Bishop Gwinn's Sermon from Friday Night
June 23, 2018
This comes from a rough transcript document provided by Deaf Interpreter, Loveeta Baker for the Annual Conference. This is not meant to be a finished draft manuscript.
Anywhere But Nineveh
You know I was a little nervous, but now I am trembling. Bishop Leeland, thank you so much. I am humbled, I always strive to live up to some of those attributes that Bishop Leeland was talking about. We know that who we are is the result of God at work in our lives. That's who we really are as his sons and daughters. The wonderful thought tonight for all of us is he loves each of us just like he loves all of us. I don't know where you may be sitting or what you might be feeling about yourself right now, but I want you to know how really truly significant you are to God.
When I arrived in Raleigh, two of the first people I met were Paul and Janet, and Joyce and I knew immediately I am in for a wonderful treat. This man in the role he was playing had the wonderful ability to make me look something like he described a minute ago.
We have all learned that unless certain veins of quality and value are in us we can't really see it in other people. So, so many lessons that Paul Leeland taught me and helped me to become more the kind of person that God really truly needed me to be.
You don't know how I wish for the words to say thank you to Bishop Leeland and all of you and particularly the program committee for inviting me to come be here with you this evening.
When I was serving in the local church I began serving in 1967, my first student appointment. I served in local churches for nearly 45 years and when I sat in the audience, conference after conference after conference, I thought there is no greater opportunity, no greater sense of accomplishment in one sense of the word, no greater honor than to be able to speak to ordinands, speak to people being commissioned. Tomorrow night the Lord willing, people who are being ordained. What a privilege that is.
We have a bishop now in Kentucky I love greatly, he's from that part of North Carolina also, and his name of course, many of you would know, Leonard Farrell. Leonard has this habit of taking his shoes off when he preaches, maybe some of you do that. I have never done that. I have a terrible time trying to re‑tie my shoes so I would have to recess barefoot. I sort of attempted to do that tonight in a sense of holy ground. This is holy ground ‑‑ I love the way we started tonight in saying that God is great and God is here. You know, if everybody in Waynesville really knew the truth about what's happening in Harrell auditorium they would be lining around the outside of the auditorium. Because father son and Holy Spirit are here.
Listen, you think about this. The one who called you ‑‑ speaking the 21 of you now who will be commissioned. The one who called you and think of those of you who are clergy, laity, you feel the call, hopefully, in your life, the same as any of us do, you think the one who called you would not show up for this service tonight? I mean, there's no way.
That is so thrilling that part of me is willing to turn this into a prayer praise. He's worthy of that isn't he? He really is worthy of that. You can also imagine what it's like because you experience it from time to time, to be in a pulpit where you know he is here. And I am going to try to talk about him? It almost is more than the mind can comprehend. We can't comprehend it. We walk by faith, not by sight, we just know and say to our Lord Jesus, Lord, I know I have no, no real worth to be in that pulpit, but thank you oh God that you will be with me and you will empower me and you will speak through me. That's what I trust tonight, that God is doing for us.
Let me just read that last sentence of the two sentences read for our scripture lesson tonight.
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarsus. Now, so early in the story this really significant question seems to pop up in most of our minds. Why? Why would Jonah, the prophet, not go to Nineveh and instead go to Tarsus? Was it because he was afraid maybe? He was fearful to face the dangers that might be in Nineveh if he preached repentance and doom? Probably not. Fear and anxiety about what he may have to face probably was not his issue.
Because later in the story we see him being everything but a coward. You will remember when the lot was cast against him on the boat, he suggested to the sailors, "throw me overboard, and the sea will calm down for you." No I don't think it was fear that pushed Jonah towards Tarsus, it wasn't anxiety about the hardships he might face if he were to become the prophet in Nineveh. I think it was clearly a conflict of wills and purposes. I will explain what I mean.
What Jonah wanted and what God wanted were entirely different. Bottom line, Jonah wanted the people destroyed. God wanted to save them and Jonah knew it.
You and I know that Nineveh is more than a geographical place. Nineveh is a biblical symbol. It's a biblical symbol of going exactly where God wants you to go. Doing exactly what God wants you to do. And being exactly what God wants you to be.
Nineveh is God's calling to you commissioned people tonight.
It's his calling to all of us as servant ministers, his calling about our ministries, about our spiritual lives and his calling about our leadership style. Now, I want to tell you a story about your center conference, the North Carolina conference. There's a small congregation in the very south end of the Outer Banks on the island of Okracoke called The Okracoke United Methodist Church. From Raleigh where Joyce and I lived for eight years, according to the Google map, you must drive four hours and 25 minutes to get to Hatteras. Then you wait around 20 to 30 minutes usually on a ferry and you take a 45‑minute ferry ride over to Okracoke and then you drive down the island for 15 or 20 minutes before you get to our church there on the island.
But, there's another way to get to Okracoke and that is you can drive for three hours and 24 minutes according to Google map and arrive at Cedar Island. Then you can wait around for a bit and get on the ferry and take two hour and 15 minute ferry ride over to the island.
Wal‑Mart and MacDonald's are one hour and 20 minutes drive plus the 45 minute ferry ride away. For some reason, we did not have a long waiting list of clergy wanting to go to the congregation at Okracoke. In fact, there is an often‑told tale in the North Carolina conference that one of the pastors of the North Carolina conference was told by his district superintendent that the bishop and the cabinet were thinking about appointing him to Okracoke. He nearly panicked. He said I don't want to go to Okracoke and he resisted strongly. Finally the district superintendent said I want you to pray about it. He did. He said something like this, Lord, Lord, I don't want to go to Okracoke. But I will, if you assure me that you will go with me. The story goes that the Lord answered him by saying, "I tell you what, I will go to Cedar Island."
I want you to know one of the things I discovered. If the characters in that North Carolina tale had role reversals, then that tale rapidly becomes factual instead of fiction. Let me say that another way. God is willing to go to Okracoke, gladly go to Okracoke, but the issue is how many [indiscernible] persons would be willing to go to Okracoke. I want to say to those of you being commissioned tonight, are you willing to truly serve the Lord in his church in a way you are willing to go to Okracoke? Or are you only willing to go to Cedar Island.
Are you intending to go anywhere but Nineveh? Will your pride, your possessions, your perception of status, your personal preferences, keep you from going to Nineveh? Do you really believe that God's love is as great for the people of our modern Ninevehs as it is for our modern holy cities?
Will you go anywhere God needs you to go? That's the question you really need to be wrestling with tonight. It's deeper than going where the bishop and the cabinet want you to go. Will you go from your commissioning place here tonight, to your next assignment, and unpack all of your boxes?
Will you love your people with the love God has for your people? And love them like God loves those people? Will you go from your assignment whenever and wherever that happens to be, with a peace that's also coupled with the power of Christ?
Will you focus your ministry and your work as if this will be the last assignment that you ever receive? Will you equip and empower your people as if this is the last pastor they will have after you leave? I want to tarry on that a bit, but I want to share quickly because of the time a second thought about this call to go to Nineveh.
Do you understand you have only started to learn what God really needs for you to know? To be an effective leader in the church in the 21st century? The marvelous leaders you had in school and your seminary had you only long enough to get you started on the road to what you really need to know. God calls each one of us to be disciplined on a path of life‑long learning. The scriptures support that. You remember 2 Timothy ‑‑ show yourself approved, rightly divining the word of truth.
But for many of God's servants, they are going down to Japa to a boat to Tarsus to their continued learning. Our congregations are in a place where they have never been before. Todd Boltsinger writes in canoeing the mountains, today's leaders are facing complex challenges that have no clear‑cut solutions. These challenges are more systemic natured and require broad widespread learning. They can't be solved through attending a conference. Or a video series, or even a program. They are what Ronald H calls adaptive challenges.
When we start talking about adaptive challenges we start talking instantly about --
Please do not make a mistake of thinking you are a lone ranger. The lone ranger is gone and the day of the lone ranger is gone. The day of God equipping his people is the way he equipped them when Jesus was here, in a team. Jesus was Lord God almighty but he put 12 people around him to teach and to equip and laity, I want to say to you how crucial it is that you come alongside these clergy persons and others who are leading your congregation, and be a part of a team. When I was active, one of the things I struggled most with and desired to be able to help in some way is this idea that too many of our lay people in local congregations thought they were hiring a pastor to do the work and the ministry. You and I know that's not the [indiscernible] way. We need our pastors, clergy, deacons and elders, we need those persons to lead us and equip us to do the ministry.
I am speaking nothing new or awesome for someone to understand. It's simply the way God designed it to be in the very beginning. Now my third thought is about God's call for you to go all the way to Nineveh in your spiritual lives. Please hear this. If you hear nothing else from this message tonight.
By the way, I Googled it and I know it's accurate, the average human adult has a concentration span of 8 seconds. That's true. That's what Microsoft discovered in their survey. But we can focus, and here's why I was sort of grinding within about the time. The average adult can focus no more than 20 minutes, so I want you to focus. I want you to take the 8 seconds here, if you never have the 8 seconds used up before.
God's highways are littered with [indiscernible] who thought they could do ministries in their own strength. God has not called you to go to seminary to get equipped and then go out and do commissioned ministry on your own. My colleagues in the episcopacy will tell you they spend far too much time helping to pick up the pieces and doing damage control from all the ministry casualties who tried to do ministry in their own strength. Please don't make that mistake.
When will you come to really believe and when will we come to really believe what the Lord says when it's quoted of him in the gospel of a certainty, I tell you the son can do nothing on his own. That's Jesus speaking in John 5. The son can do nothing on his own.
Brothers and sisters, the word of the Lord is not by might, not by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord. I am the vine and you are the branches he says in John 5:15.
Tonight the bishop will pray for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon you. May you have open hands and open hearts and open minds to receive him in the way that he wants to be in your life. The certain fact that you can remember his, that the nature of ministry is unpredictable. Competing demands and multiple kinds of responsibilities will contribute to an overload life that will have difficulty finding time to be alone with God.
But, you and I are servants of the living Christ. We must make time to be alone with God. If I were a lay person and had the privilege of sitting on a PR committee or something of that nature, the single‑most important thing in my mind would be: Is my spiritual leader spending significant time with God? I don't know whether this story is true or not but Laura Beth Jones, in her little book Jesus in Blue jeans, came home to discover her pet had drowned. Not only had the duck drowned, but had done so in the backyard pool that she and her parents had so lovingly prepared for Harriet. They were so saddened and baffled by her death they summonsed a vet friend they had and wanted to know was it suicide?
Or homicide in a little bit the vet said "negotiator." he lifted up the body and said this duck didn't know how to groom properly. They have to coat themselves with a special water proof oil they find under their wing. You have seen it, I have seen it many times. For some reason Harriet did not do this and when she started swimming her feathers took on water and she sank like a rock.
Just as ducks depend on a unique oil that allow them to be in the water but not of the water, we too need the regular presence of the Holy Spirit to be in the world but not of the world.
I want to remind you of Luke 11, in the middle of the chapter Jesus has been talking about how we have the privilege of asking, seeking and ‑‑ what he says about those words, he says ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened up to you.
Then he says, what father among you, if his son were to ask for bread or fish, rather ‑‑ would ask for a fish would give him a snake? Or if he should ask for an egg would give him a scorpion? Now, if you, who had been sent ‑‑ know how to give good gifts to your children how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those of you who ask? This is something else I discovered after a long time, you have to ask every day.
There's an infilling of the Holy Spirit, another subject. But in my journey I have to crucify self and pride every single day of my life.
I have to have the help of the Holy Spirit to move along in the way I need to be moving in that kind of time. If you have been holding back, on asking God to give you all of himself, you stop it. You begin to ask God, God, I want all of you living in me and you know I can handle it, it is possible for me.
I will close with this final thought. Whatever and what all post modern means it is here to stay. And in many ways this is a missional time, when the way it used to be done will no longer work. If any of us in this room are wishing we could go back and see once again what we had in 1960 or 70, stop it. It's not going to happen. It's a post‑modern world. It is different, but that does not mean that we are without resources. We may be going into a time where the church has never been before, but God is not taking us into a time where he's never been before.
If he goes with us, then we can claim what he says in Isaiah 41. Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be afraid, for I am your God, I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Then these words that you know so well from proverbs 3, trust in the Lord with all of your heart. And lean not unto your own insight. In all of your way acknowledge him and he will direct your paths. In just a little bit Bishop Leeland is going to ask father son and Holy Spirit to pour out the Holy Spirit upon you. Then he's going to commission you, he's going to commission you to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ announce the reign of and equip the church for ministry. In many ways you are in Japa. Please go to Nineveh.
Don't go to Tarsus. Amen.