The new Resident Bishop for northern California and northern Nevada served up “good, ol’ fashion preaching” with a contemporary message at his Installation service on October 4 at Central United Methodist Church in Stockton, California.
Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr. issued a challenge for today’s United Methodists to get over “personal predilections and preferences” to make their message accessible: to young people, to different language groups, and to “people who worship and praise our God in slightly different ways.”
If we can’t make that happen here, the bishop warned, “it will be recorded in our history that some time in the 20th or 21st Century, the people called Methodists in the California-Nevada Annual Conference decided to stop living into the Promise and to be satisfied with the present.”
“Friends, we have serious and essential work to be done,” he continued.
“God invites us to live out the Scriptures in every local church so that lives are changed, that communities are made whole, that we find some joy to be excited about. That we aren’t singing dead songs about an old past, but that we are jubilantly praising what God is doing now – and looking with great expectation into the future that we’re handing off to others.
“God invites us to join God in making history today, and keep on making it,” he finished.
Entrusted with something “for all generations”
Looking at a congregation sporting more than a few gray hairs, and pointing to his own, Brown told those gathered that it isn’t enough “to get it right, or think we have, and [then] to go off to our rest and be satisfied. God has entrusted us with something that is for all generations.”
At the core of his message was an impassioned reminder of what it is that we’re charged with communicating: the reality of the transformational power of Jesus Christ to provide healing, pardon, and recovery for a world in desperate need of it. God, he said, is shaping us to be his Holy witness to that pardon, and also to be a part of the processes of healing and recovery, “That our world, bruised and battered as it might be, might know that this year – right now – our God is able, and willing, and, in fact, is active – that the world might be whole, and made free!”
Brown recalled standing at the foot of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., as a 17-year-old boy, and hearing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
“The Word of God was going to speak, and it was going to speak through people,” the bishop said.
“And when people take seriously that Word, and step out and announce in His name – as Dr. King was doing that day – a word about God, [then] God’s Word makes history.”
When we live in ways that witness to the living Christ, it will transform us and transform the world, Brown said, while noting that even as Jesus Himself – freshly baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit – was immediately confronted by the temptations of the world, so must we face temptation.
A “diverse reality for a diverse people”
“We come with great audacity and hope that we might live into this Scripture, that the baptism might be renewed afresh every day, as we find new ways to build community and make friends for Jesus,” the bishop said. “But so many things seek to discourage us. We are tempted to think, ‘well, you know the real power is in the world of wealth and money and business, and all of the officialdom of the world, and politics, and all of those things – that’s where the real important stuff is.
“Jesus knew that that is a lie. One of many lies we’ll be told regularly. But the truth is that our God reigns. And our God’s reign upon this earth is already underway. And we are called to shake off our timidness and to live into it.
“God has got a diverse reality for a diverse people,” Brown said. “But God has called us to be that people. We are in the most diverse part of the world. We are perhaps the most diverse church. We are in a country that is growing in diversity and multiplicity of languages … and instead of growing in unity we are being divided by lies, we’re being divided by classism, we’re being divided by all kinds of ‘me over you’ push and pull of all kinds.
“I don’t say that as a political statement because it’s not associated with any particular political group. There’s enough wrong to go around for everybody to share. But I would suggest to you, my friends, it is time to say ‘no!’ to that foolishness and ‘yes!’ to God. It is time to take seriously the words we have been proclaiming, about inclusiveness and extending our Table, for the last 40-some years: to live into it in a way that it grows even further.”
“What’s your vision?”
Brown said he will be asked, “Bishop, what’s your vision for us?” His answer will be, he said, that the Conference has a marvelous vision that talks about living out Jesus Christ’s Presence in the world and expressing His compassion and love: a vision that is in alignment with the mission statement of the United Methodist Church, to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
“So I will not be coming to you with new propositions for vision. I hope to be coming to you with a lot of good questions. Good questions like, ‘we have a vision: now why aren’t we gettin’ to it?’ Questions like, ‘how are we going to make disciples for Jesus Christ, that this world, much in need of transformation, might discover the beauty of that power and transformation, here and now? How are we going to build bridges of reconciliation within our community? Because the reality is, just like our whole country and our whole world, we among us don’t see things the same way all the time, or even most of the time.”
Brown served in the California-Nevada Annual Conference in several capacities, 1979-2000, and was nominated by this Conference as a candidate for the Episcopacy. Elected in July, 2000, he served as Resident Bishop for the Denver Area until his reassignment to Cal-Nevada in July of this year.
Having returned to what he views as his home conference, Bishop Brown assured his listeners, “I haven’t changed.” And said, “It is following in the footsteps of Jesus that I come home. Not that I am anything other than just like you – another baptized Christian, seeking to walk in His footsteps.
“I will need you to remind me from time to time, who I am. And Whose I am. And I, in turn, will remind you.”
The Conference Episcopacy Committee organized two receptions to welcome Bishop Brown and his wife, Minnie Jones Brown, home to Cal-Nevada. The first was held on Sunday, October 5 at Korean United Methodist Church of Santa Clara Valley in San Jose, California. The second will be hosted by First United Methodist Church in Carson City, Nevada this Saturday, October 11, at 2 p.m. The church is located at 412 W. Musser St., Carson City, NV 89703. Everyone is invited to attend the reception.