Letter from the Superintendent
“Life and prosperity, death, and adversity” vs – ∞ < x < ∞
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death, and adversity.
Hearing these words for the first time and out of context, one would think that God’s law is a rigid formula for good and evil, with right on one side and wrong on the other. Indeed, many people will have us believe that life is a choice between two uncompromising realities, often referencing the Hebrew Scriptures or Abrahamic axioms (overtly or covertly, deliberately, or unconsciously) to support their self-declared truths. The image of God thus conjured up is that of an arrogant, self-pleasuring patriarch who dishes out goodies and baddies to people he is clueless about. Nothing can be further from the truth! In our churches, Local Preachers and Worship Leaders alongside congregational colleagues and community pilgrims, are called to explore the myriad nuances in which God who loves unconditionally manifests Godself in our midst and beyond. Dare we demonstrate that God’s expansiveness is truly infinite as well as that God’s providence is sufficient for all!
We begin the new church year (September 2022- August 2023) in the ominous background of runaway inflation, amidst other well-documented imponderables in the lives of ordinary people in our country and other countries around the globe. Foodbanks and community pantries, homelessness, depression, and loneliness are some of the visible symptoms of an underlying malaise. Furthermore, relentless human exploitation of the earth’s resources means our shrinking globe is tottering on its knees to fulfill our insatiable demands while the concomitant climate change is wreaking havoc on communities. I’ll spare you the horrors of a burgeoning nuclear conflagration, but I am sure you get the picture.
Emerging from the stifling throes of a global coronavirus epidemic, world, national, and local leaders outbid each other in the market of ideas with noble pronouncements of “building back better”, “resourcing resilience”, “levelling up”, “justice for all” and many more high-sounding epithets. Despite the obvious dangers efforts to tackle climate change are being watered down, and global belligerence is on the increase (take note of the flashpoints of conflict around the globe, and community hostility, as well as the prejudice, are rearing their ugly head again). With rising inflation, doubling/tripling energy bills, joblessness, and poverty noble ideals are being quietly modified in Orwellian fashion to “just holding the fort”, “just providing sustenance”, “levelling down”, and “justice for some and abject poverty for many”.
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death, and adversity” Hearing these words many are petrified that the outcomes for them are inexorably death and adversity, and never life and prosperity. We will have a new Prime Minister (man or woman, Richie or Liz) in a few days. This winter many will have to choose between food and heating. Some will have a choice between death and depression. All of us will feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. In this despondent context, the work of the church and its Local Preachers and Worship Leaders is cut out for them. The call is to proclaim the good news not to reinforce the false dichotomies in our world. The call is to explore creative possibilities and search for God’s abundance in every aspect of life.
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death, and adversity” Despite appearances, these words are not meant as a precocious soundbite of a self-entitled orator. Rather they are a result of more than thirty chapters of brilliant sermonising from one who considered himself a slow thinker and a poor speaker! The Mosaic writer proceeds to implore the Israelites to choose life so that [they] and [their] descendants may live, loving the Lord [their] God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; The Israelites can bow down to other gods and serve them, and perish. We must resist the temptation that this is about one and last choice. To choose life is not about personal accomplishments and ambitions, but it is about orienting our lives to the magnanimous principles of God’s living. In this endeavour, the scriptures will be our companions not as a restrictive straitjacket but rather as enabling parachutes, allowing us to rise above the clouds of despair and see the wonder of heaven in our lives as well as of other people and things.
The concept of idolatry may not be immediately obvious but let’s look out for the many ways in which it can manifest itself in 21st-century living. Even though we may loudly and ostensibly sign up to the worship of the one true God, our practices can point to their influences. We make gods out of politicians or political ideologies, or theological positions; we chase after consumer goods; we bow down to our smartphones and other such gadgets. Our church buildings are sometimes totemised and become about keeping the “right people” in or out rather than the worship of God alone.
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death, and adversity. Despite its humble appearance, the preaching plan is the ordained way in which the Methodists seek to discern the myriad possibilities of God’s presence, not just the soul-destroying dichotomies of power and control that persist in our world. I, therefore, commend this plan to you all, hugely humbled and inspired by your faithfulness to deliver on its promises. Through the preaching plan may we be enabled as well as enable others to rediscover God’s ways.
May God bless you all in this new church year and beyond.
With Love from