Bishop Devadhar: Listen for wisdom in unexpected places

Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar preaches on May 14 at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore. Paul Jeffrey, UMNS

Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar preaches on May 14 at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore.

Light and darkness. African beat and liturgical dance. Hopeful listening and wise advice. These were the elements worshippers found in worship Saturday morning at General Conference in Portland Ore.

The Tamba Marimba Ensemble offered the beat.  The strains of “star of wonder, star of light” teased the ear in the darkened room illuminated only by soft blue lights. A single dancer entered the room, holding high a bright star. As she carried it throughout the room, the others followed.

Liturgists called worshippers to the faith, courage, persistence needed to follow the star and commanded, “Rise up people and follow!” We sang “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” and then segued into an energetic “One More Step Along the World I Go” with its compelling chorus, “And it’s from the old I travel to the new.  Keep me traveling along with you!”  The congregation clapped and sang, carried by the beat and words.

A young woman with Down’s Syndrome gave a powerful reading of  the first 12 verses of the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. In this passage of scripture, the Wise Men arrive in Jerusalem, where they expect to announce the city’s restoration and recovery.

But they were wrong. And the right information did not come from a place within the Magi’s traditional sources. It was Herod’s experts, unexpected interpreters of Scripture, who guided the Magi to the Child of the Light.

Bishop Suda Devadhar of the New England Conference built on this theme of unexpected wisdom as a way to get to the place of light. “We cannot make disciples of Jesus Christ if we are unwilling to cross boundaries and break barriers,” he said. “John Wesley would not have brought the word to the people if he hadn’t stepped out of the Anglican Church to preach on a grave.”

The bishop reminded worshippers that God’s vision for the church is the inclusion of all humanity.

But we need to travel that nine miles, which may mean listening to the advice of those outside our normal sphere, to reach the light.

Like the Magi, we need to hear wisdom from many, from the unusual ones, and especially from God, who guided the Magi back by a different road–not the one they came in on.

That different road led the UMC to build Africa University, which Devadhar termed one of the greatest accomplishments of the denomination. This different road, insisted Devadhar, will also lead the UMC to full inclusion in the life and ministry of the church.

“We cannot make disciples for Jesus Christ unless we are willing to break boundaries and take journeys,” said the bishop.

“Therefore, Go,” the bishop said. In faithfulness to Christian Conferencing, listening to God, in courage.”

The service ended with a litany of thanksgiving. An arrangement of “Come, Live in the Light!” brought everyone to their feet in joyful movement and voice.


Click here to see the manuscript of the sermon. 


I’m a retired Elder in the United Methodist Church, the place I finally discovered grace after a lifelong search. I love writing, gardening, reading, asking questions and making connections between political and religious practices.

My husband and I jointly claim eleven children (as he says, “mostly by mergers and acquisitions!”) and twelve grandchildren. In between our own travels, we love to have them and many others come and stay with us a bit. We see so much of the heavenly grace in the offering of earthly hospitality.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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