God’s work reviving us

Bishop David Alan Bard asks us to rally to the task set before us, making disciples of Jesus Christ so that lives — and the world — can be different…

Growing up, my family was not extensively involved in our local church. My dad was raised Roman Catholic and did not attend church as an adult. My mom wanted my sister, my brother, and me to go to church, and we went with some frequency but had little involvement until I was older. I never heard the term “Rally Sunday” until I was a seminarian.

You won’t find Rally Sunday on liturgical calendars. Still, it is a term many of us use for that Sunday when we mark the end of summer vacations and the beginning of fall programming in the church, particularly church school. Rally Sunday is usually in September, and for those of you marking a Rally Sunday this fall, I hope they are wonderful days for your church. As I travel around, I hear a growing enthusiasm for gathering together, a hunger for in-person connections.

Not only is Rally Sunday not an official liturgical day, but the term “rally” is not really a theological word. “Rally” as a verb is commonly used in the context of sports or health. A baseball team, behind in late innings, scores and rallies for a win. A sick person, whose condition seems to be declining, rallies and returns to more robust health. As a noun, “rally” is a synonym for a gathering, often intended to inspire enthusiasm. It can also mean a re-gathering of people. Our use of the word in “Rally Sunday” is more closely connected to its meaning as a noun. We are gathering or re-gathering in ways we hope will inspire enthusiasm. In that sense, there is a related term that is more theological, “revive.” In Psalm 85:6, the psalmist asks, “Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?” “Revive” and “revival” are theological words, and we hope our Rally Sundays are part of God’s work reviving us, rekindling our hearts and minds in faith, hope, and love.

Revive is also one of the words that Bishop Thomas Bickerton, current president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, used in a March address to share his hope for the future of our church. “It is time, no dare I say, long overdue for us to go back to the heart of who we are, to use words once again like reclamation, revival, and renewal because we believe that those words lead to nothing less than a conversion of the heart. I believe at the heart of that reclaimed, revived, and renewed conversation is a need for us to discover once again what it means to be a beloved community.”

We are coming through a difficult time in our denomination, and we still have a ways to go. We are living in a challenging time in our nation and our world. Yet the call of God to us in Jesus Christ remains clear: Make disciples of Jesus Christ so that lives can be different — more whole, more loving, more caring, more thoughtful, more dedicated. Make disciples of Jesus Christ so that the world can be different — more just, more compassionate, more loving, more caring, more beautiful. May we rally to this task, reclaiming our call, praying for God’s Spirit to revive us, and renewing our commitment to Jesus Christ and the mission of God in the world.

Part of our renewal, as Bishop Bickerton noted, is a renewed commitment to building God’s beloved community. An essential element in doing that is taking seriously our history and its ongoing impact. This is at the heart of our anti-bias and anti-racism work.

August 28 marked the sixtieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., shared his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Only two days prior, a young white man walked into a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, FL, and began shooting. He killed three people before killing himself. A swastika was etched on his gun. He left behind hate-filled, anti-Black writings.

As followers of Jesus, we affirm that all people are created in the image of God, and we seek to build a world that reflects that. In the face of such heartbreaking and discouraging moments, may we find resilience, the ability to tackle challenges, and inner resources of grace to grow. May we renew our commitment to God’s work of building beloved community.

Rally. Reclaim. Revive. Renew. Be resilient. By the power of God’s Spirit, may it be so.

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