The Laity Address: The Joy of Jesus

My name is Betty Spiwe Katiyo. I am from Harare, Zimbabwe, on the continent of Africa. And by the grace of God, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I am privileged and honored to be chosen as the first lay speaker from the central conferences to address the whole church. Praise be to God!

Please be still for a moment and imagine a tree. A tree is very symbolic in that it is the center of life as it provides shelter, food, medicine, and a resting place for the tired and the weary. As the hot African sun filters through the leaves of an ancient tree, it welcomes you, wrapping a comforting shade over your weary body. This tree beckons others; friends, neighbors, and strangers are all drawn to one another. This wondrous tree, like us, has survived so very much. All across Africa, a tree can be a starting point of a change where people worship in small groups where there are no walls.

We, in Zimbabwe, are in the early stages of the United Methodist movement – just like the United States was in its early years – when membership was on the increase and churches were being planted all over. But, we are strong in our conviction that the joy of Jesus Christ is with us – as we turn the soil for our food, journey many miles for the bare necessities of life, or hope for jobs for our people. The joy of Jesus Christ is with all of us – though we often carry heavy burdens.

Imagine a land of internal strife, a land where the rising political tension is only rivaled by fear of what the future holds, where conflict between different tribes has created stress and the feeling of powerlessness, where elected and appointed leaders have failed the people. This land, it could be Africa; but it could be the United States. It could be any country in the world. Or it could be The United Methodist Church. Yes, we all share similar challenges and opportunities.

John Wesley called upon us to be disciples of Jesus Christ and to change the unjust practices of society. We need to recapture that early spirit of a transformational movement. Wesley said, “I’m not afraid that the people called Methodist should ever cease to exist, but I’m afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast with the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”

Laity! Laity! Where are you? Don’t get so caught up in legislative actions that you fail to readjust what is unjust as we continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ. As true disciples we have to watch over one another with love, despite differences in opinion, background, race, or whatever. We all know that there is work to do – and clergy cannot do it alone.

A conductor of an orchestra does not make a sound. Instead he enlivens others to be effective. Laity are the choir who should be making the noise and clergy are the conductors. And guess what? To succeed we need each other.

The ministry of laity is a frontline ministry because laypersons have direct access to the community and to the settings that the clergy do not normally have. Somewhere in church history and tradition, the church began to endow certain rights, privileges, and responsibilities of ministry to clergy. Clergy then became the enlightened leadership and laity became an audience, consumers of religion. That is not the way it was intended to be.

Clergy have responsibilities to uphold, but laity, we do too. Making disciples of Jesus Christ is a responsibility of all Christians. We cannot be observers. We are people who are called to action. United Methodists are being called to “Rethink Church” so that we become the servant people Jesus calls us and wants us to be. As laity, we should accept, celebrate, and use the gifts of ministry to make disciples for Jesus Christ while transforming the world.

Earlier I told you of how Africans gather to worship under a tree. As more people come to faith, our church grows. Some joyfully meet under trees, sitting on the hard ground, no matter what the weather — hot, humid, in the rain or wind, and at times even in the cold. Some gather in classrooms, some in tents, some in homes, and some in sanctuaries without a roof but with a wall. Some meet in buildings with a roof but no wall and others gather in completed buildings. The type of the building doesn’t matter – but the deliverance, healing, and salvation people need from the church does matter.

I am a member of the Inner City United Methodist Church of Harare where we have a very large church building which seats over a thousand people, but every Sunday there are more people who want to attend worship than there are seats available. People are so hungry to hear the word of God. They come and sit outside just for the opportunity to worship together and share the good news of Jesus Christ.

The harvest is ripe. There is so much lawlessness, abuse, hatred, and all sorts of evils which the secular world with all its laws, armies, policemen, and jails has failed to stop.

But imagine if all laity brought just one person to Jesus Christ each year. The whole world would soon be transformed.

For me it happened when I was 14. I was invited by my friend to attend a youth convention. That is where my eyes were opened and my heart was warmed. I accepted God into my life and I knew he was calling me by my name, Betty Spiwe. The preacher had read from Revelation, chapter 20, verses 11-15, which talks about the final judgment.

I realized that life is a spiritual journey heading for heaven where the dead are divided according to their words and to their deeds on earth. Everyone’s life will be reviewed and evaluated. There is a book of life where our names are to be written to have everlasting life. When I heard this, my life was changed forever.

This is my story. You have a story too or you would not be here today. Remember your story. Share your story. This could be in class meetings or in small home groups, or it could be in your community. It is this witness through which people will come to know Jesus Christ and The United Methodist Church will fulfill its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We often quote the Scripture in Matthew to go and make disciples. I want to remind us today that the story does not end there. Jesus goes on to say, “And remember I am with you always to the end of the age.” God assures us of his presence until the end of the age. We need to be a church that is more Holy Spirit conscious than problem conscious.

The Holy Spirit gives believers the motivation, energy, and ability to spread the gospel to transform the world. We need to call upon the Holy Spirit to rejuvenate each one of us and to rejuvenate our United Methodist Church. God is with us here in Tampa, and God is with us in our homes, communities. God is with us until the end of the age. Praise be to God. Praise be to God. Amen.