God has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. God has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]—yet humanity cannot find out (comprehend, grasp) what God has done (God’s overall plan) from the beginning to the end. -Ecclesiastes 3:11 (The Voice-revised for inclusive language)
We have arrived at another calendar turn to the year 2024…Happy New Year! In reflection of the last 365 days, we have navigated A LOT as individuals, collectively as followers of Jesus, and in The United Methodist Church. Despite it all, when the clock struck midnight on January 1, there was a sense of relief and new life to emerge. There is just something hopeful with the beginning of a new year. We have big dreams and lofty expectations for what we would like to see manifested throughout these next 366 days (yes, 2024 is a Leap Year). There will be many occasions and events in this new year, like Lent begins on February 14, Indiana will host the NBA All-Star game, Easter is March 31, there will be a total eclipse on April 8, we will have General Conference, the Olympics will happen in Paris, the Indiana Conference will receive a new episcopal leader in September, and we will have a presidential election. I am sure there are a host of other milestones and moments I failed to list, but the fact remains there is a lot to look forward to in this new year. I would also be remiss if I did not name, with deep understanding, that we will experience loss, death, disappointment, and the unexpected, as those are part of the rhythms of life. However, with the highs and lows of life, there is still a sense of excitement and renewed hope for this new year.
Recently, I took my biannual appointment for rest and renewal, and made my way to Paradise Island in the Bahamas. It was a wonderful time of sun, sand, blue waters, and to be in an undisturbed place of deep reflection and preparation. In one of my encounters on the beach, I had a conversation with one of the islanders who was soliciting a beach activity. As I respectfully declined, he then proceeded to ask me this question, “What will bring you joy in 2024?” I thought it was a rather odd question to ask, yet I was intrigued by his inquiry. I began to list off the list of things currently bringing me joy, then he stopped me abruptly and asked again… “What will bring you joy in 2024?” I sat in silence, not knowing if this was a trick question or if he was looking for a specific response. I proceeded to say, “I do not now what will bring me joy in 2024, can you tell me.” He grinned as bright as the sun, and said in a profound proclamation, “JESUS WILL BRING YOU JOY IN 2024!” I could not help but join in the excitement and say it to him in affirmation and agreement. Now, how did the pastor not give the right answer (smile)!?
What I appreciated about this conversation with the islander was that despite him receiving a host of declines to his sales pitch for beach activities, he was still filled with joy and not defeat. What I noticed after our exchange is the islander continued his sales pitches on the beach, and his evangelism efforts. In further reflection, this man did not know if I or others were followers of Jesus or not, but he was unafraid and unashamed to proclaim his faith publicly.
Friends, the lesson I recently learned, is the message I share with us, as we further lean into our Indiana Annual Conference vision to Cultivate Joy in this new year. May we identify what will bring us joy in 2024, and not allow anything to compromise it. May we be unafraid to share with others, publicly, the origins of this our hope and the reason for our joy. May our faith communities be willing to intentionally radiate Christ Love and Christ Light in places for which the ministry resides, but also through the world for which the congregation is deployed. There are so many unknowns to what will unfold in this year of 2024, but we have a confidence in a God, who loved the world, and sent the gift of Love in human form to experience the highs and lows of life, and gave himself as a living offering, so that we can LIVE with a JOY that sustains us daily.
Joy to the World!
Rev. Dr. Aleze M. Fulbright
Conference Superintendent, serving the laity, clergy, and communities of the Central District