In the Heart of the Connection
Rev. Dr. Matt Woodbery, Director of Connectional Ministries
“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us – we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:1-7 (NRSV)
On Sunday, April 8, it was my privilege to join our Spanish speaking congregations for the annual Hispanic Ministries rally, this year held at Park Avenue UMC in Valdosta. More than 400 church members from across the Annual Conference representing all our vital Hispanic congregations gathered for praise, prayer, and fellowship.
It is this last word that I witnessed and to which I may testify. There was love-filled, genuine fellowship happening in that room, in that community.
The lectionary for Sunday included a reading from 1 John and was used in remarks for that event. In that epistle lesson, John reminds his readers that the fellowship experienced among those called of God is different from the fellowship of a social club, athletic event, or even family reunions. The fellowship experienced by those peculiar people called Christians reflected a sum greater than its parts.
The author of 1 John (believed by many experts to be the same author or a disciple of the same John for whom the Gospel is entitled) writes to the First Century audience and this 21st Century audience that there is a distinction to be made with the gathering of those who “walk in the light as he himself is in the light…” What is that difference? It is not too far a reach to think that John was remembering another event – also traditionally read on the Second Sunday of Easter – that John witnessed. John might have been remembering that evening of the first day of the week after Jesus’ crucifixion, when Jesus appeared among the disciples who were locked in a room somewhere, afraid of what was going to happen next, afraid of the authorities to come and arrest them due to their association with this recently executed rabble rouser, Jesus.
To the defeated, downcast, and scared, the risen Christ said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them.” (John 20:21-22) And they went from that locked room into their communities and world. Those men and women in that room became the church! The very church we experience today in thousands of places, hundreds of languages, among millions of people! All the way to Valdosta, Ga. in 2018!
Like John, I too witnessed this Christ-breathed fellowship of brothers and sisters, disciples of Christ! It was present in their love for each other, in their welcoming the stranger (like me!), in their generous hospitality. All evidence of the presence of the risen Christ.
I give thanks for my Spanish speaking brothers and sisters, for their able pastors and their families, and for the dedicated lay members who are obedient to God’s call in their lives to be alive, together, in Christ!
From the Heart of the Connection,