Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño ACS 2021 closing worship message
November 02, 2021 | by Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño
Annual Session of the California-Nevada Conference
The United Methodist Church
October 31, 2021
Jeremiah 29:1-7 Mark 1:40-45
Editor's Note: Click here to see the video of Bishop Minerva giving her message.
We have been journeying under the flag of ¡Presente! as we have gathered this year for our 173rd
Annual Session of the California-Nevada Conference of The United Methodist Church. The word means “present” or “here” in Spanish. There is a long tradition in Latin American movements for justice of invoking the memory of those who have lost their lives in the struggles to overcome oppression. It is used in the ritual at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia, when those who suffered and were martyred by the very graduates of the School of the Americas are remembered. Their names are called out in memory of their spirits and witness and the gathered community responds: ¡Presente! You are here with us, you are not forgotten, and we continue the struggle in your name.
While a still relatively contemporary expression of remembering those who have struggled and given their lives for justice and peace, it is a concept also used in scripture. But scripture expands the vision. In the book of Jeremiah chapter 29 the prophet of God calls God’s people to be present in the land of the oppressor, to seek the welfare of the oppressor’s cities to where the Babylonian’s who conquered them have dragged God’s people away from their beloved home in Jerusalem and made them their slaves in exile. The welfare of the oppressive Babylonians and that of God’s people is inseparable. The people of God will not be freed from their oppression, made well from their suffering, find home, healing, and hope until their oppressors also receive healing and wholeness. God seeks the well-being of all of us.
Over these many months since this theme was prayerfully chosen for our 2021 Annual Conference Session, through our Clergy session in June, our Legislative session earlier this month, to this morning, I have been thinking about the men and women, young people, and children of Babylon in the time of Jeremiah. I think of them in the context of our own country, and I can’t imagine that they were all oppressors. Societies everywhere and in every generation have unfortunately been hierarchical, the powerful at the top and the powerless at the bottom. Today in the US we talk about the very rich, the rich, the upper middle-class, the lower middle class, the poor and the very poor. The hierarchy continues to grow with the rich becoming fewer and possessing more and the poor multiplying and possessing even less.
Babylon had its own hierarchy and not all held power. In other word’s there were Babylonian families who needed help as well, just like the people of Judah in exile. believe God yearns for the day when we are able to see one another’s humanity and seek one another’s well-being, even the well-being of the one who does oppress, making enemies of all he or she oppresses, and finding anxiety, loneliness, and even fear in their living.
I think God had hope that the people of Judah would know how to be Presente in Babylon. I believe God has hope that we will commit to being Presente in the communities where we live today, in the states of Nevada and California, at the borders of our states and giving witness to the nation and the world of what it means to be God’s people. God’s people who seek not only our own well-being but the well-being of everyone around us whether we know them personally or not. But all along God has known that we need help. Someone to show us how to do this – how to be Presente.
I believe you would agree with me that if anyone shows us how to be Presente! in our living, it is Jesus. Jesus who came, sent by God, to show us how to be Presente. Jesus whose presence of perfect light shows us the depth of the darkness and ignorance we live in. And even more, who in the here and now of every generation touches us with the perfect love of God for each and every one of us. Jesus began his ministry in the Temple, declaring that the kingdom of God had come – God was present! And he left that temple to show the world what that meant.
Immediately he went to the outskirts of town to the edges of the sea where fishermen were casting their nets. And he said to them, “Follow me.” And they did, because they felt that within Jesus was the presence of God.
They followed Jesus as he healed a man with an unclean spirit at the Temple, then on to Simon’s home, one of the common fishermen turned disciple, where Jesus healed his mother-in-law. Beyond her family, Simon’s mother-in-law was a person of little value in that society because she was a woman, an older person, and probably a widow – three strikes against her!
No one had ever been present with these people like Jesus. By sundown of that very day, the whole city gathered at the door of Simon’s home because of Jesus’ healing presence. And Jesus just kept being present, touching and curing many who were sick with various diseases, and casting out many demons.
The next morning Jesus got up early, while it was still dark, found himself a deserted place and prayed. Prayer renewed him and it renews us. Renewed he moved on to the neighboring towns announcing that the kingdom of God had come and healing many.
Friends, this is the definition of what it means to be Presente as people of faith – Announcing the good news that God has come among us and healing those who are broken and suffering. Now we are not Jesus, but are we not his church empowered by Jesus’ own holy spirit? I believe we are!
You’ve proven that. Through the pandemic, the brutal waves of outed racism, and the fires of a suffering Creation, you have fed the hungry, sustained the poor, walked with the dying, comforted the grieving, stood as a voice for anti-racism, given refuge and care to those running from deadly, life-destroying fires, kept the church alive while giving of your resources so that others near and far, could also live. I’m so proud of you and I know that God sees your presence in the communities where we live and serve and is pleased.
But Jesus teaches us that being compassionate is not enough. To be truly present in the places where we live, we have to be willing:
- To go where the broken and suffering are and be with them where they are.
- We must be willing to have our own lives changed.
- Even willing to have the plans we’ve set for our lives altered.
As Jesus continued his ministry through the towns of Galilee, a leper came to him, dropped on his knees before him, and begged him to heal him. He had faith in Jesus saying to him, “If you choose, you can make me well.” Jesus’ heart was moved. He stretched out his hand to the leper and did something that was not done. Jesus touched him and healed him.
Now lepers weren’t allowed to be in the community. They were banished to the outskirts of town, isolated, and forgotten in order to alleviate the fears of the community that they might be infected by this cruel illness. So how is it that Jesus encounters the leper? Jesus encounters him by going to the places where lepers live. Jesus does this time and again. Giving priority to those persons marginalized by society, going to the places where they lived and found themselves, like the leper. And there, healing them and restoring their lives. Because Jesus does choose
to heal human suffering.
Who are the suffering and marginalized of our day and age that we need to be present with as agents of God’s healing mercy because we are disciples of Jesus who calls us to follow him? I would hold up a few places where I have seen them.
- Alongside the Amtrak train tracks between Emeryville and Fairfield where a homeless encampment just keeps growing.
- In the communities with the highest poverty rate. Our area of northern California and northern Nevada has some of the poorest communities in each state, including the state capitols of both states.
- Central Valley where in some places there are more prisoners than the number of people who live in the communities where the prisons that hold these prisoners are.
- In the pockets of humanity in our cities and towns where undocumented immigrants live in the shadows caused by unjust immigration policies, discrimination, and economic oppression.
To name a few……
It’s hard going to these places even when we live there. But go there we must because it is where Jesus leads us for the well-being of those whom we will encounter, but also for our well-being.
I remember a woman, a devoted Christian, a good United Methodist who moved with her husband from New York state to a southern border community and quickly became troubled by the undocumented immigrants who crossed into this country every day, sometimes through her neighborhood. They were lawbreakers whom she feared. he wanted them gone. But one day she agreed to visit the desert where these immigrants crossed into this country, and it changed her perspective.
With others she traveled through a desert path followed by the immigrants learning of immigrants dying in the desert because of hunger but especially because of thirst. She learned of babies and toddlers being brought across the desert with its extreme temperatures, and dangerous terrain. She saw water stations that had been placed in the desert by good Samaritans after learning of persons who hadn’t made it because of the lack of water including a teenage girl whose death had caused the Bureau of Land Management and the local native American tribe to finally agree to allow a water station to be placed in the area where that teenage girl had died.
It was a long day’s trip into the desert where immigrants crossed, but she was not yet convinced that the immigrants should be extended any care until she came face to face with two of them.
The van she was traveling in, was the last van to leave the desert. She was seated close to the back of the van by a window, her head leaning against the glass of the window as she took the day in when suddenly she saw what appeared to be two bodies under a desert bush. She shouted to the van driver to stop. She’d seen something that troubled her. The van driver stopped, and they all got out of the van to see.
Out from under the bush came two young boys, not dead but suffering from hunger and thirst and abandonment. They were 12 and 13 years of age. They had been part of a larger group of immigrants, but when the human traffickers they or their families and friends had paid to help them cross the desert had shown up, there hadn’t been room in their vehicles for all of them, so these boys, being considered of less value than the others, were left behind in the desert to fend for themselves.
The desert visitors gave them food and water they were carrying asking them many questions. They had come to this country to find their family members already here, to work to help the rest of their family back in their home country to survive, to escape gang violence and to hopefully live beyond their youth. Finally, these immigrant boys had a question for them: Which way was San Francisco, because that’s where they were headed.
The woman and the group she was with, encouraged these immigrant boys to hand themselves over to the Border Patrol. San Francisco was too far for them walk to. Visiting the desert as the woman and her group had, had required an agreement with the Border Patrol that included not transporting any immigrants. So, this group of United Methodists left those boys in the desert. They did inform the Border Patrol of their encounter with these immigrant boys, but they never learned what happened to them. I do know what happened to the woman.
Having shown up in the desert and met those immigrant boys, even reluctantly, led that woman to become a great advocate for immigrants. To this day she shows up to be with them along their immigrant journey. Her presence has become one of solidarity with them, advocating for a change of the immigration policies of this country. Her work and that of others has brought a collaborative relationship between the sector Border Patrol Office and The United Methodist Church that has led to the creation of a ministry that welcomes immigrants and helps them on their way. And she will tell you that being present in the desert where immigrants walk has transformed her life, giving her new meaning and purpose for her life that has blessed her. It is a special blessing that comes only when we are willing to be present in the lives of those who suffer. It is what Jesus teaches us. But we have to be ready to have our lives changed.
After Jesus healed the leper, suddenly the leper was the free one and Jesus the captive! Jesus told the healed leper to go to the Temple and show the priests that he no longer had leprosy, that he was clean, so that he could be reinstated into the community. That was one of the functions of the priest. But he also told him not to tell anyone else. Jesus was just beginning his ministry and needed space and time to do his work. But the former leper couldn’t help himself!
He who had absolutely no hope of ever being healed, of ever seeing his family again, of ever being part of the larger community, of ever being fully alive again, was suddenly healed and restored. The sheer joy of what he must have felt in no longer hurting and being able to go home did not allow him to contain his witness. He was healed and Jesus had healed him! Praise God! It was good for him but bad for Jesus.
Suddenly the healed leper could go anywhere, but Jesus, to avoid the crowds that heard of his healing power, had to stay out of town in out-of-the way and lonely places. So, Jesus healed the leper and then took on his life – a life of separation and marginalization and for a while loneliness. You know what it makes me think of? It makes me think of the dismantling of racism in our church. There is going to have to be some switching of places if we are truly committed to the dismantling of our institutional racism.
As United Methodists we are committed at least in word to the dismantling and eradication of racism. We have been for a long time. But our membership figures don’t show it. The UMC is still today in the U.S. 92+% White. Even when the recent census tells us that the country is quickly becoming more and more diverse by the decade. We are proud in the California-Nevada Conference that we are perhaps the most diverse Conference in The UMC, at least in the United States. Our diversity is a sight to behold, an image of the reign of God that is here and yet coming. But let’s not get too comfortable friends. There is still racism in the California-Nevada Conference, deeply embedded in our institutional ways of being.
In many of the cultural competency trainings I have undergone I have been asked how many people of a different race and/or culture are in my closest circle of friends – people I spend personal time with, have over for dinner, go to the movies with, share special days with like birthdays and holidays. Over the years my circle of closest friends has become more diverse, but I’m not at a place where I can say my life reflects a fully inclusive life. I see the same in our Conference.
While we may have a racially inclusive conference, are we friends and family together? What I see is a family of distant cousins at best, and you what is sometimes said of distant cousins. Each racial ethnic group has its own church, its own committee, its own caucus, and with only infrequent coming together. These are necessary expressions of our ministry, but it is not enough. We cannot just stay there. We’ve got to break the silos of our existence and be present with one another if we are truly to be leaders in the dismantling of racism, our own Conference’s institutional racism included.
Friends, breaking our own institutional racism is going to take being willing to switch places, like Jesus did with the healed leper. I hope you can hear me from the love that I hold for all of you. Those of you who are White and have long held institutional power need to switch places with our racial ethnic brothers and sisters who have long suffered the isolation, marginalization and loneliness inflicted by racism and racial inequity. Here are some ways of switching places with our racial-ethnic brothers and sisters in this Conference.
- Allow persons of color to not only serve in positions of leadership in the Conference but extend to them the authority and the power of those positions.
- Trust racial-ethnic persons when they share with us what has hurt them, their families, and their communities and what will bring healing to their suffering.
- Seek places where ministries among persons of color are needed and invest in them even if the financial return will not be forthcoming any time soon because of the hurdle it will take to overcome racial inequity.
- Don’t assume that people of color have brains that only function on group-think mode. People of color are individuals with their own minds, thoughts, opinions, hopes, dreams, and visions, just like White people.
- Switch places with a person of color, be willing to be present in their space in life even in this Conference. It may bring healing to them, and even heal you.
But there’s one last thing I want us to reflect on. It’s what we learn from Jesus about being Presente, fully present, in a hurting world. We must be willing to have the plans we’ve set for our lives, the life of our local churches and our world-wide United Methodist Church altered.
Jesus had a plan for how he would accomplish his ministry in the short years he had for his mission upon this earth. But his healing of the leper and the leper’s joyous response not only had Jesus switching places with him, but actually changing, altering the trajectory of his ministry.
Jesus had planned to go village to village, town to town, city to city, preaching, teaching, and healing. Read the account of the Gospel According to Mark. Jesus’ ministry plan comes to us fast! But healing the leper forces Jesus to change his plans. He becomes an itinerant pastor in the wilderness. And guess what? The people flock to him for healing mercy on the hillsides, along the dusty roads, on the seashores, on the edges of towns, in homes gathered in the darkness of night, and even on boats in the middle of lakes. Jesus alters his plans because one who was suffering, the leper, needed his help.
As we prepare for the next General Conference of The United Methodist Church, I cannot help but think and pray for our LGBTQ brothers, sisters, siblings. Talk about treating people like lepers! It’s what we’ve done to those among us whom God created with an LGBTQ identity and orientation. It was not their choice, but God’s blessing to them and to us. Yet we marginalize these siblings, ostracize them, and refuse to let them come home because they have been so bold as to speak transparently to us and to the world from their authentic selves.
But friends, have no doubt about this, Jesus is healing them, has healed them, our LGBTQ sisters, brothers, siblings. Jesus is healing them from the trauma we the church have inflicted upon them. And Jesus has already welcomed them home to his body and his church and I believe, is changing the narrow plans we had set for the church and setting a right path for the future of The United Methodist Church.
By God’s grace and all that Jesus’ keeps teaching us we may yet become a truly itinerant church, present in the lives of those hurting in the world, everywhere, in each one of our communities. An itinerant church that goes where God’s people find themselves, meeting them where they are, attending to one another’s needs with unconditional love out of our own vulnerability of being imperfect sinners in a broken world that only Jesus can heal.
I’m praying for The United Methodist Church, its next General Conference, to alter its plans for its future, fully welcoming those whom Jesus has touched and healed and welcomed home, and because of whom Jesus has set a new plan, a new course for its future, namely our LGBTQ siblings.
Being present and seeking the welfare of the communities where God has sent us, serving the needs of the people God calls us to love, we shall find our own welfare.
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño is Resident Bishop of the San Francisco area and the California-Nevada Conference of The United Methodist Church.