“Peace be with you.” These are the words the Resurrected Jesus speaks to the eleven disciples and their companions gathered in the locked upper room. They were “startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Luke 24:37). In response to their fear Jesus asks, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (v.38, 39).
Perhaps this is the word we might reflect on individually, as a conference, and as The United Methodist Church. In the midst of glory and a view of the resurrected body in which we believe – not some spirit or energy, but the resurrected body – we can embrace the miraculous mystery and we can set aside our fear.
There are a number of streams running throughout the Church, some of which frighten us and others that ignite our passion and joy. During this Easter season, I wish we would remember that the Church has always had strong emotional issues that have swirled through the people of faith threatening to divide the Church: circumcision (Acts 15), divorce, slavery, race, and others. Each time the Church has experienced schism we have lost influence, momentum, and members. I have been thinking about the kind of legacy we will leave our children and future generations. When I was consecrated as a bishop, I took a vow “to guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church.” I am prayerfully doing this. I also took a vow to “work for the unity of the Church.” And, I’m prayerfully doing this as well. I am committed to working through the difficult issues that attack the Church and live into Jesus’ prayer, “That they may be one” (John 17:11). Whose Church is this? And who is really in control? God is the only One who can provide the counsel to guide us through these moments. As we grow into the fruit of the spirit and are made into the image of Christ, I would like to believe we can disagree in love and transform the world in love. “Why do doubts arise in your hearts?” The powerful hope I personally see is the Presence of the One who has overcome the world. For this reason I have put my whole trust in Him, for God can create “things that are from the things that are not” (Rom. 4). After all, this is the Easter story.
During this Easter celebration of the Presence of God, I join the congregations of our Alabama-West Florida Conference in praising the signs of God’s compassion in our efforts to participate in Imagine No Malaria. This is a grass roots movement, not a movement from top down. Individuals and congregations began these efforts with the “Nothing But Nets” initiative. $10 per net was the goal and as individuals and congregations throughout our nation began to see the possibility of eliminating malaria, it has grown into a very focused campaign, “Imagine No Malaria.” Our conference has been invited into the grass roots movement by joining other annual conferences in offering $10 to save a life. This $10 aids education, health clinics, and nets to eliminate malaria. It is not difficult to find members of our congregations that can still remember when malaria was a serious threat in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. We eliminated malaria here and we can do something mighty in our world by eliminating malaria elsewhere. Join me in our goal to save 100,000 lives.
There are many powerful examples, but today I am thinking of Mulder Memorial UMC
, which gave every member a card with netting material tied to it and placed a crib with net over it in the sanctuary. They have already exceeded their goal of saving over 1,000 lives. St. Mark UMC, Mobile
, did a number of projects and also exceeded their goal. Dothan First UMC
held a pancake supper and their missions committee pledged an additional dollar for every dollar raised to save a life! Creola UMC
Imagine No Malaria representative, Phebe Nichols said, “I got up and spoke and we got $300 right off the bat. I used the theme of 'Jesus Loves the Little children,' and said we’re all children of God, whether we are 1 or 100.”
During Easter season there are signs of power and resurrection offering hope to our future. He is Alive! Christ is risen! I give thanks to God for The United Methodist Church. “You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised” (Luke 24:48, 49). May we all be open to receiving the fruits of this promise.
Bishop Paul L. Leeland