October 8, 2019 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig on II Timothy 1:1-14 and Luke 17:5-10
click to view transcript
Faith as a Seed
Who among us has the faith necessary to raise a child, chart an ethical course for a company, endure a personal hardship or work for justice and peace in a world on fire? Few of us feel sufficient of ourselves for these tasks, yet we're called to these and many other challenges. And while we may have some faith, is it enough? When the apostles say, "increase our faith!" I hear CMCers who are in high school and wondering whether faith matters as they approach adulthood.
Increase our faith! I hear senior adults facing transitions as they age and wondering whether they are becoming wiser and more faithful or just older.
Increase our faith! I hear middle aged adults wondering how to have a fresh vision of vocation or parenting in a new stage of life.
Increase our faith! I hear CMCers across the generations who want to have hope in a world whose climate is changing.
Increase our faith! I hear the children of our congregation eager for conversation and relationships that will set them on a course for faithfulness to Jesus Christ.
When the apostles say, "increase our faith!" instead of giving them some spiritual exercises, Jesus claims they already have enough faith for what they are called to do. It's mustard seed faith--that small, but potent measure within, where God's spirit and our spirit connect. We may not even be able to wrap words around this faith. While the apostles would love for their faith to be in full bloom, what they have is enough. Jesus says: If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you. I don't have any interest in uprooting trees, but like you I want to live with faith and some days I'm not at all up to it. It's possible to understand Jesus to be saying--if you had a shred of faith, you'd be relocating forests, but you don't even have that much. But in context, it seems more likely that Jesus is helping these apostles claim the faith they already have as a valuable asset for their lives and ministry.
Mustard seed faith. We all know that when they access soil nutrients, water and light seeds grow. Apparently, whenever we exercise the seed of faith we already have, faith roots, increases, expands and grows. Jesus offers good news for any of us who feel inadequate when it comes to faith.
Faith as an Inheritance
Jesus helps us picture faith as a mustard seed. And mature faith as simply doing what we're called to do. The New Testament letter we call Second Timothy includes another picture of faith: faith as an inheritance passed from one generation to another. The writer of this letter encourages Timothy by rehearsing his maternal lineage. Faithful grandmother Lois, raised her daughter Eunice in the faith, who in turn blessed Timothy with an inheritance of faith. Some of us who grew up in the church might have a similar story. Beyond these family-oriented faith formation experiences, Timothy also participated in a ritual, a laying on of hands. This was likely a way in which the early church recognized Timothy as a leader. Maybe he was commissioned or blessed for ministry when he first decided to join Paul on a missionary journey. Some of us here have been commissioned for particular ministries or ordained for a life of church leadership. In terms of Timothy's faith formation, we see a pattern of family influence of a grandmother and mother and other members of the church, including an older mentor. Loise, Eunice, Paul, Timothy.
That reminds me of the people who influenced my faith as a child and teenager. If I started with the women as in Second Timothy, I'd have to name: Laurel--my mother, Marian & Evie two Sunday School teachers, Penny the Pastor at church camp, Anne & Sandy who led Bible School and Joy, my junior high youth pastor. Whose names would you include if you traced your faith inheritance? Who are the individuals, communities and traditions which have influenced you and helped you become the person you are today? Do you see yourself in this heritage passing on faith to others? Taking time to remember and give thanks for the people, rituals and institutions that have blessed us with faith is good preparation as we share the Lord's supper. Often when I receive the bread and cup I say: I remember. It's a way of acknowledging my ancestors in faith and remembering Jesus. Afterall, this meal of remembrance was established by Jesus for our faith formation.
Faith as a Gift
Our passage from Second Timothy also states clearly that faith is a gift from God. This verse sometimes brings me consolation and sometimes consternation. It seems like faith as a gift is good news, but I struggle with this as a pastor. Why is faith easier for some folks to receive and hard-won or never realized for others? One person believes that God's good plan for their lives and the whole world is unfolding even in the midst of personal pain and hardship. Another person struggles to believe that God is, that God's cares, that God loves. My pastoral responses don't usually resolve matters for those who struggle the most with faith, but as we learned in our church retreat regarding the ecology of faith formation, it's often more important to share the struggle and notice the opportunities for exercising mustard seeed faith.
CMC--Increase our Faith!
Community Mennonite Church has more than 560 mustard seeds. That's right, more than 560 people are currently relating to our congregation. To form faith for living in a world like ours and to live as a congregation requires calling people into church leadership. The CMC Leadership Task Force is recommending that we proceed in hiring a full-time associate pastor who would share pastoral responsibilities with Pastor Jason and me. Additionally, the Leadership Task Force is recommending that we hire a half-time Director of Children's Faith Formation to provide program leadership for children and junior high youth. This new position would support ministries like Sunday School, Bible School, Kids Club and also help us connect these to the rest of congregational life and worship, strengthening CMC's eco-system for faith formation. You'll be receiving a very brief survey, which we hope you'll complete in the next few days, so that Council will have your responses by their Thu meeting. We'll be asking whether you support this staffing direction. We'll also ask whether there are persons you want to nominate for particular leadership roles, especially a pastoral elder to begin in January and pastoral search committee members.
Power, Love and Self-Discipline
Listen to how the gift of faith is described in Second Timothy: God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power, and of love and of self-discipline. A spirit of power, love and self-discipline. Here is a mature faith to which we aspire. Jesus was a person of power, love and self-discipline. And the world needs to communities and churches of power, love and self-discipline.
Even if you're extremely cautious about the term, we need power. Certainly there are individuals and even streams within the church that have abused power. Yet, in this meal, we revisit the power of laying down one's life in order to bless others. In this meal we experience the power of forgiveness and are empowered to forgive others. At this table remembering how Jesus died on a cross, the false powers of political oppression and violence are exposed, so that we are liberated and can walk a path of peace. At this table we receive power to be a church--a new political community in Jesus' name. And at this table we are empowered to simply do the ordinary and extraordinary things we're called to do.
Second, true Christian faith is a spirit of love. Jesus considered the heart of Israel's law to be love--love of God and love of neighbor. Yesterday at the VA Mennonite Relief Sale we raised funds for relief, peace and development for neighbors we don't know and we connected with neighbors who share our faith in a spirit of love. As we call forth and seek out additional leaders for our congregation we do so with a spirit of love. The meal we share today was a gathering of leaders--some of whom would betray or deny Jesus--yet he loved them all. Broke bread and shared the cup with all in order to demonstrate his abiding love for us when we have failed to exercise or faith or have been afflicted with a spirit of cowardice or fear. As you eat and drink today, remember that you are loved.
Finally, the seed of faith, the inheritance of faith, the gift of faith is a spirit of self-discipline. In other words, we have some responsibility for exercising faith in our daily lives. A take it or leave it attitude with regard to faith, does not lead to maturity or wise and faithful leadership for the church. Participating in the life of the church, exercising our faith in the actual circumstances of our lives, doing what we're called to do takes self-discipline. Jesus broke bread with his friends dozens of times, but I imagine his last meal required some self-discipline. Now he knew their hearts--their plans to betray, their capacity to deny, their misguided aspirations and their basic fears. Jesus disciplined himself to share this meal and his very life with those who had mustard seed faith. Jesus knows us too. As we eat and drink together today Jesus is our faithful master who sends us to do ordinary and extraordinary things as church with a spirit of power, love and self-discipline.
Lord Jesus, we do want you to increase our faith. Though we feel inadequate at times, we want opportunities to exercise the mustard seed faith. Give us a spirit of power, love and self-discipline, so that we become your body united with all who draw near to you. We pray for the children and youth among us who are exploring faith, for adults who are new to the church or re-engaging their faith after a long dormant season. For each person here and for those not here this morning, but part of our congregation, we pray that Community Mennonite Church will be faithful in forming faith in your way, so that we can celebrate with the church around the world--one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one living God. AMEN.
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!
October 3, 2019 by cmc_admin
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A Re-orienting Letter
Jesus is the center of our faith. Community is the center of our life. Reconciliation is the center of our work. Jesus, be the center... [PRAYER]
The letter of First Timothy addresses practical matters of a church community that was in a rut of division, neglect of the poor, and confusion about administration, leadership, teaching and ministry. The center was not holding. The reputation of the church in ancient Ephesus was suffering because in the church women were flaunting fashions, teachers were making obscure speculations, men were getting drunk, nobody was caring for the poor. Talk about a struggling church! So, this letter is written to Timothy, one of the Apostle Paul's colleagues, to help him get the church in Ephesus out of a rut and back on track for living the gospel with Jesus as the center.
The letter's overarching critique is against self-serving wealth accumulation and leadership that lacks integrity. Does First Timothy have something to say to our society? Does our society suffer from self-serving wealth accumulation and leadership that lacks integrity? Yes. It's all around us. It's sometimes among us. Scripture is relevant for today. By including this letter in the New Testament our faith ancestors testify that church struggles that have distracted us from our mission, can be transformed, so that we better represents Christ in the world. One of the surprises in this epistle is that scattered among the general and specific counsel for how to tidy up the messy church scene in Ephesus, are hymns, songs. Here's one from the first chapter:
To the King of the ages,
immortal, invisible, the only God,
be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Here's another hymn from chapter 3. It's called 'the mystery of our religion'
who was revealed in flesh
vindicated in spirit
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world,
taken up in glory.
And another hymn to Christ that was in the reading this morning:
He who is the blessed and only Sovereign,
the King of kings and Lord of lords.
It is he alone who has immortality
and dwells in unapproachable light,
Whom no one has ever seen or can see;
To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
The deep wisdom of the New Testament is that the Lord Jesus Christ is the source of the undivided life we seek through the spiritual community of the church. Even when, especially when, church life is in a rut, we sing praise to the one who is our source, our center, our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Jesus is Lord
Most of us are introduced to God and to Jesus with metaphors of a divine parent and companion. We might learn that God is a loving father. We sing--What a friend we have in Jesus. When these images help us love and trust the Divine One then they are fitting, even essential for our faith development. As we mature--individually and as community--we encounter additional images for the Divine, including Lord. We are not casual about this matter of confessing Jesus is Lord. People have died with these words on their lips. Yet, some of us struggle with the language of "lord," so let's consider where it comes from.
In the first century Jews were this minority group who believed in just one God. Rather than uttering the divine name revealed to Moses in a burning bush, Jews used the term 'Lord' when they spoke of God. And it was a matter of daring faith that followers of Jesus began to call him Lord. Christians calling on Jesus as Lord were aligning themselves with the one true God of Jewish faith revealed in Jesus the Messiah. At the same, but from another direction entirely, Roman emperors trying to establish themselves beyond human critique called themselves 'Lord' and 'Savior' or were regarded this way by their followers. So when Christians spoke of Jesus as Lord, they distinguished themselves from the false securities, bad leadership and social injustice of Roman authorities. They were loyal to Jesus and his kingdom.
Jesus is Lord! While practically addressing a struggling church, the writer of this letter seems to counsel Timothy: sing hymns to Christ, let them reverberate in your chest; sing them together or alone; with instruments or voices. Spiritual-political-social movements--like the church then, and the church today--need good music that connects our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our whole selves with the Divine One who came as a whole self--revealed in the flesh, as the hymn says. So an ancient and primary confession of faith is simply: Jesus is Lord!
Now I recognize that 'Lord' is no longer a trending word. No matter how arrogant a public leader, no one puts himself, or herself(?), forward as 'Lord' these days. And, that's another matter. 'Lord' is masculine and calling upon Jesus with this title may feel like another patriarchal trap in our spiritual formation. Furthermore, to call someone 'Lord' is to humble ourselves, to submit. We know that humility and submission can target us for manipulation or abuse. In response to past harms we've experienced, some of us guard against anyone being our master or Lord. In a recent pastoral conversation I found myself saying that some CMCers might be more ready to say that Jesus is the center of our life, than to say Jesus is Lord of our life. I want to offer a way of holding this Christian confession: Jesus is Lord, especially for those of us who may struggle with it.
Christian Confession & Consent
To say that Jesus is Lord is a political, social and personal confession. It is, at depth, less about our intention and more about our consent to the Divine One. This is true at individually and as a body. The life of the church is not about falling by historical happenstance or hardwon effort on the right side of theological argument, but consenting to the current work of God's spirit through us. Jesus is Lord of a living church, a struggling church. According to scripture, Timothy's ministry to Ephesus is no fool's errand. And neither is our shared struggle to be the church today. Jesus is still Lord.
One of my spiritual disciplines is Centering Prayer and rather than a discipline primarily of intention, it is a discipline of consent. The action--the doing of the discipline--is simply consenting again and again and again to the action of the Divine One within us and through us. Consent. Our yes. This is the posture from which we confess Jesus is Lord. We give our consent to Jesus Christ to lead us, to be the center, to teach us, to comfort us, to heal us. Jesus does not impose himself over us or against us. As the Nicene Creed says, Jesus is always "for us and for our salvation." Sometimes in the life of faith we struggle to assert ourselves--to choose, to act, to claim our voice, to express our faith. Sometimes in the life of faith the invitation is to simply give our consent, our yes.
Möbius Loop Limerick
A mathematician confided|
That a Möbius band is one-sided,
And you'll get quite a laugh,
If you cut one in half,
For it stays in one piece when divided.
Last week we learned the outcome of our congregational decision regarding conference affiliation. For those of you who don't know, Community Mennonite Church belongs to Mennonite Church USA and our denomination is organized through 17 area conferences across the country. Our church, CMC, began in Virginia Mennonite Conference in 1972. Recently, after a substantive spiritual discernment process we decided by a vote of just over 89% to transfer from Virginia Mennonite Conference to another MC USA conference. We'll decide that together in November after Church Council and Pastoral Team make a recommendation for either Central District or Allegheny. On Thursday evening Pastor Jason, Lee Good, Lonnie Yoder and I attended the Harrisonburg District Council meeting as representatives of our congregation. We shared CMC's decision to transfer. Here's some of what I said:
Back in 2012 Community Mennonite Church completed a discernment process with a decision to become more inclusive of LGBTQ persons... We are still living into that decision and grateful that most of the people who were minority voices in that decision have remained with the congregation. We are also grateful that more individuals who identify as LGBTQ have begun attending or joined our congregation or have come out in a community in which everyone is orienting our lives toward Jesus Christ. [Then I described our timeline, process, and decision.]
We see this transfer as an act of forebearance, so that VMC will not have to engage a disciplinary process with a credentialed leader over this area of divergent Christian ethics if Jason or I or a future CMC pastor would officiate at a wedding for a same-sex couple. We see this transfer as a potential opportunity for the conference to continue its efforts to reform its polity and consider whether there is sufficient margin for congregations who differ from one another in important ways. Tonight I'm grieving aspects of this decision because it represents real loss. [BEGIN CUTTING MӦBIUS LOOP LENGTHWISE.] At the same time, many of the ways that we have shared gospel ministry with you and your congregations will continue. We are pleased to collaborate through VMM sending workers, supporting mission and being part of the Kids Club movement. We will continue to support faculty, staff and students at Eastern Mennonite School. Highland Retreat, MDS, VA Mennonite Relief Sale and many other shared ministries are still part of our congregation's vision for local collaboration in Jesus' name...We are also grateful that the transfer process is measured and proceeds from the district to the Faith and Life Commission to Conference Council and is then acted upon by the VMC delegate body at a conference assembly. Until such action by conference delegates, we will be active in Hburg district and VMC. We appreciate your walking with us as brothers and sisters in Christ, as colleagues in ministry and as a district for support and accountability. [FINISH CUTTING & RELEASE MӦBIUS LOOP.]
I hope that if you are angry or irritated by CMC's decisions that you will consider reframing what is happening in some way. The larger theological-ethical and church polity conversations continue among Mennonites. We are not foreclosing on relationships or real engagement in these conversations. But, as Loren Swartzendruber shared with me, there are times when for particular groups--institutions, congregations--a decision is timely, so that mission can advance. The current leadership of Community Mennonite Church believed we had reached such a time and now we will live with our congregation's decision believing that there is more fruitful ministry ahead for CMC and for all of you.
Lee shared about his work with the CMC task force; Lonnie said change includes both loss and opportunity. Pastor Jason shared about the privilege of working with youth and young adults in a welcoming congregation. I was flooded with a sense of peace about our decision.
Confessing that Jesus is Lord is relevant for these kinds of decisions. When we act as a body, we are not to see ourselves as the righteous majority or the righteous minority. We are not winners or losers. Rather Jesus is Lord of us all, Lord of the church. We have struggled with our district and conference and our relationship will change, yet we belong to one Lord. Now we consent to how the Lord Jesus will work within us and through us in these new circumstances. The personal counsel in this letter takes the form of a song: As for you, beloved of God, pursue justice, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
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!
October 3, 2019 by cmc_admin
click to view transcript
- No matter where you live, it's probably Egypt.
- However, there is a Promised Land.
- And, the only way to get there is by walking together.
In Stand Up! Jewish author and community organizer Gordon Whitman writes that the world is "on fire." He describes the social and political struggles of this country--especially with respect to racial inequity and poverty making a case for faith communities to engage in social justice. Whitman regards the Biblical story of a people liberated from slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, as a key narrative for our time. Whitman says: No matter where you live, it's probably Egypt. In other words, there are systems of top-down control that benefit a few (or seem to), while harming many. These systems are morally corrupt and under judgment. This is true. No matter where you live, it's probably Egypt--a place at least somewhat corrupted by oppressive power. Now the second premise is good news: there is a Promised Land. In other words, we can imagine--and have historical and contemporary examples--better ways of living as households, neighborhoods, communities, societies. The Bible and the message of Jesus was not just an exposé of how bad empire is. There's a better future, a different order, a Promised Land. Jesus called it: the kingdom of God. By the way, the kingdom is not arriving after we destroy what's wrong. The kingdom is emerging among us, within us, bubbling up with possibility like sourdough starter in a lot of flour.
So, no matter where you live, it's probably Egypt. But, there is a Promised Land. And thirdly, the only way to get there is to walk together. Whitman doesn't bank on the pillar of cloud and the fire by night, but his third premise--the only way to get there is to walk together--is so fitting for people like us who are walking with Jesus through life and death.
Which brings us to Deuteronomy. This book of the Bible is about decision, about choice. Behold: I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. Choose life! The people of God liberated from the enslaving oppressive endless brick-making of Egypt walked toward God's Promise. Moses, Miriam and Aaron were their faithful and flawed leaders through the wilderness. Earlier, in Exodus and Numbers, there are 14 times when these walkers complain. They want to turn back to Egypt. They complain about the food. They complain about the water. They definitely complain about Moses. They rebel. They outright reject YHWH as God and make their own gods. If you read the Torah, the first five books of the Bible--Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy--you will notice both the discipline/judgment experiences of God's people as well as the abiding faithfulness of God. God doesn't give up on these people--well, almost. Apparently we push God to the brink...of incarnation. You can see where this is going.
In our story, the people liberated from slavery pretty much all die in the wilderness. The setting of Deuteronomy is at the end of Moses' life. He's very old. He repeats himself a lot. Moses calls the younger generation to make a decision for God, for covenant faithfulness, for life and peace and Promise. Then he teaches them a song (ch. 32 for the lyrics) and goes up on the mountain and dies. Moses also had some historical hunches--first that there would one day be a liberating prophetic leader like him (that's ch. 18) and that this generation, like his own, will fail in their covenant relationship and even experience exile and death. But--as good prophets must-- Moses has a divine hope for transformation for this people and all nations that extends beyond his own lifetime. This is the context for Moses' urgent message in ch. 30.
Behold: I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. Choose life!
Cognitive behavioral therapists use the term "choice point" which seems fitting for both the Old and New Testament scriptures for today. These scriptures urgently call for decision. We can't wander forever. We can't rely on the previous generation, Moses, forever. We have to make our decision about whether to trust and obey this covenant-making God who leads us out of empire. Moses keeps saying: today--the time is now, the pressure's on. We don't want to rush, nor should we dither about matters of life and death. Jesus says, count the cost, consider the struggle, but choose.
The Biblical choice point is: God or false gods--the kingdom or the systems of the world. Scriptures Old and New are clear that serving false gods leads to decay and death--not just individual loss and confusion, but community disintegration. False paths of wealth, war, sex and success are always attractive, seductive, even sinister. But the faithful God who knows our past, prepares our future and speaks today says: choose life.
Our Choice Points
To carry this Biblical wisdom into our daily lives and the decisions we're making individually and together right now, let's take a moment to consider choices or decisions we're facing. I've talked with folks in the past month about job transitions, whether to start a family, how to raise children, how to relate to children or parents once everyone is an adult, how to prepare well for dying and death, how to relate to the church community, how to pray, how to be a Christian. As a church we're facing a choice about our conference affiliation within Mennonite Church USA. And with the congregations of Faith in Action, we're approaching a decision about our next campaign for social justice. What choices are set before you?
The Spirit of God gives us guidance at these choice points, helps us overcome our dithering, so we can make decisions and move into God's future with some courage. Here are a few queries that may help connect you with the Spirit of God, our guide for decisions. First, are the choices clear? Sometimes we need more light to see clearly the options and opportunities we have. We may need time, friends, prayer, information to gain clarity. Another question I'm using these days is: Which choice will help us love and follow Jesus? Notice how that's different from asking "which choice will put me in the best financial position?" or "which choice will make me more popular at school?" or "which decision will be easiest?" Sometimes our decisions are quite individual, but I find myself trying to consider choices these days in terms of 'we' and 'us' because our individual decisions often affect a lot of other people. Which choice will help us love and follow Jesus?
Did any of you look up the Möbius Loop on the internet this past week? This loop with a single twist is an image for our worship series on An Undivided Life because the loop has an unusual property--appearing to have an inside and an outside, it is actually a single-sided, undivided unity. Bringing your current decisions and choices to God in prayer, I encourage you to make a little Möbius Loop as a tactile way to pray. How is this choice an opportunity to reveal my interior values in the world? How is this choice in the world an opportunity to re-examine my deepest values?
Maybe you've already forgotten our gospel reading this morning. Or maybe it still feels like a kick to the gut, but let's briefly consider Luke 14. You gotta love Jesus. He's kind of like Moses here. He's got a following, but it may just be the miracles and stories that keeping them together. So Jesus ramps up his speech to provoke decisions for the kingdom of God. The way Jesus ramps up is to first tell a parable about a great dinner. A bunch of people are invited, but when it comes to decision, there are flat out refusals--I bought some land, so I can't attend. I bought some oxen; I won't be there. I got married, so I decline. There are other dimensions to the parable, but the decisions seem misguided.
Then Jesus takes us to the next level. This is the part you might remember: Unless you hate your family... unless you take up the cross... unless you give up all your possessions... you can't be my disciple. For the ancient world the patriarchal family system seemed like the only way to survive. Few would leave for a new family structure of fishermen, widows, orphans, the formerly demon-possessed, unattached women and tax-collectors. And most of us don't want to face hardship of any kind, let alone a cross of humiliation, suffering and death. Need we mention that giving up possessions is never popular? Jesus calls us to follow him in a difficult, counter-cultural, and unlikely path. None of us is fully qualified. But perhaps a kingdom in which family and gender does not determine our rank in society could change us all. Perhaps even our experiences of exile and suffering can be redeemed in the kingdom of God. And if we start today, perhaps relinquishing possessions will be freedom from enslaving powers.
Some chose Jesus. Some do today. We're all under qualified to enter into the kingdom, but in a world on fire, it's a matter of life and death, it's the best decision we can make. And after we choose Jesus, many other decisions throughout life gain clarity in the light of Christ. Jesus is a mediator who comes between us and the obstacles to faithful discipleship. The Spirit of Christ will supply enough grace for those who have wandered away, fallen behind or dropped out.
In I Once was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us about their Path to Jesus authors Everts and Schaupp describe 5 thresholds that are typically part of contemporary decisions for Christ in the US. These include: trusting a Christian, becoming curious, opening up to change, seeking after God and entering the kingdom. That last threshold--entering the kingdom--is a choice point. And possibly where you are this morning.
Having pushed God to the brink of incarnation, our covenant-making God came to us in Christ. Jesus' message in the Bible shows us where we are. (We're always living amidst systems of oppressive power--like Egypt.) And Jesus gives us a vision for the kingdom of God (the Promised Land), or as it says in I Timothy "the life that really is life." And, finally--and daily--the Bible gives us a community of voices, a living community of the people with whom we share the scriptures who receive both personal and communal guidance by the Holy Spirit. The only way to move into God's promised future is to walk together, making a shared journey as the church, with Jesus Christ as our mediator, prophet, savior and Lord. I'm grateful to be walking with CMC. In whatever decisions are placed before you, whether today you are taking your first step into the kingdom, correcting your course in the light of Christ, or helping us, like Moses, to sing as we make the journey together--choose life. AMEN.
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!
October 3, 2019 by cmc_admin
click to view transcript
Ancient Social Conventions
Come Lord Jesus, be our guest and may these gifts to us be blessed. This was a table grace I first heard as a child at a meal in our neighbors' home. It seemed bold to me to ask for the very presence of Jesus when they were serving Hamburger Helper. And after hearing this parable, we may not want to invite Jesus to our table. On the one hand, he tells some great stories, stirs imaginations toward a world renewed, but on the other hand Jesus' disregard for social conventions gets embarrassing.
In Jesus' first century context social status was made explicit at fancy meals. In the Greek tradition, banquet hosts who had the wealth and status to make invitations created seating charts to establish social rank among their guests. Invitations were reciprocated by those who could afford an elaborate spread and turn out equally impressive guests. There was some jockeying for position at these banquets. Some Bible readers are surprised that Jesus the Galilean was invited to this kind of banquet. Perhaps his status was on the rise. Important people were paying attention to him. And, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is always eating. At this meal he seems to critique the Greek practice of the symposium--a banquet meal followed by speeches and conversation. At a symposium, the most important people had the seats of honor--literally the "first couches." Remember they were lounging around long, low tables in ancient Palestine, reclining on their sides as they ate.
Contemporary Social Conventions
Now there are fancy meals in our society too and select guest lists, but Jesus' advice to guests and hosts may not apply to our day-to-day life. In fact, this first bit--about seating oneself at the lowest place, and allowing the host to invite you to move to a higher position--is called a parable. If it's not straight-forward advice, specific to the symposium or meals today, then perhaps we need to live with this parable beyond our next mealtime.
In our society social rank is generally established by wealth, race, income, education and occupation. Our Lord is deeply concerned that church community--the renewed world sometimes called the kingdom of God-- dismantles the social ranking that societies and organizations typically establish. Jesus lived in a culture highly attuned to honor and shame. But he didn't reject the categories of honor or shame. Nevertheless, the kingdom, the new society Jesus announced, is a culture shift. Jesus honors women, the poor, the sick, the outcasts, the children. And Jesus sometimes shames or embarrasses the religious leaders and elite members of society. In other words, when it comes to social rank, honor and shame, Jesus turns the tables.
Again, in our society social rank is most often established by wealth, race, income, education and occupation. Think about the implied social rank of these situations. Who is more important? Who deserves special privileges?
Someone who inherits a trust fund or someone who inherits a family quilt?
A white citizen of the US or a brown immigrant to the US?
Someone with salary & benefits or someone earning min wage.
Who deserves honor?
A graduate of an Ivy League school or a grad from a vocational program?
Someone who works as a judge or someone who works as a lifeguard?
It's typical for any of us, even those of us who have invited Jesus to be our guest to rank people in our society. Perhaps some of you were here last Sunday when we were blessed with a guest preacher, Sarah Bixler. I was the worship leader and briefly introduced Sarah. I could have said that I was recently in a Bible study that Sarah was leading and found her teaching to be creative and fitting for our congregation, especially her focus on faith formation across the whole lifespan--from children to elders. But I didn't say that. I could have introduced her husband Ben and their children who had also joined us for worship that day, but I don't think I mentioned her family. I could have said that Sarah had formerly served as Virginia Mennonite Conference Youth Minister. But I didn't say that either. I said that she was finishing her PhD at Princeton and that she had accepted an academic position at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. In this introduction, I made Sarah's academic rank seem more important than her Christian witness. If Jesus had been here in the flesh, he might have interrupted me last Sunday. Or is it the Spirit of Jesus who nudged me to make this confession to all of you?
There's nothing wrong with people getting advanced degrees, but when the church uses educational achievement (or race or wealth or income or occupation) to rank some in the church as more important than others, to privilege an elite few and diminish voices and gifts of the humbler members of the community, Jesus interrupts us. And it's rather embarrassing.
A Humble Church
Friends, we're invited to a banqueting community in which the family quilt is precious, where the brown immigrant has dignity and power, where minimum wage earners deserve living wages, where we know that the Ivy League can't confer the wisdom of the gospel and that someone working as a lifeguard at the local pool has as much value as a judge on a bench. And, if the judge puts a life behind bars forever and the lifeguard saves someone from drowning, whom shall we honor in the kingdom of God?
A couple thousand years ago, Jesus spoke about a God who brings down the mighty, lifts up the lowly, forgives sins and feeds the poor. There is no way that Jesus told us this parable as a quick and easy way to gain social advantage: take the lowest place, and bank on a host who will move you up the ladder, or up the table, as it were. But if we let this parable live in us a while, Jesus will disturb the ranking systems we typically use. We'll become interested in others for their own sake, and not the social advantage they may bring us.
Tomorrow is Labor Day. In 1894 it became a federal holiday. Throughout the 19th century, during the Industrial Revolution, workers in the US were often subject to 12 hour days, working 7 days per week to make a living. Young children worked under dangerous conditions in factories and mines. The labor of people of color and immigrants was stolen and exploited to create wealth and social stratification that is still operating in our society today. Now, in 2019, Virginia is still among fewer than half of the states to keep the minimum wage for labor at $7.25 per hour. That's why local communities across VA are sponsoring living wage campaigns. If you want to support that effort in Harrisonburg, head over to Gray Jay's Provisions tomorrow at 10:30 for the public launch of a living wage campaign. From our congregation both Brent Finnegan who initiated the campaign, and Chris Hoover-Seidel who directs Bridge of Hope will be speaking. Learn about local businesses and organizations who are turning the tables on social rank by occupation and dignifying typically low-wage jobs with living wages.
An Undivided Life
During September, our worship series is focused on an undivided life. As the body of Christ, we want to reflect the undivided life that Jesus lived among us rather than the divisions, hierarchies and rankings that honor some and exploit others. Quaker author Parker Palmer has used the image of a Möbius Loop to describe an undivided life. I think this image can be helpful to us in several ways. It may even help us live with Jesus' parable and counsel to both guests and hosts. I first learned about a Möbius Loop in math class. Though it appears to have an inside and outside, this Loop has a single surface. [WITH STRIP OF PAPER.] Most of us can relate to the idea that we have an inner life and an outer life. Our outer life includes commitments, plans, work and relationships. The stuff we do all day is our outer life.
Our inner life includes motivations, values, our conscience, our spirit. In our development as human beings, a rich inner life is evidence of growth and maturity. [MAKE CIRCLE WITH STRIP OF PAPER.] We might imagine this development as a circle in which the inner life supports the outer life. There is beauty and wholeness to a circle. Yet, for many religious people our growth can be stunted in this shape. We are likely to keep out influences that might disrupt our security or privilege. We can do this individually or as a group.
The Möbius Loop is different from a circle. To make it from a strip of paper, we make a little flip before attaching the ends. [CONVERT CIRCLE TO MöBIUS LOOP.] This loop now actually has but one side which appears to move from interior to exterior as we move around the loop. Palmer is taken with the idea that at our best the interior life--let's say our spirit--is revealed and expressed in our outer daily life and likewise, what we do in the world moves inward and becomes part of our interior life as well. In reality our life is undivided and we need not fear being our true selves in the world. Nor should we fear that the world will destroy our inner dignity or spirit.
Practical Implications for Guests and Hosts
Although Jesus is addressing more than mealtimes, more than hosts and guests, it's very practical to consider how this scripture affects our outer lives. Where in our lives do we have the power of hosting? Do we use this power to benefit ourselves or to benefit others? We might consider whom we host congregationally. As we hire staff for children's ministry or another pastoral position, will we privilege white persons or seek a wide candidate pool for these positions?
Given that Jesus' parable and teaching takes place during a meal and that he speaks directly about guests and hosts at a meal, it's also quite fitting for us to consider how our meals contribute to an undivided life. When we say grace and pray at meals we bring express the unity of our inner and outer lives. How we attend to the food we eat and whom we invite to share our table can be signs of our life in the new world Jesus brings into being. Can our mealtime conversations begin to honor and bless each other? Can we raise important questions and challenge each other in light of God's vision for the world? Will we at our next meal listen deeply to each other, praying together and remembering each others' concerns?
Jesus reveals God in the World
The Möbius Loop makes a provocative turn, a flip in the circle that invites questions. When we are guests, how might we turn the typical honor-shame hierarchy upside down? When we have the power to host, how might we honor persons who are sometimes forgotten or dismissed? When and how are we as a church shifting our culture to resemble the kingdom of God--honoring the immigrant, the ill, the prisoner, the child, the poor? The Möbius Loop is named after a 19th century mathematician. I wonder whether early Christian theologians trying to describe Jesus' unity with the divine, would have benefitted from some of the math that illustrates an undivided relationship? At the beginning of Luke 14, the Bible says that folks were "watching Jesus' closely." If you read the Gospel straight through, this phrase sounds ominous because Jesus has already been watched and cornered and threatened. The way of Jesus--the gospel perspective on the world--is always threatened, always under attack. We're always being lulled into seeing our neighbors, strangers and fellow diners in terms of social rank that privileges a few (ourselves, we hope) and excludes most of humanity who suffers plenty and matters little. But to make his point--not in parable, but in person--Jesus doesn't just talk at party tables, he goes to the cross. In solidarity with everyone who has been ranked as inferior, Jesus goes to the cross of humiliation, suffering and mattering not. He is the incarnation of God, yet refuses to pull rank. Jesus dies on that cross. And sometime later, he is raised from the dead. Talk about a God who lifts up the lowly. And, of course, folks did talk about it. In no time Jesus was eating meals again. In this very Gospel Jesus becomes the unrecognizable guest made known in the breaking of bread. Come, Lord Jesus be our guest…Perhaps as we pray this week together or alone, at the table or whenever, we can invite the crucified Christ to be our guest. When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind--invite the crucified One and if you recognize his way as the Undivided Life of love, invite him to move up higher and become your Lord. AMEN.
July 2, 2019 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Luke 12:13-21 and II Corinthians 8:1-15
click to view transcript
Sermon Part II
[SLIDE #1--Bertram Poole Art] The Rich Fool and Us
No storage bin large enough to keep your bumper crop? We may not face the exact situation of the rich fool, but you know how it is when you have so much cash that you can't even close your wallet? Or, you go to the bank only to discover that they can't insure a deposit as large as yours? Can we identify with the rich fool in the parable? I doubt any of the people listening to Jesus that day had the problem of having way too much. Caveat: at the beginning of chapter 12 it says that the crowd was several thousand people--so large that they were trampling each other. So maybe--just maybe--there was one guy who said: "yeah, that happened to me last year--the barley harvest was mind-blowing. I had to hire extra labor working three shifts to build enough barns to store the grain." I doubt it.
Maybe Jesus gave us this parable because we love to hate the rich fool. He has so much he can't think straight. He's lost sight of life's meaning and purpose. His obsession with wealth is literally driving him into the grave. And, cruel as we are, we chortle when we hear: Tonight your life is demanded of you.
And yet, there is something familiar about the guy. Maybe it's that internal conversation--the ethical question: What should I do? This parable is actually cutting edge literature of the time because in Bible stories we don't often hear a character's interior thoughts the way we might in novels. This week I sent out the CMC Greed Survey and 98 people responded. Maybe just pondering a few questions about greed stirred some internal or household conversation this week. Here are the results of our survey.
[SLIDE #2] Greed is a problem for me.
Many of us--about 38%--report that greed is a problem for us. We do identify with the rich fool because we have enough, yet we're greedy. We want more--more than our fair share, more than we need. The problem with greed is not only the inequity it creates across the community, but also that wanting more and more, or even getting more, doesn't satisfy.
The good news is that when we recognize greed as a problem in our lives, we can take action to address it. We're not helpless in the face of greed because God is for us. Our captivity to vice and sin has been broken by the power of the cross. By his death, Jesus exposed the world's vices and demonstrated divine virtues. If greed seems to be taking over some area of our life, we can cry out to God for release for help, for deliverance. God will not abandon us. Throughout the scriptures faithful people turn to God for real help in their daily lives. Turning to God in prayer is a real way to address the grip of greed. When we recognize greed as a problem in addition to prayer, we can take action through intentional gratitude. We can also look to people who are models of generosity--who see abundance as an opportunity for sharing. Another antidote to greed is to respond to the needs of others, rather than entertaining our selfish desires.
[SLIDE #3] According to the CMC Greed Survey, our top three areas of greed are: Money, food/drink and fame/recognition. If we don't counter the impulse toward greed, it will threaten our lives. The rich man in the parable--through no effort of his own, but through the land's productivity--had an unexpected harvest. He asks himself: what shall I do?
What shall we do, when we receive an inheritance of $10,000 dollars?
What shall we do, when our business is especially successful this year?
What shall we do, when we're given a gift of money
or when we simply have more than enough?
What shall we do when we've eaten dessert and still want more?
What shall we do when we've reached our limit and are offered another drink?
What shall we do when our project at work won't get us the recognition we crave?
What shall we do when we're up for a promotion?
The rich fool decides: I deserve it all. But what shall we do?
To some extent greed is biological. We're designed to store up in plentiful seasons so that we don't literally starve and die in lean times. But this greed impulse is from our amygdala, the part of our brain that helps us survive. To resist greed, we need to use reason and compassion and engage different parts of our brain. When we recognize a pattern of greed, we need to stop and think. Is this something I need or something I want? Do I have enough already? Is this an opportunity for generosity?
Indulging our greedy impulses doesn't provide the long-term satisfaction and joy that God intends for human life. So, when greed is arising, our brains can help us reorient ourselves toward God's kingdom of love. Other people on our faith journey can also help us resist greed. Most of us behave better when others are watching us--not watching with suspicion, not watching to catch us doing something wrong--but watching out for us, helping us see opportunities for gratitude and contentment in our lives.
According to this parable--and a lot of other things Jesus said--making decisions about wealth requires spiritual discipline. As Christians, we don't go it alone. We need the Holy Spirit's helps to discern wisely because for many of us racial and class privilege obscures our greed as an entitlement. The Spirit helps us remember what Jesus' message--love God, to be rich toward God and to love our neighbor, particularly our neighbor in need. What shall we do? We will follow Jesus--both his teachings about wealth and the parable of his life and death for others, enriching the world with his legacy of love, mercy, salvation and healing.
In a couple weeks, Pastor Dayna will be preaching on gluttony, so I won't focus so much on our greed for food and drink, but cravings and indulgence in this area need a similar kind of spiritual attention or they will drain away our health and happiness in a hurry.
Being greedy for fame or recognition means we need to be noticed. We seek the limelight and fight to prove our value. Honor rolls, an employee of the month programs and American pressure for success can feed our craving for public praise. Just prior to this passage, Jesus describes the extraordinary value of human beings, saying that the very hairs of our head are numbered. The One who knows us by name formed us in the womb and loves us beyond measure has already secured our future. We don't need to greed to survive or thrive.
[SLIDE# 4] In May I taught a couple of Sunday School sessions to CMC children and they shared their areas of greed. They identified candy, screen time and video games as serious temptations in their lives. As parents and church members charged with the spiritual formation of our children, we must model and discuss with children how to deal with greed. As children mature, we also begin to share with them how we deal with adult temptations to be greedy. Jesus said: Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. [SLIDE #5]
Children's Time Interlude (Gratitude)
Reasons to be grateful. What was the first thing that happened this morning when you woke up?
Thank you God, for...breakfast, for teeth, for clothes to wear, for parents, for siblings, for our church, for the car/bike/feet that got us here.
Thank you Mom or Dad or Grandma or Grandpa for bringing us to church.
Saying please and thank you. When do you say please and thank you? Who reminds you? When do you forget? Saying please and thank you is a skill. We have to learn it. We have to practice it. Can the babies among us say thank you? They might learn to say thank you with American Sign Language before they learn how to speak verbally. (Teach sign.)
Thank you notes. Who knows how to write already? Writing is a skill. Writing thank you notes is a skill. If you don't know how to write yet, then I think there is someone at home who will help you.
Prayer. Thank you, God, for all the goodness of our lives. We want to be grateful, and say thank you, whenever we notice your goodness. Thank you for the children in our church and in our families. Thank you for the parents and grandparents of our congregation.
Distribute thank you notes--1 per child.
Sermon Part II
Jesus drives home the danger of greed with a parable that ends in the grave. [SLIDE #6] The Apostle Paul makes the pitch, the ask, the invitation to generously give. What I'm going to share from II Corinthians is part of a fundraising letter. Considering how many fundraising letters hit the recycling bin in our house, one wonders how this one ended up in the New Testament. For the early Christians their relationship between their faith and their money was completely intertwined. They didn't think of these as separate spheres of life. Some early Christians were materially wealthy and some were very poor, but all of them, had received the priceless gift of salvation, just as we have. They were seeking to live their whole lives in response to God's love, Christ's forgiveness of sin and the wholesome abundance they were experiencing in this new community of the church. Now, they had the same greedy impulses we have, so they preserved a lot of material about how to combat greed and live generously. Everyone can afford to be generous. Everyone has something to give. Listen: II Cor 8:1-15
[SLIDE #7] Paul was an effective fundraiser. He shared his vision for mission in the name of Christ with congregations that had financial means--like the church in Corinth--and with congregations that had financial hardships--like the ones in Macedonia. In fact, sharing in the same giving project was one of the peace-building strategies across different parts of the church--like our VMC giving project to rebuild the home of a West Virginia family. At this point, Paul's raising money so that he and his coworkers can travel back to Jerusalem and bring a gift for the church there, which was suffering financial hardship.
Some of you may be aware that CMC has a Generosity Team. We've participated in several training events, read some books on congregational generosity, reviewed data about CMC giving patterns and begun implementing some plans. In the big picture, in the global context, CMC is a wealthy congregation with ample resources. (We're like Corinth.) So, although we have very real financial stresses among us, we are still rich in a global sense. In Rockingham Country the average median household income in 2017 was $57,651. In Harrisonburg the average median household income is $43,009. Let's imagine that all CMC households have incomes that are the lower amount $43,009. Of course some of our households have less and others have more. If each of our households gave 7% of their income, we would more than fund CMC's current vision for ministry in Jesus' name. In fact, we would be discerning how to bless our local and global neighbors with the excess.
[SLIDE #8] Here's an image of actual CMC giving. Now if we were all giving 7% of Hburg's median household income, we'd be giving in the range of the pink bar. Some CMCers are giving in this range. They may actually have a lower income and give 10% percent as a tithe. They may have a higher income and give a smaller % to church ministry. The message to the church in Corinth is to participate in shared giving projects by making an equitable contribution, according to means, so that there will be a fair balance. For CMC households in the pink a fair balance according to means might call for increasing their gifts. And each of our households should be aware of what it takes to fund our ministry and how we can participate. Everyone can afford to be generous.
Across the US in 2018 Americans gave $ 427.71 billion to charitable causes. And the sector of society that received the greatest amount of these donations was religious organizations--mostly churches and mission agencies. But over the last decade giving to congregations has steadily declined. There are generational differences that account for some of that change. And there are cultural norms that work against our need to be generous.
[SLIDE #9] For example, of all the money Americans gave to charitable causes last year only 5% came from corporations and plenty of corporations give nothing to charitable causes. When corporations give anything there is publicity about it. The evidence of corporate greed is not only corporate failure to give, or to give very little. We also see corporate greed in the pay gap between elite CEOs and average U.S. worker pay. It's 347 to 1, a gap eight times as wide as in 1980. Corporate pay gaps help drive extreme inequality in this country and may suppress our generosity.
Thankfully, we don't look to corporate America to guide us into a virtuous life. Nor is the church called to be generous to offset greed in other parts of society. We need to be generous, because it's a matter of faith. God's daily generosity toward us is the very gift of life, the promise of salvation, the joy of knowing Jesus as Lord and the privilege of sharing in God's mission. We give thanks for the gifts that have sustained our lives and blessed us--faith, relationships, health, meaningful work, natural beauty in the world, and creative engagements. Rather than indulging greed and or accepting entitlement, we practice gratitude and deepen our commitment--to love God, to be rich toward God and to love our neighbor, particularly our neighbor in need.
[SLIDE #10] Jesus told his parable against greed to a crowd of 1st century Palestinians. Paul wrote to a little church in an ancient Greek city. And today, through scripture and sermon and song and story, God is still speaking with warning and recommendation. The warning is: Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. The recommendation is: Voluntarily give, according to your means...a fair balance. And deeper still, we hear the good news:
For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
though he was rich,
yet for your sakes he became poor,
so that by his poverty you might become rich.
When we give, we participate in the divine mission of reconciling, healing, saving and blessing the world through Christ. The message of our Generosity Team is that we want you to know about the grace of God. Money, given in faith becomes grace at work in the world.
Generosity doesn't happen by accident. We have to learn these virtues in many areas of our lives--certainly in the area of money. But CMCers are also tempted toward greed in other areas. Today, we have an opportunity to give and if you weren't planning on it, you may have to be spontaneous. But as a church, as we mature in faith and shared ministry, we will grow in generosity. From our place in the global church, God invites us to resist greed, live into gratitude, and follow through on our best intentions for living generously in the name of Jesus. If the eagerness is there, then the gift is acceptable, according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. It's not a command, just apostolic advice that has blessed the church for generations and thereby blessed the world in Jesus' name.
June 5, 2019 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Acts 16:16-40
click to view transcript
Current Headlines in Acts
[SLIDE #1] These old Bible stories are remarkably current. An enslaved girl who makes a lot of money for her owners? That's human trafficking. [SLIDE #2] Here in VA it's mostly sex-trafficking, but also labor trafficking. The anti-Jewish abuse and imprisonment of Paul and Silas brings to mind contemporary racial profiling and the global embarrassment of detention and incarceration rates in the US. [SLIDE #3] And the jailer's suicide attempt reminds us that weapons can be turned on ourselves [SLIDE #4] during severe depression or in amoment of feeling trapped and hopeless. The death this week of recently retired Sheriff McEathron in Warren County seems to follow this pattern. And so, from a 2000 year old travelogue, God speaks to us today. God is not just addressing issues that may or may not affect our daily lives, depending on our privilege, protection or isolation. God addresses us personally with saving grace.
[SLIDE #5] Our scripture begins with a girl who had a spirit. It's not an evil spirit. It's not an unclean spirit. The Greek says she had a Pythian spirit, which is very specific. Pythian describes a Greek spirituality. The Greeks had a tradition of spiritual intermediaries, often widows or virgins, who spoke for the god Apollos who was said to have killed the great Python who guarded the center of the earth.
What's important for us is that when these followers of Jesus on their way to pray to meet this girl, among all the other dynamics, it's an interreligious encounter. And what the girl says through this Pythian (Python) spirit in the name a Greek god is (weirdly) true: These men are servants of the most high God who proclaim a way of salvation. Imagine! Other religious traditions may speak a truth that is compatible with Christ-centered truth. Perhaps her announcement was advantageous to the Christian message that Paul and the mission team were sharing. We know historically that Greeks and Romans who were drawn to a high God in their pantheon, exploring monotheism or even Jewish faith were more likely to receive the message of Jesus Christ as good news. These are servants of the most high God who proclaim to you a way of salvation.
While the girl is speaking the truth, she is also suffering from a triple-whammy of oppression. Here's the triple-whammy:
- Her Greek spiritual gift is being exploited by Roman commerce.
- As a slave, she is dominated by owners.
- And as a female child, she is controlled by a group of adult males.
[CLICK for Triple Whammy] That's a triple-whammy of oppression. If we were academics, we'd call that intersectional analysis, but we're church and we're just listening for God and the saving grace we need.
Now let's be clear, the message and mission of Jesus always resists oppression. Exactly how to resist is often thorny, complex. We do it imperfectly. Paul and his team didn't do anything at first. But eventually, Paul confronts and evicts this spirit from the girl's body...and she is free. That's saving grace.
I wonder what happened to her. Did she speak in her own voice? Did she become curious about the Lord Jesus by whose name she was set free?
Did she find a community at that place of prayer in Philippi? She receives God's saving grace as freedom and her story is open-ended. God's story just shows us that point when she was freed from oppressive powers.
I encourage you this week to listen to your own story. When have you experienced God's saving grace? Has there been an important event? Have there been dozens of experiences of grace this week alone? [SLIDE #6] That's something to talk about with others in your circle or journal about. Our own stories of being saved, build our faith for future challenges. Maybe there's an episode of saving grace that the Spirit is nudging you to share this morning.
Now the former owners of the girl accuse Paul and Silas of creating an anti-Roman disturbance. This is the bad guys talking, but weirdly, they're right! The Christian message and mission disturbs empires and systems of oppression. At this point in the story, and very often, the empire seems to have the upper hand. God's messengers are stripped, beaten and jailed, which sounds nothing like saving grace unless you know Jesus--in his passion and his resurrection.
As if human trafficking and brutal abuse isn't enough human tragedy in this scripture, while in jail there's yet another devastating crisis. Weirdly, an earthquake releases all the prisoners. What will the magistrates do to the jailer, if his prisoners have escaped? He is trapped and about to take his own life.
In the last two decades, suicide rates in VA have been slowly increasing. A recent report from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services says handguns were the most common cause of death in suicides, used in 58 percent of all Virginia cases. The report also found that men were more than three times more likely to die by suicide than women. (From AP Dec 2018).
Are some of the mass shootings today elaborated suicides with officers completing the violent spiral?
Last year a couple of us from CMC were trained in mental health first aid. The Action Plan began with tools to assess for risk of suicide or harm. [SLIDE #7] If a group of CMCers wants to take the course together, we can arrange for that in partnership with the local community services board. We need professional mental health workers, but we also need more ordinary people--men and women--trained in mental health first aid. Now there is no indication in this Bible story that the jailer was mentally ill. He is perhaps terrified and hopeless. And he's armed. He's a high risk for suicide. The good news is that as with the girl set free from human trafficking, the jailer to experiences saving grace. Paul intervenes as best he can and the jailer is saved. In the imperial system, the jailer seems doomed, but as Paul reaches out to him and his whole family in the name of Jesus the jailer finds life, faith, and joy.
Throughout Acts 16 there are shimmering examples of Christian faith that matters. There's an interreligious encounter that is about truth and freedom. The jailer is brought back from the edge of taking his own life. Later, the jailer shows hospitality and compassion to Paul and Silas, washing their wounds. There's home-based hospitality, speaking the word of Lord, a shared meal, belief in Jesus Christ and baptism--another washing away of a lifetime of wounds. Finally, there is an outbreak of joy.
And so the terrible events in Philippi--the enslavement of a young girl, the mission workers being stripped and beaten, and the jailer's suicide attempt--are held and healed in the larger story of God's saving grace in the world. This is one of the reasons we worship together-- a week in and week out. [SLIDE # 8] In worship we are assured that our lives are held and healed in the larger story of God's saving grace in the world. Without a weekly rhythm of hearing God address us together, we could despair, we could drift away, we could lose our capacity to influence public powers in the name of Jesus.
When Paul and Silas are bruised, bloody and shackled, they pray. They sing hymns. Why worship in jail? When everything is wrong, in our own lives or in the life of the world, when we are physically beaten, mentally broken down, literally locked up, when worldly authorities seem to have the loudest voice and the upper hand, the people of God, worship and believe. We believe in Jesus. And we believe that we are held and healed by God's saving grace. Our lifestory is still open-ended. There is hope for us and for the world.
Another reason we worship each week is because other prisoners--captive to the same empire as we--are listening. In Biblical spirituality, the people of God freely express pain and even despair, as they claim the hope and saving grace of God. That's why the lament psalms usually become songs of thanks and praise by the end. It's as if joy indeed comes in the morning as if Christ's resurrection wonder is absolutely true. Our fractured world is held and healed by One whose broken body and resurrection life finds us wherever we are and is among us now.
We don't know how the inmates prayed and sang in Philippi, but we know their standard prayers and songs from the Psalms. I like to imagine we're among those prisoners listening in on the midnight prayers and songs of Paul and Silas. Turn back to Psalm 97, which we read this morning. It's a psalm about government. About who is in charge of the world. It's not us. It's not the jailer. It's not the magistrates. It's not Rome. It's not the adversaries on every side (v. 3). It's not the hand of the wicked (v. 10.) The Lord reigns! Let the earth rejoice! This psalm is studded with joy, rejoice and gladness. We need joy to sustain our faith. And like the arc of a rainbow on the other side of this old Bible story, there is an outbreak of joy as the jailer believes and his household is saved (v. 34).
Here's the part I didn't want to preach because it's right at the edge of my faith and it seems to wreck that description of being held and healed. It's the earthquake. [SLIDE #9] You know the epicenter of an earthquake is on the surface, but the focus is deep in the earth because earthquakes start underground. Blocks of rock moving against each other along fault lines get stuck. For a while, there are opposing forces, but no movement, until one breaks and then the earthquakes. I think another reason we worship is that the people of God at worship are part of a force that shakes the foundations of the prisons and empires and anything else that would destroy God's creation and God's people. And we just never know when that breaking point will come when the doors will be open and the chains broken. And we don't want to miss it because it will be our freedom, our saving grace, too.
[SLIDE #10] I don't know why you came to worship this morning. Maybe you're asking that question: what must I do to be saved? Maybe you feel some freedom, like that girl saved from oppression and are finding your way. Maybe you're like those folks in the jail, awake at night, and listening in to the prayers and songs of believers. Maybe together praying and singing, listening and believing, no matter how beat up we are, until the powers that be apologize, we're some of that seismic pressure whereby God breaks through for a world that needs saving grace.
June 4, 2019 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Revelation 21:1-6 and Acts 11:1-18
click to view transcript
Adventure with Jesus
Living from a vision of God's new day requires a sense of adventure. Peter began an adventure with Jesus near the sea of Galilee. Answering Christ's call to follow, Peter learned to love, lead, heal and teach in the name of Jesus. The adventure included literal mountain top experiences--seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Peter saw miracles in people's lives because of Jesus' words or his touch or being around their tables eating together. The adventure was also humbling--Jesus confronted Peter for thinking and valuing the wrong things. Peter's faith, like ours, was inconsistent. At one point he denied he even knew Jesus. Yet, he also saw the resurrected Lord.
In Acts chapter 11, after Jesus' resurrection, Peter lays out "step by step" a controversial vision. Peter understood the vision with the sheet full of unclean animals as a liberation from the conventional Biblical separation between Jews and Gentiles. But it wasn't just a vision to be freed from conventions of religious circumcision and religious food laws. The vision Peter received had a purpose--to express the good news of Christ in new ways,
among new people. This was an adventure. I'm not using that word to spice up a boring Bible story. The new context that Peter entered was the home of a military officer. Going to Cornelius, Peter put himself (and the other guys with him) in a dangerous situation. Cornelius the god-fearing Gentile could have been offended by the claim that a man, Jesus, was called Lord and Messiah by these Jews. Cornelius, as a Roman centurion, could have been offended that
this Messiah rejected violence and preached peace. He could have been angered by the implication that his job was part of the system that killed this Jesus.
Still, Peter accepted some adventure, some danger, some precarious and unknown conditions. And--good news!--Cornelius and his family became part of the Jesus movement. The downside was that by living into this vision and expressing the good news of Christ among Cornelius and his family, Peter also exposed a tension within the early church movement. You may know this already, but to be clear, the ethnic division between Jew and Gentile was not a polite distinction in the early church. It was a severely polarizing controversy producing generational trauma the effects of which we can still feel. The scripture this morning makes it sound like Peter's report in Jerusalem tidied. everything up. If God gave the Gentiles the same gift we were given when
we believed in Jesus, who was I to hinder God? The response of the Jerusalem leadership is silence and then they praise God: Then God has given even to the Gentiles, the repentance that leads to life! Praise the Lord! Alleluia! Behold, I am making all things new! Amen. But it's neither so simple, nor so tidy. A short time later--this is chapter 15--a Council in Jerusalem was again hashing through this same controversy. And according to a letter to the Galatians, Peter, our vision-led apostle de jour is not entirely consistent on this matter of full inclusion for Gentiles. Paul says that he cut a deal with the Jerusalem leaders--you proclaim Jesus to the Jews, I'll proclaim Jesus among Gentiles and we won't neglect the poor. He then says that when
he met up with Peter in Antioch, Peter was caving in to the pressure from Jerusalem. Sometimes Peter ate with Gentiles as if they were brothers and sisters in Christ and sometimes he refrained from table fellowship. Paul is upset by this. He says: and others joined Peter in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray...
Community Mennonite Church has a vision to be a peace church where everyone is welcome, to live generously in the name of Jesus. And some aspects of this vision place us in tension with our broader culture. We're fine with that--faithful Christians are always in tension with their society. Anabaptist Christians, particularly, have a history of resisting cultural forces that jeopardize our vision for living like Jesus.
Here's a contemporary example. Our society fears the stranger, so we confuse immigration and crime. And our justice system is very successful in systemic racism and retributive justice and lousy at equity and restorative justice. So, as a peace church where everyone is welcome, many CMCers last Sunday were witnessing against the expansion of the local ICE facilities. ICE, immigration and customs enforcement, is responsible for detaining and deporting local
community members, separating families, criminalizing immigration and perpetuating a culture of fear. ICE tends to keep a low profile, so we're grateful to folks from Virginia Organizing and Fuego who help us see our local context. And we're grateful for worship that helps us see God's vision for the world. Behold, I am making all things new! When we are a presence and
pay attention to what ICE is doing, noticing how local law enforcement collaborates, we are living our vision as a peace church where everyone is welcome.
Another example, CMC has a vision to live generously in the name of Jesus. So we provide opportunities to practice generosity. It might be financial giving to fund ministry. It might be giving work gloves to show some love to migrant orchard workers. It might be generously giving our time to organize church retreat or teach a quarter of Sunday School or update the parking lot signage. Thank you for being generous. In the last year we launched a voluntary
service unit. CMCers have generously served on the VS committee and financially supported the renovations and start-up costs. According to the balance sheet, we still have a ways to go on that. And, Ali Zuercher and Liza Brenneman, the young adult volunteers, are generously invested in the Free Clinic, New Bridges Immigrant Resource Center and our local Community
Services Board. Together we're expressing the good news of Jesus in new ways, among new people. Praise the Lord!
a peace church where everyone is welcome...
...inspiring one another to live generously in the name of Jesus. But it's neither so simple, nor so tidy. Some aspects of our vision place us in tension not just with broader society, but with fellow believers. When we speak of ourselves as a peace church where everyone is welcome, we also highlight a decision CMC made a while ago. After a few years in a congregational discernment process and through a 90% affirmative vote, in 2013 CMC agreed to "apply Christian ethics regarding celibacy and fidelity to single persons and couples, regardless of sexual orientation." It was our way of becoming more inclusive of persons who identify as LGBTQ. From what I've seen, this decision has strengthened CMC's capacity to express the good news of Christ. Our decision remains controversial--to a small degree within CMC and to a much larger degree in our conference.
Confirmation of Vision
In today's scripture, Peter's controversial vision was confirmed in a host of ways: He has an internal sense of the Holy Spirit nudging him to go to Caesarea and not make distinctions between in group and out group. Verse 13 refers to the resonant vision Cornelius received. Verse 15 says the Holy Spirit interrupted Peter's long sermon and showed up among Cornelius and others in his household. In verse 16 Peter says that this experience was evidence of what Jesus promised: John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. And verse 18 says some who objected to Peter's ministry with Gentiles, were convinced by his testimony of expressing the good news in new ways among new people.
Here's a query for this week. How is our congregation's vision being confirmed and/or being critiqued? Does CMC's vision enable us to share the good news of Christ in new ways, among new people? Recently 90% of CMCers who responded to a survey, welcomed our making a decision about our conference affiliation in the next 6 months and more than 80% said they needed more information, so we've planned sessions in June with three Mennonite conferences. And, information will not be enough. We invite your prayers for CMC, and the wider networks of Mennonite Church USA conferences. During this Easter-Pentecost season we celebrate the unity we have with others who proclaim Christ's resurrection and we celebrate the
missional diversity of everyone empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our congregational decision will include a statistical vote by CMC members, but what will be more important is the testimony we make regarding our decision. Will we notice the Holy Spirit among us and among others? Will our decision to remain with VMC or choose another conference help us express the good
news of Jesus in new ways among new people?
In the name of Jesus
If we follow Peter's story in the book of Acts his life resembles the life of Jesus. In the Gospel, while he was praying, Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit. The same thing happens to Peter at Pentecost--he's praying with the other believers and then filled with the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel, Jesus preaches his first sermon about the Spirit coming on him to bring good news to the poor. In Acts, Peter preaches about the Spirit's coming on a whole crowd who would be transformed by a new vision. In both their sermons Jesus and Peter quote the prophets. The prophetic tradition confirms what God is doing today. In the Gospel, Jesus has power over death. He raises a widow's son. In Acts, as
Pastor Dayna preached last week, Peter raises a widow from the dead. In the Gospel, Jesus ministers to a Roman centurion--saving his slave's life. And in Acts, Peter ministers to Cornelius, another a Roman centurion--bringing a message that saves his whole household. The scripture writer remembers that Peter's life resembles the life of Jesus. When CMC is long gone will
someone say our life resembled the life of Jesus?
As your pastor, I am not praying for uniform thinking about this conference affiliation decision or how we individually express generosity. But I am praying for unity in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Neither Jesus nor Peter, avoided the controversies of their day. They took some risks and had some adventures. They faced criticism--especially for eating with sinners, outsiders. The good news is that God arranged a startling intervention in the world when God raised Jesus from the dead. This resurrection life is echoed in Acts when Peter is liberated from prison. And our life as a congregation is part of this
new day of resurrection in history. Whenever sins are forgiven, the poor hear good news, the sick are healed, the proud are humbled, the eyes of the blind are opened, the oppressed get justice, the lonely are remembered, this is the wonder of Christ's resurrection. CMC, let's welcome this adventure with Jesus, live with vision and welcome the Spirit who confirms and critiques the church according to God's Sophia--wisdom. AMEN.
May 8, 2019 by cmc_admin
Eastertide - Resurrection Wonder
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
"Do you love me?"
Revelation 5:11-14, John 21:1-19
click to view transcript
Gospel as New Beginning
The Gospel of John is kind of a new beginning for some of the early church.
There were other Gospels available, but this one begins like the book of
Genesis and invites us to make a beginning with Jesus. Once, in this version of
the good news Jesus was developing this extended metaphor of vines and
branches and fruit. He said: apart from me, you can do nothing. Well, the
story we heard this morning, a resurrection story, is like a practical joke. That
night on the lake they caught nothing. But just after daybreak, the risen Jesus
makes all the difference. 153 fish! It's like Jesus saying: See, apart from me,
you can do nothing! What if it's true that we can't do any decent thing
without the power of the resurrected One who reorders the universe in the
name of love? What if in order to make a new beginning or forgive somebody
or serve the world or advocate for those without a voice, or bless our
neighbors or love anybody, we need Jesus, risen from the dead?
The Gospel of John doesn't say anything about the earliest disciples being
fisherman by trade. It's odd because that's their reputation in the other
Gospels. And the early churches probably knew that. Yet, after the traumatic
death of Jesus in Jerusalem and the astonishing resurrection of Jesus, also in
Jerusalem, some disciples return to Galilee and in the final chapter of John
Peter says: I'm going fishing.
The sea of Galilee is sometimes called the sea of Tiberias, for Tiberias Caesar.
It's the Gospel writer's way of reminding us that creation itself, the water and
the fish, not to mention the people in the fishing industry were, in the first
century, exploited by Caesar and the Roman empire. And--I almost don't want
to say this--resurrection doesn't change that. And that's heart-breaking. We
want the world to be changed, liberated, healed from the diseases of greed
and violence and exploitation and empire. Does Jesus' resurrection matter if it
doesn't change these conditions? The good news at the end of this Gospel is
that the risen Jesus does not just haunt the houses of Jerusalem, popping
through locked doors to comfort his terror-stricken disciples. Though that is
good news--a lot of the world's people need comfort and care in the wake of
trauma. The risen Jesus comforts and offers peace and blessing.
And the risen Jesus shows up on the worst day of work--or make that the
worst night of work--fishermen were night shift workers--when they had
fished all night and caught nothing. What if it's true that we can't do any
decent thing without the power of the resurrected One who reorders the
universe in the name of love? What if in order to make a new beginning or
forgive somebody or serve the world or advocate for those without a voice, or
bless our neighbors or love anybody, we need Jesus, risen from the dead?
The Charcoal Fire
Our Easter series theme is Resurrection Wonder, but this story is less a
wonder in the sense of miracle than some of the others. 153 large fish may be
a lot, but it's not miraculous. Jesus just offers advice for these disciples to
make a great catch of fish--and someone bothered to count them. And then
Jesus greets them on the shore with a charcoal fire.
That fire brings back memories. A few days prior, around a charcoal fire in
Jerusalem Peter was ID'd as one of Jesus' followers, but denied it...not once,
not twice, but three times. Seeing and smelling a charcoal fire Peter's memory
of his recent failure may have been all the more vivid. Smells can bring you
right back to an experience. But there's no shaming here. Jesus doesn't talk
about the denial. Jesus offers a breakfast of grilled fish and bread, the food
once multiplied for a hungry crowd.
Emotional weight of the question
This passage is a tear-jerker for me. Do you love me more than these? Jesus
asks again: Do you love me? And a third time he asks: Do you love me? And
I'm right there with Peter saying "yes," yet feeling the weight of recent failures
grow heavier with each repetition of the Lord's question. The theology of
John's Gospel is that the primary human temptation is to deny who we are.
Even Jesus isn't tempted by Satan in this Gospel, but he is tempted before
Pilate to deny who he is. And, actually, in Peter's denial he doesn't precisely
deny Jesus, Peter denies who he is in relationship to Jesus. He says: I am not.
I am not. Again Peter denied. Three denials and three opportunities to
respond directly to Jesus with love. Haven't we denied who we are in
relationship to Jesus?
The early church told the story of Jesus surrounded by his flawed, now famous
apostles. Of the three apostles named in this story, Peter denied his own
identity as a follower of Jesus. Thomas, one of the guys in this boat--resisted
Jesus' resurrection until he saw and touched the Lord's body--wounded and
risen from the dead. Nathanael, another guy in this boat was a stand out
among devout Israelites, but resisted Jesus' early ministry saying: Can
anything good come out of Nazareth?
Denial and Temptation
The charcoal fire exposes all of our temptation to live our lives as if we had no
need for the saving love of the resurrected Jesus. The charcoal fire reveals our
doubts and arrogance as disciples. The Mennonite Church in recent years has
invested energy in acknowledging our own temptations to deny or betray the
way of Jesus. We have begun to admit the pattern of Mennonite settlements in
North America benefitting from the Doctrine of Discovery, that is privileging
persons considered white and displacing native people. Our church is
attempting to dismantle the racism that is systemic not only in our society, but
in our church schools, congregations and mission organizations. Our church is
working to address the patriarchy and homophobia embedded in our reading
of scripture and our expectations of leadership, mission, and worship in the
name of Jesus.
Likewise, as individual believers, we are tempted to deny who we are. Have
you wanted someone else's life? With more impact? With more money? With
more ease? Have you been reluctant to receive even the simple gifts of your
life--like a breakfast--as being from the risen Lord? With this song we bring to
awareness our temptations, doubts, and weaknesses as followers of Jesus.
[Interlude: Song (Purple 81): When we are tempted...]
Help us to know him risen from the dead. The resurrected Lord Jesus
remembers Peter's failures. In this and every other eucharistic meal our
former attempts at identity are transformed as we unite with Christ.
But according to scripture, succumbing to temptation, past failures, and
pursuing false identities, doesn't disqualify us for carrying out Jesus' ministry.
That's the arc of Peter's story in the Gospel of John. All of us, every day have
opportunities to make a new beginning, to respond to the One who reorders
the universe in the name of love.
The grace-filled Jesus offers Peter some responsibility, some stake in the future.
Jesus invites Peter, commands Peter, in the name of love, to feed my lambs,
tend my sheep, feed my sheep. This is a graduation weekend for many
students in our community and the weeks ahead will include more such
celebrations as high school seniors and their families enjoy commencement
ceremonies. Jesus' affirmation for Peter is a fitting message for all of us,
especially upon graduating. If you love me, feed my sheep. If we love Jesus, if
we orient our lives as Jesus oriented his, then we are fit for service--for
feeding and tending the needs of the world. There is an essential relationship
between our love and our work in the world. By work I don't mean our
paycheck, but the work--paid or unpaid--that is God's will for our lives.
In this resurrection wonder, Jesus--slain during the Passover Feast in
Jerusalem--appears on the shore of the sea of Tiberias to restore his
relationship with Peter...and with the rest of us who have denied how much
this relationship matters. Feeding us and forgiving us, Jesus calls us again and
again to be who we are--with a poignant question: do you love me more than
these? I can't really tell whether he means--do you love my more than these
grilled fish sandwiches or do you love me more than you love these fishing
buddies. I don't think he means, do you love me more than Nathanael loves
me or more than Thomas loves me. Jesus knew that these comparisons could
work against our true identity. Jesus knew what it means to be human and
that there are lesser loves that get in the way of loving Jesus first in our lives.
For the purposes of this sermon, let's just imagine that Jesus meant--if you
love me more than a fish sandwich, then yours can be a life of ministry.
OK, I know that sandwiches weren't invented until the 18th century. And I
know that some of you were really hoping for a sermon on the differences
between the Greek words for love in this passage--the agape love of Jesus'
initial questions and Peter's response in terms of friendship love. I figured
what matters today is whether you have a response to Jesus' tender question:
Do you love me? If love has been kindled in us, we're part of reordering the
universe in the name of love. Jesus' resurrection is the beginning. The next
practical joke on a world that denies resurrection, is your life of ministry. So
be creative in following Jesus this week.
[Hymn (Blue 640) This is a day of new beginnings]
April 22, 2019 by cmc_admin
"Blessed Hunger, Holy Feast"
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: Luke 24:1-10; Acts 10:34-43
Click here for text
Blessed Hunger, Holy Feast
Texts: Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12
The Impossible Dawna Markova ends her poem I will not die an unlived life with these words: "I choose to risk my significance, to live so that which came to me as seed goes to the next as blossom, and that which came to me as blossom, goes on as fruit." Jesus risked his significance. He lived, as Clarence Jordan put it, in a crucifiable situation--in tension with the world. We know some measure of the world's brutality. We have been to the abyss of grief over personal losses, abuse, estrangement and political dead ends. We have grown cold with indifference. We have become rigid in our religion. We have despaired of our sin--the mess we have made of our lives and the natural world. Yet, on Easter Sunday and every day the church proclaims hope. We confess Jesus, the center of faith, as God's messiah, anointed to bring peace to the nations, good news to the poor, deliverance for the oppressed, healing for our diseases and forgiveness for our sins, to bring a kingdom--that is a whole new way of being into the world. Today we celebrate that though the world killed him, Jesus is risen and our hope for ourselves and for our world is fresh again like tender blossoms and ripening fruit.
I sometimes worry that progressive-minded church people will minimize Jesus' resurrection in favor of some disembodied values. Is it reasonable to believe that a man who was tortured and killed was after several days in a tomb brought back to life by God? Reason gets us a long way, but not all the way to resurrection faith. But I know the church needs resurrection, so I'm believing again this year that he is risen. Join me.
The Story Join the apostles: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and others. They went to the tomb because, like us, they loved Jesus. And it wasn't only admiring love. They went to the tomb because their love made them responsible to treat his body with dignity. They risked much to visit that tomb. These are the same women, mentioned in Luke chapter 8, who had the money to fund Jesus' ministry from Galilee all the way to Jerusalem. They made their resources available for Jesus and whomever he touched, or healed or called or delivered.
When they watched him breathe his last on a cross, did they regret their investment? In their grief did they blow their wad on the spices and ointments? Or did they haggle with merchants to get the goods cheap, saving whatever was left to get themselves and their friends out of the city and safely home? We don't know. We know they loved him. They felt responsible for his body and there was work to be done--preparing the corpse for a final Sabbath...and disintegration over time. That's what happens to the bodies of those who die. But they did not find the body. Good news and bad news. Good news, no work to be done. Bad news, spent money on the funeral arrangements and he's not dead after all.
Because of the resurrection, the women's love, responsibility, wealth, work--maybe also their grief or regret had to be redirected. The Bible describes their reorientation as a conversation with the bedazzled duo at the tomb. And then they began a fresh ministry of hope in Jesus' name. Talk about risking their significance, they became apostles, sharing the good news of Jesus--raised from the dead. They began with their closest contacts, but having no credentials--they were women--no one believed them. Their words seemed to them an idle tale.
Idles Words I've preached Easter sermons that mildly scold those bad male disciples for not believing the women, hinting that women have the same credibility and status as men if you're going to be Christian about these matters. And we are. So, assuming all that, it's still true that words can be idle. Words about resurrection are insufficient. Saying so, doesn't make it so. Human language isn't enough for us to hold resurrection, to grasp that Jesus Christ is risen, powerfully alive and among us always.
Among those who heard this message, Peter, suddenly becomes the fact checker. He went to the tomb. And he didn't find the body either. Later, after Jesus has appeared to the women and men who knew him best, it's recorded in Acts that Peter also becomes an apostle. Like women before him, he shares the good new of Jesus' resurrection--and with an unlikely audience. The Acts passage is one of Peter's sermons. Talk about risking his significance, he's preaching to a military commander's household. He starts with Jesus as God's message of peace for all nations and winds up the sermon with forgiveness in Jesus' name. In the middle he has this gem: Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed. And of resurrection he says--God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to everybody, but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses and who ate and drank with him after the resurrection. Who ate and drank with him? What difference does that make?
Bible scholar Marianne Sawicki, says that it only becomes possible to apprehend resurrection when we are a community where some of us are hungry, where some of us recognize the hungers among us and where we meet some of those needs in Jesus' name. In other words all kinds of ministry--care for the poor and those who need forgiveness and justice and food and friendship and love isn't a result of first believing words about Jesus' resurrection. A ministry community is the garden in which resurrection blossoms are seen and enjoyed, where the fruit--Jesus' resurrection--is as real and sweet as the first strawberry. Jesus' resurrection is not apprehended through reason alone. Reason gets us a long way, but not all the way to resurrection faith. The spiritual truth of Jesus' resurrection is known and lived through our bodily human needs and our responses to the needs around.
Blessed Hunger, Holy Feast For many months our congregation has offered special prayers for a baby. When Arthur was safely delivered, we rejoiced. We knew Arthur would have some complex physical needs. Indeed he lived his first five months and more in a NICU. Now Arthur is at home and we are celebrating that he and his parents can develop more ordinary rhythms as a family, even as he still requires some special care. Visiting Arthur during Holy Week helped me apprehend something about Jesus' resurrection.
Arthur has a feeding tube to his small intestine. He has had a continuous supply of food. That's been good for growth and development in the NICU. Now that he's home rather than continuous nutrition, he's learning how to be hungry and then eat. That's how bodies thrive. The gradual weaning from continuous feeding requires the family to get hungry, to notice hunger and respond to hunger. Our hope and prayer is that as Arthur grows, he will develop physical patterns of a blessed hunger and enjoy the holy feast of being fed and eating.
The church lives as a resurrection body, confident that the risen Lord is among us and between us as we become hungry, as recognize the needs and hungers among us and in our community, and as we meet those needs. It's in these imperfect ministry exchanges that resurrection becomes our faith.
Hungry Christ And, there might be more to it. In the Gospel of Luke the risen Jesus is hungry. You remember the story on the road to Emmaus. Jesus needs a meal and a place to stay. Two disciples invite him in, though they don't realize it's the Lord. It's during a shared meal that Jesus' resurrection becomes real. Until then, it was just a report to be debated. Until Jesus broke the bread, resurrection seemed just idle words.
And later, as these two disciples tell the others about meeting Jesus in Emmaus, the Lord appears to all of them, but they aren't certain until he says: Have you anything here to eat? They give him some fish and he eats it. Why all this hunger and sharing and eating and feasting? Well, literally, at the Last Supper, Jesus told his friends he would fast--neither eating nor drinking--until the kingdom of God comes. No wonder the risen Jesus is hungry. He's been fasting for days. [PAUSE] The risen Jesus is hungry. He is a needy stranger. He is poor, incarcerated, an immigrant, a child...hungry.
And that's why you and your hunger are welcome here. If your need is great, you belong here. Your hunger for justice is necessary for this community. Feeding and caring and visiting and serving and resisting oppression must be our practice or the church's claim that Christ is risen, will seem idle worlds. Our investments of love and responsibility and resources and wealth, even our grief and regret can be redirected in the name of the risen Lord.
Our theme during Lent has been Blessed hunger, Holy feast. It's Easter, so we feast. Our meal at the Lord's Table is real and symbolic. We already ate breakfast; we're not literally hungry. But we are hungry for resurrection life. We want God's message of peace to be lived through this body. We need forgiveness of our sins. We want to be known as people who go about doing good and healing oppression of all kinds. Let's join the apostles and be those who eat and drink with the risen Lord, who come together in exchanges of care and blessing and grace and service in Jesus' name.
Sometimes our Christian season of Lent-Holy Week-Easter really fits. The timing of the Bible stories we tell aligns with the stories we are living. It's like God is speaking to us. Hallelujah! At other times we feel out of sync. Here it is Easter and we're angry or disillusioned or grieving. Friends, we are the body of Christ. So the whole life of Christ has made us who we are. Jesus' life, teaching, suffering, death, resurrection and reign is our lifeblood. Whether we feel it this year or not, we are a resurrection body. As Community Mennonite Church, we believe that Jesus is risen from the dead. We believe, as Peter preached, that Jesus was God's message of peace for all nations. When we're hungry and when we're addressing the deep hungers of the world, Christ risen the from dead beyond reason, becomes a revelation. We believe it. Hallelujah!
Community Mennonite Church is a peace church where everyone is welcome. We inspire one another to live generous lives in the name of Jesus. As we notice the hunger in ourselves, in our community and in our world, as we respond to the needs around us, we will meet the risen One. We don't know the timing. It means risking our significance. Let us celebrate the blessed hunger of Jesus among us and the holy feast prepared for us. Let us eat and drink together with the risen Christ, so that like Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary and Peter and all the rest, we might be apostles of this good news. The Lord is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
April 10, 2019 by cmc_admin
Lent 5: Blessed Hunger, Holy Feast
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: Isaiah 43:16-21; John 12:1-8
March 19, 2019 by cmc_admin
Lent 2: Blessed Hunger, Holy Feast
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
"Whom Shall I Fear?"
Scripture: Psalm 27; Luke 13:31-35
March 12, 2019 by cmc_admin
Lent 1: Blessed Hunger, Holy Feast
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
"Challenge, Choice and Outcome"
Scripture: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Luke 4:1-13
January 21, 2019 by cmc_admin
Fear Not, Little Flock: Do Not Be Afraid
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
"Fear Not, Little Flock"
Scripture: Luke 12:29-32; Isaiah 43:1-7
January 7, 2019 by cmc_admin
Love Revealed: Epiphany Sunday - Light
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12
December 10, 2018 by cmc_admin
Love Revealed - Advent 2: Proclaiming
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
"Paths of Peace"
Scripture: Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 3:1-6
December 5, 2018 by cmc_admin
Love Revealed - Advent 1: Watching and Waiting
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
"People of Hope"
Scripture: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36
December 3, 2018 by cmc_admin
Lessons from Jesus: Dead or Alive?
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: Revelation 1:4b-8; Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; John 18:33-37
click to read transcript
Alpha and Omega
CMC 11-25-18 Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Texts: Rev 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37; Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Ps 93
The Problem with Christ the King
On this Sunday, the last Sunday before we enter into that hinge season of the beginning and the end, the Advent of Christ coming into the world, the church celebrates Christ the King. Sometimes Christians call this "the reign of Christ Sunday" to avoid speaking of Jesus as a king because kings are no longer politically desirable. So it may seem that this Sunday is not exactly relevant for us. Most people in this country don't have a strong association with kings. Our images of kings are largely negative or make-believe.
My early memories of kings include Marguerite de Angeli's illustration of the nursery rhyme--Sing a Song Sixpence. I also remember the puppet from the children's television show Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood named King Friday XIII.
King Friday ruled over the Neighborhood of Make Believe.
So what do we mean when the church claims that Jesus is our king? Shortly after the Armistice that ended the first World War, Roman Catholic leader Pope Pius XI instituted a Feast Day for Christ the King. For Pius, the armistice--the end of active war among nations--was not the deeper peace to which Christ calls us all. The Pope wanted Christians to be an opposition force to nationalism, class division and secularism. Indeed his encyclical recognizes Jesus as a nonviolent king. Pope Pius wrote:
"Christ has dominion over all creatures,
a dominion not seized by violence nor usurped,
but his by essence and by nature."
Long before the church celebrated Christ the King Sunday, long before Jesus walked the earth, God's people longed for a king. Many of us are quick to say that way back when we wanted a king, the prophet--now there's a role we think we prefer--pointed out just how wrong kingship could go. But nevertheless, Israel and Judah had kings. And even after it became historically obvious that their kings and kingdoms were usually corrupt, idolatrous, violent and exploitative, there was an active longing for God to send an anointed one, a messiah-king to rule in justice and righteousness. And God sent Jesus. The earliest Christians believed that Jesus fulfilled their longings for a king. The problem was that Jesus was crucified and that didn't seem very royal or divine or righteous or just to the uninitiated. But those who believed in Jesus' resurrection, recognized that Jesus' rule was not time-limited. His kingdom was eternal.
So in celebrating Christ the King we declare loyalty to Jesus as the one who rules our lives. Today we recognize that true dominion and power--when it comes from God--is non-violent. A good king, Christ the king, rules with love and forgiveness. On this Sunday we imagine ourselves as humble, loyal subjects in the kingdom, serving our king who is setting the world right. Our king does not threaten or coerce. Our king Jesus empowers us with his own spirit, so that we can live in freedom and joy. Our king does not exploit or destroy. Our King Jesus heals and restores. Our king does not build himself up on the backs of his subjects, but saves us by his own body and blood. Our king does not leave us to our own devices, but speaks to us calling us by name and giving us direction and wisdom for our lives.
I want to read you the scripture from Revelation assigned for Christ the King Sunday.
John, the author of Revelation, chose a bad time in church history to be in leadership. Of course none of us really chooses our time, right? John was a regional elder, relating to seven little urban churches. But during John's lifetime, the worldly king, Emperor Domitian, was considered Lord and God.
Because John resisted this idolatrous allegiance to the emperor, he was exiled to the island of Patmos. And there he continued to worship the true king, Jesus Christ.
In worship John had some revelations about who Jesus is and who the church is with respect to the larger society.
John sees these congregations as a small, yet significant opposition force to the empire. He imagines them as seven lampstands in the throneroom of God empowered by divine spirits. And John also saw the church as the inheritors of a great Biblical tradition of a kingdom that would last forever, so John is always quoting the Bible--the Old Testament. As I read this I'll give you a little sign with my hands [SHAKE] that some of this is an echo from the Old Testament. The book of Revelation helps the church imagine all over again who Jesus is for us. Listen:
Grace and peace to you
from him who is, and who was, and who is to come,
and from the seven spirits before God's throne,
and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness,
the firstborn from the dead,
and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,
and has made us to be a kingdom
and priests to serve his God and Father—
to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
"Behold, he is coming with the clouds,"
and "every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him";
and all peoples on earth "will mourn because of him."
So shall it be! Amen.
"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God,
"who is, and who was, and who is to come,
the [Pantocrater] Almighty."
Jesus is the Faithful Witness. In other words, even when the larger society rejects God, Jesus faithfully lives according to the kingdom of God--the kingdom of justice, righteousness, peace, love and forgiveness. Jesus shows us faithfulness, so that we can also be a meaningful witness in the world. Jesus is the reliable image of God for us and for all time. Jesus is God.
Jesus is the firstborn of the dead. In other words, the Roman Empire's threat of death against anybody who resists imperial power and authority, turns out to be empty. Jesus was killed, and Jesus was raised. Jesus is the power of life over death. He was raised first and we will be raised with him. We do not fear death.
Jesus rules over the kings of the earth. In other words, even when the level of corruption and idolatry among human leaders reaches a new nadir, the church has a different--more authoritative ruler. Jesus even rules over the Emperor! Domitian's reign was temporary. The reign of Christ is already here and we are loyal to Jesus--not worldly governments, which are sometimes better and sometimes worse. Jesus loves us. In other words, when the church is insecure or uncertain about our place in the world, we need to remember who loves us. Jesus loves us. The love of Jesus is expressed through each other as brothers and sisters in the church. And yet, the love of Jesus is greater than our love for one another. As ordinary human beings we love imperfectly, but Jesus loves us completely, perfectly. Jesus is the unique expression of God's image in the world.
Jesus frees us from sin. In other words, sin does not have the last word in our lives. When we are trapped by our own history of bad behavior or trapped by the bad conditions of the world, Jesus alone has the power to set us free. We cannot untangle ourselves from the power of sin. We need Jesus.
There is an abundance of Biblical names and images for Jesus. And some of us have the mistaken idea that we need to understand, believe and consent to all that Christians have claimed for Jesus before we are ready to be baptized or join the church. But in my experience we keep learning who Jesus is over a lifetime of relationship. In the beginning of the Christian life we may experience Jesus in just a few ways and that is enough. Jesus comes to us today saying--I am the Alpha, the beginning. The world is going to try to fit you into a box. And you will not fit. The world is going to wound you. And you will not be able to heal on your own. The powers of the world will make all kinds of promises and fail to deliver on them. When you begin your life with Christ, you can be saved, delivered, rescued from the falsehoods, the lies, the confusion. When Jesus is your king, your leader, your Alpha you belong to the people who are humbly and courageously living as the body of Christ in the world.
How do you currently relate to Jesus? Is Jesus the king of your life--the good king, whose reign is justice, love, peace and forgiveness--for you and for the world--even for your enemies? Jesus is not peripheral inspiration or inconsequential religion to add to life. Jesus is not a make-believe king. Jesus is the almighty ruler of the world--the Alpha and Omega--the beginning and the end. Jesus himself said: For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.
Next Sunday is our Covenant Renewal Sunday. And we'll have an opportunity to share around tables our testimonies, our truth about life with Jesus. I didn't get everything about who Jesus was when I gave my life to him. And I'm still learning, still growing in faith. These days I'm believing more and more. Questions about Jesus are not obstacles, but opportunities for knowing Christ as Alpha and Omega--the beginning and the end, the fulfillment of our lives.
I'm offering to pray with those who want to orient their lives toward Jesus--perhaps for the first time. So, please join me in this ministry. I'm going to pray using I language, but this may be your prayer.
Prayer--Jesus, I don't fully know who you are, but I believe you are with me and for me. I know that I cannot rule my own life. And I do not want to be determined by the powers around me. Jesus, reign over my life, show me how to live, give me what I need to grow in faith. Help me to hear your voice, to listen to your truth, to behold your glory. Join me to your people--the faithful church--so that I can participate as part of your body. Jesus because you gave your life for me in love, I offer you my life and accept your peace because you are the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Send me your Spirit to make a beginning with you today. AMEN.
November 12, 2018 by cmc_admin
Lessons from Jesus: Poverty and Wealth
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
"Footnotes to the Nightly News"
Scriptures: Mark 12:38-44; Hebrews 9:24-28; I Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146
click here for transcript
Footnotes to the National News
Texts: Mark 12:38-44; Hebrews 9:24-28; I Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146
Community Mennonite Church (11-11-18)
Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Today, November 11th is Martinmas or St. Martin's Day. St. Martin's story, from the 4th century, is fitting for American Christians to remember on this 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Today, November 11th is also Armistice Day. St. Martin was born in what is now Hungary. He was the son of an officer in the Roman Army. Martin's family was transferred to northern Italy when he was a child and from Christians who were servants in his family's household, Martin learned about Jesus Christ, was baptized and joined the church. His father did not approve because he assumed that being Christian would prevent his son from following a life of military service. When Martin was only 15 years old the Roman Empire ordered all the sons of veterans to be enrolled in the army and so the teenage Martin, now a Christian, was forced to become a cavalry officer.
There is a famous story that Martin in uniform and riding his horse passed a naked beggar on the road and in compassion unsheathed his military sword and cut his own cloak in half to give the beggar something to wear. Martin then dreamed of Jesus wearing only the scrap of Martin's cloak. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. St. Martin is often invoked in ministries that serve the poor and provide clothing. But that's not the end of Martin's story. Over time, Martin was unable to reconcile warfare and Christian ethics, so he left the army and founded a monastery. He later served in church leadership as bishop of Tours in France. His Christian ethic also made him uncomfortable with the wealth of bishops and so Martin lived in a small cell adjacent to the church rather than the large house for the bishop. He died in about 397 and his body was laid to rest on November 11th.
It seems fitting on this Armistice Day, the 100th anniversary of the end of a war, that we remember Martin whoas a youth turned toward Christ, who had compassion for the poor, who became a conscientious objector to war, who lived simply in spite of his privilege, and who served as a leader in the church. To commemorate the armistice on 11-11-1918 we and many other Christians around the world will ring our church bell today at 11 am.
We're participating as peacemakers in the way of Jesus. Bill White and his Sunday School class will ring the bell. Everyone is welcome to gather outside at 11am. It also seems fitting on this post-election Sunday that we heard psalm 146 upholding a politics of justice and righteousness under God's authority. God, not an abstract divine concept, but YHWH who cares for the poor, the widows, the children, the blind, the incarcerated. According to this psalm, whoever has been crushed, forgotten, used or abused, YHWH actively helps. Hallelujah!
National News--The Ancient World
But why is this story of the jar that is never empty and the oil that never runs out given to us this morning? It's a great story for children, it's a miracle and there is life after certain death. Let me set the stage a bit for the national news of the ancient world in which this story takes place.
The book of I Kings begins with King David dying. And his son Solomon--after killing his rival brother--assumes the throne. During Solomon's reign his military power, wealth and love affairs with foreign gods are increasing. Through harsh taxation and enslaving workers, Solomon builds an opulent Temple. He also marries into foreign families establishing a harem of women to feed his hunger for sex and for dominance in the region. Reading this part of scripture sometimes feels like a futile exercise if one is seeking first the kingdom of God. I for one question Solomon's supposed wisdom.
When Solomon dies the kingdom divides and then the story more briefly chronicles the kings of both the Northern kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Each passage assesses they whether the king was good or bad. Spoiler alert. All the northern kings are considered bad. And most of the southern kings are considered bad. Only 8 out of 20 get a positive review.
The very worst king in this book is King Ahab of Israel in the North.
And while recording his dreadful reign the pace of the story slows and Elijah appears. The prophet Elijah tells King Ahab that God says enough is enough.
Your god--Baal is a phony. Baal does not control rainfall. I do. So YHWH closes up the heavens and there is no rain. With famine on its way, God sends Elijah away to be fed by the birds and drink from a wadi, still flowing with what is left of the region's water. When the wadi dries up, God sends Elijah away--farther away--to a foreign country to be fed by this widow at Zarephath in Sidon:
a poor, non-Israelite woman, a widow. She is at the point of complete desperation because some well-intentioned prophet just instigated a famine which knew no borders and leaked into her country. So now she and her son are about to die of starvation. And God speaks to her.
For the record, God has no business speaking to poor dying foreign women. God has enough trouble with Israel, which is a corrupt nation that needs correction. But the story of the nation recedes, so that we pay attention to this woman. And we're paying attention not only to her need, but to her moxy. Elijah asks her for food and she says: as YHWH your God lives, I haven't baked a thing. And she goes on to name her particular suffering in poignant detail. Her account ends in certain death.
Then as so often happens not only in the Bible, but in our lives today, God's word breaks into the pain and suffering of someone's life. And God's word is: do not be afraid. Hear it! Believe it! This is God speaking. Do not be afraid. Do not put your trust in princes... or kings or president or prophets. Put your trust in God and God's word. Do not be afraid.
Last week after the ecumenical service to welcome the Temporary Protected Status activists from across the country to our community, I spoke with a member of the TPS National Alliance. She explained that worship services and praying together as we did don't make their work easier, but they make it possible. Rather than living with mounting fears of losing TPS--being separated from their families or returning to high risk situations in their countries of origin or disappearing into US society without legal status--rather than fear, they gain faith and hope from praying and worshipping with people across the country who know the God who cares and provides for the oppressed.
YHWH promises life out of death to a mother and child. That is enough, yet the story flows on. The prophet asks her to set aside preservation of her family in order to first support God's prophetic mission in the world. "First make me a little cake of the meal and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For the God of Israel says: the jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until I send the rain."
From ancient times to the present, giving first to God and God's purposes, and trusting that other needs will be me has been controversial. This is the kind of thing Jesus talked about. This is the kind of thing Jesus did! Prioritizing God's purposes before family is rarely popular. But this poor, foreign, hungry widowed mother obeys. Wait just a minute. There is no manipulation by the prophet. God has already spoken to this woman. And if God's command at first seemed to be a delusional idea born of hunger, it now resonates as God's deep truth. For here is the prophet before her--the one God told her to feed. She obeys God's command. Elijah is fed, she and her son have enough. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of YHWH that God spoke by Elijah. Perhaps we who so often resist living God's generosity because we fear scarcity need this word.
In the ancient world when folks were writing down God's ways with their people, the story of the widow at Zarephath was not included in the official record. And they had an official record: The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel. It's mentioned several times in the Bible, but this document was lost. The important story, the one everybody preserved, the salvation story, God's story, the story that becomes scripture is here in First Kings and here in a humble kitchen where there is enough for prophetic ministry and for family. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail. If our first impulse is always to meet our own needs and wants, we will retain our fear and die. I believe that's true for us individually. And I believe that is true for the church. If we always meet our own needs and wants first, we will retain our fear, our logic of scarcity and die. But if we obey God's command to give, we will enjoy enough to meet our needs. We will have life. If we pay attention to this widow and to the God who apparently has a special care for widows and those most at risk, then we will live generously, secure in God's covenant with humanity that outlasts the current administration, the national news.
CMC giving and budget situation
As a congregation Community Mennonite Church has a prophetic function in the Shenandoah Valley. Being a peace church where everyone is welcome regardless of sexual orientation is a unique gift we bring to the community. As a denomination Mennonite Church USA has a prophetic function in our national context. Being a peace church whose journey forward in to follow Jesus, witness to God's peace, and experience transformation is a necessary influence among the various streams of Christian faith. Do we have the moxie of the widow at Zarephath? Are we willing to give generously-- to first fund God's purpose before worrying about whether our own needs will be met?
I'm thinking that no one here is about to make our last meal and then die, but the question remains whether we have confidence in God meeting our needs. Last week I received a note in my mailbox from the CMC finance committee about congregational giving. Since I've been reading in the bulletin in recent months that our gifts as a congregation are lagging behind the needs of ministry by about $60,000 and we anticipate increasing our budget in 2019, I'm thinking about what Kent and I give to CMC. Fiscal responsibility is very important to me. I would not encourage generous congregational giving if I did not feel confident that CMC was prioritizing God's prophetic mission in the world. But I do. Kent and I support church ministries with more than 10% of our annual gross income. We give before we save for retirement or pay our mortgage. It helps that we plan how we give and pledge our gift in advance. The note in our boxes last week was encouraging us to return pledges to finance committee by the end of the month. Now not all our households are in the same financial position. But we are all in the same position before God. And so this week, I encourage you to listen for God's word to you and your household. Are you ready to give generously to God's purposes before worrying about your own needs? Do not be afraid. The income at CMC comes from this congregation--us. We also have a few organizations that rent space in our building, but that is a small fraction of our budget.
In world history, this story might be an obscure footnote in The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel, or a charming story of a little family who survived the famine by miracle. For us it is reveals God's personal, intercultural response to humanity's need--creating new, life-giving relationships, supplying needs generously, and inviting us to throw off our fear and respond to God's word with faith.
Brothers and sisters, this is not my word. This is Jesus' word. When he laid out his political platform to bring good news to the poor, to release the prisoners, give sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free and welcome Jubilee--the season of justice and peace, Jesus also told this story of the widow at Zarephath, so that we would not be afraid, so that we would follow in faith and fund ministry. So that we would expect life--even in the face of death. Now that was in Nazareth and Jesus was rejected there. How will we who hear Jesus today respond?
October 29, 2018 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
"Blindness and Vision"
Scripture: Mark 10:46-52; Hebrews 7:23-28; Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126
click for transcript
Blindness and Vision
Jennifer Davis Sensenig (CMC 10-28-2018)
Texts: Mark 10:46-52; Hebrews 7:23-28; Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126
Shout it out!
In Jane Hamilton's novel, The Book of Ruth, the woman who tells her story, Ruth, fights to live a good life amidst many disasters and among many enemies. She is unconvinced by the local reverend and his Christian religion: The Rev... gives me his advice over the phone: "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding." The Rev merely closes his eyes and trusts when he runs smack into a thorn bush. I have given up on speech with the Rev; there is no use explaining that you have to learn where your pain is. You have to burrow down and find the wound, and if the burden is too terrible to shoulder you have to shout it out; you have to shout for help. My trust, even down in that dark place I carry, is that some person will come running. And then finally the way through grief is grieving. There is nothing like lying down to bawl and choke, and then rolling over so the tears can drip out of your ears and settling in for a long sleep. Although I like some of the words in the Bible, I'm not ready for religion yet. Who knows, perhaps when I'm older it will come to me in a white flash. Nothing is impossible. I'm sure Jesus has good points too, and I wouldn't rule out the fact that my vision just isn't broad enough to recognize them.
Blindness and vision.
Bartimaeus was physically blind, yet he could see with the eyes of faith that Jesus was the one. And Bartimaeus had to shout it out. Have mercy on me! He cries loudly. Son of David, have mercy on me! Of course Bartimaeus is shouting. He used to be able to see. Now he is disadvantaged: he is blind; begging; and the crowds are against him. His public identity? An outcast, a reject. This is a pivotal story in the Gospel of Mark because Jesus goes public in a way that he has not before. Or is it that Bartimaeus outs him?
Here, outside Jericho, Jesus becomes publicly known as "the Son of David." That's a political name going back to Israel's King David. You see, over many generations the people of Israel longed for a Son of David. When their nation was divided, when their kings were corrupt, violent and godless, when their countries were invaded and overrun by foreign nations they longed for a Son of David, a Messiah king who would rule according to God's law and unify them as a nation of justice, mercy and peace. The people of Israel expected this Messiah to heal their nation. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!
What do you want me to do for you?
Some of us came to worship this morning with anger toward God or anger toward people in our lives or anger toward our nation. Some of us are are hurt and sad. Some are grieving. Some are numb. Some of us are content, full of gratitude and happiness. Yet, most likely we're holding back. We're not inclined to shout. We're not going to let just anyone know how it is with us. Of course God knows, but often we're not telling God because maybe God doesn't exist, or doesn't care, or can't do anything about our trouble. And even if we're happy, would we credit God with the good things of life? Is God the praiseworthy source of peace and wellbeing? If the crowd with Jesus was not so different from us, then no wonder Bartimaeus stands out. This one gambles on the reputation of someone he can't even see! He shouts.
Have mercy on me. The Bible says that hearing this shout Jesus stood still.
As a beggar Bartimaeus gathered coins flipped his way by passersby on the road outside Jericho. His cloak spread out on the road was his collection plate by day and his sleeping bag by night. But this cloak he throws aside in faith, risking everything. And though they had not met before, Jesus asked him the same question he asked two disciples in a private conversation: What do you want me to do for you?
Remember Brother Carlos' sermon last week? Remember James and John--sons of Thunder? When Jesus asked them--what do you want me to do for you?--they wanted position, power, the right hand, the left hand. Bartimaeus says: Rabbouni, let me see again. How might we answer this question?
Where the crowd knew only a blind beggar, Jesus heard and saw a person with agency, capacity, faith and even prophetic purpose. Jesus sees Bartimaeus as truly a "son of honor" (Bar-Timaeus means son of honor). Jesus heals Bartimaeus as part of his public Messianic vision for Israel. This divine idea of a godly nation goes back before the time of Jeremiah, but here are the verses from the prophet:
Thus says the Lord:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
"Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel."
And then, the king answers:
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labor, together;
a great caravan, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble.
Oh, yes, Jesus heals the blind beggar. Oh, yes, Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the Way. Jesus is the healing Messiah for Bartimaeus, for the nation, and for all nations. As an honorable, healed, follower of Jesus, Bartimaeus is a model of discipleship. He is remnant Israel saved, healed, and walking in faith, seeing the world through the eyes of Christ. Of all the people Jesus heals in Mark's Gospel, this one is known by name, known for being a follower, certainly, known also for recognizing who Jesus is with respect to the nation. This healing story is a sign of the fulfillment of God's kingdom--a new Messianic politics of hope and healing for the people who have been hurt or rejected or excluded, for the parents, for the pilgrims, for the weeping and grieving, for those who have lost their vision.
Two weeks ago we heard a story of Jesus inviting a rich man to sell what he owned and give to the poor and then follow in discipleship. The nameless rich man went away grieving because he had too much. But for God all things are possible. This week the lesson from Jesus is the healing of Bartimaeus. When we shout for help Jesus is eager to give us new vision for our life and our world.
Imagine Jesus hearing your shouts. Imagine Jesus looking your way, seeing you as you really are, and loving you as a sign of God's kingdom. Everything that seems to disqualify us from being loved, from belonging to community, from being fully human is known to God without being an obstacle at all. God sees what is. God knows what needs to be healed. We even know what needs to be tossed aside. For God all things are possible. God helps us see ourselves and our neighbors with love.
Hearing the cries of humanity and the earth and compassionately seeing the deep faith and deep needs around us are essential aspects of discipleship. This is why Jesus is always curing the blind and the deaf. As our song said, the lesson from Jesus is to open our eyes and our ears. Imagine Jesus seeing the caravan of Central American neighbors thousands strong, making their pilgrimage through Mexico toward the US border. Recall our healer's announcement of a new vision for nations. Imagine a world in which all of us who are blind with respect to immigrant neighbors can see again. Have mercy on us.
Imagine Jesus seeing the humanitarian crisis in Yemen in which so many schools have been bombed or turned into temporary medical facilities that over 2 million school children are not enrolled. What if the world were no longer deaf to these cries? Have mercy on us.
Imagine Jesus, himself a Jew, seeing the tragedy at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh yesterday in which 8 persons were killed. It is usually folks from the Christian tradition who perpetuate anti-Jewish perspectives and justify violence against Jewish neighbors. We are those who need to shout for help. Like Bartimaeus throwing off his cloak, we need to throw off lies and false theologies of supercessionism, and pursue a new path charted by One who sees clearly the Way of peace.
In the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, CA there are two entrance doors. One is labelled prejudiced and the other unprejudiced. It's sort of a self-examination as you begin your tour. But the door labelled unprejudiced is locked. It is not a true entrance.
The Jewish designers of the museum decided that "the daunting task was to create an experience that would challenge people of all backgrounds to confront their most closely-held assumptions and assume responsibility for change."
In other words, we are all blind. And even if we see with the eyes of faith, we see that we need help; we need mercy; we need healing. Furthermore, like Bartimaeus, we have agency, capacity, faith and even prophetic purpose. We can become part of the changes God is bringing about in the world.
Earlier this year we three pastors and five other CMCers participated in a racial equity training sponsored locally by Faith in Action, the NAACP and the Center for Interfaith Engagement. Our trainers from the Racial Equity Institute in North Carolina were excellent examples of admitting their blindness to the racialized history of this country and taking some personal and professional risks to seek help and healing for themselves and become help and healing for others. In recent months some of us who participated in the training have been preparing to share what we learned in an adult education class here at CMC that will begin in December. For me personally, the training last spring, the preparation for this class during the fall, and my local intercultural work through Faith in Action and various other connections is exposing my blindness to racism and the ways my community and my church perpetuates this structural violence. But I also experience Jesus helping me, healing me, so that I can see more clearly the path of love and discipleship, so that I can be a Christlike leader in our community.
Yesterday I was at a meeting with Latino pastors, Abel and Benita Castro from Iglesia Nueva Vida Pentecostal. They remembered the period in the 1990s when CMC offered space for their congregation to meet. Today they have their own building off of South 11 of about 150 adults and many children in their congregation. They will be hosting with CMC an ecumenical service at 2pm next Sunday right here. The purpose of the service is to welcome a busload of TPS activists.
About 20 persons whose Temporary Protected Status is threatened by changes in immigration policy will be arriving next Sunday during our worship service. Their bus looks like this and they are parking in our lot, so you can't miss it. You're welcome to attend the service, which will be mostly in Spanish with some English interpretation. Many immigrants in our community and in our country keep a low-profile in order to avoid attention, but this colorful bus is like a shout. And sometimes you have to shout it out.
October 15, 2018 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
First or Last?
Scripture: Mark 10:71-31; Hebrews 4:12-16; Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
click to view transcript
First or Last?
CMC 14 October 2018
Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Texts: Mark 10:17-31; Hebrews 4:12-16; Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Hebrew spirituality was the classroom in which a certain religious genius was discovered. The Hebrews recognized one God--not their god, or the best god, but the One divine being. And it's not just belief in one god--monotheism--that made their spirituality genius. There was more. The ancient Hebrews also had this spiritual insight that changes everything. They discovered that caring for the poor validates your religion. In other words, there is no way to worship well or have faith or know God or practice spirituality unless we care for the poor. Either your religion, your spirituality, your faith calls you to care for others, especially the poor, or you're enrolled in a worthless diploma mill.
You can imagine that this second insight--care for the poor--was popular among poor people and among prophetic dissenters from dominant power structures. You can imagine it was a thorn in the flesh for people who had more than enough. For some of us that takes little imagination. When we have money in our savings accounts, we don't want to hear about care for the poor. It's not that the ancient Hebrews were so smart. These spiritual insights were gifts, growing awarenesses, tested by wise people who experienced this God and practiced their lessons. Ultimately, the Hebrew religious genius--this gift of God was manifest in a Jewish Galilean.
Jesus was poor. Yet, he claimed his place among the Jewish people of the first century as Messiah, a poor, suffering Messiah--shocking, perplexing, astounding. In the scripture I shared this morning the rich man was shocked; the disciples were perplexed, astounded. Jesus' views about wealth, poverty and the kingdom of God were not common sense--nor are they today. Jesus' words still act, as Hebrews says, like a sharp blade dividing soul and spirit, judging our intentions and actions
"Sell what you have and give the money to the poor." This is considered one of the "hard sayings" of Jesus. Nobody is ready for the hard sayings--at least nobody in the gospels and certainly none of us. The "hard sayings" are always challenging whether in their ancient cultural context or when translated into our current context. (And translations of Jesus' "hard sayings" into today's context that make them seem easy or reasonable are bad translations.) Better to take Jesus at his word and retain the grit of his teaching.
Your money and the poor
Give your money to the poor. Kent and I have been enjoying some time with my parents and my father's sister and her husband this weekend. I heard a family story that I didn't know about my great-grandparents Lindsey Greenbrier Davis and his wife Rosie. They were quite poor--no indoor bathroom--living in Horse Cave, KY. They had running water in the kitchen, but their son, my paternal grandfather, wanted his folks to get the little house plumbed and install a bathroom. Working two jobs up north in Chicago, he gave his parents money for that purpose, but his folks spent the money on other things--strawberry plants--to grow an acre of berries and ducks and chicks. Might Jesus say today to rich man today: The poor know know more about what to do with your money, than you do. Eventually, in the 1970s they did install a bathroom.
Much of God's word to us in scripture is persuasive, story-based, and rooted in wisdom rather than simple commands. But I learned something about commands recently from Cynthia Park, a Bible scholar and psychologist. In emergency situations, commands are the most loving way of speaking. When a there's not just a drill, but real fire and the teacher commands: "nevermind your coat and backpack, leave the building" it's a matter of life or death. We sometimes hear commands in scripture through a distorted image of a god who is authoritarian, controlling, judgmental, distant and unmoved by our circumstances. But the commands in scripture are often life-saving messages for individuals and communities who are in real danger. Jesus' command in this passage is in response to a man's question about life and death. Jesus responds in love.
Giving to the Poor
There used to be a game on the children's program Sesame Street--one of these things is not like the other; one of these things doesn't belong. When this guy asks Jesus about eternal life, the Lord begins reciting the ten commandments. It's a familiar list--you shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery and so on. But one of these things doesn't belong. Jesus inserts a command that was perhaps specific to this man's situation. You shall not defraud. My hunch is that this man was ripping off his neighbors in some way--some illegal or legal business dealings that were making him rich and leaving others poor. Jesus' command--sell what you have and give to the poor--was a loving life-saving intervention--an entry point for this rich guy into a life of discipleship, following Jesus and the kingdom of God. This "hard saying" of Jesus can be a terribly guilt-inducing passage. But I believe Jesus is trying to rescue this man from the economy of endless accumulation--which always exploits or defrauds the poor. And Jesus wants to rescue us as well.
Jesus didn't get into the details of how this man was supposed to give to economically disadvantaged neighbors, but the church and others who care about poverty and the global wealth gap have come up with lots of ideas. Last weekend CMC participated in the VA Mennonite Relief Sale and the preliminary results indicate we helped raise $370,000. One of the recent opportunities at the sale was to just Share Our Surplus (SOS) and give to meet immediate needs of refugees. Writing an SOS check is not as glamorous as bidding on fine furniture or quilts, nor as delicious as eating Indian lamb curry, donuts or Puerto Rican pinchos, but the SOS effort and the whole VA Mennonite Relief sale was an effort to address global wealth disparities and shift some of our wealth to poor communities.
Direct Cash Giving
So sometimes we literally sell what we have--fine furniture, quilts, toys or food and give to benefit the global poor. Sometimes we share our surplus and simply give money to MCC. Another method that I've learned about recently for closing the global wealth gap is direct cash giving. Paul Niehaus of Give Directly has a challenging model of charity. In the early 2000s when he and his grad student friends were studying the impact of cash on alleviating poverty in East Africa they learned that some of the ways non-profit organizations give to the poor work better than others. Mennonite Central Committee is project-based and relates to whole communities. Cash giving through small individual electronic transfers of fund, is different because it gives poor folks access to cash, so that they can choose (like the rest of us) what to do with money--whether to improve housing, educate children, buy animals, invest in equipment, pay for medicine, etc. Like my great-grandparents did.
MCC's programs are based on earlier development models, so I inquired with MCC and the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding to about whether they have explored cash giving models. Here is some of what I learned: In the world of development, relief and peace, MCC works at best practices in various sectors--health, education, disaster response, etc. This requires setting up goals and baselines, measurements and outcomes, for reporting to constituents, foundations, and partners. Direct cash giving doesn't fit well with how MCC accounts for donations they receive from people like us and from foundation donors. Direct cash giving makes reporting much more complex. Additionally, MCC works at the community level, through partners, addressing community needs. Direct cash giving has a stronger individual component. MCC believes that working on a community level reaches more people. One unintended consequence of direct cash giving might be that where one person here and one person there has direct access to cash, inequalities emerge in a community. Nevertheless, organizations like GiveDirectly.com continue to build on compelling research about the benefits of direct cash giving among extremely poor populations. I wonder how Mennonite relief and development will be influenced by these models.
Local Living Wage Campaign
Another innovative way of obeying Jesus command and redirecting wealth, so that it doesn't pile up and create injustices is a living wage. Here in Harrisonburg there is some local research being conducted by a steering committee for a living wage campaign. "The purpose of this brief survey is to help the If you earn an hourly wage, I hope you'll take a short, five question survey developed by the Steering Committee of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Living Wage Certification Program. The survey will determine what workers are being paid, and how that compares to local costs of living." We'll put the link in the Newsweekly. There are several communities in VA establishing living wage campaigns. When communities support jobs that that do not supply a living wage we're defrauding workers--it may be legal to pay minimum wage, but it is still wrong if these wages keep families in poverty. Living wage campaigns reward businesses that pay a living wage and create social pressure on other businesses to do the same.
I believe there are two messages in this passage that are God's word for Community Mennonite Church. First: divest from the economy of accumulation and give money to meet the needs of the poor. It's a hard saying of Jesus. We have a complex economy, and how best to give is not easily answered. But if we consider that Jesus, in love, is speaking to us in our materialistic emergency in order to save us, we won't let the complexity keep us from responding to the needs of the poor.
The second message for us this morning is about how to respond when we receive a "hard saying," a spiritual challenge, a blade that seems to slice through our false self and expose who we really are and who God wants us to be. Brothers and sisters, when we hear some gut-piercing word from God, let's not walk away. Let's not drop out of the school of discipleship. That's the rich man's path of grief, regret, and wasted opportunity. The apostle Peter doesn't get it all right, but he remains with Jesus. Jesus knows us and loves us and will not give up on us. Jesus will not give up on a church or a society even if we're pretty far gone with respect to care for the poor. There are always a few who will come when Christ calls. Yes, we'll stumble along the way, but Jesus promises that the school of discipleship offers more security and community than what we've known before. Jesus can save us from the illusions and confusions of accumulating wealth at the expense of the poor. "For God, all things are possible." And we're promised we'll enjoy "a hundred fold" houses of hospitality, brothers and sisters facing similar challenges, elders who can give counsel, fields of opportunity. The life of following Jesus is shocking, perplexing, astounding, but it is the path of eternal life. Let's be bold in responding to Jesus call and command. For this is the Messiah who can "sympathize with our weakness," [Hebrews], who looks at us and loves us.
October 3, 2018 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scriptures: James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
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Community Mennonite Church 9-30-18
Texts: James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
Jennifer Davis Sensenig
As our country tries to fill the vacancy on the US Supreme Court through hearings and now an FBI investigation into sexual assault allegations against the nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, many Christians across denominations hear proclaimed this Sunday scriptures about sin and confession. It is tempting to externalize this topic of confession, yet Jesus addresses his close followers assuming that all of us have plenty to confess. Confession of sin is not a minor matter for people whose spirituality is oriented toward Jesus. The Lord's first proclamation, way back when in Galilee was: The time is now. The kingdom is here! Repent and believe the good news. With this message, some strategic miracles, and a social-political movement, Jesus attracts some followers and chooses some followers. I imagine that the healings, the reinterpretation of Jewish law, the new community that was forming were all very exciting, even when the disciples didn't understand. And apparently we disciples often misunderstand.
There is an episode in Mark chapter 7 where Jesus is talking privately with some of the disciples, trying to get at some of the internal stuff that needs to be confessed. Jesus says: Corruption comes from within, from the human heart: sexual immorality, stealing, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deception, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. These evil things comes from within and they corrupt a person. I'm quoting Jesus here.
Jesus loses it!
We might expect that the first disciples had such a close relationship with Jesus that they could readily confess their sins. They might not have all been murderers, but no doubt some of this stuff was weighing on their consciences. But what we find in the Gospel is that at least the first cohort of disciples doesn't confess much. In fact, they talk among themselves about who is the greatest. And then, they focus their energy on attacking other people's good work. John says: Hey, there's this other guy doing some good stuff, but he's not with our program. And Jesus recognizes this as a diversion tactic. And he loses it! Did you hear the end of chapter 9? The hyperbole Jesus uses is offensive--cut it off ...cut it off ...tear it out! Jesus is so concerned that disciples not live corrupt lives, and not harm others--especially those he calls "the little ones"--that he threatens them with hell!
But this Gospel passage is not really about eternal judgment or punishment. Jesus inviting disciples to confess our sin and take action to prevent it. When he says cut off the hand that causes you to sin: cut it off!--Jesus is not advocating self-harm. Even Christians who claim literal interpretation of scripture don't believe that. Jesus loves us. Jesus loves that hand and foot and eye that causes us to sin. Jesus loves that heart. Jesus knows us. Jesus says: the kingdom is here! The time is now! Repent and believe the good news. And in this passage Jesus tells us to confess our sin and take action to prevent it because otherwise life is going to feel like a trash heap. Quick historical note here. That word hell in our translations is Gehenna. Gehenna was the stinking, always burning trash dump outside Jerusalem. And Jesus makes Gehenna a gross metaphor of what becomes of a life when we don't confess our sin and stumbling, when we harm others, when we don't take action against the corrupt stuff in our lives.
The good news that we heard from the New Testament book of James is that when we confess our sin, there's help--divine help and human help. James 5 says: Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. In addition to healing, James talks about this kind of spiritual help being salvation, like being raised up, being forgiven. When we confess our sins and pray for one another it's like being grasped by a saving hand, being raised up to stand securely on our feet, being forgiven, so that the troubled heart is relieved, being healed.
Ministries of confession
Here at CMC we have a number of ministries that foster relationships in which we confess our sins, and receive the divine and human help we need for our lives. For example, a lot of the small groups and friendships within our church are sources of support, but they can also be relationships in which we confess, where we can get at the internal stuff that needs help and healing.
Church Council and our commission chairpersons are preparing budgets to fund ministry in 2019 and we're looking at CMC giving patterns. One way we might understand our pledged giving is as confession. As Jesus mentioned, greed has a grip on some of us. It's in our hearts. Confessing our greed and taking action to prevent it by regularly giving--even automatically electronically giving--is the kind of help some of us need. We all need to give, but perhaps some of us are struggling more with greed than others. It's epidemic in our culture, so it's no surprise greed is among us. But there's help.
Another example of confession integrated into a CMC ministry is the Mindful Eating group meeting on Mondays this fall. Some of us need to confess a distorted relationship to our own bodies and our food. We need to take action through mindful eating. This is good news. The youngish adult class has developed patterns for sharing about topics that include some of the internal stuff that needs confession, and the help God promises--divine help, and human help--that emerges when we confess and pray together as church. Our prayer ministers on Sundays and our pastors, during the week are available for hearing confession, praying together, seeking God's help and human help, for our lives. So, if you are living secretly with some of your sins, there is help--from God and from the church. And you're not alone. Jesus was right about us. We all have plenty to confess.
Sabbath as Confession
The theme of our retreat last weekend was Sabbath. Believe it or not, Sabbath is a profound communal confession. When we practice Sabbath, we confess that we didn't create the world, God did. When we remember the Sabbath, we confess that we're not in charge of the world, so we can stop working. When we keep the Sabbath holy, we confess that we've been messing up the world. Practicing Sabbath is a way to take action against the sin in our lives. And sabbath is one of the ways God delivers divine and human help to us--to heal us and save us, to give us peace.
Sisters and brothers, we're not going to cut off our hand when we've touched someone and harmed them. We're not going to cut off our foot when we've walked all over another group of people. We're not going to tear out our eye when we've looked with scorn or hate or lust or indifference. We're gonna confess to God and one another. We're going to take action to prevent sin's corruption of our lives and the world. We're going to seek help--God's help and human help.
When Jesus finishes his tirade with the mutilation metaphor, he starts all over again with the same theme, but more of a one-liner. Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another. A s a peace church where everyone is welcome, God invites us to confess the sin that is corrupting our lives and to take action to prevent its growth. God offers help and healing, through Sabbath, and the ministries of the church, so that we can at peace with one another. The kingdom is here.
Hymn--Oyenos mi Dios
Receiving New Members
With the scripture this morning we've focused on confessing sin. Another Christian dimension of confession is as simple and as profound as confessing: Jesus is Lord! Today we're receiving new members, hearing their current confessions of faith in Jesus Christ. It's a joyful occasion, and we look forward to hearing from these brothers and sisters.
September 17, 2018 by cmc_admin
You're Invited: Follow Me
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
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Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Community Mennonite Church (9-16-18)
Texts: Proverbs 1:20-33; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38
Moving toward a Christ-centered life
By the grace of God we're moving from a life of self-centeredness and self-absorption to a shared life centered in Jesus Christ, God's good news for the world. I say that we're moving; we're on our way, but we're not there yet. The scriptures today remind us of this movement from being self-centered to Christ-centered, from being self-absorbed to being a member of a community, from independent isolation to interdependence with one another and unity with the Spirit of God. We need this reminder from scripture because... well...this week we've taken our share of selfies. According to Instagram 93 million selfies are posted each day. That's 1000 selfies every 10 seconds. Both psychologists and spiritual leaders notice this trend and ask how our society will avoid the pitfalls of self-centered living in this selfie universe.
Three Scriptures to Move Us
But being self-centered or self-absorbed is not a new problem for humanity. These beautiful little babies come into the world. They are not self-conscious, but they are certainly self-centered beings--crying out to have others meet their most basic needs for love, nourishment and care. By grace we move from self-centeredness and self-absorption to a shared life centered in Jesus Christ, God's good news for the world. Infants are often a means of God's grace moving parents toward the needs of another rather than their own.
The ancient scriptures we heard this morning address this very concern. First, Lady Wisdom this womanly aspect of God, gets in our face. She urges us to begin in our youth to seek God's wisdom (or we'll end up in a heap of destruction). The whole book of proverbs is intended to show us the probabilities, the usual patterns of wise living, so that we make good choices about money, family, sex, alcohol, poverty, work, sharing, debt and dozens of other topics. Perhaps some of us the youth and young adults here this morning need some wise direction in some of these areas. Being self-centered or self-absorbed in terms of money, family, sex, substances, poverty, work, sharing, debt etc usually lands us in a heap of destruction.
If Proverbs is pitched to the youth audience, then at the other end of the life spectrum (and centuries later) the wise elder James in a NT letter speaks to the church that has suffered and struggled for a generation after Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection. At this time the church is tempted to abandon discipleship because life is harder than we thought and we aren't always teaming with resurrection life and the mind of Christ. James reminds us that "all of us make many mistakes" and all of us need a personal spiritual trainer. James deals with some of the topics that are in Proverbs too. In the passage we heard he is concerned about our speech--the power of our words to bless or to wound.
We also heard one of the stories of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark. Is this passage for the young or the old or folks in between? Is it for all of us? Let's just say in the midst of life--among disciples of any age--Jesus is with us. Jesus is with us in our greatest human triumphs--in our successes, insights and faithfulness. When Jesus was heading to Caesarea Philippi the general population believed that he was someone from the past--John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets. (Incidentally, this is still true today. Most people who have heard of Jesus believe he was someone from the past!) Peter, however, says that Jesus is the future Messiah in the present. And he's right! What a breakthrough for the life of faith. What wonderful knowledge. Jesus asks him to keep this good news quiet.
But then, Jesus teaches his disciples about suffering, rejection, death and resurrection and he goes too far. It is too much. Peter is the one who resists, but perhaps all of the disciples felt it. Who wants to be at odds with the entire religious establishment--the elders, the chief priests and the scribes? Who wants a Messiah who is going to suffer rejection and death? Who knows what it means to rise again? Did I say Peter resisted this teaching. He didn't resist. He rebuked Jesus! Peter rejects the whole package. This is Peter's worst blunder ever--a discipleship failure writ large. And Jesus is there and calls him out. Since we just heard that passage from James about taming the tongue I have to say that it seems like Jesus goes a little too far in calling Peter, Satan.
Hardly anybody can say yes right away to the spiritual life, if it includes rejection, suffering and death. But it has to include these. Because, according to Jesus, a spiritual life is also an embodied life and these are realities for all of us. Here's the good news. Jesus is there for Peter's spiritual breakthrough and for Peter's spiritual disaster. And on the heels of these Jesus still makes the simple invitation: follow me.
Loyalists; Drop-outs and Returnees
Spiritual writer Joan Borysenko uses three categories developed by Wade Clark Roof in the 1990s for describing relationship to religious traditions. I find these categories useful for reflection on our lives and on the Biblical stories. In broad strokes Borysenko refers to loyalists, drop-outs and returnees. Loyalists are those who embrace the religious traditions in which they grew up. They are loyal and stick it out, even when the tradition has some real potholes. For example, with the exposure of the widespread cover-up of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, many American Catholics nevertheless resonate with the category of loyalist. Even as they condemn the hierarchy's pattern of secrecy, they cannot deny that they have drawn near to God through the sacraments and the liturgy of the Catholic Church and so they remain. Some of us here this morning who grew up in Mennonite families and have maintained Mennonite connections over a lifetime, who showed up today for worship with Community Mennonite Church are loyalists. We may have strong critiques of Mennonite culture or even theology, yet find a home in the tradition, a path of discipleship and way to both be nurtured in faith and share our gifts.
Drop-outs have rejected their childhood faith traditions and attempt to live their lives without spiritual guidance or spiritual community. Drop-outs have often found their religious tradition to be either irrelevant or harmful for their lives. Both loyalists and drop-outs can carry a lot of anger, resistance and spiritual wounds that need healing. Returnees, a third category, have had enough spiritual experiences after living in exile (as drop-outs) that they seek to heal from their religious wounds and return to either their childhood faith tradition or another tradition that will help them continue to grow, heal, and authentically experience God. Borysenko is Jewish by birth and perhaps striding the boundary between drop-out and returnee herself.
The categories might not fit you perfectly. For example, I'm a loyalist in that I grew up in a Christian family and have stayed in the church. But I also changed brands--I grew up Baptist, and briefly hung out with UCC folks and German evangelicals before I met Canadian Mennonites when I was 20. In light of our Gospel reading this morning, I want to emphasize that these categories don't matter to Jesus. And in general, they don't matter. But notice how they parallel Peter's experience. He is the loyalist--speaking of Jesus in the language of his Jewish faith tradition: You are the Messiah! Then Peter is the drop-out who rejects the whole cross and resurrection experience that Jesus predicts. And third, Peter is the returnee who chooses to follow Jesus as best he can, with his misgivings about the suffering and death part, with his confusion about the resurrection part. In the next verses in Mark, Jesus' general invitation to follow me gets personal and Jesus takes Peter and a couple of others to a mountain where Jesus is transfigured.
We have to take great care with divine invitations. Lady Wisdom's invitation sounds great, as if the heap of destruction is only for those who reject her way. But remember that Proverbs is about probabilities, trends. Usually a path of Wisdom results that everyone would agree are good. But God also reveals that listening to Wisdom and following Christ will include a cross. It will mean that our self-centered attitudes will have to be shed...again and again. Following Jesus will mean that self-absorbed avoidance of justice for the poor, or loving enemies will be judged as fraudulent versions of the gospel. Following Jesus will mean losing hold of some of the things that have soothed us into complacency, and shored up our privilege.
The good news is that when we RSVP to this divine invitation we have everything to gain--love, joy, peace, hope, faith, community, life that really is life--resurrection after the many little deaths we suffer, and one great resurrection, which is our eternal hope.
By the grace of God we're moving from our self-centeredness and self-absorption to a shared life centered in Jesus Christ, God's good news for the world. Like the first disciples, we're on the way. Who do you say that Jesus is? This is a Christian worship service and so we've sung together already today who Jesus is with many different names. In a minute I'm going to read these names slowly, for your reflection. Perhaps one or another name for Jesus is the one you need today, the Voice through which you can hear God's invitation. Maybe your loyalty to Christ is wearing thin. Maybe it seems easier to just drop-out than to wrestle with your life with respect to Jesus. Perhaps your authentic return requires new names. Whether you're a loyalist, a drop-out, a returnee or as yet uncategorized, doesn't matter. Jesus is with us in every phase of life. Today we're invited to a life of wisdom and a relationship of love through a question, a deep and tender question.
On the way, Jesus asked the disciples: Who do you say that I am? So take a moment to shift in your chair and roll your shoulders. The sermon is almost over. Come to a restful, but awake position. And listen for one of Jesus' names, so that you can follow this week:
On the way, Jesus asked the disciples: Who do you say that I am?
Sun of Righteousness
[Song begins: Navajo language--I have decided to follow Jesus]
Scripture: Proverbs 1:20-33; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38
September 10, 2018 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Senseig
Scripture: Mark 7:24-37
click here for transcript
Community Mennonite Church (9-9-18)
Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Text: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37
[SLIDE #2] Kyrie, eleison. Lord, have mercy. These are not words with which we speak about Jesus. This is a script--thousands of years old--for speaking to Jesus. This is prayer. And if you're needing something to pray, this is a good way to begin. Kyrie, means Lord. The first person who spoke to Jesus in this way was this Syro-Phoenecian Lady. I say lady because the Syro-Phoenecians were wealthier and more worldly than the Galilean Jews. In this lady's story, in Mark, the earliest Gospel she says, Kyrie, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs. In the whole Gospel of Mark, she is the only character to address Jesus as Kyrie. She alone calls him 'Lord.' She models a discipleship that wealthy and worldly societies desperately need.
Since she boldly asked Jesus for help, many millions of others have dared to speak up and speak directly to Christ--to ask for healing, to plead for mercy and cry out for justice for others and for ourselves. As Christians we believe that Jesus is the one who will meet our deepest need, who knows our need because he lived as one of us and now lives in all places and within us. This Jesus can be our Lord, whether we're rich or poor, young or old, part of the in-group, or dismissed as the out-group.
[SLIDE #3] When Jesus of Galilee encountered this Gentile woman and her fierce mother-love for her child he was offended at first. Jews like Jesus and Gentiles like this lady didn't just visit one another's houses, doing neighborly favors for each other. They kept themselves separate. Jesus begged off any responsibility. Let the children of Israel be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs. But then she called him Lord and made her case. I wonder whether at that moment Jesus plunged into the heart of God's love that encompassed not only Israel, but all nations. I wonder whether Jesus recognized his own mother's legacy of love and justice in this lady's demand. Taken to task, the Lord humbly acknowledged her truth and shared his healing power with her. Without speaking to her daughter, without touching her or even seeing her, Jesus delivered the child from terrible suffering. It was a miracle. Jesus took the path that we must take: expanding capacity to not just speak of love, mercy and justice, but to act not just for our own people, but for strangers and outsiders.
MCC Relief Sale
[SLIDE #4] Next month many of us will participate in a local tradition--the VA Mennonite Central Committee relief sale. It's a wonderful event--a chance to see friends, enjoy music, volunteer, compete in a 5K run, bid on furniture or quilts and eat delicious food all to raise funds for the relief, development and peace work of Mennonite Central Committee around the world. The people who benefit directly from these funds are people we might never see, with whom we might never speak, or shake hands. The relief sale creates a healing connection with people in other parts of the world. It's the stuff of miracles.
The relief sale also bonds local Mennonite folks across the theological tensions that sometimes threaten our shared witness to Jesus' way of peace, mercy, love and justice. Currently MCC has about 775 people from the US and Canada serving in over 60 countries. There are another 230 people serving as in-country staff to MCC projects. If you've served with MCC in the US or some other country, or supported MCC's work financially, you are already familiar with organizing your life around God's dream of meeting the needs of the world with love and mercy. Thank you for your example and inspiration. Today our scriptures encourage us to continue this tradition in Jesus' name.
Proverbs, James and the Wealth Gap
[SLIDE #5] The scriptures we heard today all concern how the people of God relate to those in need. In the Bible, the book of Proverbs comes from the perspective of power and privilege. Proverbs is a collection of wisdom originally compiled as instruction for elite young men eager to rule the world. Yet it addresses the wealth gap in Israrelite society.
First, God made everybody--whether rich or poor--so we're all family.
Second, don't perpetuate injustice.
Third, generosity is about sharing with the poor-- not with rich friends.
Fourth, don't exploit the poor, even though it's easy to do!
Fifth, God is on the side of the poor.
This bar graph gives you as sense for the extreme wealth gap in this country.
[SLIDE #6] We also heard an excerpt from the New Testament letter attributed to James, brother of Jesus. James is radical with respect to wealth and poverty. For James there is no reason for worship if we are not sharing with the poor. James exposes empty religion and false spirituality in a heartbeat. Much of the wise teaching in James sounds like the wisdom sayings of the Old Testament and the teaching of Jesus. What is our relationship to the poor of the world? The MCC relief sale is a fun tradition that raises funds to meet global needs. In recent years the Share our Surplus campaign goes further. At the relief sale we can not only divert our recreational dollars that weekend toward a good cause, but give money directly from our surplus to provide for refugees. Harvey Yoder says the Share our Surplus campaign is "to willingly become poorer for Christ's sake." James goes further still. James makes us examine systemic privilege and prejudice in our community, so that we interrupt the cycles that keep some poor while others grow wealthier at their expense.
[SLIDE #7] You may have heard about the USA Today report identifying Harrisonburg as the city in VA in which poverty is concentrating at the fastest rate. One Harrisonburg neighborhood crossed the extreme poverty threshold between 2010 and 2016. Now 10.3% of the metro area's 23,600 poor residents live in a single neighborhood. That's nearly twice the 5.6% concentrated poverty rate for Virginia as a whole. (July 2018, USA Today) Local economic development folks question whether our many students skew those statistics, but since CMCer Adrienne Griggs and the JMU Campus Kitchen folks are in touch with food insecurity in the wider community as well as among students, the USA Today report seems relevant.
[SLIDE #8] And we know that the ALICE report issued earlier this year--which identifies persons who are asset-limited, income-constrained employed--includes more than 60% of Harrisonburg residents and 42% of Rockingham County residents. The United States has wider disparities in wealth between rich and poor than any other major developed country. Our Christian scriptures, both Old Testament and New--Proverbs and James--address the people of God and the wealth gap in their society. Proverbs comes from the perspective of the elite; James comes from the perspective of the poor. Both indicate divine judgment against societies like ours.
[SLIDE #9] Sometimes the invitation in scripture is less comfort and more challenge. This morning our invitation is to be opened. It's what Jesus said to the man who was deaf and mute. Ephaphtha--Be opened. The Old Testament prophets regularly spoke of God's people being spiritually deaf, unable to hear or comprehend, God's hope for their nation. Here's an example from Zechariah (7:8-12)
Thus says the Lord: Render true judgments,
show kindness and mercy to one another;
do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor;
and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.
But they refused to listen, and turned a stubborn shoulder,
and stopped their ears in order not to hear.
They made their hearts hard in order not to hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his spirit
through the former prophets.
Jesus comes to heal all nations, to open our ears, so that we can hear, to help us speak plainly and truthfully about the real conditions of our world. And Jesus shows us how to live as the healing presence of God's mercy and love in our communities.
Jesus was known for relating to the poor, oppressed and excluded people of his society. Rather than steering clear of these undesirables, Jesus connected with the sick and possessed. Jesus had a reputation for healing. Jesus organized his life to care for those in need. And he expected his whole nation to follow him and do the same. This is mad! This is not the way nations operate! Nations concentrate wealth and power and give the poor just enough so that they do not rebel.
Jesus was not just a good individual example from long ago. Jesus is the Messiah, the leader, the Lord of a nation. Jesus has actually shifted history, so that now, whenever we pray or give or serve or heal in his name we are exercising our citizenship in a nation led by Jesus the Lord, Kyrie. In whatever creative ways we are addressing the wealth gap in this country or alleviating global poverty we are not just doing good, we are part of God's history, God's story for the earth and all its creatures where Jesus is Lord and needs are met with mercy and love.
Voluntary Service Unit
[SLIDE #10] Today we celebrate the beginning of a voluntary service unit here in Harrisonburg. Through the dreams, vision, planning, prayer, administration, and leadership of CMCers we are beginning something new. There has been some persistent, fierce love that has gone into this endeavor. It has not been easy and we have a great committee to thank. We also have two young adults, Ali Zuercher and Taylor Hodges, who are open to this inaugural year. We have been praying for you and are delighted to welcome you. I believe that over time this voluntary service unit will do some good in the community. Individual service workers like Ali and Taylor will make positive contributions to people served by agencies in Harrisonburg. But voluntary service is more than doing a bit of good. When VSers organize their lives to care for those in need, it is evidence of their citizenship in a nation, a people for whom Jesus is Lord. When a church organizes our money, our time, our relationships, our staff, our energy to care for those in need we are joining God's dream for our community.
A tough job
[SLIDE #11] When Jesus enters Gentile territory he heals a little girl without seeing her, without speaking to her, without even touching her. But then he seems to have a tougher job. When people from the Decapolis bring him the deaf mute, Jesus drives his fingers in the man's ears, spits, touches the man's tongue and offers an anguished cry in a language the man doesn't understand. Be opened!
Is it easier to give money to alleviate poverty at a distance than to address economic inequality when it is close enough to touch--in our neighborhood, in our city, in our church? Perhaps so. And yet, even we who live in a society that is far from God's dream are hearing--at least in part--what God is speaking to us in these scriptures [SLIDE #12] We're invited to love deeply (like a wealthy Gentile mother). We're to love enough to do something out of the ordinary. Imagine a Syro-Phoenecian seeking out a Galilean for help. But who knows, perhaps it is the poor whose help we need. Today we're invited to love deeply. We're also invited to be opened, so that we can both hear and speak about God's dream for the world in which every need is met with mercy and love. And, of course, we're invite to belong to the worldwide nation who claims Jesus Christ is Lord. AMEN.
September 10, 2018 by cmc_admin
Jonah: The Story of a Rebellious Prophet Who Hates God for Loving Enemies
Sermon by Jeff Mumaw
Scripture: Jonah 4
August 17, 2018 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
"Prayer from the Belly"
Scripture: Jonah Chapter 2
click to view transcript
Prayer from the Belly
12 August 2018
Jennifer Davis Sensenig
[Opening Slide] Big Trouble and Hope
I was recently reminded of a spiritual equation.
Hope = Trouble + Grace, when Grace >Trouble. [REPEAT w/slide.]
When is grace greater than trouble? All the time! Jonah was in big trouble. The kind of trouble from which he could not rescue himself--Hebrews were not known for being strong swimmers. When I get in trouble--when I say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing, or neglect to do the good thing, I want to patch things up and make them right. I sometimes end up making it worse, but I try to deal with things myself. And that's a fine impulse, we ought to try and make amends when we make trouble. This equation is for those times when the trouble may or may not be of one's own making, but the rescue, the way out, the patching things up is impossible without God.
Some of us have been there. If you're in recovery from an addiction to drugs or alcohol or credit cards or sex or food or porn or gambling or something else, then you know that these are not matters we can just correct or patch up with good intentions. We need God's help and the community of God's people when we're addicted. And God's grace is greater than trouble, so we have hope.
Some of us have been there. We've been in trouble that was not of our own making. We've been abused or discriminated against. We've suffered at the hands of systems and circumstances out of our control and we can't individually pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We need God's help and the community of God's people to survive and thrive when we've been victimized. And God's grace is greater than trouble, so we have hope.
Actually, all of us have been there. All of us are there. We can't do what needs to be done on our own. We need God and the community of God's people to help us in our times of trouble...and in our troubled times. We're here today because the church--for all our faltering--is a community of hope. We believe that God's grace, God's salvation and rescue is greater than the trouble we're in right now. Amen?
[Slide.] One surprising thing in this prayer is that Jonah is not asking for help. Jonah isn't asking to be rescued. Jonah is claiming and proclaiming--from the belly of a fish--that God's rescue and salvation is already underway. I went down...but you brought up my life from the Pit. Jonah was thrown into the sea and he was going to drown--but God rescued Jonah via a fish. And so in form, Jonah's prayer is thanksgiving. Thanks be to God.
The Best of Jonah's Prayer
I'm starting with the best spin on Jonah's prayer. [SLIDE] But if you're not satisfied, hang in because God word always speaks to us on multiple levels. Jonah's prayer is a model for our prayers and our church. Jonah is vividly honest [CLICK] about trouble: flood, waves, weeds wrapped around his head, the Pit. Jonah tells it like it is, even though it's bad. We ought to pray honestly. Our church community needs to be honest about the troubles we face individually and together. At its best, Jonah's prayer is thanksgiving, [CLICK] even though his circumstances are still pretty difficult--he's in the fish. I went to see Violet Horst last week at her home after she broke her femur in Roanoke and had surgery to insert a pin. The first thing she said was that she was full of gratitude. We belong to this spiritual tradition that teaches us to give thanks in all kinds of circumstances. It's a profound spiritual practice, but kind of counter-intuitive. More naturally we complain when we're swallowed by a fish, or break a leg, or we can't kick our habit, or the existential crush of living in the 21st century amidst privilege and poverty is overwhelming, or other calamities strike us. But wisdom invites us to notice even the smallest gift, blessing, or sign of hope when we're experiencing troubles. So putting the best spin on Jonah's prayer, he is honest and grateful. Lord, let it be so among us. Oh! Thirdly, Jonah is confident in the character of God [CLICK]-- confident that YHWH is the God who hears and delivers. Let's believe that too. God cares for you and the trouble in your life right now. And God's grace is greater than that trouble. And so we are people of hope and we are in this together as church.
Canonical Setting of Jonah
As some of you suspected, though, Jonah's prayer reveals something more. I thought this week about some other stories in the Bible with boats and storms. There are a lot of them. [SLIDE.] Remember Noah and his family? They were in big trouble along with the rest of humanity--the earth was full of violence--but God rescued a remnant--of people and animals--with a divinely engineered tech innovation--the ark! Noah built a ship and was saved from the flood. [SLIDE] And God promised never to destroy the earth. Would that we human beings would make the same commitment? Jonah is kind of opposite Noah, right? God's salvation for Jonah was not high tech. God saved Jonah naturally, with a fish. OK, it was a miracle. Large fish do not ordinarily swallow human beings and then after some days spit them out unharmed. This is usually the stuff of myths. [SLIDE] And there are many different cultures in the ancient world who tell some version of this story. Our Biblical big fish story is less about gods and the cycles of the sun swallowed up on the horizon at dusk and spit out the next morning at the other end of the earth. Our story is more about the God who loves enemies and is full compassion, care, grace and love--even when we just hate that.
[SLIDE.] In the New Testament there is also a story of Jesus in the boat with his disciples and while he's asleep (just like Jonah) a storm overtakes the boat and everybody thinks that they are going to die. You remember. Jesus calms the wind and the waves and the boat is saved, and the people are saved. Jesus acts like the God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land. He asks his disciples: Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?
[Slide.] In yet another Bible story Paul is on the Mediterranean Sea and the storm is so severe that the boat is torn up, but all the sailors and soldiers on board are saved, along with Paul and a few Christians. Then islanders who have not heard of Israel's God or the Messiah, Jesus, care for these shipwrecked people. They share hospitality emblematic of the very gospel Paul preaches. Will people of the world today--regardless of nationality or religion--do the same for those caught in the storms of natural and political disaster?
[SLIDE] In the Biblical storm stories we go to hell and back again. We are in big trouble and we die--or nearly die. In each one, we are rescued by love that we don't quite understand, a grace that is greater than trouble. Grace as an ark and a promise, grace as a large fish, grace as hospitable strangers or grace as the word of Jesus Christ. The storm stories are stories of hope from the heart of God to God's people. This part of Jonah's story points to the hope of resurrection.
Jonah: The Story of a Rebellious Prophet who Hates God for Loving Enemies. I'm reading The Third Reconstruction by Rev. William Barber, the organizer of North Carolina's Moral Mondays and the national Poor People's Campaign. Rev. Barber's personal call to preach the gospel and to organized, inclusive justice ministry as well as his experiences of physical suffering are knit together as a profound story of hope for our country. There are passages in Barber's book so brimming with hope and fortitude that I underline them and ask God to give me as much. Barber says: "Jesus's insistence that we love our enemies is more than an ethical ideal. In the struggle for human freedom, it is also a practical necessity. If love does not drive out the fears that so easily divide us, we will never gather together in coalitions strong enough to challenge those who benefit from injustice" (26).
The irony of Jonah's prayer from the belly is that he does not confess his rebellion, he does not repent. Jonah says he's driven away from God's sight--but he ran away! Jonah says, 'You, God, cast me into the deep,' but that was the sailors' last resort and at Jonah's own suggestion! Jonah is vague about what kind of sacrifice he's going to make, yet eager to get back to God's holy temple in Israel.
Jonah and Jesus [Click.] Perhaps God wants us to laugh a bit at Jonah, and admit some of our own self-deception. [Click, click] Jonah in rebellion died, nearly died, in the sea. [Click] Then he was 3 days in the belly of a fish before being given [click] new life on the land. [Click, click] Jesus, in faithfulness, [click] died--truly died, on the cross. [Click] Jesus was 3 days in the tomb before being raised from the the dead. [Click] Both were chosen by God for a mission of love in the world.
[SLIDE] Brothers and sisters, Biblical faith, and certainly Christian faith, is not individualistic. It's not just God and me. We actually need ordinary people with whom to live our faith. Sure, Jonah rebels, but when I am full of compassion I wonder whether Jonah had some internal obstacles to hearing and believing and heeding God's call. Fleeing on a ship, Jonah tried to cut himself off from God and from people. Three times in the story, Jonah wants to die. Perhaps this prophet, called by God, was in a deep depression, expressing it through isolating himself from God and people, self-deception, cycles of anger and wanting to die rather than live.
[SLIDE]What if all of us have just been spewed out upon the dry land, as part of God restoring us to one another, even if we can't fully embrace God's call in our lives just yet? Jonah got coughed up among the Ninevites. They are not God's chosen people. And they are certainly not Jonah's chosen people. They are corrupt and prosperous. They are enemies of Israel and Jonah believes they can never change. But people can change. Circumstances can change. Even people suffering from deep depression find hope and new life. My friend who thought he would have to take his own life by the end of this year if his psychic pain and acute depression were not alleviated just found a new treatment at UVA that is making a real difference for him. Praise God! And the anniversary of a tragic white supremacist rally in Charlottesville has brought more voices for peace and harmony to the public airways.
Some of us are living through times of trouble right now in our personal lives. All of us are living in troubled times in the world. It is tempting to isolate ourselves from God and God's people. It is tempting to ignore call--because it's always much bigger than we are and seemingly impossible--Love God and love your neighbor as yourself? Love your enemies?! But today we're among the people of God, communing with the God who really is our help and our hope. Thanks be to God. Praise God. Alleluia.
August 1, 2018 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
"Speak and Act for Peace"
Scripture: I Samuel 19:1-7; 8-18
July 11, 2018 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: Psalm 148, Psalm 136:1-5; Psalm 20; Psalm 23
June 14, 2018 by cmc_admin
Journey Forward: Follow Jesus
Testament School Discipleship"
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: I Samuel 3:1-10; 2 Kings 23:1-3; Isaiah 61:1-2
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Old Testament School Discipleship Texts: I Samuel 3:1-10; II Kings 23:1-3; Isaiah 61:1-2
Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Mennonites as Disciples of Jesus
Mennonites are known for discipleship, for following Jesus. So, when Mennonite Church USA is aiming to be an Anabaptist-minded church in the US right now, it's not controversial to say that one of our three commitments is: Follow Jesus. Of course, when we follow Jesus it can actually be rather innovative, interesting, or controversial. When we refuse to buy our children war toys because we follow Jesus, this becomes controversial in our own families. When we give up the grudge we've been carrying because we follow Jesus who taught us love for one another, this is innovative. When we seek to limit our ecological footprint or reduce our material possessions because we follow Jesus: that's interesting.
The 16th century Anabaptist term for discipleship was Nachfolge Christi--following after Christ. Obviously, Anabaptists didn't come up with the idea of following Jesus. Their spirituality was drawn from the gospel stories, of course, and from the then recent Medieval spiritual classic by Thomas a Kempis The Imitation of Christ. For many CMCers discipleship, or following after Jesus, is the basis of our baptism, the way we describe our life's purpose. For some of us discipleship is fairly new. So, I'm going to share a couple dimensions of 16th century Anabaptist discipleship that might interest all of us. Old school discipleship, if you will.
First, the idea of discipleship is not just mimicking Jesus unthinkingly. We're not just playing Simon Says. So, obedience to the direct commands of Jesus is not the deepest dimension of discipleship. Early Anabaptists personally experienced the new birth--our topic last Sunday--resulting in believers becoming co-witnesses to God's truth. They believed that as a community of disciples, we, like Jesus, call people to faith, teach the ways of God and indeed change the world. We might say: a disciple of Jesus knows the way, goes the way and shows the way. So, discipleship is not just mimicry.
Second, Anabaptist discipleship is not mainstream Christianity. In 1529 an Anabaptist witness states: "Our neighbors, the sword users, also think they are Christians, but their works and deeds prove something much different. Their life accords very little and not at all with the teaching and life of Christ." (Snyder, Following in the Footsteps of Christ p. 153) This is a fairly mild rebuke. I'm sometimes offended by the more severe rhetoric of 16th century Anabaptists disputing other Christians. I hope that Anabaptist Christians today build relationships with folks from different streams of the church. At the same time, all who follow Jesus must be clear about behaviors that we believe are essential for a Christian witness in our time and what behaviors we must refuse and resist.
Our ancestors in faith were quite clear. In fact, for them, following after Jesus included three specific measures: rejecting materialism, living non-violently, and speaking the truth. So, if their neighbor Christians were accumulating wealth--leaving the poor to suffer, or taking up weapons against enemies, or lying, the Anabaptists were swift to critique them. And they judged rather harshly when fellow Anabaptist Christians slid into these worldly temptations. Anabaptist Christianity has always been a different way from the dominant churches. So discipleship is not mimicry and it's not mainstream.
Recently, I've heard some Mennonites say that they don't want to identify themselves as Christians because Christians in our society are associated with racism, homophobia, the health and wealth gospel and patriarchy. Well, if you don't want to follow the way of Jesus, then I hope you're successful at losing the Christian label. But if you do want to follow the way of Jesus. If God has revealed something in the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, something that is worth living for and even something worth dying for, then I hope you'll join me and many others around the world who call ourselves Christian and sometimes have to explain how it is we are following Jesus, how we are different from others who claim Christ.
One example: Here in Virginia, Liberty University is producing a film called The Trump Prophesy, which tells the story of firefighter Mark Taylor and his so-called prophesy predicting Donald Trump's presidency as God's desire for the country. But many Christians--including students and graduates of Liberty--reject Mark Taylor as a prophet and oppose the film. These Christians, only a few of whom identify as Anabaptist, see that the current president has acted against immigrants, women, disabled persons, queer folks, people of color and the poor. We might say his "life accords very little and not at all with the teaching and life of Christ." There's an onlife effort urging the Liberty to not release the film.
Three Old Testament Texts on Discipleship
So, I've said what discipleship is not. Now, we turn to scripture to see what discipleship is. And it's beautiful. I have never preached a sermon on discipleship from exclusively Old Testament scripture readings, but it's fitting because these scriptures foreshadow features of contemporary discipleship that we desperately need. And, it's an Anabaptist Christian way of reading the Bible. I'm calling these scriptures: the story of the Voice, the story of the Scroll, and the story of the Spirit.
The story of the Voice. So here's the young kid commissioned by his mother Hannah to live in the Temple. And he hears a voice. Apparently, there is divine prompting in our lives--it may be a voice, a persistent thought, a sense of conviction as we read scripture, a sign or revelation. When we get a sense that God is speaking and understand what the Lord would have us do or be, then we'd better pay attention. We'd better get some others to help us pay attention and not miss the message. That's what discipleship is all about. Just as little Samuel, directed first by Hannah and then by Eli, finally recognized God's voice, so can we. Christ is a alive and speaking to us.
The story of the Scroll. This was our scripture reading from II Kings. Let me remind you of the context. Josiah was 8 years old when he became king and his mother Jedidah basically ran the country for him, but at least by age 26 he was launched into adulthood and acting like a monarch. King Josiah sent a staff member to pay the workers who were renovating the Jerusalem Temple. And somebody gave one of the staff a scroll that was "found" in the Temple. It was a version of Deuteronomy. When that scroll was read to Josiah, he wanted to be sure that it was really God's word, so he sent his five most powerful men to a local prophet: her name was Huldah. Incidentally, she is the first person to be recognized as an authority on scripture as a written text. This is a big deal. Not only the king and his advisors, but two different Biblical historians--the one who wrote Kings and the one who wrote Chronicles regard Huldah's prophetic decision to be a pivotal moment in our sacred history. Now when he first heard the message on this scroll Josiah thought the words indicted the previous generations for not living out the law. But, Huldah clarified that without humble repentance, Josiah's own generation was in trouble. Huldah is a servant of the Word if there ever was one, which is why I identify with her. But Huldah is not the point, the Word is the point. So, the book she was authenticating was some early version of Deuteronomy. Here is my 10 greatest hits from the Deuteronomy album:
-Love God with all your heart, soul and mind.
-Teach children the truth about God.
-Love the stranger.
-Forgive debts regularly or your nation will collapse.
-Take care of widows, orphans, immigrants.
-Legal decisions must reflect justice.
-Limit the power of kings:
*Not a lot of horses (that meant not a big army)
*Not a lot of wives (that meant--not a lot of wives..and not making alliances through marriage with foreign governments at the expense of the community.)
*Not a lot of wealth (that meant--not a lot of wealth.)
*Kings should listen to and learn from the law.
*Kings should be humble.
-Pay workers fair wages.
-If your country becomes corrupted like Egypt back in the day, expect a prophet like Moses to show up .
Oh, and there is another top ten list in Deuteronomy--the 10 commandments!
Huldah the prophet turned her country, her king and all his advisors toward God's desires for how we should live. And, praise God, the administration listened! The leaders and all the people made a covenant with God to perform the words of this covenant, to make these words alive and fresh and here and now. Isn't that what we as contemporary Christians, disciples of Jesus are aiming to do? A disciple who follows Jesus knows the way--because we read the Bible. We don't know everything, but we've got some very relevant material. A disciples goes the way--whether it is aligned with society or must be a dissident discipleship. And a disciple shows the way. Because a lot of people are lost.
The Story of the Spirit. The third passage I chose to help us focus on discipleship is Isaiah 61. That's part of the Bible that Jesus knew by heart. It was so deeply in him that he fulfilled it. The Spirit of YHWH is upon me because YHWH has anointed me and sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the Jubilee year of YHWH's favor, and the day of...Jesus eliminated that part about vengeance because he didn't want us to harm a brother, a sister, a neighbor, a stranger, or even an enemy. No vengeance on this day of the Lord, not toward ourselves or anyone else. I chose this scripture for a discipleship passage because it it draws together social justice and healing and preaching and because it begins with the Spirit. We do not have all the answers to all the world's problems. Jesus sure didn't fix everything in the first century! But the Spirit has come upon us. Disciples are anointed and sent as good news.
Samuel said: speak Lord, for your servant is listening. Right now CMC is preparing a place for young adult servants. We're preparing the Dean House, so that 3 or 4 young adults can respond to God's call to discipleship and serve in this community. This is a way for us as a congregation to sponsor young disciples.
After Huldah said--this is God's voice and this is for today, that scroll was read aloud and all God's people covenanted with God to perform these works: to love God and take God's word seriously in all dimensions of their society. So as you're loving God, teaching children, paying your workers fair wages, reducing violence, struggling for justice and meeting needs of widows, orphans, immigrants and trying not to get wealthy--it's not all about you, but the divine Word being lived by a covenant people.
And that unnamed prophet whose words ended up in the Isaiah collection chapter 61 like a wind whose origin we don't know and which goes beyond what we image, the one Jesus followed, that great saint blesses us with the reminder that disciples are always Spirit-led, anointed and sent to preach and heal and do justice. It's all bound up together. So as CMC and as Mennonite Church USA let us heed the direction of Hannah and the authority of Huldah, the discipleship of Samuel and the covenant renewal of a king and a whole nation. Let us follow with humility and joy the One whom the Spirit has anointed and sent on ahead.
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June 5, 2018 by alisha.huber
Check out WMRA's recent story on Faith in Action's efforts at criminal justice reform.
In addition to Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig, who was involved in her capacity as Faith In Action's president, CMCers Aliese Gingerich and Kent Davis Sensenig were heavily involved in gathering support for this initiative.
May 29, 2018 by cmc_admin
Journey Forward with Mennonite Church USA
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
"The Nicodemus Question"
Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-8; John 3:1-17
Click here for a transcript
The Nicodemus Question
The Anabaptist movement, the larger stream of Christian faith to which Mennonites belong, is celebrating our 500th anniversary. So Mennonite World Conference--comprised of all these different Anabaptist groups that are still around--is taking a whole decade, from 2017-2027, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the radical edges of the Reformation. The second major event just occurred in Kenya with a focus on the Holy Spirit who comes to those who are waiting and transforms the church.
Vision for the Future
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. This is the simple vision statement Mennonite Church USA. It's easier to understand than say a burning ember on the lips of the prophet Isaiah and a vision of God's presence whereby God is so big that the hem of God's skirt or robe or whatever God wears fills the temple.
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. This is a fine vision statement for being church in the Anabaptist tradition in the United States and wherever God sends us. It's not as graphic as what Jesus said to Nicodemus one night about being born of water and spirit. Vision statements are usually tidier than the Word of God in its raw glory.
This morning we're focusing on CMC's contribution to the broader church communities to which we belong. We contribute financially; we send individuals into various roles in church service--paid and unpaid; we make visits across the church and we pray. Our denomination is inviting us to the Journey Forward focused on three core commitments for our church: Follow Jesus; Witness to God's Peace; Experience Transformation. Now these are pretty tidy commitments, but if we take these seriously, we might first realize that living these commitments is only possible through the grace of Jesus Christ and a community of nurture and challenge.
By a community of nurture and challenge I mean the face-to-face church--who we are together as CMC. Second, if we take these commitments seriously--Follow Jesus; Witness to God's Peace and Experience Transformation--we also realize that we have sometimes blown it in the past. And so we can't exclusively rely on our heritage for charting the Journey Forward.
Whether we're focused on the Journey Forward or commemorating 500 years of Anabaptist identity and witness, it seems fitting to ask the Nicodemus Question: How can we be born after having grown old? Nicodemus wasn't just asking for himself, but on behalf of his whole people--first century Palestinian Jews, namely the Pharisees who were interested in renewal as God's people. How can we be born after having grown old? You see, God's people, Israel had a birth story, an Exodus from Egypt. Yet Jesus claimed they all needed to be born again or they would die on the vine, or be pruned out as dead wood. Is our situation so different? Mennonite Church USA is aging. Some congregations and conferences have left the denomination. The anxious question is: Are we in trouble? The faithful question is: How can we be born after having grown old? Some of us are turning to Jesus today asking this question personally. We need this word about the offer of a new beginning. Some of us here today need a new birth in our spiritual lives. Some of us need a new beginning in our marriage or another important relationship. After many seasons of supporting an institution, can we change, adapt or shift to meet the present challenges? How can we be born after having grown old?
All people belong to God, yet the Biblical story is told from the perspective of a particular people, born anew through the Exodus experience. The basic story is that once we, the people of God, were nobodies, slaves, disposable labor crying out for help. And God heard our cries and delivered us from imperial domination into a new life, a wild place, a wilderness, where we could begin again, with a fresh start, with a new relationship to God, to the earth, to each other and to the rest of the nations. And each time God's people got caught in some spiral of sin, violence, injustice, immorality we were reoriented by this story of God in compassion saving us from empire for a new life.
It usually takes some prophetic word or catastrophic event or arrival of the Spirit for renewal to get underway. Jesus was that kind of event, that kind of person. He promised us that kind of Spirit. Jesus came so that we would not simply grow old and die. God's people are not destined die on the vine or be pruned out as dead wood. Remember: God so loved the world that God sent Jesus into the world, so that those who believe him would not die, but be saved forever. Because God didn't send Jesus into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through Jesus--the Word of God made flesh. (3:16-17)
After hundreds of years of Anabaptist-Mennonite religious history, can we be fresh examples of Christian life? Might this Journey Forward with Mennonite Church USA be part of renewal in our part of the church?
[Interruption by Sarah Bixler]
How can we be born after having grown old? Jesus doesn't answer the Nicodemus question with three tidy steps that Nicodemus can pursue on his own, at his leisure. Being born, a renewal process among God's people is centered in Jesus--our teacher, our savior, our friend makes us new. Jesus' message in the Gospel of John is that God's people need a new covenant, so he turns water to wine at a covenant celebration. God's people need a new worship life, so Jesus clears out the money changers and says 'destroy this temple and I'll raise it in three days.' God's people needed new intercultural relationships, so Jesus builds a friendship with a Samaritan woman at the local watering hole and she becomes a living testimony of renewal in her community. The religious leaders needed a new practice of their old sabbath law, so Jesus healed a lame man on the sabbath. Renewal takes many forms in the Gospel stories and in our world as well.
I heard a renewal story this week from leaders of Meserete Kristos, the growing Mennonite Church in Ethiopia, with a membership more than twice that of Mennonite Church USA. They shared about a ministry that is dramatically reducing violence. In addition to over 1000 church planting centers, and 400 of their own mission workers in their country Meserete Kristos has sent chaplains into 50 prisons in the northern part of the country. Chaplains discovered that even after serving sentences for murder charges, many persons were reluctant to leave the prison for fear of retaliation by victims' families. After establishing victim offender reconciliation ministries the Mennonite Church was recently commended by the government for reducing the retaliation murder rate in the region from 40% to 6%.
People who are born through Christ, congregations and denominations that become new even after having grown old, are part of God's strategy to love the world, not to condemn the world, but to save.
Here at CMC our children and youth are a source of renewal in our life together. Three of our high school age have been preparing for baptism, the new birth through the Spirit that Jesus himself accepted at the Jordan River. In addition to teaching our youth more about their Christian identity and the Anabaptist tradition, Pastor Jason takes our young people to visit other Christian worship services. Part of our renewal is learning from other streams of the faith. This year our CMC have youth have visited Otterbein UMC, Harrisonburg Baptist Church, Blessed Sacrament, RISE, and this morning they are (probably already on their way) to The Potter's House Worship Center. One way CMC can be new again is to learn from global neighbors and from our faith history. We can welcome new members and thus new gifts through baptisms and transfers of membership. We can be be blessed by how the Spirit of Christ works in other local churches who worship in our same watershed.
Nicodemus seems to ponder Jesus' words about new birth until the end of the Gospel story; Isaiah responds to God's action in his life with: Here am I; send me! We believe in a God of history (who knows our past, even the parts we would prefer to paper over) who is also active in the present (with us in Christ) and welcomes us into a future that we cannot fully understand--a love that reconciles us all. God's word for us through Christ is to be born through love, spiritually renewed and stirred up by the wind of the Spirit, so that we will not simply die out and die off, but live a life in response to God's love.
We cannot be born anew, born again, or born from above through cynicism, or disenchantment. We are born through hope--through the Spirit who at Pentecost blew open the doors of church and welcomed us to participate in God's saving work in the world.
To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts or subscribe, check out our main podcast page.
May 14, 2018 by cmc_admin
Resurrection Life: Commissioned - I have sent them
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
"It's OK to Be Different"
Scripture: John 17:6-19
Click to view transcript
It's OK to be different
Jennifer Davis Sensenig
John 17:6-19; Psalm 1
Jesus Prays for Disciples
Our Father, who is in heaven, holy is your name… This is the beginning of what we commonly call The Lord's Prayer. The scripture we heard from John 17 this morning is sometimes called "the other Lord's prayer." Jesus prayed to God for his original disciples and for those "who will [as Jesus says] believe in me through their word." That means Jesus prayed for you, for me, for us as the church...and those who will believe in Christ through our words. Being prayed for is always a mysterious blessing. Intercessory prayer, praying for somebody else, acknowledges and engages the power of God who created and currently influences the person for whom we pray. Our relationship of abiding in God becomes available to others. So praying for people is a good idea. And if you've gotten out of the habit, begin again.
Within Jesus' prayer for us lies a theme that is part of the ethical frame for Anabaptist-Mennonite believers for 500 years. We don't have exclusive claim to this theme, but we're known for this. Jesus prays for disciples who are "in the world, but not of the world" (John 17:16). If we've heard this slogan all our lives, perhaps we've forgotten how very radical it is. To be "in the world, but not of the world" is to be decidedly different from the mainstream, not by accident, but by choice. Another term Anabaptist Christians have frequently used to describe this value is "non-conformity."
But here's the thing. Historically, we Anabaptist Mennonites have agreed that we would all practice non-conformity in the same way--that is conform to a non-mainstream practice. Looking back, our practice of non-conformity to the world seems great when all our men refuse to go to war. On the other hand our practice of being in the world, but not of the world doesn't seem so great when all our women are required to keep their hair long and their heads covered. Many of you who grew up in Anabaptist-Mennonite congregations have stories about how conformity to your group, your church was sometimes oppressive.
Some of us here at CMC are still emotionally and spiritually resisting oppressive church rules about conformity. Perhaps we were harmed by congregations who enforced non-conformity. And there are other CMCers, myself among them, who were drawn to this Anabaptist-Mennonite stream of the church in part because this is a church in which it's OK to be different--not just randomly different--it's OK to be different because we're following Jesus. We came from the world. We came from churches that didn't distinguish enough between the way of Jesus and the way of the world. I may have oversimplified the different directions we come from and where we're headed, but you're catching on that there are potential conflicts between these two groups in contemporary Mennonite congregations.
Let's get back to the gospel of John where Jesus prays for disciples who do not belong to the world. Before we go too far in condemning the world, remember that this is the same Gospel in which we hear the profound good news that: "God so loved the world that God sent Jesus into the world, so that those who believe him would be saved from death for eternal life. Because God didn't send Jesus into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through Jesus--the Word of God made flesh."
HS Bender, a Mennonite leader of the 20th century and author of the The Anabaptist Vision wrote an entry in the Mennonite Encyclopedia. "A major difficulty has been that of identifying precisely what "world" is, and therefore what "worldliness" is. The temptation, not always avoided, has been to emphasize aspects of culture as worldly because they are easily identified, while overlooking the deeper aspects of worldliness such as materialism. [Today we might add white privilege and patriarchy.] Nevertheless the problem of worldliness has been and remains a major concern for all earnest Christians who endeavor to follow their Lord closely in true discipleship, and requires all the resources of grace and insight to master it." [GAMEO.org]
So, first we take care how we define worldliness and from what we disciples need to separate ourselves. We must be selective and discerning about how we engage the world--its vices and oppressions, its blessings and opportunities. Second, we're not anti-world. If we're Jesus' disciples we are sent into the world as agents of love.
Congregations like Community Mennonite Church inherit Bender's love for the world by our spirit of inquiry. We want to learn, explore and create. We do not fear the world, but we do practice non-conformity to the world as a matter of allegiance to the way of Jesus.
So here are some ways that CMCers are practicing non-conforming to the world. Sexual chastity. That means not having sex with anybody, unless you're married and then only with your spouse. The world has a different set of standards when it comes to sex. As Christians it's OK, it's good to be different from the world's standards with regard to sex.
You know, in a previous era Mennonites did not drink alcohol, but these days lots of Mennonite Christians do drink alcohol. So for those who abstain from alcohol it's a an act of non-conformity to a world suffering from addiction and substance abuse. It's OK, it's good to be different from the world in this respect. I've heard some CMC parents explain their decision, not to abstain from alcohol entirely, but to remove it from their home while their children are in adolescence. This too is an act of non-conformity.
Some CMCers practice being in the world, but not of the world, by resisting the militarization of our society--working for peace, refusing to comply with war taxation. Since April 15, tax day, I've been receiving war-tax resistance letters from CMCers who withhold or re-direct taxes that would fund the military. We keep a copy of their letters to the IRS, and congress members on file. It's OK, it's good, to be different from the mainstream law-abiding, tax-paying American, who unwittingly funds violence against the poor around the world.
Some CMCers practice being in the world, but not of the world by rejecting the values of meritocracy and redefining success. Basically, some of us don't have impressive jobs and that's in part to establish new patterns in a society that values persons based on how much money they have, how many diplomas, how much they earn. It's OK, it's good, to separate ourselves from the status-conscious, upwardly mobile pattern of our society.
Some CMCers practice non-conformity by growing some of our own food in a society which cheapens food, the soil from which it comes, the farmers who produce it, and the people who prepare it. It's OK, it's good, to be different from the world...even if it means showing up for worship with dirt under your fingernails.
These are just a few practices among many. If you step outside the mainstream and live a chaste life, or resist militarism, or live simply or abstain from alcohol, you meet interesting people who are doing similar things for different reasons. But as members of Jesus' community these are not just free-floating values, these are ways that we express our allegiance to Jesus. We don't consider ourselves holier than anybody else in this world, just because we have some sturdy practices of non-conformity. All of us are in the world and need a savior. And Jesus has come for us--to abide in us, to lay down his life for us. Jesus prays for us in the world, to become more and more Christlike, so that others will recognize God's love and God's life in us.
A Christlike Difference in the World
If we don't fit society's norms because we're disciples of Jesus, then it's not just OK to be different, it's good. It's good for us and for the world. Non-conformity is not always comfortable or easy; it doesn't gain you access to worldly power or wealth, but it makes a Christlike difference in us and in the world. I'm so grateful for the witness of this congregation. What you're doing in your life that might seem like a tiny act of resistance against the fierce powers of worldliness, is true inspiration to your brother or sister, your neighbors or even a stranger. Don't give up. Be in the world, not of the world. Make a Christlike difference in the world. It's OK to be different. It's good.
On Tuesday this week during Monthly Gathering one of our pastoral elders, Matthew Hunsberger will guide us in part one of two sessions focused on Difficult Conversations. When Matt and Larry and I were preparing for worship this morning, one way we said we wanted to practice non-conformity with the world was to be politically engaged without the mean-spirited rancor and us/them language that seems to create enemies rather than dialogue. Is it possible for people with conviction about the common good to engage difficult conversation without harming others? We're going to learn some skills, so join us on Tuesday.
Friends, I'm proud of the ways CMCers are separate from the world. And like you, I'm distressed when we lack the courage to be different from the world. This week I challenge you to talk with someone--your child, your small small group, a family member, a co-worker, a neighbor--about why you persist in whatever practices of non-conformity you've adopted. It's OK, it's good, to be different when you're expressing a Christlike difference in the world.
Jesus prays for disciples who are different from the world. Many New Testament passages address separation from the world, being delivered from the world, being unstained by the world. These scriptures refer to "the world" as the system of domination and sin that operates at a systemic level, infiltrates every institution we've ever created including our families and churches and influences us individually in our thoughts and feelings. It's not surprising that some of us, some days, feel hopelessly entangled in worldliness. Are we making any Christlike difference in the world? I'm not the judge. But the judge, who is now seated at the right hand of God, as we say, Jesus has prayed for you, given you an example, sacrificed worldly success to join you in the struggle against the vices and oppression of the world. That undertow you feel is real, but we believe that Jesus rescues us. God loved the world so much, that God sent us Jesus.
Nathan Nettleton, a Baptist pastor in Australia, paraphrased John 17 in way that highlights the best of what we Anabaptists intend with our pledge of non-conformity. Listen to Jesus' prayer for us:
"[And] I say these things while the world is still in earshot,
so that those who listen may, like me,
experience a joy that goes right off the scale.
I have given them your message,
and now this godless world can't stand them,
because they won't play by the world's rules,
just as I never played by the world's rules.
I am not asking you to take them out of the world,
but I do ask that you keep them safe from the evil one.
They don't take their cues from this world,
because my dance has a different tune.
Immerse them in truth to make them a sacred people,
for your word is the truth which makes things holy.
Just as you sent me into the world on your mission,
so now I am sending them into the world.
I have dedicated myself one hundred percent, for their sake,
so that they in turn may commit themselves totally to the truth."
Today is the last Sunday before Pentecost. On this Sunday we sometimes read about Jesus ascending into heaven. But today we have this earthy scripture about Jesus' prayer ascending to God, a prayer for people in the world, but not of the world, people who are through Christ, no longer trapped by the world, but in touch with the power of God that can save the world through love. It is a prayer for the time when Jesus is lifted up, so that we might be a Christlike difference in the world.
To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts or subscribe, check out our main podcast page.
April 30, 2018 by cmc_admin
Resurrection Life: Fruitful - Abide in Me
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
"Abiding in God's Love"
Scripture: John 15:1-8; I John 4:7-21
click to view transcript
Abiding in God's Love
Jennifer Davis Sensenig CMC 4-29-18
John 15:1-8 and I John 4:7-21
Dwelling in the Word
To a culture of impatience and fear, the divine voice speaks to us of abiding, love, fruitfulness. These are not terms for quick fixes or easy answers. These are slow words, deep words. We can hardly utter these words by ourselves. Abiding, love, fruitfulness: these are communal words that have sustained us as people of God. The scripture we heard from the Gospel of John and the passage from First John that I'll share in a moment are scriptures for pondering. We dwell with words like these. They don't get old. Actually they do get old. These are very old scriptures. Thousands of years old. The Gospel of John and the First epistle of John were probably written by different people, but they are deeply related in terms of their theology and their community of origin. As much as we know about these scriptures, we as the church are still learning what they mean. To understand, to know the scriptures--indeed to understand or know God--is to live in the knowledge and love of God, always.
Images of Abiding
What does abiding in God's love look like? Well, it looks like eight people from our congregation participating in a Racial Equity Institute training event for the past two days. All eight of us white and facing the systems of white privilege and advantage that have been generated and perpetuated for our benefit, for the benefit of white people, for generations, since before the founding of this country. Facing these truths and the strategy of oppression against people of color, especially black people, not turning away from this unhappy history was for me an act of abiding in God's love. If any of what we learned is to become fruitful in our lives it will require abiding, remaining with these truths which are discomforting to say the least. But God's Spirit isn't a spirit who simply soothes distress.
What does abiding in God's love look like? Well, it looks like the life of C. Norman Kraus whom we memorialized yesterday with music, and memories and the message of resurrection. According to Norman's testimony, abiding in God's love looks like shedding our tendency toward coercion and fear in order to pursue truth and love as the church of Christ. For Norman it meant abiding and remaining with the church--from activism during the Civil Rights era, to mission work in Japan, to college teaching, to advocating for inclusion of LGBT Christians. Norman held deep conviction about Jesus Christ our Lord with an open and welcoming embrace of people who had widely differing convictions and life commitments.
What does abiding in God's love look like? Well, it looks like the 5 CMCers who visited with a couple of us pastors about their work in medical professions last week. The conditions of their field often require long hours, irregular hours, increasing documentation and an increase in the sheer numbers of patients served. Yet they abide--caring for each person with love, dignity, and their best skills. Investing in the next generations of people who will serve in healing work like theirs. Vi Miller was an example being celebrated that day for 35 years of abiding with patients at Sentara RMH.
What does abiding in God's love look like? Well, today, it looks like sending the Murch family with our prayers and blessings as they serve in Puerto Rico. We expect that they will be fruitful and rebuild some buildings and help relief workers stay organized. But their fruitfulness, their service, their active response to need is the result of abiding--the slow ordinary work of being a family that prioritizes being together, working together, being part of the church, hanging in there day in and day out, week in and week out, year in and year out.
James Cone, the first Black Liberation theologian I studied as a college student died yesterday. What does abiding in God's love look like? For Cone it was a vocation of theological resistance to white supremacy. In his most recent, and quite personal book--The Cross and the Lynching Tree Cone wrote about his formative context of growing up in a lynching state, Arkansas, the fear of the Ku Klux Klan, white racist preaching in nearby churches and his parents' example and sacrifice for the sake of their children. "And yet in rural black churches I heard a different message, as preachers proclaimed the message of the suffering Jesus and the salvation accomplished in his death on the cross. I noticed how the passion and energy of the preacher increased whenever he talked about the cross, and the congregation responded with outbursts of "Amen" and Hallelujah" that equaled the intensity of the sermon oration. People shouted, clapped their hands, and stomped their feet, as if a powerful, living reality of God's Spirit had transformed them from nobodies in white society to somebodies in the black church. This black experience, with all its tragedy and hope, was the reality in which I was born and raised. Its paradoxes and incongruities have shaped everything I have said and done. If I have anything to say to the Christian community in America and around the world, it is rooted in the tragic and hopeful reality that sustains and empowers black people to resist the forces that seem designed to destroy every ounce of dignity in their souls and bodies." And Cone describe the central question of his life work: "how to reconcile the gospel message of liberation with the reality of black oppression."
Biblical Storytelling as Abiding
First John 4:7-21 is an ancient attempt to describe God's abiding love and its effects among us. Like the passage about Jesus as the True Vine, this passage is rich in metaphor. The first is God the divine loving mother who gives birth to us. The second, is God the loving father who sent his son to share our experience and bear our sins. A third, is God the lover--the partner with whom we mutually abide, such that we are changed forever. Still another metaphor is God the sibling, the local familiar brother or sister, the other who draws our love into action day in and day out, week in and week out, year in and year out. Listen.
Biblical Storytelling I John 4:7-21(told by heart)
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God;
everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
God's love was revealed among us in this way:
God sent his only Son into the world
so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us
and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Beloved, since God loved us so much,
we also ought to love one another.
No one has ever seen God;
if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in God and God in us,
because he has given us of his Spirit.
And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son
as the Savior of the world.
God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God,
and they abide in God.
So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God,
and God abides in them.
Love has been perfected among us in this:
that we may have boldness on the day of judgment,
because as he is, so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;
for fear has to do with punishment,
and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
We love because God first loved us.
Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars;
for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen,
cannot love God whom they have not seen.
The commandment we have from him is this:
those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
One of the things I love about Biblical Storytelling is that it requires abiding, dwelling, slow rehearsal of the same thing over until it takes root in me. We may characterize our dominant culture as impatient and short-sighted, but some of us do know how to slow down, how to wait, how to practice patience. We know something of abiding. We have waited for a child. We have tended trees whose fruits come years later. We abide with those who grieve and those like our poultry workers brothers and sisters, struggling for dignity and justice in their workplaces. We are not just getting our spiritual quick fix on Sundays, but day in, day out, week in, week out, year in and year out, we abide in God's love expressed in myriad ways. We have been able to do these things--this slow, deep counter-cultural, remaining and abiding--because the Spirit of Christ is abiding with us. Beloved, we are held and held together by an abiding God who is love, a God who is in no hurry, yet will not delay.
As the True Vine, Jesus says: apart from me you can do nothing. So, let us abide in Christ, abide in love, abide in God. Let us prefer love over fear and live as brothers and sisters.
April 30, 2018 by cmc_admin
The sermon for Sunday, April 22 was not recorded. The transcript of the sermon is below.
Sermon: "Divine Guidance"
Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: John 10:11-18
Click to view transcript
Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Text: Psalm 23 and John 10:11-18
Decisions and the Shepherd
Each week we have decisions to make. When I look at this congregation I know that we are making important decisions about our health this week. Some of us are facing financial decisions. Many of us are anticipating decisions related to our work lives. The youth and students among us have decisions about how to prioritize their time and relationships at the end of an academic year. This week couples will choose again to be faithful to each other. Family and friends choose how to invest in these relationships. One of the reasons we're together this morning is that we want to choose wisely. We want our decisions and actions to be guided by the Spirit of Christ. When faced with decisions, sometimes we know the right thing to do, but we don't do it. At other times, we don't know which path to take. Sometimes life has become so tangled that we don't see a path at all. Our scripture reading this morning is for times like these, for people like us, who are facing decisions of all kinds. We have a good shepherd.
How does the divine One shepherd us? The pastoral image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is precious for some Christians. Protestant congregations who would be reluctant to portray Jesus on the cross, often hang images of Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulders, or leading a flock of sheep, though there is no Biblical evidence that Jesus ever did that. The image comes from something Jesus said about himself. And from his parable about the lost sheep. I suppose some of you don't really need to hear this sermon at all because the reading of the scripture, the reminder that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, was all you needed to get you through the week. I hope you are also blessed by some of the many settings of Psalm 23 that we're singing together this morning. For others, this image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd doesn't work so well for you. Maybe this sermon will help. Honestly, when Jesus said: I am the Good Shepherd he may have been both revealing and concealing his identity.
In ancient Palestine, shepherd was not just a vocational option differentiated from fisherman or stone mason, or carpenter or leatherworker. Yes, shepherds were more common in their society than in ours, but the people of Israel used 'shepherd' metaphorically. They referred to their kings as shepherds. They even referred to God as their shepherd. So there are political and royal and divine overtones to this metaphor. When Jesus says I am the Good Shepherd, he distinguishes himself from bad shepherds, that is bad kings and even bad or mistaken images of God. Jesus describes himself as a shepherd willing to take risks--to lay down his own life--for others, for us. And Jesus can give of himself in this way because his identity is bonded with God.
Jesus is not the least bit confused about who he is: I am the shepherd of Israel, I am good not just when it is easy to be good, but even when being good means humiliation, suffering and dying. I will lay down my life. I am the legitimate ruler of Israel, the one who judges and guides and leads and saves through self-giving love for the sake of a vulnerable flock. Keep in mind this word from Jesus addresses people who are being governed by selfish, exploitative, violent leaders within their Jewish community and by the Romans. In this environment of fear, Jesus says: I am the Good Shepherd. I am God. And I care not only about you, but some other sheep too.
Divine Guidance--Persistent thoughts
Our society needs divine guidance in every sphere of life. CMCers are shepherds in many ways. We are so grateful that CMCers exercise godly influence when guiding families, facilitating decisions, giving care to vulnerable people, setting limits and boundaries, giving counsel and directing financial and relational resources. Yet there are lots of challenging decisions we face. The good news is that our Good Shepherd, the living Christ is both our model for how to guide others and, by the Holy Spirit, Jesus actively guides us. This morning I'm going to introduce three ways that we receive divine guidance in our lives. There are more ways, but these are ways that Christ has given me guidance for life and three is a nice number for a sermon. The first is persistent thoughts.
For those of us whose minds are in good working order persistent thoughts can be one of the ways that Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is our Good Shepherd and guides our lives. I say minds in 'good working order' because some of us have not just persistent thoughts, but obsessive thoughts that come from disordered thinking. It might be a result of illness or injury. And if you have a condition like that it doesn't mean that our Good Shepherd can't give you guidance, but persistent thoughts are perhaps not a reliable indicator of how the Spirit of Christ is directing you. Obsessive thoughts are not from Jesus. They usually bring confusion and they threaten our peace of mind. You see Jesus does not overwhelm our thinking. Sure, people who are full of the Spirit may sometimes be "lost in wonder love and praise" as a famous hymn says, but these experience contribute to good thinking, not disordered thinking. So, those of us who have obsessive thoughts such as: 'I don't matter; I am a failure; I am worthless.' That is not the Spirit of Christ.
Likewise, those of us who obsessively think: 'I cannot be wrong; I am in control; I always know what's best' are not hearing from the Spirit of Christ. About a dozen times in the gospel of John Jesus says: I AM. Jesus knows who he is and persistent thoughts, if they are from the living Christ, clarify who we are in relationship to the divine. We do matter. We may fail, but we are not failures. We aren't worthless. We are created in the image of God. Our lives have purpose. And we can be wrong. All of us fall short of the glory of God. We do not control all things. We do not always know what is best. We need help.
So, persistent thoughts can be the Good Shepherd's guidance. Often times persistent thoughts confirm something we have heard, but weren't ready to believe. Perhaps you had a teacher who said: you are a designer, a creator, but you weren't ready to hear that and dismissed it. Years later at a time of transition this persistent thought emerges: I want to make something. I need to be creative. When Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd, he makes a big point about the flock knowing his voice. So pay attention to what you are hearing. One CMCers this week described it as listening to the whispers of her soul. Is Jesus Christ speaking to you and giving you a clearer sense of identity or a focused direction that you need? What are your persistent thoughts?
Besides persistent thoughts, there are other ways that we receive divine guidance. How many of us have heard someone say: I have peace about this decision. Peace. We Anabaptist Christians are big on peace. But I've got to confess, that I'm sometimes skeptical when I hear people say that. Because if peace just means feeling comfortable, then a sense of peace is not always a good indicator of having received and followed the guidance of the Good Shepherd. Jesus said: I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Laying down one's life isn't comfortable. Dismantling racism isn't comfortable. Building community across differences isn't comfortable. Confessing our sin isn't comfortable. But real peace--a deep sense of identity in Christ, perhaps especially in uncomfortable circumstances--peace in this sense is a very good indicator of Christ's direct guidance in our lives.
So, sometimes we have a sense of peace that accompanies us at times when one would think we would be overwhelmed by circumstances. Some people report peace when they are facing their own death, when they are choosing a new vocational path more aligned with their values, when they are doing justice work. This kind of peace is a reduced level of anxiety and a freedom from fear. Sometimes we experience this peace after putting our faith into practice, as a result of a faithful decision. If you have a sense of peace about an area of your life, then very likely that peace is guidance from the living Christ. Where are you experiencing peace in your life?
A third way that we receive divine guidance is through revelation. One thing about Christian faith that is sometimes embarrassing is that we believe stuff that we can't prove and then we stake our public reputation and our lives on it. Revelation is what God shows us or gives us that we cannot prove. We believe in the resurrection life of Christ. OK, I like that literally add up. And I like logic. But just because I believe in mathematics and logic doesn't mean I don't also believe in revelation. Sometimes we receive signs or visions or dreams or gut feelings that are revelatory. Sometimes we get desperately sick and we're sort of a different person on the other side of the illness and we know something in our bodies. It is visceral, revelatory and nobody can argue with it--not because we can't be wrong, but because the evidence is not the stuff of argument. In scripture revelation is usually visceral. In the Bible divine guidance is often accompanied by physical sensations and experiences. A woman's flow of blood stops. Jesus' body is raised. Paul is blinded. These things don't exactly make sense when you read the stories. We don't have explanations for them. The Gospel of John is at once simple and philosophical. I love that part where Jesus heals this blind man and the guy says of Jesus: "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." That's revelation.
I haven't said much about these artistic depictions of the Good Shepherd from these global artists. In John August Swanson's work called Psalm 23 we don't see the shepherd. We see two pilgrims carrying a bit of light in their lanterns, through a forest under a star-filled sky. Swanson, son of a Mexican mother and Swedish father says of this work: "Moving forward barefoot and without fear, two figures travel through a valley transformed by their own beliefs; a world where lions and lambs can lie together in peaceful harmony. The language of Psalm 23 has a message of strength…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…This story connects with our own lives, as we listen to those who encourage and empower others to speak out and stand against death, violence, and hate." Now revelation, persistent thoughts, a sense of peace, this stuff could be very individualistic. If you are just a spiritual person at large and have no rich faith tradition, if you have no community, if you have no scripture, if you have no Good Shepherd, then there is no context in which to reliably assess these experiences. Resonance between these types of individual divine guidance and the Good Shepherd's guidance for the whole people of God throughout the world is essential. The good new is that we're not just spiritual persons at large. We are part of a historical and global people transformed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ and there is guidance for our daily decisions.
It is not easy for me to relinquish control in order to pay attention to divine guidance, but I try to do that everyday, because like all of you I have decisions to make. God's primary guidance for us all is in scripture and in Christ, the very Word of God. On Sundays when we gather for worship the Spirit of Christ is among us, confirming the divine guidance that has shown up in our lives during the week. And we celebrate that resurrection life. Something beautiful happens when we accept the divine guidance we've been given. We grow in faith. We grow in love. We grow in our capacity to be good even when it is not easy to be good. Shepherd me, O God, beyond my thoughts, beyond my fears, from death into life. Let's sing that. It's number 519 in our blue book.
April 2, 2018 by cmc_admin
Easter Sunday: God's promises fulfilled
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; John 20:1-18
click to view transcript
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Community Mennonite Church 4-1-18
Texts: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; John 20:1-18
Three Fools for Christ
Remonstrance--an earnest presentation of reasons for opposition
Really? Risen from the dead? It seems foolish to believe such a thing, to believe such a One as this Jesus. We like his blessing of the children. And God knows we could use a healing miracle now and again. And Jesus certainly lived and taught an non-violent and counter-cultural ethic in resistance to the empire, the religious establishment and the patriarchal strongholds of his day. Jesus was radical Sophia-Wisdom shifting the economy toward sharing, generosity and abundance. Jesus created community and reconciliation across so many divisions through forgiving love. Surely our hero of the past, but a risen Jesus today? It usually suits us better to keep Jesus under wraps, in our hearts, in a story, certainly in our tradition--but to be honest, in the tomb. Now, perhaps we'll set Jesus free in a few great hymns, or in our spiritual imagination, or within the walls of church buildings. Unless, Jesus belongs not exclusively to us, but also--and originally and always--to God. Isn't that what we mean by saying Jesus was both human and divine? Jesus belongs to us who are mortal flesh and to God who is eternal. Death could not hold him. Still, should we make so much of this resurrection? It's embarrassing.
But [ONE] Mary Magdalene, [TWO] the Beloved disciple, and [THREE] Simon Peter, these three outstanding church leaders of the first century, believed that Jesus was raised from the dead. Though, initially, these three look like fools--not fools for Christ, just fools! Did you notice that embarrassing competition between the boys. They were running together, but the Beloved disciple outran Peter and got there first. Yet, Peter was first to go in to the empty tomb. Neither, apparently noticed the angels. When faced with an empty tomb, the Beloved disciple and Simon Peter, just went home. And is it a bit of Gospel humor, a joke at Mary's expense, that after speaking with angels she mistakes Jesus for the gardener and gives him a piece of her mind: If you are the one who has taken him away, then tell me where he is and I'll retrieve him. Does Mary Magdalene, this early church leader really prefer a corpse to the living Lord?
They didn't get the message [of the empty tomb], that Jesus must rise from the dead. Might we go home today, unchanged by this good news? Do we get it--that Jesus' resurrection must be?
Humor opens the door to other dimensions of being and knowing, so too tears. Twice she is asked: Woman, why are you weeping? Of course Mary Magdalene is weeping about the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Having seen his death on a Roman cross--the abuse, torture, humiliation and death of a man she loved--of course she was weeping. This peculiar brutality of crucifixion was both to execute criminals, and to terrorize the population preventing any resistance, any questioning, any uprising against Roman control. And yet, crucifixion isn't really so different from the extremes violence we see by nations, by militants, by severely broken individuals. What Jesus suffered was just another expression of evil in the world. And evil makes it quite difficult for any of us to believe in resurrection any more.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus' passion is also the story of humanity's rejection of God's Word. You see, the Word was with God in the beginning, the Word was God, the Word was Jesus. Jesus, as God's Word of love for the whole world, was rejected by humanity and subjected to Satan's power--sin and evil. We know all about a world who rejects God's Word. We know about gun violence in our schools and systemic violence that kills slowly. We know about abuse, injustice, climate crisis, materialism and the frustrating process of trying to change, to heal, to create new patterns for a peaceable kingdom. Of course we are weeping. With Mary the church weeps with those who are incarcerated. You know, this country leads the world in incarceration rates! Mary's tears are mingled with ours on behalf of those struggling in poverty not just due to current circumstance, but generational poverty, the result of racism against many, and economic exploitation by a few. Mary, leader in the early church, weeps with those who are exhausted by the work of resisting empire and building authentic spiritual community in the digital age. Mary is at the tomb with those of us plagued by our own demons, losing our confidence, our faith, our hope, our reason to persevere.
The good news is that the cross and the tomb are not Jesus' ultimate end. The cross and the tomb mark Jesus' death, without which we would not know him at all, but here is the Gospel message for Mary's church: the empty cross the empty tomb mark the extent of sin's power.
Sin is severe and pervasive, personally and systemically. There are more tears to shed because sin and evil have not been eradicated from our world. But there is a limit to the power of evil. Jesus has marked that boundary in blood. For Mary and for us all, Jesus has returned from the grave--from the depths of hell some say--to lead us today in resurrection life. Through death and resurrection Jesus has opened the door to life. We are not fools to believe.
Seven Stanzas at Easter
American author and poet John Updike published his Seven Stanzas at Easter in 1959. There's one word in the poem that you might not know: remonstrance. Remonstrance is "an earnest presentation of reasons for opposition." I think Updike wanted to interrupt our reasons for opposing or rejecting Christ's resurrection. Unlike the Gospel writer, he didn't use humor or tears, but his poem helps. Listen:
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His Body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse,
the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers, each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hingend thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart that--pierced--died, withered, paused,
and then regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor, analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-maché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
I don't fully understand the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. But I'm laying aside my remonstrance for now because Christ has spoken my name. And yours too. At the time when Jesus' resurrection took place, it was not possible for his friends or his enemies to fully understand the event, nor even the events leading up to it all. Jesus claimed that it was altogether obvious from the Old Testament that the Messiah must be killed and then be raised. And so some people--Mary, that anonymous Beloved Disciple, Simon Peter and others began telling and living the message of Jesus a day at a time. And as they did, they began to know Jesus better. They became better at living and loving as Jesus lived and loved. And--and this is strange--they became better at dying and rising as Jesus did.
And so there was the Gospel of Mark--the first coherent written story--that made sense of Jesus' life and death and resurrection even in a world that was still a mess. And then there was the Gospel of Matthew--another written story--that held fast to this same through line of Mark's Gospel and helped another community integrate more of their biblical and ethical knowledge and more of their church experience with the living Jesus as their Lord.
And there was the Gospel of Luke--and the companion volume of Acts--to tell of Jesus all over again, the same story and different, so that we lovers of God would be guided by the spirit as resurrection people--good news for the poor--across the Empire and the world. And later on there was the Gospel of John with quite different stories, different miracles and new characters. Was it a new Jesus? Not really. All our Gospels tell of one Jesus, a Jewish Messiah who sold out neither to nationalism nor imperialism, who delivered people from the grip of sin and evil healing their bodies; one Jesus who gathered a community of people we would never put on committee together; one Jesus who refused to use force in favor of loving, confronting, serving, forgiving, suffering. The Bible tells of one Jesus Christ, killed by corrupt powers and raised by God for life, for ever, for us, and for all the world. Make no mistake, the risen Jesus is among us calling us to transformed living--financially, politically, spiritually, ethically and relationally. And the bright dawn of Easter sometimes makes us squint. Do we really want to see Jesus alive speaking our name, sending us to share a message and a way of life that is rarely popular in the world?
I guess my Easter message this year is just that Mary Magdalene was not speaking to a dead man. Mary was speaking with the living Lord Jesus Christ. She does not go to the brothers with anything but her true experience with Jesus, her Rabbouni, her beloved teacher resurrected in body.
The Gospel of John is God's reassurance that we are not fools to walk through the door of faith. Christ is risen. And we are the believers. We are among the wise, the humble, the joyful, the healed, the forgiven, the empowered. We are the church. Christ is risen. And even if we are struggling against our brother, or weeping with your sister, even if sometimes we just go hom or are a hot mess of tears or try to take matters into our own hands, God has raised Jesus from the dead. We are the church whom Christ meets and loves and sends as a as enduring peacemakers, a body of love and forgiveness.
Neither Mary nor the church today is speaking with a corpse. We are addressed by the living Lord. We are not foolish to believe in Christ's resurrection from the dead. We are the church with a proclamation on our lips and in our lives: Christ is risen.
March 23, 2018 by cmc_admin
Lent V: God's promises, written on our hearts
"Be Interesting" or "Hate Your Life"
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33
Click here for transcript
Money--The Automatic Millionaire
I have always been interested in the flow of money. And Jesus had challenging things to say about money, but not here in these verses. So relax. This is not a sermon about money. But sermons about money are coming. Actually if you're looking for a church who doesn't talk about money and won't challenge any of your financial practices, then you might have to look further. I'm not saying you should leave right now, but there are certainly congregations that avoid economic justice, simplicity, generosity, debt forgiveness and so on.
All this is prelude to saying that last year my financial and economic interests led me to read a book called The Automatic Millionaire. I was bit embarrassed for anyone to see the title because I'm not trying to get rich. The basic idea in the book is to clarify our financial priorities and make our actions on those priorities automatic, so that we don't end up leaving on the back burner important financial matters like giving generously, paying down debt, preparing for retirement, paying off a mortgage or saving for college. There is good financial advice in the book. And I've wondered about making more of our priorities automatic.
Automatic vs. Internalized
The Bible doesn't use this term--automatic--but the making our stories and practicee cos so routine that they become the fabric of our lives is important for people of faith. That's why Jews recite the Torah. That's why Muslims fast during Ramadan. That's why Christians mark the days of Holy Week. In terms of Biblical spirituality, a better term than automatic might be internalized. Think about it this way, the Old Testament readings during Lent this year keep referring to covenants, these agreements or promises, that God makes with us. Of course we human beings are constantly breaking these covenants.
But the insider secret--revealed in part by Jeremiah and made clear by Jesus--is that God's covenants, are to be internalized. Jeremiah describes a covenant "written on our hearts." This new covenant advanced by Jeremiah and embodied by Jesus is not just historically "back there" or abstractly "out there," but this covenant is internalized "in here."
So Jesus breaking bread and pouring a cup of wine at the Passover meal helps his disciples internalize this new covenant. We eat and drink, so that God's promise of life becomes part of our bloodstream, transforming our mortal bodies into Christ's body.
Brothers and sisters, the people of God who tell and live the Jesus tradition internalize this covenant between God and humanity and with all creation. Internalizing our story and practices is necessary because life throws a lot of challenges our way. And if we internalize the life of Jesus, then we will not be thrown off course by the temptations and challenges and failures in our lives. If we internalize the life and practices of Jesus, we will be protected from the false gods and false powers trying every day to win our allegiance.
Internalization as Influence
At a deep level, our scripture reading from the Gospel of John shows us just how powerful internalizing the message and life of Jesus can be. Chapter 12 says there were some Greeks, some Gentiles, who came to Jerusalem for the Passover. These Greek-speaking Gentiles were foreigners to God's covenants, but they were interested enough in Jewish people, Jewish faith and Jewish practices that they were worshiping as Jews did, one God--the God who delivers people out of slavery and into a new covenant relationship, altogether different from the empire of Egypt (or any other empire). During the Passover, these outsiders, these Greeks, ask Philip to see Jesus. Now why do they ask Philip? There must have been something about this disciple, something of Jesus that he had internalized.
I've preached a bit about Philip recently. Remember those five gifts--apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers? We translate those gifts into ways that we function in the 21st century as Dream-awakener, Heart-revealer, Storyteller, Soul healer and Light giver. Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus calls Philip to follow him and then Philip goes to get Andrew. Philip is an evangelist, sharing the good news of finding Jesus. Again in chapter 12, Philip is acting as an evangelist--connecting these interested outsiders, these Greeks, to Jesus. But this time they come to Philip. Philip has internalized Jesus' message and people understand that he is the kind of person who can connect them with Jesus Christ.
As the church we internalize the life and practices of Jesus, so that the Gentiles--the nations of the world--the interested outsiders recognize that we belong to Jesus. I wonder who is looking at our life as a church? I wonder who is looking at our individual lives? What will they see? Will they see Jesus? Are we even interesting?
As the church we internalize the life of Jesus, giving up wealth, status, and security, in order to live the eternal life of God in the daily life of a human community. Do we live in such a way that others recognize we belong to Jesus? We're to be a community so interesting that we warrant a second glance by outsiders. So we need to be out and about. We need to be involved in every part of our culture, unless of course our involvement compromises our covenant with Christ and the church. And this is where it gets interesting.
CMCers in Business
This past Thu Pastoral Team hosted a gathering of stay-at-home parents in the morning and a gathering of CMCers in business in the late afternoon. I was at the business gathering. After listening to their sharing and conversation, CMCers are not in business to get rich or become automatic millionaires. They have internalized enough of the message of Jesus that they know business is not about private accumulation. They talked about business models that allow for doing some of their work for profit and some gratis, so that their products and services can meet needs even among those who can't afford them. They talked about business as a way of meeting and knowing very many people and very many kinds of people. They talked about business as the challenge of assessing value, the true value of work, the deep value of relationships and the real value products. They talked about business as a way to shift our habits and economy toward sustainability. They talked and they talked and Pastor Jason had to go to Bible Quizzing. And they talked and they talked and I had to go to Faith in Action. So Jason and I left pastoral elder Mike Brislen with the clean-up.
That conversation and the lives of CMCers in business was an example to me that internalizing the person and message of Jesus makes a difference. These are interesting business persons. I think they make good evangelists. And there are more of you. Maybe some of you are considering a vocation in business. Connect with Jonathan Kreider and Hugh Stoll and Jakob Gerlach and Johann Zimmerman and Kelly MacDonald and Ben Wyse and Sam Miller. And all of you women in business, they asked about you. We missed you!
Businesses are an incredible influence in the world and if you have internalized the life and practices of Jesus you can have a profound influence in the wider community through your business. Indeed, whatever your vocation or job or life stage right now, let's be so interesting that others are attracted to our values, our practices, our faith, our Lord.
Hate your life
OK, friends, there is a problem with this sermon. Jesus didn't preach: "Be interesting." Jesus actually preached: "hate your life." So what are we going to do with that? Obviously Jesus didn't hate life. But he rejected the stereotypical ways of life in order to live what was written on his heart. Jesus, the very Son of God, had internalized God's covenant with humanity and with the creation. Jesus was willing, ultimately, to be rejected by some of his best friends, his religious community, and the "powers of the empire." I think that's what he means by hate your life. But if you disagree, let's talk about it. Jesus was willing to fall into the earth a single grain in order that many could internalize his way of loving service, and intercultural witness against "the ruler of this world."
At the end of our lives when we fall into the earth like a single grain will we bear much fruit? And if it's true that the Christian life is to live the eternal life of God in the daily life of a human being, as Jesus did, then are we bearing fruit now? Are we rejecting the stereotypical ways of live order to live what is written on our hearts? What have you internalized with regard to your faith? What have we as Community Mennonite internalized?
Holy Week as internalizing the Story
Next Sunday begins Holy Week. It's a great way to internalize the Jesus story, to be taken with it all over again. So come to Palm Sunday worship and dare to say Hosanna--save us! Walk in the Palm Sunday Peace Parade and make that journey of solidarity with those on the margins who confront evil in the power centers. Show up to Maundy Thursday to dwell with Jesus remembering the Passover and washing feet. A week from Friday, at noon, walk through Harrisonburg and hear the passion told in public by storytellers who internalize the story. Join us here Good Friday in the evening to sing and pray and ponder how Jesus' death--a single grain--produces much fruit. During Holy Week we internalize the story--sometimes stumbling through it. I pray this year you are taken by Jesus all over again.
God's new covenant of love that we have entered through Jesus Christ is not historically "back there" or abstractly "out there." This covenant is internalized "in here." It makes us interesting. It makes us church together in the 21st century. Jesus said: And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. We are drawn this season to Jesus. And we are part of that divine drawing of all people, because we internalize the Jesus' story and practices. We reject the stereotypical ways of life in order to live what is written on our hearts.
March 14, 2018 by cmc_admin
Lent IV: God's Promises Endure
"What Difference Does Jesus Make?"
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21
Click for transcript
International Women's Day
At the International Women's Day march in Harrisonburg yesterday I heard community members originally from Eritrea, Colombia, Sudan, Kurdistan, Congo and Ethiopia who are all now local neighbors here in Harrisonburg. I heard a Salvadoran woman commission us to struggle with those whose Temporary Protected Status is threatened, so that their families can thrive in this country. I heard women whose ancestors were enslaved by my ancestors speaking out for gender parity in life opportunities, calling men to join them in supporting the full rights of women, and commissioning all of us in the crowd to be sure that the voices and perspectives of women of color are heard and heeded in the significant decisions our community faces.
Tears welled up often as these women, one as young as 15, spoke and moved with conviction about their dreams for themselves and the world. I was grateful that as a woman, schooled by the white feminists who were my public school teachers, and further educated by the womanist academics who were my college professors, and learning today about white privilege and intercultural partnership that I belong to the Jesus tradition. Maybe that surprises you. Emerging from a patriarchal culture, the early followers of Jesus struggled, as our world still does, to incorporate the full humanity of women and men into their movement. Their Biblical tradition--what we tend to call the Old Testament--also narrated, albeit in the margins, the tensions between the two dominant genders, even as the very story of creating humanity was an inclusive one--in God's image, all of us, and it was very good.
Life and Death differences
What difference does Jesus make? What difference does Jesus make to our personal and societal struggles? There is something desperately wrong in the world. There is something desperately wrong in us. But that's not the whole picture. There is something very wonderful in the world. There is something very wonderful in us. Sometimes this dichotomy of good and evil is helpful for understanding ourselves and the world. At other times this dichotomy produces confusion, fear and control.
As participants in God's covenant of love with the world through Jesus Christ, we must take care when reading scripture that we don't harm those with whom we're sharing our message. Scripture passages like those we heard this morning could become dangerous in communities that are not seeking to be reconciled to one another, to God and to the earth. Without the Spirit of Jesus Christ as our guide, the Biblical story can be distorted to wound and oppress, to stonewall the important changes that we need to make as a society.
Life and death interpretations
At our worst, the church hears this story about the snakebites and concludes--Israel was rebellious, so God sent some poisonous snakes to kill 'em, but when God gave them a random and weird rule--look at a snake on a pole--and they obeyed, God healed them. Whew! Death averted. And likewise, when we hear John chapter 3 we conclude that God loves the whole world--except the people who don't believe in Jesus who are condemned already--and we had better start believing in Jesus in order to have eternal life.
Honestly, these are simplistic and bad ways of reading these passages. Both interpretations are essentially fear-based and they confuse God's covenant love with control, so shake it off. [SHAKE HANDS] These scriptures are so much deeper, wiser and truer than these cheap interpretations. And shake off your shaming and blaming of those who fed you bad interpretations in the past. We don't have enough time and energy for that. Not when we are facing into things that are terribly wrong in the world or in ourselves. Not when the savior of the world the is addressing us--despite what is wrong in us and in the world--as the wonderful community of potential that we are, a community which can learn and live a better way.
Here are some hints at better interpretation. Israel travelling through the wilderness for 40 years had lost their awareness of God's covenant with them. They ask: Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? Why has God acted in history to free the Hebrews from the slavemasters in Egypt? Are you kidding? Because God heard your cries. Because God is against the oppression of the Egyptian empire (and all empires of exploitation that exist.) Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? These people have totally lost perspective. They aren't dying in the wilderness; they are receiving God's law for life; they are being fed with manna daily; they are given water; they are being led to toward a promised land by a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.
They had no life in Egypt. In the wilderness God gives them a life that can change them and the world for the better. It might take generations, but don't lose the arc of the story! Ain't it true. Sometimes, while participating in the covenant people of God, learning in the wilderness, trying to walk the talk, we lose perspective. We lose the main thread of the storyline running through our daily life--the story of God's covenant love with a community of people.
According to the Gospel of John the religious leaders that Nicodemus usually hung out with, had lost perspective on the their covenant relationship with God. And so Nicodemus goes to Jesus to shed some light on the situation. And they have this tender, gender bender conversation about new birth. And then Jesus refers to this weird story from the Torah about Moses lifting up a snake in the wilderness. And Jesus says, by analogy, #MeToo. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Humanity be lifted up.
The take-away is that Nicodemus begins to shake off some of his interpretations of the Bible and interpretations of life. And through Jesus Nicodemus gains a bit of freedom to participate in God's covenant that changes us, changes us as individuals, but not just born again individuals, and changes our future, but not just our eternal destiny, and changes how we will live in our society as a community of God's covenant love. If you read the whole Gospel of John during Lent this year, at the end you can see how Nicodemus--was changed by this encounter with Jesus. And I want to be changed. We want that, don't we?
When their lives were threatened, the Israelites looked at a snake on a pole, and they were saved by God--not in the way they had expected, but saved nonetheless. Remember, Israel asked God to take the snakes away, but God didn't! And I don't know that God is just going to take away patriarchy or racism, or homophobia, or war against people or planet. But, during their 40 years in the wilderness Israel was fed daily by God. They were given water. They were given some measure of freedom and an opportunity for a new life. God was providing for this covenant people, feeding them, saving them even though they rebelled and complained and wanted to return to Egypt. The story of Israel being healed from the snake-bites is a snapshot in the long journey that God is willing to make with humanity and a reminder to us to choose the perspective that leads to life. The church who tells and lives the Jesus tradition is like food, water, and salvation for those of losing perspective.
With Nicodemus, a leading Pharisee, Jesus lays things out: judgment and salvation, shadow and light, death and eternal life. Jesus knows that life for Jewish people in Jerusalem living under Roman occupation is going to require discernment, that there will be grey areas, that there will be very complex decisions ahead. Jesus lays out this dichotomy because Nicodemus is at a point of decision. Jesus' purpose was to invite us into a saving relationship, a covenant of love that has personal and global implications. God's covenant with us is not simplistic. Who knew that better than Jesus? He was misunderstood by people at home and people in Jerusalem. He struggled and suffered. But we can enter this life that Jesus offers and find salvation. Still hazards, still hardships, still suffering, but a way through life that produces life and blessing for others. That's what the church has offered me and I hope that by participating in the church with my gifts that I'm being saved and sharing the message and means of salvation with others.
What difference does Jesus make?
Billy Graham died last month at the age of 99. Graham believed in Jesus. What difference does Jesus make? Early in his ministry to address and take action against racial segregation in United States, Billy Graham quoted some of these verses from John--God's so loved the world. Organizers at his evangelistic crusade in Chattanooga had roped off areas to divide the crowd by race. Graham demanded that these be removed. And this was in 1953. Graham later shared his preaching platform with Martin Luther King Jr in New York City. The two were friends. MLK affirmed Graham's strong stance against segregation, though he challenged Graham we he seemed to lose perspective on making social change with respect to civil rights. The two came to differ on matters like the Viet Nam war. Graham, supported US foreign policy and every US war during his public ministry, advising each US president from Harry Truman to Barak Obama. Graham was especially close to Eisenhower, LBJ and Nixon. Graham may have been too simplistic in his Christian message, but we don't have time to blame or shame when we are facing into things that are terribly wrong in the world or in ourselves. Not when the savior of the world is addressing us as the wonderful community of potential that we are, a community which can learn and live a better way by the Spirit, the wind, the breath of Jesus among us.
What difference does Jesus make? What difference does Jesus make as we're facing a decision? Is Jesus just personal support for whatever we decide? Or does the Galilean's nonviolence, peacemaking, social justice, and service give us divine perspective--on our decisions? Is Jesus with us no matter what? Or does Jesus' counter-cultural politics, inclusion of outcasts, and defiance of traditional hierarchies mean that some paths draw us to the Galilean's side while others divert us far from the Spirit of Christ?
I'm teaching an undergraduate course in the Bible right now and most of the students describe God and Jesus as loving and forgiving. This was Graham's basic message. And I don't disagree. But we have to ask--what difference does Jesus make? If our only theological insights are that God loves us no matter what and will forgive us no matter what, and can somehow work our lives into a divine plan no matter what, then so what? What difference does that make in our living? In our communities? The Bible is not only about the character of God--and mind you while God does love and provide and care and forgive, God also judges and directs. The Bible is also necessarily about the community of God's covenant people. And we are they. Perhaps the decision in your life is whether to find your salvation in Jesus Christ and among this covenant people.
Two weeks ago I went to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN for Pastors and Leaders week. I hope to share many things that I learned and that inspired me while I was there, but here's one. Janna Hunter Bowman, professor of peace studies and Christian social ethics at AMBS lived a decade in Colombia and in addition to learning about and working with national level agencies and efforts to reduce violence and build peace, she also studied grassroots communities who were making a difference--preserving life and refusing violence. When her research included interviews with local church leaders about why they were willing to risk their lives in order to resist various armed groups, they spoke in their primary language--that is the language of faith in Jesus Christ, and knowing the presence of Christ's Spirit guiding their community and their decisions and their actions. Brothers and sisters, Jesus makes a difference. They did not report unique courage or skills, but special knowledge, knowledge of God's Spirit.
These Christian communities, affiliated with denominations, but on the fringes, reported that their shared decisions for being people of peace and taking even life-threatening risks were because of Christ, because of the Spirit, because that's simply how to be God's covenant people in the world. So, Jesus lifted up into our perspective, our vision--Jesus lifted up in suffering love on the cross--and Jesus lifted up, that is raised from death, to direct our living as Lord of God's covenant people makes a difference. Jesus is Lord as a servant, who does the women's work of washing feet and joins the refugee and immigrant as a traveller and as guest. This Jesus has renewed God's covenant with every living creature, with the descendants of Abraham, with Israel and all who believe and love and follow Jesus.
Community Mennonite Church is part of God's covenant people the world over and through time. We are Anabaptist Mennonite Christians and even if you don't identify with Anabaptist or Mennonite or Christian, you might still be part of this community. For the record, it is Jesus who makes the difference in who we are. If there is anything among us that has healed you, or held you. If there is any faith that has been stirred here or perspective that has helped you shake off the dregs in favor of God's covenant love, then it's because the Spirit of Jesus Christ founded this community. Thanks be to God.
February 27, 2018 by cmc_admin
Lent II: God's promises to future generations
"Embracing the Unexpected"
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-25
Click to read transcript
Those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the gospel, will save it.
It sounds like martyrdom to me--or at least death and resurrection. Either way, Jesus' words sound too deep and too wide for our little lives. Are we those who lose our lives for the sake of gospel, and so save our lives?
The traditional Lenten disciplines of giving, fasting, and praying are about losing our lives in order to save them. In their most basic form--giving money to the poor, abstaining from food, and praying to a God we can't quite get our hands on--these are three irrational practices which work against our own human interests. Unless Jesus is speaking the truth--the unexpected absurd truth which gives life. Those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the gospel, will save it.
As God's people, during Lent we open ourselves to what God will do with us. We give. We give to the poor and entrust the poor with the money that we might otherwise be tempted to hoard or worship, or control as if we knew how to rightly order the wealth of God's creation. We fast. We fast to create an emptiness, a hunger for things only God can provide. We pray. We pray to God because we are not God--we are not the center of the world or even the center of our own lives. Our cells and bodies orbit around a center of divine love that is God--who holds the universe together and catches it as it falls apart.
These Lenten practices of giving fasting and praying, remind us that God works in unexpected, counter-intuitive, seemingly irrational ways at times. And we are called to be early adopters of God's ways with us. When Jesus spoke about things like this--losing one's life to save it, his closest friends thought he was nuts. But he wasn't. He was speaking God's truth, and living it, even when it meant dying and trusting his disciples with the unfinished business. When we think about it that way, maybe Jesus was a bit crazy.
And when Abram heard God's truth spoken directly into his life, he laughed. This wasn't just a baby after months of infertility, this was a crazy irrational promise of a child to be born to a post-menopausal woman. Both parents--as good as dead--says the apostle Paul. Now, none of us wants to stand in the way of God's promises, but remember that there was a perfectly reasonable alternative approach that God could have taken, which was Ishmael who was already born to Abram. But God chose a different unexpected, quite unnecessary, path.
Abram and Sarai unexpectedly receive new names, and God promises them a son. And centuries later, in a letter to the Roman housechurches Paul explains that by embracing an unexpected new reality, Abraham demonstrated the kind of faith that should be common to all who believe in Jesus. So if you haven't already taken up some kind of Lenten discipline, or even if you have, this week let's pay attention to the unexpected events in our lives...and embrace them.
Expectations and Unexpected Events
We all have expectations--it's only rational to predict, assume, generalize, and expect things to fall together (or fall apart) in a certain way. And for some of us, who like routines, it's easy to resist unexpected events or manage the apm as best we can and then return to our familiar securities. But God's covenants in the Old Testament and the covenant in Jesus Christ are established with unlikely people through unexpected events and by seemingly irrational means.
There are four big covenants in the Old Testament. The first is the covenant with Noah. Actually, it's a covenant with every living creature, with all flesh. And it's really unexpected because God promises to withhold the power to destroy life. FYI gods don't usually place limits on themselves. The second covenant is the one we read this morning with Abraham and Sarah and their descendants--to make them a family that would be in partnership with God, bless all nations and give them a secure place to live. All of us who are descended from this family, or have been adopted into it are heirs to this promise. The third big covenant is with Moses. Actually, it's with the whole people of Israel--God will be faithful to them as they live according to God's law and teaching. A fourth covenant is with David and descendants from a royal family who will reign in Israel as an exemplary nation with a faithful king forever.
As you might expect, the covenant partnership breaks down because of human greed, gluttony and guns. OK, guns weren't invented yet, but it's a useful alliteration--greed gluttony and guns. Maybe instead of guns we should say humans trying to control the world through violence. So at the end of Israel's story in the Old Testament one wonders whether any of these covenants will be cobbled back together from their broken remains. Then, Jesus begins to live as an unexpected fulfillment of these very covenants. He is a surprise--from birth to death to resurrection life. He is God's new covenant with us. Instead of greed, gluttony and guns he counsels giving, fasting and prayer--losing life in order to save it.
Pay Attention to Unexpected Events
Brothers and sisters, the God who loves you has provided some of the order and routine in your life that gives you a sense of being at home, centered, secure and peaceful. And this same God who loves you is also providing some unexpected events in your life that will help you discover the meaning of your life, and the way your life is connected to the life of Christ, the fulfillment of all God's covenant promises. These unexpected events may be quiet moments in the midst of fast-paced living. They may be hardships or difficulties that arise. These may be good surprises. These may be the satisfaction for which we've longed.
Among us there have been some unexpected events in recent weeks. Last week the US experienced another mass shooting. As a country we have actually come to expect these. With few regulations on weapons, even semi-automatic weapons and the bump stocks that make them even more deadly, we expect our national life to be regularly interrupted by devastating mass shooting. What has been unexpected this time around is the young student activists who are calling adults, especially elected leaders, to account for their moral and political failure to make change in US gun laws. In a tired and stuck debate about gun control vs. 2nd amendment rights, these are unexpected voices. Is the God who hung up the war bow in the sky and refused to destroy all life addressing the US through our public school children? Are these our sons and daughters who prophesy?
Last week as a congregation we began grieving together when we learned Paul Longacre died early Monday morning. Paul was dying. His CLL was advanced and he was receiving hospice services at VMRC. Even though he had expressed years ago that he was ready and willing to die, some of us expected that it might be a long while until his strong heart and large frame would yield this life to the next. Dying on Monday was unexpected. Those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will save it. What might God be showing us when the unexpected occurs? Has God's covenantal love been active all along?
As my husband Kent shared recently, this month my father was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia, a fatal disease that will bring challenges and hardships to him and those of us who love and care for him. We still have much to learn about this diagnosis. Some of the challenges are already wearisome and aspects of his near future trajectory bring stress and anxiety. That my parents are aging was expected, the diagnosis and new caregiving responsibilities was unexpected. Because of some things that friends familiar with Lewy Body have said, I'm looking for the ways in which God's covenant promises are being fulfilled through these unexpected events.
Last Tuesday author and spiritual director Sharon Clymer Landis, who now attends Shalom Mennonite Congregation, encouraged readers of our online Lent devotional "to welcome this moment with all it includes, the wanted and unwanted." The story of God promising a son to Abram and Sarai is one of embracing the unexpected, and that's not a bad message. It surely brings some of us comfort to consider embracing rather than resisting the unexpected events of the days ahead. Maybe we will learn and grow from these experiences.
But I think a sermon, that is preaching the word, requires a bit more than this counsel to let surprising, unexpected, events be. God's promise to that old couple was to bring a son, a family, a blessing to all nations of the world, a land-based security and sense of home. The promise was contingent on Abram's sacred relationship with God, Paul calls it faith. For Christians this ancestral story of Abraham and Sarah is like a divine wink. We share a chuckle with God because the promise is a son of our own, a child of human flesh and blood who would be humankind's greatest legacy, a life lived to redefine family, to bless all nations, to create a community in harmony with the land and all creation. This Son, whom we called Jesus, makes good on the human-side of covenant partnership. And so it is our privilege to embrace him, to embrace the unexpected son of God and son of Humanity. And so we give away our money and other false gods in order to share life with Christ. We not only give. We fast. We remain hungry for this Son of peace and justice and forgiveness to replace the violence, injustice and revenge that plague our society. We give. We fast. And we pray. We pray--sometimes with the very words of Jesus--as if our Son is keeping God's promise in us and keeping God's promise to us.
I don't know how God will invite us to embrace the unexpected in the days ahead. But if you fall down on your face or bust a gut laughing, like Abram, we as the church will be here to wonder with you what it is all about. And if you resist the losses and suffering like one of Jesus' early disciples, the church will be here to struggle with you and seek forgiveness. And if you somehow grow strong in faith through unexpected developments as the apostle expected we would, then we will be here as church to hear your good news and give glory to God.
February 16, 2018 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: Mark 9:2-9; Romans 12:1-21
Click to read transcript
[SLIDE-Native People Transfiguration] Transfiguration
Come, stand outside and look at the sunset. Kent calls me out and we enjoy gazing at the sky together. If you ever watch the sunset, you know something about transfiguration. Suddenly the world is more beautiful than we've ever noticed before. The heavens are close and nothing seems quite so important as just being surrounded by the glory of creation. In minutes the colors and the qualities of light change again. The scene fades and we and the world are much the same as before we heard the call. Or are we?
[SLIDE-Icon of Transfiguration]
Three disciples who were still learning about Jesus, but probably knew Jesus better than anybody else, saw him changed, transfigured on a mountain. They suddenly saw Jesus in a new and different light--in a radiance that shimmered with the history of their liberation and law (Moses) and the moral courage of their prophets (Elijah).
[SLIDE-SJB image of Transfiguration]
Some of the Christian artwork depicting the Transfiguration casts us, the viewers, as the disciples. We're supposed to see Jesus, Moses and Elijah, from our own social location. In this illumination from the St. John's Bible, the light is so dazzling we sometimes miss Jesus in the center. One version of the transfiguration story says the three disciples fall down, so other artists make show the disciples in their stumbling, falling, clay jar reality. [SLIDE-Icon w/ disciples] In every version of this story one of our favorite disciples wants to set up a few dwellings, lay a foundation here, build an organization there, maybe draft some bylaws, and establish an executive committee--maybe Peter, James and John? But the transfiguration, like the sunset, is not to be institutionalized. The transfiguration is assurance that the God who overcomes evil with good has spoken in history and is speaking through Jesus Christ who will be not only rabbi, but crucified and risen Messiah.
[SLIDE-Black and white illustration]
I admit that a scripture like this really gets in the way of my life and our lives as church. We have institutions--a congregation, a district, a conference, schools, mission agencies, print and digital communications, networks, coalitions and strategies. And this orderliness, this impulse to arrange and describe and define and name and build is human--it's good, very good according to Genesis. It's just not all there is. There is also the logic of the sunset--the logic of transfiguration that is momentary, but true and the logic of transformation that is not fully realized, but underway even now. According to my reading of the New Testament, it's a logic of Belovedness, the word God is speaks to and through Jesus, to and through us: Beloved.
It's fitting to have the Transfiguration in mind, as we turn to Romans 12. In this chapter we get a sense for the transformation that has begun in the Roman house churches--a transformation that is still unfolding, requiring communal discernment in response to changing conditions within the churches and in response to the issues they are facing in their imperial society, which has some elements to embrace and some to denounce. Their resistance to evil had more integrity when they were also able to rejoice with those who rejoiced and weep with those who wept. The early church was a prophetic alternative to imperial violence and exclusion based on status, gender, race or faith.
Written by Paul and delivered by Phoebe, back in the first century, in the days of the Roman Empire this is still God's word for us. The letter to believers in Rome refers to transformation as the ongoing renewing of our minds and the communal discernment of a diversely gifted body. So, even when we establish some reliable practices, some healthy boundaries, some workable bylaws, there are always adjustments along the way if we are truly listening for and responding to the One who calls us Beloved.
Romans 12 is not a checklist. In fact, in given circumstances, some of these gifts and practices are in conflict: compassion vs. exhortation--which does my child need? Am I gifted for leadership in this opportunity or do I need to think about myself with sober judgment? Is it time for us to be patient in suffering or to prophesy? Is it fitting now to teach the way of Jesus or must we roll up our sleeves and extend hospitality to strangers?
At one point in his life, Paul himself was overcome by evil, but he was stopped mid-career by an encounter with the resurrected Jesus. From that time on he was working out the logic of love and nonviolence. Paul is confident that these Roman house churches can indeed discern together what is the will, the desire of God for both being strong intercultural communities and for being a powerful witness in their broader society. By sharing their gifts and practicing the logic of love for one another, for strangers and even for enemies, the church could be a living sacrifice. We don't all have to be crucified to follow Jesus; we are a living sacrifice.
In verse 1 our translation says: this is your "spiritual worship." Here the term spiritual comes not from the Greek for Spirit, but from the Greek word for logic--logikos. There is a logic to being church. Paul says that the logic of Christlike love means means mutual care and affection, honoring each other in the church and appreciating a wide range of gifts. Paul also says that the logic of criChristlike love means treating strangers as guests, and choosing non-violent responses to worldly enemies. For the record, the Roman empire wasn't doing that, but the churches have power to at least demonstrate on a small scale the possibility of love in action--not just internally, but as mission in their society. This logic is hard for disciples to grasp, so we are constantly renewing our minds--turning toward God, listening to Jesus, responding to the Spirit.
[SLIDE-Virginia Mennonite Conference]
Virginia Mennonite Conference has an opportunity for renewing our minds about the structures we have in place as a conference. As you know, a polity task force recently delivered a report. Our hope as a congregation was that their report would be public and that conference delegates could substantively engage the recommendations this February, possibly making a decision about whether to accept the recommendations in later in July. I was rejoicing at the work of the polity task force and the contributions of our own Nancy Heisey. I was pleased that the report was shared with credentialed leaders and given time for conversation and discernment by the delegate body last weekend. Thank you to Elena Histand Stuckey, Esther Stenson, and Pastor Jason who represented CMC for that discussion. Now we've learned that VMC has established a Restructuring for Mission committee to receive this report and process it in some way for a year. The members of the committee represent the leadership status quo of VMC: Elroy Miller (chairperson), Clyde Kratz, Aaron Kauffman, Beryl Jantzi, Aldine Musser, Joe Longacre, and Ryan Ahlgrim. Romans 12 is not explicitly about restructuring for mission, but it is very concerned about both internal church patterns and witness in the broader society. This chapter advocates for a discerning, thinking, diversely gifted body responsible for living out God's logic of love in a challenging context. Some of us are disappointed that congregations like Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship and Raleigh Mennonite Church have left VMC because they are not supported as discerning bodies of believers with gifts that we need in order to make a faithful witness in our society. How does Romans 12 speak to us as a member congregation in this conference?
A transfigured moment
This week I also experienced a transfiguration. Here's the background. Faith in Action had arranged a meeting with the Mayor of Harrisonburg. Our purpose was to share the 3-part criminal justice "ask" that Faith in Action is advancing in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. Our CMC representatives Aliese Gingerich and Kent Davis Sensenig were part of the unanimous decision in a standing room only meeting among the congregations of Faith in Action. With the 24 congregations of Faith in Action we, Community Mennonite Church, are committed to do three things:
[SLIDE-Faith in Action]
to eliminate the burdensome $1/day fee that is assessed for inmates at our jail--$3/day at the Middle River facility. Families of incarcerated persons report that this fee becomes a significant financial hardship over time. According to VA state code, our sheriff has discretion about whether to charge any fee. In partnership with various community organizations and with the help of city council and county board of supervisors, we want to urge Sheriff Hutchinson to eliminate $1/day.
[SLIDE-Faith in Action]
and to press the city and county to jointly hire a community justice planner. There is already advocacy underway for this kind of hire, which would track data and potentially reduce our incarceration of low-level offenders.
[SLIDE-Faith in Action]
And the third part of our ask is to make restorative justice the default option for juveniles in our local criminal justice system. The US leads the world in incarceration. These are specific, winnable structural changes that emerged from a local grassroots listening process and analysis of current conditions. Working with Faith in Action is committing to advancing these three "asks."
So the transfiguration? In this meeting with our mayor, an ally in criminal justice reform, we talked local politics and strategy for how best to approach various decision-makers and achieve these goals. She offered wise cousel. But at one point in our meeting with Mayor Deanna Reed--there was a change. And like the sunset, it crept up on me. Suddenly there were recollections of the past and hopes for the future converging in the present. She said Faith in Action's work was not only about specific criminal justice reforms and infrastructure, but about racial healing in this city and county--for restoration of families who have been harmed by local politics of incarceration. She told stories and shared hope. We from Faith in Action shed some tears and listened. Mayor Reed called us to see with eyes of faith what is and what can be through our work. It was like God was speaking--through the African American woman, who grew up here, lives in the Northeast neighborhood, and as a politically engaged Christian is serving as mayor. And then it faded and our hour and 20 minute meeting concluded. We all went to our next appointments. And we are the same clay jars, but in that transfigured moment we were in touch with the extraordinary power of God.
Since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. In this worship series, Treasure in Clay, we have acknowledged our fragility and brokenness. We have also affirmed the value of our various gifts and that we ourselves are gifts to each other. As I share Romans 12 once more pay attention to which parts shimmer for you. What is God's word for you today? Which part of this passage is for our congregation internally? Which part is for our relationships with our conference? Which part is for Faith in Action as we engage our congregations and public officials?
February 1, 2018 by cmc_admin
Treasure in Clay
"To Equip the Saints"
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: John 1:43-51; I Samuel 3:1-10; Ephesians 4:1-16
Click to read transcript
[SLIDE #3] The Morton Bay Fig Tree native to the eastern coast of Australia, has also been planted over 100 years ago by immigrants in California. Here is a Morton Bay Fig living in Santa Barbara. The impressive tree is so strong and overwhelming that little grows beneath its canopy. Sometimes in the church we think of spiritual gifts as big, impressive and overwhelming. We hear apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers and we think of someone else, someone we could never be, or someone we would never want to be. Two new groups in at CMC that I'm aware of are a young adult class meeting after worship and a women's Bible study on Wed mornings. I'd be surprised if folks in those circles readily identified with these gifts, but that needs to change and maybe this sermon will help.
[SLIDE #4] Our initial responses to Ephesians 4 might emerge from the stereotypes we have of these roles. Here are my stereotypes. Maybe you have some of these too. Apostles--I assume an apostle is like the 12 men Jesus chose from among the disciples. I know the New Testament mentions Junia--a female apostle, but the stereotype persists. In more recent history I'm nervous about Christian groups who refer to their leaders as apostles because that often means a patriarchal, lifelong role for a man who has the last word and controls the succession plan, anointing the next male leader himself. Evangelists--Well, my stereotype is televangelists who raise hopes for better days, health improvements, and God's blessings in the form of material wealth. Televangelists raise a lot of money to support luxury lifestyles and ministries about which I'm often skeptical. Evangelists might prey on vulnerable people or water down the message of Jesus to win souls for heaven rather than calling people to holistic discipleship. Prophets--Here at CMC we like the idea of prophets. However, we don't necessarily want to work with them. Stereotypically, prophets are too emotional, too self-righteous, too pushy. And prophets might make us feel guilty for the ways in which benefit from our privilege and turn a blind eye to injustice. Pastors--This is really fraught for me because I am a pastor. But my stereotype for pastors is that we are religious maintenance workers that keep the spiritual side of life humming along innocuously while other powers shape the future. We pastors are chaplains to society, soothing spirits into complacency and churches into irrelevance.
Teachers--Maybe this is the only one of the five to which I don't immediately react, but we don't want to let the teachers off the hook. Teachers are stereotypically removed from the actual practices they teach, safely living in schools or universities without testing their theories in the real world. Teachers are out of touch.
Nevertheless, despite my stereotypes of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, and despite the stereotypes you may harbor, Ephesians 4 comes to us as the word of God. And it's a good word. First, this passage recognizes plural leadership. Second, Ephesians 4 names 5 ministry functions without which the church loses its vitality for mission, becomes institutionally established and blends into the surrounding culture without making any difference. Since we live in a culture that tends to be arrogant, oppressive, materialistic and violent, we need a counter-cultural church who recognizes and releases all the spiritual gifts among us. We need a church that makes a difference. And the Spirit assures us that we are, at least becoming, that church.
[SLIDE 5] As I said, the Morton Bay Fig is one big impressive tree. But nothing grows beneath it. By contrast, the gifts in the church are not about one big impressive leader or even a few elite. These gifts build up the whole body, equip the saints for ministry, and help all of us grow in unity and love.
[SLIDE #6--Map] The letter to the Ephesians seems to have been a circle letter sent not just to Ephesus, but to a number of congregations scattered across the Roman Empire. [SLIDE #7] Now in the 1st century Ephesus was a huge imperial city, [SLIDE #8] filled with impressive statuary and temples to the Greek and Roman gods. [SLIDE #9] There were wide well-travelled paved roads. [SLIDE #10] There were two large theaters and [SLIDE #11] multiple commercial zones. Ephesus was also an intellectual center and because of their great tradition of scholarship [SLIDE #12] in the the second century (135 AD) a large library was constructed which paid homage to the traditional virtues of: wisdom (Sophia), knowledge (Episteme), intelligence (Ennoia) and virtue (Arete). A giant statue of Athena, goddess of truth stood in the center.
[SLIDE #13] While the imperial elite of the the city kept huge segments of the population living in poverty, the good news of Jesus Christ came to Ephesus. We read about those early days in Acts. The gospel was first shared by the brilliant North African evangelist Apollos. Then teachers Priscilla and Aquila, exiled Jews from Rome, filled in some of the gaps in his message. Later, Paul the apostle, spent a year in Ephesus, spoke regularly in a lecture hall, and wrote his first letter to the church in Corinth. Fivefold ministry is a buzz word today among missional church practitioners and popular authors. Bible readers are convinced that the five gifts named here are not special offices, conferring privileges and responsibilities on a few elite people in the church. [SLIDE #14] Rather, these five gifts are expressed in the lives of ordinary believers. And this is a good interpretation, especially in the context of ancient Ephesus and the Roman Empire. The gospel entered these ancient cities not with pomp and circumstance, but with humility--initially among synagogue gatherings, and soon the way of Jesus began to touch the lives of Jews and Gentiles.
Diverse gifts in one Body
The author of Ephesians speaks of the body of Christ as the resurrected body that is revealing God's power and love to the world. It is not just that the church as a body is alive and growing and working together. It's that the church is made up of people who were once dead (according to this letter) and are now living as a new resurrected body in parallel to the death and resurrection of Jesus Chris— who is the head of the body. Furthermore, the author's own body was locked up in prison. Still this letter says Christ ascended on high making captivity itself captive. So the body of the church is resurrected and cannot be held captive.
These five gifts were not established offices in the early church. These are functions. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers may be recognized roles now and again, but roles shift, conditions change and people guided by the spirit shift accordingly. There is no elite leadership class of Christians who exercise these gifts. Every member of the body carries out these functions. And everyone of us can discover and develop these gifts. We tend to have one of these giftings as a base and as we mature in faith we discover and practice other giftings as well.
If we look at the life of Jesus, he functions with each of these gifts. Jesus is the apostle--the sent one, sent from God to the world. Jesus is a prophet who denounces the injustices in his society and announces another path, and then walks it. Jesus is an evangelist, literally bringing good news of the kingdom of God to the poor and the powerful--it sounds different depending on the audience. Jesus is a pastor, or shepherd (same word in Greek), who compassionately ministers to wounded people, confused disciples and helps them pray.
And Jesus is a teacher, who interprets the law.tells parables and asks great questions that keep people coming back for more. As Christians, aiming to live like Jesus, over time we will experience different aspects of these spiritual gifts, but we will probably have a base gift to which we return, which we exercise most often.
Now some of us took a short gifts survey this past week, so I'm going to describe these five gifts. Some of our stereotypes might get in the way to understanding how apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers function in the faith community, but I believe one or more of these gifts is already at work in you, so listen to what the Spirit is saying to you. If you haven't taken the survey, I'll include the website at the end of the slides. If you take the survey, let us know what you learn.
Apostles are listed first, and they really have a first importance because apostles move into new fields, new environments and embody the good news. Persons with the apostolic gift tend to be entrepreneurial. They recognize and call out the gifts of others, so that a group can move. Apostles may be pioneers, but not lone rangers. Has anyone here started a business? Launched a new program? Anyone here been part of a church plant? These are signs of your having an apostolic gift. The apostle also reminds established communities of their vision and purpose in the world. Apostle ask, are we living into God's call for our community and our society?
Prophets. Prophetic people build up the body of Christ by pointing to God, revealing the heart and mind of God. That can mean denouncing what is unjust and agitating for change. But prophetic gifting is not just rabble-rousing. Being a prophet is not just making people uncomfortable. If your primary gift for building up the body of Christ is prophetic, revealing the heart of God and the hearts of people, then you might weep easily. You might feel deep anger at injustice. You might be drawn to arts which break free from the captivity of empire. Congregations sometimes keep apostles and prophets at a safe distance but the New Testament vision of church activates both of these gifts. Prophets ask: Are we hearing God's voice and responding appropriately?
Evangelists. The gifted members extend the church's ministry among persons who have not experienced a compelling Christian witness. If evangelism is your primary gift, then you are eager to share what God has done in the past and what God is doing right now. You know where to begin with someone for whom God's message is new. We all know people who, when they see a good movie or get a good deal on a bushel of apples, tell everyone they know. It's on their Facebook page. They share their "good news" with people in their circles. These are signs that a person has evangelistic gifts. Evangelists activate the church by asking: Are new people being attracted to the kingdom of God?
[SLIDE #15] JR Woodward describes the five gifts in Ephesians with some fresh language. He calls the apostle, the Dream Awakener. Apostles dream of ministry in new forms and awaken this kind of dreaming in others. Woodward calls the prophet the Heart Revealer: someone who exposes our own hearts, even when we're opposed to God; someone whose heart breaks over what breaks God's heart. Woodward's name for the evangelist is simply Story-Teller. Now, I have to warn you about these first three types of gifting. They are powerful. Mennonites, and lots of other Christians, have sometimes restricted persons from exercising these gifts altogether or kept them a safe distance from the congregation. We tend to be most comfortable with pastors and teachers, because they don't provoke as much change as the other gifts. Mennonites, have sometimes lumped all five gifts into one role, a pastor, severely limiting the apostolic, prophetic and evangelistic ministries.
[SLIDE #16] Example from Scripture
Before we finish the list, we're going to listen to an episode from the gospel of John in which I think we can see these three types of gifts in action. Pay attention to Jesus, Philip and Nathanael. Think about what each character does and says. Jesus acts as apostle and the first obvious indicator of that is moving from one context to another--from the Jordan where he was, to Galilee--he's headed into new territory. Philip appears as an evangelist is this story. He is sharing good news with someone in his sphere of influence. Philip connects Nathanael to Jesus.
Listen…[Two Readers John 1:43-51; side microphones.]
Nathanael has some initial misgivings; he has some prejudices, but he doesn't let those get in the way. Nathanael is an emerging prophet in this story. Nathanael was alone with God--under the fig tree--willing to question, but is then deeply convinced. Nathanael says of Jesus--you are the Son of God. And for Nathanael there will be revelation, the heavens will be opened.
[SLIDE #17] Pastors. Woodward uses the term Soul-Healer for pastor. And I think it's fitting to connect healing ministries of all kinds with a pastoral gift. Pastors, or shepherds in some translations, protect a flock of sheep, tend the injured or vulnerable members, and guide everyone to fertile ground. Pastors ask the church: are we caring for people and showing compassion.
Teachers. Finally, Woodward refers to the teacher as Light Giver. The teacher has experienced the light of Christ and knows how to shine that light into current circumstances. The teacher asks: What are we learning from scripture and our experience that sheds light on how we will live as the people of God?
These gifts are given to us by Christ to become a dynamic, powerful, collaborative, reconciling instrument in the world. Mutually expressing these gifts makes us church, the body of Christ. And, more good news, Christ gives these gifts for each other. What soul-healing pastoral person doesn't need the challenge of a prophetic heart-revealing person? What dream-awakening apostle doesn't need the clear light of good teaching? What church would thrive if we did not sponsor the story-tellers, who share the good news of Christ in ordinary places? Each of these gifts is in itself insufficient for the mission to which God has called us. Together they provide enough creative conflict, diversity and balance for the church to express the fullness of Christ in the world.
[SLIDE #18] Fullness of Christ for Ordinary Christians
Our Anabaptist forebears called the fivefold ministry the fullness of Christ. The 16th century Anabaptists were strongly opposed to the elitism of the priestly tradition in the church, yet, in their anti-clericalism, they did not reject leadership gifts. Their strong conviction was that every believer was called to the narrow road of discipleship to Jesus Christ and everyone was gifted and called into ministry. They didn't want a church with a two-tiered system where monks and nuns lived holy lives and the rest bumbled along. They also didn't want a church with corrupt theologians and priests, who, with local magistrates wielded power against lowly peasants. So the Anabaptists tried to do better without priests, without monasteries. They called their own leaders and engaged a broader spectrum of gifts within their congregations. Over time, the Anabaptists gained a reputation for equipping "ordinary" people for ministry. And thus, their movement made a disproportionate impact in their European society in terms of Christian mission. Anabaptists were the missional church of their century.
As church-going Americans it's easy to stick with our stereotypes that assume only a few are leaders, a few have gifts for ministry, a few are commissioned and sent, but not me, not now, maybe not ever. God's word comes to us today and calls us saints. We are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Christ gives these gifts to the church, so that we minister in the fullness of Christ and fulfill our missional calling in unity and love. God is calling CMC from comfort and familiarity into imagining our life together in terms of this fivefold ministry. These gifts are, as the hand of God, giving shape to ministry and blessing the world with a touch of divine love.
To Equip the Saints for Ministry
The pottery that our worship arts committee assembled is a good image for us. Imagine one of these pots or pitchers filled with something good—milk without price, living water, or new win. Imagine the pitcher poured out in ministry to the world. The Greek word for ministry is diakonia and it is the same word for service. Perhaps the next time you are serving others by pouring milk or water or wine, you will be reminded of the fullness of Christ. The church is full of gifted people being being poured out in ministry.
January 17, 2018 by cmc_admin
Treasure in Clay
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: Mark 1:4-11; Acts 19:1-7; II Corinthians 4:1-12
Click to read transcript
SLIDE #1 [Scripture Verses]
We do not lose heart? Well, I've been a pastor for nearly 20 years and I've been a Christian for more than 30 and I've been hanging out with church folks for my entire life. Now and again I lose heart. Sometimes it's been fatigue that has caused me to lose heart, but I've never been burned out and I tend to have good mental health, so at those times, a little break, a belly laugh, a connection with friends, a long walk, or a good conversation with Kent and my heart for ministry is restored.
Sometimes I've lost heart when individual Christians have failed miserably to live as Christ. But I've also bounced back pretty readily from these experiences, even when the failures were my own, because I have a strong confidence that the compassion and judgment of God will be in the right measure and that each day one begins again and there is forgiveness and reconciliation for all we who, like sheep, have gone astray.
But sometimes I lose heart noticing ways in which the church, more generally, has become captive to the meritocracy, affluenza, or militarism of our culture, or ways the church perpetuates various oppressions, sometimes even justifying ourselves rather than repenting. This is probably the most insidious way that the devil--the divider--divides me from myself, divides me from exercising my gifts from the Spirit, divides me from Christ and the church. This is when I lose heart. Since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. Easy for Paul to say. Except that it wasn't at all easy for Paul to say. Here's a bit of context to understand this letter.
SLIDE #2--[Shops in Ancient Corinth]
In the mid-50s AD, Paul visited the Greek city of Corinth. Paul supported himself in a trade. He was a tentmaker--he made awnings and stuff out of leather. He worked like this for a year-and-a-half in Corinth while sharing his experience of the person and the way of Jesus with co-workers and others.
As a result, an assembly, in Greek an ekklesia, a church was born in Corinth. These people assembled in homes or businesses after hours or courtyards that had enough space for the assembly, the ekklesia. They worshiped God, baptized in the name of Christ, studied the scripture and learned to live according to the kingdom of God--quite different from the kingdom or Empire of Rome. Paul left Corinth, he heard that the congregation was dealing with a lot of problems, so he wrote them a letter--and we still have it. We call it First Corinthians. First Corinthians addresses several problems in the church: division, sex, food, worship gatherings, and what to believe about resurrection. In his letter, Paul gives practical advice in each of these 5 matters, and more importantly, he appeals to their shared faith, encouraging the Corinthians to view all of life through the lens of Jesus.
SLIDE #3 [mountain in background of ancient Corinth]
He writes about love, for example, love of each other in the ekklesia--love being the test for whether and when to eat meat, or whether and how to speak up in worship. Remember that big chapter on love? Love is patient, kind, doesn't boast, love doesn't insist on it's own way. On top of that mountain outside Corinth was an altar to Aphrodite--goddess of love, but that was a mixed up understanding of love.
Now some of the people in Corinth rejected Paul's letter. Furthermore, they rejected Paul. They said he was not a very impressive representative of Jesus. They preferred some other apostles who were better speakers, who were wealthy, and more successful. (Paul was always getting in trouble.) So there was a lot of tension between Paul and the congregation in Corinth, but they didn't lose heart, at least not completely. I suppose that's why we have this letter. Paul visited Corinth again in person. After that "painful visit" as he called it, Paul wrote again--and we don't have that letter. By the time of this letter--the one we do have, called Second Corinthians--the relationship between the church and Paul is being restored. Since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.
The church has always been a work in progress. Paul was surely in touch with the underbelly of church life--not just conflict, but serious power struggles; not just distinct approaches to Christ and the life of the Spirit, but undermining the gospel; not just dizzying diversity in the community, but factions, insults, and rejection. Paul puts it bluntly: we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down and so much as crucified--by each other. And yet, Paul is confident that by the work of the Spirit of Christ within us, the church can repent, be reconciled, and demonstrate a spiritual resiliency that is extraordinarily powerful--we can change, by love. So what Paul writes in full is we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body of believers the death of Jesus, so that the resurrection life of Jesus can be made visible.
Friends, it's no surprise that a group of people tears each other up. We see that in families, communities, and nations of every faith tradition, every nationality, every economic status. This past week the racist insults against whole countries by our nation's president raises this deeply spiritual matter. Our society, right now, needs assemblies--churches--that are turning daily toward Christ Jesus as our model for how to live, how to speak, how to be in the world as the extraordinary power of divine love. On this MLK Jr. weekend we must not lose heart--even if requires facing the racism, materialism, and militarism that poisons not just this country, but the churches.
SLIDE # 4 [Bible verses]
The church community is flawed and our history is full of failures--worse than those painful words from our president. Yet the church community is more than the sum of our sins and frailties. We carry within us and among us a divine treasure. I believe this treasure, this extraordinary power is the power of love--love as Jesus lived it. The church--people baptized into Christ--has an extraordinary power to influence the world. And the Spirit of Christ is always urging us on, inspiring new demonstrations of love. We practice with each other, so that we can be a sign to the world.
Sometimes as I think about our district and conference context I've focused on the failures, the flaws, the places where our local church structures are stuck replicating abuses of power that don't belong in the church. Sometimes I lose heart. But having received a report from our district minister Roy Hange, I'm reminded of the treasure--the love that we churches carry, embody and share with the world. Listen:
The 2017th year of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is passing into another. As we the 13 churches of the Harrisonburg District of Virginia Mennonite Conference have continued on our missional journey of hope together, we celebrate the work of the new creating Spirit among and beyond us through these paths of righteousness:
The Kids Club movement born in our circle and now held by Virginia Mennonite Missions has grown to involve this year the lives of 700 children the Shenandoah Valley as led by Seth and Theresa Crissman…
Two new prison chaplains have been called from our midst both from Early Church: Jason Wagner at the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Regional Jail and Nick Meyer at Coffeewood Correctional Center where he baptized four last month. The "Welcome Your Neighbors" signs born in a vision from Immanuel Mennonite Church has become a national and international movement to welcome the wayfarer, stranger and refugee.
Churches in our district are engaged in or have finished 6 building projects expanding vessels for the Body of Christ to be held in living hope. We continue to work at formation for pastors and strengthening congregational life through the growth of various inner healing ministries.
The Spirit is stirring two maybe three church plants from our midst. The work for the healing of the nations continues as members of our churches have been peacemakers in the tensions in Charlottesville, justice-makers through Faith in Action in Harrisonburg and peace-builders in various national and international contexts where hope and peace is needed.
Please pray that the Spirit would lead and guide us together into gracious service in the New Year.
In Christ's hope and peace, Roy...
But we have this treasure in clay jars. In fact, we don't even know what kind of jars or structures will best allow our gifts to flow from our VMC congregations to the world. The scriptures are clear that God works in and through people and communities who are humble enough to admit our flaws, humble enough to know our need for God and to help each other be changed by love and for love. II Corinthians is written by the humble apostle who identifies with slaves, clay jars, an earthly tent. The apostle loves the church enough to stay in relationship despite rejection.
And Paul keeps up some degree of challenge. Since the topics of division, food, sex, worship, and resurrection had been flashpoints in an earlier letter, in this letter the only nitty-gritty matter he addresses is non-controversial: money.
Paul doesn't excuse bad behavior by individuals or church communities. Nor should we. But God's word today steers us away from the edge of despair and toward the hope that God's love has made a difference for us and makes a difference for others. The treasure of divine love within us will not make us rich, or secure our reputation or prevent hardship. The treasure we carry together is the way of forgiveness and spiritual renewal, the truth of God's eternal love, the practice of following Jesus in daily life and the habits of faithful ministry on behalf of the world God loves.
SLIDE #5 [Link to website--www.fivefoldsurvey.com ]
If all this sounds too general, then we're at a good place. Next Sunday our scripture reading will be from another New Testament letter that describes this extraordinary power within the church, the gifts we have. On the screen you'll see a link to a survey that I encourage each person to take. If you're an older person, a young adult, a youth, take this survey sometime this week. The survey questions will take you about five minutes to complete. The questions are about ordinary life and the responses are simple--rarely, sometimes, or often. The language in the survey isn't particularly churchy, which is helpful because the extraordinary power we carry is not meant for permanent storage in the clay jar of church structures. We're to open these clay jars and let our gifts flow to the world. Next Sunday, bring your results from the survey with you. I'll include some teaching about gifts in the my sermon next Sunday. And, for those of you who love to critique survey instruments, have at it. The organization 3DM who prepared the instrument takes seriously the power and the gifts of the church. And even though I'm not in agreement with all dimensions of their theology I have learned so much for their tools. And actually, they helped me to not lose heart in ministry.
January 8, 2018 by cmc_admin
Let it be new
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40
Click here to read transcript
Voice One Glory to God and peace on earth. Christ the Savior is born and all the world rejoices--shepherds and sheep, Mary and Joseph, a multitude of angels, the little town of Bethlehem and a manger. While most of our society rushes toward 2018 with plans for a new year, Biblical people, like us, linger in the celebration of Jesus' birth. Sometimes it's only after the rush of festivities that we wonder whether the birth of Jesus matters in the way our theology claims.
According to Luke, Jesus was born far from his parents' original home in Galilee. Joseph obeyed the Roman decree. Due to the required census Joseph and Mary travelled from Nazareth in Galilee in the north down to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. And after that most holy and wonderful night, Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day, probably there in Bethlehem in whatever home his parents were staying. Circumcision was a home-based ritual--keeping God's law as a family. You see, Jesus was born Jewish, to young Jewish parents doing their very best to keep God's law, even as their circumstances were somewhat out of order.
And then Mary and Joseph brought their child to Jerusalem, their nation's capital city. They bring the baby to the Temple. The story contrasts the humble birth among the animals and the cosmic announcement by angel messengers, between the private home-based ritual of circumcision and the public offering made in the Temple for a first-born son, between the Roman registration in ancestral towns and the offering to God to designate a child as holy. From the humble to to the cosmic, from the private to the public, from imperial law to God's law, Jesus matters. So if you want to receive Jesus this Christmas season as the one who matters in your life, you can begin anywhere, but Jesus affects everything--your public life and private life, your relationship to government and your relationship to God, the ordinary and the cosmic.
The Faith and Life of the Elders
When the little family enters the Temple, there is no mention of priests or Sadducees. The Temple elite are conspicuously absent. This offering by the young parents is more than an affirmation of obedience to Jewish law. Here we see Jesus as a new revelation for an older, wiser generation, people who can see through the current corruption in their Temple and spot the One who makes a difference in every way.
Simeon and Anna, each in their own way, see the new light and new life of the Christ, the Messiah, in this little baby boy. Simeon and Anna model mature faith and faithfulness in a host of ways. These elders are seeking God's future--for themselves and their people. They are connected to younger generations. Simeon and Anna are engaged in their faith community even when Jews of their day were facing internal and external crises. Simeon and Anna are persistent in spiritual disciplines. These two old folks speak prophetically. They offer straight-talk about hardships and opposition, while supplying encouragement and confidence to the next generation.
Voice Two When I am an old man I want to be like Simeon--still seeking, still straining forward for the sake of our community, our country, our people. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.
If I become old, I want to be like Simeon, deeply religious. I know that we don't all love that world 'religious', but it comes from the Latin--religare-- which means to bind. With my heart and mind and strength I want to be bound to the God of compassion who saves us in the most surprising ways. If I am bound to God, I will be free, like Simeon: free to live and to die in God's time. Free to embrace the new life God offers, even if it means turning the world around.
Voice Three When I am an old woman I want to be like Anna the prophet. She began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When I am old--whether I'm single or married--I want to be like Anna, engaged in the faith community. I want to be unafraid to speak the truth about what matters most to me and to the community. I want to speak for Christ and connect our faith to the the needs of our city, our community, our world.
Voice One A lot of us just spent time with multiple generations of family and friends. Some of us are anticipating more holiday gatherings in the days ahead. Depending upon your relatives you may identify with Anne Lamott's characterization. She writes: "This family business can be so stressful--difficult damaged people showing up to spend time with other difficult damaged people, time that might be better used elsewhere--yet out of that, some accidental closeness, laughter, some pieced-together joy." (Anne Lamott, Some Assembly Required p. 67)
There is nothing accidental about how the Gospel of Luke came together. It's a very carefully crafted story of Jesus' birth and life and death and resurrection life. In this part of the story the Holy Spirit arranges an accidental meeting between the true elders of Jerusalem and Jesus' young parents. They seem to bump into each other in the Temple, just out of sight of the powers that be. Now Mary and Joseph after their damaged reputation, difficult journey to Bethlehem, and mini-pilgrimage to Jerusalem, may have preferred to be anonymous as they brought their offering. But Simeon sees something that hasn't been directly stated before in the story. Simeon sees that Jesus will matter not only for Jews, but also for Gentiles. And Anna as a prophet confirms this revelation from God.
Voice Two When I am old, I want to be like Simeon. I want to embrace the new things that God is doing among us and recognize the ways God is blessing every nation, every people, every community. When I am old I want to be like Simeon and see that the destiny of the people I love and cherish most is bound up in the destiny of the people with whom I have the least in common.
Voice Three When I am old, I want to be like Anna. I want to be living out my vocation in all my interactions. I want to have integrity, so that who I'm called to be and what I'm called to do all comes together as part of sharing God's good news.
Voice One In the beginning of Luke it is clear that the research for this Gospel story depended on cooperation from previous generations of believers. Today our lives of faith rest on the faith of previous generations. When I think of previous generations of Christians I'm flooded with gratitude for those who have gone before--those who wrote the hymns that help me pray and those who sang those hymns so often that I know the words by heart.
Even though they are not my relatives by blood, I'm grateful for Mennonite believers who made a witness in this Shenandoah Valley for peace, for Christian education, for ethical business, for global and local mission, for family farms, for church community, for welcoming refugees, for service to neighbors, for Jesus Christ. I'm grateful for the people who first wrote down these oral stories of God sending Jesus as Messiah for all people regardless of race or class or gender or religion or sexual orientation or disability or age or nationality or whatever else we might construct to divide ourselves from each other or put obstacles between us and God. I'm grateful for an inclusive gospel of good news of great joy for all people that Jesus as Savior is born among humankind.
The Gospel writer was also deeply indebted to elders who had modeled the faith, and previous generations who had remembered the stories and the very words of Jesus. At the same time, whoever wrote this Gospel--it's an anonymous work--was also wanting to be like Simeon and Anna, fully present to Christ in the moment and influencing many future generations.
Voice Two When I am an elder I want to speak honestly about the hardships that can come when one is committed to God's revelation in the world. A sword will pierce your own soul too. I want to be honest and trustworthy.
Voice Three When I am an elder I want to know the accidental closeness and pieced-together joy of life in the family of believers. I want to laugh and dance and sing. I want to be both old and new.
Voice One I'm learning the Gospel of Luke by heart. I don't know whether I'll be able to do it. And from the perspective of trying to learn the whole story, it's easy to see this episode in the Jerusalem Temple as a minor detour--a culturally offensive dip into weird rituals of sacrifice and a charming nod to the elders. But it might be more. It might be that Jesus matters to young and old, from generation to generation. What the Bible says about Simeon and Anna is different, but they are both described as praising God. It might be that Jesus is the ultimate reason to praise God.
Voice Two When I am old, I want to be like Anna. I want to be known for faithful worship and prayer. So if we grow old, then let us become faithful elders, trusted by the next generation, supporting their lives, testifying wisely about the risks of faith, sharing the Spirit of Christ. Let us praise God together.
Voice Three When I am old I want to be like Simeon--living toward a peaceful death. I want to have my eyes opened again and again according to God's word in Jesus. Let us praise God together.
Voice Two When we are old, let's be like Simeon and Anna--praising God for the ordinary miracles of new life and for the signs of a transformed world. Voice Three When we are old let's become like Simeon and Anna--those trusted to remember the promises of God even in the bleak times and not let our praise fall silent.
Voice One As Community Mennonite Church, we are still young, but we are maturing. As we become older, let us be like Simeon, guided by the Spirit to cradle Jesus--not for ourselves alone, but for the wider world. As we age, let us be like Anna, speaking about Jesus for the sake of our city and community. Let us become spiritual elders in the community, whose praise is not empty, but grounded in the truth of Jesus Christ.
December 20, 2017 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; John 1:6-8, 19-28
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
Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
November 28, 2017 by cmc_admin
Click to view transcript
Special, Suffering and Sent
26 November 2017
Jennifer Davis Sensenig, Community Mennonite Church
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.
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.
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
November 15, 2017 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig, "Reconciling Embrace."
Scripture: Genesis 32:1-33:7
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Jennifer Davis Sensenig
12 November 2017
Genesis 32:1-33:17; II Corinthians 5:16-20; Genesis 27:1-38
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.
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
November 1, 2017 by cmc_admin
First Families: Leaving Home
Scripture Presentation by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: Genesis 12-13
October 10, 2017 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig, "Hiding and Seeking."
Scripture: Genesis 3:1-13
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Hiding and Seeking
Community Mennonite Church
8 October 2017
Text: Genesis 3:1-13; Psalm 139
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.
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?
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...
October 5, 2017 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Genesis 2:4-19
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Jennifer Davis Sensenig
CMC 1 October 2017
Genesis 2:4-19; Romans 8:18-27
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.
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.
May 15, 2017 by cmc_admin
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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.
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.
May 9, 2017 by cmc_admin
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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.
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.
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.
April 24, 2017 by cmc_admin
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
April 4, 2017 by cmc_admin
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.
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.
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.
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.
March 21, 2017 by cmc_admin
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.
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.
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.
March 13, 2017 by cmc_admin
Click here for transcript
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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
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
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,
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.
March 7, 2017 by cmc_admin
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.
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...
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.
- In the beatitudes--know who you are. You are blessed--even at your worst, you're blessed.
- Be salt and light through service and loving the unloved (the enemies).
- Pray seriously. Ask God for help.
- Jesus teaches us to interrupt the cycles of judgement within our communities.
- 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.
February 8, 2017 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
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.
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.
January 15, 2017 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
January 8, 2017 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
January 5, 2017 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
January 4, 2017 by cmc_admin
December 15, 2016 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
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.
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 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.
December 10, 2016 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
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.
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.
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.
December 2, 2016 by cmc_admin
Sermon by pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
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.
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...
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."
November 9, 2016 by alisha.huber
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.
October 25, 2016 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
October 6, 2016 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
September 23, 2016 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
September 14, 2016 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
September 1, 2016 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
August 25, 2016 by cmc_admin
August 23, 2016 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
July 29, 2016 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
July 14, 2016 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
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.
A little Menno-Hasidic Reggae
June 14, 2016 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
May 31, 2016 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
May 19, 2016 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
May 19, 2016 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
May 6, 2016 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
April 11, 2016 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
March 30, 2016 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
March 19, 2016 by alisha.huber
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.
March 14, 2016 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
Here is the video from Mennonite Church Canada that Pastor Jennifer referred to in her sermon:
February 29, 2016 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
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.
February 15, 2016 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
February 1, 2016 by alisha.huber
This week's sermon is by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
January 13, 2016 by alisha.huber
This week's sermon is by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
November 18, 2015 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
November 10, 2015 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
October 31, 2015 by alisha.huber
October 27, 2015 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
To learn more about CMC podcasts, listen to other podcasts, or subscribe, check out our main podcast page.
October 16, 2015 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis-Sensenig.
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.
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.
September 26, 2015 by alisha.huber
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.
September 22, 2015 by alisha.huber
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.
September 8, 2015 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
September 1, 2015 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
August 17, 2015 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
June 22, 2015 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
June 1, 2015 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
May 18, 2015 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
May 11, 2015 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
April 27, 2015 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
April 6, 2015 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
March 23, 2015 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
March 9, 2015 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
February 2, 2015 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
January 19, 2015 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
January 12, 2015 by cmc_admin
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig