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Behold God's Gifts

Bishop Hughes addressing Convention on Friday. CYNTHIA L. BLACK PHOTO


"Our job is to be the person that God has created us to be, doing the ministry that God has given us to do. In order to do that we have to know who God is and know what the gifts are that God has given us, and use those gifts for God's purposes. THAT is our job," stated Bishop Hughes in her first Convention address, given during the Friday evening dinner. (Time: 31:25.)

Watch Bishop Hughes' second Convention address here.

Video Transcript

Oh my goodness! You know I gotta say, before I say anything, I've gotta say I am the happiest I've ever been in my life and a lot of that is getting to serve with you. It is getting to serve with you. And I wish I could give you confidence in how much joy I get in being your bishop and how right this call feels for me. But you can keep asking me if "You doing okay?" You can keep asking me if you want to but you really don't need to worry about that anymore. I'm not gonna pack up my bags and head back to Texas. We are here to stay for the duration.

I wish you could see what I see when I stand at the front of the room. In a perfect world I would spend the rest of tonight standing right here having you all sit where you are and have one person at a time come and stand with me and go, "Look! Just look at that!" So I've been asking myself all day how I can give you just a little taste of what it is I see when I stand here. So I'm going to ask you to work with me, we're gonna do a little bit of Episcopal calisthenics, won't be too hard and certainly only do what you are comfortable with doing. I think most of you know that I am nursing a knee that needed to be replaced last summer we had to postpone, so I take it easy on that knee. So if you need to take it easy on something you stay in your seat.

But I am wondering if everybody who's on the periphery of the room – so that's all these tables here all along the side and all along the back – if you are in one of those tables that's on the periphery of the room, would you stand and everybody who's in the center of the room remain seated. Now, take a look wherever you are, and if you're standing I invite you to turn and look all the way around you. Make sure you can see everybody. And you folks who are sitting, you try and look as much around as you can from where you are. And when everybody's had a good look, listen to this: Behold, God's gift. Behold, God's gift. You're looking at it. You're looking at it right now. We're gonna switch – people who are on the periphery if you would sit, and people are on the center if you can rise and do – and you do the same thing. You look around. Look at all these people that you see, and people who are on the periphery you get a good look. Yeah I'm the same way, if I had my camera I'd be taking one of those panoramic views, that's what I would be doing right now. Do I have it? No I don't. I just checked my pockets. And after you've had a good look again I say, Behold, God's gift. Wonder if you'd say it with me. You are, we are, the gift. This is God's gift right here. Please be seated.

Everywhere you go right now, every day that you turn on the news right now, whenever you pick up the paper right now, there is someone to tell you that what is happening in this room right now, can no longer happen. That people of different nationality, different color, different age, different political parties, the people with all of those differences, with jobs they love, jobs they hate, with medical insurance, without medical insurance, that are confident that they can retire easily, that are worried about what happens the day I stop working – the message is that we can't do this anymore. Behold, God's gift. We are right in the middle of God's gift. Not just to us but to the entire community, and I would say even to the whole wide world. Every time communities get together across differences, every time we get together and we don't see differences, we see, "Friend!" We see somebody we know, we see somebody we love, every time we get together and we see that, and we celebrate that together, we are in the midst of God's gift. Behold, this thing. Behold this and do not take it for granted. Behold.

Behold. That word has been around a very long time. Before social media likes, before the number of followers you might have on Twitter, before letters to the editor letting you know what you needed to read in the paper to see who was mad at who, before television ratings that told you what you need to watch on television, and sweeps weeks that always killed my favorite show. What is that? It's a thing, though, isn't it? If I love it it will be discontinued. Before all of that, the greatest technology, was the written word. It was the technological breakthrough of the ages, over the ages. And the best way that those who were writing the words of scripture had of liking, of following, of saying, "Hey this is important, hey pay attention," of shouting, was repetition. When you read it in Scripture once you need to know it. When you read it the second time, we use the same words come back in the same passage or in a passage that's nearby, it you know they're trying to get your attention. The third time, you should see emojis! Exploding off the page. Over 1,500 times in Scripture do we see the word "behold." More than we see "love," more than we see "forgiveness," more than we see "healing," the words we see more than "behold" are "God" and "Lord." Behold. It's God's way of talking through scripture to us, to say pay attention. Something is coming next that you need to know about. This is important.

My favorite way to look at it when I see "behold" is, "Now listen! This is important." Where I grew up it was "Now listen Carlye," and if I was in trouble, "Now listen to ME Carlye Juanita Hughes! This is important!" When we hear "behold" with all three names, "Now listen!" – your three names, God is speaking to you – "This is important. Now listen this is important." A couple of my favorite uses of "behold" in Genesis: "God saw all his work and behold it was" – almost – "it was very good!" God saw all of his work – now listen! This is important! It was VERY good. Imagine hearing that: "Now listen!" – your three names – "it was very good." Can we try it? Out loud? Now listen it was very good. It sticks with you in a completely different way.

Then there's those poor shepherds at Christmas, scared out of their minds. I get it. I'd be eating the dirt too, if something came flying out of the air at me that I couldn't see and it was big and they were singing or yelling or screaming, feet don't fail me now. And the angel says, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy for all people." You know what I want to do, right? Let's do it together. "Now listen!" – your three names – "I bring you glad tidings of great joy for all people."

Here's why this is so important. The sense of behold, it is how we get to know God. It's how we get to know who God is. These behold moments. Those moments where we look around the room and we go, "How in in the world did this happen? That I got to sit in a room like this, at a time like this. I mean, I don't know about you but there's something on the news. Because this is the story that is uplifting. That things like this are happening in our country right now. That a people are gathering trying to figure out how to be community, how to be better community, how to be the person that God has created us to be? That is the important stuff of life at the moment, and that is the story that is simply not being told. But behold, and listen this is very important, it's happening right here, and it's happening right now, and part of that moment of behold, of looking around at each other and saying, "Oh my goodness, behold God's gift," part of that lets us be one with God, knowing God's sense of love. We've got to learn how to love the way God loves.

Now there's a part of this – it's easiest for me, I don't know if it's the best analogy for you – it's easiest for me when I think of some of the experiences of parenting. I am NOT a parent but I have plenty of friends who are, and I've got nieces and nephews, and I serve in churches, so I'm nobody's mom but I'm a whole lot of people's mother. And I think about those times when when children are getting to that rite of passage point, where we're letting them do something for the first time – the oldest one is staying home and watching over the little ones for the first time, somebody's driving for the first time, someone's headed away to camp or college someplace within a shared room with somebody else for the first time, and we look at that person and we say, "Now listen! This is very important!" And we try to fill them with all the information that we know that is going to help them, and that will ensure that they will enjoy their time. And it's an interesting thing that most children, even if they squirm or they spend their whole time going, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got it, I got it, I got it," even if they do that, most children when they go back and talk about that, will talk about it with great affection and love and fondness for that memory. Because they know when someone said, "Now listen this is important," and we're looking at them with eyes of love, and they learn something new about love, that love means somebody is going to talk to you and try and help you get through the next thing, and is going to love you through that, that's part of it, part of that parental experience.

The other piece of it I think of, starts at the very start of the parental experience. A baby does not know how to love. They just got born. They do not know how to love. And I tell you it never ceases to crack me up, to watch the most uptight and gruff and shy people stand with a baby, especially when it's their grand baby, or their first baby, or maybe it's the one that they're sitting behind in a pew, and they are making faces, and I'm thinking, that mean old dude, look at him with that baby! Where did he get that soft core? Where does that come from? Because some part of us knows there's nothing better than watching that child smile. And when we make that child smile all that child knows is love, delight. They learn that sense of love and delight from those interactions over time. We don't come with that into the world, we learn how to do that. We have to learn that same thing from God. How to love God, how to how to be loved by God, and every single time we have one of those behold moments, when God says to us, "Now listen! This is important!" It's not a discipline lesson. It's a lesson in love.

And it's an important lesson for us in the Diocese of Newark right now. It is a time for bold ministry. It is a time to stand in the breach. It is a time to be organized. It is a time to try new and different things. It is a time for courage. It is a time for creativity. I say all the time it's a time for dreamers and I am looking for dreamers. But none of that can happen unless it's a time for people who know God and know God's love. Cause here's where we get tripped up, over and over and over again: we think our job is to get out there and fix the world. We think our job is to go and make it all right. We think our job is to go and grow the church. We think our job is to make someone love this faith. We think our job is to make the world perfect for somebody else. And none of that is our job. Our job is to be the person that God has created us to be, doing the ministry that God has given us to do. In order to do that we have to know who God is and know what the gifts are that God has given us, and use those gifts for God's purposes. THAT is our job.

It sounds so simple! But we have been talking about gifts for a year. Last year we spent all of our time talking about gifts and our sense of being called and our sense of being sent. And then I spent the rest of that year every Sunday in a church, and I would ask people to please raise their hand if they knew what their spiritual gift was. And you know what, because I have a dog, when I make a sound or say something that she just doesn't get and she goes [tilts head]. Raise your hand if you know what your spiritual gifts are [tilts head]. In parish after parish. I don't know how we're supposed to do ministry if we don't know what our gifts are. I don't know how we're supposed to do ministry if we're trying to be somebody else. I especially don't know how we're supposed to do ministry in this world if we're trying to do the ministry of yesterday. And, and if every time God gives us a beholds moment we miss it, because we are too busy, and we are too right, and we are too scared, or we just don't know how, to catch those behold moments. We don't know how to do it.

I don't know to get there on our own. No shame in that, none at all. But we've got to get good with those behold moments. So I'm gonna try another little experiment. I want you to shut your eyes for a moment. If that drives you round the bend then just look down. But shut your eyes for a moment. And I want you to take a moment and think about a time where you had that behold moment. Where God said, "Now listen this is important." For some people that happens out in nature. For some people it happens sitting in church. For some people it happens in the middle of the day, and for some that comes in a dream. I must stop talking and let you remember that behold moment. And keeping your eyes shut or down, if you have a moment in mind would you raise your hand? Your eyes are shut or down so you don't know if anybody's looking, the only one looking is me. Just taking a temperature check. Okay you can put your hands down. You can put your hands down. And for those of you who thought of a moment, what is one word that would describe that moment. And keeping your eyes shut, if you're feeling really brave, say that word out loud so that we can hear you. You can open your eyes.

See these moments are happening, and they're not just happening so that we feel the love of God. I mean I think God loves us and wants us to feel the love of God, and wants us to feel love back, I'm not saying that's not the truth, but something else happens when we come to know God's love and know God and know ourselves the way a baby grows into knowing that they are a loved person, and a child grows up and turns into a young adult knowing that they are a loved person, there's a confidence that comes in that. A confidence that allows us to be the person, living fully into our gifts, fully who we are meant to be, and we get so good at hearing God say "Now listen," that when the opportunity for ministry comes, we just go.

How many of you saw the movie "Harriet?" I encourage you to – I think it's on demand now – I encourage you to go to your friend's house, or your house if that's the one that has the biggest television screen, but go to where there's the biggest TV screen and watch that movie. That movie is meant for Christians. It is full of behold moments. Her first behold moment was very simple. She woke up from a dream. She had a vision and there was one word: Run! And so she did, because she'd been listening to God's voice so often, she knew that's what that dream was. And so she ran. And when it made no sense to go back, she kept going back, because she felt led by God to go back and help those other people get out. It was an intense and crazy time in our country, and it required boldness of ministry.

I am NOT saying that we are all meant to be Harriet, and though we may talk about Marge and Louie tomorrow, they're the example of the same thing. They heard something telling them to go for something, and they went! and they kept going! Discouragement had nothing to do, they kept following that voice. They kept living from one behold moment to the next behold moment. And I'm not saying we're meant to be Marge or Louie, but I tell you what I am meant to be Carlye Juanita Hughes and you're meant to be all three of your names too.

Catherine of Siena, and I'm sure many of you have heard this quote, Catherine of Siena was a mystic in the middle of the 14th century. And one of the quotes that she says that is heard so often is, "Be who you are, and you will light the world on fire." Be who God has created you to be, and how you get to that person again and again and again, how we get to being the people we are meant to be, is chasing those behold moments. It's grabbing them when they come to us. It's cherishing them when they happen and not to let them go. You see, God has given us everything we need for ministry. All of the talent, all of the resources, all of the knowledge. And if we need words or knowledge that we do not have, the way God let Harriet know when to run, the way God put words in the mouth of Moses and Jeremiah, God will give us what we need that we do not already have, but what God can't give you and I cannot give you – you've got to make the decision on your own – is the willingness to chase those moments and to capture them and to see where it is God is wanting you to be.

We've got some things to do in this diocese. I am looking for dreamers, and I think God is looking for people who want to set the world on fire. Let's see what happens.

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