Hope. That one idea can summarize a lifetime of intention and faith. It’s the foundation of the Psalms, and galvanizes the Church to seek and act for justice.
The United Methodist Council of Bishops met Nov. 2-5 and Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, the episcopal leader of the Peninsula-Delaware and Baltimore-Washington Conferences, delivered the morning devotion on Nov. 5, which focused on Psalm 146:1-10 and ideas about hope.
“The hope of the Scripture is not an eschatological aspiration, nor exuberant optimism. Rather, it is a declarative proclamation. It is our faith and trust in the concrete manifestation of God,” Easterling said. “Hope is not an imaginary desire viewed through rose-colored glasses. It is the solid evidence of the power of love made visible.”
But merely basking in the tender optimism of hope, is not what Christ-followers are called to, the bishop said.
“We are coming to a time of year when the airwaves will reverberate with versions of the Hallelujah chorus.” This majestic music defines the joy of the holiday. “Yet, it begs the question, why do we stand as the song is sung, but tend to sit when it comes to embodying the message,” asked Easterling. “The lived-Hallelujah is obedience to God’s word and care for God’s people.”
Being a living hallelujah means “joining God in what God is already doing the world;” it is bringing God’s justice, and being the hope the world yearns for. “God’s justice is praxis, the bishop said. “Theory without practice is a cold disembodied corpse of religious platitudes.”
As the church considers its future together, rather than inviting more people to the table we should consider dismantling the tables and construct different, better, more God-shaped tables, Easterling said, invoking the thoughts of Willie Jennings of Yale Divinity School. “Mis-shapened tables only exacerbate the problem and increase the harm.”
It is time, said the bishop, to “demand a godlier design,” based on grace – a grace that “changes the atmosphere, the architecture and the agenda” of the church and world.
During their Council meeting, much of which was streamed online, the bishops elected new officers. Bishop Thomas Bickerton, of the New York Conference, was elected as the next president. Bishop Tracy Smith Malone of the East Ohio Conference was elected president-designate; and Bishop L. Jonathan Holsten of the South Carolina Conference was elected secretary. They will assume these posts at the spring meeting.
The Council President, Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, addressed her vision for the church, as it faces the uncertainties brought about by the postponed 2020 General Conference, citing a church that embodies Christ’s radical love. The bishops also created a narrative that will guide the denomination in the season ahead.
In other actions, they continued their on-going anti-racism work, heard about scenario planning to address the General Conference session, and committed themselves and the denomination to ministries of creation care, including moving to net zero emissions.
Videos of the live-streamed session are at www.facebook.com/umcbishops.