Rev. Suzanne Block offers hope through the unexpected at her installation service
On Oct. 6, 2019, at the Christ UMC, Olean, Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb officially appointed the Rev. Suzanne Block as the Cornerstone District Superintendent (DS).
This year, Isiah 55 came to Bishop Webb’s thoughts in his prayers for the Cornerstone DS. He said, “This passage (from Isaiah) describes the kind of life we are called to live, but I also think it’s a great job description.”
Describing the Rev. Suzanne Block, Bishop Webb said,
“She is a person who thirsts and hungers for the things of God; She’s a person who seeks and calls upon God NOW; and she is a person who tries to place her life under the values of God.”
Rev. Block opened her installation service by listing some recent realities that we have had to face.
She recited one after another, such as Hurricane Dorian and other catastrophic natural disasters; the many specific incidents of gun violence; an increase in the number of suicides, depression, addictions, and homelessness; continued reports of bullying in schools; and the uncertainty of the United Methodist Church.
Rev. Block then asked the attendees that filled nearly all the pews, “How are you feeling at this moment?” Rev. Block described how so many have been heavy at heart, have shed many tears, and have become silently depressed.
But then, she enthusiastically exclaimed, “There is hope: hope even in the midst of natural disasters, hope in unexpected circumstances, and in the midst of hurt and brokenness.”
Rev. Block drew from Ephesians 4-1:3 to describe how there can be hope.
While imprisoned, Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, “…I urge you to live the life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the Unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Rev. Block first responded to Paul’s first request. “I urge you to live the life worthy of the calling you have received…Seriously, this is going to be a challenge. If Paul is called by God, then Paul was chosen by God, so you have been chosen by God, I have been chosen by God, we have been chosen by God, are you feeling it?”
Just in case the attendees weren’t “feeling it,” Rev. Block recited several passages from the Bible where Jesus describes them as his chosen ones.
She said, “We have been set apart, all of his here in this place, in this moment in time, have been chosen to do God’s work (to live a life worthy of the calling we have received).”
In order to do God’s Work Rev. Block Rev. Block reiterated Paul’s request to be completely humble. She said, “First, we are to be completely humble…yes humbleness.”
She described how humbleness and humility are often seen as weaknesses in our culture, but explains that our communities, schools, congregations, workplaces, friends, strangers, and families can experience the love of God when we are living our lives with humble, servant hearts.
Rev. Block then examined Paul’s next request; she said, “Next, we are supposed to be gentle. Really? Gentleness is defined as a quality of being kind, tender-hearted, and mild-mannered.”
Reflecting on a time when she tried being gentle, Rev. Block described a situation where she held a grocery store door open for a senior citizen who then ridiculed her for holding the door open for her—that she could open the door herself. Rev. Block explained that afterward, “that lady rammed her cart into my cart in the produce section...and then I was not gentle and I said to her, ‘I think you need some prune juice!’”
The crowd erupted in laughter.
Joking that her nursing background always comes through, Rev. Block explained that these days her reaction would be different; she said, “through the Holy Spirit’s continuing transforming power within me, today I would ask, ‘what is going on in this person’s life that they are acting or reacting in this way?’ and try to stop and have a conversation.”
Moving on to Paul’s third request, Rev. Block said, “and then we are supposed to be patient…patience is bearing provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain; hold onto your pew; without complaint!”
Adding more humor to her sermon, Rev. Block referred to road rage, when someone flies past you on the left and then you end up at the stop light together. She said, “I wave and don’t ever get a wave back!”
Rev. Block then reminded the attendees of the positives that come out of patience like a child learning the Lord’s prayer or to ride a bike; or watching one person grow in faith, having an aha moment, from a Bible study.”
Referencing Paul’s fourth request, Rev. Block said, “oh boy, now we’re to bear with one another in love. Really?”
Rev. Block then described love using the well-known Corinthians 13 passage, ‘Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not envious, or boastful, or arrogant, or rude, love bears all things.”
Next, Rev. Block referenced the two greatest commandments to love the lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and to love your neighbors as yourself—she then said, “that is the heart of our ministry together as faithful followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to share the love of God found in Jesus Christ, allowing the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to lead us, to guide us, and to give us those opportunities to share the love of God.”
Rev. Block gave examples; she said, “We love by treating others with honor and significance, being the good Samaritan. We love by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison, and giving water to the thirsty.”
Rev. Block then addressed Paul’s last request, “We are going to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. We are called to be peacemakers.”
Rev. Block referred to many passages where Jesus speaks about peace that can be had; Rev. Block said, “The peace that Jesus speaks about passes all understanding; this is the peace that we can have within us. The peace that keeps us centered in Christ when the unexpected happens.”
Rev. Block concluded,
“In our journey together, as individuals, as families, as congregations, as Districts, as the Upper New York Conference, as the United Methodist Church, we will experience unexpected challenges, uncertainties, frustrations, hurt and brokenness, natural disasters, and the diagnosis we never anticipated. The question I ask is this:
How will we respond?
My hope and prayer is that we will respond with humbleness, and gentleness, with love and peace, keeping the unity of the spirit.”
And I believe you will respond today because as we continue to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, our willing to live lives worthy of the calling you have already received.”