By Allison Trussell
FLORENCE—Dr. Paul Harmon challenged the Annual Conference delegates to become disciples God can use to work with children, with the poor and with strangers during the conference Bible study.
Monday’s lesson was taken from Luke 9:51-62 and Luke 10:1, 8-9. From these passages, we can learn what Jesus expects from his disciples, Harmon said.
Disciples behave with other people exactly as they do with other disciples; disciples aren’t judgmental; disciples don’t punish others for their perceived mistakes and do no harm; disciples have to live with rejection and are often friendless in this world; disciples proclaim the kingdom whether through preaching or actions; disciples don’t live in the past and look ahead to the kingdom.
Tuesday’s lesson used the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:15-21) to illustrate that we must be disciples to the poor. Harmon noted that there are few times in the Bible when the poor are put into a bad light. More often than not, they are seen as helpless victim, as people who need attention from those around them.
Our society, he said, plays a finite game in which there are winners and losers. But, he noted, God’s game is infinite and we, as disciples God can use, must concentrate on the infinite game and pay less attention to societal game. He ended the study with a recording of his song, “Come to the Table.” That song moved the congregation and is now available on the conference web site, www.umcsc.org. Proceeds from the download will go to Stop Hunger Now, the conference’s service project.
We must be disciples for children, Harmon proclaimed in the Wednesday morning service. But children aren’t just those who belong to us. We must see beyond “our” children and minister to all children.
In South Carolina, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, more than half the children live in less than viable conditions. Nearly 69 percent of children in poverty have parents with less than a high school education; 42 percent have a high school diploma. And 71 percent of these children come from single parent households.
“Don’t disciples of Jesus Christ look at children and want to immediately embrace them, protect them and watch over them?” Harmon asked. “Shouldn’t we reach out and offer some help and hope in this world? … We might think those born to us are our children, but, my friends, they are ALL our children. It is our responsibility to make the world safer, better for our children.”
Harmon then asked what churches are doing to help children, emphasizing that churches should do it because it needs to be done not in an effort to increase in size. “We need to get into God’s infinite game and promote abundant life. We need to do things for others and not for ourselves.”
Thursday’s lesson focused on being a disciple for the stranger. While many Old Testament passages warns of strangers, the New Testament has no warnings, just ways to treat people as children of God.
Harkening back to Tuesday’s lesson, Harmon noted that in a finite game, those in charge get to make the rules, but what gets lost is that somebody has to lose. Very often, those losers have darker skin, and “my white brothers and sisters need to be aware of it.”
Harmon spoke directly to the various groups within our church, and warned that people aren’t leaving the church because of the disagreements, but the way we treat those on the opposing sides.
“We are one family,” he said. “As disciples of Jesus Christ, we should make strangers our neighbors and neighbors our friends. Perhaps our friends will become seekers and seekers will become disciples. God doesn’t really need the United Methodist Church. We need God.”