Episcopal Address

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Gold Dome, Centenary College
 
Come and See--and they went and they saw.
 
I am thrilled to gather once again with the people called United Methodist from across the state of Louisiana as you Come and See.  Dean and I consider it a great privilege to call you family and to call Louisiana “home.”
 
Today is a great day!
 
You have been working extraordinarily hard and it has not gone unnoticed.  We continuously have to learn and unlearn because this is not our momma and daddy’s church. 
 
This is not our momma and daddy’s church.  We have to learn to ride a new bike while at the same time balancing what we know from our rich past--in this case, my old pink Huffy bike with the little basket and streamers on the handlebars.  Come on, you know you had one too!  Maybe yours was red, but you loved it.
 
I think sometimes we get so focused on riding the backwards bike that we forget that the intent of a bike is to move us forward.  We get so hung-up on learning to ride the new bike that we make the bike the thing, and we miss that we have somewhere to go--or in our world, we miss that our call is to change the world.
 
We so badly want to get it right or to be right –whatever right is. Sometimes so much so that it paralyzes us--or worse yet, we hurt others in the process. 
 
Friends, this is not about being right or wrong.  Our ministry together is about leading people to Christ.  While we argue about which bike to ride or how to learn to ride it, there is a whole world that needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. 
 
For eight months, Destin focused on learning to ride a bike a new way. Once he got it,  off he went.  It was great!  It was hard to go back once his mind was set to think differently. 
 
But be careful, don’t make the bike the main thing. If you do, you will miss the real ride. 
 
Visual: Photo of guy on the phone.
 
Look at this guy.  The photographer who took the picture says that the guy never took his eyes off his phone! 
 
He missed what the photographer called the flapping, breaching, jumping, mouths eating fish . . .of the humpback whale and her calf.  I just hope he had not paid good money for a whale watching expedition.
 
So when the gospel says Come and See, it has a sense of urgency to pay attention less you miss what you are here to see. 
 
You don’t typically nonchalantly say to someone, “Hey, you want to come and see?”  You want them to come and see so they don’t miss it. 
 
I want to be clear that urgent does not mean hurried. 
 
I know I have shared this before, but Gil Rendle tells the story of his friend whose son is about to perform his first solo brain surgery. 
 
His mentor is standing by as he carefully takes the scalpel in his hand, and as he prepares to make the first incision, the mentor stops him. 
 
He reminds him that after he makes the first cut he has only minutes before the patient goes into arrest.  He says, “Whatever you do, work slowly.”
 
Our work is a paradox.  We have to be urgently attentive, while at the same time, hold in tension that the hands on the clock continue to turn.
 
Sometimes we are in such a hurry that we miss the very thing we need to see.
 
Several years ago friends invited us to join their family on a trip to Tahoe.  It was March, it was beautiful--and for the first time, our very young daughter, Elizabeth, got to experience real snow.
 
One night we had come in from a fantastic day of snowmobiling.  We had been to what I thought must have been the top of the world, or we might have at least been able to see it from there.  It was magnificent. 
 
The children had convinced us to let them play outside for a little while longer. 
 
We were relaxing in the living room when Elizabeth ran into the house and said,  “Mommy, Mommy you have got to come and see.”  There was such a sense of urgency in her voice that I thought, “Oh my goodness, it’s a bear.”  I am a mom, after all.
 
She grabbed my hand and said, “Mommy, you have got to come and see, and now.”  I ran outside with her and she pointed to the sky.  She said, “Mommy, there are stars in the sky!” 
 
Visual: Shot of stars
 
We were city folks, living in Houston at the time.  She had never seen a sky so full of stars.  “Mommy it’s like the plant-a-tarium!”  Yes, it was like the plant-a-tarium--and had she not grabbed me and said, “Mommy, you have got to come and see now” – I might have missed not just the stars in the sky, but that moment with my 5-year-old . . .  I would have missed the experience.
 
“The heavens were telling the glory of God.” (Psalm 19:1) And on that night, so was my daughter, Elizabeth.
 
“Come and see” is a personal and pivotal invitation to experience Jesus.  You don’t want to miss it.
 
Remember in the verses right before our text today, we read that the WORD (capital W) became flesh and lived among us. 
 
My favorite translation of those first verses of John’s gospel are from Eugene Peterson’s The Message – the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. 
 
You have got to “Come and See” this one who has moved into our neighborhood and is living among us. 
 
There was once a woman who was religious and devout and filled with love for God.  Each morning she would go to church. 
And on her way, children would call out to her, beggars would accost her. But so immersed was she in her devotions that she did not even see them. 
One day, she walked down the street in her customary manner and arrived at the church just in time for service.  She pushed the door, but it would not open.  She pushed it again harder, and found the door locked. 
Distressed at the thought that she would miss service for the first time in years and not knowing what to do, she looked up.  And there, right before her face, she found a note pinned to the door.  It said, “I’m out there!”
The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood, not into the church.
So, as I shared in the pre-conference gathering, I have been asking myself, “Do you have to see it to believe, or believe it  to see it?”
 
I still don’t know the answer, but what I want to know is -- What did Jesus see or hear that so compelled him to call this vagabond of disciples? 
 
His voice alone must have been so compelling that when he said “Follow me,” they did!  No questions asked.  They followed.  What was so compelling?
 
Can we have that kind of “compellingness?”  I know that is not a word.  But I remind you that our preferred future begins with the sentence…Compelled by Christ’s love, the people, lay and clergy leaders of the Louisiana Annual Conference are…..
 
Leading people to an abundant life in Christ
 
Engaging in the community
 
Learning, living and telling the gospel story
 
Reaching out and drawing in people from all walks of life
 
Friends, I pray that this is still a compelling call for you.
 
This is not my preferred future, or the preferred future of the conference . . .it is our call to draw closer to the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
 
I don’t want us to do this because we said so, or it sounds nice, or because it will get you brownie points with the bishop, but because we hear God’s call to this kind of compelling future that is driven by Christ’s love.  This love is so powerful that we are willing to risk, risk it all. 
 
Being the body of Christ in the world means that we love so deeply that we are willing to risk everything for another.
 
We are the physical incarnation of Jesus in the world.  We have to be the ones who show them the kingdom of God.  We have to show them what love looks like. 
 
“Let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:16)
 
This is where our call story converges with our gifts and where our passions align so that people who have not yet connected to God may discover that God can use them! That God loves them! This is how we take our place in the movement of mission.  
 
We have to be willing to invest our whole self – mind, body and soul.
 
We cannot let the things of the world or dare I say the things of the church, distract us.  Are we right or are we left?  Are we progressive or conservative? 
 
There is yet again proposed legislation for General Conference 2016 that is likely to divide the church. 
 
But what you and I know is that some of us will learn to ride the new bike and some of us will peddle alongside in our pink Huffy,but we will all be heading  to a destination that is set before us by Jesus who has a compelling story to tell to a  world that is yet to know an abundant life in Christ. 
 
So whether you have mastered the new bike or you are still on your old pink Huffy, won’t you join me in peddling toward that place on the divine horizon where we join our voices and can proclaim “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?”
 
We MUST remain focused on the mission. 
 
Only four percent of 18-35 year olds are actively involved in a faith community.  (Slaughter/Hamilton video). There are the “nones” who have no denominational affiliation.  There are the “dones” who have been there, done that and they are done with the church. 
 
Brothers and Sisters, we have an opportunity to right the future. I refuse to accept that the church needs to go into hospice care because death is eminent.
 
I don’t believe that the church will come to an end in the next few years.  Death cannot consume the body of Christ, but I do believe the church as we know it will change, and a new way of being church will emerge. 
 
We may not yet have eyes to see it or hearts to know it, but if we are attentive to the stirring of the Spiri,t something great will rise up – something new.  After all, I believe in resurrection!  Don’t you?
 
I am not suggesting at all that any of us give up on our Wesleyan rootedness, or even give up on that for which we are willing to die. 
 
I actually believe we are a better church because we have people who disagree.  It keeps us centered in our call to be change agents in a changing world.  After all, Matthew the tax collector who was working for the government and Simon the Zealot who fought to overthrow it were both at the table when Jesus said, “This is my body broken for you.”
 
We live in such a yes/but, either/or world.  I keep searching for the yes/and.  Now, I am clear there have to be some boundaries.  Without boundaries, there will be chaos and things will get out of control.
 
On my recent trip to Germany for the Council of Bishops meeting, I had the privilege of preaching in a community about an hour and a half outside of Berlin in what used to be East Germany.  To reach this beautiful countryside village we had to travel the Autobahn.  Our host pastor pointed out that even on the Autobahn, there are places with speed limits – narrow shoulders, dangerous turns . . .Yes/And.
 
Visual: Speed limit signs
 
Seth Godin is a writer and marketer who writes about how ideas spread – listen to the important question. He asks . . .
 
The question each of us has to answer about the institution we care about is--Does this place exist to maintain the status quo, or am I here to do the work that the radical founder had in mind when we started?
 
To be Methodist used to mean to be radical. 
 
We went where the people were.  We must renew that kind of Wesleyan spirit that called us in the first place. But you know, we can even go back further – Jesus was pretty radical.
 
Jesus didn’t separate himself from ordinary sinners, he saw them as his mission field. 
 
When Jesus gets angry he gets angry with religious leaders, the ones that think they have it all figured out. Jesus shows compassion for the prostitute and the tax collector.  It’s the ones who think they have it all figured out, the ones that point fingers at others – those are the ones Jesus gets really angry with. 
 
Today people want to invest themselves in something that is worth their time – they want to change the world, not point fingers. 
 
The future of our church is not something in “Never, never land,” but it is in each of us.  We are the ones that have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to be the physical incarnation of Jesus in the world, the ones empowered to bring about change, to be the body of Christ.    
 
I love the words of Pope Francis – He says, “If the church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age.”
 
And if I had to choose between a wounded Church that goes out on to the streets and a sick, withdrawn Church, I would definitely choose the first one.
 
I agree – I would much rather see a wounded church hobble out onto the street than the church that stays nice and tidy inside, protected from the elements.  
 
Friends, church business is messy.  It’s like having grape juice with white kneelers at the chancel rail. It’s risky.
 
The world is messy.  The Good News is that the mess can be redeemed, but we will miss it if we’re concerned with keeping our hands clean.
 
I don’t know if you have seen our latest statistics and I almost hesitate to share this with you because I think we all agree that it is not all about the numbers-- but the numbers are a measurement of our progress.  Our metrics represent people.
 
We had a 14.5% decline in professions of faith!  How can we say that we are leading people to Christ or engaging in our community or telling the gospel story or reaching out and drawing in people from all walks of life? 
 
I do celebrate that there were 64 churches who had no professions of faith in 2013 that had at least one profession of faith and some even more in 2014. 
 
Many of these were small churches, one had an average worship attendance of seven!  What’s your excuse?
 
Our worship attendance declined two percent, and our membership declined one percent.  Frankly, I celebrate that we held that fairly steady. 
 
We had 11% fewer baptisms in 2014-- that relates right back to the Professions of Faith, but we had an increase in the baptism of children.  That is also reflected in the number of children in Sunday School, which remained steady. 
 
We sent out more people in mission from our local churches in 2014 than the year before. This is fantastic news!
 
But I would say the most alarming is actually a statistic that we cannot control at all and it has remained steady – we removed 1,281 by death in 2014. . .  1,266 in 2013. 
 
In today’s church, it takes many more to replace those who have entered the church triumphant.  Newer folk don’t worship as often as our parents and grandparents did; they don’t give like they did either.
 
There is still much work to do.  Rather than seeing these as a number or something on the statistical table, I pray that you begin to see this data as people.  I hope you can see it as way of changing the world – one person at a time. 
 
It took the guy eight months to learn to ride the bike. (reference to short video shown)
 
We have been on this decline for a while, and it will take more than eight months to make the shift. But I trust and know that the Spirit is at work in us, and great things are yet ahead. 
 
It is going to take some heavy lifting by all of us because the more complex our world gets, the more precise leadership must become.  In this complex world, things are changing and they are changing rapidly.  They are unpredictable and non-linear.  (Leading In A Culture of Change – Fullan) 
 
We must increase our level of experimentation, innovation and exploration, especially when our resources are limited.  I believe it was Marissa Mayer of Yahoo who said that creativity loves constraint.  The more limited our resources, the more creative we must be. 
 
Through our creativity, our possibilities for excellence are limitless.  Remember God is the God of abundance not scarcity!
 
I know that I have alarmed some of you, particularly clergy, when I speak of effectiveness and the 80/20 rule.  I know you are working your tail off!  We clear on that?
 
I am going to work on shifting the language so that it might be heard differently and be more useful. 
 
Rather than worrying about whether you are in the 80 or 20 % column, I want to think about this in terms of excellence and productivity. 
 
Where must you spend your time to get the greatest result – Focused on the mission - reaching people for Christ? 
 
Just like in your churches, 20% of the people do 80% of the work.  This is also true at the conference level.  Twenty percent of our clergy and our churches produce 80% of our results – apportionments, professions of faith, baptisms, pension and benefits. 
 
This has nothing to do with large church or small church, but everything to do with vitality. 
 
Louisiana Conference: What if we broke the 80/20 rule?  What if we moved the needle, even just a little and debunked the 80/20 rule so that it was no longer the rule!
 
As a cabinet, we have identified three drivers of excellence.  There are many more than three drivers, but we believe that at this time and place in our ministr, these three will raise the level of excellence in clergy and will also be the ingredients that will raise the level of excellence in our congregations.
 
The most excellent clergy are those who can preach and lead worship.  That does not mean you have to be THE worship leader, but you will certainly need to know what it takes to lead worship in a way that leads to excellence.  Can you preach a word that is relevant, contextual, inspires and connects with the people? 
 
Every SPR I have met with over the last three years has said they want a pastor that is relational.  We are not just talking about being likeable.  Can pastors facilitate personal and congregational change?  Frankly, pastors, if you facilitate personal and congregational change you might be liked less.  But in order to facilitate change you have to know your people.  You have to know who they are and you have to know who you are.  You have to know their gifts.  You can no longer spend all day in your office; you must get out and be with the people.
 
Strategic.  We need pastors who can think strategically.  Leading people to an abundant life in Christ requires a strategy.  If you are not strategic, a strategy might be to find someone in your congregation who is.
 
On Tuesday, afternoon Carolyn Dove, our lay leader and I will talk more about the role the laity play in these areas of excellence.
 
I recognize the danger in what you might have just heard. . . Do these three, and all shall be well.  Not what I am saying, and it’s not as easy as riding a bike.  I know you are growing weary and that our world is changing constantly. 
 
We have already said the work of the church is no longer linear so you find yourself all over the place. 
 
Here is what I think. . .If you do the strategic work well, it will clear the clutter that consumes you.
 
Can you understand the size and scope of the needs of your mission field?  Do you have the right people to meet the need? Sometimes you might even have to ask yourself the hardest question of al . . .Is it worth trying to meet the need?  You cannot do everything. 
 
Invest the time and energy in identifying the core competencies that you are called to – what compels you and the people in your community to live fully as the body of Christ? Is it about narthexes and windows, or is it about reaching into your community to those who need to hear the Good News?
 
We come to the church house, meet church people, eat with church people, Sunday School with church people and forget to go back out into the world.
 
We must focus on helping people learn to share the difference God is making in their lives, how to connect people with those who don’t know Jesus. 
 
To do this you cannot be lukewarm – you have to be all in. 
 
This isn’t about throwing money at something.  Actually, what I am suggesting might actually take less money.
 
I am not asking you to do more but to be more efficient and more effective with what you do have.  Be more focused.  Work your way backwards – in the words of Steven Covey – start with the end in mind.  But to be fair, you have to know where that is. 
 
Here comes the counterintuitive part; you are going to have to stop.  Be still.  Quiet yourself.  Be slow and deliberate.  Remember urgency does not mean hurrying.
 
Compelling vision takes deep, hard work.  It is kind of like brain surgery or learning to ride a backward bike – whatever you do work slowly. 
 
Keep your eyes on the horizon.  Clear all the things that keep you from being who you need to be to lead people to Christ. This is not our momma and daddy’s church.  We must lead with greater boldness than ever before.
 
The delivery mechanisms must change. It’s not that we don’t want to communicate anymore, but that our delivery mechanism has changed.
 
How many of you remember party lines? 
 
I was always careful what I said on the phone when talking to my friends because my Tia Cuca from next door would notoriously pick up the phone and listen to our conversation. 
 
Have you tried to find a pay phone recently?  I still have my princess phone.  It was my first phone.  It was pink, of course, like my bike, although now faded to beige. 
 
We went to the phone store to buy it - I guess some things haven’t changed, but I guarantee it was no Apple store.  I got the phone for my birthday one year.  Everyone in my family gave me money and I saved it to get my phone.  I was 13. 
 
How many of you don’t even have a house phone today? 
 
It is not that we don’t want to “talk,” it is that the delivery mechanism has changed.  When you say to a 20-something have you talked to so and so, they will say “yes” . . . and what they mean is they have texted or shared on Instagram.  It rarely means literally “talking.” 
 
There are no more Blockbusters, but that doesn’t mean people don’t watch movies.  They just watch them on Netflix.
 
Etsy and e-commerce are HOT.  You can get whatever you want from wherever in the world you want and have it delivered directly to your home via DHL. 
 
You could probably go to Dillard’s and buy the same thing, but that’s so yesterday. 
What will be the next delivery mechanism for the church?  Is the church as we know it now the middle man or excuse me the middle person? 
 
There are people who are yet to experience the living God.  They may never cross the threshold of our churches.  Perhaps our delivery mechanism has to change. It used to be that we invited people to church or to Sundey School, but today more and more people are coming to the church through very different avenues and in many places the church is going to them.
 
If we use the Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth text, we think in terms of Jerusalem being the place we know best, where we are the most comfortable. The closer we get to the end of the earth the less comfortable it gets for most of us. 
 
We must press to the “end of the earth” kind of places. 
 
We must feed hungry people and care for people in poverty but don’t overlook those at the end of the earth who look just like you do, who have full bellies, and all the clothes they need, yet are hungry for the good news and are naked for the truth. 
 
This is going to require risk, but I think it was Dr. Elaine Heath--you will get to meet her tomorrow--she said that wisdom comes from failing. 
 
We still live a colonial mind-set though – we have something to teach or to give THEM. But friends, we have much to learn. 
 
The action is in the margins!  Jesus cared enough to break bread with those who lived on life’s edge – the marginalized, the throw-aways, because that is what it means to love extravagantly.  This is what it means to be the body of Christ.  This is the kind of love worth risking for.
 
Our next faith communities will likely be risky endeavors.  They will be different from anything we have ever done. 
 
That is why we have appointed Hadley Edwards to the 7th Ward.  Yes, we will probably have a church in the 7th Ward when it is all said and done. But my hunch is that it will look very different.
 
Chad Brooks has taken a year to launch The Foundry – It will launch in a very different way.
 
There will still be the traditional churches as we know them, but even then, if we are not responding to “the end of the earth,” I believe our vitality will be in question. 
 
This shift is going to take the patience of a saint. Saints willing to listen, to be urgently attentive and travel to the end of the earth, inviting everyone along the way to “Come and See.  “
 
Throughout scripture, the ones who went and saw weren’t your usual suspects. They were everyday, ordinary people.  Not rabbis or church leaders or holy people. 
 
You are going to have to see and hear with more than your eyes and your ears. Remember the guy on the bike?  Knowledge does not equal understanding.  It is not as easy as riding a bike. 
 
My mother had a stroke and was unable to walk.  She continuously fell out of bed.  She was used to waking up every morning of her healthy life and literally she would hit the ground running. 
 
When I asked her, “Momma, why do you keep falling?”  She said honey, “I forget I can’t walk anymore.”
 
In her mind, she knew how to walk. That’s all she had ever done, but now her body and her brain reminded her time and again that although she knew how to walk, she could not anymore.   Knowledge does not equal understanding
 
In Mitch Albom’s book, Have a Little Faith, he shared a story from his Rabbi that went like this:
“A little girl came home from school with a drawing she’d made in class. She danced into the kitchen, where her mother was preparing dinner. ‘Mom, guess what?’ she squealed, waving the drawing. Her mother never looked up. ‘What?’ she said, tending to the pots. ‘Guess what?’ the child repeated, waving the drawing. ‘What?’ the mother said, tending to the plates. ‘Mom, you’re not listening.’ ‘Sweetie, yes I am.’ ‘Mom,’ the child said, ‘you’re not listening with your eyes.’
I am more and more convinced every day that when we see with more than just our eyes and hear with more than just our ears, we will be able to push to those “end of the earth” kind of places because we will see and feel and touch and smell the need of those who need to know the love of Christ. We will hear that compelling cry of Jesus, “ Follow Me.”
There is nothing we will not be able to do.  We might not do it perfectl,y but we will make progress. 
We will have to be attentive to the spirit’s stirring and churning in our lives and in the lives of others.
Jesus calls us to go to the dark places of all the world.  Where neighbor, friends and strangers live in despair, in loneliness. 
Jesus says GO!  Into those dark places where there is poverty and homelessness.  Where people are hurting.  You may not have to go as far as you think.

Louisiana ranks in the top five in a lot things we should not be proud of- - #2 in the United States the incidences of HIV/AIDS.  We rank among the worst in education, violent crime, murder, human trafficking, poverty, food security.  In a state where food is part of our identity, there should never be a food desert ANYWHERE, nor should a child ever go to bed hungry!
People are living in darkness all around us and we are called to be the light of Christ. 
That might mean you are going to have to lighten your load of the things that keep you from reaching your goal, the things that distract you. 
When Destin was on the bike and got distracted or his phone rang – he couldn’t ride the backward bike.  He defaulted to what he knew.
While I don’t know that any of us are destined for sainthood – you might encounter someone in the ends of the earth who is.
Sometimes the least usual suspect is the one who ends up giving more than we would ever imagine. 
Visual: Video clip
What about you?  Are you willing to be a Saint?  Flawed as you might be?  Never give up?  Speak up and be bold?  Fight for yourself and others so they may be heard?  Make sacrifices?  Take risks?  Go for broke? 
That’s what saints do!
So - Grab your backwards bike or your pink Huffy or whatever kind of bike you have and Come and See!  Go and Do. Go and Be the church to a world who is literally dying to meet the risen Christ that lives in you. 
I promise, if you do, amazing things will happen.  There will be nothing we cannot do.  No mountain we can’t climb.  No river too wide. 
Nothing will keep us from the love of Christ Jesus that is the giver of life and all that is!
Come and See . . . and they went and they saw.