Bishop Webb proclaims we are chosen, given power by God
Opening Worship on June 2 at the 2016 Annual Conference session began with a combination of video, music, and spoken word. The video showcased young people preparing to gather at a table. As the video came to an end, a diverse group of individuals – old and young, male and female, representing multiple ethnicities –preparing place settings at a large table on the stage. The band Inside Out simultaneously performed the song “Now is the Time to Worship” by Phillips, Craig & Dean, as the crowd joined in, standing and singing along.
Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb introduced his sermon, using the “table” as a metaphor of the foundation of faith God has equipped Upper New York Conference members to follow the mission of United Methodist Christians: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
“This foundation of faith, when fully experienced, becomes a foundation of Thanksgiving,” he said. “It’s a foundation of thanks that comes when we remember who we are and who we are promised to be because of God’s work in Jesus Christ.”
“Because of our willingness to live out our faith in Jesus Christ, to be bold in our acceptance of God’s grace and loud in our proclamation of God’s grace, people are choosing to follow Jesus, and as they offer their lives more deeply in the ways of Christ, our neighborhoods and our communities are being transformed,” Bishop Webb said. “The world is being changed through the power and for the glory of God.”
To demonstrate how communities are being transformed, Bishop Webb played two videos that showcased what God is doing through the churches of Upper New York.
The first video, Thursday Nights, showcased the Salem United Methodist Church’s effort to provide worship and a meal for families. Thursday Nights begins with a meal, followed by scripture and activities. What began with three mothers looking for a way to experience worship with their children grew into a group of more than 70 people worshiping on Thursday nights.
The second, Open Street Communion, displayed The ROAD’s ministry. Every Friday, members of the new faith community hand out free lunches and offer prayer and communion to anyone walking by. In the winter, they also provide warm socks, sleeping bags, hats, and gloves. “The structure and system of the UNY Conference is to equip local churches to live out the mission in vital ways,” Bishop Webb said, following the videos. He added that the Conference’s primary task must be to increase the capacity of Christ-following leaders.
He explained, using the diagram to the right, “Spiritual renewal and revival is accomplished by growing Christ-following leaders, who build healthy congregations, who partner with God in making disciples who make disciples, resulting in a transformed world.”
“Politics will not bring renewal or revival,” he said. “Jesus brings renewal and revival. We need to turn to Jesus in a new way, in a fresh way. We need to turn to Jesus 100 percent of the way because there are no other options. The only hope for our world is Jesus the Christ.”
Bishop Webb then confessed that he has become overly dependent upon himself, that, at times, he becomes distracted by voices that cause fear and doubt.
“What we must do is continue to commit to getting out of the way, so that God will have God’s way!” he said. “God’s way, in our lives individually, God’s way in our life together, and God’s way in the life of this world we find ourselves called to serve in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Webb reminded the Conference of one of Apostle Paul’s messages, written during a time of disunity of almost every area of life.
“Paul writes about God’s plan for everything to be brought together through Jesus,” he said. “It’s a letter that reminds us of who we are. It’s a letter that calls us to be serious about the task that only the Church of Jesus Christ can accomplish. The Church must bring Christ to the world so that in Christ all things may be reconciled.”
“The prophet Jeremiah proclaimed the truth that the Apostle Paul raises in the letter, ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and hope,’” Bishop Webb said. “I don’t know what the future holds for The United Methodist Church, but I know what the future holds for the Church of Jesus Christ.”
He urged the crowd to live into the promises of the table as that is what we are called to do. He reviewed two main promises that we must continue to remember:
Promise 1: Through Jesus Christ, we are chosen by God
Bishop Webb described the three words he hated to hear as a child: “Let’s choose teams.” He joked that his prayer life was partially developed by praying that someone would choose him.
He then reminded the crowd of the amazing promise that God chooses us.
“We did not choose to do the work of God. God chose us for that work,” he said. “God’s choice is rooted in the depth of God’s nature, a nature of grace, and God’s choice has a purpose and an outcome.
“Before the world was made, God chose us, and in that choosing, God had a purpose for us – that we would be, that we would become God’s holy people,” he said. ”God’s grace makes us different, and God’s grace demands and empowers us to live differently, and living differently boldly attracts others to the difference Christ will make in their lives. The difference draws others into the sufficiency of Christ, that they too may know the truth that God chooses them!”
Promise 2: Through Christ we are given power for the plan
Bishop Webb mentioned the frustration of toys with fine print stating “batteries not included,” meaning that you get the toy, but the power to make it work is not included.
“This is not the kind of gift that God gives,” he said. “God’s gift – God’s call within our lives includes the power, the power of the Holy Spirit! We have been equipped with batteries!”
Bishop Webb explained that when people struggle with living out God’s call, it is never because God withdrew the power.
“There is always a reason for why the Church is not living the plan, but it is never because God withdrew the power!” he said. To exemplify the strength of God’s power, Bishop Webb proclaimed what Jesus said, “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not overpower it!”
“The United Methodist Church will be in great shape when everyone, including me, goes to the table and trusts the grace of God and sufficiency of God,” Bishop Webb said.