The following blog posting (“A Time for Courage: Part II) is the second section of my Episcopal Address given to the Central Texas Annual Conference June 12, 2017. Part I was posted on June 19th. --Bishop Mike Lowry, Resident Bishop of the Central Texas Annual Conference. In Narnia, the green mist preys on people's weaknesses and their fears. It makes their darkest dreams come true, and frightens, or worse yet, tempts them. The same happens in our time and even in our churches and the greater United Methodist Church. This is a call to trust and obey. The temptation would be for us to try in this gathering to solve political issues that stalk the halls of Washington, D.C. or the 2019 issues of human sexuality and avoid the pressing needs the Lord God calls us to face today. This does not mean an ignorance of those issues or a failure to address them but rather calls us to focus on the task before us in its proper context. There will be opportunity to face the issues that threaten us with schism, specifically same gender marriage and ordination of LGBTQI people. We have a task group working with our feedback to the Commission on the Way Forward. (The Commission holds the responsibility to prepare a report for the Council of Bishops and the called session of the 2019 General Conference.) Each and every district along with their lay and clergy will have time and opportunity to give feedback. We are committed as a Conference to a week of prayer for the work of the Commission on a Way Forward and a faithful future of The United Methodist Church. (It should be noted that each annual conference in The United Methodist Church worldwide has been asked to take a specific week. Our assigned week is January 28 - February 3.) I invite you to take the image of the voyage of the Dawn Treader along with the image of the Mayflower and yoke them together with multi biblical injunctions and instructions. Apply Joshua 1:5b -7, 9:
I won’t desert you or leave you. Be brave and strong, because you are the one who will help this people take possession of the land, which I pledged to give to their ancestors. “Be very brave and strong as you carefully obey all of the Instruction that Moses my servant commanded you. … I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”Embrace Psalm 46:1-7.
God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble. That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart, when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea, when its waters roar and rage, when the mountains shake because of its surging waves. Selah There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city, the holiest dwelling of the Most High. God is in that city. It will never crumble. God will help it when morning dawns. Nations roar; kingdoms crumble. God utters his voice; the earth melts. The Lord of heavenly forces is with us! The God of Jacob is our place of safety.Clergy, allow me to speak specifically to you while inviting the laity to overhear our conversation. We need to lay our anxiety on the altar of the Lord. We are not in control of the future of The United Methodist Church. We need to trust God and allow the Commission on the Way Forward to do its work while we buttress them with prayer. We need to engage in respectful, carefully graceful conversations with our laity. Let the words of Jesus guide our emotional and spiritual dispositions.
Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. … Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:28-29, 33-34)Faith is an intentional decision to move into the future according to a particular framework, a worldview, a way of thinking and living. Anxiety is the unintentional decision to move according to a negative framework. We control what we can control. We release to the Lord what we cannot control. Laity, allow me to speak to you from both head and heart. “On such a full sea we are now afloat” (William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3). Shakespeare’s words fit our times and our churches. Expecting your clergy to magically solve the controversial issues of our day is not just unrealistic. It is fundamentally unfaithful. We can neither ignore the elephant in the room - possible schism in The United Methodist Church - nor be frozen by fear. Laity and clergy have to do this together. We cannot faithfully and successfully sail the perilous seas of our age separately. To borrow in paraphrase from Martin Luther King, Jr., “we must learn to live together as brothers (and sisters) or perish together as fools” (Martin Luther King, Jr.). This is a time for courage from both lay and clergy leadership. It is also deeply a time for prayer. It is also a time for uncommon patience. Hear again the opening words of Psalm 46. “God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Allow me to reiterate my comment directed specifically to the clergy but this time direct it specifically to the laity while inviting the clergy to overhear. Faith is an intentional decision to move into the future according to a particular framework, a worldview, a way of thinking and living. Anxiety is the unintentional decision to move according to a negative framework. We control what we can control. We release to the Lord what we cannot control. “God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble” (Psalm 46:1). We are sailing on the Dawn Treader and not on the Titanic! In the immortal words of William Carey, “Attempt great things for God and expect great things from God.” In my words, breathe deep. Jesus is Lord, and we are not. That is a really good thing! This is his church, not ours!!