Remembering our promise to God
Bishop Hayes preached the ordination and commissioning sermon.
By BISHOP ROBERT E. HAYES, JR.
The first day I returned to my office following Annual Conference, the mail was stacked high and a great number of messages were sitting next to the telephone awaiting a return call.
As I took my seat behind the desk, I started sifting through the letters slowly, reading one after the other. To my surprise, there were a great number of letters celebrating the success of our conference. Some said the worship services touched them in a special way, while others said the fellowship and the spirit of the conference was unforgettable. In sharing my assessment of the conference, I would have to use the words of my son, Ryan, by saying, "It was all good!"
However, with all of the wonderful experiences of those four days now a fleeting memory, my mind turns to the question all of us should be asking at this point: "What's next?" Or, "Where do we go from here?"
Those are very good questions, and I am so glad you asked. If you would permit me, I am going to answer that question in a peculiar way by sharing with you where we cannot go! And in order for me to do that, I would like to use a beautiful and timeless story of Jacob and his encounter with God.
Too Real to Be a Dream
As we all know, Jacob stumbled upon God one night while sleeping out under the stars. He dreamed he saw a ladder, and the top of it reached to heaven. On the ladder, "angels of God were ascending and descending, and above it stood the Lord of both heaven and earth, saying, 'I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac...behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go,'" (Genesis 28:12_13).
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it!" And before he left the holy ground he slept on, he promised God that he would always serve Him. So that night a bargain was struck.
Well, it did not take long for Jacob to return to his sordid ways. As a matter of fact, Jacob's deceit and lies made things worse, and even his brother, Esau, was in search of him so that he could kill him. It was right about this time that Jacob's life started falling apart. Nothing was going right. Everything was going wrong. Such is the case when we turn our backs on God and forget the promises we have made.
God however does not forget His promises, and neither will He let us forget ours. God brought Jacob's life back into focus by going to him and reminding him of his earlier vow (Genesis 35). He tells Jacob (whose name has now been changed to Israel) to go back to Bethel, to the place where he promised God that he would serve Him as long as he lived.
Jacob does so, and upon arriving, he lived up to the terms of his agreement with God, and consecrated the memorial with wine and oil.
The Meaning and the Message
There is no doubt in my mind that God allowed the Holy Spirit to visit us during our Annual Conference. Even before we arrived the power of the Holy Spirit was present at St. Luke's and at Oklahoma City University. In retrospect, it all seems like a dream now, but in reality, just like Jacob's dream, it was too real to be a figment of our imaginations.
Our experience at Annual Conference came as close to a Pentecost happening as we could possibly get, and if you want to take it a bit further, those four days represented our encounter with the living God who used the Holy Spirit to work with us and through us and in us. It was a special time and place when we were in accord, and we saw visions and dreamed dreams of what our conference can become under the power and guidance of that same Spirit.
Earlier in this article I said I would answer the question of what's next, by sharing with you where we cannot go. In light of all that happened to us at our yearly gathering, we cannot go back to being the same people we were before we arrived. The experiences of our time in Oklahoma City reminded us that we are indeed Easter people, and our former selves were left behind at our own Bethel. When our eyes were opened, we, like Jacob, knew that God was in the places we occupied. Our time together will always stand out in our memories as exceptional, unique, a one of a kind experience. No matter what happens to us down the road, we will always have our own Bethel, our own holy place to remind us of the power of the Holy Spirit, and what can happen when God is present.
And I have said all that to say this: The last words spoken at our Annual Conference were promises made by us to God. This is what the ministers said:
"We willingly offer all we have and are to serve you, as and where you choose."
And this is what the lay delegates said:
"We are the people of God, whose task is to participate in God's mission in the world. With you, we celebrate our gifts for ministry. With you, we face the future with an unshakable hope."
When you sum it all up my brothers and sisters, we promised God that we would serve Him wherever God chooses, and we would celebrate our gifts and face the unknown tomorrows with an unshakable hope. If we ever stray from those promises, I can assure you that God will remind us of our encounter with Him, and will no doubt bring to bear upon us the promises we have made.
In the meantime, we press on and move forward to the next encounter with God, because something tells me that if we remain faithful, committed, and passionate about the work before us, I believe we will experience God and the sway of the Holy Spirit many more times. I promise!