Bishop’s Episcopal Address: Thirsty Again?

June 20, 2019

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:

  1. We must enter into conversations that we or someone else believes should never take place. We have to be willing to cross boundaries, remove barriers, and overcome fears. “How many conversations about the living water have I avoided because someone made me uncomfortable or exceeded my protective social or theological boundaries?” he asked.
  2. We must trust prevenient grace. “We need to trust that Jesus is more thirsty for us than we are for him,” said Bishop Ough. “We need to trust that by the time we reach out to another person, the risen Jesus, through the mystery and power of the Holy Spirit, is already at the well waiting for us…We can dare to love boldly because in every conversation, relationship, encounter we have with another person, Jesus is already present.”
  3. We must return to the well every day. “We need to have a conversation with Jesus every day,” said Bishop Ough. “We need to drink deeply of the living water every day if we desire to have Jesus use us to lead others to the inexhaustible spring of living water.”
  4. There is no substitute for our own Jesus-story if we want to invite others to meet Jesus at the well. The good news: Each of us has a God story, and each of us is a gift from God to at least one other person. “Every person in this room is God’s intended evangel to at least one other person,” said Bishop Ough. “Just as Jesus was God’s gift to the woman at the well, you are God’s gift to another person.”
  5. We must know our mission field. Those who claim the Christian faith but do not attend church, and those who identify as “nones” or “unaffiliated” together constitute 72 percent of our population. The field is ripe for the harvest. “Listen for those who are caught in cycles of despair and depression, addiction or abuse, or who are giving up on life,” Bishop Ough said. “Make a list of those you know who report themselves as Jesus followers but who are making no regular visits to the well.”
Bishop Ough urged those gathered to go to the well after they return home.
“Go to the well; begin a relationship with your neighbor who does not attend church,” he said. “Go to the well; tell a friend or a trusted acquaintance your God story…Go to the well; tell everyone you can where they can find the living water.”

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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