Gracious God, holy and wholly living, there is much still to be decided as The United Methodist Church moves into the future, moves toward General Conference 2019. Even in the unknown, even where there is chaos and confusion, remind us again and again of the power of your love, which ripples through history, changing lives, transforming the world, and creating new possibilities for kindness, compassion, caring, and connection. May these ripples of your love and grace flow freely out of us. May these ripples of your love and grace flow deeply in to us. Enlarge our hearts. Enliven our minds. Expand our imagination. Make gentle and generous our spirits. In Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen.
Last Friday, the General Conference delegates, alternates, and bishops of the North Central Jurisdiction met in Chicago for a 24-hour period of worship and prayer, holy conversation, discernment, and relationship building. The prayer above was suggested for our various group conversations.
During opening worship, we read Ephesians 3:14-21. We then shared in small groups a word, phrase, or image that stood out as we prepared our hearts and minds to participate in the 2019 General Conference.
For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
This is what God spoke to me.
- When we speak, discern, and vote, we are standing on holy ground because we are rooted and grounded in love. We are called to take off our shoes in humility.
- The love of Christ is far greater than the knowledge that each one of us has.
- We can only grasp the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love when we love one another.
- Every single child and family in heaven and on earth takes their name from God. Every one.
- Who is God calling us to be at this moment? Who are we? Whose are we?
- We can tap into the power of the One who works within us far more abundantly than we can imagine when we humble ourselves, admitting that we are not always right and that we don’t have all the answers.
We were then invited to ask ourselves the question, “What does God invite me/us to do, be, or change through this passage? This is what I heard from the group:
- We are invited to give up being right.
- We are encouraged to see people as precious children of God and not as causes.
- We are called to acknowledge that “There is a wideness in God’s mercy.”
- God is challenging us to change. personally and corporately as a denomination.
As we concluded worship with the renewal of our baptismal vows, I was taken back to May 15, 1970, the date of my baptism as a teenager. Mennonites practice “believers’ baptism,” so children were not baptized in my church until they went through two years of study in middle/ high school and were ready to declare their own faith.
I vividly remembered my baptism at the large wooden font that was directly in front of a tall, red stained-glass window. In my classes, I was taught that the red color represents not only the Holy Spirit but the many Anabaptists (“re-baptizers”) in the 16th century who were persecuted and even martyred for their faith because they refused to go to war and would only baptize upon confession of faith. The towel on the baptismal stand was a symbolic way of saying that while baptism may not always be baptism into suffering and death, it will always be baptism into service.
Reflections of the window splashed across the floor as my pastor said, “Laurie Ann Hartzel, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” My life has not been the same since that day.
This past Saturday, I offered myself anew to God as the Thanksgiving over the Water bathed my spirit in grace.
Your healing river flows.
Your Spirit blows where you will.
We cannot stop you, God!
But sometimes we try.
We try to block the flow,
We redirect the winds of the Spirit
Or we walk so far away from the life-giving Stream
That we do not hear its sound,
And we forget its power.
We parch ourselves.
We are dry and thirsty, O God.
Come, refresh us!
Come upon us Holy Spirit!
Come upon these waters.
Let these waters be to us drops of your mercy.
Let these waters remind us of your righteousness and justice.
Let these waters renew in us the resurrection power of Jesus.
Let these waters make us long for your coming reign…
Spirit of fire, Spirit over the waters, Spirit of Holiness
Glory to you.
As I came forward to dip my fingers into the water, I remembered again with gratitude and hope my baptism. I remembered the reflection of the sunlight on the bare floor of the church, creating a mosaic of color that represented the glorious diversity of our world. I remembered the warmth of my pastor’s hand on my head and felt the water running down my face, drops of mercy. And I remembered the corporate call to discipleship, as my church family renewed their vows to mentor and care for me as I grew into adulthood and into my own call.
Holy Spirit, come upon these waters, as we approach the 2019 General Conference.
Holy Spirit, come upon these waters, as we drink deeply of your grace and see in every person a reflection of your resurrection power.
Holy Spirit, come upon these waters, as we listen without judgment, pray without ceasing, and discern wisely, that you might be glorified in the decisions we make.
Holy Spirit, come upon these waters as you give us the courage to model for the world what God requires of us: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with our God.
Holy Spirit, enlarge our hearts. Enliven our minds. Expand our imagination. And make gentle and generous our spirits.
Come upon us, Holy Spirit. Come upon these waters.