Finishing what we've started
"I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will be rewarded according to the labor of each. For we are God's servants working together; you are God's field, God's building."
-I Corinthians 3:6-9 (NIV)
(This is the last in a three-part series of Hayes' reflections, assessments, and hopes for the Oklahoma Conference as he enters his fourth year as bishop of the Oklahoma Area.)
By Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr.
In my travels under assignment as a bishop of The United Methodist Church, one objective has been constant for me these past three years. It has been my desire to be as transparent as possible, to open up myself so you might come to understand-as I have-that all of us are called to serve.
God makes no distinction in regard to titles, status, or special positions when it comes to helping others or making disciples of Jesus Christ. God is not impressed that I am a bishop or that someone else is the chief executive officer or the president of an organization. No! I believe-as did the apostle Paul-that "we are God's servants working together," sharing a common purpose.
To one believer is given the duty of planting; to another, the responsibility of watering. Paul differentiates his and Apollos' roles in a way that both recognizes and honors their differences. But what Paul and Apollos achieved was not as important as the knowledge that God was at work through their various efforts, and, ultimately, there was growth.
When we believers today can concur that only God should get the credit or accolades for our efforts at doing good or outdoing one another in love, I truly believe this world in which we live and the Kingdom we are trying to build will be a finer and fairer place.
The credit must go to God. At the end of the day, isn't that what servanthood is all about?
Jesus taught there are no "reserved" seats in heaven for those who deem themselves important (Matthew 20:20). Paul re-emphasized God will determine any reward to be given.
Our responsibility is to do the work and finish the job God has given us.
Previously in this series, I outlined a few of the projects and pursuits initiated in the past three years:
n The Conference strategic plan;
n The opening of the extension seminary;
n The camps and retreats capital campaign; and
n Establishing a standard of ministerial excellence for our pastors and churches.
We must resolve to bring these tasks to fruition for the good of the Kingdom and for the benefit of the witness of the Conference. Be assured that, as your bishop, I am committed to the opportunities and challenges God has given me here in Oklahoma. There is work to do, and getting recognition for it is my least concern.
On Oct. 20, 1968, in the Mexico City Olympic stadium, Mamo Wold of Ethiopia won the Olympic marathon in almost record time. More time passed, and other competitors crossed the finish line. Night began to fall, and the marathon runners were being assisted away; only a few thousand spectators remained in the arena. Suddenly, they heard police sirens and whistles at the stadium's entrance gate.
Everyone turned to see what was causing the commotion. They saw a lone runner, wearing the colors of Tanzania, limping into the stadium.
His name was John Steven Aquari. He was the last man to finish the marathon in 1968.
Aquari had suffered a bad fall early in the race. His leg was bandaged, bloody, and bruised. He limped painfully around the track, toward the finish line. The crowd rose, cheering for him as he completed the lap.
When Aquari crossed the finish line, a reporter asked him the question many were pondering: "Why didn't you quit? You are badly injured. Why didn't you just give up?"
Despite his utter exhaustion, Aquari answered, "My country didn't send me 7,000 miles to start the race. My country sent me 7,000 miles to finish it!"
Oklahoma United Methodists, that story becomes our marching orders as we move forward!
There are countless spectators watching you and me from the galleries of heaven, standing and cheering us on in our race of life. They comprise that great cloud of witnesses, that communion of saints who planted the seeds we now water. You know their names. They are the generations of people who have gone on before us to God's reward, and the memories of them remind us that we, too, must finish the race. We cannot afford to give up or quit.
I invite you to join me in our common purpose. As we continue our journey together, I pray the growth of God's Kingdom here in Oklahoma will produce fruit that yields a plentiful harvest of disciples for Jesus Christ.
We can settle for no less.
What a tremendous, awesome, mysterious journey this is! Each day, unforeseen possibilities and challenges unfold. I offer to you my witness that God's grace abounds and that God uses us-even us-to accomplish the work of the Church. To God goes my praise and to you deepest gratitude that Dee and I continue to be recipients of your love and Christian hospitality.
The enthusiasm and excitement I felt on my first day as a bishop resounds within me today, too. I am both humbled and privileged to be God's servant to the people of Oklahoma.
Note: The bishop's preaching schedule is posted online at www.okumc.org.