A First Response ©

In the fall of 1972, I entered seminary at Perkins School of Theology on the Southern Methodist University campus. Later that same fall, America was riven by a contentious Presidential election. President Richard Nixon was re-elected in a landslide victory over the Democratic nominee, Senator George McGovern. I had been active in efforts to elect Senator McGovern and his defeat was a deep disappointment. I can still recall watching his concession speech. In the speech, Senator McGovern (who served briefly as a student local pastor in the Methodist Church) quoted the closing verses of Isaiah 40.
 
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary,
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint
. (Isaiah 40:28-31, RSV)
The words hit me like a thunderbolt. Over the years, they have remained among my favorite passages of Holy Scripture. “They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Over and over again I am remined of my need to “wait upon the Lord.”
 
A couple of months ago, a Central Texas Conference Cabinet colleague passed on a prescient piece of writing on business leadership found in the Harvard Business Review.
 
“There is no silver bullet to solving the complex problems ushered in by the information age. But there are some good places to start, and one of them is counterintuitive: solitude. Having the discipline to step back from the noise of the world is essential to staying focused. This is even more important in a highly politicized society that constantly incites our emotions, causing the cognitive effects of distractions to linger.”
 The writer, Mike Irwin, went on to assert that the ability to focus through solitude “provides a competitive advantage.”
 
More recently, I was worshipping in Zimmerman Chapel at United Theological Seminary and the Dean of the Chapel, Rev. Dr. Rosario Picardo remarked in a sermon that prayer should be our first response and not our last resort.  Once again, I heard the Lord speaking to me (and. I believe, the whole church) of our deep need in this time of tumult.
 
As if to hammer the lesson home, in my devotional time I read:  “In the face of trial, testing, suffering, and hardship, we face two primary temptations. First, we want to fight back against our enemies. Retaliation inevitably lead to escalation, which turns to outright war. Second, under the stress of the situation, we easily find ourselves turning against one another.” (J. D. Walt, The First Real Christian)
 
In his writing, Dr. Walt called my attention back to the advice of James in the Bible. Dr. Walt continued, “James reminds us of the promise of God and instructs us in the ways of God: ‘You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.’ (James 5:8, NIV)” (J. D. Walt, The First Real Christian, p. 92)
 
As we search for a way forward, I believe the Lord is speaking to us - all of us!  Allow me to be clear: This is not a call for indefinite delay. Nor is it an invitation to ostrich-like stick your head in the sand. There is a time to act and a time to prepare for acting (which may be, probably is, now!), but our first response should be to wait upon the Lord in prayer. There will be time after General Conference for prayer-based action.
 
In previous blog posts (The Possible Future of Multiple Methodist Denominations [Jan. 7] and Here I Stand [Feb. 20]), I have shared my thoughts on the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation,” which is proposed for consideration at the May meeting of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. In the “run-up” to General Conference, there are a host of different meetings and gatherings meant to consider the future of the United Methodist Church and its possible separation into two or more new denominations. I have and will be involved in a number of these activities - the most recent being discussions between the South-Central Jurisdiction (SCJ) College of Bishops and the SCJ Committee on Episcopacy. In the midst of these important and needed preparations for General Conference, may our collective first response be prayer. “They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)