Preachers feed the crowd

The 2017 Michigan Annual Conference officially got underway at 10 am on June 1 with Opening Worship. It was the first time the Detroit and West Michigan conferences celebrated a joint Service of Memorial and Remembrance.~ mic photo/Hannah Hazen

The 2017 Annual Conference heard “an abundance of sermons on abundance.”

Senior Editor-Writer

The story is told in each of the four gospels … the story of the Feeding of the Multitude. And that story was told by each of the three Conference preachers: Bishop David Bard on Thursday; Rev. Eric Mulanda on Friday; and Rev. Zack Dunlap on Saturday.

It was the first time for the Bishop to address the full Annual Conference since his appointment to Michigan last September. Eric Mulanda, a native of DR Congo and graduate of Africa University, serves as the Associate Pastor at Lansing: Mt. Hope UMC. Zack Dunlap is the Planting Pastor of Berkley First, the new mutli-site campus of Birmingham First United Methodist Church.

Here are summaries of their messages with links to the full sermon manuscripts.

Thursday, June 1: Bishop Bard – Your bishop is a basket case

The Opening Worship began remembering pastors, spouses and laity who died since members last met. This was the first time that the Memorial Services of the Detroit and West Michigan conferences were celebrated together, made visible on stage through the weaving of individual cloth strips into a tapestry of memory and love.

There was time to acknowledge that the 2017 Annual Conference represents a “new day” for United Methodists in the state, with elements of both anticipation and apprehension. Members had opportunity to express “what-ifs” on cards collected at the close.

Bishop Bard brought a breath of grace into the hall with his remarks, which began, “This is the first time I get to stand before all of you gathered in one place together. And you’re all looking pretty good!” He then introduced a motif for the Conference, “We will talk a lot about baskets this week.” From there he began a commentary on the Mark’s account of the Feeding of the 5,000. “Jesus’ disciples are anxious, starved, scared basket cases, concerned over scarcity and the sense of lacking.”

Then Jesus asks the question of the disciples, who were stymied over feeding the crowd– “What do you have?” From there, “The disciples become baskets of grace, broken open, blessed by Jesus … The compassion of Jesus is contagious.” Bishop Bard encouraged individuals and churches to become baskets of-and-for grace, “people in whose presence others find space to grow … joy … generosity … curiosity … responsibility.”

The bishop concluded with the confident hope that the new Michigan Conference will itself be a basket of-and-for grace.” Why? Because the world needs grace in abundance. A final prayer before the Service of Holy Communion: “A Tisket, a Tasket, God make of us a basket. If I’m going to be a basket case, that’s the kind of basket case I want to be.”

Click here for the sermon manuscript.

Friday, June 2: Rev. Eric Mulanda –What do you have?

Conference members learned a little bit of Swahili on Friday morning, taught them by the preacher of the day, Rev. Eric Mulanda: Sifu Mungu! (Praise God!) He began by thanking the West Michigan Conference for their support in his theological training (G-ETS). “I stand here today as your brother in Christ,” he said.

Out of his personal experience as an agriculturalist in Zimbabwe and four passages of scripture, Eric proclaimed: “In order for us to gather up the abundance, we are called to use what we have.” From John’s account of the Feeding of the 5,000, Eric commented: “The disciples could miss the miracles. They had a habit of sending people away.” Then he asked, “How long are we going to send people away?

And from the story told in Acts of Peter and John encountering the crippled man at the gate: “All that they have is the Name of Jesus and the man rises up and walks. What do we have? We have Jesus Christ in us. With him we are rich.”

Pondering a story from 2 Kings of Elisha and the widow, Eric asserted, “Let’s come together as a conference and ask, ‘What do we have that God can start the miracles? Are we ready to use what we’ve got?’”

Click here for the sermon manuscript.

Saturday, June 3: Rev. Zack Dunlap – With God, enough is abundance

“We are hearing an abundance of sermons on abundance this week,” Rev. Zack Dunlap observed. He then inspired members with his reflections, “With God, Enough is Abundance,” based on a “scripture merger” of all four gospels. Zack focused on Christ’s admonition, “You feed them,” and the disciples’ reply, “How far will this go?” Then offered a 3-part process for “turning enough into abundance” in personal life, the church, and the community:

  1. You have to give God something to work with. Give God your best. We weren’t called into God’s marvelous light to be terrible.
  2. Pray with reckless abandon like it actually matters. Remember, prayer changes things.
  3. Trust that the God who began a good work in you will carry it out to completion. Jesus knew God transforms enough into abundance if we give God something to work with. Ours is a God of resurrection.

The preacher concluded by saying, “God can bring satisfaction for all with baskets left over.”

Click here for the sermon manuscript.

Sunday, June 4: Bishop David Bard – Because it’s hard

The Service of Ordination and Commissioning is a high point of every Annual Conference session. On Sunday, June 4, 2017, The Michigan Area:

  • commissioned one person for work of the Deacon;
  • commissioned five persons for work of the Elder;
  • recognized one person as an Associate Member;
  • recognized seven persons completing Course of Study;
  • ordained four Deacons; and
  • ordained nine Elders.

Bishop David Bard’s sermon, “Because It’s Hard,” harkened back to the experience of the disciples who Jesus sent out two by two, taking “nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts, with sandals but no extra shirt.”

He also reminded those being recognized, ordained and commissioned of the quote of the week from theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: The human story is too grand and awful to be told without reverence for the mystery and majesty that transcends all human knowledge.

The bishop summarized their journey: “You have answered the call to serve and to lead. You’ve answered the call to share bread, to share Word, to offer grace, to call us all to do justice, to order our shared life, to continue the apostolic work begun when Jesus sent out his first disciples to preach and teach and heal.”

He continued, “Something tugged at you …would not let you go” and “you responded, not because it was easy, but because it was hard.” And it’s not getting any easier. “Now seems a particularly challenging time. So many trends are convulsing our world, many of which make ministry for and in the name of Jesus Christ acutely difficult.”

But it IS possible to experience exhilaration rather than exhaustion.

Click here for the sermon manuscript.




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