Greeting from Bev Coppley, District Superintendent - April 1, 2020
posted on April 01
A greeting and message from Rev. Bev Coppley, Northern Piedmont District Superintendent, shared on April 1, 2020.
“The Sturdy Dreamers”
Rev. Bev Coppley
April 1, 2020
They replied, “We are able.” (v.39)
Grace and peace from my little blue salt box in Quaker Acres, Greensboro. It’s all casual today ; I haven’t showered yet. But that’s okay, because I figure the Apostle Paul didn’t always shower before he wrote letters to his churches. He did often wish that he was with them in person, and that’s exactly how I feel about you today.
I am speaking to you this afternoon from a very hopeful spot in my house, a little spare bedroom. Now it’s just an extra spot, but in the fulness of time I hope it will be a bedroom my grandchildren can use when they come to visit me. I’ll warn you that you may hear my son in an ASU Zoom class, my husband on a prayer call to one of his members, or my dog or cat.
I hope you have felt the responsiveness of your Northern Piedmont District Office during this time. We are fully functional, are in constant conversation with one another, and are sailing these waters alongside you, as your armada of help and support. I hope you have received our words, love, and resources – and we pray we haven’t overwhelmed you with information. We simply want to anticipate your needs the best we can, and to attend to them quickly and lovingly.
One of you asked, “Could the Superintendent make a video?” So we could see her face, and hear her talk to us? You said it might help to see my face. Here’s my face. (Not sure how this could possibly help, but here it is!)
I hate videos of myself. Video is just not my medium. I never look right; I never sound right. But here I am. Mirror-imaged, plain clothed, in my house. No tap shoes, nothing fancy, just me.
The scripture I’d like to share is actually a reading for the Saturday before Palm Sunday. It’s a journey passage, one of Mark’s many “place to place” passages – a travel story. Jesus is “going up to Jerusalem” – Aliyah, Hebrew for ASCENT.
Here it is: (Read Mark 10:32-40)
They replied, WE ARE ABLE.
Let us pray: Jesus, we too are on the road, and you are walking ahead of us. Thank you for walking ahead of us. We will have lots of conversations along our path. We pray that we would listen to your voice and that we would not worry at all about our own positions. Neither let us be afraid, Lord. Simply let us be amazed at your provisions for us. Give us courage to drink the cup of leadership at this time, and to be baptized in your power – not our own. Continue to tell us your story, and be with us as we live ours. Amen.
The road stories are some of my favorites in the New Testament. Amazing things happen on the journey to somewhere else. Today they are all on the road. And Jesus is walks ahead of them. Often he is walking with them, and will later even be discovered walking with them when they least expect it. But today he is walking AHEAD of them.
Jesus is on a journey he has made many times – but yet also a journey he has never made. He has gone up to Jerusalem many times during his human years, but never to die. Not until this journey.
We too have made our own Lenten journeys to Jerusalem, but never like this one. This one feels entirely uphill. Remember those Holy Weeks when we just had to worry about having enough worship volunteers, negotiating lilies, and changing the paraments?
The setting looks like this:
Jesus is in the lead.
The disciples are amazed.
The crowd is afraid.
It is a tableau; we could push pause – and watch these motionless figures represent a scene repeated throughout history --- a leader in front, those close behind amazed, those farther behind afraid.
Leading us through our new territory is Jesus. He is out in front. Make sure, in your life right now and in your consumption of news and details, that HE is out front of you. Don’t let anyone else be out front. No one but Jesus.
The amazed are following so closely that the dust from their rabbi’s feet is all over their robes. In our story they are called the disciples. In your story, that needs to be you. It’s a good season for the dust of the rabbi’s feet to settle on your robes. Stay very close.
The afraid – they aren’t following so closely, and they are fearsome, intimidated, and dangerous. In our scripture they will soon be called the crowds.
Everyone is walking the same path, but we are all walking it differently.
It’s a costly, tiresome trip. It’s very uphill. Mega-aliyah.
Who are you in this story? The amazed? The afraid?
Where are you in the story? Close by and dusty … or hanging back and fearful?
Why are you in the story? To drink the cup, or to watch and see?
I bet you are amazed and afraid.
I bet you have some days where you are close by, and other days you are hanging back.
I bet you are eager to drink the cup – but a little afraid to drink the cup.
There is a lot of tension in this scripture. Jesus tells a story no one wants to hear.
It was hard to hear what Jesus said to the twelve dustiest followers … that upon their ascent he would be handed over, condemned, mocked, spit upon, crucified – and risen.
It fact it was so overwhelming that James and John simply had to change the subject. They needed to figure out how all this affected them directly. They wondered what many of us wonder in these days? What should WE do to prepare for this situation?
So they begin, in their minds, to set the table for the last supper. They are the preppers in our story. Out of their anxiety, they begin to plan.
We understand that, don’t we? In a time of anxiety, it feels good to do something.
I’m not picking on them. James and John will drink that cup. James will eventually die drinking it. John will live drinking it, one sip at a time, as he spreads the Gospel into old age.
I recently read a great book called A Gentleman in Moscow. It’s a story of Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian aristocrat held under house arrest at the Hotel Metropol. He makes a joyful and resilient life there, and experiences Russian history in a unique way. One of my favorite parts is when he serves tables at a gathering of Communist leaders. Oddly, there were no seating arrangements for this banquet. The count simply can’t wait to see how this might go. Thomas Hobbes might have speculated one outcome, Locke and Rousseau another.
How will people behave when there is no chart? Who will emerge as leader? Who will be amazed? Who will be afraid?
Amor Towles describes it this way, through his beloved Count’s eyes:
“So, when the guests arrived, the Count was fairly certain that there would be no raising of fits, drawing of lots, or free-spirited sharing of fruits. Rather, with only the slightest jostling and jockeying, each of the forty-six attendees would find their proper place at the table, and this “spontaneous arrangement” would tell the studious observer all he needed to know about the governance of Russia for the next twenty years.” (A Gentleman in Moscow, p. 411)
Now is a time to watch the tables fill. It is a good time to observe. Watch your leaders, both in the nation and in the church. You will see inspiration. You might not always see it where you want to see it, need to see it, or hope to see it. But you will see it. Someone will inspire you. Be open to inspiration.
Now is not a good time to worry about your own place at the table. I promise you that you have one. You are at the table, a very large and very good table. And at the head of our table will always be our Lord Jesus.
Now is a good time to say as James and John did, “we are able.” But it is also a time to trust that God is most able.
Our times are in God’s hands. This is not at all new. This has always been true. Our times have always been in God’s hands.
Truth be told, I am sharing with you today the exact same message I was planning to preach this weekend to a large gathering in our district – a group who said to me, please reassure that everything will be okay in the United Methodist Church. Of course everything will be okay in the United Methodist Church. Our times are in God’s hands. Our times have always been in God’s hands.
We have simply been given right now an opportunity to live with a new humility. We have been given an opportunity to repent of majoring on the minors, repent about forgetting to preach the good news, and to repent about making of ultimate concern things that are not of ultimate concern. We are learning that the essentials are more essential than ever, and the non-essentials are more non-essential than ever. If we can remember that on the other side, we will be a brand new people. We will have received a powerful message, a true message of resurrection – the message Jesus was trying to give them in verse 34 before they went off to prepping.
As leaders in the church, we are called to stay close to Jesus and to remain amazed. You are called to hold sacred memory. You will grieve because you can’t live it out this Holy Week in quite the same way you are used to living it out. But, I promise, you can still live it out.
Never worry about your position, except to be concerned that it remains right behind Jesus. As long as you remain right there and maintain a capacity for amazement, Jesus will help you fend off any fear.
The little hymn says it well:
“Are ye able, said the master, to be crucified with me? Yea, the sturdy dreamers answered, to the death we follow thee. Lord, we are able, our spirits are thine. Remold them, make us, like thee, divine. Thy guiding radiance above us shall be a beacon to God, to love and loyalty”.
Are ye able, still the Master whispers down eternity, and heroic spirits answer, now as then in Galilee. Lord, we are able, our spirits are thine. Remold them, make us, like thee, divine. Thy guiding radiance above us shall be a beacon to God, to love and loyalty.
Lord, we are able. We really are.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.