A few weeks ago I had the honor of preaching at St. Andrew UMC in Titusville, in the Space Coast region of Florida. Their pastor is Mark Charles, a native of Northern Ireland who is a great blessing to us. One of their members is Rachael Sumner, an associate conference lay leader, who was elected as a laity delegate to the upcoming General Conference in Portland.
The lectionary gospel was from John 21, and I would be preaching from that text: Jesus appearing on the shores of the sea of Tiberias; the disciples fishing all night and catching nothing; then a great catch of fish, their breakfast together, and afterward the questions of Jesus to Peter: “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” And at the conclusion, his commands: “feed my sheep” and “follow me.”
I love this passage. Mark also told me that Acts 9: 1-19 would be read in the service. He would also make it a part of the children’s moments; and, he asked, “could the children, as a part of that time, pray for you and Rachael and for your work at the General Conference in Portland?”
“This would be great,” I replied.
To be honest, however, I was not quite prepared for what it would actually mean to me. As Mark prayed for the General Conference and for Rachael and me, each of us kneeling a few feet from the other at the altar rail, surrounded by children, I did, in fact, sense the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
This was a tangible reality as the hands of children rested on my shoulders and upon my head. And two powerful thoughts emerged in my mind.
- I have had the sacred privilege of laying hands on women and men and ordaining them for the ministry of Deacon and Elder in our church. Here the experience was the reverse. The children were pronouncing a blessing upon me: the presence of the Holy Spirit was God’s gift to me, through the touch of their hands.
- I had the recognition that the work we would be doing in Portland at the General Conference would be historic, but in the sense that it would be for these children. Our work there is not for us and for whatever personal or political preferences we might have. We will hopefully listen for the guidance (Isaiah 61; Luke 4) and recognize the fruit (Galatians 5) of the Holy Spirit. The church does not belong to us. We lead, for a time. The church points to the kingdom of heaven, the reign of God. Unless we become like children, we will never enter it.
Rachael and I were commissioned by those with no political power or voice, but with a stake in our conferencing. That day I had traveled two hours to share the good news with a local church. As it actually happened, messengers were preparing to share with me, to speak to me, to pray for me.
There is a future with hope.