Bishop Héctor Burgos Núñez’s Installation Service Message
Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of the message shared by Bishop Héctor A. Burgos Núñez at his Service of Installation held on March 11, 2023 at Liverpool First United Methodist Church. The scripture lesson shared was Isaiah 43:1-2; 16-25. Watch the message below or click here for a link to the video on our Vimeo channel. Click here to watch a recording of the livestream in its entirety. Click here to read about the installation service.
We are living in challenging times. Wouldn't you agree? We are four years into a global pandemic, unprecendted to our generation, that has caused the death of 6.8 million people, with hundreds of millions more impacted in one way or another. A pandemic that brought the entire world to a halt and disrupted our way of life. Four years into this pandemic, the global economy is still in flux, and we are still wondering what a new “normal” will look like.
Coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, our nation also experiences heightened racial tensions, mainly targeting our African and Asian American siblings. Global warming continues destabilizing the environment and impacting our quality of life and safety. The war imposed on the people of Ukraine has resulted in the tragic loss of life, instability in the region, and tensions among many nations around the globe. A toxic expression of nationalism infects our communities and government and has even found its way into the church. Gun violence and racial hate endanger our communities, and many individuals and families are struggling with unemployment, hunger, and even homelessness.
If all the above was not enough. We need to add the challenges our churches and denomination are facing. Many of our congregations are experiencing a significant decline in engagement from the people in their communities and all that comes with it. Challenges that COVID has accelerated and amplified in most settings. And our beloved denomination is fractured around disagreements on ministry with and by our LGBTQ siblings: harm is being done to beloved children of God. There is a generation completely disillusioned at our inability to address our disagreements in Christian love. And even some choose to leave The United Methodist Church, affecting the church’s witness as the Body of Christ.
As I have been reflecting on the monumental challenges we are confronting, as a global family, as a nation, in our denomination, and communities around our region, my heart was drawn to the passage in Isaiah 43 – where the prophet proclaimed God’s infinite mercy and hope, AND through which God invited the people of Israel to focus on the great things God had done, was doing, and was set to do to bless them.
The people of Israel were living in challenging times. Exiled. Their lives, for the most part, were controlled by their enemies. Dispersed through the entire region. The people that once victoriously walked through the Red Sea were now vulnerable, and uncertainty about the future paralyzed them. (Sounds familiar? too familiar, perhaps). In that context, God raised the prophet Isaiah, who proclaimed on behalf of God: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”
Siblings in Christ, today, let’s hear God telling the world, telling the church, and telling us here today: “In this challenging season, forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. I am doing a new thing!” Because of the uncertainties and tensions around us, like Israel under captivity, as depicted in the Scripture passage, we too are prone to either fight our battles on our strengths or resign to our fate. But God is telling us otherwise. Our God is a God of new things. God wants to make all things new for us! God wants to realign our hearts with Christ’s heart. God is calling us to look towards God, not our circumstances. God is inviting us to focus on our freedom in Christ, not our challenges or the things that try to hold us back.
It is time to realign our sight back toward God as Isaiah invites us. God wants us to stop looking behind. “to forget the former things”- to stop expecting past victories to sustain and carry us forward. To forget the former things, as good as they may have been because they do not compare to what God is about to do in our midst. God is inviting us to stop looking behind, to “not dwell on the past” – to stop allowing past failures, conflicts, disappointments, and frustrations to hold and paralyze us back.
There is a time and place to recollect past events, to remember the ways God has blessed us, and to glean wisdom from it – but we cannot stay there. The past is a great place to learn from the good and the bad, so we do not repeat the same mistakes, BUT it’s a terrible place to live. If we live in the past, we will never embrace the future God has in store for us.
Church, it is time to stop looking behind – ENOUGH! IT IS TIME TO START LOOKING AHEAD!
It is time to realign our sight toward Christ and see God bringing newness – it is time to look ahead and, with great expectation, anticipate that God will do something great. It is time to open our eyes and move beyond our fears, doubts, and quarrels to see what God is already doing. The God of new things is making a new pathway through the wilderness. God is creating rivers in what today seems like a dry wasteland!
Church, God is doing something new!
In early November 2022, United Methodists gathered around the globe to elect new bishops for the church. A historically diverse class of thirteen new bishops joined our Council of Bishops and was deployed to serve worldwide. A class that, in many ways, represents the new thing God is doing among the people called United Methodists.
A class filled with several new things. The first Native American bishop in our denomination. The first African American woman bishop in the South-Central Jurisdiction. The first male queer bishop in the Western jurisdiction. The first Filipino American bishop in the denomination. The first female bishop in the Philippines. And the first Hispanic/ Latinx bishop in the Northeastern Jurisdiction and the first Puerto Rican in the denomination.
God is doing something new – can you see it?
After four years of navigating through a global pandemic, congregations are re-emerging. Many are experimenting with new methods and technologies and embracing new ways to build community and witness the love of Christ in their communities. Doing things they NEVER imagined doing. In the wake of increased racial hate, the church, at all levels, including here in Upper New York, is beginning to prioritize racial justice ministries and cultural competence as integral components of Christian discipleship.
God is doing something new!
I have traveled around the Upper New York Conference over the past eight weeks and witnessed the great ministries taking place through our congregations. The resilience. The creativity. The determination. I also sense new hope emerging among our clergy and laity about our future together.
In June, our conference will hold its annual session, in person, for the first time since COVID, when we will commission and ordain the largest clergy class in many years—a new generation of servant leaders, willing and ready to lead us forward. While others talk of decline and closures, new faith communities are bubbling up throughout Upper New York – holy spaces engaging new and different people with the good news of Jesus Christ. While some feel powerless against the challenges impacting our communities and the world, Upper New York Mission Hub is growing in its reach, the people it is serving, and the volunteers is engaging.
God is doing something new!
I see God rekindling a new passion for a growing relationship with Jesus Christ in many disciples and leaders in Upper New York. A revival taking place. A thirst and hunger for knowledge and experiences that draws us closer to God. I see United Methodists in Upper New York focused on loving God and our neighbors, all our neighbors, in all places, not with any love, but striving to love one another the same way Christ loves us. I see peacemakers. Justice seekers. Healer. Joy-givers. Bridge builders to what is next.
I see the Holy Spirit helping us embrace a vision for missional unity based on the unbreakable bond of the love of Christ, celebrating our diversity as a gift from God that acknowledges our differences and allows all God’s children to grow into their full God-given potential. I see us leaving behind mindsets of scarcity and places of complacency and leaning forward with courage to build with God a future of hope for our congregations, our communities, our conference, and The United Methodist Church.
I see a new generation of servant leaders claiming their place and joyfully taking on servant leadership to make a difference in their communities. I see our congregations moving away from a spirit of competition into a spirit of collaboration – that leverages the gifts already among us and opens ways to new partnerships to amplify our impact in the community.
Friends, God is doing something new, in us, among us, and through us. Do you believe it? Can you see it?
As we begin this journey together, how do the words of the prophet Isaiah speak to your heart as a disciple and a leader? What places, experiences, or circumstances do you keep reverting to that limit your view of the present and the future – that you need to let go? How can we look at things differently to see or perceive the newness God wants to bring? What truth can you claim today to help your heart trust God for something new and good this season? Whom do you need to invite to join us in this adventure of faith and new journey God has set for us?
United Methodists in Upper New York, people of faith and goodwill in the region. God is doing something new. It is time to stop looking behind and start looking ahead. I don’t know about you – but I want to be part of the new thing God is doing! I am all in. If you sense God inviting you to be part of this new time, this new moment. To claim this, promise and hope for your life and ministry – I invite you to proclaim: “God is doing something new. And I am willing and ready to be part of it.”
I look forward to doing life with you in the coming years and alongside you, being part of the new thing God is about to do and is already doing among us as we seek to transform the world by nurturing passionate disciples of Jesus Christ who share faith, hope, mercy, and justice in the community.