Therefore Go!

Bishop Gregory V. Palmer delivers the episcopal address at the 2016 General Conference. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Bishop Gregory V. Palmer delivers the episcopal address at the 2016 General Conference. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

The Council of Bishops chose Bishop Gregory V. Palmer to deliver the 2016 Episcopal Address. What follows is an excerpt of his address.

We gather in these days in Portland, Oregon, guided by the theme, “Therefore Go.” It is based upon the so-called Great Commission found at the end of the Gospel of St. Matthew. It is a good word for us in these days. There is wonderful alignment with our mission statement to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It is inspiring to be reminded of who we are and who we have been called to be. But if this General Conference pays mere lip service to the Great Commission or to our denominational mission statement we will have failed. …

The text at the end of Matthew 28 and the words of our mission statement convey an authority and urgency that does not seem to stir us. Too many United Methodists, too many United Methodist congregations, are complacent and lethargic about the mission at hand. Too many are fearful about the survival of the church as an institution but we have lost the zeal to truly join God in the healing of a world that is broken physically, spiritually, relationally.

And if we are not fearful, we are complacent. We are playing it cool – going along to get along. We don’t believe we are called to invite others to share this extraordinary life we have been given by the grace and mercy of God. That job belongs to someone else like the professionals or those who are over the top, but surely not us.

We are slow to challenge the structures of evil that grind the life out of the earth and of people. We want to serve in mission as long as a bit of tourism is involved but not speak truth to power about the root causes of inequality, injustice, and oppression. We are hesitant to invite others to join the journey. All of that is too risky. We might be called extremists or militant.

But our theme and our mission statement are a rallying cry to get our act together and get focused on what God is focused on which is nothing less than New Creation for people, nations, cultures, and the earth.

If we are really clear about the mission and intend to carry it out, paragraph 122 of the Book of Discipline outlines a process for us and maps the journey for us. Imagine United Methodists having a template, a pattern, a method to go about the task at hand. We would not be us if we did not have one.

• Proclaim –the gospel, seek, welcome, and gather persons into the body of Christ.

• Lead –persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the Spirit and profession of faith.

• Nurture –persons in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace, such as Wesley’s Christian conferencing.

• Send –persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel and,

• Continue– the mission of seeking, welcoming and gathering persons into the community of the body of Christ.

This is a holistic means of carrying out the mission we have been given. This pattern must be taken as a whole. No one or two parts stands on its own. It is in combination that the church is shaped and disciples are formed. It is not a list of optional practices to choose from. If any piece is underemphasized or neglected the church is not whole and disciples are left less than whole. The diligent engagement of this moves us toward our aim making fully formed, mature disciples of Jesus Christ who in the power of the Holy Spirit participate with the Risen Christ in the transformation of the world. Ours is a holy, urgent, crucial, and ever relevant call. Daunting as it is, it is an honor and a privilege to serve the living God in this way. We should not demure, resist, or disobey this holy calling.

I am always struck by the powerful liturgy in the services of Baptism. In fact, I have sometimes felt myself physically trembling as I have led congregations in the Commendation and Welcome in the Order for Baptism and Reception. They are especially dear to me because they always stir within me the question “can we do this”? Are we this kind of church? You know them well. The leader, often the pastor, addresses the congregation and says to them, Do all in your power to:

• Increase their faith

• Confirm their hope

• Perfect them in love

The process is all in the service of fulfilling this aim in all of us; in every United Methodist congregation and ministry setting. It is the plumb line that we must align with missionaly. It is the fruit we toil for, the outcome we hope for. Disciples of Jesus Christ whose faith in God is increasing and deepening, in whom the hope of the Gospel is confirmed, and who are being made perfect in love in this life is our end game, our urgent call, and our only business.

Some years ago a leader in our denomination preached in the congregation where I was serving. He used a phrase that day that has stuck with me ever since. It sort of summed up for me our lack of passion for the mission.

He said, “We must discover again the vocation of being full-time Christians.”

It will take a full-time church to nurture full-time Christians who are increasing in faith, being confirmed in hope, and being perfected in love. This trilogy of increase of faith, confirmation of hope, and perfection in love for ourselves and for the disciples of Jesus Christ yet to be is the mission that awaits us, what the world needs, and what we yearn for. We have been called to this work and commissioned to do it with all that we have and all that we are. The only unanswered question is whether we will Go.

We have everything we need – all fear, doubt, and controversies notwithstanding. We have nothing less than the promise of the Risen Christ that he will be with us. Not with us when it is easy and smooth; not only when the path seems clear; not with us only in certain geographies and among certain language or cultural groupings but with us all the way.

So let’s trust God as never before and GO.

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