During her sermon at our Opening Eucharist, the Presiding Bishop called us to be mindful of the example of the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist; she said, “this convention is about road-building in the desert.” For me, this image of building roads in the desert is especially intriguing and has caused me to reflect more deeply on our work at this 78th General Convention.
On the one hand, the desert can be a strikingly barren place. The desert represents the territory that is often unknown, uncharted, and therefore, full of the unexpected. The desert is a place of scarcity, isolation, dryness, and fatigue. For me, these various images and attributes of the desert are reflective of the complex and diverse challenges we face as church. As we explore changes to our church structure and the renewal of our missional identity in the twenty-first century, we are entering into unexplored and uncharted territory. There is so much that we simply don’t know about the future, which is, for many, a source of great anxiety. We face the reality of scarce resources, both human and financial. Ultimately, in the midst of these challenges, we wrestle with spiritual fatigue and dryness; we all to often experience the pain of isolation and barrenness.
And yet, despite the challenges we face in the desert, it has the potential to be a place of spiritual strengthening and renewal. When everything is stripped away and we are faced with the bare essentials of our spiritual existence, there is the possibility of rediscovering a deep sense of God’s presence and power in our midst. The desert is the place where the people of God have continually been prepared to enter into the new land of promise and abundance. The desert is a place of vulnerability where we learn to depend upon God alone. Faithfulness, obedience, and humility are ultimately forged in the barrenness of the desert.
As we enter into the complexities and challenges of this General Convention, I am praying that we will indeed live into our calling to be “road-builders” in the desert. I am praying that we can be vulnerable, yet courageous; bold, yet humble; innovative, yet faithful; creative, yet always obedient to the truth and wisdom of God’s word. These are exciting, yet challenging times in the life of the church as we seek to live into God’s vision of healing and wholeness for all of creation.
The following version of Isaiah 40:3-5 from The Message is an inspiring summation of our call to be “road-builders” in the desert, “road-builders” for the Kingdom of God!
“Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth,
a highway fit for our God.
Fill in the valleys,
level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts,
clear out the rocks.
Then God’s bright glory will shine
and everyone will see it.
and everyone will see it.