Sermon Transcript – Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar (Saturday, May 14, 2016)

Editor’s Note: The following transcript is what was submitted by Bishop Devadhar prior to actually preaching the sermon. What he actually said may differ from the following text. 



Listening to God’s Dream
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, Resident Bishop
New England Conference (Boston Episcopal Area)
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12

My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

I greet you all in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Will you pray with me? Spirit of the Living God, be present in our midst.  Speak to us through the preacher or in spite of him.  In Christ’s holy name we pray.  Amen.

This morning we join the traveling Magi to find the Messiah who would lead them on a new journey. On this eve of Pentecost, when we pray that the Holy Spirit would open our hearts and minds, let us consider how a wrong turn can lead us to God’s great expectations.

One of the most outstanding Biblical scholars of our time, Walter Brueggemann, offers a new perspective on the story of the Magi when he points out that the calculations of these wise men were actually off by nine miles![1]

Brueggemann rightly notes that Matthew’s account of the Magi’s visit echoes the hopeful prophecy in the poetry of Isaiah, announcing that Jerusalem would experience restoration and recovery. The wise men, familiar with Isaiah, brought the prescribed spices and arrived at Herod’s palace ready to welcome the new king who would bring peace and prosperity. The Magi were courageous, sure of their scholarship, and knew Herod was the King of Jews, yet still they asked him a provocative and risky question, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2)

Of course, Herod had no understanding of what was happening. He felt threatened by the news of a new king’s birth. Herod assembled the best Hebrew scholars to gain an explanation for this prophecy and find out what brought these visitors to him. What the scholars offered was a different prophecy and view of what the new king would be – not someone to rule with prosperity and power, but a shepherd of the people. The text they quoted was not Isaiah 60 as used by the Eastern scholars, but Micah 2, which declared that the Messiah would be born not in Jerusalem, but nine miles to the south, in the small village of Bethlehem.

Herod shared the news with the wise men from the East, and the rest is history. They made the nine-mile journey to Bethlehem and finally reached their king.

The wise men were not clever enough to find the manger without the erudition of the biblical scholars of the Herodian court, but they were willing to listen and discern to arrive at their intended destination. They were, however, wise enough to listen to the voice of God and not return to the insecure king with the news of their having found the Messiah.

When they reached their destination, though they might have been shocked to see the “King of the Jews,” lying in a manger, they nevertheless worshiped Jesus. In the midst of their joy, they were warned by God in a dream not to go back to Herod. They took another road, and because of that, they were able to bring an Epiphany, a fresh perspective and new vision, to the world.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what is the relevance of this powerful story to us as we are gathered here to open our Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions, and then close it again for another four years in our ecclesiastical journey? We are not here to use the Bible selectively to fulfill our selfish goals and agendas, but to look at the ministry and mission of Jesus, and ask the question with our Wesleyan DNA, “Will the 2016 General Conference go down in history declaring that we have offered Christ to the world?”

We have been chosen to embark on an important journey to Portland for these two weeks. People across the world have given sacrificially through apportionment dollars, some local churches at the risk of sacrificing their own ministries, to pay 100% apportionments! We are here to do the serious business of the Church, knowing that our decisions have an impact upon all churches – rural, urban, and suburban – all over the world.

You have been elected by your clergy and lay colleagues to represent them because of your wisdom and leadership in the Church. You have a great responsibility resting on your shoulders. You are called to chart out a road map for our journey for ministry and mission of the Church at such a time as this. This sacred responsibility is given, not to the bishops of the Church, not to the other several million United Methodists; it is only given to the 864 of you gathered here! There are many important decisions to be made that will impact the direction of our mission and ministry as The United Methodist Church. Together I pray that we will discern the best route. If we choose to go our own way, we may find ourselves off course by nine miles…but if we truly listen to one another, and strive to learn from one another, we may correct our course and really find Jesus. Furthermore, if we listen for the voice of God, extraordinary things will happen.

Those wise folk traveling to Bethlehem experienced a new epiphany because they listened to God and set forth on a new road home, despite the explicit orders of King Herod to return to Jerusalem.

What about us? Will we open ourselves to the direction of God and make courageous decisions too?

The theme of the General Conference, “Therefore Go!” is based upon the Great Commission.

Scholar Dr. J. Verkuyl reminds us, “Go therefore” are powerful words in Greek. According to him, the Greek word “poreuthentes” means “to depart, to leave, to cross boundaries.”[2] In other words, we cannot make disciples for Jesus Christ unless we are willing to cross boundaries and break barriers – whether they are emotional, psychological, theological, sociological, or cultural.

That is our history and faith tradition, too.

The reformer of the Church, Martin Luther, would not have brought reformation to the Church if he had said to God, “Lord, do I dare challenge the papacy with my criticism of the Church?”

John Wesley would not have brought a new epiphany as a faithful Anglican clergy if he had waited to be invited into the pulpits rather than preaching outside on his father’s grave.

Mother Teresa, soon to be sainted, would not have brought hope to the hopeless if she had said to God, “I do not want to do ministry in slums.”

Let us not forget our own history as a General Conference.

Nearly three decades ago, delegates who were gathered for the General Conference in St. Louis, were asked to make a very courageous decision. Four years prior, Thomas Trotter, then General Secretary of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, had a dream of building a United Methodist University in Africa. The dream was big, but not without controversy. There was opposition from two other general boards because of fear of risk, change and increased apportionments, to name just a few reasons.   Many people said it couldn’t be done. Trotter persisted in building support and celebrated the nearly unanimous decision at the 1988 General Conference, which established and funded Africa University.[3] This action is considered by some to be the greatest achievement of the United Methodist Church in the 20th century, and we all know the impact of Africa University in changing and transforming lives, not only in Africa, but in other places as well.

Let us also remember Bishop Leontine Kelly, who presided at this session of the Conference. When considering a run for the Episcopacy, she had been challenged by people who did not accept women in the pulpit. Quoting the Apostle Paul, her response was often, “I know what Paul said, but Paul did not call me – God did.’”[4]

Friends, what about us? Are we ready to go, with courage, to the places where God is leading us? How will we get there?

We have many options for the directions we might take. Some roads might lead us tragically astray; others may lead us toward our destination. Sometimes we are so focused on listening to one voice, like our modern-day GPSs, that we fail to pay attention to the other voices that might be trying to show us another way – perhaps even a better way.

What will be our important achievements of the 21st century? Will we dare to embark upon courageous dreams that take risks and create change that ensures a fully inclusive church?

Had the Magi not listened to Herod’s advisors, they would never have found Jesus in Bethlehem. Had they not listened to God, and traveled back to the palace, they may not have survived. Are we willing to listen to new perspectives and discern together where God may be leading us?

During this General Conference, you are the ones casting votes. No one else can make a decision for you. Whose voices will you listen to? What perspectives will you consider when making your decisions? Are you ready to travel an additional nine miles to find Jesus?

Later today, young people will share their dreams and visions for a future filled with hope. Will we listen to them and follow their ideas about where to find a new epiphany? May God lead us all to the places that we are meant to go and may we courageously follow God as the wise ones did so long ago. Just as the words of the Congolese song that we sang earlier remind us: “As long as we follow in the way that God is leading…we know God’s reign will surely come.”

May this week be one of soul-searching for all of us. May we, as Easter people, listen to God fearlessly and embrace God’s intended path to enable us to lead the church to a new epiphany with the faith and courage of the Pentecost people.

Also, may this week be one of intense prayer and meaningful reflection for all of us, so when we leave this place on May 20th, we can each say to God, “I was faithful in this Christian Conferencing. I reflected upon all the views presented from a global perspective, including my own local perspective. Yet, when I punched my vote, I listened to You, God, and You only!” And to this God, the God who enables us to journey an extra nine miles, be all glory and honor, today and always, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Walter Brueggemann, 39 Missing by Nine Miles: January 6, 2002 (Epiphany) The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann, (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) p. 192-197.

 

[2] J. Verkuyl, Contemporary Missiology: an Introduction (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), pp 106-107.

[3] Angela Current Felder, The School of Dreams in the Valley of Hope: The Africa University Story, (Nashville, Tennessee, Africa University development Office, 2012) p v.

 

[4] Angela P. Current, Breaking Barriers: An African American Family & the Methodist Story (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001) p.103

 

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1 Comment on "Sermon Transcript – Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar (Saturday, May 14, 2016)"

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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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Clare Chapman
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Thanks you, Bishop. Words we all need to hear.

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