June 15, 2019
Two thoughts have encouraged my spirits as we go through some very uncertain times in our church and in our world. The first is a prayer shared in cabinet this winter titled, “Slow Work of God” by Pierre Teilhard De Chardin. It reminds us to trust in the slow work of God and that only God can reveal what new spirit is gradually forming in us.
The second is the scripture passage from Isaiah 43 where the writer reminds us not to be afraid even when we pass through deep waters, fire or hard trials. It also reminds that we all are precious to God. Isaiah 43 is a passage I have used a lot in my preaching, mostly from verse 19.
“Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.”
I just love that part! Do you see it?
However, only this year have I connected the top part of the passage reminding us that we must walk through the fire and the wilderness before we can see the new thing! I believe that’s where we are in The United Methodist Church right now. I also believe this is a much slower process than most of us prefer. I believe a new form of United Methodist unity is emerging and that will give us space for something new to happen.
The prayer says, “trust in the slow work of God.” Do not skip the intermediate steps. Don’t try to force them on as though you could be today what time will make of you tomorrow. People are asking me over and over; “How do we navigate in these uncertain times? How can we be a non-anxious presence while everyone is wrestling with these issues of sexuality and the results of special session of General Conference 2019? The answer for me has partly been found in this prayer and the entirety Isaiah chapter 43. The keys, I think, are three-fold.
First, stay at the table. One of the worst mistakes Judas made with Jesus was leaving the table. I’ve always wondered what would have happened if Judas had stayed at the Lord’s Supper?
Second, walk together into whatever the future is for The United Methodist Church. Our relationships matter! Our relationships are the connection, and I hope that connection will help us in the Missouri Conference to treat each other with love, respect and mutual adoration, even if we disagree. I have friends on both sides of our theological disagreement, and I value their friendship. I place high value on relationships with each other.
Third, stay focused on the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. For John Wesley it was all about the way of salvation. It was about the transformed life through works of piety and works of mercy. The core of Wesleyan theology is a theology of holiness in love. God the Father, Son and Spirit is love. When we have a lack of love for each other it is a contradiction to our holiness.
No matter what side we are on, if we let our disagreement so embitter us to each other, we all will miss the holiness we were aiming toward. Let us stay at the table, walk together and stay focused on the mission of God’s love.
I look forward to seeing everyone at conference in June.
Bishop Bob Farr
ISAIAH 43:1-5 & 19
But now, God’s Message,
the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,
the One who got you started, Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
trade the creation just for you.
So don’t be afraid: I’m with you.”
“Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
rivers in the badlands.”
Slow Work of God By Pierre Teilhard De Chardin
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.
Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Do not try to force them on as though you could be today what time – that is to say, grace – and circumstances – acting on your own good will – will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new Spirit
gradually forming in you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser. Amen.