Acts 20:17-24, Luke 12:32-40
During the Celebration of Ministry Saturday morning, June 9, at the Indiana Convention Center, Indiana Bishop Mike Coyner told those to be commissioned and ordained he was haunted by three names and three words as he prepared his sermon. He said they came to him when he was day dreaming and when he was driving. The names are Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the three Hebrew men in the story of the fiery furnace in the Book of Daniel.
The three words that haunted him were “But If Not.” He said he found these words on the Internet. They were spoken in November 1967 by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who preached a sermon titled “But If Not” a few months before his death. Coyner said, “Speaking to the followers of the civil rights group, King said he may not live to see civil rights in this country.” Then King said, “I will be faithful to what God wants of me.”
Coyner asked his listeners to contrast that faith with the “if faith” of American church people. “If God will allow me to do what I want to do, then I will be faithful to God.” Coyner said King called that an “iffy faith,” unlike the “But If Not” faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
Coyner then asked, “What kind of faith do you have today? Is it an ‘iffy faith’ or a ‘But If Not’ faith – if it doesn’t go so well, I will remain faithful.”
Coyner said he has been blessed with lay people who have served him as he has served them. One such person he said was Ruth Ann, a member of a church he served just out of seminary. She was a dialysis patient in the 1970s. He said, as her pastor, he spent many hours with her during dialysis.
“I would pray with her to get a new kidney. She said to me, ‘Yes, but either way it’s going to be alright. Pray for God to heal me and you, but if not – it will be alright.’ The story has a happy ending. She received a transplanted kidney that saved her life.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace and were saved. The real triumph in their faith was “But If Not.”
“Such stories don’t always have a happy ending,” said Coyner.
He also shared the story of Todd, another member. He first met Todd in a bubble room at Riley Hospital. Todd had written the words – “cancer sucks” on the bubble. Todd also was realistic. Coyner said the last time he visited him he said, “Even if I die from this, it will be a good thing. Every parent will hug their children more often.” After Todd died, we all did hug our kids tighter.
Turning to those ready to be commissioned and ordained, Coyner said, “That’s what our ministry is about. We hope to see goodness, ‘But If Not’ we keep on keeping on. I hope and pray that every church you serve has people who will be excited that you are there. But If Not, that you will keep on keeping on, being faithful and fruitful. I hope the Pastor Parish Relations Committees give you affirmation and speak the truth in love in that kind of loving review. But If Not, I hope you will love them anyway.”
He concluded by saying, “But If Not’ is my message for you today. “I hope that those three names and three words ‘haunt’ you and bless you for your entire ministry.”
We hope to see goodness, ‘But If Not’ we keep on keeping on.
Indiana Bishop Mike Coyner ordained two Deacons, 13 Elders and commissioned 13 Provisional clergy members during the 2012 Indiana Annual Conference Session in Indianapolis.