Could this be the banquet of grace? Opening worship, Monday May 16

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey preaches on May 16 at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, OR. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMNS

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey preaches on May 16 at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, OR. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMNS

“Could this be the banquet filled with the things that really matter?”

That was the question that Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey of the Louisiana Episcopal Area asked the participants at the 2016 UM General Conference in Portland during opening worship this morning. She then unpacked the rhetorical question with a list of concrete things that matter:

“Like a world free from addiction;
where families are built on love and a trust that defies the headlines;
where children do not die of diseases that can be prevented;
a world where parenting is a joy, not a burden;
a world where children go to bed with full bellies; a world where women don’t have to sell their bodies or themselves to survive;
a world where children are safe in schools;
where everyone is paid a fair wage; where everyone is honored, respected and heard;
where we mean it when we say that we are all God’s children;
where loved ones are free from random mass shootings; where terrorists are no more?”

With those words calling the world to justice and love, Harvey ended her sermon to a rousing chorus of “amens” from the plenary floor.

Prior to Harvey’s sermon, participants had been led in a repeated refrain: “All the world is welcome at the party!” With a high energy service featuring finger-snapping and a rousing rendition of “I’m Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table, ” a party-like atmosphere permeated the hall. A responsive reading of Matthew 22:1-14 set the participants in the middle of the biblical world.

And then Bishop Harvey invited all to the party.

She retold Jesus’s parable of the wedding banquet in modern terms, telling how Mr. and Mrs. King, working with a professional wedding planner had sent out the invitations long in advance. Under the RSVP line invitees read “Appropriate Attire Required.”

Harvey then remarked on the darkness of the Matthean version. When the invitees were told it was time to show up, they not only refused to attend, they actually killed the servants who brought the message. They suffered destruction and death as a result.

When the servants went back out to find guests for the wedding, they went to the “the fit and misfit, the ones from the edge of town, the ones from the other side of the tracks, from el barrio, the ones who spoke a different language, the poor, the prostitutes.”

As is normal middle-eastern custom, each was provided with an appropriate garment when the entered the King’s house.

But one person declined to put on the robe, a robe that Harvey described as a one-size-fits-all robe of righteousness and grace. In other words, we are invited to come as we are, but not stay as we are.

Harvey went on to compare the wedding banquet to this time at General Conference. She stated clearly, “Our host to this banquet is the God who demands we put on the wedding garment of righteousness.  It is not optional!”

She gave a passionate call to honor our host, God, doing so covered in grace at a banquet to which all are invited.

And with that, she asked the question: “Could this be the banquet filled with the things that really matter?”

Deaconesses and home missioners stand for commissioning during the May 16 worship service of the United Methodist 2016 General Conference in Portland, OR.Photo by Maile Bradfield, UMNS.

Deaconesses and home missioners stand for commissioning during the May 16 worship service of the United Methodist 2016 General Conference in Portland, OR.

At the conclusion of her sermon and its call for active, urgent justice work on behalf of God, Clara Ester, a Deaconess in the UMC, began the Service of Consecration of Deaconesses and Home Missionaries. These 26 UM individuals serve without the privileges that come with formal ordination and live out the love and justice ministries of the church. Each affirmed that they have been led by the Spirit of God to live out their lifetime vocation in these ministries.

Bishops Pedro Torio, Jr, Rosemarie Wenner and Cynthia Harvey presided at the consecration service. After the charge, the congregation responded with these words of affirmation and support:

“We thank God for your willingness to serve as deaconesses and home missioners of The United Methodist Church. Together we are the people of God, called to God’s mission of inviting all the world into the joy and celebration of Christ’s grace.”

A rousing rendition of “God’s Got a Party Robe for You” ended the opening worship for the second week of General Conference.

Click here to read a transcript of Bishop Harvey’s 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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