As always, my thoughts are mine and mine alone. It is important to say that because I have been fairly silent lately and when I have written, it has been much less polemical that in the past. I was however inspired by my Bishop here in West Ohio as I watched the recorded copy of his sermon at the ordination and commissioning service. You can find it here and may find it useful to understand some of what follows. The sermon begins near minute 59. While I will provide sections I quote, when you have the time, please feel free to watch it in its entirety. There are a few good nuggets in it to be honest. I will leave those for you to mine however. As you read, please understand that the Bishop did call for more passion in proclamations from the clergy, and while I am not clergy, I am a royal priest so I have taken the liberty of believing it applies to me as well.
The theme of our annual conference this year is “Becoming” based upon 1 John 3:2 “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is,” (NIV) I understand now, based upon the Bishop’s sermon, that I am indeed becoming dust…and he, and his fellow Bishops for the most part, are the reason why. From his sermon: “It is a scandal, and I don’t mean the scandal of the cross, it is a scandal and an affront to the gospel to say you have a faith, but to discover that faith is so private that we can claim it should be devoid of politics shall we say, while we watch the politics in and out of the church grind people into dust. When we empty the cross of politics, we empty it of it’s power and seek to escape from this world, when we seek to empty the cross in our preaching of its politics, we say that God is not interested in this world where God sent The Son-where to the world, and into the world.”
I am becoming dust. Interesting enough, it is the very politics of the Bishop and whatever cross he is clinging to that is doing the grinding. It is the politics of disobedience to sacred oath and duty, the politics of pausing during the commissioning service to emphasize and stress loyalty to the UMC, like any proper grade school bully might do, (“Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church, let me, let me say that again-dramatic pause-will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church”) It is the politics of a salary that allows the Bishop in one year to singularly make more than my family of three makes in any three years…that doesn’t count the perks of the office. It is the politics that takes the holy name Jehova-Jireh, the God who provides, and blasphemes it by turning it into some sort of prosperity promise to the ordained the Bishop was preaching to. Fittingly it is the politics that in 1 John, the epistle containing the verse of our annual conference this year, John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, calls antichrists. These are the politics that are grinding me into dust, and these are the very same politics that the Bishop calls the politics of the cross. They may be the politics of his cross, but not mine, and not the cross of Christ.
Hear me though, as I am not making complaint against the Bishop, but rather thanking him for this. It is in the very dust that he has ground me to that I remember my voice. It is the very dust that I, and truly all of us, and the first Adam before us, were fearfully and wonderfully made. It is the dust we will return to with the promise that on the last day we will be resurrected, like the second Adam (Christ), to a physical body to spend eternity in the presence of God. How could I be angry with anyone who reminds me of both where I have come from but also the greatest of hope in the resurrection? While the Bishop cautions not to remove the power of his cross by removing politics, I can only be reminded of the power of the cross of Christ in the certainty of resurrection. indeed, the Bishop wanted passion, and he reminded me that I have it in spades. I am becoming dust, and I could not be happier.
Now if you have watched the sermon, the Bishop did warn that this might happen. From his sermon: “..others of you will take it, you’ll mishandle it, you’ll misinterpret it because you want to say that Palmer is this nd Palmer is that, but remember I started with Jesus and I am sticking with Him all the way.” Theodotis of Byzantium (Adoptionism), Arius (Arianism), the numerous Gnostic sects, and more all would say that they started with Jesus and were sticking with Him all the way. Just a thought. That said, I mentioned above that I had no complaint with the Bishop for his sermon. Indeed I found it an incredibly useful reminder of the voice I have and why as well as how, I should use it. With that voice, there are many things I want to say about Bishop Palmer. I want to say that he was akin to the Bishops Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, and Polycarp, properly addressing Christian theology, ecclesiology, and the sacraments. I want to say he is like Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon growing and tending his flock while speaking and writing against the heresies of his day that threatened the eternal destinies of those charged to him. I desperately want to say that my Bishop is a defender of the faith once and for all delivered for all of Christendom, and the United Methodist Church specifically. I want to say that he has defended the doctrine and discipline of the church faithfully, and has provided the leadership necessary for those in his charge to thrive. I want to be able to say all of these things and more, but the dictates of my conscience will not allow me to.
The Bishop asked those in attendance “What kind of people He is empowering us to be?” Allow me to answer, as one singular answer should be true of all that were in attendance, and all who are in the United Methodist Church, or any church that has Methodism as its forefather. What kind of people is Jesus empowering us to be? People who were born into the fallen world, yet promised, and experiencing restoration. People who were bought with a price. People refined in the fire, tested by trial and proven by faith. People mystically grafted onto the line, brothers and sisters to Christ, coheirs in the kingdom eternal, people of one book, one method, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. People empowered by the Holy Spirit to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land. A people called Methodist. I pray that my Bishop will be so empowered.