By: Christa Meland
Are you thirsty again? Are you thirsty again for Jesus? Are you thirsty again for the living water?
In his Episcopal Address Thursday afternoon, Dakotas-Minnesota Area Bishop Bruce R. Ough posed these questions to members of the 2019 Minnesota Annual Conference Session. He praised the Minnesota Conference for its commitment to reaching new people and boldly sharing the love of Christ even as he called Minnesota United Methodists to deeper action.
Statistics from 2018 show a conference committed to transforming individual lives, families, neighborhoods, communities, and the world. Ough pointed to increases in baptized members; non-members participating in churches; community ministries of outreach, justice, and mercy and those served by those ministries; children and young adults participating in Christian formation groups; and church plants and multiplication projects. Most exciting of all, weekly worship attendance—in-person and online together—jumped 1 percent, representing the conference’s first worship attendance increase in decades.
Still, Ough said, there is more work to be done. To fulfill this year’s Annual Conference theme, “Dare to Reach, Love Boldly,” the Bishop pointed to the story of Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman told in John 4.
“This is a conversation that should never have taken place,” said Ough. In order to talk to the Samaritan woman, Jesus had to overcome 700 years of division and numerous cultural boundaries. If he went to such great lengths to speak to a woman he had no business talking to, then our first step in reaching new persons is to enter into similar conversations.
Jesus does not approach his conversation with the Samaritan from a position of power. In fact, he intentionally puts himself in a vulnerable position by asking for water. Jesus is the thirsty one! As he and the Samaritan woman talk, she becomes aware of her own need for the living water Jesus offers—something she could not have even comprehended was available to her.
“Here is one of the great paradoxes of our faith: Jesus is more thirsty for us than we are for Jesus,” said Ough. “Jesus seeks us out before we ever go to the trouble of looking for him…He tells us about the availability of a treasure we did not even know we were looking for. Jesus awakens in us our thirst for a personal relationship with the Living God.”
And in our encounter with Jesus, our thirst for God is simultaneously quenched and heightened. “Christ’s love both satisfies us and awakens within us an even deeper desire to live in God’s presence,” Ough said. “It is our drinking deeply of the living water that causes us to discover that we cannot live without God.”
Bishop Ough offered five rules of daring to reach new people and loving them with the bold, unconditional love of Jesus:
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