Presidential Address 2019

President's Installation Address, Rev. Sam McGuffin

Wednesday 12th June 7:30pm 

Theme: "God Is Our Adventure" 
Scripture Reference: Romans 16 

"I have taken as the theme for my Presidential Year ‘God is our Adventure’.

John Rudge liked people to have adventures, especially in church. This is what he included in his will; ‘I bequeath the sum of 20 shillings a year, payable at 5s a quarter, to a poor man to go about the church during the sermon, to keep people awake, and to keep dogs out of the church.’

To the men and women of faith in the Bible the heart of their religion was an adventure with God.

Think of Paul and his Mission team, by the grace and power of God fearlessly taking the Gospel to the world, including 40 cities, each of which was a place of strategic importance.

I’ve been reading a book called ‘From Jerusalem to Timbuktu’. It tells of how the gravitational centre of the Church has moved in 2 millennia from Jerusalem to Timbuktu. Timbuktu is synonymous with a far-away place – the ends of the earth. 

Jesus instructed the disciples to take the gospel message to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to ‘the ends of the earth’. The Church of God is still growing daily – as the Lord of the Church said it would. God is our adventure.

To the men and women of faith in Church History the heart of their religion was an adventure with God.

Think of John Wesley, who once said: ‘I want the whole Christ for my Saviour, the whole Bible for my book, the whole Church for my fellowship, and the whole world for my mission field.’ God was John Wesley’s adventure – God is our adventure.

To the men and women of faith in Romans 16 the heart of their faith was an adventure with God

Wouldn’t you just love to have had a chat with Phoebe about all the work she had done as a “servant of the church” and about the honour she must have felt as she physically carried Paul’s great letter to Rome?
Phoebe - a Greek name - means ‘Radiant as the moon’. Clearly the Light of Christ shone brightly in her.

Wouldn’t you have enjoyed a conversation with Priscilla and Aquila about their very different family backgrounds, about how they came to Christ – and came together in Christ, and about how he had used them as a couple in Ephesus, Corinth and Rome.Three of the most important cities in the Roman empire: They are always mentioned together. A couple who put Christ first in all things, including their marriage.

Wouldn’t you have been intrigued to hear Epenetus’s story? Epenetus was the first convert in the Roman province of Asia. He was the pioneer Christian in Asia – none before him! What was that like – to take that step of faith? My latest Christian hero is the Rev John Hunt, a pioneer missionary to Fiji. We’re rediscovering pioneer missioning in Methodist Church in Ireland and I hope we’ll continue to do so.

Wouldn’t you have been engrossed by the stories of Mary and the other 9 women either named or referred to here? All active followers of Christ at a time when the rights of women were so very limited both in Roman and in Jewish society. All these women are at the heart of the church in Rome, are integral to the Christian fellowship, and are deeply involved in spreading the Gospel.

Wouldn’t you have happily passed hours talking with Andronicus, Junias and Herodian, (members of the church in Rome), and Lucius, Jason and Sosipater (members of the church in Corinth), all named as Paul’s relatives – about the great man of God: what he had been like before his conversion, how The Lord had changed him, how The Lord had used him over the years, and of the impact his faith had made on his family and on the world? Family faith was important in the early church and still is at the growth points in the church today. In our part of the world we strive to win individuals. Maybe we need to think family? Certainly we need to think inter-generationally.

And what about Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys and Apelles? (Sounds like the back four for the AS Roma football team!) How was Apelles ‘tested and approved in Christ’? That sounds like he had a tough time of it. Was it persecution, or illness, or some other difficulty? Whatever it was God’s grace was sufficient. Persecution of Christians is as old as the Church itself and is rife across the world today. It has never caused the church to fail and fall and it never will.

Wouldn’t you love to have had the opportunity to sit with a cuppa listening to the stories of Rufus and of his mother. Rufus was one of the two sons of Simon of Cyrene, the man who had been forced to carry the cross for Jesus. Obviously the whole family had become Christians and were still heavily involved in the church. What an adventure they had had with their Lord?

And what about the two households mentioned here - those of Aristobulus and Narcissus? Whole households – family and servants/slaves – who had come to faith in Christ. What was a Christian household like compared to a pagan one? The distinction was marked – more than today. The distinction was real – the whole focus was different. The distinction was challenging – to the pagan households.

These people had all come to Christ, experienced the salvation he had to offer them - and been blessed in the fellowship of others with the same experience as they each walked with their Lord day by day and as they all worshipped, witnessed and worked together. The heart of their faith was an adventure with God

Sometimes things went wrong – verses 17-20 remind us of that! They still do. But the default position is that the adventure of living in a relationship with The Lord is a blessing - an individual, family and communal blessing, an individual, family and communal adventure.

That’s a perspective I’d like us to think more deeply about this evening and this year. It’s a perspective that needs prioritising.
        
In 1984, the year after I left college, John Stott wrote the first edition of “Issues Facing Christians Today” 
(A book that in a recent Contemporary Christianity article the Rev Dr Norman Hamilton called ‘ground-breaking’) Stott’s section headings are still all-too-familiar and relevant: Global Issues, Social Issues, and Sexual Issues. 

In subsequent editions the number of issues increased in the face of ‘a sweeping array of complex and pressing topics.’ In the years since 2006 when the last edition was published the list  of political, economic and social concerns has grown longer still. It would now surely include subjects as current as Social Acceleration, Cyber Crime, Political Extremism, People trafficking, Biodiversity Loss & Information Overload.

Did the Christians named in Romans 16 ever think about the issues facing them in their generation? Of course they did! They encountered political and social challenges. They engaged in strategic conversations. They experienced structural changes. But that’s not what defined them! They were neither obsessed by the issues facing them nor overwhelmed by the issues facing them – and they were big issues – issues such as slavery, the rights of women, empire politics, and capital punishment. 
                    
These sisters and brothers in Christ are obsessed with God. They are defined here by their relationship with him. They are remembered here because of their commitment to Christ. They are named here because they kept in step with the Spirit. They are honoured here because they honoured their Heavenly Father.
    
He was their daily adventure in this world. And they knew without a shadow of doubt that he would be their eternal adventure for every day of the life they looked forward to in heaven.

They simple fact is they prioritised – God was their adventure. The greatest issue for them was a spiritual issue. The greatest cause for them was the spread of the gospel. Their greatest urgency was evangelistic outreach. Their greatest thrill was seeing God at work in them, in his Church and in in his world. Their greatest adventure was living close to their Lord.

That’s a perspective and a priority we have set our faces to finding again across our Connexion. We will confirm our intentions to do so during conference. And I pray we’ll go home inspired to carry out our intentions.

But it won’t be easy. We’ll need to be patient. And we’ll need to remember that hard work is part of our adventure with God. 

The writer of this letter to the Romans, the great apostle Paul, was a preacher, teacher, missionary, evangelist, pastor, intercessor, writer - and a worker!

Throughout this chapter Paul uses various titles for the people of God:    sisters – brothers, servants – saints apostles – converts, friends – the chosen. But the one he uses most often is ‘worker’. 

Worshiping (together) is important. Sharing our faith (together) is important. Praying (together) is important. Meeting together in fellowship and to fellowship is important. Growing (together) as disciples is important. But working (together) is important too!

I love verse 12: Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, [the names mean delicate and dainty] those women who work hard in the Lord. I hope you have noted not only the working hard bit but also the ‘In the Lord’ bit.

What is the difference between ‘working hard’ and ‘working hard in the Lord’?

Susanna Wesley – the mother of Methodism – worked hard in the Lord.

And as I was working hard in the Lord on this sermon news came through about the death of Sheila Crawford. Sheila was for a very long time a very active member of the Mountmellick congregation and was always intentionally helpful to everyone. She was the living embodiment of “Doing all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.” Sheila Crawford worked hard in the Lord.

You and I have a particular piece of hard work ahead of us in this coming year. We have a structural change to adopt and get used to. We have the out-working of that structural change to develop. And we have the impact of that structural change to monitor. We have to make sure this change and all the others that flow from it are the means to an end and not an end in themselves. And the end – the outcome we are looking for - is that every Methodist in every Methodist Church across the Connexion is living close to the Lord is prioritizing the Lord’s will and is patiently working hard in the Lord. God is our Adventure.

And that brings us to the matter of persistence.

Back in March this year I went to a Resilient Farmers Conference in Greenmount Agricultural College in County Antrim. The aim of the conference was to name and address the current stresses and strains on farmers, farming families, and farming communities. And on the farming industry and sector as a whole. And to build resilience – the capacity not only to cope but to do well.

Resilience is a word that is constantly appearing nowadays. I came across it on the other side of the world – in Fiji – in relation to building communities resilient to climate change.

We as a church need to build resilience too - in our ministers and in our congregations.

The issues in the world around us are many and complex. The work facing us in our church is difficult and daunting. The priorities that are our reason for being are challenging. How can we cope with it all and do well in response to it all?

There are 35 people named in Romans 16 – along with others referred to in general terms. But do you know what the most frequently mentioned name is? It is the Lord’s name. Our Lord is referred to in various ways 12 times in the first 16 verses – 18 times in the whole 27 verses

He is the one through whom they all came alive in their faith. He is the one who broke down the barriers between them all. He is the one who bound them all together in fellowship. He is the one who was building them all up in faith. He is their priority. He is the one in whom and for whom they were all working. He is the head of the church they were all members of and serving. He is the one equipping, empowering and helping them relate. He is the one leading them in the adventure of Christian living. And he is still doing all that today – through and by his Spirit.

We will cope with all we have to cope with - and we will do well - when before all else, above all else, and beyond all else, we persist in our relationship with our Lord. God is our Adventure.

GK Chesterton was a very great Christian man. He had a tendency though, to forget where he was supposed to be going and so to miss the train that was supposed to take him there. It is reported that on one occasion he sent a telegram to his wife Frances, which read "Am in Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?" in response to which she replied, "Home". Rather more to the point Chesterton said this:
“Jesus promised his disciples three things, that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy and in constant trouble” I love that. When we are abiding in Christ and he in us, God is our adventure. 

What has your adventure with God been like since conference last met? What is that adventure causing you to experience in this service this evening? What is it going to be this week in our 250th Conference? What will that adventure be for you and for your congregation when you return home to your church in the year of change that lies before us? What will that adventure be for us as the Methodist Church in Ireland?

Don’t be satisfied with Christian living as usual – a little bit of religion! Look for a dynamic, daring relationship with the Lord!

There is some fulfilment to be found in a comfortable, contented, and cheerful, coffee-class religious life?
But it is nothing compared to the kind of experience people like Paul and Barnabas had – ‘people who risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’.
        
All these people in Romans 16 trusted the Lord completely and because they lived with him in the truest and fullest sense their lives were an adventure with God – an adventure with Christ at the centre and the Spirit to the fore; an adventure that gave them a godly perspective on life     and helped them prioritise what was truly important; an adventure that provided them with the patience they needed to hard work in the Lord; an adventure that empowered them to be persistent and to cope well with life and with all they had to do; an adventure that was a blessing beyond compare.

How blest is life if lived for you, my loving Saviour and my Lord! No pleasures that the world can give such perfect gladness can afford.

May God be our Adventure (‘our’ meaning each one of us and all of us), throughout our conference, throughout the year of change to come, and always. Amen."

Prayer of Commitment

God our adventure, give us such a certainty of your presence, power and purpose as will continually fan into flame the gift of faith in us.

Here and now - 
    we open our minds to the priorities, the patience and the persistence you need from us;

    we open our eyes to the opportunities and potential for good that lie before us;

    we open our hearts to the people we shall meet and share our lives with, as you lead, guide and inspire us in the days ahead;

    we open our wills to do all we need to do to align the resources you are giving us with the priorities in mission you are calling us to;

    and we open our spirits  to receive the courage and confidence we need to go from strength to strength as we discover your good and glorious purposes for us and live our shared lives to the full.

This commitment we make by your Spirit, through Jesus Christ your Son, and for the glory of your name. Amen.