Sermon- Bishop Bill McAlilly- Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bishop Bill McAlilly-sm

Wake Up to Love
Bishop Bill McAlilly- June 18, 2015

[this text was provided by our translator for the hearing impaired, Loveeta Baker, who did a transcription of his sermon. This is being provided in a rough-draft format.  Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.]


Come ye sinners, poor and weary, weak and wounded, sick and sore,
Jesus ready sends to claim us, full of pity, love and ‑‑
I will rise and go to Jesus, he will embrace me in his arms.
In the arms of my dear Savior, oh there are 10,000 charms.

Come ye thirsty, come and welcome, God’s free bounty glory find,
true belief and true repentance, every grace that brings new ‑‑
I will rise and go to Jesus, he will embrace me in his arms.
In the arms of my dear Savior, oh there are 10,000 charms.


It was 1799 when in Cane Creek, Kentucky, the first camp meeting was ever celebrated. It was a gathering mostly of Presbyterians, they came to worship and to serve and experience the sacraments and the Methodists heard about it, thought it was a good idea. And when Francis Asbury got wind he said we need 600 camp meetings a year by 1810.

I think we did our part. Tonight, tonight you have redefined the meaning of camp meeting by this worship experience, camp meeting will never be the same again. Amen?

Well, I have been following Bishop Goodpaster around my whole life. He moved to the meridian district, I moved. He moved to Tupelo, I moved to Tupelo.

I have been working some years trying to get my hands down, if I work long enough I will be able to preach with my hands like Bishop Goodpaster. What do you think?

It is good to be with you. It is good to be with you on this camp meeting night when we can celebrate our history, memory, life, spirit, God’s call on our lives. I am mindful, it is not lost on me that this night there may be some among us who identify with that ancient camp meeting song I will rise and go to Jesus. There may be some among us who are wounded. There may be some who are sick. Or sore. There may be some among us this night who are thirsty and who need to come to Jesus and be embraced by his arms.

Do you know anybody tonight like that? Here’s what I know. What I know is that among the people called Methodists there is a deep desire, a deep longing for the church to be revived. We long, long before Adam Hamilton wrote his book, we were longing for revival, which literally means to live again.

Recently your bishop and I had the privilege of suffering through a trip to Germany. Everyone ought to have to suffer going to a church meeting. We went to a church meeting in Germany. We were told to. It was the first trip I didn’t some major set back. I went to the holy land and fell, thought about the text where a man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell, I did. And I broke three ribs. It was not a holy experience.

Last August I went to Africa to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the night before I was to fly home I realized my pass port was missing. That will mess your whole trip up.

On this trip I didn’t break anything, lose anything, but what I did discover is this: I discovered the haunting empty cathedrals of Europe. Have you been there? Massive structures, centuries old with beautiful depiction of the Lord, icons, carvings. As we toured one grand cathedral our guide said this: We are spiritual here, we are just not religious.

We will light a candle and come pray, but we will not come to worship. Does this sound familiar? I have also been haunted by a YouTube video in recent the days, by a secular group called Avici, the name of the video is Wake Me Up.

Wake me up has these lines. I wish I could stay this young forever, not afraid to close my eyes, life made for everyone, love is the prize. Wake me up when it’s all over, when I am wiser, older, I was I did not know I was lost.

I didn’t know I was lost. I didn’t know I was lost. I didn’t know, I didn’t know, I didn’t know.

What strikes me beyond the catchy tune and powerful lyrics is this. 628 million have logged on to YouTube to watch this video. When was the last time 628 million people paid attention to anything we were doing?

Here’s my heart. Would that the 628 million know where they could be found. Life for everyone, love the prize, all this time I was finding myself and I didn’t know I was lost. Do you know anybody who might identify with those words? Perhaps some of the 628 million are longing for what they cannot even name, or what Pascal called a God shaped vacuum in the soul, and it is a vacuum only God can fill. And brother and sisters, some of these folk, some of this 628 million, those who have this God shaped vacuum live in your neighborhoods; hang out in the missions to which you have been called, but we good Methodists have more of an inkling to sit on our blessed assurance than to reach out to those who are lost and don’t know it.

I wonder, we’re Methodists, here at Annual Conference, this is my third in three weeks, I just love Annual Conference. I tell my people, I serve a two point charge, Memphis and Annual Conference, but I wonder if we need to wake up to the reality that we have tried to fill that God shaped hole with church stuff. Can I just say that?

Rather than what will truly wake us up and make us whole. When we do that, lose our joy of our life together, the people on the outside watching those who are watching will know it.

Somebody said if you fail to pray the first day, God will know it; the second day you will know it, and the third day everybody else will know it.

Because the world does, we who call ourselves Christians, they watch how we treat one another, how we behave, they watch how we love and do not love one another.

There’s a person from Mississippi, you have to love Walker Percy, the novelist. In his novel Love and Ruins, a fellow by the name of Dr. Tom Moore, a psychiatrist in a small town of Paradise. But things are far from paradise, paranoia around the corner, another catastrophe is going to happen, folks walk around sad and lonely: Dr. Moore is given the task of solving the human psyche in his own town. He begins to turn inward. He himself is not in any better shape than his patients.

He’s broken out worry, paranoia about the end of the world. He’s confused by the fact none of his relationships have any lasting quality and even though he keeps up appearances he spends most of the day feeling a little hollowed out. He analyzes himself the way he analyzes his patients. He thinks that his Roman Catholic upbringing was pretty good and religion and pretty good but doesn’t do much to change his outlook or way of life. Early in the novel he says this, “I believe in God, the whole business, but I love women most. Music and science next, whiskey next, God fourth, and my fellow man hardly at all.” general he says I do as I please.

Dr. Moore gets down to the business of really finding out what it is that he really loved. Here’s the question for you. Do you know your heart? Do you know it well? What are the things you truly love? So if we are doing this exercise, an experiment, take your worship book, write down the five people you love the most. Five names.

After you have written those five names, okay, write the next five. By the end of the exercise 10 names and these are the 10 people I love the most. Here’s the question after that. Is Jesus on that list?

Here’s another exercise. Anybody got a smart phone? Pull it out. Open up your browser I will do it with you. So I will know how long it takes you I got the smart phone out my browser up, I am going on type in this sentence “why are Christians so ”

Anybody got it? What do you get? Mean? What else? Judgmental. Anything else?

Hypocritical. Judgmental. Annoying. Haven’t even gotten to the Fs yet. Weird? Curious. That’s a little better.

We are not needing to go further. I don’t want to know the rest of the story.

The point, when you do a search engine, the algorithms of the universe are at work, telling us this is what the world thinks about us, folks.

People see through our brokenness, they see through our judgment, our meanness, hypocrisy, our troubles are deeper than we know. I will confess to you I feel burdened for the people called Methodists. Those among us whose souls are tired, broken and needy.

The other burden is for those that put on masks to cover up the brokenness, tiredness and neediness and we’re going around the world faking, faking, faking.

While struggling with these thoughts, ideas, I picked up the Bible, always good in these moments. I turned to the book of revelation. I don’t know if you have read this book, most Methodists haven’t, but there is pretty good stuff, especially in the early chapters. But chapter 2:4, John of stuck on an island, longing for the church in Ephesus to deepen their written near the end of the first century, to the seven churches in Asia minor, modern turkey, only in early century Christianity folks, not 10 10,000 years out, not far out at all. We are right there on the cusp.

And here’s this church at Ephesus where Paul lived and served more than two years. By the time Revelations is written, what is the word the group used today, vitality they had lost their vitality.

Christ speaking to the author of revelation noted the had become Lukewarm. You remember this in revelation 3. They were busy, active, working at the food pantry and clothes closet, tutoring children after school, but they had not produced any spiritual vitality. The Lord told them the key to the spiritual revival was to do the works you did at first.

There is not unique to Revelations, those churches. Look in the scripture, Old Testament in a generation they had fallen away, this is the history of Christianity, 500 year shift, in the movement of Christianity, those are not going to see the end of the change that’s coming, but it’s coming.

One of my favorite hymns, penned by a pastor, Robert Robinson, 1758. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.

Prone to leave the God I love, have you ever seen that? If you are prone to wander is it because you have forgotten your first love? Maybe if you forgot your first love it’s time to wake up, wake up to the love that has named us, claimed us, and found us. Do you remember when your heart was first strangely warmed?

I remember David Watson said what do you do if your heart ain’t so warm anymore? Was it when you were a young person coming to Lake Junaluska? Is that where your heart was first warmed? Camp T, or mission to Nicaragua, Honduras, or the Appalachian service where was it when your heart was first warmed by the love of Jesus Christ, where? I remember, Larry mentioned this, Bishop Goodpaster, Bishop G, kind of like Coach K. Works for me.

Mentioned camp Stevens, our beloved camp in Mississippi. It was August 1973, I had been to senior high camp, sitting on the end of the bunk in cabin one, a pastor who retired this year, my counselor said Bill, do you believe God is calling you to a deeper life with him? And is God possibly calling you to full time Christian ministry?

I confess to you there have been moments across the last 35 years when my heart has not always felt warm. And yet I know that in the deepest parts of my soul that God’s love will not let me go.

One of the things that comforts me, the disciples are so much like the people I know and work with every day. When they were called they said yeah, I’m in. When the going got tough they said “not so sure.” when it came to the cross they were afraid and began to focus not only on themselves, what are we going to do? There was denial. This is in any way sound familiar to anybody you know?

I have a hunch we the real reason we said yes to Jesus in the first place. Can it be we have forgotten our first love, need to wake up to love by remembering when we first fell in love the first time? I thought about the question, end of text, that was read a minute ago, John is such a powerful gospel. Things are never what they appear to be. There’s dark, light, and light and this and that and there’s Nick at Night, and there’s the woman at the well, the long lengthy conversations between Jesus and a woman, an unlikely follower, witnessed to her. A very strange gospel it is.

Here’s this powerful story, Simon Peter after Easter, now I don’t know if there are any fishermen in the house but here’s a blessing for you, it’s legitimate on the week after Easter to go fishing. It’s in the book.

You know the story, on the seashore, having the first fish fry, if you are from Mississippi you understand. The disciples were fishing, having no luck, he says throw your net over there and they caught a huge catch, 153, drag them in, Simon sees somebody familiar, jumps out, gets there, just praying that Jesus is not going to shun him or shame him or turn his back on him, just prayed at the depth of his being if this is really Jesus he will take me in his arm and love me and forgive me, and he does.

He says Simon, son of John, do you love me? Yeah! You betcha’. Simon, son of John, do you love me? Did you ever ask your children the same question twice? When they were about 15 and a half? Or has your spouse ever asked you the same question twice when you had a terrible horrible very no good day. It’s not a good thing, right? No one wants to have this question the second time. Simon, do you love me? Well, yeah. Why are you asking that again?

A third time. Simon, son of John, do you really, really love me? Lord, you know everything. You know me from head to toe, you know me inside out, every ounce of my being, yes, I love you with a love I cannot even describe.

If we’re going to wake up to love, the love Jesus has for us and the love he calls us to have for others, it’s going to start when we come clean and tell the truth. Tell the truth to ourselves and the truth to our neighbor and tell the truth to our Lord. [indiscernible] used to say we all walked with a limp because we need to be reminded we are broken like everybody else. I believe that’s true. To wake up to love is to be reminded we are in relationship. Once I became a bishop I don’t have many opportunities do those high and holy moments of a parishioner, to do a wedding, a young couple that had been in the church 25 years ago. I felt bad about saying yes, but I would have said worse about saying no. Brent’s daddy died, then wanted to marry, in Mississippi, in the chapel at the University of Mississippi chapel. There we stood, said the big important words, for better, for worse, forsaking all others, as long as you both shall live.

What was clear to me was that Brent and Brook had a deep and abiding love, deeper than many I made one mistake in the wedding, I don’t know if you ever made a mistake in a wedding, but I did, I introduced them as Mr. And Mrs. Brook Burns, not Mr. And Mrs. Brent Burns. I was looking at the wedding party, a bunch of 30 somethings who I can promise you do not know the Lord and are not thinking about what you are thinking about tonight. And my mind went to them. And what am I doing about it?

But more than that, as I was doing this ceremony I began to think about the things I know they do not yet know and unless they tend the fires of their love and give attention, making space to the differences in their life there will come a time when their love will cool down and if they are not careful, grow cool, distant. Those who have loved know, people don’t just drift award. We stop paying attention.

Stop tending to the other and being with, sharing a common life and purpose. The same is true in our walk with Christ. We don’t just fall away from Christ all at once, we drift away bit by bit, day by day, moment by moment. We stop tending the relationship, listening to the still small voice of God, stop praying and the practices that sustain us. We replace our first love of Jesus with church stuff.

Royalty to the institution and busyness and projects, can you believe a bishop just said that?

40 years ago, written, that the ultimate theological helplessness lies in the separation of Jesus Christ and the church. What would happen if the only scripture we had were the four gospels? Would your discipleship be different? Would you live in and under the kingdom of God? An adventure some community with lots of love, faithfulness, would you desire to lay down your life for your friends? Would this help?

What would our churches look like if we did so? Here’s what my church would look like. A church that laughs together. My first criteria, fight injustice together, eat together, raise each other’s children together, serve the poor together, help those in bondage to another what? You fill in the blank. What is it you are in bondage to? You help people, your sisters and brothers be released from that bondage. I long for a church that focuses on not a perfect church, we are not a perfect church and it’s not likely we are going to be one anytime soon so just get over it. But how inadequate is holistic Christ like, peaceful, holy, healthy probably wondering what this preacher preached last, going a little long, but I got something to say.

One of our preacher’s kids in the Tennessee conference, last year, end of freshman year in college, he was lost, I mean really lost. He had come to the point he was staying in the dorm room all the time, not socializing with the right people when he did. His behavior was not what he learned in the parsonage, trust me.

Over in Tennessee we have a ministry called project transformation, but it’s a tutoring program with inner city children. We take college students in the summers and match inner city churches and college interns, and members of the community, tutor to help them keep from losing reading capacity. Justin’s dad talked him into being a summer intern with Project Transformation. Justin said the students live in a dormitory together, community, they worship, he said the last thing I wanted to do was be around a bunch of happy Christians.

Then we started our project and there was mix, in the community, sixth grade, older than most of the kids there, I don’t know if you have ever met afternoon obnoxious sixth grader, but that was Nick. They matched Nick up and he began to work with the leaders. Last day of summer program Nick came and handed Justin a note with these words on it: “Justin, you saved my life.”

Justin said, with tears in his eyes, “No, Nick, you and this crazy bunch of Christians saved my life.”

I want you to know praying for the Western North Carolina Conference this week I led up to talking to you. Praying that you remember the walking and talking that got you here, the love in Christ Jesus our Lord and in the remembering, you will start singing to one or two of the 628 million people in the world who are lost and don’t even know it.

Maybe you will sing give them a cup of cold water, a little food, who knows, maybe just maybe the people called Methodists might wake up and remember our first love, and when we do there is not a force on the face of this Earth that will stop the movement of the people called Methodists to change the world.