We are at the beginning of a new Annual Conference year, as many of our clergy were re-appointed back to their places of service, while we welcome a few new clergy faces and families to the West District. I pray that over the next twelve months of ministry, the lay and clergy of the West District will not allow the complexities of our current realities to hinder the witness of living our vision of being Willing in our Missional Service and Way-Out in our Witness for Jesus Christ and advancing the mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world.
The 2022 Annual Conference year theme is based on the scriptural text from Matthew 22:36-40, “’Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ He replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.’”.
It seems from Jesus’ response, this is what should be our primary focus as those who profess to be faithful Christ-followers. And yet, while it may be easy to recite, it is often the hardest to be seen practiced. I would suggest the “loving God” part is the least complicated aspect of the commandment, as we engage in our regular spiritual disciplines (prayer, scripture reading, worship attendance, etc.). In these practices, we have an opportunity to fall deeper into an understanding and awareness of the vastness of God and God’s love for humanity. Which is encouraging because it is in response of this understanding about God’s love, that should overflow into our love for neighbor.
What I appreciate about this passage and believe is our challenge, is to understand that love was never meant to be “feel good” but rather, this described love that is being commanded of us, is a love that is consistently actionable; beyond our feelings and biases. To read this passage and live out its message, moves us beyond the aspiration of “I love you, you love me. We’re as happy as can be. With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, Won’t you say you love me too? (Barney the Dinosaur song)” to actively seeking means and finding ways for the message of love to be carried out and brought forth (“…And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, Yeah they’ll know we are Christians by our love”).
In a recent sermon, I asked those listening, if they were willing to pray this dangerous prayer daily, “Lord, give me the courage to love like Jesus?’ I believe, we when begin humbling praying this prayer specifically, we will be able to see all people as people and not problems or projects. To love our neighbors is an intentional act of wanting to build relationships and listen to the ways we can be in collaboration with, rather than trying to reenact being savior for them. I believe we have what we need, the question remains, are we willing to live out this Kin-dom mandate? Are we open for the ways God’s Spirit is calling more from us during this season, which will move us beyond our comforts, knowing we are doing it for the cause of Jesus Christ?
Friends, it is my honor to serve alongside you for another year! So, in this new Annual Conference year, let us join the United Methodist Connection throughout Indiana in being committed to Love God and Love Neighbor…and living the commitment beyond our words, but through our behaviors for all in our communities to see and experience. Perhaps you will join me, as I begin in September, reading the book “The Way of Discernment”, by Elizabeth Liebert, as a means of learning and resourcing.
In Faithful Service for Love of God and Neighbor,
Rev. Dr. Aleze M. Fulbright
Conference Superintendent serving Central and West Districts