“I think that we are being prepared to have some fun, and to suffer, and to find out again what the power of God can do.” This is among the kernels shared by Bishop Richard Graham when he greeted the 233rd Annual Conference of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church on June 2, 2017. Attending were an estimated 1,500 clergy and lay members from 628 United Methodist churches in Maryland, Washington, the panhandle of West Virginia and Bermuda. Here are his remarks.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I am enormously grateful for the opportunity to be with you this morning. Lutherans have “synods” instead of conferences, and I bring you greetings from my synod, the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I am very grateful for your invitation.
A lot in common historically
Perhaps you know that 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the beginning of what we call the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther began to distribute the 95 theses that called into question some details of the life the Church was living in Germany in his day. And from that day a whole series of events, of writings and discussions, and then arguments, and then wars, began what has marked the Christian world in which we live up to this moment.
I don’t know what you all think of Martin Luther. Lutherans have a proud but nuanced admiration for him. But I assume you do know that at a critical moment in his own life John Wesley heard a man reading Luther’s preface to the Letter to the Romans, and from that comes a considerable amount of your own history. You should thank God fairly often that Wesley was influenced by Luther’s writings and not so much by his personality. But we have a lot in common, you and your Lutheran neighbors. This is a good year to remember that.
A lot in common personally
And thinking like this gives me the chance to pay tribute to the Methodists who have helped shape my own faith. I am Lutheran because my Lutheran mother is a persuasive woman. She got us all to Lutheran church, even though she never quite made a real Lutheran out of my father, the Methodist man she married. He always has complained that Lutherans don’t sing as well as Methodists, and that stings – Lutherans are vain about their music. But his faith and his faithfulness, formed in a family with deep Baltimore Methodist roots, shaped my own life.
If I’m not mistaken, his parents both grew up in Lovely Lane Church on St. Paul Street. They wound up in Boston, and I have the Bible my grandfather was given after serving for fifteen years as the superintendent of the Newtonville Methodist Sunday School. I am just as proud of those roots as I am of all my Lutheran connections on the other side.
It’s because of the Methodist faith and faithfulness I experienced that I know you will understand me if I say that there is nothing better in all the world than to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course you know this, or else you wouldn’t be here. But the Scripture calls on us to encourage each other, and I am bold to encourage you because I know that there is discouragement all around.
People claim that the churches like yours and mine are bound to shrink away until they’re gone. And people claim that the influence we used to have in the culture around us has pretty much already vanished. But there is no reason this should be true.
Are we not surrounded now again, as our ancestors were, by people for whom the good news of our Lord and Savior is actually news? Are there not people all around us who need the kind of help that we can give them? Is the Holy Spirit not itching around in the corners of our souls, so that all the gloom and regret of our church life is now beginning to feel just boring for us?
I think we are being prepared to be the renewal that God wants to pour out on this weary world. I think that we are being prepared to have some fun, and to suffer, and to find out again what the power of God can do.
If all the history of the last 500 years in my church teaches anything, it teaches that Jesus Christ has called us to serve him in companionship and peace with other Christians. We Lutherans have not always done this well. You Methodists have done it better. We are honored to be your partners and your fellow servants of the one Lord Jesus.
In his name, thank you again for the invitation to be with you this morning.