Episode 1 - Podcast Transcript

 

Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson

Hello friends and loved ones, dear ones in the North Georgia Annual Conference. This is Bishop Sue. I welcome you to my podcast, At The Table with Bishop Sue - its just a time for me to speak with you to give you my thoughts. I will say if there's something you'd like to discuss or have me address, shoot me an email at bishop@ngumc.org and I'll try to cover it in future podcasts.

I've just come back from leave, a renewal leave that I really needed. I recommend it to everyone. I didn't realize how tired I was until a couple of weeks in. I realized that we all need rest. If God needs rest on the seventh day, then who am I to question that? So I took some time and I thought back to my childhood and I remembered how I loved summer break. I decided to savor every moment of my leave and to spend a lot of time reflecting, reading, doing things I love, but also getting perspective on what type of church I want to lead. I've asked the cabinet over the next several months to think together about what kind of church we want to lead.

So I'm going to start these podcasts with a sense of what is important in my estimation to a church that's moving into the 21st century. A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine, dear friend of mine, who's a deacon in this annual conference and was in my wedding, we've known each other for a very long time. She called me out of the blue one evening. Her goddaughter and her goddaughter's husband were expecting. The baby had been born and had critical health issues. In fact, the issues were so bad that there were only five places in the world that did the kind of surgery that baby needed. And one of them happened to be Gainesville, Florida. (Yay, University of Florida), Shands hospital there.

And so the baby was transferred to the hospital and my friend called to find out where the family could stay because that weekend was going to be the homecoming football game against Auburn. There wasn't a room to be had in the whole town, and so she asked if I could help her family find a place to stay in Gainesville. I made one phone call to dear friends who serve at Trinity United Methodist in Gainesville, Florida, Catherine and Steve Price. I talked to Catherine, and she looked into it. Within 20 minutes she had a place for this family to stay. Catherine's parents were in North Carolina for the fall and their house was vacant, so they offered their entire house to this family to stay while their baby had major surgery and was looking at many weeks in the NICU. My friend called me and just was amazed that within 20 minutes we had helped.

To me, that's the power of the United Methodist connection.

What makes it even more remarkable is, I didn't even think about this, but my friend Catherine's second child was born with major birth issues and had spent 10 weeks in NICU at the same hospital. So when Catherine went to give this family the key to her parents' house, she ministered to them out of her own experience in ways that I couldn't even imagine. And Christ was exalted and this connection worked. And I could tell you story after story like that.

Even better, if Catherine and Steve couldn't have helped, I could have called Beth at First Gainesville. I could've called Rick, who's at Grace in Gainesville. And if there weren't any places to be found in Gainesville, I could've called Ocala where we served and I could've had a hundred people have a room for this family. That's the connection.

So whenever I think about the church splintering and moving into different directions, it pains me to think about the loss of connection. There's no way that we could ever reconstruct that.

I think of my mentors and ministry, conservative, centrist, progressive — they have all spoken into my life. I can't imagine not having been in ministry with them. I sat with a group of pastors and one of them had a critically ill grandchild, one of them had lost a child, one of them was critically ill and they all said, you know what? When I was in the hospital and my dear clergy friends came to visit, it didn't matter what their theological perspective was. They were brothers and sisters in Christ. So when I think about the church I want to lead, to me the connection is really important. The discipline says that the heart of Methodism is the connection, which is a web of relationships, a web of relationships with folks who know Jesus Christ, and are led by the Holy Spirit.

To me, if you know Jesus Christ and you are led by his Holy Spirit, we are brothers and sisters at the core. And theological disagreements we can live with. So the church that I want to lead is based on connection, a connection that builds young clergy and laity, a connection that nurtures over the years, a connection where I can send somebody to a great church in another city because I know the pastor from many years before. A connection where we have great, great collective efforts like Camp Glisson and Action Ministries. I just see the fruit of the connection all over the Annual Conference, our country, and the world. And don't kid yourself. If we fray it, even if we divided into three, that will never be the same again because it's the relationships that are built and the history and the deep dedication of that.

I'm not an institutionalist, I don't love institutions "because they're institutions." However the Methodist church ends up, I'll lead it as best I can, but I'm all about the relationships and I'm hard pressed to think of any clergy and laity that I would not really focus my life in maintaining. I've said many times I've only served conservative churches and I've learned so much from those folks and I respect them and love them so much and we agree to disagree. My good friend Robin, I think of her every election day, she usually calls me and says, "Have you gone to vote yet?" And if I have, she says, "Well, I better go and cancel out your vote." And if I haven't, she says, "Well, you better go and cancel out my vote." But without her in my life, I met her through the United Methodist Church, I would be a lesser person.

So the church that I want to lead, it's hallmark is connection, connection through Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, connection through shared history and shared relationships. Connection where I can do ministry in far cities because I'm connected to clergy and laity there and I know they will tend to my friends and loved ones when they have sick babies or missing children or broken marriages. That's the heart of the church I want to lead.

There's something else I've been thinking about when I think of hallmarks of a church I want to lead. I spoke with my friend, the deacon who had called me, I spoke with her and and she and I are not in the same place theologically. We laugh about that all the time and her friendship is dear to me and nothing could separate us. But we talked about at length the heart of our friendship and it's mutual respect. I respect her and her viewpoints and she respects me and mine. When we disagree, we have heated discussion, but we don't cut down each other. We don't mock each other. We don't disrespect each other. The fruits of the spirit are always at play. I remind you: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, generosity, and self control. The church I want to lead is where, first of all, we hold each other with deep care. We watch over one another in love as the scripture says.

As I was talking to my friend, I was reflecting after I hung up on our phone call and I thought back to eighth grade. There was a girl in eighth grade, her name was Beverly, and for some reason most of the school decided that Beverly would be the one that would be picked on. I remember standing in a circle as Beverly was mocked and ridiculed. I still can't figure out what was so wrong with her. There weren't any obvious defects, there wasn't anything that I could identify made her different or worthy of such ridicule and ill treatment. But I remember standing in that circle and just tears running down my face to see a human being treated like that. But now as I look back on my eighth grade self, I think: I didn't do anything. I didn't say anything. It was a scary place to be in because I didn't want to be ridiculed or mocked too.

I think about her and I wonder what happened to her. I wonder what her life was like because I know she was scarred and deeply wounded by a group of kids years and years ago.

What disturbs me is I've seen similar scenes in the church and I get letters from folks with similar ugliness and mocking and nastiness. How can that be? How can that be? I've seen in the life of the church, there are bullies. There are those who think their opinions should trump everybody else's. And I've watched as wonderful church people sit and say nothing.

And so I want to lead a church where first of all, we hold one another in love. We don't tolerate a lack of love or ridicule, and I want to lead a church where those who hear that feel empowered to say that is not acceptable in the church of Jesus Christ. Recently, there's been a big commotion about a video released by John MacArthur where he talks about Beth Moore. He ridicules Beth Moore, he scorns Beth Moore. He tells her to go home and what's even more disturbing is the entire room laughs, guffaws, chortles thinks it's really fun to bash her and her ministry. I don't know what appalls me more that this was acceptable or that nobody stood up and said, this is not of Christ.

I pray that I will never be part of any church gathering where this is acceptable.

The church I want to lead sees the highest value in holding one another in love. I remind you that in the gospel of John, Jesus says, People will know me, people will know God, through your love for one another. And if that's our highest and best witness, we're failing miserably. So I'm seeking to lead a church and if you want to follow, I would love it, where the biggest standard is love, where we don't have that scoffing, ridiculing. There's a lack of humility that I get to be the judge. I mean, Jesus had a lot to say about that. And many times when I hear the scoffers and ridiculers, I think, you really need to go home and get the log out of your own eye so that you can see to get the speck out of somebody else's.

Now at the church I lead, I want us all to have a convicted humility that we are all sinners, that we all have deep, dark parts in our hearts that probably deserve scoffing and ridicule. But we don't do that because we entrust our lives to sojourners with us on a journey of grace, a journey where Jesus leads us to speak to one another and know one another deeply and to acknowledge our brokenness and then to go to God and have the Holy Spirit fix us and mend us and salve our wounds. That's the kind of church I want to lead. Enough of the ugliness. Not one person was ever drawn to Jesus Christ by ridicule or scoffing. As my grandmother always said, "You draw a lot more bees with honey than vinegar." So let's get the vinegar out. I'm over it. I'm tired of it.

That's the hallmark of the Wesleyan tradition, that we are all sinners, that we are all on a journey together, that the church is a hospital for the sick and we're all sick and we're all looking for the same cure, and that only comes through Jesus Christ in his mercy and love. I have seen people molded and healed and transformed through the love of Jesus Christ. I've never seen anybody molded, transformed, and healed through ridicule or judgment.

Our church, The United Methodist Church, was the first church to put into our communion ritual, "He ate with sinners." So at my table, at our table, at the church I want to lead's table, all are there. No one is excluded because every human being needs Jesus Christ and his work in their lives, and I'm content for the Holy Spirit to do its work without my commentary and without my judgment.
 
Jesus, if you look at scripture, if you look at the gospels, his only ridicule, his only scorn, his only disdain was for religious leaders who were ridiculing and scornful and disdaining of others. That's it. For those who were lost. For those who were excluded, for those who were mocked and ridiculed by everyone else, Jesus went and found them. He ate at their table. He spoke a word of grace to them. He welcomed them to his father's house and then he told them to go invite others. It's that simple. That's the church I want to lead. If you want to put your lives into going out and inviting others and showing them the immense love of Christ and gathering them to the table, oh, please come along. But if you want to sit at the table and hold yourself up as pure or more righteous, if you want to mock and ridicule those who you don't think fit, then I've got a problem with that.

The church should be a beautiful and amazing vessel of grace. It should be about the transforming work in the world. I think our churches are declining, not so much because of the lack of theological purity in any form. I think we've lost the basic message that our job is to go out, to get outside the walls of the church. To go to those who are unlovely and unlovable, to those who are excluded and oppressed, to those who are without a friend, to go out and take the message of love and grace to them and invite them. That's how Jesus lived his whole life. That's what his disciples did with him. They were always moving, always on a journey, always seeking. Many times the disciples were like, Jesus, seriously, you can't, we really don't want to go talk to them. We really don't want to include them, but Jesus kept pressing on.

And so we have churches where many people say, we really don't want to talk to them. We really don't want to move outward. We really much prefer a country club where we're visited by the pastor and we get our own way and everybody thinks alike and acts alike. And we sit in a circle and sing kumbaya, that's a great image, but it's not the church. A church is where folks are consumed and driven by the Holy Spirit out into the world to proclaim the love of Jesus Christ and to gather more to the table. That's the church I want to lead.

 

I look forward to more podcasts. I look forward to you submitting your ideas and topics for discussion. I hope this is a helpful discussion and I look forward to talking about and considering together what kind of church do we want and what is Christ calling us to be and how do we speak to our children and grandchildren in a world that is so dramatically different from the one most of us were born into.

In the meantime, get out of the walls, go gather in, go love without limit immeasurably, and welcome everybody to the table of Jesus Christ, to the church of Jesus Christ. So he can do the work only he can do, the work of sanctification, a work of transformation, a work of salvation.

At The Table with Bishop Sue is produced by Sybil Davidson and edited by Kim Drobes. Music is by Chuck Bell. Thank you and I look forward to the next time we are together.