2021 Annual Conference: Love can change the world, Bishop Fairley says

June 08, 2021
By Alan Wild
Knowing and showing the love of God is more important than ever for United Methodists during this season of change and uncertainty, Bishop Leonard Fairley said in his sermon at the start of the business meeting of the 2021 online Annual Conference.

“We must not grow weary in well-doing,” Fairley said Tuesday, June 8, during his sermon, titled “A More Excellent Way.”

“We must fight the good fight understanding that COVID-19 cannot stop and has not stopped the love of God. Hatred, injustice, nor racism of any kind will ever stop the love of God,” Fairley said.

“It is my prayer that people called United Methodist in Kentucky will in both word and deed live into the great hope that absolutely nothing will, can, or ever stop the flow of God’s love,” he continued. “It is simply our calling as individuals, and as an Annual Conference, to share this amazing love in a hurting, uncertain, and anxious-filled world. We can do this, Kentucky!”

The 21-minute sermon was recorded in April at Hopkinsville UMC. The live portions of this year’s Annual Conference gathering are again taking place online because of concerns about COVID-19. As the 2020 Annual Conference was conducted in December, the business meeting is being streamed by GNTV and Conference Communications from a temporary studio at the Conference Center in Crestwood.

Fairley opened his message by imagining that the Apostle Paul was answering a series of questions relevant to today on what is necessary to be a genuine passionate spiritual disciple.

“Imagine Paul has been patiently listening,” Fairley said. “When he feels all the questions have been asked, he looks up with a twinkle in his eye and answers, ‘But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.’ After pausing in anticipation of the obvious next question – which probably will be, ‘What is this more excellent way?’ – Paul breaks into the explanation around the one non-negotiable core value for all who are born-again followers of Jesus Christ.”

Fairley cited Paul’s famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13 in answering: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith, to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. … And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and greatest of these is love.”

Fairley asked if Christ’s love is indeed sufficient to address all the hurting and challenges in our world today, concluding that it is:

“For the Christian to love God is to love God as seen in Jesus,” the Bishop said. “To love the neighbor is to love the one whom Jesus made clear to be our neighbor. The Christian life does not flow out of the imposition on life as a set of rules, nor even a set of beliefs about God, but flows from a personal love and loyalty for Jesus Christ.”

He said that God’s love is “both horizontal and vertical,” defining vertical love as “loving God with all your heart, mind, and soul,” while horizontal love involves loving people as “the basic core value of the Great Commandment.”

“I challenge you to examine the ways in which your local church has, is, and will live into the wondrously vertical and horizontal love shown in God’s deep love for the world, a love so deep that God gave God’s son,” Fairley said. “… In what ways are we as individuals and as the Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church giving witness to the world that perfect love cast out all fear?”

He also noted that while we have again been forced to gather online for Annual Conference, “it goes without saying that our hearts long for the day that we can gather together as an Annual Conference in person, where we can share signs of love and peace, renewing relationships through personal presence. But nothing can take the place of shared hugs, and face-to-face conversation, or a firm handshake.”

Passionate spiritual disciples, he added, “believe in a love that has with it the power to overcome all obstacles.”

In closing, he reissued a challenge that he gave the laity in their online session Sunday afternoon: “Love is the liturgy, the work of the people. In a world that increasingly seems to be spiraling down the pathway of hatred, prejudice, injustice, sin, and a flat-out disobedience toward the things of God, the followers of Jesus Christ must model more consistently a different path.”

That pathway, Fairley said, is “the still more excellent way of love. Now more than ever, it is important that we not only know the love of Christ but that we show the love of our church, in our communities, in our families, in our nations, and in our world.”

He concluded: “Yes, my friends, it is that simple. Let’s get busy showing the world what love can do. We have no other option. We have no other recourse.”