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Bishop Harvey preaches during Celebration of Ministry
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey
Ordination Sermon, June 11, 2016
You Can Run but You Cannot Hide
Ephesians 3:14-21, Jonah
Thursday morning, I spoke of Redwoods and their shallow root systems. They stand tall and for a very long time because they are nestled close together and their root systems are intertwined or entangled.
Our human condition calls us to remain close together and entangled in the most positive sense of the word.
I am not a dendrologist—yes, that is what you call someone who studies trees! See, you already learned something.
I don’t study trees, but I have become intrigued by the mighty Redwoods since my first trip to Northern California.
These majestic, immense, stately trees start from a seed smaller than that of a tomato. Not a tomato itself, but the seed of a tomato—like the one that often gets stuck in your teeth. It is teeny tiny.
That teeny tiny seed grows into this mysterious and amazing tree that can reach ages of over 2,000 years and regularly reaches over 500 years of age!
If Jesus had walked along the Northern California Coast instead of the Galilee, he would have walked among the Redwoods!
Redwoods are resistant to “natural enemies,” says the National Park Service. They are resistant to insects, disease and even fire!
They have built a thick bark that contains high tannins which make it extra resistant, and because its foliage rests high above the ground, it provides protection from all but the hottest of forest fires.
Redwoods have an unusual ability to regenerate. New sprouts come directly from the roots of downed tree stumps—they clone themselves. They drop seedlings from living trees when the trunk of the tree is damaged by fire.
But undoubtedly the most important thing that causes the Redwood to thrive is environmental. Its biotic community—that which gives it life.
The soil, greenery, fungi, other trees. A healthy Redwood is often surrounded by other healthy trees.
God can do far more than any of us can ask or imagine.
Who would know that a teeny tiny seed like that of a tomato that is stuck in your teeth from tonight’s dinner could create the majesty of the Redwood?
I know Cypress and Oaks are more indigenous to Louisiana, but would you consider the possibility of us providing a biotic community? Life, new life that would raise people of faith that can stand majestic, immense, stately for a very long time—like a Redwood.
Imagine with me a community willing to be entangled in one another’s lives.
A community willing to withstand natural enemies—hurricanes, floods, poverty, disease, hunger, human trafficking.
A community willing to lead people to an abundant life in Christ. A community that will till the soil to insure that we share an unrelenting love with all people. A biotic community—one that gives life!
And according to Eugene Peterson’s The Message, a community that with both feet firmly planted on love that will be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.
He challenges us to “Reach out and experience the breadth! Because God can do far more than we can ask or imagine!
Test its length! Because God can do far more than we can ask or imagine!
Plumb the depths! Because God can do far more than we can ask or imagine!
Rise to the heights! Because God can do far more than we can ask or imagine!
God can do far more than we could ever ask or imagine or guess or request or even dream!
A teeny tiny seed can do this! You can do this! We can do this!
Ordinands, provisional members, local pastors – and yes, all the rest of us – we are called to plant teeny tiny seeds in the hope that they will grow into mature, resilient people of faith.
It says right here that it is possible, that God can do more with these teeny tiny seeds of faith than any of us can conjure up – even in our wildest dreams.
We have to be willing to risk getting entangled with one another, and most importantly, entangled with God!
God likes to get up in your business and often we resist.
Ninevah! Do I have to go to Ninevah? Those people are really mean. I would rather see them rot than try to save them! Let them get what they deserve.
I hear Nineveh and I think of Veggie Tales, I think of Dr. Archibald the Asparagus, Larry the Cucumber, and Bob the Tomato.
While Jonah might have flunked prophesying, he might have been far smarter than the stories – he knew that God could do more than anyone could ask or imagine.
He knew that if he went to Nineveh that even the Ninevites might be spared.
God gives us abundant, “roomy” grace, love and safety instead of narrow places of distress.
Even and especially when we don’t expect them – Nineveh? Baton Rouge? Minden? Monroe?
Do I have to go?
Jesus clearly says “go”! But he promises not to send you alone. He promises to be entangled with you so that you can keep both feet firmly planted on God’s abundant and extravagant love.
Entangled with your community, entangled with the strangers that gather at the coffee shop, the day laborers gathered at the corner, the drug dealers, the prostitutes, entangled with other pastors and leaders in your cities, towns and neighborhoods—entangled!
In our entanglement we find root, a root that keeps us grounded, growing and strong!
You may feel like you are being swallowed up by a whale, but what I like about the Veggie Tale story is that there are others along the journey even in the belly of the fish. Some good, some not so good!
When I met with the ordinands a couple of weeks ago, one thing became evident—first, they all shared in a beautiful call story.
But what was really interesting was that really none of them saw this coming.
They all had full intentions of doing and being something other than a preacher.
But it was out of their own story that God called them to something they had never imagined.
Colleen was going to run a women’s shelter.
Marissa – although she preached at 15, was not really sure what God was going to do with that. Warren was a salesman – even sold trash for a living. Bertrand was a scientist. Joy, out of her own grief, was called.
These folks, like so many of the rest of you, clergy and laity alike, were running to Tarshish.
Some of them probably felt like they had been swallowed up into the belly of the whale. BUT God always prevails.
Remember, God likes to get all up in your business and get entangled with you – whether you like it or not, whether you are ready or not.
It is the same God who calls us to go places we do not want to go.
God takes a teeny tiny seed and plants it in the heart of God’s people.
Your seed may be one to ordained ministry, your seed may be a seed to licensed ministry or certified lay ministry. Your seed may be a seed to lead laity, to sing in a choir, to teach Sunday school, to lead youth.
You may be called to be the dendrologist!
Whatever your teeny tiny seed, it takes a biotic community to nurture it – to give it life.
Often the pathway is not clear. It is hard to imagine a small seed becoming a majestic redwood, a whale becoming a method of transportation to transformation. Hard to imagine what God has in store for God’s people.
This is why this whale of a story requires faith. It requires joyful obedience. Requires our knowing that we don’t have to have it all figured out!
God can do more than we can imagine.
We must go with the certainty that God will not let us settle for the status quo.
God will move us to a place of relevance in order for us to reach into the heart of what matters for God’s people. The world is moving so rapidly that if we do not continue to respond to the needs of our people or what they hold of highest value, we will have to settle.
I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am 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 both the doctrine, spirit and discipline with which they first set out.
Wesley’s words have been tossed around a lot lately.
While I will fight for unity and pray to God that more than we ever asked or imagined could happen for us as a denomination, probably something we have not even thought of yet—it is not the death of the UMC that I am most worried about. What I worry about is that we would lose our vitality.
That we would lose our ability to reach people for Jesus Christ – together – UNITED – ENTANGLED! What worries me is that we would settle for anything less!
We are far more together than we are apart. Tonight our clergy join in a special covenant. They covenant to stand close together, to get wrapped up in each other’s lives. They covenant to get entangled.
To serve rather than be served, and to proclaim the faith.
It is a call for all of us!
I love one of the blessings often used in a wedding . . .
Bear witness to the love of God in this world, so that those to whom love is a stranger will find in you generous friends!
To get entangled requires an extravagant willingness to share love with the stranger. To find places of need, of struggle. To find places where we resonate.
Where you might find middle ground. Even in places where you don’t want to be or where you don’t want to go. Where you don’t think there is any middle ground to be found—like Nineveh. Everyone has a Nineveh! Some of us are even from there!
I heard of a choir that learned to sing by finding middle C. So, I am going to try this with you.
We are not going to cheat and have Ray Peeples play middle C. I want you to find it on your own. You are going to have to listen intently. Listen for your neighbor. Listen for the ones in the corner of the balcony.
I am not sure if that was middle C, but together we found a note that we could agree on.
That, friends, is the beginning of finding a place of entanglement, of creating biotic community – life! Of searching for that which we hold in common with one another.
We will not settle for anything less!
We are like Redwoods – entangled in a way that makes us one. Standing tall and firmly in the word and the promises of God.
My prayer for you. . .
My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask God to strengthen you by the Spirit – not a brute strength, but a glorious inner strength – that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in.
And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever ask, or imagine, or guess or dream, even in your wildest dreams!
God does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, God’s Spirit deeply and gently within us!
God’s Spirit, sowing the tiny seeds of the redwood-life of discipleship. God’s Spirit creating whale spaces, where all of you, and all of us can find transportation to transformation, God’s Spirit leading us to the Ninevehs of the Louisiana Annual Conference.
So now, Go. Lead. Grow. Change. Be changed. Proclaim. Lead.
Don’t settle for anything less!
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