*The following is an article summarizing the Episcopal Address that Bishop Ough delivered at the Minnesota Annual Conference Session in St. Cloud on May 27, 2015.
“It is time to take and pass the final exam. It is time to do something.”
That’s what Bishop Bruce R. Ough told members of the 161st session of the Minnesota Annual Conference. In his Episcopal Address, Ough said the question Jesus asks on the final exam—the question he taught would be put to us in the final judgment—is haunting: “When was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not care for you?” (Matthew 25:44).
“The final exam is whether you and I will fully, sacrificially, extravagantly engage in Christ’s mission to transform the world,” Ough said. “The final exam question will not be about what we professed but what we did when we saw the least of these hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, sick, or in prison.”
He noted that the poor had a central place in the teachings and actions of Jesus. In fact, one in every 16 verses in scripture refers to the poor. And one in every 10 in the gospels is about the poor, the impoverished, and the economically exploited. Jesus is clear: The distress of every single human being is a priority for the living God.
And who are these others—the people who are a priority for the living God? They are the children who die each day from malnutrition and the diseases of poverty. They are the people who have no access to clean water. They are the disproportionate number of African Americans incarcerated in our prisons. They are the people we see every day in Minnesota who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, addicted, abused, or imprisoned.
“We should not only share gospel, food, water, health care, education, and community with the poor,” Ough said. “We are also called to address, advocate, even fight the demonic systems that create and sustain poverty. We dare not offer the gospel in Christ’s name without offering bread in Christ’s name. And we dare not offer bread in Christ’s name without addressing the very political and economic systems that brutalize human beings beyond our imagination.”
St. Augustine said it well, Ough noted: “We are the bread on the table.” The final exam is about becoming what we are—bread on the table.
In his book Include Me Out, Colin Morris said: “If there is still time left for Methodism, it can only be stirred into action if the power is connected between the two poles—Christ’s love and human suffering—if we feel the full strength of the first and the monstrosity of the other.”
This is the bridge we are called to build as United Methodists, Ough said.
Ough told members of annual conference that he recently heard someone say: “Hell means realizing later we should have said ‘yes’ when God called us.”
“Friends, God is calling us in Minnesota,” he said. “God is calling us to connect the poles of Christ’s love and human suffering. God is calling us to build bridges out of poverty. God is calling us to expand our missional impact. God is calling us to heal a broken world.”
An increasing number of our congregations already know the answer to the final exam, Ough said. They know the words of Mother Teresa to be true: “We should not serve the poor like they were Jesus; we should serve the poor because they are Jesus.”
They know that when they reach out to the least of these who are members of God’s family, they are ministering to Christ. They know that their future is not found in preserving themselves behind locked doors. They know that God’s vision is our mission.
The future of every congregation is dependent upon its ability to be externally focused and to re-think “church” on a regular basis, Ough said.
“Unless we are constantly in the business of leaving the building, the church will die,” he said. “Unless we are constantly keeping our eyes on God’s eternal purposes, the church will die.”
Are you ready to transform the world? he asked.
“It is time to know your communities; love your communities; build relationships with your communities. It is time to build bridges between the poles of Christ’s love and human suffering. It is time to show the world that black and brown and red lives matter.”
It is time to take and pass the final exam. It is time to do something.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church