LAKELAND – Reminders that the Florida Conference represents a diverse group of worshipers – young and old, different races and ethnicities and widely varying backgrounds – continued from the 172nd Annual Conference opening session into communion Wednesday.
|Florida Conference clergy members administer the sacraments during the Service of Word and Table at the 172nd Annual Conference. Photo by Cindy Skop.|
A contemporary band, led by worship leaders Jeremy Hearn of First UMC, Lakeland, and Michelle Weger of Grace Church, Cape Coral, brought the communion worship service assembly of about 1,000 to their feet in prayerful praise.
Rev. Catherine Fluck Price called the congregation to worship and Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans called them to generosity, saying the offering was for scholarships for theology students at the Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance at Africa University and the launching of the Young Adult Missional Movement. Churches and members had given nearly $51,000 by the end of the evening.
Luke 10:25-37, recounting the parable of the Good Samaritan, was read in Spanish by Rev. José Nieves; the English translation was shown on two video screens.
The passage described a lawyer asking Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Instead of answering him, Jesus told the parable and asked, “Who do you think was neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
Bishop Ken Carter, wearing a black robe and a white stole, suggested that individuals and churches alike, like the lawyer, may be looking for a loophole.
“Maybe we aren’t really asking, “Who is my neighbor?’ but rather, ‘Who can we exclude?’”
“It gets complicated,” he said. “Every one of us knows this story, but sometimes we don’t need to know more; we need to act on what we already know.”
The three different characters in the story revealed three different approaches to life, said Carter. The robbers’ violent actions said, “Your life for me.” The religious leaders’ action—not helping at all—said, “My life for me.” The Samaritan’s compassionate actions of caring for the victimized traveler said, “My life for you.”
Samaritans, explained Carter, were descendants of Jews who intermarried with people of Samaria during the exile and who didn’t return to Jerusalem. They were looked down upon as compromisers, considered enemies and were ill-treated.
Carter drew laughter from the congregation when he referred to a trip he took with his wife, Pam.
“Pam and I were in Samaria last month. We met a Samaritan priest, one of only seven in the world, who said, ‘Tell the people where you live that I’m the Good Samaritan!’”
|Hundreds of United Methodists remember their baptisms with water and tokens at the opening worship service of Annual Conference 2014. Photo by Cindy Skop.|
Getting serious again, he said that “Your life for me” means terrorism, shootings, greed, bullying, taking away people’s dignity and profiting from others’ suffering.
“‘My life for me’ means we won’t harm you, but we won’t help you, either,” said Carter. “‘My life for you’ means we take a risk, become vulnerable and are willing to be hurt and used in the process.”
“What’s true for individuals is also true for churches and denominations,” the bishop said, adding that some churches want more people, more money, more of people’s time — to help the church. Some churches turn inward, like unreachable islands in areas of great need.
The parable also helps us understand who God is, Carter said, asking, “Do we think of Him as always taking from us? Or is God detached from our questions and messy struggles while He’s in heaven? No, Jesus is the Good Samaritan who seeks and saves the lost at His expense.”
The bishop then asked, “What if our churches were the inn where people were brought to heal, to become whole, to be salvaged? That would be Good News!”
On the cross, Jesus said always and to everyone, “My life for you.”
Before the hundreds of worshipers streamed toward stations to receive the symbols of His body and blood, Carter reminded them: “Go and do likewise.”
-- Barbara Routen is a freelance writer based in Brandon.