Bishop Innis Preaches at Liberia Summit 2014

Liberia Summit

November 13, 2014

Text: 2 Corinthians 8:1-8

Theme: “From Deep Poverty, Rich Generosity”

2 Corinthians 8:1-8

Now I want to tell you, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done for the churches in Macedonia. Though they have been going through much trouble and hard times, their wonderful joy and deep poverty have overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the gracious privilege of sharing in the gift for the Christians in Jerusalem. Best of all, they went beyond our highest hopes, for their first action was to dedicate themselves to the Lord and to us for whatever directions God might give them.

 So we have urged Titus, who encouraged your giving in the first place, to return to you and encourage you to complete your share in this ministry of giving. Since you excel in so many ways – you have so much faith, such gifted speakers, such knowledge, such enthusiasm, and such love for us – now I want you to excel also in this gracious ministry of giving. I am not saying you must do it, even though the other churches are eager to do it. But this is one way to prove your love is real.

DSCN1662Brothers and sisters in Christ, I bring you greetings on behalf of the Liberia Conference of the United Methodist Church and your brothers and sisters in Liberia. Irene and I are very grateful to be here at this Liberia Summit to celebrate our shared ministry in Liberia. Our continued partnership together is an abiding witness to God’s healing and restoration made manifest in us and through us as His servants.

I also stand before you today as a living witness to God’s abiding healing and restoration in my own life and in the hope of God’s healing for our beloved nation of Liberia. Most recently, I praise God for healing mercy and grace following my back surgery in July. As many of you know, I have been here in the U.S. since late spring to undergo major back surgery in Massachusetts. The recovery has been long and hard, but I am grateful that each day brings more mobility and less pain. But I also know that God’s healing was possible through the loving hands of doctors, nurses, and therapists who have served as instruments of God’s grace for me as they do for many others.

During this same season of healing here for me, our people in Liberia and throughout Sierra Leone and Guinea have been suffering unbearably.  Undoubtedly, you have heard the foreboding reports of the Ebola crisis and its impact throughout West Africa. As more people are infected and dying, our schools remain closed and the economy continues to suffer. As a leader of the people who cannot currently be among his people, I suffer, too. I wonder what actions to take as a spiritual leader of a people who are suffering. But God’s Word gives us hope AND God’s people give us hope as the Church and our people in Liberia continue to minister faithfully despite their own poverty and suffering.

In light of that task, I bring to you a message today entitled:

From Deep Poverty, Deep Generosity

 In our scripture reading from 2 Corinthians 8, the apostle Paul spoke to the Church in Corinth, encouraging them to KEEP GIVING of themselves. And as a witness and encouragement for their giving, Paul reminds them of the continued faithful giving of the Church in Macedonia where there was much suffering and loss.

Listen again to this scripture, but this time, let’s hear how it reflects the current ministry of the Church in Liberia. Again, listen to the words of 2 Corinthians in the context of Liberia today:

Now I want to tell you, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness is doing for the churches in Liberia. Though they have been going through much trouble and hard times, their wonderful joy and deep poverty are overflowing in rich generosity. For I can testify that they are giving not only what they can afford but far more. And they are giving from their own free will… Best of all, they are going beyond our highest hopes, for their first action is to dedicate themselves to the Lord and to the work of the Church for whatever directions God might give them.

 These, of course, are the words of the apostle Paul spoken to the Church in Corinth almost 2000 years ago. But in fact, these could be the very same words that I speak to you about the Church in Liberia today. Because I am here today to reflect the SAME tasks that Paul had.

First, I want to tell you, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness IS doing for the churches in Liberia. Secondly, I want to tell you how the churches, in response to God’s goodness, are responding in their OWN giving by dedicating themselves to the work of the Lord in the midst of dire hardship.

And lastly, I am here to encourage you, as Paul did the Church in Corinth, to KEEP ON GIVING of yourselves in partnership with the Church in Liberia.

So let’s begin, as Paul did, giving glory and thanks to God for his kindness and mercy being shown even now in Liberia. All good things begin and end with God. Amen?!

For God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!

Even in the midst of the extreme suffering in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, we hear signs of hope and God’s goodness at work. We give thanks for the many people who have voluntarily gone to serve as agents of God’s healing grace through the doctors and nurses coming to our aid. And we give thanks for the support that is bringing new clinics and medical centers that are not only essential now to treat the many suffering from Liberia but to meet what was already a dire need for adequate health facilities in our nation.

Once again, the apostle Paul was speaking to the Church, this time in Rome, who was enduring great suffering when he spoke these words of encouragement to them from Romans 8:

All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose for them.

No one, but no one, would have ever hoped for such a tragedy as Ebola in our borders. We know that God did NOT bring this on our people. However, we DO know that God can use even this incredible suffering to bring good to the people of West Africa.

We give God thanks and praise for the love shown from the Church abroad and even from secular groups and governments who we believe and trust are being used to do the Lord’s good among our people.

In addition to my witness to God’s goodness, I also bring witness to the Church in Liberia’s faithful response to the goodness being shown them. Day by day, I am humbled and blessed by the faithful response and perseverance of our people there. Despite deaths within our churches, loss of jobs, growing hunger and spreading fears, our people continue to GIVE OF THEMSELVES far beyond what they can afford.

Our United Methodist Church, through the work of local congregations, districts, Gbanga School of Theology, and other schools, the Church is leading the way in preventing the spread of this dreaded disease through dissemination of sanitation kits and education programs. Our own United Methodist Communicator in Liberia, Julu Swen, along with his counterpart in Sierra Leone, Philius Jusu, received top honors and recognition last month as United Methodist Communicators of the Year for their fearless reporting of the Church’s response in the Ebola crisis and beyond. Children, laity, and clergy alike are giving of themselves sacrificially in the midst of their own suffering to decrease the suffering of others.

In response to God’s goodness to them, they are responding in gracious giving of themselves to others. Out of their deep poverty is springing a rich generosity.

So, as Paul did, I ask of you to heed the encouragement of our brothers and sisters there to continue to GIVE OF YOURSELVES now even more than ever.

Once again, I want to read to you the words of Paul and ask you to hear them as they relate to YOU, dear brothers and sisters, and your ongoing ministry in Liberia:

 You excel in so many ways – you have so much faith, such gifted speakers, such knowledge, such enthusiasm, and such love for us in Liberia. Now I want you to excel also in this gracious ministry of giving. I am not saying you must do it, but this is one way to prove your love is real.

 We are gathered here at this Summit because of our deep and abiding love for Jesus Christ and our deep commitment to the people of Liberia. Through your ministry among us over the years, you have excelled in so many ways. You have so much faith. Among us, you have been gifted teachers, preachers, builders, and givers. But most of all, you have been faithful witnesses to Christ, and you have shown that your love for him – and for us – is real.

But we need you as much now as ever. Even though there are emerging signs of hope that the Ebola tide may be turning, we are far from full recovery and the effects that remain.

So I am asking you to give of yourselves in the pattern of how the Holy Spirit gifts us: through your WORDS, your DEEDS and through SIGNS that point to God.

First, give through your WORDS about Liberia. Less than a year ago, most people in this nation and around the world had never heard of Liberia. But almost daily, our name is spoken on many lips but we are still far, far from many of their hearts. Unfortunately, fear and paranoia have caused resistance to us. But as Scripture tells us, Perfect LOVE casts out all fear.

Speak words of LOVE about the people of Liberia and in the face of fear, speak a message of HOPE. Tell our people’s stories of perseverance and ministry despite the spread of disease and lack of resources. Tell of their sacrifice and willingness to help one another, even when faced with the threat of disease and death. And tell why you, through your love of Christ and your brothers and sisters there, choose to give of yourselves as well.

And as you speak of your love for Liberia, continue to give through your DEEDS in Liberia. Specifically, we continue to need your support for building hospitals, clinics, and schools. Your support for pastors’ and teachers’ salaries is needed now more than ever as many are going without any income and hunger is spreading faster than Ebola throughout the nation. Find ways to support specific efforts, such as the Rice Bucket Challenge to purchase much needed rice which has more than doubled since the Ebola outbreak. Every gift matters. And as you give, SPEAK WORDS of invitation to others to join you in your giving.

And lastly, your WORDS and your DEEDS will point as SIGNS to God. Your continued faithful giving of yourselves will give SIGNIFICANCE to the ONE in whose name you are giving. Once again, as Paul says to the Church in Corinth:

You will be glorifying God through your generous gifts. For your generosity proves that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. And others will pray for you with deep affection because of the wonderful grace of God shown through you.

So be it. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.