A sacred calling in a Holy Land

7/25/2011

"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."—John 15:11

By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.

Whenever I am able to do something that brings a smile or laugh, or provides some small measure of joy or happiness to someone, I feel I have met a need God has put before me. I will even say I believe that’s a key role for which God sends us out here on this earth—to enrich the lives of others.

The principle is simple: As we seek to be a positive, measurable impact through offering goodwill to another person, God in return gives us an intangible that is priceless. God extends to us significance and meaning for our own lives!

That’s the reason we expend ourselves in reaching out to others; it’s why we undertake missions and ministry at home and abroad.

It’s why we continue to give our best, because we believe that as Christians our best ultimately will change the world.

That belief motivates us to give the cup of cool water to a thirsty child, feed a hungry man, paint a house or build a wheelchair ramp for a needy widow, provide eyeglasses so a person with limited sight can see clearly at last, sit down to share a book with a child who wants to learn how to read.

If you know that feeling, you know what I’m talking about today.

Nothing less than the joy that Christ gives us allows us to extend our caring to the next person, and then that blessed joy grows within us when we sense we accomplish what God has sent us to do.

Such was my feeling when I looked into the faces of the 40 clergy and spouses who traveled with me to Israel earlier this month. My joy was made complete through their joy in that spiritual journey.

Simply stated, it was one of the greatest feelings I have had in my 42 years of ministry.

To help you understand the emotional impact on your bishop, I must describe what I brought back from my first trip to the Holy Land—just last year.

After that visit to this fascinating place, the treasured central earthly location of our Christian faith, I vowed I would do everything within my power to enable recently ordained and commissioned clergy to see for themselves what I saw and I felt.

Being in Israel changed my life, and I felt firsthand experience would do the same for them.

But would anyone want to go? The answer to that question came quickly, as more than 50 people inquired after I announced my goal.

My second concern: How will we pay for this trip? I knew expenses likely were beyond the reach of entry-level clergy, newly serving in the appointment system.

So I began researching the expenses for such a trip. Airlines kept revising cost figures, but I was not deterred from my goal. And when a total price was secured, my next step was to ask the congregations served by these newly ordained pastors to assist with their expenses.

Their response was overwhelming! Not only did Finance and Staff-Parish Relations Committees within these churches step up to help, but also parents, relatives, and friends contributed. Contributions even came from churches without a participating pastor! With the help of The Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation as well, my dream of a transformative trip became reality.

For 11 days we walked the dusty trails and saw the sights where Jesus performed his ministry. At the end of our pilgrimage, one traveler with a pedometer noted that we walked nearly 50 miles.

We stood on the Mount of Olives, walked down to the Kidron Valley, and strolled in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was arrested. We sailed the Sea of Galilee on a still, quiet morning. We stood looking over an ancient crucifixion site that resembles a "skull"—the possible location where Jesus died.

We prayed at the Wailing Wall and shared Holy Communion near an empty grave at the Garden Tomb. In the Jordan River, we remembered and gave thanks for our baptism.

Each morning as we headed out on our bus, I shared a Scripture and prayer. And at the close of each extensive day, together we processed what we had seen and another member of our group led us in meditative worship.

Our spirits soared; our physical bodies worked hard to keep up; our minds sought to comprehend it all. And our hearts were overwhelmed with the significance of what we touched, smelled, tasted, and heard.

The experience emptied us and filled us up again. We truly became one body with 41 different parts, realizing throughout this trip that we would not return home the same as when we left.

And on our final night, my joy was complete. The spiritual elation I experienced the prior year had become theirs. My desire to pass my joy to the next generation of pastors was now fulfilled.

In the timeless passage of John 15, Jesus talks about the vine and the branches. We are reminded that Jesus is the vine and God is the vinedresser. Christ urges us to "abide in Him" for, when we do, we experience the joy that comes from a consistent relationship with the Lord of our lives.

And when we give our joy away so others may benefit, we are made full and complete.

I thank all those who helped make this trip possible. To the Finance chairpersons and Staff-Parish leaders, to all the members of those churches who supported these travelers with funding, I express my sincere gratitude. To the parents and relatives who played important roles in making this trip possible through your generous contributions, I say thank you. To Bill Junk of The Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation: Know the investment you made in the future of our Conference is incalculable! To all of you who prayed for us and allowed your sons, daughters, and pastors to journey with me, I will forever be in your debt.

This article ends with a parting benediction. I want to say to you all: "Go now, and may the joy that Christ gives you be the joy that you give to someone else. Only then will it be made full and complete."


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