The Rev. Elizabeth Mitchell Clement invoked the hope of enslaved Africans rehearsed in spirituals and the transformative power of speech with Jesus in her sermon, delivered at the closing worship of General Synod 28 in Tampa - July 5, 2011. Though the power of a song or a conversation to change lives strains the imagination of a high-tech world, she said, these held and embodied refreshment and transformation.
Jesus, said Clement, used conversation to transform. "His conversation is small, it's low-tech, it's freely accessible, it's portable and it's a powerful act of ministry," she said, "that upsets the status quo in the church leadership, and in society."
"In the presence of Jesus, only people mattered. He engaged people—whosoever—wherever—in practiced ways that valued their whole being, and their living, that cared for and about their quality of life," she said.
With Synod ending and the time to return home at hand, Clement asked the key question, what is possible? "The question itself is much more powerful than any of the answers we might propose at this moment," and she left the worshipers with four of them:
- What is possible when we put our life together as God's people, and care for covenant with God and each other, ahead of everything else?
- What is possible when we put aside fear, blame and scarcity in favor of holding the life-giving tension that is in diversity and difference, in refreshment and transformation, in what is and what is possible in God's own imagination?
- What can become in us, and our very particular gifts, what in us can become a spring to well up, because we know the gift of God, the free love of God in Christ Jesus?
- I wonder what I will have to do—I wonder what you will have to do—to make the next conversation a spring of water gushing up to save the life of somebody?
Because the woman at the well, she reminded the assembly, became a spring of water gushing up for others after her conversation with Jesus.
"She can give Jesus, too. It turns out, in fact, that everything Jesus does in this text, she can do—we can do. The church can hold that conversation that refreshes and transforms, heart by heart, door by door, street by street, that conversation that makes new possibility for a world that is pleading, 'Give me Jesus, please, give me Jesus.' "
With tears prickling in many eyes, the worshipers gave their thanks for the movement of the Spirit in her sermon with a standing ovation.
Elizabeth Mitchell Clement is an ordained minister in the Georgia South Carolina Association of the United Church of Christ. She and her family are members of the First Congregational Church UCC in Atlanta, Ga.
During the offering, young voices testified to their willingness to serve God. Speaking in a video montage of participants in the Youth @ Synod work projects, their enthusiasm was summarized by one young man: "The youth and young adults are willing to help and we're here to help… We wanted to be here helping, and that's why we are here."
In a closing blessing, youth first blessed the Collegium, then the Collegium offered thanks to God for the "rising voice of you dreamers." Joining the youth, they moved out into the congregation to share the blessing of living water with "My Church, Your Church, Our Church: this United Church of Christ."
As the final chords of music ended, and their echoes faded in the hall, General Synod delegates began their journey home, to become springs of water gushing up for a world pleading, "Give me Jesus."