Bishop Beverly J. Shamana used a New Testament “mystery” to urge General Conference delegates to partner with those who seem their least likely allies.
Speaking at a May 5 morning worship service at the 2004 General Conference, the episcopal leader of the California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference said Acts 9 has all the components of a good mystery — enemies, murder and mayhem.
“Mayhem and malice are already on the scene as Paul carries papers that authorize his reign of terror,” said Shamana. “Sounds like another biblical plot just waiting to be translated on the big screen.”
She introduced Ananias as Saul’s enemy. He was a man whose obedience to the Spirit led him to become an unlikely partner with Saul, helping remove the scales from Saul’s eyes and leading to his spiritual conversion as Paul. After knocking Saul to the ground, God tells him, “Get up, brother. I have sent you a partner. . . Now you know him as enemy, but I have sent him to show you a better way; and he is going to help you out of your distress.”
In a sermon interrupted several times by applause, the bishop told the assembly that the Holy Spirit also gives people today divine partners who “just show up. . . . And usually they’re the ones we call enemy, misguided, thorns, wrong, single-issue; and they just keep a’coming.”
“You know, conference, if you love God, you’ve got to love those whom God loves,” said the bishop. “We cannot chase people down with threats and persecution and then finally say, ‘And God loves you, too.’”
“Now I know some of you are thinking, ‘Well, this bishop is just talking about that homosexual issue again,’” said Shamana. “Well, I am; but it’s not the only thing I’m talking about.”
“We are not a single-issue people. What about society? I believe somebody ought to lay hands on the system of military secrecy that is so intent on winning public support for a war that’s over but not over that it won’t let the nation grieve,” she said. The bishop described as an “unconscionable theft” the right of people to “grieve for those families and folks who continue to lose their loved ones in this non-war...”
“Now, you know the litany,” said the bishop. “We’ve been calling it all week: the penal system, the justice system, education, fairness for workers. We need a church called ‘Ananias’ to lift the scales from our systems that oppress.”
Shamana reminded General Conference delegates and guests that the church is listened to, not only by its members, but also by the world. General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative assembly, is meeting April 27-May 7.
“Folks outside of the church have been listening,” Shamana said. “They’ve heard our message that a Savior named Jesus has been sent, who proclaimed in himself there is no east or west, in him no north or south, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth; and they believed it. We’ve got to keep preaching it.”
The Rio Grande Annual Conference choir provided the morning’s music, and the Rev. Roberto Gomez of that conference briefly explained the Cinco de Mayo tribute that honors the time when constitutional democracy was restored to Mexico.
“More profound than Cinco de Mayo is the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the celebration of the living Christ,” Gomez said.
*Jones is communications director for the United Methodist Church’s California-Nevada Annual Conference.
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