The Rev. Dr. Emanuel Cleaver III, senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church along with The Praise Team from St. James UMC, opened the 2012 Missouri Annual Conference with the call to “Transform and Roll Out.”
The Praise Team opened the worship with high energy music in a contemporary gospel tradition. Their spirit-filled praise transformed the buzz and hum of gathering into a lively, God-focused celebration. The praise songs engaged us and inspired us to acknowledge that God is all we need, that every breath we breathe comes from God, and that God promises a harvest. The power of the Spirit in the rhythms and emotions of the music, called us to listen to and to claim God’s promised harvest.
Cleaver began his message by reading 1 Samuel 3:1-10, which tells the story of God’s call to Samuel, a boy living in the temple with Eli during a time when Israel had no kings. It was a time when the people rarely listened to God. The people of Israel needed change that would transform them once again into the faithful people of God. Cleaver acknowledged that like Israel, The United Methodist Church also needs change. Change for Israel began when Samuel was quiet and able to hear God. The good news is that God calls and if we listen there will be change on a personal level and on a congregational level so that we can transform the world.
In the scripture, the young boy Samuel went to a seasoned believer to respond to a call he heard in the night. He needed guidance from Eli, and Eli listened to Samuel. He did not tell Samuel what to do other than listen. Eli and Samuel had to work together. The young boy gained the wisdom to listen to God from Eli, who knew that God was speaking to the boy. God was about to do a new thing through Samuel, and this new thing would be multigenerational. Cleaver reminded us that in the Bible, other great movements of God have been multi-generational. Mary, the mother of Jesus, visited her older relative Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptizer. This biblical witness reminds us that God does things in a multi-generational way, and that God wants to build a multi-generational church.
God’s change often requires tough decisions. Some things have to be left behind, yet, frequently we discover that we have a “Back to Egypt” committee in our church. This committee is the one that says, “We never did it that way before.” Like lobsters, we need to go through a molting process. A lobster must leave its shell in order to grow. It becomes vulnerable. A new stronger shell will grow, however. The United Methodist Church, says Cleaver, is stuck in its shell and must leave it in order to get a new shell. There is a new shell if we are willing to leave the old shell. Seasoned believers must be like Eli willing to listen to the Samuel generation.
Cleaver found two critical points of good news in the scripture. First, The lamp of God had not yet gone out. Christians understand Jesus as the light of the world. As long as we keep Jesus at the center of what we do, the light has not gone out. Second, God spoke. The question in this good news is do we listen? God is not a stagnant God. God moves. We are supposed to DO something. God calls us to change, to transformation.
Cleaver invited us to remember the Image of “transformers” and Optimus Prime, the leader of the autobots. When they gathered, he would tell them “Transform and roll out.” In an inspiring call at the end of his message, Cleaver called all of us, district by district, to do the same. Transform and roll out!