As a new year begins, Bishop David Bard reflects on God’s transforming love for a newer world.
As I write this, the office is officially closed, but I am here finishing up some of the work that I want to get done before the New Year begins. In the quiet, I pause for a few moments, tracing the path on my desktop labyrinth. I take time to reflect, the peacefulness feeling a bit like the quiet at the center of a storm. 2017 has been quite a year, a whirlwind in so many ways. It has been my first full year as your bishop. I presided at my first annual conference with you, ordained and commissioned the first persons I will ever ordain or commission. I preached at licensing school graduation. I worked with others to make staffing decisions, decisions that challenged me not because we lacked good candidates but because we are blessed with so many good leaders, and not all could be offered the positions being considered. I have met with committees, groups and design teams. I have preached at churches across the state, spoken to groups of clergy and laity in locations far and near, celebrated with you, pondered and prayed with you. It has been a whirlwind, and I am grateful for every moment. I have experienced this whirlwind often as the creative winds of the Spirit. I also appreciate moments such as these of finding the quiet center, also a gift of the Spirit.
In this moment of reflection, I think of words that crossed my desk earlier in the week. Love is the soul of leadership. Love is what sustains people along the arduous journey to the summit of any mountain. Love is the source of the leader’s courage. Leaders are in love: in love with leading, in love with their organization’s products and services, and in love with people. (James Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Truth About Leadership, 138-139)
This past year has been a year of deepening love – love for the Michigan Area, our churches and our people; love for our identified vision as a conference: to be Christ-centered, engaging in mission and ministry, developing and encouraging bold and effective leaders, and nurturing and growing vibrant congregations. I love that our vision serves an even larger vision, the vision God has for a newer world.
God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining work, as we understand it in Jesus Christ, is the transformation of human lives and the world in love. The Psalmist glimpsed this newer world when he wrote, “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10). The word for righteousness includes, and could even be translated, “justice,” and the word translated “peace” is “shalom,” that wonderfully encompassing word with its deep echoes of well-being, joy, and delight. John Wesley glimpsed this newer world in his sermon “Scriptural Christianity.” What will the world look like when God’s transformative work is complete? All is peace…. Here is no din of arms… wars are ceased from the earth… Civil discord is at an end forever…. Here is no oppression… no extortion to grind the face of the poor; no robbery or wrong… or injustice…. No unkind word can ever be heard among them, no strife of tongues, no contention of any kind.
Such a world seems so distant, yet in God’s grace we in our work contribute to this newer world. The theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff put it beautifully: In the eschatological image of the city, we have the assurance that our efforts to make these present cities of ours humane places in which to live – efforts which are so often frustrated, efforts which so often lead to despair – will, by way of the mysterious patterns of history, eventually provide tiles and timbers for a city of delight. (Until Justice and Peace Embrace, 140)
What we are about together here in the Michigan Area is this transforming work of God, this work of new lives and a new world. It is the work of love, and I love it, and I am privileged to do it with people I love.
Thank you for the year gone by. Thank you for the work ahead.
With You on an Amazing Adventure and This Joyful Journey,