View images from the Service of Ordering of Ministry
Bishop Laurie Haller preached for the Ordering of Ministry service on Sunday morning during the 2017 Iowa Annual Conference Session, asking the faithful present, “Will you bear the cross or just wear it? The service saw 16 United Methodist individuals commissioned, ordained or recognized.
The ecumenical representative for the Service was Rev. Bill Spangler-Dunning, Regional Minister and President Christian Church in the Upper Midwest. Rev. Spangler-Dunning shared in his remarks how his no-nonsense grandmother helped to teach him the meaning of ministry while keeping him in line during the challenging teenage years.
“We are imperfect, we make mistakes,” he told those gathered for the Service of Ordering. “But if we can find that balance between challenge and heart, we will change the world.”
Before Bishop Laurie’s sermon, the passage from Luke 9:18-24 was recited where Christ asked his disciples “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Jesus would later tell them that he would undergo much suffering, he would be crucified, die and rise from the dead, and that if they wanted to follow Him they must take up their cross.
The bishop opened her message by singing the first verse and refrain of the hymn “Jesus, keep me near the cross”:
Jesus, keep me near the cross, there a precious fountain;
Free to all a healing stream, flows from Calvary’s mountain.
In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find rest beyond the river.
The bishop asked Conference Session attendees to ponder what was the most recognizable symbol in the world? She explained how, for centuries, it has been the Christian cross, but today, the cross is probably no longer the most recognizable symbol.
She listed various other symbols now likely more recognized; including the Coke logo, McDonald’s golden arches, the Islamic star and crescent, the Nike Swoosh, the Olympic rings, a smiley face, Mickey Mouse, the Apple symbol and Red Cross.
For her, the bishop said, it’s probably the Nike logo, because she identifies with Nike’s “Just do it” motto. She also pointed how the golden arches and fast food probably shape the image of America around the world more than anything else.
To illustrate this, Bishop Laurie listed numerous statics of significance showing the McDonald’s franchise’s pervasiveness across the world.
“Americans spend more dollars on fast food than on higher education, computers, cell phones, or cars,” Bishop Laurie stated. “As the old saying goes, “We are what we eat.””
“But I’d like to propose another saying this morning,” she then said. “We are what we bear.”
The bishop drew from her Episcopal Address offered at the Conference Session the day before, where she referred to bearing fruit.
“Today it’s bearing the cross,” she said. “The cross is the central symbol of our faith. It’s the logo of Christianity, isn’t it?
But she also noted the irony that it’s also an instrument of death.
Bishop Laurie detailed elements of the history of crucifixion and the brutality of the process.
“The prisoner was stripped and fixed to the crossbar with ropes or nails driven through the forearms,” she said. “The weight of the hanging body made breathing difficult, and death usually came from gradual and excruciating asphyxiation. Crucifixion was viewed by the Romans as the most wretched of deaths.”
Jesus knew what crucifixion was, she said. And not only did Jesus himself endure the cross, she continued, “he says that you and I must also be ready to endure the worst that life offers for the sake of following him.”
Bishop Laurie referenced again the scripture from Luke, saying it’s been called the turning point in the gospels. This is the first time in the gospels that Jesus is identified as God’s son, whom the Jews had waited for centuries.
She also said that Jesus doesn’t go on to describe upcoming military victories or an overthrow of the Roman government, nor talk about conquering armies or becoming a political hero.
“No,” she explained, “he tells them that he’s going to have to undergo great suffering, that he will be rejected by his own people and killed.”
Then Jesus tells them they will have to deny themselves and take up their cross to follow him.
“The bearer of hope and joy now becomes the bearer of the cross,” the bishop said.
Christ went on to make an even stronger statement, she continued, about losing one’s life for His sake.
“Do you see the paradox?” Bishop Laurie asked Conference Session attendees. “In order to experience the fullness of life that Jesus offers to you and me, we must be prepared to give up our wealth, health, happiness, and perhaps even our life.”
“Saving becomes losing and losing becomes saving,” she said. “All of Jesus’ teachings call us to win by losing, which is so countercultural and paradoxical that Jesus finally had to live it himself to show us it could be true.”
Bishop Laurie asked those in attendance if we also claim Jesus as the Messiah, what, then, is our response?
“The stakes are high,” she said.
“They’re high for you as those having been ordained or commissioned, for us as individuals, and for the church,” said Bishop Laurie.
She asked all present to consider, “How does Jesus ask us to live our lives? Who is Jesus challenging you and I to become as we participate with Jesus in redeeming our world?”
Offering an answer, the bishop said that our call is to bring in God’s reign of grace, hope, and love.
“We are called to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God,” she stated. “Jesus says that we need to take up our cross daily and follow him.”
“What matters is not recognizing the cross,” Bishop Laurie said further, “wearing the cross, or even worshipping the cross. What matters is bearing the cross.”
She asked the ordinands and the others recognized if they will you bear the cross rather than just wear it? noting, “After all, we only get one chance at this life, don’t we?”
Bishop Laurie shared that it’s a lesson she’s learned in her own life.
“I can’t change my life without God’s help, even if I’m wearing a cross,” she said. “My hesitation, denial, and unwillingness to surrender to God is, in effect, a decision to stay right where I am.”
She emphasized that bearing the cross is voluntary, that arbitrary suffering in life does not constitute cross-bearing.
“Unchosen suffering, my friends, is painful and heart-breaking,” said Bishop Laurie, “and we need to help each other get through those tough times, but it’s not a cross. It’s simply part of what it means to be human.”
“Bearing a cross is that difficult thing we choose to do because we are disciples of Jesus Christ. It’s surrender,” she continued. “It’s deliberate self-denial.”
Those who bravely endure crises and suffering are to be admired, she said, but true surrender comes when we consciously decide to carry a cross.
Losing one’s life for Christ is not a strategy for successful living but a way of being faithful, the bishop told the Session attendees, and we are never forced to carry our cross. It must be done willingly.
The bishop also said that bearing the cross stands for the worst and the best that life can offer.
“The cross is the symbol of a transformed existence,” she stated, “how Jesus willingly took upon himself the worst the world could offer and turned it into an act of love. By bearing our cross, by allowing ourselves to be crucified with Christ, we, too, take upon ourselves the world’s pain and transform it into hope and love.”
Just as the cross stands for great evil and great good, Bishop Laurie said the capacity for great evil and great good lives within each one of us, the good urging us on to higher things, while the evil urges us to indulge our lower nature.
We’ll often follow Jesus, she said, but only so far.
She told the crowd, “My friends, Jesus doesn’t want your promises and resolutions to attend church every Sunday, serve on a committee, go to a Bible study, visit people in nursing homes, tithe your income, be a difference maker, and promise to do better next month, although they are all important. Jesus wants you to bear the cross, not just wear it.”
Bearing the cross means that Jesus invites us to wave the white flag, the bishop said, to surrender our will and our very life.
“For those of you who have just been commissioned and ordained, this is what you have promised as well,” the bishop continued. “By saying “yes” to your call to ministry, you are consenting to surrender and to bear the cross, not just wear it.”
“You and I and each one of us surrender by letting go of whatever holds us back from entering into the pain and suffering of our world,” she said, “working for justice, wholeness, and hope, and serving the needs of others.”
Even those who bear the cross will need to have their feet washed on occasion, the bishop also said, and it gives strength for the journey. She asked those recognized and ordained if they can wave the white flag and let others minister to them.
“As disciples of Jesus Christ, you and I are meant to bear the cross,” she explained. “It’s our calling, but it’s also totally voluntary. Jesus will never force the heart. All he wants is for you to surrender. Jesus wants you to be all in. Will you bear the cross or simply wear the cross? “
If we are going to wear a cross, she said, it should be a sign that we stand with all the vulnerable, marginalized, exploited and those who suffer discrimination. And if we are willing to bear the cross, it will mean something in the way we live our lives.
“For those of you who have been commissioned or ordained, this is the rub,” Bishop Laurie said. “Are you willing to bear the cross by washing the feet of others, kneeling before them in humble service?"
“But even more important,” she continued, “are you willing to have others wash your feet, knowing that you will not last in this vocation unless you allow others to minister to you? You will not last in this calling unless you allow others to pray for you.”
And God isn’t just calling those who were ordained or commissioned Sunday morning, she explained. God calls everyone.
“The stakes are high,” Bishop Laurie pointed out. “Will you pause before putting on your Nike’s and leaving home for McDonald’s, the mall, school, or the gym and intentionally bear the cross?’
“Will you find some way to be a difference-maker, to serve in a way that may be challenging, difficult, or even distasteful, but is a sign of God’s love, reconciliation, and shalom for the entire world?” the bishop asked. “How will you wash the feet of others?”
“Will you bear the cross or just wear it?”
Bishop Laurie concluded her message by singing the final verse of “Jesus, keep me near the cross”:
Near the cross I’ll watch and wait, hoping, trusting, ever;
Till I reach the golden strand just beyond the river.
In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever.
Till my raptured soul shall find rest beyond the river.
Persons Commissioned, Ordained, or Recognized at the Service of Ordering Ministry were:
Course of study graduates - Charles J. Johnson; Dan L. Rogers
Persons transferring from another annual conference - Okitakoyi M. Lundula; Stephanie L. Schlimm; Emmanuel T. Naweji.
Persons to be commissioned for the work of an elder - Elizabeth Ann Bell; Christopher Eric Childs; Elad Shapira.
Persons to be ordained as elders - Melanie Ann Greengo; Nicholas Daniel Grove; Jae Hee Lee; Kayla Marie Lange; Joy Lynne Mitchell; Jeremy Michael Poland; Eric Zinnah Sayonkon; Michael Chase Slininger
The offering taken at the Ordering of Ministry Service benefitted Simpson Youth Academy.