|By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.
All United Methodist congregations in Oklahoma have the potential to grow and multiply. But some of us operate according to the myth of scarcity.
Author and preacher Jim Moore told the story of a man, driving home after work one summer day, who spotted children selling Kool-Aid at a corner stand. Wanting to encourage the young people, he stopped and rolled down his car window to place his order.
Right away, one child walked up and asked the man if he wanted grape or strawberry flavor. The man picked grape, and he gave the boy a quarter. The child carried the drink to the man in his car, and the man savored every drop, remembering the days when he was young.
But there was a problem. The boy continued standing by the car.
After a few awkward moments, the boy asked, "Are you just about finished?"
The man said, "Well, yes, but why?"
And the child said, "That’s the only cup we have. We need that cup to stay in business."
God’s grace may be overflowing, but all too often we are living as though we have only one small cup.
I have listened intently to the hopes, dreams, anxieties, and concerns of the people of our Conference. Our conversations have taken place in Sunday school classrooms, fellowship halls, parsonages, and parking lots.
I have heard fears expressed by lifelong United Methodists who are worried about the future of our denomination. I have felt the pain of discontinuing congregations and filling out the paperwork for abandoned houses of worship; I have wept with people as they told me their congregations were dying.
On the other hand, I have celebrated with churches observing significant growth events and anniversaries. I have participated in ribbon-cutting ceremonies for congregations as they completed building programs, and I have turned over a lot of dirt for churches that were just beginning to build.
I believe God has given us every gift needed to fulfill God’s purpose for Oklahoma Conference. God is an abundant giver.
The definition of abundance
Preaching at our denomination’s 2008 General Conference, Bishop Mary Ann Swenson noted the Latin root of the word "abundant" is a-b-u-n-d-a-r-e. That root word means to flow, like water in a wave. When combined with the prefix a-b, it means to overflow. Thus, "abundance" means overflowing.
You’ve read the Psalmist’s words: "My cup overflows."
God has blessed us with some of the strongest churches in our denomination, with the most gifted clergy and lay leadership to be found anywhere. I do not buy the assumption that we cannot change the condition in which we find ourselves—because I firmly believe God has poured out everything needed for the mission of the Church.
The key to all of this may be found in the word "cup."
For us, this symbol of the cup, the chalice, is central to our identity as Christians. We are the people who are known by our practice of gathering at the table and lifting the bread and the cup, of remembering this cup as a sign of God’s covenant.
When the cup is empty, its purpose is to be filled. When the cup is full, its purpose is to be emptied. It gives what it receives. It receives so it can be poured out.
Our challenge is to find ways to make that happen.
Going in circles
One day a man walked into a store and asked the clerk for a compass. The clerk responded: "Do you want the kind of compass that goes in circles, or do you want the kind of compass that takes you places?"
My dear friends, we can seek better ways to be effective disciples for Christ in our changing world. I believe we have abundant capacity, many cups of God’s love to pour out, and a compass pointing our way.
Stories of how we are sharing God’s abundance will spill over at the 2009 Annual Conference, in Oklahoma City during the last week of May. Listen for the reports and the testimonies that summarize our presence in so many places, our ministries that affect so many lives. Pay close attention; we are at work in our own cities and towns—and in more than 42 nations.
I am a witness to mighty Pentecostal winds blowing across the Oklahoma plains and hills. The reason for these fresh winds of the Spirit has everything to do with how we are pouring ourselves out to a world that needs to know Jesus Christ.
(This devotion is excerpted from the bishop’s 2008 Episcopal Address. The full speech is published in the 2008 Oklahoma Conference Journal.)