Tag Archives: AME

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Reckoning Before Revival

There is a reckoning unfolding that we would avoid if we could – unless we are one of the people who have been crying out for it, praying for it, watching the horizon for it.

But the people who pray for revival and the people who pray for reckoning aren’t always the same.

In the open air of summer camp meeting, I watched with child’s eyes as adults around me responded to altar calls from evangelists. Most of the people sitting on rough wooden pews were not atheists; they were looking for sanctification. Often, they were looking for release – catharsis, tears, freedom in individual hearts and minds. Preachers cautioned against returning home without living out the work claimed to have been done in the heart kneeling at the altar rail. I lost count of the times I went to the altar to pray.

Good was done in those camp meetings. When revivalistic Protestants speak of revival, it almost always entails looking back and looking forward – back to something that was, forward hoping to see it again. A lot has been written in the past few years that helps to puncture the yearning for a supposed golden time or the vague chase for nebulous revival.

Exploration of travailing prayer looks at the presence of focused, laboring intercession preceding spiritual awakening within the footprints of church history. Travailing is childbirth language; it is the language of being in labor, experiencing the pain of contractions. Rather than lament the absence of an idealized past with varying descriptions of revival – rather than hope wistfully to experience those descriptions of revival if God chooses to allow it (as if God is preoccupied on the phone rather than willingly pouring out the power and presence of the Holy Spirit) – discussions of travailing prayer highlight the rhythms of awakenings around the world the past few hundred years. Through this, we find helpful posture and practices for those hungry for spiritual awakening. A willingness to engage in travailing prayer should precede scanning the horizon for signs of revival.

Discussions on travailing prayer seem to be a necessary and pivotal counterpoint to any approach to revival that reduces awakening primarily to a personal experience of subjective emotional response. If we do not accept the burden of laboring in travailing prayer, we cannot complain of the need for awakened revival.

But I would say today, on a cool spring morning in the early years of the 21st century, living and breathing on American soil, that the people who pray for revival and the people who pray for reckoning aren’t always the same people. But they may be praying for the same thing.

People who pray for revival may want Holy Spirit power; people who pray for reckoning want the power of God to flip the power of oppressors upside-down.

People who pray for reckoning are people who are already used to praying travailing prayer, because they don’t have to go far to find themselves groaning in spirit.

The power of God may be poised, waiting to see whether the people accustomed to praying for revival will awaken to the deep-seated memory that revival and reckoning were never separated in the first place.

Reckoning came before the glory of the Lord would be revealed. The apocalypse – the uncovering – the unveiling – the revealing of God’s glorywould not occur without reckoning.

The people of Israel learned and forgot this time and again.

When the Word Became Flesh and walked around revealing God’s glory to untouchables and undesirables and overlookeds and underfeds, reckoning thundered in his wake; the same God spoke the Truth of God and to some it sounded like blessing and beatitude and to others it echoed of woe and dread.

To desire God’s glory without submitting to God’s reckoning is to desire the benefits of God without the costs of the way of Jesus.

Judas wanted to be near power and glory. Judas was near power and glory. Judas could not submit to the reckoning that occurs in the presence of God who was walking around eating fish and raising the dead and sitting in the houses of imperial collaborators.

Judas acted out of self-preservation and then regretted it; but the apocalypse – the uncovering – the unveiling of his own heart and motives became a further moment of reckoning for the rest of the disciples. In the face of the crucifixion, they also faced the revelation of Judas’ actions. Gospel readers know that before Judas tried to bolt as a disciple, he embezzled from the treasury box – a box funded by wealthy women supporting Jesus’ ministry.

In Acts 1, about 120 men and women – disciples of Jesus – gathered together earnestly praying, before Pentecost – before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In the midst of this travailing prayer, before Pentecost, they face what Judas has done – “he was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

Reckoning comes before revival.

Had the wealthy women disciples noticed discrepancies in the treasury and prayed for God to reveal the truth of what was happening?

Had Judas stolen from someone who’d given their last two mites, their five loaves and two fish? Had someone powerless seen his quick, hidden dip into the group funds? Had someone prayed for reckoning? Someone who was dismayed but not shocked to learn about Judas betraying Jesus?

We cannot pray for revival without being willing to face the reckoning. If we submit to the reckoning, we may or may not see revival, but we will have submitted ourselves to the justice, mercy, and power of God – “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

An impoverished unmarried woman prophesied in a time when her homeland was occupied by foreign forces:

“And Mary said:

‘My soul glorifies the Lord
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.'”

This ferocity from the mother of Christ celebrates the fact that for many, reckoning means hope.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
” She rejoices because God has been “mindful of the humble state of his servant.”

Her suffering had not been overlooked; her humiliation had not been forgotten or ignored; the injustice experienced by her people was being answered in the arrival of the revelation of the Son of God – the God of jubilee and freedom, hope for widows and welcome for strangers.

People who pray for reckoning are people who are already used to praying travailing prayer, because they don’t have to go far to find themselves groaning in spirit.

There is a reckoning unfolding that we would avoid if we could – unless we are one of the people who have been crying out for it, praying for it, watching the horizon for it.

But the people who pray for revival and the people who pray for reckoning aren’t always the same.

Where in the Book of Acts can I find the Holy Spirit pouring out on groups of believers easily characterized by shared race – when that race is so predominantly represented because congregations and traditions sprang up geographically in places that less than a lifetime ago had Sundown signs posted at city limits? How can I say I long for individual and corporate spiritual awakening if I pray for revival in a room dominated by other white Americans?

Predominantly white towns and regions did not happen accidentally. Thousands of American churches are predominantly white because decades ago explicit signs or implicit laws made them that way and kept them that way.

Some of the oldest, storied, traditional Black Methodist denominations exist because white Methodists kept them out. Consider the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Zion Church:

“The origins of this church can be traced to the John Street Methodist Church of New York City. Following acts of overt discrimination in New York (such as black parishioners being forced to leave worship), many black Christians left to form their own churches. The first church founded by the AME Zion Church was built in 1800 and was named Zion; one of the founders was William Hamilton, a prominent orator and abolitionist. These early black churches still belonged to the Methodist Episcopal Church denomination, although the congregations were independent. During the Great Awakening, the Methodists and Baptists had welcomed free blacks and slaves to their congregations and as preachers.”

Revival and reckoning had gone hand in hand – during the Great Awakening, Methodists and Baptists had welcomed “free Blacks and slaves to their congregations and as preachers.” But in the wake of the awakening, hearts closed; decades before the Civil War, the debate within the Methodist Episcopal Church over accepting Black ministers led to the official formation of the AME Zion Church.

Sitting in the humidity watching adults fumble down the aisle of the open air tabernacle toward the altar, crickets and cicadas loud against the singing of “I Surrender All,” almost every face around me was white.

How can God take seriously the prayers – even the travailing prayers – for revival and spiritual awakening that are prayed distracted from the cries, laments, and groans of those praying for reckoning?

We want revival only inasmuch as we desire to submit ourselves to reckoning, and the predominantly white Protestant Church in the United States on this Eve of Pentecost 2020 has shown nothing so clearly in the past six months as its damnable refusal to submit to anything, much less the convicting reckoning of Almighty God.

We want revival for ourselves and reckoning for our adversaries, rather than reckoning for ourselves and revival for our adversaries. The way of the cross of Jesus Christ welcomes the painful scrutiny of the Holy Spirit upon ourselves and the Holy Spirit’s merciful grace toward literally everyone else.

White Christians who pray for Holy Spirit power need to ask ourselves if we have a history of using power well. If we cannot answer that with a “yes” then we should beg God to spare us from pouring out any holy power on us that would consume us in its blaze. We should beg God to spare us until we have the character to withstand the presence of the Holy Spirit – “our God is a consuming fire.”

Desiring proximity to power and glory without submitting to the reckoning that occurs in the presence of God will place us squarely alongside a disciple – but not the disciple we would wish to emulate.

If revival does not come for you, it cannot come for me. If reckoning is what you are praying for, I cannot ignore it. If my prayers for revival sound trite while you groan for God to hear your pleas for justice, then I must join your groans and prayers for reckoning, sharing in your travailing as I can.

Ferocious Mary, mother of God prayed table-flipping prayers years before her son walked into the temple for a day of reckoning.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

If Christians are baffled at why our prayers are being sent away empty, maybe we should consider that it is because we are avoiding the reckoning while praying for the revival. The arm of God will crash down on us like thunder if we think we deserve the outpouring of the Holy Spirit while avoiding truth; if we think we are entitled to revival while others need to prove their worthiness.

The Holy Spirit of God poured out on women and men, empowering them to speak in different languages. Jews from all different regions heard God calling out to them in their own languages, with their own wordsGod’s heart in the sound of their own accent:

“‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

Pentecost has always only meant that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit means hearing God’s wonders. The Holy Spirit was set loose witnessing to the Resurrected Christ: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

If I do not have ears to hear the groaning for reckoning, I do not have ears to hear the wonders of God.

If we justify church leaders who abuse their positions to exploit others, we do not have ears to hear the wonders of God.

If we ignore the groans of suffering people inside or outside the church, we have stopped up our ears to ignore the wonders of God.

If we resist the opportunity to learn our own history and the history of others so that we can better grieve and lament our broken, shared story, then we dim the volume of the wonders of God.

If we scorn the accounts of the hurting out of the compulsion to justify people who remind us of us, we silence the mouth of Jesus; we drown out the wonders of God.

A few months ago, Rev. Shalom Liddick preached on intercession. Anointed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, she testified to this truth:

“I’m your keeper – you are mine. The fact that God came to Cain and asked, ‘where is your brother?’ tells me something. It tells me God will ask me about my community. ‘Hey – where is…?’ It is my responsibility to pray for you. Where are you, friend? We live in a culture where we want to be independent. But I need to make it a point to always present you before God, and you need to make it a point to present me before God.

Remember: you are your brother’s keeper; you are your sister’s keeper. You’re a watchman. And where God has placed you, God has placed you on purpose. Watchmen stand in the middle to communicate, to see, to defend. An intercessor stands in the middle to intervene on behalf of somebody else.

God calls me and calls you to be people who get in the middle and say, ‘God, can you help my sister? Can you help my brother? Can you help my community?’ God is present – in the middle – of everything.”

Reckoning comes before revival, and before we open our eyes on Pentecost Sunday, we must face the question of whether or not we have failed to be each others’ keepers. Whether we have neglected to stand in the middle and intervene.

In John Donne’s classic poem, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” he considers the question not only of inquiring whose funeral a bell announces, but also the dilemma of whose responsibility it is to ring a bell announcing a sermon. Reflecting on funeral bells tolling, he wonders if the bell could ring for himself, if he were too ill to realize how ill he was:

“PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he
knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so
much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my
state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.

The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she
does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action
concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which
is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member.
And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is
of one author, and is one volume.”

Can one be so sick they do not recognize the extent of their illness – to such a degree that they do not realize the funeral bell tolls for them? Can our souls carry unseen disease, visible to those around us but hidden from ourselves, so that we do not even realize the reckoning is ours?

On responsibility to ring the sermon bell, he muses that those who realize the dignity of the task will quickly respond to share the responsibility: “The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth.” The bell tolls for the person who thinks it summons them.

But whether or not we have trained our ears to hear the summons is another matter. And this is the tragedy of Pentecost: “Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.'” We cannot hear what we do not listen for. We cannot hear revival if we believe it doesn’t sound like reckoning.

Every time a funeral bell tolls for someone else, it tolls for me, because their death diminishes me.

“I’m your keeper. You are mine. God came to Cain and asked, “where is your brother?”

The people who pray for revival and the people who pray for reckoning aren’t always the same people. But they may be praying for the same thing.

Come, Holy Spirit.

And let justice, like revival, roll down.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Testify: Many Voices, One Song

Note from the Editor: Wesleyan Accent is pleased to reprint this post which shares a rich chorus of voices who have answered questions posed in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr Day. Participants considered the following questions: 

Growing up, who did you look up to? Who did you want to emulate?

12043004_10207648467592224_2677489989962293178_nGrowing up, I wanted to emulate my mother. She had such amazing style and strength. She grew up in the segregated South, the daughter of an interracial couple (a black mother and a white father). She was always involved in our community, speaking out on issues, and taking a stand.

– Rev. Yvette Blair Lavallais, Associate Pastor: St. Luke’s Community UMC, Dallas, Texas

Years ago my uncle, who was a history teacher at Evanston Township high school, had a picture of Dr. King on his wall. And there was a snippet of a quote. “The time is always ripe to do right”…For years that line always stayed in my soul, even when I didn’t really know what it meant. I looked up to my uncle. I would often help him organize all of his classroom papers. He would talk to me about black history. I was always fascinated with the “Eyes on the Prize” series. That’s where I really began to understand the struggle of Africa Americans in America.

– Rev. Marlan Branch, Pastor: River of Life AME Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin


I looked up to my grandmother, because I thought she was the funniest, hardest working, craziest
person ever and all these people that would come to her house or we would run into somewhere genuinely loved her, so I wanted to be her.

-Makayla Burnham, Student Leader: The Wesley Foundation of Wichita Falls, Texas

Definitely my father. He taught me to be proud of who I am as a black man, to work hard, and get an education so that I would not be overlooked for promising opportunities. One of the most valuable lessons learned from my dad was that as a black man in America, I always needed to work twice as hard just to be somewhat equal to my white counterparts; and three times harder to get ahead. But his Christian example in our home and his savvy business sense is why I will always seek to emulate my dad.

-Dr. Kevin Murriel, Senior Pastor: Cliftondale UMC, College Park, Georgia

Growing up, I most wanted to emulate my mother. She showed incredible strength in difficult situations — most notable being a single mother to five girls. No matter what obstacle came her way, she had the strength to overcome it. She was a praying woman and before most people knew anything about a “War Room” my mother had dedicated one room in our house to prayer. I wanted to be like her, a woman of strength and prayer.

-Rev. Karen Bates, MDiv: Alabaster Box Ministry Services, Bowie, Maryland

What is your first memory of the name “Dr. King”?

Because I’m from a rural and conservative hometown in south central Pennsylvania, it was rare to learn about black men and women who were whitewashed from our textbooks outside of home or church. So my first lessons about the Civil Rights Movement and the men and women who led it like Martin Luther King, Clarence Mitchell, Thurgood Marshall, Daisy Bates, Rosa Parks, Joseph DeLaine and so many others were from my Grandmother and Mother. They demanded that I emulate these men and women and commit my life for justice as well. Because of their model I continue to work to establish and maintain a nonviolent culture on the streets of Rochester, New York where I serve.

– Rev. James C. Simmons, Senior Pastor: Baber AME Church, Rochester, New York

I don’t remember the year that I first learned about Dr. King, but I do remember the story that surrounded the introduction. I vividly recall the time my dad, a United Methodist pastor, told me about his first time being confronted with “Whites Only” drinking fountains and rest rooms while on a road trip during his years at Wesley Theological Seminary. The year was 1961 and my dad was returning to Washington, DC from spring break in Florida when he stopped at a gas station to use the restroom. Appalled at the condition of the restroom, my dad complained to the service attendant. “That restroom is a mess,” he reported. “It is?” replied the attendant. “Oh, you went in the wrong restroom. That is for ‘Colored People.’ You were supposed to go into the ‘Whites Only’ restroom.”
Raised as a farm boy in rural Pennsylvania, my dad had never been exposed to “Colored Only” restrooms or “Whites Only” water fountains. My dad’s traveling companion from seminary counseled my dad to just get back in the car and forget about the ugly experience. No such luck. In no uncertain terms, my dad made it clear to the attendant that the conditions of the restrooms were inexcusable and that the restrooms should be open to all men. My dad’s scolding may have only had a temporary effect on the attendant who grew up in a segregated culture, but that lesson was etched deeply into my soul.

– Steve Beard, Editor-in-Chief: Good News magazine

My first memory of the name Dr. King was from a movie that’s called, “Our friend, Martin” and I thought the man speaking gave great speeches – but I also thought at a young age, from that movie, that Dr.King really liked walking!

– Makayla Burnham

My earliest memory of Dr. King is when I was four years old attending preschool at Bethel AME. I was born the year after King was assassinated. Our church wanted to make sure we knew who King was and what he stood for. Back then, TV went “off” every night around 11pm and each station would play excerpts from Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

Rev. Yvette Blair Lavallais

My first memory of the name Dr. King was in church. Each year we had to recite a speech during Black History Month and our Sunday school teachers made sure we knew about the significant contributions of Dr. King and others to American history. Church taught us things about the Civil Rights Movement and its heroes that our school system never took the time to teach us.

– Dr. Kevin Murriel

If you could do one thing in the next year to impact national and international race relations, what would it be?

The one area of national race relations that I hope to impact this year is helping people 1782069_10153918979655227_1263907353_n-e1453009834806understand that Black Live Matters is not about race, but about justice. Until all lives are given the same value, there is an inequality that exists in this nation and it must be addressed. We have to understand that it is a continuation of the work of Dr. King and a reminder that all men are created equal. Until the scales of justice balance, there is work to do.

-Rev. Karen Bates

53332cb999737-e1453007420315-198x300If there was one area of national or international race relations I could directly impact this year, it would be the attitude of evangelical Christians towards immigrants and refugees. My feeling is that much of the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments that came from many Christians this past year (especially in Facebook posts!) finds its origin in racism. While many of these Christians claim they just want to keep America safe, ironically the best thing they could do to make America safe is by showing love to our “enemies” (people different than us). I love this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” If Americans were to feed, clothe, and educate Muslims around the world, it would be a lot harder for IS to recruit them to harm Americans!

– Rev. Daniel Szombathy, Senior Pastor: Journey Church, Robinson, Illinois

One area of race relations that I probably could impact this year would be awareness of any individual’s culture, religion, or background, so there’s a level of accountability to respect another person’s history.

-Makayla Burnham

One area of race relations that I’d like to directly impact is the disparity in our educational system. Hispanic and African American students in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods often are not exposed to the same textbooks, learning opportunities, and academic information as their white counterparts. Just because children are on the free or reduced lunch program does not mean they should be treated with reduced learning opportunities. I’d like to see intentional investment in the academic excellence of all students regardless to race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

– Rev. Yvette Blair Lavallais

“The time is always ripe to do right” – that quote is really where I wish I could get people to be10690057_839949949404074_8828975281184360831_n-259x300gin to work out, especially in race relations: there are so many on both sides who know the truth but for whatever reason choose to stay silent and not speak. I dream for the Beloved community, the community that King began to speak of right before his death. We will not heal as a people until we believe that we are all God’s creation, equal in potential and promise and presence.

– Rev. Marlan Branch

There are many areas of concern, but I truly want to help the Church better understand its role in racial reconciliation. The Church should be leading the effort towards greater race relations. It is the prophetic voice of the Christian collective that has the power to transform the world following the example of Christ. My personal mission and commitment is to keep this perspective in front of the people of God in hopes that our culture of racism and prejudice will change as the Church stands for what is righteous.

-Dr. Kevin Murriel

Cole Bodkin ~ Christian Love: I Forgive You

Many emotions welled up within me as I heard the news of the recent tragedy break. But the one that unexpectedly stood out was awe.

Awe? How can you feel a sense of awe after hearing the news of such a heinous and horrendous act of racial dehumanization?

Because my brothers and sisters at Emmanuel AME loved their neighbor. Furthermore, they loved their enemy. Let that sink in for a moment. What could have possibly been going on in their minds when this 21-year-old white guy walked into their midst? Whatever it may be (it’s all speculation), their actions spoke loud and clear. We do not know all the details of what transpired in that sanctuary, but what we do know is that that small group invited a suspicious white male to join them in studying God’s Word, and most likely to pray with them. They welcomed a person from a different background and a different race to experience the Lord.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

They were with him for at least an hour before he opened fire. An hour. Most violent acts happen in a matter of seconds, but he didn’t bust open the door and unleash hell immediately. It took time. Maybe he was stalled, because he came into the presence of the living Lord through the body of Christ. They spent time with him, because love involves both presence and time.

Roof admitted that he almost didn’t go through with it because of how nice they were to him.

Love is patient, love is kind.

As usual, most of the media is focusing on the bad news: an awful hate crime. Or they’ll eventually excuse it by reducing it to a mental disorder.

What if we go further with it and stare it in the face? Racism is an extension of evil and sin. And let’s go even further: this wasn’t just an act against African Americans, but this was also an act against the Lord Jesus Christ and his people. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Rev. Daniel Simmons, and Myra Thompson aren’t only victims of a hate crime. They were also martyrs. They were bold and faithful witnesses to the Lord unto the end. They became the gospel in flesh and blood. They took seriously the vocation of picking up their crosses and following Jesus. I’m in awe and honored to be a sibling in Christ to these men and women.

And now we have seen videos of the families who are forgiving Dylann Roof.

That’s right. They have the power to forgive or retain his sin, and they’ve chosen the former.

Forgive sins and they are forgiven. Retain sins and they will be retained.

Let’s remember the faithfulness of these brothers and sisters, their willingness to embody the love of Jesus Christ, and their example of how to be a testimony to Christ in the 21st century.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Imagining Identity: When a Group Is Haunted by Suffering

The media photographer clicked at just the right moment.

The woman’s face is crumpled, crying out, grieving.

In fact, the use of the picture almost feels…voyeuristic.

How long will morning news shows play subdued tones, proclaiming the latest tragedy, in this case, “Special Edition: Charleston” in a way that reminds us all that every news outlet is for-profit?

The photo of the suffering black woman is an image of real emotional distress. She’s a flesh and blood person with stacks of mail and dishes.

What if imagery like this, artfully captured, reinforces a subtly subversive long-running narrative, though?

Your identity is suffering. You were made to bear the pain of your own existence.

In fact, the past couple of hundred years has held a great deal of suffering for Africans handcuffed on chains, taken to foreign soil, separated from their families, sold on auction blocks, beaten, raped, and forced to slave labor, separated from their husbands, wives, and children again, called “free” by a president but not bounty hunters, finally free but sometimes still despised, still told they weren’t good enough for water fountains or toilets or cafe counters.

And it’s my subjective view, only my personal response – you may perceive it differently than I do – but the news program’s profiteering use of this photo felt almost like the dynamic of a man muttering to his bruised wife, “this is all you’ll ever deserve. Don’t think you can do better than me.”

So a few thoughts today while our African Methodist Episcopal brothers and sisters try to regroup (Wesleyan Accent is proud to feature pieces from AME Zion voices like Dominique A. Robinson, Kelcy Steele and Otis McMillan).

The best photos the media can share during a crisis like the death of nine people in a church are the pictures of held hands, heads bowed: the images of prayer, unity, solidarity – the pieces of interviews like the one in which a woman affirmed, “in the midst of this, we want peace, we are for peace;” images that communicate a positive identity of community, resilience, peace, and worship. The photos are there if they’ll choose to use them. The media can carefully avoid crafting the narrative that it is the black community’s lot in life to suffer.

It seems 2015 is a bloody year for Christians. When I read a story about Christians gathered for a prayer and Bible study shot in cold blood, my mind races back to the men kneeling on the sand, waves sliding in and out, crying out to Jesus as their heads are cut off or they’re shot execution-style. Do not think for an instant that the evil that pulls the trigger in a Bible study at a black church is different than the evil that drives ISIS recruits to kill Christians; it is the same evil. Christians died worshiping.

It seems 2015 is the year that Wesleyan Methodist pastors and congregations need to drive across town, step across thresholds, and partner together for special shared services, projects, and worship. Nazarenes need to know where the restrooms are in A.M.E. Zion church buildings. United Methodist clergy need to know the names of local Free Methodist pastors. C.M.E. pastors need to know their way around the Wesleyan church’s website. The atmosphere of our world has changed. We have different histories, different traditions, different ways of worshiping. It doesn’t matter. We are a unique part of the Body of Christ. It’s time to pick up the phone.

“See how they love one another…”

Bishop Sarah Davis ~ Attitudes in Need of Adjustment

Today, in Houston, Texas, friends and family of Bishop Sarah Frances Davis are gathered in sorrow, thanksgiving and joy. They are gathered in sorrow, because they are mourning the loss of a sister in Christ. They are gathered in thanksgiving, to celebrate a life well-lived, and they are gathered in joy, confidently proclaiming the truth that Jesus Christ has overcome the power of sin and death. At Wesleyan Accent, we join them in that sorrow, thanksgiving and joy.

Sarah Davis was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Earlier this year, she preached the following ordination sermon.

Today is special for each of you:

Candidates, you are called to reflect on your commitment to the awesome call of God on your lives and the responsibilities that come with that call.

We the Church (the body of Christ) come face to face with the awesome “speak now or forever hold your tongue” option that lies before these whom this Annual Conference has elected and now with the imposition of the Bishop’s hand will move from laity to clergy in our church.

And others still will have seven hands laid on them and will receive the final and highest ordained position our church has to offer.

Listen to the Word of God in Philippians 2:1-8:

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. (The Message)

I want to also share with you our text from the New International Version. Listen again to the Word of God:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Evangelical Christian pastor, radio teacher, and author Chuck Swindoll suggests that our “attitude is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. Your attitude is more important than your appearance, your giftedness or your skill. Your attitude will make or break a Fortune 500 company or a Mega and Minor church. Your attitude will break-up a home and a marriage.”

Dr. Swindoll reminds us, however, that the remarkable thing is that “we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.” We cannot change our past – we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. Each of us is the author and completer of our “Attitudes”.

We are in charge of our attitudes!

You and I are in charge of the attitude we will live out. What will that be? What attitude are you most comfortable with? Have you ever thought about this choice that you have in this way? What attitude does God expect us to pursue and execute?

Let’s consider our text:

When Paul was a prisoner of Nero in Rome he wrote to a very mature audience in the Roman colony at Philippi about how they could advance in the spiritual life. This letter of encouragement and love is not at all like the harsh letters to the Corinthians.

Paul wants the Philippian Church to continue maturing in the Lord and thus describes in these first four verses of our text what “occupation” with Christ looks like in the life of a disciple believer:

When you are totally occupied with Christ, then Christ is your focus; here in Christ is your place of solace; in Christ is your hope; in Christ is your joy; in Christ is your happiness because whatever you need, you trust Christ to provide.

Candidates you are going to need to master this “occupation with Christ” more and more on your journey now, for the distractions are many: in the Church and out of the Church. Doing what pleases Christ must be your reason for being.

No longer is simply memorizing Scripture enough, when you become occupied with Christ the goal becomes the study of the doctrine of Scripture and the application of the doctrine in your living. You must desire that your life testifies to what Scripture teaches.

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ – and you must; if you have any comfort from Christ’s love – and you do; if you have any fellowship with the Spirit of God – and you do; if you have any tenderness and compassion – and you do; THEN, Paul says, make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. And if you really would admit it, you cannot help yourself to do this for the fruit of the Spirit gives birth to these things.

Our only response to doctrine is to think the same things – to have a divine viewpoint. You see the Divine viewpoint is void of human thinking and contentious motivations; and ambitious pride. A divine viewpoint keeps us from thinking of ourselves higher than we ought and causes us to take interest in others.

In verse five Paul gives the request, which we offer today – not just to the ordinands, but to every believer within the sound of my voice this morning.

LET YOUR ATTITUDE be the same as that of Christ Jesus!

As I come this morning I want you to remember that the journey you are on is not one with many rulebooks. You have just ONE! And if you master this one book, the other guidelines on the journey will be easy. That rulebook is the Bible, the Word of God.

There perhaps already are many models in ministry you have been watching and deciding you want to emulate; there are perhaps mentors and mothers and fathers in ministry whom you have decided are the patterns you will cut your ministry by. Well, my dear friends let me caution you that greatest model for ministry is Jesus the Christ! Master his model of ministry and you will never be disappointed and neither will you disappoint others.

You see beloved, the ministry journey before you today, offers no sure things, has walking beside you “no perfect people,” provides “no absolutes” nor “right sounds.”

There are no hook ups with “The Right Reverend Father or Mother in God” or with “The Reverend Dr.” which can get you where God has purposed that you go. There are no “do it this way and you’ll have nothing to worry about” recipes on this ministry journey.

But what does lie ahead as you may have already discovered is the reality of Paradox. Paul says in our text today:

“In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others…In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus”

And yet before you rise from your knees as Itinerant Deacons or Itinerant Elders in this service you will be instructed to “Take Thou Authority.” Once you rise from your knees in this service you will find yourself in a place with authority that others who are not ordained lack; once you rise from your knees in this service you will occupy a place of privilege in the clerical power structure; you will, depending on what you do in ministry, have opportunity to cast visions, lead, teach, and in some cases discipline.

Yet, you are to have the same mindset as Christ who, Paul tells us, “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant. Being made in human likeness.” What? Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, took on the very nature of a servant? Is this not a paradox?

Let’s see: a paradox is where two things seem to be opposite, but you know they are both true.

It’s a tension, a contradiction, a mystery.

It’s the fact that too many cooks spoil the broth, but at the same time, many hands make light work.

It’s the truth that he who hesitates is lost, but only a fool wouldn’t look before he leaps.

There are plenty of paradoxes in Christian ministry, and they keep those with the responsibility of serving God’s people in a healthy state of confusion.

Many of us would love to have the rules set down in black and white, where 1 + 1 = 2 and there are formulae we can apply to get gospel work done. But God, in his wisdom, made the matter of serving him a far more humbling affair.

Listen to Jesus in Luke 22 as he addresses His disciples when there was distraction at the table:

Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It’s not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant. Who would you rather be: the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner? You’d rather eat and be served, right? But I’ve taken my place among you as the one who serves.

Or – hear the word of God in John 13:

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.

And Jesus Himself tells us:

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. If anyone wants to be first, let him be last of all and servant of all. (Mark 9:35)

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. (Mark 10:43-44)

These statements are echoed throughout the gospels as clear teaching to the community of followers.

The ways of the world are not the ways of God’s kingdom. Power and status are not important. Paradoxically, greatness in the kingdom of God comes through letting go of status and being willing to serve, to receive everyone for their own sake, as we would receive Jesus.

Yes, the paradoxes of ministry require daily and constant attitude adjustments.

Actively decide to adopt the same mindset that Jesus had. Specifically the one he showed when he chose not to cling to his divine privileges but took on instead, the form of a servant and poured himself out as an offering for us.

Isn’t this what Jesus meant when he himself taught: “if any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Isn’t that what it means for you and me to be disciples?

Don’t take your self so seriously that you lose sight of who really is in charge of your life and your ministry; who really is in charge of the flock which the Lord will send you on Sunday by appointment of your Bishop.

Don’t lose sight of who really is in charge of the ministry group you have given birth to; or who really is in charge of moving you up and out; or who really is in charge of providing what you need when you need it!

Can you do it? Certainly. But not before you completely understand and appreciate experientially what “the mind of Christ” – his kind of attitude – was toward us.

When we understand the true significance of Bethlehem, when we truly understand Good Friday, then and only then can we throw up our hands and declare, ”All to Jesus I surrender. All to him I owe!”

Then and only then will nothing remain in our lives that we count as a thing to be grasped (held on to)!

Stop holding on so tightly to your property, your family, your special child, your health, pride, dignity, reputation, congregations, church buildings, positions in Annual Conferences, jobs, protocol, your seniority and even life itself.

Only when we can empty ourselves of any of these “things,” can we serve the one who gave himself for us or serve his people.

To have the same attitude of Christ is to be able to wear these things loosely – to be able to let them go – to be able to be happy without the crowd or the accolades or the big assignments or places of distinction.

The reality of our grasping! Our “holding on to” has to do with our not giving it up in principle, in advance. We can only not “cling to” anything when we have already given it up in principle, in deciding to yield to the Lord.

We preach it, we teach the theory: “It is the Lord’s not ours to be used for his glory and disposed of at his convenience.” But we do not yet live it! We as disciples of the Lord must be willing to “die to self.” That is not how we naturally think, but that is how we must think.

This is a high calling! How can we do it? How can we let go? How can we not desire to hold on to what is God’s? How can we empty our minds and hearts so that we are desiring what He desires? How could He let it all go?

Maximally concentrate on Christ! We must learn how to “love the Lord our God with all our heart souls and mind” His love for us was the overriding power that motivated Him to give it all up for us. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son; and having loved His own, He loved them to the end.

Secondly, we must become supremely confident and secure in the love of God for us. We cling and grasp because we do not feel secure with God’s control! Jesus trusted the Father with His life and His glory! From the manger to the cross, his prayer was “Thy will, not mine be done.”

My Bible says that this same God did not let corruption overtake our Lord, but exalted Him and gave Him a name that is above every name. We are called to the same radical faith and trust because we have the same Father, and therefore we may believe that if we submit ourselves under His right hand, He too will exalt us in due time.

Actively decide to adopt the same mindset that Jesus had. Let the attitude of Jesus Christ be your attitude.

Take thou authority! Over your attitude!

Candidates for ordination: today is your day, the beginning of many things to come as you are entrusted as God’s mouthpiece for the church, your community and the world. You need to decide now that you will undertake an attitude adjustment:

To walk in humility as you serve.

To love the unlovable and pursue unity in the Body of Christ.

To let go of selfish ambition and vain conceit.

To believe that every appointment you receive had to go by God for His stamp of approval before it could get to you.

Take on the attitude of Christ! Block out the lies being sent to make you believe that:

You’re not old enough for where God has shown you He’s taking you.

You’re not experienced enough for the church and the flock He’s giving you.

You’ve not been in here long enough for the responsibility that’s just been put under your supervision.

Attitude adjustment time!

Believe that you can lay hands on the sick and they will recover. Believe that with God all things are possible.

 Attitude adjustment time!

Know and believe that you cannot allow any relationship to get in the way of your God relationship.

Attitude adjustment time!

Be in unity with the Spirit. Keep the focus off of self and focus on others.

Let your attitude be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

Candidates for ordination, if you will adjust your attitudes I promise you that you will get to know joy and have peace as you travel the paradoxical roads of ministry. You will be able to:

Preach the Word – in season, out of season – when others want to hear and when they won’t.

Preach when they shout and when they don’t.

Preach truth – wait on the Holy Ghost for your power – power is in the Holy Spirit’s leading, not in your position, your title; your associates, your membership, your church address, or your name.

Servant of God – the servant “called out” from among other servants. God wants you to lead his people, teach his people, serve his people.

Take thou authority to give time and energy to your ministry, even when no one may notice your sacrifice or give you compensation.

Take thou authority to nurture your spiritual person which comes from reading and meditating on the Scriptures.

Take thou authority to apply yourselves wholly to this “one thing” PRAY to God the Father for the heavenly assistance of the Holy Ghost – that you may grow stronger in your ministry

Take thou authority to actively pursue the attitude of Christ in all you do.

Let us pray:

Holy Father, the noise around us tends to drown out the voice of the Holy Spirit you have sent to guide and comfort us. Make us sensitive to your calling, as we take moments from the hurriedness of our lives.

Sometimes we get all caught up in our personal successes and enjoy the hearing of our name and the calling out of our titles. Remind us daily Lord, that if we choose to walk in our own way, led in our own thinking, then we will become self-centered and insensitive. Bring us back Lord to the mind of Christ.

Lord remind us that if we will take on Your mind we will be fulfilled by living for others and You; we will grow up in Your counsel. We will receive instruction from the Word of Life and gain strength from You to do right.

Convict us Lord to know that we cannot walk in two opinions. Convict us to take on Your Mind. Convict by your Spirit; give us boldness and courage Lord, to take thou authority to have the attitude of Christ Jesus!

In Jesus name, AMEN.