Southeastern Jurisdiction Photo
When I was being interviewed for this possibility, and when I was consecrated as a bishop and when I was installed -- and it does all seem to be a blur -- I continued to hear a few recurring phrases that are within our Books of Discipline and Worship.
“A bishop is called to guard the faith, to seek the unity and to exercise the discipline of the whole Church.”
In one moment along the way I was asked, in front of a large group of committed, invested, diverse, faithful and, yes, exhausted Christian people,
Will you accept the call to this ministry as a bishop and fulfill this trust in obedience to Christ?
And I responded,
“I will, by the grace of God.”
In preparing for this [sermon], I chose a passage of scripture that I have come to connect with this work-in-progress that is a Christian life and the assumption of the role of Bishop:
By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is a gift of God, not the result of works, lest anyone should boast.
That verse, Ephesians 2. 8, written either by Paul or someone who wrote, thought, and sounded very much like Paul, summarizes an extended argument about the journey from the old life to the new:
Do you remember the old phrase?
“I’m not what I want to be,
I’m not what I am going to be,
but thank God I’m not what I used to be!”
All of us once lived in these destructive ways, Paul says, and then there is the turning point, in verse four:
But God…(if this was an African-American church somebody would say “Amen”!
It is a clue to leave the past behind and focus on the future. Since this is a day that is overshadowed to some extent by politics, at least in this country, I recalled watching a televised conversation with the pundit William Bennett, who was campaigning for Dan Quayle. Bennett had been deeply critical of Dan Quayle in an earlier time but had come around, and so the commentator was asking how all of this could have happened. Bennett reflected for a moment and then responded:
“Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”
All of us used to act like most people in the world do. We followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power.
Yes, every saint has a past, that keeps us humble, but every sinner has a future. And that is all about the grace of God, who is rich in mercy. It is God who raised us from the dead to live in Christ. We are saved by grace, through faith and all of this is a gift.