What have we done with God's gifts?
"For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance." -Matthew 25:29
By BISHOP ROBERT E. HAYES JR.
In just a few weeks, the gavel will sound and the 164th session of our Annual Conference will begin. Think on that: 164 years have passed since the organization of Methodism in Oklahoma.
Long before the land runs of 1889 and statehood in 1907, the Methodist movement was making disciples of Jesus Christ in what was commonly known as "Indian territory." Circuit riders crisscrossed the region, establishing a Methodist presence everywhere they went.
Just outside Tahlequah, a mission church was created in 1844. It was named Riley's Chapel, and it later gave birth to the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (OIMC). The oldest known established church of the Oklahoma Conference began at Tishomingo.
From Kenton (in the Oklahoma Panhandle) to Idabel, the Methodist movement in Oklahoma can trace deep roots and a rich heritage to places and times that few organizations can claim.
Our unique history and valued traditions make each Annual Conference special. Our yearly gatherings tell the stories of our journey, a trek that dates back to the beginning of the westward expansion of our great nation.
Today, 540 churches later, with membership of more than 240,000 people, we can truly say God has blessed us. In turn, I ask this question: "Have we blessed God?"
Have we been good stewards of the abundant resources supplied by God to the Oklahoma Conference? Have we done our best to make and prepare disciples for the next 160-plus years?
Neatly tucked away in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, is the story of the talents. In that story, each person received something of value; they had done nothing to earn or merit their gifts. They were expected to invest their gifts wisely while their master was away.
When the master returned, the two people who were given the most talents had doubled what they received. The one with the least had done nothing with his gift, and it was taken away from him.
When you look at what God has given us in Oklahoma Conference, you will discover generous and amazing resources, far more than all of us could ask or imagine. Our ministries and programs are among the most outstanding in the denomination. The people who fill our pews each week and the pastors who stand behind the pulpits are among the most exceptional leaders anywhere.
A casual observer would easily conclude that we are very fortunate to be in this position. However, God is not a casual observer.
God is not impressed with how much we have, but with how well we use what is given to us! Simply put, when God blesses us with bountiful resources and tremendous gifts, we please God by using those gifts to bless others.
In his book "At the End of the Day, How Will You Be Remembered," Jim Moore tells a story of an Indian tribe in Mississippi. The tribe lived beside a swift, dangerous river. If someone fell in, the water's strong current would likely sweep the victim to death downstream.
One day another tribe attacked. The defenders found themselves backed up against the treacherous river. They were greatly outnumbered. Their only chance for escape was to cross through that current. Such a crossing would surely mean death for the children, the elderly, the weak, ill, injured, and likely many of the strong.
The leaders of the tribe devised a plan.
The logical thing, the reasonable thing, the expedient thing, the sensible thing was to leave the weak behind. That was the rational solution-but they could not do it.
Instead, they chose to be extravagant in their generosity. They decided the strong would pick up the weaker ones and put them on their shoulders. Thus the young children, the elderly, and those ill or wounded were carried on the backs of the stronger tribe members.
With great fear, they waded into the rapid water-and they were greatly surprised.
To their astonishment, they discovered the weight on their shoulders enabled them to keep their footing through the treacherous current. They reached safety across the river. Their extravagant generosity saved them.
What they did was not the reasonable thing to do, but it was the right thing to do.
Strong in Christ
The Oklahoma Conference is strong and blessed, and it is our responsibility to carry on our shoulders all those who find themselves unable to navigate the turbulent waters of life.
This is our reason for being, and the generosity we show in achieving our mission will determine how much God will bless us in the future.
Have we been good stewards of God's gifts? Have we been extravagant in our generosity to others?
The answers to these and other questions will be the reason we gather at St. Luke's United Methodist Church and Oklahoma City University, beginning Sunday, May 27.We will again tell stories of who we are as United Methodists and how we have used the resources God has given to us.
It will be an exciting time, and I hope every United Methodist will participate through your prayers or your presence as a delegate.
Our theme will be "Disciples: Called to serve, set apart in truth, sent in love." The Scripture text is from John 17:18 and relates to Jesus sending his followers to make disciples throughout the world.
To underscore our theme, 100 percent of the Annual Conference offering will go to missions. Unlike in previous years, the cost of the conference will be paid for with budget monies. All the monetary gifts collected that week will go to two causes.
A choir from Africa University will be present with us that week. Half of what we collect will support that university, the only such United Methodist facility on that continent. The other portion of the donations will go to the "Nothing But Nets" campaign, a malaria eradication program in Africa that is being advanced by our denomination. A $10 gift will buy a treated sleeping net and in turn save lives. Each local church has an opportunity to participate by sending a special offering with your delegates.
Oklahoma, what have we done with God's gifts? Indeed, God has blessed us. But have we blessed God? I can't wait to hear the stories of blessings at Annual Conference!