“Thankful for God’s Surpassing Peace”
Thursday, November 28, 2019
Sisters and brothers of the Great Plains Conference,
May the peace of Jesus Christ be with your spirit this Thanksgiving Day.
Together, we have come through some very anxious and worrisome times this past year. Climate impacts throughout Kansas and Nebraska caused billions of dollars of damage and loss to our people, properties, communities, businesses, and our farming and ranching industries. The decisions of the special session of General Conference 2019 in St. Louis brought distress and pain to people and congregations. Many of us have experienced personal losses of beloved family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. All of us are living with and working to resolve varying levels of complex and chaotic situations without easy solutions.
And yet through it all, the amazing grace and love of God has always been with us, filling us with hope, resiliency, and a peace that surpasses understanding.
I am thankful in this season of Thanksgiving and at the beginning of a new Christian year for so much and especially for all the ways I have seen God’s goodness express itself through you.
I am thankful this year for the way the people of the Great Plains Conference came together to generously contribute more than $850,000 for flood relief and recovery efforts in Nebraska. I’m thankful for how our clergy and congregations led in times of weather-related crises, serving as community organizers and mission stations to provide food, clothing, and basic supplies for people affected by flooding. You opened your hearts and your church doors to provide respite stations for flood recovery work teams. I’m thankful for all of the Great Plains disaster response teams that gave and spent countless hours of their time helping people restore their flood-damaged homes and properties. The unselfish generosity of your financial resources, leadership, and servanthood proclaimed that Christ cared and provided for those affected by natural disasters. In addition, the people of the Abaco and the Grand Bahama Islands are thankful to God because you gave generously to my appeal for contributions to UMCOR for relief efforts after Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that demolished their islands this past September.
I’m thankful for the difficult yet sensitive pastoral work of clergy and lay leaders before, during, and after the 2019 special session of General Conference. You have entered into difficult, uncomfortable, and grace-filled conversations with your key leaders, your congregations, and each other. In the midst of conflict, you have experienced the promise of Christ’s reconciling presence and peace. You have led with a shepherd’s heart, and you have kept your congregations together in the bonds of unity and peace throughout a very difficult year.
Our average worship attendance is up over last year. We can interpret the higher Sunday worship attendance to mean that people are turning to our churches to find God’s peace through God’s abundant means of grace in their time of need. People in our churches are finding authentic Christian community, sacred places of welcome and belonging, spiritual nourishment through the sacrament of holy communion, access to God’s heart and provision through prayer, and songs of faith that helps them transcend the cares of today and the worries of tomorrow. People are hearing the gospel of God’s love and reconciliation that brings peace to their anxious souls and helps them rise above our polarized world. They are hearing words of hope that assure them that God is working things out, and they are hearing and receiving words and acts of healing for the body, mind, relationships, and their souls. And they are hearing the gospel of salvation and new life in Christ through liturgies, creeds, the reading of scripture, and preaching.
I am thankful for all the ways our clergy have walked with families and individuals through the dark valleys of life during times of crisis, distress, disappointment, and loss of loved ones. I am thankful for all the ways our congregations demonstrate Christian love by caring for people and families in pain, bringing them spiritual comfort and bearing their burdens. United Methodists in Kansas and Nebraska are being used by Christ to heal wounded spirits through their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.
The apostle Paul wrote these words to his beloved church in Philippi:
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
We are a thankful people in this season of uncertainty because the Lord is always near, and we need not worry or be anxious about anything. Through prayer and supplications, we receive the gift of inner peace that comes from God, and we know we can leave things in God’s hands. The inner peace of God dispels all our worries and anxieties. God’s peace in us surpasses our notion of understanding of how God always abundantly gives us grace beyond the measure of our need. God’s peace keeps us secure, regardless of whatever outward troubles besiege us. And it is for the gift of God’s surpassing peace that we can be most thankful this Thanksgiving Day and always, come what may.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving.
Grace and peace,
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr.