Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Jennifer has served as lead pastor at CMC since the fall of 2008. She earned an MDiv from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in 1998 with a concentration in Biblical studies and has formerly served as pastor of Cedar Falls Mennonite Church (IA) and Pasadena Mennonite Church (CA.) She leads Bible studies and preaches in settings across the wider church and has served as vice chair of the Mennonite Education Agency Board of Directors. She and her husband, Kent, enjoy gardening together.

Jennifer’s email address is Jennifer.Davis.Sensenig@cmcva.org.

Jennifer’s sermons and notes:

Sermon: Sunday, December 3, 2017

December 14, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig, "Believe With Me."

Scripture: Mark 13:24-37

Click to view transcript

Believe with Me

(CMC 12-3-17)

Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37

Introduction

In the ancient world the most powerful figures--emperors, kings, rulers and authorities--were associated with the sun, moon and stars. Back then and today, bad leaders and their corrupt power systems were justified by associating them with gods or celestial forces in the heavens as if nature reinforced their power. Listen to what Jesus tells us in Mark 13.

Biblical Storytelling Mark 13:24-37

I finally had lunch with my mentee the other week. She was shocked to learn that I had not seen The Polar Express and I didn’t know the song: Believe. But, since then I’ve listened to Believe on youtube and, far better, I heard many of you in the Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir and Orchestra perform the song. Believe is about believing in magic, believing in childhood, believing in yourself, believing what your heart says. And I think the song leans toward belief that goes further, belief that could carry us into adulthood and a world that does not always twinkle quite so much as the worlds of the storybook. There are a lot of Christmas stories and The Polar Express , the Caldecott winning children’s book is one of them. We as the church, also have a story--Advent and Christmas. Our stories will not win any award this year, but we will sing and tell them here together on Sundays in December.

Advent

This first Sunday in Advent is kind of a preview, before the characters and plot really open up. Here’s how I understand it. The church’s spiritual work in Advent is to be like Mary, pregnant with Christ. The church’s spiritual work in Advent is to believe that none other than the God of all creation is within us, working something wonderful for the sake of the whole world. Is it ridiculous to believe? Believing in God could ruin your reputation for being strong and self-sufficient. Believing in God could break your heart or change your life or require you to actually build relationships with the people least like you. If we believe this Advent, then we may need to wrestle all over again with the meaning of life and God’s power in the world.

Is God’s power what justifies domination and control in this world, or is God’s power like the blooming rose from the hymn, the fig tree’s leaves, the woman who is with child? Is God’s power like the power of a politician or an armed guard or a judge? Or is God’s power like something we’ve never seen before, something we have never heard before, something we have to begin believing before we know.

Believe

Our Advent scriptures are almost embarrassing in terms of belief. They are not a gentle invitation to consider that a little God might get you through the tough parts of the holidays. These scriptures are not advice columns recommending a smidgen of Jesus to spice up your Christmas season. These scripture are the voices of people who lived thousands of years ago. And they spoke in passionate poetry, believing in their guts that God has done something extraordinary in the world and that God is working in the present. Isaiah says: When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect , you came down , the mountains quaked at your presence . The psalmist says: You brought a vine out of Egypt and planted it . Elizabeth says: Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what God said . Jesus says: The powers of the heaven will be shaken . Mary says: Let it be.

These ancient poets and prophets--women and men--as well as the people to whom they spoke knew that something was wrong in their society. They knew about corruption and exploitation from the powers that be. They knew that moral life and ethical decisions were in short supply. They knew that their own lives were connected to systems that were a mess. And they couldn’t extricate themselves from these powers of evil. They needed to God. They needed to believe all over again that God could break in--tear through the heavens, suddenly arrive, and disrupt the universe of sin and corruption.

We need to believe that too. If you’re dealing with hopelessness, or alcohol abuse, or unfaithfulness in a marriage, then you need to believe. If we’re working for wise economic growth in our businesses, or addressing racial injustice, or managing tensions in our families or institutions, then we need to believe. If we’re living among nations that threaten war or carry out wars against the earth and the poor and our global neighbors, then we need to believe. The world might tell us to believe in ourselves. And human beings are pretty amazing creatures, but we can’t save and restore ourselves. We need to believe in God.

In Twelve Step programs, the first step is to admit that believing in ourselves isn’t enough. We admit that we don’t have the power to change what desperately needs to be changed. And the second step is to believe in God. We begin to believe that God could restore us, work with us, change us, influence the world and create it new.

Knowing-Not Knowing

Did you notice in Jesus’ words from Mark that I shared, that he’s playing a bit with the ideas of knowing and not knowing. Jesus builds up the self-confidence of his disciples telling them that they know what’s going on in the world--they know the signs that summer is near. And they know when the powers of domination are being shaken. Knowing is essential, but also impossible. We don’t understand. We don’t know when the powers will fall. When everything seems stuck in the grip of false power, we can’t know when the kingdom will come. So we believe. We believe, right on the edge of certainty--knowing and not knowing. As a church we believe and we say--let it be. There is an urgency to Advent scriptures, because we’re on the cusp of change and renewal. We’re on the edge of certainty, between knowing and not knowing. We don’t want to miss what God is doing in us and around us, even if we can’t exactly predict or grasp what is happening.

I suppose I’m preaching this morning because I need you and we all need each other. I’m saying with Isaiah and with Jesus, believe with me . I’m saying the psalmist and Mary, believe with me. And it’s not because as a preacher or pastor or Bible teacher or Christian that I know it all and can tell you what to believe. It’s because believing--that is, having faith--is partly knowing and not knowing, but partly our connections. We are not solitary. I, Jennifer, speaking on behalf of the church ask you the rest of the church to believe with me that God is working within CMC in ways we know and in ways we surely don’t know. Let’s believe that God is coming to our world.

Isaiah says: believe with me. Believe that God has and does “come down” into nitty gritty life to people who have not heard or seen--at least not in a long time--the power of God to change the world.

Jesus says: believe with me. Believe that the powers of evil will not overpower us forever, but are actually being shaken by the arrival of one whom we know--the Son of Humanity--and one whom we don’t yet know. The One who is coming.

Mary says: believe with me. Believe as a church and carry this hope, this story, this life of Christ in your body and into the world.

Keep awake

In a funny way the scripture from the Gospel of Mark is also the gospel of the insomniac. Stay alert , keep awake , keep awake! Jesus’ words are not so different from the internet slang “stay woke” which calls people to attend to political and social justice movements, especially Black Lives Matter. The phrase “stay woke” has its origins in the US political movements of the 1960s. This phrase hits us personally, but it is intended for whole communities. We’re not to drift into groggy, sleepy, dreamy avoidance of what matters. Instead, in Advent the word of Christ is Stay alert! Keep awake! Stay woke!

Right now in our society some powerful persons--stars, celebrities, politicians, corporate leaders are falling. The culture of sexual harassment is being shaken. Right now people sitting beside you are faced with spiritual, financial, personal, and vocational challenges. But the false powers that surround us will be shaken. Brothers and sisters, believing in ourselves isn’t enough. Shimmering with the image of God though we are, we are not enough. As church, we are gathered from the four winds, and together we believe in God, the One who created all things, who came in Christ, and in the darkness of Advent stirs hope within us. The lights of false power are dimmed by the Advent of our God and we enter this season in a hopeful darkness.

The Spiritual Work of Advent

The church’s spiritual work in Advent is to believe that none other than the God of all creation is within us, working something wonderful for the sake of the whole world. The church’s spiritual work in Advent is to be like Mary, pregnant with Christ. The church’s spiritual work in Advent is to agree: let it be.

 

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts or subscribe, check out our main podcast page.

 


Sermon: Sunday, November 26, 2017

November 28, 2017 by cmc_admin

Click to view transcript

Special, Suffering and Sent

Genesis 40-41

26 November 2017

Jennifer Davis Sensenig, Community Mennonite Church

Prison Writing

If you’ve read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail or Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison , it’s time to re-read them. Or, if you’ve read enough from imprisoned Christian men, then consider Bread and Water by Jennifer Haines, another follower of Jesus incarcerated for faithful resistance to a violent empire. Or, if you don’t have time for book, read about my sister-in-law, Anne Sensenig. Her recent Anabaptist political action landed her in jail--just overnight. Her article is on the Mennonite Creation Care Network website. Or just search for Lancaster Against Pipelines. In a season when Faith in Action is focused on local criminal justice reform, it’s fitting to not only learn about local conditions for persons in our jails and prisons and on our probation rolls, we might also find inspiration from people of faith who have spent time under lock and key.

Four New Testament letters seem to have been written from prison: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. These letters interpret the good news of Jesus Christ for cities and situations of the Roman Empire. And in Genesis, the prisoner, Joseph interprets dreams about the Egyptian empire.

Joseph in Broad Strokes

The Biblical story of Joseph is a great adventure: favored son with special coat and special dreams; thrown into a pit and sold into slavery; he then earned responsibility in Potiphar’s house in Egypt. We conveniently bounced over the story of Joseph refusing the sexual advances of his master’s wife. But that episode--it’s Genesis ch. 39--is what landed Joseph in prison. After the pit, prison was another low point in Joseph’s life, but he was released through his own ingenuity and the cupbearer who--thank God--finally remembered him. Then Joseph rises to power in Egypt. He becomes second in command over the whole empire.

But let’s pause for a moment in the prison. My favorite verse in Genesis is a question, spoken in that Egyptian prison. It’s recorded in Hebrew, but I suppose it was asked in the ancient Egyptian language, with a trace of a Hebrew dialect. In this question we hear the arrogance of young Joseph in a fancy coat and the later wisdom of a leader who reconciles with his family. Perhaps some of us struggle with some of the same tensions between arrogance and wisdom. So, without further ado, my favorite verse in Genesis: And Joseph said to [the chief cupbearer and the chief baker], “Do not interpretations belong to God?” Ponder that. We’ll get back to it.

Special

Several themes in Joseph’s story anticipate the life of Jesus. Both Joseph and Jesus have special births. Joseph’s birth ended Rachel’s long chapter of infertility. Jesus was a surprise, a special child whose birth ended centuries of Israel waiting for a new kind of king. While it offends our modern sensibilities, recognizing someone as special, different, set apart is not wrong. It is what we human beings do to make sense of the world. We make distinctions. Joseph was given a fancy coat. We know today that parents are not to play favorites. But if we can set our moralizing aside--this is very hard to do--scripture teaches us something here.

Jesus is also special. Jesus was a special child, just as every child is special and has qualities that families and communities should celebrate. Jesus was also special because he uniquely revealed the God of Israel in human form. The idea--that God could be specially revealed in human form--was rolling around in Israel’s imagination and theological hopper for centuries. But it happened in Jesus of Nazareth. And today--not all day--but in moments of today it happens in us. God is revealed in human form. We are the body of Christ. When we celebrate the reign of Christ, it is not only anticipation of the future, but rejoicing in all the Christlike service, ministry, compassion, justice, love and joy that is already visible in the world. The reign of Christ is among us.

Jesus is special in really wonderful ways. He lived as human beings ought to live. Now he had some particularities--Jesus was a man, a Middle Easterner, a Galilean Jew--but he lived with love. He lived with so much love that he let himself be troubled by the unlovable--the prisoners, the widows, the diseased, the discredited. Jesus even lived with love when he was angry. He refused violence or revenge and taught others to do the same.

By love Jesus treated women, minorities, children, and lepers, even rich tax-collectors with dignity. Jesus was the Messiah--the specially anointed one to inaugurate the reign of God on earth among not just Jewish people, but all people. So Joseph and Jesus were special.

Suffering as a Sign

Another theme in Joseph’s story that parallels the life of Jesus is suffering as a sign. You see, despite their special status, Joseph and Jesus suffered--pit, prison, rejection, cross. But their pain didn’t make them bitter, or resentful. Or, in Joseph’s case, not forever. The Biblical interpretation of Joseph and Jesus is that their suffering was a temporary experience that by God’s hand became valuable for their whole community--even future generations. In Biblical theology it’s called redemptive suffering. It’s suffering that accomplishes some some good. If you work in a field trying to reduce human suffering--medical field, therapist, aid worker, then your professional guild probably doesn’t talk about redemptive suffering. But, if you listen deeply to the stories of people’s suffering, sometimes--not all the time because there are different kinds of suffering, but sometimes--you’ll hear people say that there is a reason for what they’ve experienced, there is a purpose, a meaning, a logic to it all.

Sent

A third theme that Joseph in Genesis and Jesus in the NT share is that both are sent with a purpose. Jesus doesn’t catch onto this until he’s about 30 years old. So, if you’re not yet 30 and you don’t yet know the purpose of your life, you’re in good company. Jesus was in the Nazareth synagogue reading the Bible when he realized: The Spirit of YHWH is upon me. God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives. For Joseph it took longer. All these chapters in Genesis about Joseph are told in such a way that we can hear that there is some kind of purpose in all this. Joseph himself doesn’t piece it together until late in life. If you’re over 30 and you don’t why you were sent to the world, then let us hear your story, seek God. We’ll help each other discover our lives together.

Friends, being special, redemptive suffering, and being sent are markers of living according to the reign of God. These themes shared across Joseph’s story and the life of Jesus reveal one God telling the whole story of the Bible. And the interpretation of our lives also belongs to this same God. What might God want us to hear in these family stories in Genesis? We are special. Sure, we all have little lives. And some of us are more in touch with the dull or even meaningless dimensions of life. But the God says we are special, we are loved--beyond what we deserve or could earn. Second, God is at work in the midst of our suffering and the suffering of the world. And some of it will have meaning, will make sense, will even contribute to healing or feeding our families, our neighbors, our nation, the world. What might God want us to hear? We are special. Suffering can be redemptive. And we are sent.

Suffering as a sign.

The Hebrew prophets--from Miriam to Micah, from Jeremiah to Jesus--all suffer in ways that challenge our convention that God is just a really moral being--like us, only better. In the Bible, just like in our experience, suffering is sometimes the result of injustice. If you lose your job at a poultry plant because you were not given adequate treatment for your on-the-job injury, then your suffering is a result of injustice. And in the Bible suffering is sometimes unexplained--things just happen that are a result of natural forces, or evil forces, things out of our control. If your home is damaged in a hurricane or you’re a victim of a crime, that suffering is tragic. And in the Bible suffering is sometimes explained as the moral repercussions of people messing up. Sometimes suffering is directly described as God’s punishment. (For the record, we usually don’t like those passages because we’re afraid that means that God doesn’t love us as much as we need to be loved. Just to reassure you, God loves you more than you think you need to be loved. God anticipated all the love you would need to get through life and then budgeted extra. Just like Joseph had a surplus of grain. God has a surplus of love for you.)

But sometimes in the Bible suffering has an indirect purpose. This is true in the story of Joseph. Joseph escapes his brothers’ desire to kill him, but he is thrown into a pit and sold into slavery, tortures most of us can only vaguely comprehend. But later, released from prison and serving as second in command of Egypt Joseph’s economic plan saves people from starvation, and, as in the previous generation, there is another family reconciliation. In the end the powerful Joseph says to his very imperfect family:

“I am your brother , Joseph , whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed , or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are 5 more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here , but God; God has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”

Joseph sees God’s redemptive love in his own story of suffering. He lets go of arrogance in favor of wisdom, believing he is sent to preserve life. Do not interpretations belong to God? As Community Mennonite Church, let us seek God together in the scriptures, in our stories and through Christ just the way MLK, Bonhoeffer, Jennifer Haines and lots of ordinary Christians do.

I’ll end with a stanza from a 17th century poem. It compares our scriptures to shining stars that help us find our way in the world. [Holy Scripture (st . 2) George Herbert , 17th cent . Welsh poet and Anglican priest . Died at age 39.]

Oh that I knew how all thy lights combine,

And the configurations of their glorie!

Seeing not onely how each verse doth shine,

But all the constellations of the storie.

This verse marks that, and both do make a motion

Unto a third, that ten leaves off doth lie:

Then as dispersed herbs do watch a potion,

These three make up some Christians destinie:

Such are thy secrets, which my life makes good,

And comments on thee: for in ev’ry thing

Thy words do finde me out, & parallels bring,

And in another make me understood.

Starres are poore books, & oftentimes do misse:

This book of starres lights to eternall blisse.

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Scripture: Genesis 40-41

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts or subscribe, check out our main podcast page.

 


Sermon: Sunday, November 19, 2017

November 20, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Dayna Olson-Getty.

Scripture: Genesis 37

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts or subscribe, check out our main podcast page.

 


Sermon: November 12, 2017

November 15, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig, "Reconciling Embrace."

Scripture: Genesis 32:1-33:7

Click to view transcript

Reconciling Embrace

CMC

Jennifer Davis Sensenig

12 November 2017

Genesis 32:1-33:17; II Corinthians 5:16-20; Genesis 27:1-38

Opening

Brothers, rivals, enemies, yet family. After Jacob deceived their father, Esau cried: “he has taken my blessing ” (27:36) and since old man Isaac didn’t know how to bless both his children, Esau was mad enough to kill. So their mother, Rebekah, helped Jacob escape and he lived with his Uncle Laban 20 years, married two of Laban’s daughters and had many children with them and their maids. There’s a story! But reconciliation between estranged brothers is the surprise ending for Jacob and Esau. In the end Esau embraces his brother. And Jacob offers gifts saying: “ take my blessing ” (33:11.)

Reconciliation is not easy. Reconciliation is a humbling practice, which exposes our self-centered approaches to life as self-defeating. The Bible’s theme of reconciliation begins behind history in the early pages of Genesis and extends to the culmination of history when all peoples, nations and languages are one diverse and glorious choir in Revelation. And yet, this theme of reconciliation--all through the Bible--is threaded through the lives of people--who make war and make peace, who harm each other and heal together. And for people reconciliation doesn’t come naturally. In group cooperation, sure. Competition? Maybe. But reconciliation (especially across groups) isn’t our birthright . We don’t emerge from the womb ready to reconcile. When relationships are broken we human beings do all kinds of things naturally. We seek soothing comfort from someone safe. We lash out against someone weaker. When relationships are broken we might fall into an abyss of shame as if it’s all our fault--even if that’s not true. We may deny the brokenness, believing that everything is just fine. Being reconciled to one another in love is not natural. It is as difficult and life-changing as learning to read and we all have a learning disability.

This week I heard a story second-hand about a Canadian man whose 20 year-old son’s life was ended by gun violence in a conflict over drugs. The father, a Christian pastor, went to meet the man who had accidentally killed his son, shooting through a door to break the lock and steal the dope in the basement. When they met, the father said to the young man: “I’m working on forgiving you. I’m not there yet. But I know Jesus and I know that Jesus helps us live the kind of life he lived. I’ll help you get to know him.” Reconciliation isn’t a technique, but an approach for responding to harm. It is lifelong learning journey. But as I said--we all have a learning disability when it comes to reconciliation. What is yours? What is your natural response when things are a broken mess? Jacob’s disability was pointed out to him by God and embodied in a limp.

Purpose of Jacob’s Story Cycle

The story of Jacob and Esau is about family conflict and interpersonal reconciliation between two. It is also about the whole people of Israel. Jacob, Israel’s ancestor and namesake is not a moral exemplar. He is naturally sneaky and deceptive. Jacob means “heel-grabber.” He’s not a big tough guy, but a man of the tents--who prefers to be safe and in control. And Jacob, not because he’s special, but just because, is someone who meets God now and again. So Jacob trusts God...sometimes...and then takes things into his own hands at other times. Biblical people told and re-told the stories of Jacob as self-critique, to admit their own disabilities, their own learning curve with regard to reconciliation. Israelites told and re-told the stories of Jacob to confess their natural and national tendencies to trust God...sometimes...and then take things into their own hands. Our faith ancestors told and re-told this story to embrace their true family, which went beyond their national borders to Edom, another name for Esau.

Jacob was re-named, Israel, which means God-wrestler. Israel isn’t the people of God by national success and centralization of world worship in Jerusalem. Israel is the people of God through wrestling and reconciling with God, with each other and across the division in the human family. I love Jesus because he was all in and gave us his life, story, teaching, wrestling, healing, blood, and spirit, not to circumvent our learning process, but to bless us, to give us a gift, an unexpected embrace, a ministry so that we might be reconciled through it all to one another and thus to God.

National Story

After another mass shooting this week. It’s easy for me to demonize gun advocates or the NRA. It’s easy for us Americans to fall into immobilizing fear or defend our communities and loved ones by arming ourselves. But God’s story, our story--the story Anabaptist peace church Christians tell and live as best we can--has a different plot. Mennonites have rejected revenge when relationships are broken, but often we have blamed others or blamed ourselves rather than being all in and pursuing reconciling love. But God can work with our Mennonite disabilities and teach us reconciliation in our families and in our country and world.

One thing that might help us Mennonites is the work of Rev. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis who are co-chairs of a new Poor People’s Campaign, launching 50 years after the Poor People’s campaign championed by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The campaign addresses four issues, which are threaded through the American national story: systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation. These Christian leaders are authentically wrestling with God. They are trying to set the pace of nation according according to the needs of the children, the poor, the animals and the earth.

That Corinthians passage is so hopeful--new creation, everything old has passed away, everything has become new, we are ambassadors for Christ, we have the ministry of reconciliation! And that letter is so practical too, acknowledging how much we need to learn, how we are like ordinary clay jars--easily broken. Embodying the ministry of reconciliation is a distinctively Biblical way of understanding both the identity of Israel and the church. As spiritual descendants of Jacob and Esau and inheritors of this story, we contemporary Mennonites take our identity as ministers of reconciliation seriously. What if God embraces us with forgiving love and is ready to walk alongside us, even if we’re not ready?

What if Jesus, God’s reconciling presence today, restores us when we pursue violence rather than peace, racial division rather than one human family, private wealth rather than sharing resources for the common good, and domination of the earth rather than creation care? What if God’s story is told now through our lives and Christ’s reconciling work flows through us? We tell this story because we are the children, descended from ancient reconciling faith--and it’s a long journey ahead. So, here’s the ending...

Biblical Storytelling Genesis 32:1-33:17

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts or subscribe, check out our main podcast page.

 

 


Scripture/Sermon: October 29, 2017

November 1, 2017 by cmc_admin

First Families: Leaving Home

Scripture Presentation by Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Scripture: Genesis 12-13


Sermon: October 8, 2017 by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

October 10, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig, "Hiding and Seeking."

Scripture: Genesis 3:1-13

Click to view transcript

Hiding and Seeking

Community Mennonite Church

8 October 2017

Text: Genesis 3:1-13; Psalm 139

Beginning Stories

There are two different stories in Genesis about the beginning of everything. In the first story, God hovers over the waters of chaos like a mother bird and speaks the creation into being in a series of 6 days--the animals and we share the 6th day of creation. God finally rests on the seventh day. In this first story, God is the all-powerful and awe-inspiring poet of a brilliant, orderly and very good creation. God’s very words create the world.

In the second story about the beginning of everything, the characterization of God is much different. Same God, but a different perspective on God. God gets down into the dust and mud to first create adam, then plant a garden on the well-watered face of the earth, and finally form each of the animals. This God has conversations with us. Now, there is only one God, but there are different ways of understanding God and in the Bible there are multiple theological strands, braided together, so that we hear from God in different keys, see God from different perspectives, and experience the divine both as ultimate mystery and eventually as a flesh and blood person in Jesus Christ.

Questions

In the part of the story we heard today. God asks questions. Four of them, to be precise. Where are you? Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat? What is this that you have done? Now, what kind of God asks questions at all? Most gods if they communicate directly with people spend their time issuing commands or meting out punishments, or dispensing with words entirely gods just do what they will do. But the people of Israel met the one God who so deeply desires a reconciled relationship with us that God asks--where are you?

OK, the God of Israel issues commands and dispenses punishments and rewards too, but already in the book of Genesis we start to wonder whether God wants to be more than a ruler and judge over us. Perhaps this inquiring God wants to be where we are, with us, in our troubles, in our joys, in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our watersheds, in our nations in our world. Perhaps this God refuses to take us by force, but waits and ask for an invitation, an open hand, an open heart, an open community.

Where are you?

One of the questions God asks in the garden seem fitting for our community today. That first one: Where are you? This is a question that invites a description, an understanding of our place. It is not about the past, but about now. It is not a question regarding the future, but the present. Where we are now is related to where we are from and where we are going. Incidentally, these questions--where are you from and where are you going--are common in scripture. Many of us live in the past with regrets, and wounds, unmet expectations. By contrast, many others among us live with anxieties about the future or dreams yet to be fulfilled. But God asks us where we are in the present, right now.

It’s not always an easy question to answer. In fact, the moment we begin to describe where we are, time moves on, circumstances shift, and we become a bit less certain where we are. There’s actually some science to this. We can’t measure both position and speed of a particle. And where an object is located in the universe and it’s speed is relative to the location of the measurement. Still, even with an element of uncertainty--or perhaps because of it--God’s first question to humanity in the Garden of Eden--where are you?--is a great question for us.

In August I attended the Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers International. I met people from all over the US and Canada and several other countries who learn and tell Bible stories by heart. There were many workshops related to storytelling theory and technique, as well as various scripture themes. One workshop I attended was led by a Canadian Mennonite, John Epp, and his premise was compelling for me. He drew a picture of how many of us have learned in Bible studies and seminaries to read the Bible. He indicated many perspectives or lenses honest modern Christians acknowledge that we bring to reading scripture--historical lenses, literary lenses, liberationist, feminist, economic and political lenses. It’s impossible to shed all of these lenses and read the Bible as if we have no perspective, no social location. But John explained that ancient people--especially Jews of the first century, including Jesus and early followers-- approached life with the question: where are we in God’s story?

The question rings true for me. Jesus as he’s preaching and teaching, and the writers of the New Testament always seem to be locating themselves in the story of God. That’s why Paul speaks of Jesus as a second adam (I Cor 15). Where are we in the story? Paul says we’re us in the garden of Eden and that the church is the new opportunity for humanity to live in reconciled relationship with God through Jesus, a second adam. Where are we in the story? Martha of Bethany and Peter of Galilee both recognize Jesus as Messiah, God’s anointed. Martha and Peter located themselves in God’s story after the exile among the prophets looking for a new anointed leader who could restore their people and their relationship with God. Jesus was always making a case for where we are in the story of God. For example, in his last meal with friends Jesus describes their table wine as a new covenant in his blood, as if we’re simultaneously on the mountain with Moses receiving a covenant and living Jeremiah’s dream of a new covenant written on our hearts. Where are we in God’s big story? Are we in the wilderness learning a new way of life? Are we like the apostles being sent into a challenging ministry? Are we being healed by the words and the touch of Jesus?

Confusion Story

Last spring my father began to have more episodes of memory loss and confusion. In May as my parents made a move from Kentucky to Minnesota, they were driving two cars packed with belongings and a couple dogs planning to make the trip over a few days. But after one of their rest stops my father got confused and began driving. My mother didn’t known where he was. OK, a good question might be where were their three adult children? We were in three different states berating ourselves for not helping our parents with this interstate trip. After some hours, a lot of three-way phone calls, and contacting authorities my father finally answered his phone. My sister asked where are you? He first began to describe the heavy traffic and the stress of driving in the dark in the rain. She had to coach him to look for green highway signs and read them to her. Finally relaying various mileage signs we were able to determine what state he was in and eventually which exit he took, where he stopped and we found him.

Where are you?

“Then God called to the man and said to him? Where are you? He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” According to Genesis 3 the very one with whom we most need reconciliation and loving relationship, is the one we avoid. In this part of our story, humanity is graced with an abundant garden and the intimate presence of God who, like them, strolls among the trees. But they hide themselves--avoiding God. Are we avoiding God? I do sometimes. God takes time. And I can be miserly with time. Learning and knowing God’s story, so that we can be oriented takes time. Where are we? Are we confused-- seeing only our immediate surroundings without a bigger picture that would orient us and guide us back into community with God and with others? Where are we in God’s story? This week we have been at that terrible and tender place where we face death and loss. We have wept. The gift of God and the gift of God’s people is to help us place all of our experiences, including those most disorienting into the larger story of God. Heidi and Brendon and their families did that by turning to Psalm 139 and celebrating Ella Mae’s life through their tears.

Where are we in God’s story? Where are we in relationship to the God who asks us this question? Where are we in relationship to the people who love us and will help return home? Where are you? Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat? What is this that you have done? These questions are misunderstood if we hear them in the voice of a distant, accusatory God who stands ready to catch us in our error and punish our sin. Actually, these questions aren’t even coming from the all-powerful God who simply speaks the world into being like a poet. These questions come from the God who is a bit like us, fiddling in the mud, walking in the garden, enjoying the evening breeze. These are questions meant to draw us out, draw us in, draw us into deeper communion with God so that we can always locate ourselves in God’s story.

These are not questions to prove us wrong, shame us, or confirm our guilt. It’s not that God has lost us or that God doesn’t understand our choices or circumstances. Rather, through inquiry, God moves us into deeper understanding of our lives. As we respond to God, even if our understanding is immature, mistaken, or misguided, we open ourselves to the possibility of trust, growth and transformation. We open ourselves to God.

Abre mis ojos…

Open our eyes, Lord...

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts or subscribe, check out our main podcast page.

 


Sermon: October 1, 2017 by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

October 5, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Genesis 2:4-19

click to view transcript

Creation Community

Jennifer Davis Sensenig

CMC 1 October 2017

Genesis 2:4-19; Romans 8:18-27

Beginnings--Genesis

I’ve been on a sabbatical for 4 months, so it’s good to hear this story of the beginning as I’m beginning again with Community Mennonite Church. Thank you, CMC, for making a sabbatical possible. It was a rich time for spiritual renewal, study, writing and rest. I’ll share more during a Monthly Gathering. Thank you also for the blessing that it is to return to you.

According to one of our originating stories, humankind--adam--was created by hand, by God, by dust, by breath. Our unique human kind of life was sustained by a garden full of plants and animals and in turn we tended the garden, cared for the animals. Genesis 2 also describes initial conditions that allowed our life to emerge and sustained Eden’s paradise. Think water--an underground stream that when it reached the surface watered the whole face of the ground--that’s in v. 6. And then four great rivers, two which we study in elementary school--the Tigris and Euphrates--rivers of the fertile crescent--and two which we can no longer trace because the Gihon and Pishon rivers are only remembered here by ancient people who knew what we would have otherwise forgotten.

This creation story, the second one in Genesis, describes us--adam--at first without gender differentiation, without race or national identity, without economic status. We are one living being with one vocation. Adam’s first task is naming the animals, meeting and knowing and naming each one, recognizing and honoring the diversity of all animal life. Our vocation in the garden is summarized this way--to till and to keep it.

Tilling is a human responsibility in an agrarian society. Keeping or shepherding animals is a human responsibility in a herding society. So the phrase “to till and to keep” transmits some ancient human wisdom about society. “To till and to keep” seems gentler than the phrase for human responsibility in the earlier Genesis creation story, which commissions us: “to subdue the earth and have dominion over fish, birds and everything that moves.” But really, Biblically, their meanings are similar. We human beings have unique capacities and special responsibilities within creation. And make no mistake; we are accountable to God for these.

This creation story is worth pondering because today we are aware of the ecological crises on this watery, garden globe we call home. Since the mythical days of Eden some of us have lost sight of our vocation amidst the industrial and technological transformations in society. Others have never lost or are even today regaining a sense of our calling to care for the earth, “to till and to keep it” to be in solidarity with our natural home. Isn’t this the politics and spirituality of Mary, the mother of Jesus, which Isaac Villegas highlighted last weekend at our retreat? Isn’t the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth, ultimately the same cry? Didn’t we hear at retreat that fantastical story from Revelation, in which the wilderness is a place of nourishment for the woman and the earth itself comes to her aid? Perhaps the ancients were right--our origin and future is to be in reconciled, responsible community with creation.

St. John’s Bible

While I was on sabbatical I went to Minnesota to study the giant bound heritage edition of the St. John’s Bible. It is called an illuminated Bible because of the artwork throughout the volumes, which is not so much decoration, but theological reflection on key scripture passages. Most illuminated Bibles are very old--from the Middle Ages--but the St. John’s Bible is new. It is the first complete handwritten illuminated Bible since the invention of the printing press. It is a New Revised Standard Version and the illuminations in the first pages of Genesis connect the best of our scientific understanding of geological and anthropological history with our creation stories. Thankfully, this Bible was designed with an understanding that science and scripture are compatible dimensions of our theology and spirituality.

Friends, the Bible is not at fault for Jewish or Christian failure to care for the earth. The Bible doesn’t whitewash our antagonism against creation, but these Genesis tales anchor our God-breathed origin in community with creation. Our vocation is to be gardeners and caretakers of the earth, who also depend on this creation for our very lives. We are made from the dust of the earth, created by a God willing to get her hands dirty, down in the mud and form us as a living being. Imagine the original form--no gender differentiation, no racial distinctions--we are one. Let’s not blame our failures to be one with each other and one with the earth on the Bible. That would be a cheap excuse, shrugging off our accountability before God. Scripture is actually a profound resource for renewing our vocation to care for the earth and deepening our love for and solidarity with both the rest of humanity and all the natural world.

The illuminations in the St. John’s Bible include the double-helix of human DNA and images of the earliest cave paintings by human beings. The fecundity of creation spills over the gold frame of the Garden of Eden illumination. And humanity is modeled on the Karo tribe in Ethiopia along the Omo River. In addition to the artists who provided theological illuminations, Chris Tomlin, a natural history illustrator also contributed to the Bible insects. You’re reading along and turning a page, it’s as if a dragonfly or a beetle has landed on the vellum. Vivid illustrations of butterflies adorn certain pages and their wings show up in illuminations that connect heaven and earth. So on sabbatical I would often find myself studying the illuminations and reading aloud beautiful calligraphy of familiar scripture. And this happened in a temperature controlled library study room. Then in an afternoon hike I’d see those very insects from pages of the prophets and epistles flitting along the edge of Lake Sagatagen.

Green Congregation Initiative

Last year one of the themes that emerged from our congregation’s vision process was captured with the phrase Green Congregation. Recently a task force has formed and these are the CMCers involved: Brian Martin Burkholder, who is convening the group, Wayne Teel, Kathy Yoder, Doug Graber-Neufeld, Alex Graber-Neufeld, Randy Reichenbach, Lucy Melenke and David Shenk. These folks are getting in touch with our vocation to till and keep the garden, to know and name the animals, to be in solidarity with the earth, to remember our rivers and watershed, to hear creation’s cry and respond with love and care.

The task force is preparing a proposal for Church Council and during the November congregational meeting we hope that the congregation will be ready to move forward with some version of it, as seems fitting to all of you. This past week I met with Brian to learn more about the direction of the proposal. I was moved by the depth of this task force work and I recognize that it has been stirring in many of our hearts over some years. One of the commitments that the task force has is to intentionally connect CMC with other local folks who inspire us by their care for creation--groups like Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV), Renew Rocktown, and congregations like Park View Mennonite Church.

Perhaps the stirring within you has connected you with the adult education class Wayne Teel is convening. Or you are interested in the Forest Farm along Black’s Run and the Northend Greenway from talking with Cornelius Franz. Valerie Serrels could share with you her vision of a church of the wild. The CMC task force proposal will include something related to greening the buildings we own as a congregation, and also bringing our lives into greater solidarity with the earth which is crying out. This is challenging work, and it’s not likely to move forward from guilt or shame or despair. This people on this task force are convinced that we can’t care for something we don’t love. By nurturing a deep love for creation, recognizing love is a verb, and caring for the earth by shifting our lifestyles we can realize the vocation of adam.

Scripture

Perhaps your spirituality is deeply connected with the natural world--hiking woodland trails, gardening, or being on the water feeds your spirit. For some , though, our Christian spirituality hasn’t been interconnected with human solidarity with creation, but our Bible is suffused with creation-based spirituality. It seems to be God’s long-term project to restore all relationships--including the relationship between humanity and creation. That’s why we see Jesus born according to the stars, communicating directly with storms, healing bodies beset with disease, feeding hungry people and working miracles with mud and water and breath as if he were God in the garden forming us as one humanity transforming us from a body of humiliation into Christ’s glorious body. Today Christ comes to us in the grain and the grape, crushed by human efforts into bread and wine. These are signs of creation, a body in crisis, and signs of new life, new love, new care for all things--a new adam.

"Creation Community"

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!

 


Sermon 05/14/2017: Kingdom Economics

May 15, 2017 by cmc_admin

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Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Matthew 6:19-21, 24 and Deuteronomy 7:6-8.

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Lies we Live (or Die) By

You cannot serve God and Mammon. Jesus used the word Mammon to identify the power, the false spiritual power that money can be in our lives. By recognizing and naming Mammon, as a false spiritual power opposed to God, Jesus was acting on our behalf, defending us from the lies that Mammon spews. The big lie Mammon speaks is that we are fundamentally insecure. Our lives are precarious and everything, including us, could soon fall apart. When we’re vulnerable Mammon whispers that money could make us secure, and successful, and beautiful, and loved, and happy, and powerful. These are lies we live by. And when we’re self-assured and strong, Mammon warns us that we’ve miscalculated our needs, accumulating more for ourselves will make us more secure, successful, beautiful, loved, happy, and powerful. These are lies we die by. Mammon’s lies about insecurity are supported by a dominant American value: materialism. Even if we avoid materialism and live simply, Mammon’s lies can still ring in our ears stirring up worry and anxiety.

[SLIDE #2] Now Jesus, living among poor people in first century Palestine, saw this so clearly that he exposed the lies and said: You cannot serve God and Mammon. This was Jesus’ one-liner economic analysis. And it is still true. Jesus of course was biased. He was inviting people to choose God, to serve God, and to reject Mammon to be freed from the bullying and entrapment and slavery of serving Mammon, who deceives poor people just as much as rich people. The God Jesus served has a better, deeper, truer message for humanity. God did not say that we’re all insecure, but rather like a mother bear: You are a holy people. I chose you out of all the people on earth. You belong to me. You are my treasured possession. And God repeats that message, especially in times when we are tempted to believe the lies.

I don’t know what everyone here is facing today financially or otherwise, but according to scripture we are not drifting through life; we belong to God. Our circumstances are not random; God is choosing us right here, right now, today. We are not alone; God has a people and we are God’s people. We are not insignificant beings; we are God’s treasured possession. Every last one of us. We do not belong to Mammon; Jesus sets us free from Mammon’s lies.

Giving Alms

In Matthew 6 Jesus speaks pretty directly about money three times. It’s a lesson in kingdom economics. First, Jesus assumes that people have a regular practice of providing for the needs of the poor: giving alms. When you give alms...don’t make a big show of it. Jesus doesn’t say if you give alms, but when you give.

Here’s what one CMC household shared about living generously. In recent years, since we have eliminated a mortgage, we have attempted to give more than 10 percent of our annual income. During the last decade our giving has been in the 15-20% range. In 2016, owing to an unusual one-time circumstance (a business we had invested in was sold), we were able to contribute 50 percent of our adjusted gross income to charity.

Our primary motivation for giving is that we care about the well-being of others, both those we might know personally and those who might live a half world away. Almost all of our giving goes to the Mennonite Church or agencies and not-for-profit organizations connected to the church. We think it’s unfortunate that so many people view giving as a “should” rather than an opportunity. Money is such a private subject, and anyone who preaches stewardship is suspected of having ulterior motives. Sometimes it almost seems like the opposite is true. The happiest people we know are also the most generous, and our lives seem most blessed when we give the most.

What do we treasure?

So Jesus teaches kingdom economics through giving to others--meeting needs of the poor. A second time Jesus mentions money in Matthew chapter 6 he’s talking about priorities--don’t store up treasures on earth where moth and dust consume and thieves break in and steal; store up treasures in heaven. I can see giving to the poor, but this part of Jesus’ lesson in kingdom economics is utterly impractical. If we get paid this week and don’t save anything we won’t be able to pay our bills later in the month. Now, we get that we don’t want to live like Rich Fools who build bigger barns hoarding wealth for ourselves when others are in need, but how do we live in our capitalist society without saving? Let’s consider Jesus’ own life.

[SLIDE #3] Jesus did not accumulate financial savings. Jesus doesn’t even seem to have his wallet along. He’s dependent on others. On the other hand, there was a treasurer among the Twelve and it wasn’t the tax-collector Matthew; it was Judas--who was not exactly ideal for the job. And there were these women who supported Jesus from their wealth. At least as a group Jesus and his disciples were saving and spending and giving. When I consider Jesus’ life and his teaching about storing up treasure in heaven I realize that like the God who spoke to Israel, Jesus regards people as a treasured possession. Jesus invested his life in people. Sometimes Jesus’ investment seems wasteful--fishermen, women, tax-collectors, unclean people, Judas? Even if it wasn’t a waste, at the very least, Jesus’ investment in people was very expensive. Think of his suffering and death. Jesus treasured people. His investment in people was risky. After he died he hadn’t written anything down! He just said remember what I said, teach everyone in the world and I will be with you always. Jesus’ eternal investment was with human beings, people on earth where moth and dust and thieves and Mammon can distort the message, but I think we got a lot of it pretty clearly and it’s a matter of living it.

Everyone Welcome Mission Project

(Hadley Jenner’s Voice in italics)

HHJ-Hey, Jennifer, I wanted to announce that as part of our Everyone Welcome Campaign, we decided on a Mission Project that would consist of funds dedicated to some entity beyond ourselves. The Outreach Commission discussed options and made a recommendation to Council who has approved a major contribution to NewBridges Immigrant Resource Center to assist their staffing up to better serve their ministry in the community.

JDS-Haven’t we already given some of the Everyone Welcome Campaign money beyond ourselves?

HHJ-Yes, we gave $15,000….

JDS--Why are we announcing this today...in the middle of the sermon?

HHJ-Well, we figured this being your last sermon before sabbatical we could provide an example of living generously as a congregation.

JDS-Thanks for that. Actually, it fits with what I was saying about Jesus investing in people, seeing people like God sees people--as treasures. The immigrant people NewBridges serves are sometimes ignored, or threatened, so CMC is treasuring these neighbors by investing in their lives.

HHJ-And the timing is great. Here’s what Alicia Horst, Executive Director of NewBridges says: “Over the last few months it has become obvious that our work needs to include even more focus on the pressing immigration questions from our newcomer communities. The last Board meeting in April included discussion about the need to hire an additional person who can become accredited to practice immigration law. (I am currently the only person in the office with this accreditation). However, we also recognized that we were not in a current financial position to add a new position. Your generosity is allowing us to take much quicker action than we expected. Please communicate our sincere and deep gratitude to the Outreach Committee, the CMC Church Council and to the wonderful CMC congregation for your support and vision of welcoming all from a place of abundance, joy, and justice.

JDS-So one way CMC is practicing kingdom economics is by investing in people, some of God’s treasures who are making a home in this community. How much are we donating to NewBridges to staff up and be able to provide more legal assistance?

HHJ--$25,000. [Applause. Hadley sits down.]

[SLIDE #4]Thanks, Hadley. And thank you CMC. When you pledged to support Everyone Welcome we were upgrading our facility and we were also committed to kingdom economics. You gave generously and now we as a congregation are making an investment in people in a timely way, just as the NewBridges board is ready to increase their staff.

The third time Jesus mentions money in Matthew 6 he says: You cannot serve God and Mammon. Remember, I said the lie Mammon tells us is that we are insecure. Keep that in mind as we talk just a bit about financial savings. Every Christian book or program on faith and finances--whether conservative, progressive, traditional or radical--that I’ve ever experienced concludes that saving money is important. Saving is not the most important economic activity or the highest value for Christians, but it’s part of good stewardship and living generously.

Many of these books and programs recommend that individual households in North America aim to save enough money for 3-6 months of expenses, in case of job loss, or suddenly needing to replace a furnace during the winter months, or replace a car after an accident, or uninsured medical expenses. But most people do not have 3-6 months of easily liquidated savings. And so Mammon’s lie--that we are fundamentally insecure is pretty easy to believe. Most Americans, and most American Christians, are one emergency away from a financial tailspin. But what if we did not have to establish a 3-6 month emergency savings account on our own? What if small groups of Christians could support each other?

Let’s say our household goal was to build up an emergency fund of $10,000. By saving $100 per month it would take about 8 years to save $10,000. But even saving $200 per month it would take more than 4 years. And four years is a long time to have Mammon’s lie about insecurity ringing in our ears. What if we built an emergency fund in community, rather than in isolation? Here’s an idea. It’s a just something to think about.

Small Group Shared Emergency Savings

Imagine 5 CMC households who need to establish an Emergency Savings Fund. Setting out individually to save $10,000 for an emergency fund may take 5 years or more depending on what happens along the way. But what if these households worked together, each contributing $2000 annually for emergency savings for 3 years.

[SLIDE #5] In year one the fund would already have $10,000 available for an emergency. In 3 years the small group of five families would have an emergency cushion of $30,000. With this much in reserve and sharing some of the risks, these same households could prioritize debt reduction, and generous giving, while still having an emergency fund. It would be complicated because we would have to decide together what constitutes an emergency and how to replenish the funds when they are drawn down. But wouldn’t the process of making those decisions require us to invest in people and relationships the way Jesus and his first disciples did?

Here’s another idea from CMCers who are committed to both giving and saving: Recently, we had overnight guests, friends from college days who share our giving values. We were struck by advice they give to their children and students: “Live at 80 percent of your income. Give 10% away and save 10%. Start when you are young, and you’ll never be poor. When you have saved all that you need for yourself, increase the percentage of giving every year.”

[SLIDE #6] The folks who shared this were quick to say that race and class privilege affects these kinds of equations. And even being born into certain privileges and being good stewards, still can’t prevent financial crisis or provide ultimate security. But we’re trying to fend off Mammon’s lies by listening to Jesus and to elders who are living generously, so we can make wise choices about our faith and finances where we can.

I’ve had more thoughtful comments from CMCers about this worship series than any other I’ve been a part of. We still have a couple of weeks focused on Living Generously, but there is no way we will address all the important nuanced financial and faith issues that are the stuff of our lives. So, to correct what I said earlier and to leave us with a few words from scripture I want to say this: In Matthew 6 Jesus doesn’t address money three times. In the middle of the chapter, in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus brings up the most complex and problematic economic reality of his day--debt. Forgive us our debt and we forgive our debtors. Perhaps if we talk with God about the complex and distressing financial matters in our world, then maybe we can talk with each other and begin to practice what Jesus taught and lived. It may seem foolish or risky to test Jesus’ Kingdom Economics while living in a 21st US economy. But there’s one more word in chapter 6 ends: Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or wear. Look at the birds...aren’t you even more valuable? Consider the flowers… Perhaps Jesus in his teaching and example of simplicity was again protecting from Mammon’s lies, soothing our anxiety like a good mother, and assuring us that seeking first the kingdom will be abundance that defies economic measures. Our Mothering God has said: You are a holy people. I chose you. You belong to me. You are my treasured possession.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon: 05/07/2017 CMC Jubilee Debt Reduction

May 9, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig on I Kings 18:3-4; II Kings 4:1-7.

Click here for transcript

Our scripture this morning is a story of God meeting the needs of a family saddled with debt. It’s a creative--OK, it’s a miraculous--solution. The single-parent has one jar of oil and this oil fills a bowl, a pitcher, a cup, a vase and every vessel that the children could find until there were no more containers to hold it. There was more than enough. There was enough oil to sell to pay off debt. Enough to meet the daily needs of the whole family.

This Bible story is a miracle of grace for one family. It is also a very personal picture of debt relief. Now Israel’s legal tradition required a radical practice of debt relief for the whole society. Leviticus 25 describes an economic levelling--a jubilee every 49 years--when debts were to be forgiven and everyone in Israel would get a fresh start, a fair shake, a second chance. But I’ve preached sermons on Leviticus 25 and it usually makes no difference in our daily economic lives. So let’s get personal about this theme of debt relief.

CMC Reality

Living generously requires some intentionality, so last week we heard about tithing, giving ten percent, acknowledging that 100% of what we save, spend and give belongs to God. Living generously calls for intentionality, but it also requires some freedom. Some people in our community here at CMC save, give and spend each month with a degree of freedom because we are not burdened by overwhelming debt. Others of us feel the pressures of debt acutely. Some of us experience shame, stress, fear, even a sense of bondage because of debt--from expensive education, uninsured medical expenses, bad loans, our own bad behavior of sometimes living beyond our means.

Kent and I were both in graduate school when we planned to get married. I had about $14,000 in educational debt, and he had about $2000. We paid off his debt with the money we received in lieu of of wedding gifts and our own earnings. Then we finished our degrees without accumulating more debt--it meant a slower pace--and when we finished school we paid off the remaining debt within three years of graduation because I had a salary from a Mennonite congregation and Kent was running a Community Supported Agriculture business.

Our young adult experience of debt, however, is quite different from that of the next generation. The biggest difference is that tuition for higher education is proportionately much higher and earning power for graduates is proportionately lower in 2017 than in 1997. Three years ago the average outstanding student loan balance was over $37,000. Today Kent and I still have debt because we’re buying a house. Our remaining principle stands at $129,000. That’s a lot of money, but this debt does not feel burdensome because our monthly payments are manageable on our income. We can save, spend and give each month with some freedom. Maybe you’re situation is something like ours--debt hasn’t been a major problem and you’ve always had enough employment. But maybe through circumstances largely beyond your control or even decision you now regret, debt is a heavy burden.

The family in II Kings was in debt and the creditors were threatening to enslave the children. Or perhaps, and this is horrifying, perhaps the mother herself had contemplated selling a child into servitude in order to save a remnant of the family. What kind of disease must exist in a society that trades in human beings in order to balance a financial leger, or make profit? Well, the disease is the greed of creditors and the indifference of the community. The disease is debt slavery and God’s Jubilee law was supposed to set people free from that kind of bondage. Who knows maybe they weren’t practicing Jubilee. Maybe it was not scheduled for another 20 years. We don’t know. But we know this mother was crying. According to scripture she is not crying herself to sleep, though perhaps she had already done that. She is not crying out to God, though what parent does not pray facing these kinds of choices that are no choices. She is crying out to Elisha, bringing her need to God’s prophet. She insists Elisha has a role to play in resolving her financial distress.

I believe we have this particular miracle literally on the books because it links Elisha’s prophetic ministry to economic justice for poor women and children. It’s not that there are no poor men in Israel. It’s not that wealthy people in society didn’t need prophetic attention, but prophets who serve the elite are a dime a dozen. Elisha’s street cred as a prophet is that he cared about the poor. Just like Elijah before provided a miracle of enough food for a widowed mother in Zarephath and the grain and oil did not run out, so the Bible tells a similar story about Elisha meeting the need of a poor mother and her kids. Elijah and Elisha were the northern prophets, the prophets that centuries later Jesus and his Galilean neighbors would have regarded as their heroes of faith, living in their territory, caring about the needs of the poor--the widows, the children, the poor people who needed their debts forgiven.

Bridge of Hope

Last week I heard Stephanie Resto speak. She’s staff of Bridge of Hope, a ministry with a housing first model for single mothers and their children. CMC supports Bridge of Hope financially and with a neighboring group for one family. We support Bridge of Hope because we care, because we are part of the Biblical prophetic tradition that stands with people who are struggling. We can’t work miracles, but miracles happen when people of God respond to the individual needs and the systemic injustices of our community with the resources we have--resources of friendship, faith, good counsel, spiritual, emotional and financial support. Although Bridge of Hope is a Christian ministry and each neighboring group that surrounds a particular family comes from a local church, Bridge of Hope clients are not necessarily from our local congregations. There doing the Elijah ministry. He went out of his way to help a woman in Zarephath--an outsider.

Now the Elisha ministry was a little different. The single-mother who approaches Elisha for help is from his community. The Bible says her husband was with the company of prophets. Why is her family so burdened by debt? We don’t know for sure. Payday loans? Student loans? Credit card debt? She says to Elisha--your servant, my husband is dead and you know that your servant honored YHWH. So her husband served God among the company of prophets. There is a plausible Biblical “back story” here. We read a snippet from I Kings about a temple prophet, Obadiah, who provided bread and water, for 100 prophets of God who were being hunted and killed off by Queen Jezebel. Perhaps this Obadiah was the very husband and father who used his family’s resources to help others. Obadiah served God by saving other prophets, giving them shelter--OK it was a couple of caves--and providing for their needs--OK, it was just bread and water. But he risked a violent death at the hands of Jezebel to provide for 100 people. That affects a household economy, especially on those prophet wages. Obadiah gave sacrificially, placing the needs of others before his own. His generosity reminds us of Israel’s God--who also provided bread and water in the wilderness to people who had narrowly escaped death. We don’t know the specifics of why the widow in II Kings is in debt up to her ears, maybe her husband gave until it hurt and when he died there was nothing to fall back on. In any case, God’s response to her was grace.

CMC--Living Generously

Last month I invited some CMCers to share stories of generosity they had received or given. Esther Stenson responded with a poem.

I am not generous
Like Nin᷉a Olivia, who never turned this lonely foreigner away from her table
Without a bowl of black beans and fresh tortillas she taught me
to slap out and place on her enormous black comal to sell for pennies
to neighbors so she could feed some of her own tribe of adult children with their children
--a never-ending stream of comers and goers, dogs, chickens, and other animals
stepping over the wooden threshold into a dimly lit sod floor room where her aged husband
needed waiting on as well.

I am not generous
like Berta Sandoval, young and courageous evangelist
To superstitious villagers who tried to stone her
one day, she said, as we walked along a remote wooded path
till she told me to stop lest we meet one of those “stoners”
--and for my simple interest in her stories, she walked miles one
day in wilting heat to deliver one of her own prized chickens to my door in town.

I am not generous
like the seminary student in Nanjing who invited this lost foreigner
on a cold night for a steaming bowl of noodles with quail eggs,
the next day providing a bicycle and yellow poncho to ride to church
with me in the rain, then invited me to have birthday dinner with her
and her husband till I got connected with others in my group.

I am not generous
like Amalia Fares, the first woman doctor in Port Said,
who on her return from her father’s funeral in Canada
brought me a lovely bunch of my favorite green asparagus,
not available in local markets.
“When you return from a foreign country,“ she said,
"you should bring gifts, even if it’s a stone.”

Even when I try to be generous by keeping
a young Bosnian, survivor of a wrenching war,
she nearly evokes tears with her heartfelt gratitude
expressed in well-chosen words and in constant
acts of helpfulness—like chopping vegetables,
washing up after this messy cook and
cleaning wherever and whenever she sees need.
I cannot ever return all these human acts of generosity,
Much less the generosity of forgiveness that I must ask
my heavenly Father for, from time to time.
For all of this, I can only bow my heart in humble thanks.

Ancient Israel responded to God’s generous and faithful care with thanksgiving marked by offerings, tithes, and sacrificial gifts to devoted to God, shared among the community, and distributed to those with need, especially widows, orphans, immigrants and Levites. Israel’s law also had that re-set button, called Jubilee, intended to free people and given them a chance for a sustainable future of living generously, rather than being enslaved by perpetual debt. We don’t know how much they practiced this grace, but Jesus said it was time.

CMC Jubilee Debt Relief

Council has decided that it’s time for CMC to experiment with Jubilee debt relief. There is an imbalance in the community when some are burdened by debt and others are not. So we’re following the spirit of the Jubilee law. We’re following the example of Obadiah’s generosity. We’re following the example of the woman who shared her need. And we’re believing Jesus that forgiveness of debts is a sign of the kingdom of God among us. Both Columbus Mennonite Church in Ohio and Shalom Mennonite Congregation here in Harrisonburg have provided some measure of debt relief in their congregations--among their own people. And we’re planning to do the same.

After a Sunday morning sermon introducing the idea and a carefully conducted confidential process Columbus Mennonite raised $23,035, plus some matching funds, for a total of $25,085 for debt relief among its congregation. After the collection, Columbus Mennonite divided the gifts equally among 28 individuals who expressed a need for debt relief. Each received $903.03. Now Shalom Mennonite hoped to raise maybe $10,000. But they stretched the giving period over a couple of months and raised over $14,000.00 distributing it equally to 10 households. What could CMC do?

Council had a significant conversation about this plan. We know that sometimes debt accrues because of poor choices. Certainly some needs among us are greater than others. This is a matter for personal reflection and prayer. Ask yourself--am I someone burdened by debt? Maybe you have a plan for paying off debt that does not feel burdensome. That’s the way I feel about our mortgage. We owe $129,000. We can make our monthly payments. But maybe your mortgage situation is different. Pastor Brian of Shalom received a thank you from someone who saved exponentially more on their mortgage interest because they were able to refinance with this little bump, this little miracle of grace. In one congregation a senior citizen was elated to be paying off one burdensome loan in order to be able to refinance another and save exponentially more money in interest. Pastor Joel from Columbus shared that he and his wife Abbie paid off their last student loans a couple years before their congregation did this, so they went back to look at those bills. One of the payments was $60 per month and one was $90, so they decided to give one month--$150 to their Jubilee fund.

I wonder what would happen if some of us who feel able to offer a gift of jubilee grace would make that contribution. Maybe the brother or sister beside us would would not cry themselves to sleep. Maybe those able to give could become part of God’s work of grace is another’s life.

So take one of the slips of paper under the chair on the center aisle. Let’s not ask for help or promise to give today. Let’s think about it and pray about. Now that you have your paper, write your name and write debt or write jubilee. You’re probably in one of those categories and this will be a reminder to pray about your situation and whether you want to participate in the CMC Jubilee Debt Relief by receiving or giving. Bring your card up with the offering.

Maybe for some who write Jubilee as you think and pray you want to give to Bridge of Hope, or pay down some of our collective debt by contributing to CMC’s Everyone Welcome fund. We still have to pay down our loan. Trust God with this decision. If as you think and pray you are ready to receive from CMC, give your name and address to Heidi Derstine, Larry Miller or Dave Cockley. Nobody can speak for you, so you might have to ask God for the courage of that woman who went to Elisha. Heidi, Larry and Dave will keep it confidential. Let’s trust each other. We’d like to receive gifts for CMC Jubilee Debt Relief during May and June, so that we can send checks in early July. The intention of the CMC Jubilee Debt relief is to share one another’s burdens, to build trust, and to free one another for living generously. Preaching the kingdom of God Jesus told stories of debt relief. Jesus is alive today. I wonder what stories the Lord might tell through our congregation about debts, generosity and jubilee. Let’s trust that there will be enough to be a sign of the kingdom.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 04/23/2017: First Things First

April 24, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig, on Genesis 14:18-20; Leviticus 23:9-14; James 1:17-18.

Click here for a transcript

Giving our Lives to God

What if our first priority were giving our lives to God? What if our first priority was giving ourselves so that we could be given for the life of the world, just as Jesus was given for the life of the world? What if before we got a job we liked, or saved for retirement, or bought a house, or took a trip, or started a family, or got a degree, or even went on a hike or read a good book we were first and foremost giving our lives to God? Now a life given to God might well include all these things, but with our priority first and foremost on giving our lives to God, we will make better decisions about all these other matters. And according to our faith when a human life is given to God, not even suffering and death can destroy it. We are people promised resurrection, so we can afford to give our lives without fear, to give joyously and generously.

Ancient Giving

In the ancient world this idea of giving our lives to God is the basis for offerings--sacrifices of animals, grain and flour, poured out wine, salt, spices, and eventually gold and silver. Friends, most religious traditions see offerings as a means to manipulate the divine--give the gods what they want, so we get what we want. It’s transactional. And it’s magic--manipulated by priests or shamans or religious functionaries who benefit from this magic. There are even people who seem to be Christian, who essentially manipulate our human need to give and to relate to God to line their own pockets. But the Biblical tradition of giving is better! Biblical people give offerings regularly as a sign of giving our whole lives to God. Especially with animal sacrifices ancient people made a big deal about the blood, because the blood of one’s animal was a sign of a person’s own lifeblood, life strength, one’s whole life given to God.

Now, Biblical people also changed their practices with regard to offerings over time. With the advent of money economies we began to give coins, as a symbol of giving our lives to God. Money is a great symbol, because we tend to cling to money for security rather than God. There are many distinct Biblical Giving Models. Today we’re focused on the idea of first fruits giving. The Hebrew and Christian idea of giving first fruits, goes all the way back to Genesis, all the way back to that first pair of brothers: Cain and Abel. Cain gave the first fruits from the ground--what he had grown as a farmer. Abel gave the firstlings of his flock of sheep--what he had raised as a herder. Later in Genesis Abraham regularly gives offerings to God as signs that his household is committed to God’s future. Abraham gives his life to God even though it means a long journey through the desert. Abraham gives even though it means he and Sarah wait so very long for a child. First fruits giving means that we begin with the end in mind; we prioritize giving over accumulating; we place the needs of others before our own; we acknowledge that resources may be currently in our grasp and directed by us, but they belong to God. Our whole lives belong to God--who is our beginning and our end.

Abraham and Melchizedek

In the passage from Genesis that we heard this morning Abraham and Melchizedek meet. These two figures represent two ancient faith traditions. Melchizedek is both a king and priest of Salem, a city later known as Jerusalem. Melchizedek worships El Elyon and Abraham worships YHWH. Melchizedek gives bread and wine in a ritual to bless Abraham who just rescued his nephew Lot from death. And Abraham gives a tenth of his wealth as a sign of unity with Melchizedek. This mutual gift exchange works on a number of levels at the same time. The giving of gifts celebrates the rescue of Lot, who was held captive. This act of giving by both Melchizedek and Abraham is also an act of unifying worship--and El Elyon (the Canaanite name for God most High) becomes a name that Abraham will also use for God along with YHWH. This two-way gift exchange is also a way of making peace after a series of battles. The place where this gift exchange happens was later known by Biblical people as the Promised Land--God’s gift. So these gifts of bread, wine and wealth celebrate a rescue--saving Lot from death; they are an act of intercultural worship of one God; and these gifts make peace. That’s how people with a promise live--giving without fear, joyously and generously.

First Fruit Ritual

Now...Leviticus. The Jews were so committed to giving offerings to God that they they did not want to leave it to chance or everybody just remembering Abraham’s example. When it came to giving offerings, the Jews codified it, ritualized it, made a habit of it and made it fun! OK, I admit Leviticus is only fun for a few of us. But think about directions for a party. Plugging directions into your GPS and listening to that voice is not fun. But the directions are not the celebration. Israel’s law in Leviticus or direction for giving first fruits leads to joy and celebration. They designated the first day after the Passover sabbath as a first fruits offering.

The first fruits offering celebrates that the Hebrew captives were rescued from death, and led out of Egypt by God’s hand. Anybody catch that little calendar coincidence? Jesus died during the Passover week and on the sabbath he was in the tomb, but on the first day after the Passover Sabbath the captive was set free, the dead Messiah was raised, and we began to celebrate resurrection life--like a first fruits offering party. Yes, giving our whole lives to God-- first things first--leads to joy and new life. Jesus showed us that when a human life is given to God, not even suffering and death can destroy it. We are people promised resurrection. The first fruits installment of God’s gift to us has already been delivered. The Lord is risen, so we can afford to give our lives without fear, to give joyously and generously.

James

One more scripture. We heard this little snippet of wisdom from James. James sees not only Jesus’ resurrection as first fruits, but the church as a kind of first fruits of all people and all creatures. Because we who have the promise of resurrection life can be fully dedicated to God without fear. James says we were born to give, to be generous, it’s part of God’s design. Every generous act of giving with every perfect gift, is from above. Unlike the Old Testament tradition, we are not legalistic about financial giving. However, the practice of giving a tenth, the ritual of giving regularly during worship, the recognition that everything belongs to God, and the intentionality of giving first fruits are valuable wisdom for today. We’re not legalistic, but without intentional practices and patterns of generosity, we’ll end up pursuing our culture’s acquisitive, self-serving affluenza. We will never have enough for ourselves and never enough to give.

CMC Story

Here’s a current story about generosity that I think exemplifies this idea of first fruits. It comes from a couple in their 20s: David Jost who grew up in this congregation and his wife Sophie Lapp. Here’s how David tells the story. The Scholarship for Anabaptist Servants is a way to affirm and equip young people who choose to engage in both Mennonite service and Mennonite education. Recognizing that young people who do both are highly likely to connect closely to the church (both with congregations and with friends and mentors in the church) and that it's ever more expensive and difficult in our resource-strapped, career-driven world for young adults to make these choices, the fund offers $2,000 one-time scholarships to alumni of Mennonite service programs who attend Mennonite schools, undergraduate or graduate. This is a small boost for undergraduate students. It is a larger one for seminarians, many of whom are MVS alumni, and we hope some of the applicants will be seminary students. We know MVSers on average have $32,000 of college debt today, and we want to support alumni who, like Sophie, choose seminary. We view the scholarship mainly as a way to help young people who are making wonderful choices and embracing the church in life. Of course we hope to advocate for both service and Mennonite education (and we partly structured this as a scholarship rather than as debt relief to encourage these choices), but we know very few people choose one school over another or choose to serve because of $2,000. Our hope, though, is that we'll attract other donors and potentially endow and expand the fund in coming years.

Sophie and I have been extraordinarily blessed when it comes to money. Our parents' employers and help from parents and grandparents made college virtually free for us, and during and since our college studies, we've had jobs that have been highly rewarding, both in providing meaningful work and in generous paychecks. We've always loved to give back, and we both feel called to redistribute our abundance. Creating this scholarship (which my parents have generously matched us for) will eat up quite a bit of our assets, but we're also aware that from those to whom much has been given, much shall be required, and we've been given so very, very much! The church makes us so proud, and young people who face a dizzying array of paths to choose in life and who choose the church, broken as it is, mean so much to us. We don't want fancy cars or expensive vacations or extravagant houses. We want just communities, strong education and service networks, and a faithful church, following Christ. We hope that we'll find others will join us in making the scholarship larger, available to more young Anabaptist servants, and more permanent.

Generosity Trends at CMC

I hope there are CMCers who benefit from this scholarship fund and contribute to it, but mostly I hope that we grow in generosity as a congregation to whom much has been given. David gave me permission to share this story, but then he wrote and said he was going to be in worship on April 30th, so maybe I shouldn’t use it until after then, in case he would be embarrassed. But I asked him if he could get over it, so I could tell you today. So, let’s not embarrass them when they are in town next week. Or, if you do talk with David about the Scholarship for Anabaptist Servants, you have to contribute.

Let me show you a few slides that we’ve developed about CMC’s giving practices.

[SLIDE 1] If you look at the little light blue slice and then go clockwise adding the red and the lavender you’ll see that last year 37% of our congregation gave $2500 or more as an offering to God toward the CMC budget and the Everyone Welcome campaign. Now some of those folks gave $3600 and some gave $13,000. Some made large gifts to the Everyone Welcome--fulfilling pledges made in 2015. These folks probably have a habit of regular giving because most of us are not in a position to accidentally give that much money. I suspect that some in this range have a goal of tithing ten percent of their income--perhaps they’ve reached that goal, perhaps not. Perhaps some have even surpassed that goal. You can also see in this graph that if we add the dark blue and the yellow section, there are 35% of CMC households who gave between $1 and $500. According to national statistics Christian people give most often and most generously to their congregations. We also give to many other organizations--especially church-related, health-related and educational institutions--but we tend to prioritize our local congregations and their ministries and mission. So, even though this graph does not describe all our generosity in 2016, it is a good indication of how CMCers tend to give. James 1:17 says: Every generous act of giving is from above and that includes acts of service. As Christians all the gifts we offer are inspired by the God who gave us life, who forgives our sin, who sent us Jesus and raised him from death. If you contributed to the offerings at CMC last year, then perhaps you know where you are on this graph. If so, remember which color category you’re in.

[SLIDE 2] Here’s another graph where you can see that in 2016 the gifts given to God through our congregation totaled $676,379. Remember how the first slide showed the light blue, red and lavender sections were about 37% of the CMC households? Here we can see that this group is contributing 85% of the total. That may be due to income disparity among us. It may be a result of financial pressure because of debt or job loss. It may be that some of our households don’t have tools for organizing their financial generosity. It may be we have different levels of commitment to the life of CMC, or maybe we were just never aware of these trends. These two slides are history.

[SLIDE 3] This next slide is about 2017. CMC has vision as a congregation. We are a peace church where everyone is welcome. We are trying to launch a VS unit. We can summarize CMC’s ministry in these five categories: Worship, Faith Formation of Children & Youth, Community Outreach, Congregational Life, and Supporting the Broader Mennonite Church. This is a pretty simple picture. We’ve allocated different parts of our budget to these five main areas, because it’s easier for all of us to see what our collective gifts to God do through Community Mennonite Church.

CMC worships together in Jesus’ name as we sing, listen and pray on Sunday mornings. We’re preparing children and youth to follow the way of Christ in the world through Sunday School, Venture club, Jr MYF, MYF, mentors, educational grants and financial support for Mennonite higher ed. CMC is active in community outreach and responds to needs with compassionate service, material aid, peacemaking, justice and care for creation. We also support Patchwork Pantry, NewBridges, Our Community Place, Gemeinschaft, Bridge of Hope, Free Clinic, Faith in Action, Community Preschool, Skyline Literacy, Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Congregational Life is highly valued at CMC. This is a place to belong. We want each person to experience deepen relationships with one another and with God. Care Teams, hospitality, church retreat, small groups, CMC Seniors, special events, gifts discernment, vision development. CMC belongs to the broader Mennonite church through our Harrisonburg District, Virginia Mennonite Conference, and Mennonite Church USA. In addition we support other Anabaptist groups: VMMissions, MEA, Mennonite Mission Network, Mennonite World Conference, MCC, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Mutual aid for pastors via the Corinthian Plan.

Giving

Living generously doesn’t happen by following our culture. Living generously is a result of giving our whole lives to God. We built this budget in order to follow Jesus as a congregation. If we’re giving our whole lives to God, it will be easy to surpass the financial plans we’ve made. At the end of the year we’ll be distributing surplus. As we grow in faith, we grow in generosity. We of all people can afford to live without fear, to give joyously and generously.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Palm Sunday Peace Parade

April 11, 2017 by alisha.huber

Carrying a handmade giant dove that led the way, around 60 people of all ages walked in solidarity from the northeast section of Harrisonburg, Va., to Court Square, in the annual

Peace Parade held Palm Sunday afternoon, Apr. 9.

Amidst a setting of warm temperatures and brilliant sunshine, the group began its march at Immanuel Mennonite Church, stopping several times to hear short speeches on immigration, prison reform and other justice issues. Participants came from Community Mennonite Church, Immanuel Mennonite, Early Church and Bethel AME.

They assembled on the steps of the Rockingham County Courthouse to sing and to hear a call to “love as Jesus does” and to receive a blessing from Jennifer Davis Sensenig, lead pastor at Community Mennonite Church.

“The recent death of M.J. Sharp while working for peace in the Congo reminds us of the possible cost of peacemaking,” Davis Sensenig told the group. “Rather than depending on military might, we are seeking the shalom of the city through our connection with Jesus and people around us. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

Thanks to Jim Bishop for the photos and the reporting. CMC respects members’ privacy. If your picture is here and you do not want it to be, contact the church office to have it immediately removed and to add yourself to the ‘Do Not Photo’ list.


Sermon 04/02/2017: Crash Course in Lent

April 4, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig on John 11:1-45 and Ezekiel 37:1-14

Click here for a transcript

Crash Course in Lent

By now it’s the 5th Sunday in Lent. Some of our intentional disciplines to deepen and restore our relationship with God have faded. A month ago on Sunday we wrote down the appetites that were problems in our lives on slips of paper: food, news, fear, compulsions. On the reverse side we named practices that might redirect those appetites toward the kingdom of God--asking for help, physical and spiritual exercise, gratitude. As we came to receive the bread and cup, we discarded those slips of paper, in order to be fed and freed by Christ. I know some of us are experiencing the benefits of Christian practices and perseverance during Lent. And I know some of us are still feeling empty, tempted, or discouraged. If you’ve been keeping any Lenten disciplines, hang in there. This is good discipline. And Easter is in two weeks. Our scriptures today are a kind of crash course in Lent. In these stories, God speaks, so that we don’t lose our faith or lose our courage.

The Prophet Ezekiel

First, a little backstory on Ezekiel. He was training for the priesthood in Jerusalem, when he was exiled to Babylon with other Israelite elites. It was in Babylon--by the River Chebar--that God called him to be, not a priest, but a prophet. In his early career, from a place of relative distance and safety, Ezekiel warned his nation of impending doom, that Babylon’s power would eventually overwhelm the disobedient and rebellious Israel. On the very day that the Babylonians began to burn the city of Jerusalem, Ezekiel’s wife died and the prophet fell silent (ch. 24). When the siege finally ended, a messenger travelled from Israel to Babylon--this certainly took months--and told Ezekiel that Jerusalem was completely destroyed (ch. 33). At this point of total loss, Ezekiel regains his prophetic voice and begins to speak again. In his later career--like chapter 34 on--Ezekiel speaks more pastorally. It’s like he too is suffering with everyone who has suffered.

Mass Graves

In chapter 37 God shows Ezekiel something horrible: a mass grave. On March 23rd the United Nations confirmed 10 mass graves in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Government and militia violence in Congo is claiming combatants, civilians, and peace workers. Earlier this week we learned that the bodies of UN workers MJ Sharp, Zaida Catalan, and translater Betu Tshintela were found. Isaac Kabuayi, and two additional drivers are still missing. We Mennonites followed the story because we are connected to MJ through our churches and schools, through our network of family and friends, through our support of Mennonite Central Committee that first funded MJ’s peace-building work in Congo, through our shared commitment to peacemaking and peacebuilding, and through the Spirit of our God, who unites us with departed saints as well as those beside us when we gather for worship.

Ezekiel chapters 34-37 address the need for new leaders, restoration of peace, repairing community, and building hope. Now, it’s ancient prophesy; it’s dated. There’s stuff about sheep. There’s stuff about kings. Ezekiel is concerned with the honor of God’s name, which isn’t often our immediate agenda. He speaks to mountains, which seems like a waste of time. But God’s message of hope after Jerusalem was burned to the ground was this:

I will seek the lost...I will bind up the injured…
I will strengthen the weak. (Ezek 34:16)

God’s message of restoration is repeated with this verse: I will make with you a covenant of peace. (Ezek 34:25 and 37:26) God promises to sprinkle Israel with clean water, give the exiled nation a new spirit, remove the heart of stone and give a heart of flesh.

Valley of Bones

And then the hand of the Lord came upon Ezekiel and the spirit set him down in a valley of dry bones. There he was looking at death. Now, it’s a vision, a mystical experience. The upshot for Ezekiel is that his own role as a prophet is changing from being a prophet or warning to being a prophet of future vision. It’s almost like God is saying: Do you get it? We’re moving from mass grave to massive hope. God and Ezekiel talk about this place of death. Is there a possible future? The prophet isn’t sure. God is sure. And God works with this one willing person, Ezekiel. God gives Ezekiel a fresh prophetic role and a message of hope for his people.

Dead Rat—Dead Cow

One of my friends who served with MCC in Zambia years ago blogged about her experience of finding a dead rat in her kitchen. Here was a woman fighting the good fight against rodents, disease carrying bugs and dangerous snakes so that her young family could stay reasonably safe and healthy during their 3 years teaching peace and building relationships in Zambia. On the morning of the dead rat in the kitchen, Cheryl was understandably distraught. But when she let out a gasp of horror, her young son rushed to the scene and began praying mightily that Jesus would raise the rat from the dead. And we laugh…

Kent and I were hiking in a wooded area of a farm with our niece--she was 5 at the time--when we stumbled upon a skeleton. The bones were bleached white; grass had grown through the gaps where muscle had once held them together. The bones belonged to a cow. Now maybe my niece isn’t as formed by the life and ministry of Jesus as the youngster in Zambia, but she didn’t pray for the cow. Old white bones just don’t seem very close to life. She was pretty quiet and wondered how that cow died.

Dry Bones

The human bones Ezekiel saw were exposed, lying strewn over the valley floor like empty bottles in a ravine. From paleo-archaeological research at some of the earliest human settlements, we know that we are a species that does not just leave bodies of the deceased lying around. We human beings die like other animals, but unlike other creatures we ritualize the passage from life to death. We bury bodies; we cover them with flowers, and pigments. We lay them gently in the earth. Even in cremation, we ritualize the scattering of ashes, as if our return to dust is a last breath.

It’s disturbing that these bones in Ezekiel’s vision weren’t cared for in some ritualized way. A likely reason was that the visionary valley was a battle site. When the fighting ended the war moved to other ground and the bodies were left to decay. Verse 9 says: O Spirit, breathe upon these slain that they may live. The Hebrew word for “slain” refers to people who have been killed by ruthless violence, or in a wholesale slaughter in a war (BDB). Perhaps all those bones were the remains of forgotten fighters.

But from a forgotten battlefield, there’s an upside-down inside-out restoration as the tendons and then the flesh, muscles and skin cover these bones and finally the Spirit gives breath and the bones live. They stand up, a vast multitude, a defenseless army raised by the God of life, a vision of hope beyond the violence and destruction.

These bones are the whole house of Israel.
They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost;
We are cut off completely.

These bones are those who have given up hope for peace in the Congo. These bones are those who have marched and protested for human dignity in our country and find cynicism sapping their strength for witness. These bones are the dispirited laborers who teeter on the edge of poverty with no movement for justice to buoy their spirits. These bones are the fatigued parents whose hopes for their children have been supplanted by worry or fear about the future. These bones are our mixed immigration status neighbors who feel cut off completely by deportations.

Lazarus

Our New Testament scripture could not be more poignant for those among us grieving or facing the death and destruction in the world. One day Jesus, the flesh and bones and breath fulfillment of God’s life-giving work among the people of Israel, Jesus himself goes to the tomb of one person, his dear friend, Lazarus, who has died. And Jesus cries, just like the rest of us cry when death or violence or injustice have interrupted the love and life God intends for the world. And with an act of divine compassion Jesus calls--Lazarus, come out. And makes the dead to live again.

These two scriptures are a “crash course” in Lent because they preview the cross and resurrection whether we’re ready or not. Friends, even though God shows Ezekiel the valley of death, God does not leave him there to fend for himself. God also shows Ezekiel something beautiful, a transformation, something that is not possible without God. God restores Ezekiel’s hope. Yes, Ezekiel who was spared the siege of Jerusalem only through the circumstances of his privileged status, is supposed to speak as a prophet. Yes, those exiled will have a secure home. And yes, O yes, the Spirit of God will be with you, within you. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, YHWH, have spoken and will act! (Ezek 37:14).

Jesus says: I am the resurrection and the life and Martha says: yes, I believe you. For those of us who have trouble believing in Jesus as Savior of the world, or the Son of God, or the risen Lord, God’s word to us in scripture today is to simply believe Jesus. Like Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, like the disciples. We too can believe Jesus. We can believe that God is love and that human beings can be agents of that love through our lives and even through our deaths. We can believe that God’s love for the whole world cannot be eclipsed by death, even the death of our brother, even violent death, even our own death, even death on a cross. We can believe that even if he’s late, Christ is coming to restore all things and bring life out of death to us all.

Beginning next Sunday, we enter Holy Week. I suppose it will be inconvenient to have “extra” worship services, but living with faith and courage might require some inconveniences. It is wise to listen to God’s word in the stories of Jesus’ entrance into the rebuilt Jerusalem on a donkey, and his last supper with his friends, and his being handed over for execution. We need this journey because just like Ezekiel had a role to play in God’s restoration of a nation and just like those bystanders were called upon to unbind Lazarus and let him go, we too are engaged in the life-giving work of love that God is doing in this world. Let’s not lose our faith or our courage. Let’s be ready to receive our assignment from the God of resurrection life.

May the God of hope
fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 03/19/2017: Living Water

March 21, 2017 by cmc_admin

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Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig on John 4:5-42 and Exodus 17:1-7

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!

Click here for a transcript

Living Water Cliche

In the 1990s sociologist Ray Odenburg described third places. Not home (our first place), not work (our second place), but public spaces, third places--like coffee shops, bars, general stores and barbershops. Odenburg believes these places are important for our well-being, and essential for democracy. Third places act as a leveler across different sectors of society and the main activity is conversation. These places are accessible and accommodating where people sometimes find a home away from home. Jesus intentionally visited third places such as hillsides, grainfields, fishing ports, crowded roads and once a community well. Worrying over the exclusivity of our churches, some missional Christians--instead of inviting folks to worship, are frequenting third places to simply be with others, become regulars , offer genuine relationship and see where the conversation leads. Perhaps, as at Jacob’s well, living water can flow through third places in our world.

Some of us have heard this story so many times that living water is a cliche. But living water has a history. Two Hebrew prophets spoke of “living water”-- Jeremiah and Zechariah. Jeremiah addresses the human problem of having false gods. In contrast to cracked and broken cisterns of false religion, the true God, says Jeremiah, is a fountain of living water.

Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked,
be utterly desolate, says the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns that can hold no water.
Jeremiah 2:11-13

The prophet Zechariah describes the day of the Lord like this: On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin. (Zech 13:1) On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem. (Zech 14:8)

Living Water at Every Stage of Life

So Jesus offers living water--God’s covenant love for a chosen people--to a Samaritan, a woman whose nation was a theological embarrassment to Jews. A woman who might or might not accept his offer and drink in the living water. But then as now, there are people of every nation, every faith tradition, every class, every walk of life who are thirsty for God.

According to church tradition, Lent is a good time to review these water stories. The Exodus passage about the Israelites receiving water from a rock says that God’s people “journeyed by stages” (Ex17:1) This phrase--journeyed by stages--is actually a refrain in the wilderness stories. It reminds us that the wilderness is not monolithic and also that the stages of life and stages of faith that we experience over a lifetime change. Yet, the living water that God offers us through Jesus Christ is available at every stage of life.

No worry faith

From our Exodus passage we can identify different stages of faith. The first is what I call--no worry faith. This is a stage of faith in which one follows patterns and rules with trust and confidence. Faith leaders--whether parents, teachers, pastors or mentors--are seen as extensions of God’s providence. This is a stage of security--like a child lovingly bonded to her parent. It’s fitting that we sometimes call our faith ancestors children of Israel. They believe, obey, follow, receive. They act like children--complaining now and again, but when their basic needs of water and manna are met, they are soothed, content.

Another stage of faith we see in the Exodus story is what I’ll call dissatisfaction/resistance. This kind of faith emerges when we don’t get what we want, our patterns or rules break down, the imperfections of our leaders are exposed, and we lose patience with waiting on God. Now the children of Israel had a deposit of no worry faith. They had seen miracles. They’d been liberated by God. Like a mother, God fed them and they were satisfied. They equated Moses’ provision with God’s provision. But then life catches up with Israel and they grow dissatisfied. It’s not that they have a bad attitude; these people are legitimately thirsty. They have no water. So they resist Moses and entertain the bizarre idea that Moses is actually dead-set against them and has brought them into the wilderness to kill them off!

Dissatisfaction and resistance are legitimate stages of our faith journey, but our culture assumes that these are the goals and conclusion of our journey. The archetype of the well, though, is for coming back to ourselves, our true selves. That’s why Hagar, Moses, Rebekah, and several others in scripture have major life transitions at the well. Beyond dissatisfaction and resistance is another stage of faith. After Moses strikes the rock and the water flows there is a question on the lips of Israel--Is the Lord among us or not? This can be a question from the point of resistance. Is the Lord among us not--because the Lord doesn’t seem to be doing what I want God to do?

But this can also become a question that leads to a stage of seeking all over again. Is the Lord among us or not--because maybe God is not always who I expect, but among us nonetheless. OK, some of us like developmental models and maybe you’re trying to categorize yourself or someone in your household. Listen, don’t get too rigid about it. On the individual level and certainly at the congregational level we occupy multiple stages of faith at the same time. For example, we may have a no worry faith when it comes to prayer, believing that God is attentive to our concerns, however small or great. Yet, we may experience dissatisfaction and resistance when it comes to gathered worship. We’re frustrated with forms and conformity. And again, at the same time, we may be seeking all over again when it comes to living out our faith in daily life or reading scripture.

There one more stage of faith in this Exodus story that I’ll call leadership and growth through challenges. Moses strikes the rock with the staff he used in Egypt. The last time he whacked something with his staff, he struck water, the Nile River, turning the water into blood. It was frightening plague against the Egyptian Empire--God’s rejection of slavery. Now, when Moses fears that these dissatisfied and complaining Israelites are going to stone him, God calls Moses to transform his use of the staff for a life-giving purpose. YHWH said to Moses: Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.

Moses is a leader of a whole nation and this story marks one of his many challenges. Isn’t it interesting that God invites him to work in very different way this time. The staff of prophetic judgment against Egypt’s Empire, now becomes an instrument meeting one of humanity’s basic needs. Water.

Water in Iraq

The people of Qayyara, Iraq suffered for two years while their community was controlled by ISIS. They lost homes, and many people were put in prison, tortured or killed by the militant group. Since the town was liberated from ISIS in August 2016 Mennonite Central Committee has begun an emergency water project for 10,000 families. Forcing ISIS out, Iraqi and foreign military bombed parts of the city’s water treatment plant. And as ISIS retreated they cut power lines in and lit oil wells on fire. Thousands of people were left without electricity or access to clean drinking water.

Since January, MCC began a three-month project provide access to enough clean water for the whole community. Through a local partner organization MCC provides fuel for the water pumping station, so that everyone has access on the public network. They also provide water purification. This month the UN Development Program will begin rebuilding the destroyed water treatment plant.

Kaitlin Heatwole, MCC Iraq program coordinator works with this partner organization. She says: “There have been constant waves of newly-displaced people every month for the past three years. Even though they lost their homes or their families, people who were displaced last year have become old news because there are more waves with more displaced people. So many lives have been turned upside down by the conflict in Iraq. Through MCC’s work in Iraq, we are meeting needs that are not otherwise being addressed. Sometimes it’s not very fancy, like filling a gap in fuel so that families have water, but it’s what people need.”

The Bible story of water from a rock is fancy--it’s spectacular, miraculous. But our need for water--physical water for community health or living water for every stage of faith isn’t fancy. It’s ordinary. We are all thirsty.

Jesus made a detour one day into the disputed region of Samaria and encountered a woman at the public well. This woman at the well demonstrates cultural, historical and theological sophistication in this conversation. She is the one who draws attention to the gender and ethnic differences between herself and Jesus. How is it that you, a Jew, aska drink of me, a woman of Samaria (v. 9)? She also knows the history of her literal well and the spiritual stream from which she drinks as she highlights differences between their respective faith traditions. The Samaritan introduces a key connection between her tradition and Jesus’ tradition--the expected Messiah (v. 25). She has probably been through some of these stages of faith long before she meets Jesus. Yet, for all her sophistication she has not “arrived” in the life of faith. Her day-to-day life is disordered and she is thirsty. Perhaps she is seeking all over again at this point in her life. Of course, Jesus meets her right where she is...and is a companion for her growth and leadership. Ultimately, this Samaritan woman introduces Jesus to persons beyond his own people, Israel and help him share his message more broadly. She gives up her fear of being rejected for Lent and shares her hope.

Drink up

Anybody tired? Anybody thirsty? Jesus was tired too. Jesus was thirsty. Biblically speaking, this is how God “relates” to us. God came in the flesh, in Jesus Christ, and got tired and thirsty just like us. He asked a woman for a drink. The well where they met still exists today and more importantly the living water of which they spoke still flows today.

This morning we offer a drink of water, living water, to persons at every stage of faith. Jesus Christ has time to meet your need, to hear your story including the disappointments and your resistance. Jesus will challenge your assumptions, and if you desire it, Jesus can fill you with living water, equipping you for your life’s purpose.


Sermon 03/05/2017: American Appetites

March 13, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Matthew 4:1-11; Genesis 2:15-17.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!

Click here for transcript

Lent Disciplines

The appetites of North Americans are a public health crisis as well as an environmental crisis. Over the last 25 years our caloric intake has increased by over 300 calories per day and now more than 68% of us are overweight or obese. Fast food and portion distortion tempt us to eat and drink too much of the wrong foods and too much in general. Not only personal overconsumption in fuel for our bodies, but over consumption of fuel for our cars, homes, and industries is contributing to global climate change. We know that our society has appetites that are out of control in other areas too--consumer goods, sex, entertainment, drugs--both legal and illegal--screen time. We’re gluttons. We look toward examples of success in defeating these cravings, but it’s a tough battle to live well in a society with out-of-control appetites. That’s our culture’s bad news. The church’s good news is Lent.

Satan

Our gospel story for the first Sunday in Lent is presented as a face-off between two characters. The temptation to evil that Jesus confronts is personified, or better, vilified, in the character of Satan. This is typical Hebrews stuff. What we might express impersonally in contemporary English was expressed through personification in ancient languages and cultures, especially by the Hebrews. For example, a psalm that I love--psalm 104--celebrates the God of creation, who dwells among the elements, establishes the earth, creates living creatures and generously provides for all donkeys, birds, cattle, coneys, goats, lions, people too:

These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

But the very last verse of Psalm 104 is: Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul. I never feel like blessing the Lord after that verse. It seems like calling the God who created a world of good, to now destroy some of the bad apples--the sinners, the wicked. But before we discard the Bible, or ignore this weird story about Jesus and Satan facing off in the wilderness, notice that this is Hebrew convention.

In English, after praising the God who created a world of beauty and fruitfulness we would pray--Let sin be consumed from the earth, and let wickedness be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul. In a similar way, the New Testament occasionally--not very often, but sometimes--uses this older convention of speaking about evil directly as Satan--a character in the story--not a person exactly, but someone. So don’t get too hung up on the ontology of Satan. The point is to notice the evil in our lives and in our world that was just blending into the fabric of daily life. Perhaps typical American appetites are more dangerous than we realize. Reading the Bible reveals that we’re not just facing spiritual drift or even a moral dilemma, but Satan himself!

Appetite-Approval-Ambition

A Christian friend of mine in town here reminds me nearly every year as Lent begins that the temptations of Jesus are about appetite, approval and ambition. The temptation to turn stones to bread is about Jesus’ appetite...and ours. The temptation to hurl himself from the temple is about approval--does God care enough to save him? Will God save us? The temptation to worship Satan in exchange for all the nations of the world is about ambition, having it all. Appetite, approval, and ambition--aren’t these especially American temptations--not only for national figures, but for us as well?

It’s true that appetite, approval, and ambition can be our downfall. This year, though I’m turning this alliterative interpretation on it’s head. Because I don’t believe there is a literal Satan who slaps us with temptation from out of the blue. The God who formed humanity from the earth, created us with some of these very cravings--appetite is biological; approval is psychological--we need to know that somebody loves us as we are. Ambition? I guess we’re not all ambitious. But most scholars of the humanities and our own Christian tradition indicate that a vocation, an ambition of some kind is within us, even if it takes a lifetime to discover it. The God who created us included appetites, approval and ambition in our design.

Now, I’m not saying that we just indulge our appetites, our need for approval, our ambitions. But perhaps these need to be re-directed, since they cannot be stamped out and destroyed--the way we would try to destroy a flesh and blood enemy. Think about it.

When Jesus finally says: away with you, Satan, and triumphs over his temptations, he hasn’t destroyed Satan. And then Jesus heads out of the wilderness with an appetite for healing and justice; a desire to stand approved before God alone--even if powerful people oppose him; and an ambition to proclaim and embody the kingdom of God, even if means he dies only 5 miles from his birthplace.

Lent Disciplines

During the 40 days of Lent Christians around the world choose spiritual disciplines in order to live more deeply as unique expressions of God’s love in the world. Perhaps you’ve already chosen a spiritual discipline for Lent. That’s great. Now for the other 90% of us, let’s take Lent seriously. Appetite is not just bad news. Appetite and longing are part of our human condition, part of how God created us. I believe it is longing and hunger that ultimately attracts us to God. Sometimes we don’t know how hungry for God we are until we are offered the bread of life and the cup of forgiveness. In the Bible, sometimes being hungry--having an appetite--is a good thing because when we are empty, God can fill us with good things. God satisfies the thirsty and the fills the hungry with good things--Ps 107. When we’re hungry we receive our food and every good gift with gratitude. Woe to the brother or sister who loses their appetite.

Lent 2017 is an opportunity to be honest about our American appetites. How much unnecessary fuel consumption? How many empty calories are making us sluggish and sick? What cravings are we indulging that are actually ruining our lives rather than restoring our lives? When we accumulate all the stuff on our wishlists and virtual grocery carts, will we be any happier, any more peaceful, any more loving, any more like Christ?

There are cards beneath your chairs that you can use this morning to just name the the ungodly appetite that needs to be redirected in your life. On the reverse side of the card you can write a practice that will help you redirect your appetite this Lenten season. But even if you don’t yet have some specific way to redirect that appetite during Lent, that’s OK. Just seeing the appetite for what it is and knowing that you can choose how you’ll respond is powerful. It is one of the unique capacities of human beings--to choose and to choose well.

Today, to begin redirecting our American appetites, we invite you to a meal. It’s just a taste--a small piece of bread, a sip from a small cup, just enough to whet your appetite for God, to give you a taste of God’s love for your body, just enough to begin fueling your ambition for the kingdom of God.

Table Grace

When you come for the bread or the cup, you can leave your card in the basket near the servers. What if this year during Lent we confessed our American Appetites that are out of control and became hungry in the Biblical sense. Jesus said: Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for they will be satisfied. What if this year during Lent we redirected one of our appetites toward God’s justice and healing? What might God do with a congregation that had that kind of appetite?

I’ll end today with one of Macrina Wiederkehr’s poems about the vicious cycle of filling the hunger in our lives with false gods and the power of the true God to save us. It speaks to our American Appetites, our need for Approval, and our Ambitions. And offers us a testimony of hope.

The God I was trying to love
was too demanding
And so I looked for other gods
who would ask less of me
And in unconverted corners of my heart
I found them
waiting to be adored
asking nothing of me
yet making me a slave.
Possessions, recognition, power!
I bowed before them but my hunger
only deepened.

The God I was trying to escape
was too loving
so God sent me a brother, Jesus
to be my Lord
and to free me from my false gods
But this Lord Jesus
preached a hard gospel
and so I turned to other lords
and Jesus was not my Lord
--except on Sundays for a little while
because it is the custom
for those who wish to bear the name
Christian
to gather for worship on that day--
But Jesus was not my Lord
And my idol-filled life
was a banner that proclaimed:
Jesus is not Lord!

The God I was trying to love
was too loving
and too demanding
so God gathered up my false gods
my reputation, my pride
my honor and prestige
my possession, my success
my own glory
my time
even my friends.
God gathered up all these lords of mine.
God gathered up all my lies
and held them close to me
so close, I lost all sight
of my true God for a while.

But my true God never lost sight of me
And in that lies my salvation
for in one desperate moment
smothered by gods who couldn’t save me
I prayed for a God who would
fill my lies with truth.
I prayed for a God who would
expect something of me,
a God who would be too loving
and too demanding
to be patient with my false gods any longer.

God heard that prayer
and loved me
I was given back to myself,
and taught
how to answer my own prayer
so that with other believers
I might again proclaim:
Jesus Christ is Lord!

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.


Sermon 02/19/2017: Spirituality for the Storm

March 7, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Matthew 7:21-29; Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!

Click here for a transcript

The word of God is solid ground (HWB 314)

Nearly 500 years ago Anabaptists sang these words--in German, of course--because they were convinced by reading the Bible in a Spirit-filled community that a life of discipleship and Christlike love was truly more powerful--a stronger foundation for the church than reliance on the state, the scholars, or the sword.

I love the line in this hymn that says--What Godword brings may we embrace; success and suff’ring greet us. In other words, when we act on what Christ has given us to do, there is successs; there is growth and fruit and joy in abundance. And when we do what Christ has given us to do there is suffering too--our Savior went to the cross. The Anabaptist legacy is one of wild success and very serious suffering. I say wild success because nearly 500 years later Anabaptist understandings of the Way of Jesus Christ are relevant and even revelatory when they are lived out in neighborhoods, watersheds, and nations like ours. The Anabaptists believed that the word of God was not a wooden, literal, ancient word, but a living word, transformative contemporary word that could be heard through careful reading of scripture and listening to the Holy Spirit within the gathered community.

Improvisation

I don’t know why you came to worship this morning, but here’s a good Anabaptist a reason to attend worship: to listen for God’s word to you and to us, so that you can live it, so that you can practice it today and tomorrow. So what is God’s word today? Perhaps you’ve already heard it and don’t need a sermon...

Construction Zone

Lots of parables are puzzling, but our parable this morning is a no-brainer. There are , but we got this one. The wise builder chooses a solid rock foundation and the house weathers the storm. The fool builds on sand, the storm destroys the house and great was the fall. This parable is the conclusion of a big fat teaching section--three chapters of Jesus teaching us how to live. In Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7 it’s like Jesus is laying out all the building materials, and the tools, and even pointing out a great site, but building the house is our work. When we hear the teaching of Jesus and act on it, we are building on a solid foundation and will weather the storms of life. You have heard it said, unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain, but Jesus says go ahead and build, just be wise about it. Listen to what I’m saying and act on it.

A little over 12 years ago, when my parents were almost 60, they built a house in rural Henry County, KY. Now they are ready to sell it and move to be near their favorite daughter...my sister. Their house was supposed to close at the end of February, but the deal fell through after the inspection because the foundation is damaged. And it’s going to be a costly repair--of waterproofing and mold management to dry out the timbers, then re-work the crawl space to include sub pumps and drainage out of opposite corners. A lot has changed in housing construction from the world of ancient Palestine to 21st century US, but the foundation of a house is still important. If we examine the foundation we can predict something about the future of the building. Apparently, if my folks don’t make these repairs in the next year or so the house could tilt or shift or collapse! Jesus said: Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them is a like a wise builder, who builds on a rock foundation, so that when--not if, but when-- the storm comes the house doesn’t fall.

Brothers and sisters, in building the community Christ has called us to build--a peace church where everyone is welcome--it is our responsibility to act on what God is saying to us. We have to exercise our unique gifts in the unique circumstances we face. It is not an option to just passively accept what Jesus says and believe it is true in some abstract sense. Christian truth is always lived truth, lived by ordinary people--who only know in part, yet trust God enough to act on what we have heard.

According to Jesus we either act on God’s word or we’re fools. And sooner or later we’re going to be seeking shelter amid a pile of storm tossed rubble.

In the Heights

On Friday Kent and I went to see the musical at Fort Defiance High School. The message that with patience and faith--paciencia y fe--diverse people can build community and make a home that can weather the storms of life--reflects the best of the American spirit. The story of In the Heights, by Quiara Alegria Hudes is the kind of intercultural American story that we need not only in big expensive theaters, but in small town high schools across the country. The music by Lin Manuel Miranda, the outstanding performances by the students and the vision and faith of high school directors to stage this show at this time in our country was an example to me of acting on what you have heard.

CMC Vision Update

In 2016 Community Mennonite Church engaged a vision process and at the conclusion we had some sense for what God was saying to us. There were three areas that we considered core practices of our congregation to continue and enhance through our various commissions. These are: welcoming children and youth; Bible stories for real life; and stories in worship.

There are also three new initiatives that we’re pursuing: launching a Mennonite Voluntary Service unit; interchurch and interfaith activities in our local community; and art projects in and around the church building.

Finally there were a couple of areas for ongoing discernment: becoming a greener congregation and starting a mid-week Kids Club. I think the green congregation is something we’re hearing pretty clearly, but we’re not sure how to act on it yet, so Council will form a task force later this spring. The Mid-Week Kids Club is something we’re not sure whether we’re hearing is for us specifically, but we’re inspired by what other local congregations are experiencing as they reach out to diverse children in their neighborhoods.

Whenever we as a congregation act on what we have heard God saying to us, we are building a solid foundation for the future church.

Jesus enacted the word of God

Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law and the prophets. He did. In his actions, in and through his life, Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets. He enacted God’s word through his life and his death; his resurrection and reign. As disciples of Jesus we are also those who fulfill the word of God. We act on what God says to us. We don’t always get it just right, but discipleship is experiential learning. We learn as we take action and then listen again for God’s word to us. Brothers and sisters, taking action on the word we’re hearing from God is the foundation of spirituality for the storm. God speaks a word to us that will sustain us in the storm.

Buckminster Fuller was a 20th century American philosopher-scientist whose work defied even those categorizations. Fuller called himself a comprehensive anticipatory design scientist. He once said: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” I think Jesus, fulfilling the law and the prophets was building a new model in order to make the existing model obsolete. If you think about it, Jesus did not directly fight against the Roman Empire. Jesus did not dismantle the Temple-State of his Sadducee and Pharisee brothers in faith. Jesus’ tension with and even opposition toward the destructive institutions and systems of his society included some confrontation of Temple politics, some resistance to the Roman Empire. But--listen up--Jesus spent most of his time and most of his energy building something new, something resilient, something that did not seem possible. In the gospel of Matthew--perhaps more than any of the other four gospel--we meet Jesus establishing the kingdom of God and building a church community that will change the world. And very early in the gospel, here in chapter 7, Jesus says--Come on. Build with me. Here are the materials. Here are the tools. Here’s a good site--right where you’re standing and right where I’ll lead. Come, build.

That’s why I’m a pastor. And that’s probably why you’re doing some of what you’re doing--because you’re acting on what God has said to you. You’re living into what Christ has shown you. Maybe you’re not always completely confident that you’ve heard the word. I know I’m not. That’s why we gather for worship--to listen for God again and again and hear each others’ stories. That’s the only way to build a church that can weather a storm.

Jesus and Jeremiah

OK, here’s the part of the sermon that I didn’t want to preach, but I I’ve gotta do it. You know Jesus says: everyone who hears my words and does not act them will be like a fool who builds a house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell--and great was its fall! That part of the parable is a fitting summary of what happened to a nation back in Jeremiah’s day. The prophet Jeremiah heard the word of the Lord, but people didn’t act on it. Jeremiah said to his nation: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from oppression anyone who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the immigrant or the orphan, or the widow. Don’t shed innocent blood. ...If you do not act on these words, this house will be destroyed. (Jeremiah 22:3,5)

I don’t think Jesus’ message in the sermon on the Mount was that new. What he had was a fresh authority in his time. He was not like the scribes who were beginning to rely on the state, the scholars--the legal scholars--and the sword. Jesus had a fresh authority because he was living out the words of the prophets! What Jeremiah knew 600 years before Jesus and what the Anabaptists knew 1500 years after Jesus. We have heard 500 years later, but now is our time to act. This downtown Harrisonburg neighborhood, this Chesapeake Bay watershed, this country needs the fresh authority of people acting on the word we have heard from God--building a new model of community and church.

I think Jesus really understands humanity. He knows we’re not going to hear everything at once. He knows we’re not going to hear everything clearly. But we’ve got to be faithful and responsible with what we’ve heard so far. In this big fat teaching section we call the sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us practical ways to prepare for a storm, live through a storm and clean up after a storm. What he said is also good for fair weather--but let’s face it--a lot of approaches appear to work during fair weather. We’re looking for spirituality that meets the storm test.

Jesus says...

  1. In the beatitudes--know who you are. You are blessed--even at your worst, you’re blessed.
  2. Be salt and light through service and loving the unloved (the enemies).
  3. Pray seriously. Ask God for help.
  4. Jesus teaches us to interrupt the cycles of judgement within our communities.
  5. Jesus teaches us to interrupt cycles of worry within ourselves.

Storms are already upon us. The foundation we are building with the guidance of Jesus Christ our Lord is for a future church.

Charles Tindley (1851-1933)

I’ll end this morning with a bit of another American story. Charles Tindley wrote two of the hymns we’re singing today. He was a late 19th and early 20th century African American minister and composer of gospel music, including perhaps the strains of We shall overcome. Tindley’s father was a slave, but his mother was free. Born in 1851 he had no formal education, he so much wanted to hear God’s word that as a young man in Philadelphia he became friends with a local rabbi and studied Hebrew. He saved his money from jobs carrying bricks and being a church custodian in order to study Greek by correspondence. Eventually Tindley was ordained in the Methodist tradition during the social gospel era. Tindley acted on God’s word not only writing hymns, but also enabling members of his large congregation to find jobs. He led his congregation to form a building and loan association for home mortgages, so that African Americans had opportunities for more equitable financial security in this country.

God’s word for us today is to act on what we have heard--success and suffering greet us.


Sermon 02/05/2017: Jesus Heals a Servant

February 8, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!

Click here for a transcript

Ancient Paralysis Problem

Paralysis. Even before I think about a paraplegic, I think of other kinds of paralysis, like acute grief--losing someone we love and being immobilized; or a shockwave in society that leaves us cold, afraid, disempowered; or going to prison--losing basic freedom. Physical paralysis can be the result of illness, injury, or poisoning. Not only losing the ability to move, paralysis usually means losing sensation.

After Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness, he returned to Galilee, but not to his hometown of Nazareth. He relocated to the fishing village of Capernaum--a border town on the sea of Galilee, which belonged to King Herod’s jurisdiction adjacent to his half-brother Philip’s territory. The fishing industry and all the attendant products and services were integrated into the political economy of Rome in a pyramid arrangement. The workers were on the bottom, the tax collectors were in the middle, Herod Antipas--client king--was penultimate, and Tiberias Caesar was at the top. At the bottom were builders for boats, weavers for for sail-making, farmers for flax production--for nets, merchants for salt, stonemasons for anchors, and potters for clay vat transport of fish products. I understand fish sauce was a major value-added product. And of course, fishermen.

The distribution of power in this pyramid was grossly unjust and totally obvious. It’s not like there was a Galilean middle class who didn’t realize how oppressive Rome was because they were temporarily protected or even useful in keeping others immobile, disempowered. It was not a society in which costly consumer goods were available by credit even among the poor. Jesus, his disciples, the crowds who heard him teach on that mountain, and everyone else at the bottom of the heap, felt the oppression. Workers were always at risk of falling into complete ruin. They were a desperate population.

The Spirituality of the Beatitudes

The spirituality Jesus developed in Capernaum was solidarity with the poor, the exploited, the sick, the hungry, the servants those for whom neither the Temple, nor the regional government, nor the Empire worked. Jesus--Emmanuel--was with these vulnerable people. And he blessed them--over and over.

You are blessed. Even if you are at your worst, at your lowest moment, you will be blessed with the kingdom of heaven. It belongs to no one else.

You are blessed even if you are burdened with grief. God will bless you with comfort and be with you no matter what--just as I am with you right now.

You are blessed, even if no one has ever noticed you. I see you. I see you who are meek and you will be blessed with an inheritance of land that will be enough for you and your family. You are not invisible. You are not expendable. You are not disposable. You are God’s chosen people. You are blessed.

You are blessed, especially in your cravings for justice. You will be blessed and satisfied. No more delay. The kingdom is on its way.

Jesus went on with blessing people who demonstrated resilient faith in the midst of an oppressive society--the merciful, the pure-hearted, the peacemakers, those whose suffering did not destroy them. He called these folks--salt of the earth, the light of the world. He taught them to know themselves as blessed and to believe that God could work through them in a fresh way. He refreshed their understanding of God’s law. You have heard the laws about murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, hating enemies. The law and the prophets are to be fulfilled by doing to others what you would have them do to you. The law and the prophets are to be fulfilled in loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. I’m here to fulfill the law and the prophets. Join me. Jesus invited these people to be part of his creative reconstruction of society.

Centurion Encounter

When Jesus first comes down the mountain a leper comes to him for healing. It’s a no-brainer: physical disease, social isolation, exclusion from the Temple. Jesus heals the leper as a sign of who can participate in the kingdom of God. I do choose. You are no reject. I choose you, just as God chose Israel. Be clean. And show yourself to the supposed leaders of Israel, the priests.

But then, in Capernaum this Roman Centurion approaches Jesus. The presenting problem is paralysis--not the commander’s own, but that of his servant, his boy. Remember Jesus’ spirituality. Jesus does not identify with a Roman Centurion. He identifies with a suffering servant who is losing or has lost sensation in his feet and legs, in his hands and arms. Jesus is with the powerless, but the man who stands before him is a soldier--a man of worldly power backed by force.

We should cut the the centurion some historical slack. He may not have been a direct Roman occupier. He was more likely working for Herod doing customs work in the border city of Capernaum to make sure that the wealth of the Galilee made it’s way to Rome via to Herod--who skimmed generously for himself, before passing on what he “produced” to Tiberius Caesar. Nevertheless, in this pyramid of power the centurion and Jesus occupy very different positions. In the political economy of the Roman Empire the centurion is far and away the more powerful. He’s wearing a uniform. He’s carrying a weapon. But here he stands in the presence of Jesus. The centurion breaks rank with his company, with his commander over him. He humbles himself and asks for help.

Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof;

but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed.

As is true for most of us, coming to Jesus and humbly asking for help exposes our frailties.

Breaking Rank Today

What if those with some wiggle room in an oppressive system begin to recognize the power of those below them, begin to see the assets and strengths of those on a lower rung. What if the centurions actually need something from the Galileans that they can’t take by force? What if middle class folks need the healing help of poor folks? What if those we can afford to ignore have gifts and skills which could bring healing and hope for our shared future?

All the centurion asks of Jesus is a healing word. He asks with faith--astonishing faith--like no faith Jesus had ever experienced before. Just for some perspective, in his teaching on the mountain, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had nothing complimentary to say of Gentiles. But here is a Gentile--a worldly, non-Jewish, military commander--who humbly asks for healing--not for himself, but for someone beneath him. Perhaps the kingdom of God is on the rise, even in the life of a military officer.

Now if the only point of this story is that Jesus can heal long-distance, then all this business about ‘I am unworthy’ and the conversation about authority and power is unnecessary. If this is just about long-distance healing, all we need to know is that a Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant--and the servant was healed in that hour. Praise the Lord for physical healing. The kingdom is on the rise.

But here Jesus meets someone who understands the power dynamics of his world and is willing to break rank in order to get healing. The Gentile is seeking out the Jew. The military commander is seeking out the peacemaker. The master wants his servant to be healed.

In Jesus’ day the pattern of master-servant domination was repeated at every scale of society. It was between women and men, in extended families, in the marketplace and between nations. It was a paralyzing dynamic that Jesus was actively shifting by blessing people at the bottom. Brothers and sisters, in this gospel passage, God is showing us once again that people with rank and status can also participate in this kingdom of justice and mercy and joy. It takes a journey with Jesus. The Lord warns in this passage too, that even devout heirs of religious tradition who exercise master-slave dominance will be bumped from the guest list of the kingdom banquet.

If Jesus is alive, and I believe he is, then this week in your life there will be an opportunity to break rank with systems of oppression and be in solidarity with someone less privileged. I say opportunity, because this kind of shift in our spirituality is also healing for us who are caught up in our own little power trips. Do you have an opportunity to advocate for someone who is at a low point like Jesus did with his beatitudes--blessing people who were considered worthless. Last week Ervin Stutzman was here from Mennonite Church USA and shared the vision statement of our broader church:

God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ
and by the power of the Holy Spirit
to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace,
so that God’s healing and hope
flow through us to the world.

God calls us from our status whether we are at our lowest point or from positions of authority. God calls us to a journey with Jesus that we call church. And some days I’m sure that in the name of Jesus the church can be an instrument of healing in the paralysis of our lives, and our world. This week, let’s be the church, on a journey with Jesus practicing his spirituality and political vision. Let us come humble and be healed of our own paralysis--our incapacity to move, our stuck positions, our insensitivity to the conditions of our society and the people and places who are invisible to us or beneath our rank. Heal us, Immanuel. Here we are as your church.


Sermon 01/15/2017: Journey with Jesus--Jesus is Baptized

January 15, 2017 by alisha.huber

Baptism and the Dream City from Jyoti Art Ashram

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


01/08/2017 Sermon: See Dat Babe

January 8, 2017 by alisha.huber

The Story of the Three Wise Kings by Tomie dePaola

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 12/25/2016: The Meaning of Christmas

January 5, 2017 by Matt Carlson

refugee-nativity

Nativity in an Iraqi refugee camp

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Scripture Monologue 12/18/2016: Samson's mother (based on Judges 13:2-24)

January 4, 2017 by Matt Carlson

sunrise
Reading by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 12/11/2016: Vision of Peace

December 15, 2016 by Matt Carlson

aleppo-update-1440x619

Image credit: IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Texts: Isaiah 9:1-7 and Ephesians 2:12-22

Click here for a transcript

Military Uniforms Transformed

Four years ago, Christmas Eve 2012, Steve Cessna read Isaiah 9 like a blast of divine truth during the war in Afghanistan. All the boots of the tramping warriors, and all the garments rolled in blood shall be...fuel for the fire.

As peace church Christians we are not against people. We are not against men or women or children who are soldiers, but the military uniform is not the honor we seek. The peace churches in the US have fragile future, dependent upon whether we will welcome God with us.

I just learned about a military uniform project that seems derived from Isaiah’s prophecy. Florida State University is one of many hosts for the Peace Paper Project in which veterans cut up their military uniforms, turn the fibers into pulp and create paper. It’s essentially an art therapy project. The vets from US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are often dealing with diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder or simply struggling to integrate into society, as university students where they are at least four years older than most of their academic peers.

As one of the sponsors described it, by cutting their uniforms vets are releasing the fibers, and releasing some of the memories attached to them. By pulping the fibers in water, they are reconstituting the uniform of war into paper, for making art. Now there is nothing pacifist about the Peace Paper Project. It is sponsored by many organizations that support the military as a necessary and honorable feature of our country’s identity. But in treating PTSD and helping returning vets adjust to civilian life this paper-making art therapy is breaking down some of the inner hostility, releasing some of the pain, and reconstituting lives through creative expression.

Peace in the Christian Tradition

Our scriptures this morning are about God making peace. Isaiah 9 and Ephesians 2 belong to the deepest layers of Christian pacifist understanding of our faith tradition. As much as I love these two passages, I am always shaken by them because our tradition, at its depth, always brings the work of God into dynamic tension with the public, political powers of human society. Biblical prophets lived that tension. Prophets generally opposed the politically powerful kings of their nations. Yet prophets, like Isaiah, retained this idea of a future king like David who would rule with justice and righteousness and bring about endless peace. The Biblical view of God and the Biblical view of God as a peacemaker is always inclusive of and contingent on public political peacemaking.

In other words, the peace of God that surpasses understanding, that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus is only the beginning, or maybe it is only the outcome, of public political peacemaking. Because, every other Biblical example of peace and justice being God’s desire for the God’s people, God’s nation, God’s world is peace that is being shaped and built and ordered in real relationships, in organizations and institutions, through laws and policies. There’s just no getting around it. In Ephesians Jesus dismantles the law, commandments and ordinances in order to make peace. That’s why peace church Christians today work to change laws and establish greater justice.

The Biblical revelation of God as a peaceful ruler of the cosmos and Jesus Christ as the embodiment, the incarnation of God’s peaceful rule, is supposed to have an effect on us. We’re to be people of God’s peace as a new creation. We’re not just quietly enjoying peaceful solitude, but also in flesh and blood relationships creating peace. Now, if you want a spiritual tradition that avoids the messy reality of violence and injustice—where you will never be called upon to be an active peacemaker in your sphere of influence—the good news (which is actually bad news) is that you will not have to look far. There are actually distortions of Christian faith that do just that. But Advent and certainly Christmas shows us God entering into our bungled political lives and welcoming us to be partners in a peaceful future.

Peacemaking in the Bible

CMC entered into Advent this year dwelling with the first verse from Matthew’s gospel: An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. This morning’s scriptures highlight this strange idea that Jesus is the son of David. Of course, if you read the stories of David, he doesn’t exactly remind us of Jesus. David was a man of rebellious violence, sexual violence and military violence. He’s not all bad. He also ministers to someone who is mentally ill, confesses his sin and grieves for his child. Jesus is called Son of David because kings were powerful, public, political figures. The Bible is written by people who had not yet theorized about social action campaigns, or democratic process, or community organizing, or creative non-conformity, or assets -based development, or political advocacy. There are glimpses of these ideas in scripture, but they are not fully formed. The Bible is written by people whose encounter with God fueled their imagination for public peacemaking and they described God as a king, and God’s desire for the world as a kingdom because God is with us in our messy public, political lives powerfully acting powerfully for justice and peace.

Isaiah

Leave it to the Lord to begin with a vulnerable, dependent baby. That’s what Isaiah says. In chapter 7 a child to be born is named Emmanuel, God with us. In chapter 9 God breaks through history in the birth of a child named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. These four names are royal. They are public political names fit for a king. The Wonderful Counselor is the wise ruler, who demonstrates discernment in legal matters, so that a good direction is set for society. The Mighty God or, as some Jewish translations read, Mighty Hero, is the powerful ruler, who accomplishes something, who is not defeated, who delivers on promises to the people, who in the face of adversity, prevails. The Everlasting Father is the ruler who lives long, who is active into old age—not a flash in the pan, but persevering over a lifetime to provide for needy families. The Prince of Peace is the ruler who establishes peace, or Shalom, which means the well-being of all—the economic, social and political well-being of all in the community—the old people, the sick people, the married, the single, the children, the immigrants, the childless, the refugees, the wealthy, the widows, the poor, the orphans, the workers, the excluded, the animals, the agricultural land, the wilderness. Shalom is all-inclusive.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders. He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. No wonder we associate this ancient prophesy with the birth of Jesus Christ. Of course, if you read the stories of Jesus you might notice that he never had any formal position of authority.

Jesus had the wisdom, power, perseverance and all-inclusive vision of shalom that people in his own generation craved. I guess he lacked long life. He lived just into his 30s and died painfully, a seeming failure. Yet, the faith of the church from our earliest days is that Jesus was raised to everlasting life and by his body and blood one generation after another is fed and fueled for being people of peace in his name.

Ephesians

Ephesians describes Jesus Christ as the peacemaker who has broken down a dividing wall of hostility between ethnic groups to establish a new kind of human being. This new humanity is also a house or a body in whom God dwells and with whom God makes a home. I want to be as clear as possible. These scripture passages on peace are intolerant of war, violence and bloodshed. They reveal God’s intention for peace—in homes, neighborhoods, and between nations. These scriptures position us as people of peace. I am so grateful for the previous generations of peace church Christians in this Valley who refused to participate in the violence of the Civil War. I see peace church Christians in the Valley today living into the public, political dimensions of peacemaking. We are involved in mediation for families and organizations, restorative justice practices in schools and the criminal justice system, access to healthcare, building interfaith relationships, service to the poor and elderly, advocacy for immigrants, trauma-informed therapy, business and service in Jesus’ name here and around the world—all political action. As Anabaptists, our vision for peace is a thoroughly Biblical, exceptionally Christian vision.

During our vision process this past year Community Mennonite Church described ourselves as a peace church. We didn’t directly link our various initiatives to peacemaking, but we’d better do that. So much of who we are as Community Mennonite Church and who we are becoming emerges from how deeply the gospel of peace has shaped the Anabaptist tradition in the past. I’m hopeful about the peace witness of our church into the future, but we know that Anabaptist Christian history is littered with groups who let peace fade from their vision and practice.

Given our natural tendencies and cycles of aggression, the will to make peace is easy to lose. This Advent, we need the child of peace. We need God with us. We need God’s revelation in Jesus as the Son of David to sustain a public, political, powerful practice of peacemaking. Or we die.

But even if we die, even if we lose our faith, even if in generations to come we retain our intentions, yet fail to realize God’s vision of peace, I’m convinced that God will work in other ways. The God who speaks through prophets and acts through a human birth, who loves the world and makes peace through Jesus Christ is not stymied by our failures. God continues to inspire the peoples of the world toward peace. In Greek mythology the phoenix is a bird who rises from the ashes of death and destruction and is reborn like the sun. A lot of ancient cultures have such a bird in their lore. The phoenix even shows up in the Bible. Job, this extraordinary man—not an Israelite—tried to make sense of his public, political peacemaking work of the past, when he was experiencing spirit-crushing circumstances. He says that from the ashes of present—even beyond his own life—hope for the future is rising. Hear Job 29. Hear what Christ is saying to the peace churches:

...when I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent;

when the Almighty was still with me...

When I went out to the gate of the city, when I took my seat in the square…

I delivered the poor who cried, and the orphan who had no helper.

...I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban.

I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame.

I was a father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the immigrant.

I broke the fangs of the just, and made them drop their prey from their teeth.

Then I thought, ‘I shall die in my nest, and I shall multiply my days like the phoenix.’

These are hopeful Advent days, days of not knowing, days of blessing, days of peace. My prayer for CMC is that Welcoming Emmanuel would be a rebirth of our church outfitted for public, political peacemaking in all it forms and always in the name of Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 11/13/2016: Post Election

December 10, 2016 by alisha.huber


Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Luke 21:5-19; Malachi 4:1-2a

Click here to read a transcript

Your kingdom come

ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου, γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου Your kingdom come..., your will be done. I pray this every day. I pray the whole Lord’s prayer, but that phrase--your kingdom come--ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου, is often on my lips and I hope it is in my pulse. Some days praying “your kingdom come” is humble submission--your kingdom--O God who created the universe--your kingdom, not mine. ‘Your kingdom come’ is a prayer of relinquishment of my wrong-headed or wrong-hearted aspirations. Some days praying ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου I’m looking for fresh language--the kingdom of God? How about the reign of God or the commonwealth of God. Other Christian writers and thinkers try out terms like kin-dom of God, which reflects the kinship among people and all creation, and loses that archaic metaphor of king and kingdom. Martin Luther King Jr. used the term Beloved Community. Since I know the Greek word that stands behind our translation kingdom, since I know it is the same word for empire and it makes sense in the whole story of God and the people of God in scripture, I keep praying ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου.

Some days praying ‘your kingdom come’ is a longing for something better than the political and institutional structures that dominate our society and even our church, something better than the corrupt influences that infiltrate my thoughts, and reduce my imagination about what is possible among people, nations and the church. And sometimes there is a bit of fury as I pray ‘your kingdom come’ as if God may not deliver on this kingdom or not soon enough to spare suffering people and a suffering world.

The prayer Jesus taught his followers--the Lord’s prayer--is focused on the end--that is, the telos of history. The Lord’s prayer unites those who pray with the end, the goal, the central purpose of God, namely the revelation and realization of a new kingdom one that is already begun and will outlast every earthly kingdom.

Ancient & Current Context

All the while Jesus was teaching and praying this prayer he was living in ancient Palestine under the brutal and seemingly global Roman Empire. His Jewish nation was struggling with whether and how to accommodate Roman influence or to resist. Some Jews took up arms and led stealth campaigns as well as rebellions. Many of his followers thought Jesus would do the same at least when push came to shove. The gospel of Luke includes the story of Jesus’ very real struggle about whether to take up the sword when he was in the garden of Gethsemane. It is in prayer, that Christ resolves to be a man of peace no matter the cost--and calls his fearful community to the same.

A presidential election sharpens our questions about our highest allegiance. Do we ultimately trust in God or government? Do we accept or resist government authority in our lives? When and how does a personal commitment to Jesus have public and political implications? When we exercise power in a democratic process are we acting as agents of a kingdom that is eternal, universal, and protected by no earthly government?

Jesus and his disciples did not vote. They didn’t have that option. But like us they argued about ultimate allegiance, relationship to government, and the right exercise power and authority. They had sharp disputes about how to govern at the micro and macro level. After all, Jesus was teaching, preaching and demonstrating a kingdom, a new political reality that was emerging from fields, fishing boats, hillsides and human hearts. It must have been unsettling, even chaotic, to be among his friends or even among his closest opponents.

The problem back then was that Jesus “took it to Jerusalem.” Jesus brought his revolutionary discourse about this kingdom of God into the Jerusalem Temple. It was like talking politics in church. It was like bringing faith convictions into public discourse. Jesus talked directly about the end, all the while bringing forth a new beginning of healing and peace, at great personal cost.

When Jesus heard people admiring the beautiful stones of the temple walls and the objects that had been given as donations to the Temple treasury as offerings to God, instead of ooing and awing with the crowd, Jesus said that this Temple state would be overthrown. And he described a terrible scene: wars, insurrections, violent protest. Not only violence between people, Jesus says that in the end--or at least en route to the kingdom--before the end and even as the new beginning emerges--there will be great earthquakes. It’s as if the planet will be writhing in pain. Jesus describes famine and plagues--as if basic human needs of food security and healthcare will be threatened. Jesus described a corrupt legal system whose judgements were against the least of these: they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. Did you notice that it’s not just the state, but also the the synagogues? The grassroots faith communities--the little synagogues of Judea--would no longer be places of refuge for the least of these, but party to oppression. These are frightening times.

But in this bleak assessment of his times Jesus says: Do not be terrified. And Jesus says: This will give an opportunity to testify. And Jesus says: Not a hair on your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. An opportunity to testify: this was not Jesus’ recommendation that we vote every four years, though voting might certainly be a way of giving testimony in a democracy. Jesus and the prophets before him knew that testimony was a whole life, and whole communities. And he promised that under adverse conditions, even under what he considered apocalyptic conditions, Jesus would give his followers words and ways to make a whole life testimony regarding the kingdom of God.

Four Gospels in View

Every one of the gospels--Matthew, Mark, Luke and John--include Jesus’ teaching about how to be a witness in the worst of times. Matthew, Mark and Luke include the passage we heard this morning in parallel. It’s a little different each time. In John the closest parallel is focused on inter-Jewish persecution. In Matthew, Jesus’ promise for how testimony is possible under severe conditions is stated this way: it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. And in Mark the good news is that in that hour it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And in Luke it says: I, Jesus will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand. And in the brilliance of John’s gospel in which the adversaries are so close to home we read: But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I, Jesus, have said to you. Reading these together it seems that God’s message to us is that under adverse political, economic, environmental and personal conditions, the kingdom of God breaks in as a message of apocalyptic hope through the lips and pulse of a new political community, the church. When we are afraid, even terrified, the Father, Jesus Christ himself, and the Holy Spirit, will be speaking and acting through us.

Listen, whether or not you fully embrace or understand the trinity, is not what I’m getting at. Christians have spoken of the fullness of God by naming three persons in a triune dance of love and justice. The overflow of this relational God-in-three-persons gives life to the world and plants seeds of the kingdom. So, the powers of oppression may be beating drums that are re-calibrating our pulse. We or people we love may be getting into that fearful, terrified state, but the fullness of God will be filling and fueling persons like us, persons who can give a testimony--with the words we speak, with the decisions we make, with the communities we form, with art we create, with the wounds we heal.

Malachi

Speaking of healing, I can’t believe we actually read the prophet Malachi this morning without a warning. Malachi used “fighting language” in anticipation of the end, a day when the arrogant and evildoers would burn. Since we repudiate the use of Biblical rhetoric to incite violence and aggression against people or planet, how shall we read this prophet? Well, the promise in this prophetic text is that the sun of righteousness will rise--a new day will dawn, and it will be a day of healing. Biblically speaking, Jesus’ whole story is that new day of healing. Rather than vanquishing human enemies, Jesus indicates that his followers will suffer--war, famine, disease, persecution, imprisonment. But because of what we know of our Lord, even suffering and loss is an opportunity for testimony to a kingdom of peace, justice, joy, and love. It is collective testimony. We are in this together as the body of Christ.

So the gospel word to us--which is suitable in victory or defeat--is that now is the time to testify. And further, that even if it should cost our lives, we have everything to gain. By your endurance you will gain your souls. We are not responsible to make history come out right--not individually, not collectively. We are responsible to give a testimony to the way of Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God. This takes daily endurance, daily prayer. This is collective soul work.

Practical Response

This has been a difficult week for many of us because through the electoral college process Americans chose Donald Trump to represent and lead this nation. Since he has not governed before, we feel a high level of uncertainty about what we will experience in his years in the Oval office. Those who have been targeted by his rhetoric and actions feel acutely threatened. And the local and personal hardships we were carrying prior to this election results are perhaps compounded. As testimony, it is a good time to reach out to one another in love--to listen and support each other. It is a good time to reach out to those who might feel especially vulnerable. I had lunch with a Muslim friend on Friday. I reached out to her after the election because I wanted her to know that our friendship is real, that I care about her and her family.

I don’t how you might be individually making testimony under these conditions. If you have a sign in your yard that says: ‘No matter where you’re from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor,’ maybe it is time to share that message personally with someone who needs to hear it. My friend’s daughter went to high school on Wednesday and was met with taunts to pack her bags and go home. Each of us has someone in our sphere of influence who needs to hear our testimony. As Community Mennonite Church in all our diverse and corporate testimonies, I know that Jesus Christ and all the fullness of God is with us--on our lips and in our pulse. By our endurance as kingdom people we will gain our souls because in terrible times, the body of Christ makes a testimony of hope and healing. We are not responsible to make history come out right, but we are responsible to open ourselves to God’s work within us and through us.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 11/27/2016: Agnostic in Advent

December 2, 2016 by Matt Carlson

the-cloud-of-unknowing

The Cloud of Unknowing, 2008. Guy Laramee

Sermon by pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Isaiah 29:17-24; Matthew 1:1

Click here for transcript

Emmanuel--God with Us

A couple of days before Thanksgiving dinners were served across the country, a hundred people or so gathered in Liberty Park to appreciate the poultry workers in our local community. We gave thanks for their hard work both in the plants and after hours as they organize to speak collectively to the industry owners and managers who could improve labor conditions and do what is right when workers are injured on the job. We gathered to pray, listen to stories, sing, march and deliver a message to the employers. It was fitting for both Thanksgiving and a prelude to Advent.

This Advent we are welcoming Emmanuel. Prayer and worship--whether in a park or a traditional church building is a way of welcoming Emmanuel--God with us. Living with gratitude and placing our lives in the service of the meek and needy in the world is a way of welcoming Emmanuel. The Biblical witness is that God is always with us, that we cannot go God where God is not, but isn’t there a difference between just assuming God’s presence and welcoming God’s presence and power into our lives? In the gospel of Matthew, which will be in focus throughout this new church year, Joseph is a model for welcoming Emmanuel. Just when he had resolved on a plan for dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, Joseph instead accepted the instructions of an angel and welcomed Mary and the baby into his life. In the gospel of Luke, Mary is a model for welcoming Emmanuel, and names her son. In Matthew, it is step-father Joseph who names him, Jesus. What Joseph thought he knew about God and faith unraveled and he was able to welcome Emmanuel.

The gospel of Matthew begins: An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Clearly there is a back story to Jesus and it has something to do with Abraham, David, and the promised Messiah. In this gospel the whole Old Testament--the lineage of Abraham & Sarah, the reign of Israelite and Judean Kings, and the prophetic tradition of a Messiah are all understood as a centuries-long welcome of Emmanuel, who, according to Matthew’s account, is born to a woman, adopted by a man, embraced by some, rejected by many and will be with us to the end of the age. In this gospel soon after his birth Jesus is threatened by the King of Israel and his family becomes refugees in Egypt for the first few years of his life. Today, we join this lineage of those who welcome Emmanuel. Whether we are women or men, children or elders we enter into Advent with the hope of meeting God who is welcomed by the patriarchs, kings, and prophets of history not as a rival, but an alternative to their power, who comes as a child and becomes a refugee.

Agnostic in Advent

This past week when a CMCer was talking with me about life, faith and theology, she admitted that secretly there are some Christian things that she doesn’t believe, that she never mentions to anyone. This was my confirmation that I needed to preach on being agnostic in Advent. Grammatically speaking being atheistic means not believing in God. Being agnostic means not knowing. In Greek gnosis means knowledge, so agnosis is unknown or not knowing. In everyday usage being agnostic means not knowing...about God. If ever there is a time for Christians to be agnostic it’s during Advent. You see, the whole season of Advent upsets our ultimate certainty and any self-satisfied knowledge we’ve accumulated about the divine. For religious folks, and here I’d have to include myself, who think we have God figured out, along comes Advent and we have to admit that we don’t know. And for those of us who are simply uncertain, skeptical, questioning, or struggling in our faith, along comes Advent and we remember that not knowing is part of the spiritual life, even a sign that God is with us.

Prophetic Hope

Our reading from Isaiah begins: Shall not Lebanon in a very little while become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be regarded as a forest? Well, maybe...in a little while, but when the prophet was speaking Lebanon looked pretty empty and barren. Maybe there is a seedling pushing up through the soil, but one could hardly bet on a future forest. The prophet’s promise of the deaf hearing and the blind seeing, and the meek and needy receiving fresh joy is a message of hope--Advent is all about hope--but it’s also an acknowledgement that at least at this moment we don’t hear; we don’t see; we are needy; we don’t know. On that day...the meek shall obtain fresh joy and the neediest of all people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel...the tyrant and those who deny justice to the one in the right, shall be cut off. I think of the immigrant and refugee poultry workers who are not treated fairly. They don’t know how or when their hopes will be realized. According to our prophets current injustice won’t last forever, but right now we don’t how God’s presence and power is at work in the situation.

When we don’t know, when we don’t hear, when we don’t see God’s presence or power in the situations that most concern us, we grow anxious. Being agnostic--not knowing--is not comfortable, especially if we belong to the church. Aren’t we supposed to have strong, vibrant faith at all times?! Rather than accepting our agnosticism as part of the spiritual journey, we sometimes fill in the knowledge gap with our efforts or with 21st century escapist indulgences--entertainment, toys, stuff, food & drink, work. And all this is very tempting when our dominant society is doing 27 shopping days until Christmas, while the church is doing Advent.

Silence and Unknowing

What if this Advent we let ourselves be agnostic, not knowing, and experience the gap between our knowledge and...God. Perhaps that gap, that Advent womb of unknowing, is where God’s presence is made known, like the quickening of a child in her mother’s body. Perhaps God prefers a bit of uncluttered space, a mind not yet resolved--or at least dreaming as Joseph was, an empty belly in order to be powerfully present in our lives. Historically the Advent season of the church year is one of hope, and it includes a lot of penitential practices--giving, fasting, confession and silence. These practices create the space and the place for our unknowing, and an opportunity to welcome God in a fresh way.

The psalm appointed for the last Sunday before Advent is psalm 46. It’s a big confident psalm that begins: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. It ends with that familiar verse: Be still, and know that I am God! My experience with being still is that before the knowing, there is some unknowing, or not knowing. For me, being still opens up some agnostic emptiness, where my self-assured theological convictions or thoughts about God unravel a bit, perhaps enough that I can begin to love God.

If you know me, you know that I take a week of silent retreat during Advent. I’m headed to Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, VA tomorrow. If you haven’t planned ahead for a retreat this Advent, or if that isn’t an option for you because of the expense or your stage of life, then you may need to welcome Emmanuel with some stillness and silence in your ordinary days. That’s probably best anyway. So far stillness and silence has never pitched me into a complete crisis of faith, but it’s awkward, especially for a pastor.

It’s alright to be agnostic in Advent, or whenever, and I think the beginning of Matthew’s gospel shows this in humorous way. It starts out with a geneaology. There were 14 generations from Abraham to King David. 14 generations from David to the exile and 14 generations (sort of) from the exile to Joseph. But all of this history and knowledge sort of unravels because the genealogy doesn’t lead directly to Jesus. The tail end says: Eliud was the father of Eleazer, and Eleazer was the father of Matthan, and Matthan was the father of Jacob and Jacob was the father of Joseph, and Joseph was the...husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. The stuff of genealogy, the carnal knowing and the historical knowing, ends in an awkward silent gap of unknowing. Joseph wasn’t the father, but he welcomed Mary and the baby into his life, into the world.

This Advent, if you find yourself not knowing whether and how to believe in God, remember that you’re not alone. The saints who have gone before us didn’t register as agnostics, but they described a lot of unknowing, wondering, questions, and spiritual struggles. Throughout the Bible God often works through people who are uncertain, who have no idea who God really is. And throughout the Bible those who are overly-confident in their knowledge of God--especially the Pharisees, especially in Matthew--are the ones who are spiritually stuck.

A traditional Advent reading from this gospel is about being agnostic. It comes much later in the story when Jesus is speaking like a prophet of a future age of justice and peace. He says: About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father...So keep awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. Not knowing is not a bad thing. So let’s enter Advent quietly, without knowing when or how God’s desire to be with us will be fulfilled. We don’t have to invent this approach to our spiritual lives. It’s just true. We don’t know how God will be with us this Advent season. Rather than making us anxious as if faith might slip through our fingers, being agnostic in Advent means that we’ve loosened our grip, created a space, acknowledged our hunger, named the real needs of our lives and the life of this world. Be still...

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


From the Archives: Shepherd Me, O God

November 11, 2016 by alisha.huber

Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig reads a poem by Jan Sutch Pickard and leads a prayer. In between, Matt Carlson leads "Shepherd Me, O God."

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


A word from Pastor Jennifer

November 9, 2016 by alisha.huber

The Stars are Named (Psalm 146; 1 – 4) by Joanne Weis

The Stars are Named (Psalm 146; 1 – 4) by Joanne Weis

Peace be with  you.  Last night our ecumenical Election Day Communion Service included prayers of confession and hymns familiar to the different Christian traditions represented. Several local pastors with whom I’ve worked closely--one Lutheran, another United Methodist and a third Mennonite shared short Christian perspectives on civic and political engagement.  Recognizing that we have different loyalties to political parties, and different voting traditions, our theme in worship was Christian unity.  We proclaimed our primary allegiance to God through Jesus Christ, which puts all other commitments in proper perspective.  I was moved by the inclusion of Psalm 146 in the order of worship.  I’ve been reciting this psalm daily for the past month.  The psalmist warns of the dangers of placing our trust or hope in anyone but God.

Do not put your trust in princes,

in mortals from whom there is no help.  

When their breath departs they return to the earth;  

on that very day their plans perish.  

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the Lord their God.  

Where are we placing our hope?  Is our hope in the political process of the United States of America?  If so, then a surprising or upsetting outcome of a presidential election might be an opportunity to be reoriented toward the true source of life, help and hope.

Like a movement song, this psalm sings a political platform that distinguishes God and the people of God from other powerful interests in society.  Doesn’t it remind you of the life, ministry, and teaching of Jesus Christ?

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,

    whose hope is in the Lord their God…

who keeps faith forever;

     who executes justice for the oppressed;

    who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;

the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;

    the Lord loves the righteous.

The Lord watches over the strangers;

    upholds the orphan and the widow,

    and brings to ruin the way of the wicked.

From a gospel perspective the princes, presidents and prime ministers of the world take a backseat to the Prince of Peace.  As representatives of Jesus Christ we have a powerful platform from which to influence the broader society, but we don’t have control over it.  When we gather Sunday for worship in Jesus’ name and when we scatter across the community in Jesus’ name we are “staffers” in a campaign of faithful love, justice and peace.  The people of God have lived through losses and victories before without losing heart or losing sight of the kingdom Jesus proclaimed and lived.  May it be so among us as well.

In Christ,

Pastor Jennifer  


Sermon 10/16/2016: Wrestling with God

October 25, 2016 by Matt Carlson

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 10/2/2016: Write the Vision

October 6, 2016 by Matt Carlson

mustard-seed

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 9/18/2016: Mixed Motives and Making Friends

September 23, 2016 by alisha.huber

Painting of the shrewd manager, painter unknown, from the North African Coptic community

Painting of the shrewd manager, painter unknown, from the North African Coptic community

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Our theme music is “Jesus, I believe you’re near,” composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 09/11/2016: Ordinary Theology

September 14, 2016 by Matt Carlson

Moses sees God, Artist unknown

Moses sees God, Artist unknown

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 8/28/2016: Faith Practices for the Anti-Hero

September 1, 2016 by alisha.huber

David Livingstone, Scene at a sleeping-place in Angola

David Livingstone, Scene at a sleeping-place in Angola

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 10/12/2008: Candidate Sermon

August 25, 2016 by Matt Carlson

communion
Jennifer Davis Sensenig's candidate sermon, recorded on October 12, 2008.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 8/21/2016: Before and After -- Blood Transfusion

August 23, 2016 by alisha.huber

Gladys Aylward

Gladys Aylward

Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 7/24/2016: Why Bother?

July 29, 2016 by alisha.huber

"The Lord's Prayer" by Michel Keck

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 07/10/2016

July 14, 2016 by alisha.huber

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon and Party, 06/26/2016: Guided by the Spirit

July 4, 2016 by alisha.huber

On June 26, we held the official dedication for our newly renovated building. During the service, Jeremy Nafziger shared some history of the church building, including an intriguing bulletin from the 1930s, which declared that "Everyone is Welcome" here. He and daughter Augusta led the children in singing "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock," and then the kids got to build LEGO churches throughout the remainder of the service. The CMC Brass played in celebration of the commissioning of one of their own, Jon Nofziger, who, with his wife Grace Hercyk, is moving to Liberia to support its developing democracy.

Pastor Jennifer preached a sermon on building a church—not just the literal structures, but a church that lasts longer and goes farther.

And afterward...well, afterward, we partied.

The party included a LEGO guessing jar (Jessica Hostetler was the winner!), a slideshow of the renovation project, cake, and a fantastic musical performance by a CMC ensemble.

Here are some videos and photos, courtesy of Jim Bishop, Jack Rutt, and Alisha Huber.


Sing along!


A little Menno-Hasidic Reggae

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Sermon 6/12/2016: Spirit of Hospitality

June 14, 2016 by alisha.huber

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 5/29/2016: Spirit of Humility

May 31, 2016 by alisha.huber

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 4/24/2016: Vision and Values

May 19, 2016 by alisha.huber

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 5/15/2016: Holy Spirit: Advocate of the Kingdom

May 19, 2016 by alisha.huber

flames
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 05/01/2016: Help!

May 6, 2016 by alisha.huber

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 04/10/2016: From Blindness to Sight

April 11, 2016 by alisha.huber

Brown Eye in Sunlight

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 03/27/2016: Easter

March 30, 2016 by alisha.huber

The women find Jesus' tomb empty, Maurice Denis, 1894

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


From the Archives: Palm Sunday Spectacular

March 19, 2016 by alisha.huber

Entry into the City, by John August Swanson

Palm Sunday, 2010, was an amazing morning. We bring you two selections from that delightful service--a children's time and palm parade, led by Nancy Heisey and Jeremy Nafziger, and "Jesus Rode a Donkey, Not a War Horse," a sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 3/13/2016: A New Thing

March 14, 2016 by alisha.huber

From the private collection of Monte and Karey Swan, artist unknown.

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Here is the video from Mennonite Church Canada that Pastor Jennifer referred to in her sermon:

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 02/28/2016: GPS and Grace x 3

February 29, 2016 by alisha.huber

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Archives: You Are My Beloved. In You, I Am Well-Pleased

February 18, 2016 by alisha.huber

In our Thursday grab bag podcast, we sometimes share a sermon that had a profound impact on our congregation. Today, please take the time to listen to "You Are My Beloved. In You, I am Well-pleased," originally preached by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig on January 13, 2013.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 02/14/2016: Jesus at the Crossroads

February 15, 2016 by alisha.huber

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 01/31/2016: Risky Vocation

February 1, 2016 by alisha.huber

Jesus Is Rejected in His Hometown, by Marten de Vos

This week's sermon is by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 1/10/2016: Epiphany--Where the Good Way Lies

January 13, 2016 by alisha.huber

This week's sermon is by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 11/15/2015: Standing Invitation

November 18, 2015 by alisha.huber

Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 11/8/2015: Five Smooth Stones

November 10, 2015 by alisha.huber

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Children's Time: All Saints' Day

October 31, 2015 by alisha.huber

In this recording from November 03, 2013, Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig explains to the children why we light candles in remembrance on All Saints' Day.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 10/25/2015: Spiritual Vocation

October 27, 2015 by alisha.huber

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page.


Sermon 10/11/2015: Thriving Families

October 16, 2015 by alisha.huber

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis-Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Worth Another Listen: "Into Deep Waters"

October 15, 2015 by alisha.huber

Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig shared "Into Deep Waters" on February 14, 2010. Jennifer's challenge to us to follow Jesus into a time of searching and questioning drew us into an examination of what it means to welcome people into our family, one that is still on going. I'm sharing it today because of its lasting impact on our congregation.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 9/27/2015: Faith on the Border

September 29, 2015 by alisha.huber

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

In her sermon, Pastor Jennifer refers to several images of Rahab. They are in the gallery below.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Children's Time: God is stronger than our fears. God is stronger than our imaginations.

September 26, 2015 by alisha.huber

Deborah Under The Palm Tree Adriene Cruz

Deborah Under the Palm Tree by Adriene Cruz

 

On Saturdays, our podcast features a story for children.

On June 27, 2010, our lead pastor, Jennifer Davis Sensenig, shared this story about Deborah with our congregation's children. She showed them the above image of Deborah.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 9/20/2015: At Water's Edge

September 22, 2015 by alisha.huber

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.

To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page!


Sermon 9/6/15: Conquering our Fear

September 8, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig


Sermon 8/30/15: "Loving God"

September 1, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig


Sermon 8/16/15: "The Geography of Change"

August 17, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig


Sermon 6/14/15: Giving and Sharing

June 22, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig


Sermon 5/31/15: Wisely Saving vs. Storing up Treasure

June 1, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig


Sermon 5/17/15: On (not) belonging to the world

May 18, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig


Sermon 5/10/15: Jesus' "I AM" Sayings

May 11, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig


Sermon 4/26/15: Good Shepherds

April 27, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig


4/5/15 Sermon: Resurrection Matters

April 6, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig


Sermon 3/22/15: Unless a Seed Dies

March 23, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig


Sermon 3/8/15: Keeping the Cross in View

March 9, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig


Sermon 2/2/15: Dwelling in the World....Peace

February 2, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig


Sermon 1/18/15: Forgiveness: The Heart of the Gospel

January 19, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig


Sermon 1/11/15: The Virtuous Life

January 12, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig