From Bishop Leeland: Preparing for Worship in a Time of Crisis
January 8, 2021
To my colleagues in ministry,
I am aware that we approach this coming Sunday following the national crisis over the last 48 hours with heavy, confused, and dismayed feelings. Our congregations will be listening carefully to your words and anticipating signs of hope in the midst of the confusion and the divided nature of our nation.
First, I would remind us that we are spiritual leaders who acknowledge that God’s light in Christ is a gift to overcome the darkness. This has been our Christmas message and is affirmed during this time of Epiphany. As people of prayer, we certainly offer and guide our communities in praying to God for enlightenment and direction. You may wish to use the prayer from our Book of Worship, 517, “A Prayer in Time of National Crisis.”
God of all the ages, in your sight nations rise and fall, and pass through times of peril. Now when our land is troubled, be near to judge and save. May leaders be led by your wisdom; may they search your will and see it clearly. If we have turned from your way, reverse our ways and help us to repent. Give us your light and your truth, let them guide us; through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of this world, and our Savior. Amen.
Second, this prayer reminds us that we have a prophetic role as one who speaks for God. The history of God’s people can be treated as the story of hearing, or failure to hear, God’s word. Amos repeatedly says, “Hear this word.” Jeremiah reminds his people of God’s word to them, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God.” To hear God’s word involves not simply hearing in the physical sense, but to understand what one hears, and then to fulfill God’s intention through obedient action.
We should remind each other that the role of the prophet is not to simply point to wrongs surrounding us, but to call us to repentance, a renewed relationship to God, and to one another. This prayer acknowledges this when we pray, “reverse our ways and help us to repent. Give us your light and your truth, let them guide us.”
As our nation moves through this crisis, we must remember that the most important work, that of Christian Formation, is still before us. The divided opinions and strong emotions will be found within the membership of our congregations. Whether these strong emotions lead to violence and destruction, or whether it is reflected in our criticism of others, it is a sign of deep spiritual brokenness. Christian formation includes living in harmony with others; never repaying evil for evil; forbearing one another; never taking revenge but leaving that to God; and letting love being completely real.
Yes, I know we understand this, but we rarely see it. There is much work to do.
We are to be the sign of hope in this troubled time. We are not the first to serve the Church in a time of worry and little hope. Even St. Paul reminded us in Romans 5 that Christ died for the ungodly, when we were yet broken, when were yet helpless, while we were still in sin.
Thank you for your service and for the faithfulness of your calling. The role of the prophet always names a better future!
- It requires courage
- It is dependent on God’s Wisdom
- It names God’s preferred future
- It holds our current reality and God’s future together
- It names our Grief (We sat down by the waters and wept as we sang the songs of Zion).
- Prophets always call us to confession and point us toward our salvation.
Finally, in our prayers, let us remember our elected leaders who also serve areas of diverse opinions and competing expectations. A prayer “For Leaders,” also found in our Book of Worship, 544, may be used in this moment of lament and sorrow.
O God, as you anointed leaders and called prophets of old, lead us to recognize our true representatives and authentic leaders: men and women who love your people and can walk with them, who dream their dreams and strive to accompany them to their common goal. In your fire, with your Spirit, embolden and commission us to transform our political system, to serve your people, and to bring real glory to your name. Amen.
Bishop Paul L. Leeland
Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church
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