Later, Bishop Webb elaborated on his personal intention.
“I’m interested in stepping into the new thing that God is about to do,” he said. “I’m interested in going deeper in my own relationship with Jesus. I’m interested in helping clergy and laity go deeper in their capacity to be Christ-following leaders. I’m interested in walking alongside congregations and assisting them to become even more vital, effective, and fruitful than they already are. I’m interested in being a part of the conversations that address the reality of the United Methodist Church – a Church I deeply love.”
Expressing the urgency of leaping forward to help people find their primary identity as followers of Jesus Christ, Bishop Webb invited everyone to join him by moving beyond the walls of the churches and into the community to serve and be the light of Jesus. He expressed the importance of New Faith Communities and the revitalization of existing congregations
As opposed to continuing to debate about our differing opinions, Bishop Webb claimed that it’s time to “recognize our reality and lean into the new things God desires to do.”
What will it take for all of those who are part of the United Methodist Church in Upper New York to choose to take the leap of faith needed to create a fresh start for the denomination?
“As we make the decision to step out, we must do so making the decision to look at Jesus and never stop,” Bishop Webb said.
“We will only become the person God desires us to become when each one of us makes our own relationship with Jesus Christ the most important thing. That’s the only way you and I will find the courage to step out of our boats. And when we start to sink, Jesus will be there to pull us up, hold us close and continue the journey with us.”