When Bishop Bruce P. Blake attended the funeral of the Rev. Tom Roughface, a Native American leader in the United Methodist Church, the Oklahoma bishop was struck by the Ponca Tribe practice of giving gifts to friends and visitors.
A year later, the bishop returned for the end-of-mourning ceremony where he again received symbolic gifts. Inquiring about this tradition, he was told, “We believe you can accept death better by giving than by getting.” The Poncas find healing in giving.
Blake shared that experience in an April 28 morning worship service at the 2004 General Conference. He suggested that the practice of “giving until it heals” was more effective than following the age-old adage of “giving until it hurts.”
Bishop Blake explained that his process of sermon creation is to do a critical analysis of the Scripture, then to “exegete” the congregation and preach at the intersection of the two. As he read all the resolutions and legislation coming before General Conference, it felt to him as though “we were coming to Pittsburgh with the agenda to protect what is important to us in the budget rather than to focus on raising the standard of giving.”
“Our attitude is one of giving until it hurts, rather than heals. Everything is focused on our limited resources when in fact, if United Methodists would give until it heals, we would have so much money to facilitate God’s mission in the world that conferencing would be a celebration of sharing rather than our experience of divvying up a shrinking pie.
“Could it be that the crisis in our family of faith is a crisis of faith, not of the pocketbook?” he asked. He suggested United Methodists have somehow lost the connection between grace and giving. “It has become more important for us to protect our standard of living than our standard of giving.”
The bishop encouraged the international assembly to follow the direction of Jesus Christ in Matthew 23:23-26, when he says people must scour their lives and rid themselves of gluttony and greed.
He challenged the delegates to live a gospel of giving until it heals.
Blake presides over both the geographically based Oklahoma Conference and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, which is composed of United Methodist members of several Native American tribes. This is the first time he has preached at a General Conference.
The morning worship service opened with praise music led by the Mass Choir and Dance Ministry of St. James United Methodist Church in Alpharetta, Ga., and ended with a dismissal in Choctaw by David Wilson of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. The service included songs in English, Nigerian and Zulu, a traditional hymn, praise choruses and African tunes.
*Whorl is a correspondent for United Methodist News Service.
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