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Sermon 12/08/2019: Baptism of the Holy Spirit

December 10, 2019 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Matthew 3:1-12 & Isaiah 11:1-10


 

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John the Baptist

I wake up before sunrise and during Advent I light a candle--more candles as the weeks progress.  I'm still. I pray. I wait. I drink tea. I listen. I journal. I know that not everyone can do this--either temper mentally or due to life circumstances.  So I try to do it well--for all of us. Yet during Advent every year Saint John the Baptist appears. John upsets my well-positioned candles and disrupts my contemplation.  He's shouting or singing or crying. In any case, he's loud. John is a prophet. He lives in the wild, sustained by grasshoppers, honey and the Spirit of the living God because nothing else will do.  

If you find some Christmas cards that feature John the Baptist and he doesn't appear to be a white man, please let me know because I will buy them.  I'm attracted to the radical transformation to which the Baptist calls us...and I cringe. He's going to skewer us. He's going to challenge the whole church--Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Evangelicals.  Trust me, the Anabaptists are not exempt from John's message. Repent.  

I grew up Baptist and I became an Anabaptist.  So these baptism stories are important to me and to the church traditions which have most shaped my faith in Jesus Christ.  All four Gospels connect the Advent of Jesus' public ministry to John the Baptist's loud and disturbing prelude. All Christians claim these stories.  We all have John as a spiritual ancestor. But sometimes in Advent, the power of a prophetic life moves the church. Today some of us may be moved for the first time toward baptism.  [May the words of my mouth…]

Repentance

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.  Repentance, means being sorry for our sin and grieved by the sins of the world around us.  You thought I was going to say that repentance means turning around and moving in another direction, right?  Good for you! That's good head knowledge. But it has to move from the head to the heart to fuel our action.  Most of us don't change our behavior just because we get good information. We change because we are motivated emotionally, spiritually and personally.  

Specifically, repentance means turning from dominating power that perpetuates harm, and turning toward true spiritual power--the power of the Holy Spirit--which sponsors movements of people for justice, peace and life. Scripture clarifies and Christian history confirms and we proclaim that this power comes from Jesus Christ who baptizes us with...the Holy Spirit and fire.  

An image of repentance some of us learned in a racial equity training was that to become an anti-racist church we need to not just stop walking on the moving walkway of systemic racism, but turn around and run in the other direction.   Repentance means refusing the status quo of the moving walkway that harms us all. Now if repentance isn't challenging enough. The prophet John questions the authenticity of our baptism. The Bible says that many Pharisees and Sadducees were coming for baptism.  This seems good.  The reforming party of Pharisees and the compromised religious and political leaders of the Temple establishment and are entering this new order of justice, peace and life.  Here's the bad news.  Like some of us the Pharisees, are just playing along with this ritual, being absorbed into the crowd at the Jordan River.  Like some of our church institutions the Sadducees, are not really walking the walk. We want credit for showing up, even if there's no real change we're pursuing.  John's skepticism about whether we're sincerely repenting is hardley veiled. He says to us: You brood of vipers.  Well, not to us…He was talking to them.  And even if John said such inflammatory things.  Jesus would be kinder, more circumspect. Except that he wasn't.  Twice in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus uses this same "you brood of vipers" against the Pharisees, the religious reformers, because there's no evidence of a commitment to justice for the poor. 

Radical Faith

Are we sincere in our baptism?  Is there any evidence that we belong to the world re-ordering kingdom of justice and peace?  All of us are harmed by injustice, yet for some of us it's easier to ignore because we benefit from these same injustices.  This is certainly true for predominantly white churches like ours. If our neighbors can't see our lives as particularly interesting, let alone that we belong to a new pattern in the world, a kingdom that rivals all others and endures forever, then perhaps John and Jesus would preach the same unsettling message to us today.  The good news is that when we repent--this repeated turning away from the status quo and toward the kingdom of God--Jesus baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire.  

Notice the Spirit's Activity

Some of us are reading devotionals at home during December.  As you listen to God's word in scripture, notice that the Holy Spirit is very active in this season of repentance.  In Isaiah 11 God's Spirit is characterized by wisdom and knowledge that surpasses that of former kings, priests, judges and prophets.  When the status quo is injustice, then the Spirit of God brings wisdom and equity. In today's terms, when the status quo is inequity in housing, health, education and wealth, the Spirit brings new social and political vision that delivers justice.  When the status quo is prejudice in hiring, policing and financing, the people with the Spirit are undoing prejudice by wisely re-training their minds and crafting new policy. When the status quo is racial discrimination in courts, incarceration and food security, then the Spirit of God brings a deeper knowledge to our systems, so that the poor and marginalized receive not just equal treatment, but equity--where everyone has what they need.  The Spirit of God is always empowering us toward justice and peace. To be a peace church where everyone is welcome we must work for justice.

Of this new leader with whom the Spirit of God rests Isaiah says:  with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.  We see this prophesy of justice for the poor become the vocation of Jesus--who came in solidarity with the poor.  When churches take up a vocation of justice we are being true to our baptism. Now a lot has changed since Isaiah released this prophetic message.  What remains is the Divine pattern of justice and peace expressed in persons and organizations who are filled with this spiritual leadership and power.   During Advent, as you read scripture, pray and ponder your own life, our church and our world, notice how the Holy Spirit leads. The Spirit creates life where there was none--in Mary's womb--and prompts a righteous and reputable man like Joseph to risk becoming a husband, a parent and a refugee.  He could have dismissed the whole matter and mother. Joseph lays down his privilege in solidarity with the poor and marginalized.     

You can ignore Advent this year.  You can stay focused on a seasonal shopping list.  You can throw up your hands in helpless, hopeless incapacity in the face of all that is wrong in the world.  You can retreat into a mildly religious stupor, unaffected by the cries of creation or the poor. Or you can attend to John the Baptist's disturbing prophesy.  This Advent, God invites us to a repentant life, baptized, forgiven and dependent upon the Holy Spirit for wisdom, counsel and strength for a vocation of justice, peace and life.  

Ignore the Splash?

When the Lord gives me opportunities to renew my baptism, I try not to ignore them--even when they're humorous or symbolic.  I always wonder what these splashes might mean for myself or for the church of baptized followers of Jesus. Over Thanksgiving Kent and I were in PA visiting family.  One morning my father-in-law and Kent played frisbee golf in Roland Park while I made a loop on the walking trail. When we met up, the men still had some frisbee holes left, as well as an extra disc, so I decided to finish the round with them.  These guys are frisbee experts; I'm a novice. But I did pretty well on my first two holes. Then we approached the water hazard--not the Jordan River, but a man-made pond. At the tee-off I was well-coached by both gentleman about how to aim. On his first throw Kent demonstrated skirting the pond rather than risking going straight across and coming up short.  So, I followed suit and avoided the drink. Don did the same. On his next throw--now in a better position--Don aimed to throw across the water. And splash! I ran to the edge of the pond to see where the disc went in. The pond had lots of leaves floating on the surface from a nearby oak tree and there was no evidence of the frisbee. Lost to the baptismal waters.  

While I was still at the edge Kent took his next throw.  Accepting the necessary risk, he aimed across the pond. Another splash!  This time I saw where it went in--maybe 8 yards from the edge. It was 34 degrees that morning, so not really cold, unless one is thinking of wading into a pond.  Kent was unlacing his shoes, but since he was wearing heavy jeans, I thought my leggings were better suited for fishing out the disc, so I hiked up the leggings and waded in.  Here's where you have to imagine the voice of one crying out in suburbia. It was cold. I was about 3-1/2 feet submerged when I reached it, plunged my arm down and emerged with orange disc in hand!  Naturally another set of frisbee golfers was watching us from the hill above. Perhaps they assumed these two men were making their servant wench redeem their otherwise lost cause. I didn't take my last shot on the course.  We're far more conventional than John the Baptist. We had driven a car the mile from home to the park. We all jumped in and I had a hot shower before lunch!  

Sometimes we have all the right coaching in faith.  Maybe we're even experts in religion and still fumble.  Some of us are novices. We barely know the course of a kingdom-oriented life.  We're never quite ready for baptismal life. It's a shock to the system. But our collective failures and even our attempts to save ourselves will not do.  If we're becoming Jesus' people, we're going to embarrass ourselves and onlookers may laugh when the Holy Spirit begins to chart a new course for our lives and our churches.  Maybe the splashes and the getting wet aren't necessarily errant throws--but part of the turning.  

VOICE and Isaiah

Several leaders from Faith in Action have been researching national networks for congregationally based justice organizing.  We're planning to affiliate with such a network for ongoing training and resourcing, so that we're faithful in putting our faith in action in terms of public justice.  Of course we looked at websites, but much of the research is in person, on the ground, discovering how effective faith-based justice work is being supported and strengthened.  So last week I went to Northern VA and participated in a clergy caucus of about 30 pastors, rabbis and Muslim leaders who were reporting on local justice work, clarifying current issues in their region and making commitments for their next steps together in criminal justice reform, education and affordable housing. 

I experienced the power of the Holy Spirit during this meeting.  Seeing the diversity in race, ethnicity and theology as well as a shared commitment to justice for the poor stirred me.  The headscarf, the Franciscan habit, the priestly collar, the yarmulkah, the pendant crosses marked folks as religious leaders.  Their actions revealed their shared path of justice. I got to know Terry who sat beside me. She is African American and active in her local NAACP chapter.   She became personally motivated to act for justice after the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Terry belongs to a historically Black Christian denomination.  She sees justice ministry as core to the church's vocation, even though her congregation has focused much more on direct service ministries in their neighborhood. Through her leadership her congregation now belongs to the coalition of congregations in Northern VA called VOICE--organizing for a new dominion of justice and participation.  Terry chose during the meeting to be one of the spokespersons when we met with VA secretary of public safety and homeland security, Brian Moran regarding the governor's priorities for criminal justice reform and present the priorities of VOICE.  

Isaiah

Isaiah proclaims that that the leadership we should expect, this root from the stump of Jesse, is spiritual leadership which creates equity for the poor and meek.  This is not status quo leadership. This is not quiet in the land--look at my peaceful way of life--leadership. This is not command and control leadership. This is Terry and VOICE, the Holy Spirit and fire.  To me, it seemed like baptism--like nothing else would do. To be a peace church where everyone is welcome we repent, take up a vocation of justice, relying on the Holy Spirit.

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

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


Sermon 12/10/2019: One Day

December 10, 2019 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Jason Gerlach on Matthew 24:36-44

 

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On December 1st my parents remove two tattered boxes from the hallway closet.  Both boxes contain bundles of old (faded and yellow) newspapers. Inside the bundled up newspaper are ceramic figurines: sheep, donkeys, camels, shepherds, maji, Mary and Joseph, and an elaborate stable.

This was a day I cherished while I lived in their home.

Along one family room wall there was a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf made from stained walnut.  The bookshelf displayed a full-set Encyclopedia; family pictures; a few books, including one written by a relative named Horst Gerlach, which captivated me to no end.  And there were other keepsakes, mainly from vacations.

Two-thirds of the family room wall was shelves.  The middle third, however, was different. Toward the bottom, the shelf jutted out to create a square protuberance.  It was almost the size of a folding card table. Inside the square, my parents kept their television. And, on top of the television was a large shelf.  Throughout my childhood I spent a lot of time, especially the first day of each December, staring at the figurines displayed on the large shelf. I wasn't allowed to touch them because my older brother had chipped one in his childhood.  (IDK, something about a broken camel's ear). But, I'd slide my hand along the green felt below the figurines, which either resembled my parents' well-manicured lawn as fill-in for Bethlehem terrain or, simply, was included so the figurines didn't scratch the shelf below.  I'd stare into Joseph's face, considering his thoughts and misgivings. I'd wonder how anyone could sit atop camels for days and whether that was wise. It looked like it would hurt. I'd ask myself why all the visitors were from the fields or distant lands and not the surrounding, nearby homes.  I'd ponder whether the star had been there all along or had actually moved through the sky.

Most of all, I was perplexed that in my parents' nativity scene there wasn't a figurine for baby Jesus.  Each morning I'd check (and I can remember the anticipation I felt those first days of December every year), but the space between Joseph and Mary remained vacant.  It was, as if, the expectant mother and father set aside all month to await their child's birth. (I know that, along with many other months, that is exactly what they did.)  But, a nativity scene without baby Jesus for all those December days throughout my childhood felt unfinished. Something was missing. In all of my friends' homes baby Jesus smiled up at Mary & Joseph each December day.  I knew this was true because I checked. There he was in the Snavely's living room; on the Guidi's kitchen counter; even a large plastic representation in the front yard at the Yanefski's home. Couldn't my parents see that?

"So, what was going on?" I wondered, "Why didn't our nativity scene include baby Jesus?"

It wasn't until Christmas Day that baby Jesus appeared.  He was the smallest figurine. Even smaller than the two lambs.  But, there he was for that one day.

I later figured out that for each December day leading up to Christmas the baby Jesus figurine was hidden behind a set of children's books from the 1920s three shelves above the nativity.  He was nearby all along but a part of the scene for just one day.

With Christmas over, the following day was spent re-wrapping the figurines, carefully placing them in the tattered boxes, and returning the boxes to the hallway closet for the year.

Out of many days of searching, anticipation, uncertainty and worry both for myself and everyone else... after all those days, all of a sudden there's one day that's different.  One day set aside for Immanuel, God with us. One day until next year. But, one day. Why? It's a question I've wondered about for sometime. So, this Thanksgiving, I asked my parents about it, "Why only one day?" I asked, "Was it representative of your theology?  Did you decide together that you'd keep the baby Jesus figurine hidden away until Christmas because it would reinforce a mindset that in this life we're always watching and waiting and someday that'll change but it hasn't yet. One day things will be different. Was that your rationale?  Help me understand."

Over the years I've become aware of my go-to anxious behavior at family gatherings.  I'll bring up funny mishaps from previous years as a form of deflection. I'll ask a lot of questions.  In moments of frustration I'll feign being deaf to solidify a posture of avoidance. But, this time I wanted my posture to be more mature.  I wanted to listen better. I wanted to share about my life rather than interview everyone for no apparent reason. My parents' responses led to a time when around the table each of us shared what we are awaiting.  Once around the table it became clear that we are waiting for different things. In their 80s my parents are waiting for something very different than me and Wendy; and they are awaiting almost the inverse of their grandchildren.

Outreach Commission recently responded to an invitation from MennoPIN (Mennonite Palestine-Israel Network) to consider whether our congregation might work toward establishing a fraternal relationship with a church, mosque, hospital or school in Gaza.  For November's Monthly Gathering, Joe Roos, chair of MennoPIN, created a powerpoint presentation about the Gaza Twinning Initiative and invited Dorothy Jean Weaver to present it on behalf of MennoPIN.

Here are a few facts shared that evening: two million people currently live in the Gaza strip.  It's borders are tightly controlled by Israel. Gaza's off-shore fishing rights have shrunk because Israel wants to exploit gas fields near the coastline, severely limiting Gaza's fishing industry.  Their water is undrinkable; fuel supply restricted; they have access to electricity for only 3-4 hours each day. The movement of goods and services in and out of Gaza is subject to Israel's discretion.  (And, all of these things have been going on for over ten years.)

It's impossible to travel to Gaza because Israel allows access to very few outsiders.  A long-distance twinning relationship is the next best thing. MennoPIN hopes that through establishing fraternal relationships congregations in the United States can share in the suffering of the people of Gaza as well as express care and love.

That evening of the Monthly Gathering about forty people attended.  Afterward, nearly half of them expressed that they were ready to establish a fraternal relationship with Gaza.  The following Thursday, Church Council processed the idea and approved that Outreach Commission could move forward in this direction.  I relayed this information to Joe Roos. He informed me that we're one of eight congregations who've responded to the Twinning Initiative.  He seemed overjoyed but explained that it'll take time to establish a fraternal relationship. He wrote, "We have direct contacts in Gaza, but two things are making it difficult to get a relationship set up in a timely manner.  The first is communications.  For us in the United States, communication via email is straightforward.  We receive an email immediately and can quickly respond to it. But for people in Gaza it is not so easy due to the limited electricity and unreliable computers.  It is difficult to maintain quick and reliable contact. It will, of course, be a reality in your communications once your twinning relationship has been established.  This is part of the reality of life in Gaza. The second is the people of Gaza are under constant threat from Israel's blockade (for over 10 years now).  Poverty is rampant. Israel severely limits the amount of food coming into Gaza. Drinkable water is scarce.  The persistent presence of overhead drones with tear gas and bombs plus the bombing attacks by Israeli jets present an ever-present risk to life and limb.  These serious distractions are having a limiting effect on our ability to communicate as well. Again, this is the reality of life in Gaza."

In closing he wrote, "The time it takes to establish a twinning relationship is one way of getting to know what life is like in Gaza.  Thank you for your patience and understanding. We will be in touch again when the relationship is ready to go!"

Advent is a season of asking questions.  I anticipate that one day we will have an established fraternal relationship with a church, mosque, hospital or school wherein we will know questions that some Gazan people are asking?  Until then, I will not venture to guess at their questions. We have our own, which may be similar or very different.

So, too, Advent is a season of waiting for God to break into our lives.  Where is it that we're waiting for this to happen and in what ways? I find that I often wonder: Is the world supposed to be like this?  Or is something wrong? Why is it that so many of the people I know, deep down, have this sense that something isn't right? How can the world can be filled with such beauty and good, and yet be filled with the opposite at the same time?  It shouldn't be like this, should it? God what are you waiting for? Why don't things get set right? We could hope that it gets better. We could wait for it to get better. One day it might. But, I want a God that's active now! I need a God who teaches me about today.  I need a faith that guides how I live and helps me understand the world around me.

There are historical indications that some followers of Jesus settled into the expectation of a protracted historical period.  They touted that Jesus raised from the dead but the world goes on; that the Temple was destroyed but still history goes on as before.  But, Matthew warned against this attitude. In this morning's passage, Matthew calls for attentiveness. Be aware! The passage is a composite group of sayings (through intertextual study you can see how Matthew pulled together these verses from the previously written gospel of Mark and other sources); a composite highlighting the suddenness and uncertainty of the hour of judgment.  The aim is to motivate those listening to do the will of God while they still have the opportunity, before the judgment comes upon them. Matthew seems to recognize liminal space, but, even so, the reality of the final judgment is crucial for Matthew.

Here, in Matthew 24:36-44, there's a call for action.  For Matthew, doing good deeds is the authenticating expression of one's discipleship.  Throughout his life Jesus gathered disciples and taught them to exemplify their fidelity through good deeds.  Disciples are, in the very definition, followers who learn to be a certain kind of student. Over time they represent their teacher more and more.  They are measured by how well they remain faithful. Disciples learn to be a certain kind of presence in the world. They continually work to become people of peace, mercy and hope and they commit to partnering with God to make this world as God originally intended it to be.

In this passage Jesus pointedly describes ordinary, everyday activities, such as growing and making food for our daily survival.  It is in the midst of those quite ordinary activities that God will come to us and call us away. One ordinary day people were tending their crops in the field.  One ordinary day people were grinding meal together. People will drink and dance and eat and get married like they have always done, Jesus tells us. Into that very ordinariness God comes to us.  Be aware!

That's the story of Advent and Christmas.  The mystery of God's incarnation in the child Jesus is very much an ordinary event -- the birth of a baby, just like so many other babies.  Be aware! When all around us life seems ordinary we risk overlooking God's extraordinariness. Be aware!

Our questions may not be answered during Advent.  How can the world can be filled with such beauty and good, and yet be filled with the opposite at the same time?  The season of Advent may not heal our frustrations, uncertainty, and hopelessness in the midst of situations that anger us to our core, but my hope is that we can live our lives in extraordinary ways in recognition that our lives are different, very un-ordinary, because of the presence of Jesus.  As Christ's disciples may we work to become people of peace, mercy and hope and may we commit to partnering with God to make this world as God originally intended it to be.

By the way, I now know why my parents' nativity scene didn't include baby Jesus except for that one day each year.  It's less about their theology than I expected. See they feel a connection with Mary and Joseph for they too expectantly waited for the last nine months of 1961 until, on Christmas morning, they rushed to Lancaster General hospital where my brother, John, was born.

In Advent we wait... for one day is not like every other.

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

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


Sermon 11/24/19: Who have we made king in our lives?

November 25, 2019 by cmc_admin

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Sermon by  Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Luke 23:33-43 & Colossians 1:11-20

 

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[SLIDE #1--Crucifixion and Resurrection]

The last day of the church year before we enter another cycle beginning with Advent is called Christ the King Sunday.  It's strange to celebrate that Jesus rules the world with truth and grace while being reminded of his arrest, trial and execution--the Son of Humanity is crucified as a criminal, an enemy of the state.

[SLIDE #2--VA incarceration rates] In the state of VA there were 70,000 people incarcerated in 2018.  That's more than the population of the whole city of Harrisonburg. VA is one of three states that permanently disenfranchised people for a felony conviction.  After a felony is on your record, you're not allowed to vote ever again unless the governor gives you your rights back. Anyone born in 1980? Approaching the big 4-0?  In your life time the number of women incarcerated in VA has risen exponentially--not 100%, not 500%, but by 930%. Across the country, women are the fastest growing population of persons in jail or prison.  And we know that the criminal legal system in the United States disproportionately uses incarceration, fines, and surveillance against people of color, perpetuating the violence of systemic racism.

[SLIDE #3--SJB] Our scriptures for this morning ironically proclaim the universal transcendent Christ--the image of the invisible God whose power exceeds that of every system, government, network, empire or nation, who is the very wisdom and logic through whom all things were made, who is the fullness of God and who was crucified under a discriminatory criminal legal system in the first century.  

[SLIDE #4--Saura, Crucifixion] Jesus hangs with criminals.  Jesus literally hangs on a Roman cross with persons labeled criminal.  The title of this sermon in the bulletin is Who have we made king in our lives?  In case you have to leave early or get distracted, I'll just tell you up front that if it's not Jesus Christ, then we're serving a false power.  

[SLIDE #5] The inscription read:  This is the king of the Jews.  Luke 23 is the lowest point of the gospel story, when Jesus is being killed, slowly by crucifixion.  And so if we belong to Christ, then we too are present to our own suffering and we belong to the suffering of those beside us.  If we're nowhere near the suffering of the least in society, then we need to relocate because we've lost track of Jesus and have to go find him.  Jesus hangs with those labeled criminal.  

In Jesus' day, the Roman Emperor Tiberius surely seemed to be the most powerful person in the world.  As emperor, he was more than just an individual with a role. Major leaders like emperors or corporate CEOs or gatekeepers of any kind, both concentrate power and project power beyond their individual capacities.  Within the Roman Empire, Jewish people had a dangerous view of political power because their originating story was one of being rescued from the overreaching power of empire. Their originating story, our salvation story--God interrupts SIN in the form of empire.  In a liberation initiative that wins God international fame for centuries, God intervenes on behalf of those most harmed by Egypt's deathly power, the enslaved Hebrew people.  

By the first century, the relevant memory of Israel's originating story was fading, so Jesus came to re-mind them, to personally show and tell the extent of God's rescue mission--not only in the past, but in the present.  That's why Jesus went to the cross. He made himself an object lesson in sacrificial love for the sake of saving others.

In the Gospel of Luke the whole passion story, but especially the part we heard this morning highlights Jesus' sharing in humanity's suffering.  From the cross we overhear a conversation among dying men. Jesus holds out hope to the one beside him--a man who only knows the justice of retribution and sees himself deserving death.  Yet in the presence of Jesus, this same man believes that there is another kingdom, another justice, ordained by God and available to him. He says: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.  And Love says:  Today, you will be with me in Paradise.

Jesus and both of these men crucified with him received the death penalty.  [SLIDE #6--VA map] The state of VA is second only to Texas in the number of persons executed in the modern era, although only 35% of our political jurisdictions have executed someone since 1976.  Today--or soon--we have the opportunity to abolish the death penalty. The 2020 legislative session will likely pass a bill to exempt the severely mentally ill from death penalty sentences. And Governor Northam has said that if a bill to abolish the death penalty reaches his desk, he'll sign it into law.  Now Mennonite Christian ethics opposes the death penalty, because we follow Jesus, because we have put away the sword, and because we have been charged with a ministry of reconciliation as peacemakers in the world in the name of Jesus, himself a victim of the death penalty. Our Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective reads:  "Led by the Spirit, and beginning in the church, we witness to all people that violence is not the will of God.  We witness against all forms of violence, including...and capital punishment." We don't usually think about having much influence over these matters, but for the lives of Anthony Juniper and Thomas Porter our two remaining Virginians on death row today, we have some Christlike responsibility.   You may have heard that on Thursday there was a major press conference in VA in which murder victim family members publicly opposed the death penalty, and expressed their desire for alternatives to this evil business of killing people.

[SLIDE #7--execution and salvation] We can't be reminded of and by Jesus' crucifxion without reflecting on where we are today as Christ-followers with respect to criminalization and the death penalty.  For the rest of this sermon, we're looking into the personal and collective meaning of Jesus' death and resurrection. The cross is about Roman torture and execution. And the cross belongs to a larger story that culminates in the resurrection and reign of Jesus as God's salvation for the world.  

[SLIDE #8]  Salvation means a rescue.  In Colossians we read that God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of Christ, the Beloved.  Now that rescue takes different forms depending on our conditions.  If you're being rescued from a house fire it takes different emergency measures than if you're being rescued from drowning.  But both rescue teams are there to save your life. And God--in three persons--is our rescue team.  

God rescues us from the power of sin in the form of human enemies.  If you've been beaten up, then you know what it is to have a human enemy.  If you've been abused, then you know about human enemies. If you've suffered in these ways, then even when the immediate danger and threat is passed, the power of that enemy may still keep you living in fear.  We also need rescue from demonic power--on the personal or the corporate level. If you've had experience with addiction, if you're part of an oppressed group, you know how much we need rescue from powers beyond ourselves.  Often the rescue we need is from illness--physical and mental illness. Salvation is also simply rescue from sin. Sin, of course, is the bad things we do, or the good we fail to do, as well as the bad conditions of our world that are beyond our individual influence.  In fact, all of these reasons for needing rescue--enemies, death, demonic power, disease, can be described with the word sin. We know that God doesn't eliminate these bad things--look at the world--but in Jesus Christ sin's power over our lives is broken. In the light of Christ we see the power of SIN for what it is and we can see ourselves for who we are--beloved children who belong to the kingdom of God, not the kingdoms of the world.  

[SLIDE #9]  When sin is like bondage or slavery to false powers, then salvation is freedom.  This is the Exodus story, right? This is Harriet Tubman's theology, right?  Freedom is being redeemed from bondage, or being ransomed from slavery to Satan, the quintessential false power.  If anyone or anything is king in our life other than Jesus Christ, we're subject to false power and we need to be set free by Jesus.  If you're always rooting for the underdog, then this is likely a way in which God's rescue works in your life. God pays a ransom with the life of Christ and then steals it back again in resurrection.  The apparent loser, triumphs in the end. We too can win freedom.

[SLIDE #10]  When sin results in death or powerlessness, then Christian salvation is described as new life, new birth, new creation.  This is what our faith ancestors the Anabaptists referred to as regeneration. They experienced the Spirit of Christ dealing with their dead, wooden, powerless religious forms and giving them new life.  This kind of rescue gives us hope in the face of physical death. That's why those Anabaptists were often martyred singing praise and giving testimonies of faith. The power of sin and death does not have the last word.  Our lives can be raised up with Christ in a resurrection like his. Do you believe that? If so, that's because God is addressing the death and powerlessness that you sometimes experience. God is saving you.

[SLIDE 11]  So, when the power of sin is described as uncleanness or taboo, then salvation--God's rescue--is understood as washing with water or even being purged with blood.  The end of our Colossians passage says: God makes peace through the blood of Christ's cross.  Anyone who has dealt with shame might find this image of salvation connects their own life to the life of Christ.  Rather than being excluded and rejected, we're saved and accepted us.  

This experience of salvation as being truly cleansed from the stain of sin is the power of divine hospitality--to clean us up and deck us out for celebration.  

[SLIDE 12]  Another way we experience sin is rebellion against God.  If sin is rebellion, then God's rescue, God's salvation for our lives, turns us around, and gives us a new path.  Some of us grew up with conversion or change of direction as the only image of salvation and it didn't entirely fit our lived experience because not all of us were outright rebels against God.  But let me remind you that some of us need this kind of divine rescue. And whatever it takes, God is coming our way with rescue. If you're mostly living life for yourself and exercising power over others, then you need to be turned around and get on a path of self-giving love.  If you're wasting your spiritual energy not paying attention to God, then conversion is the way you will experience God's salvation most deeply. When you turn around you'll be on a narrow path that leads home to God.

[SLIDE #13] Here's another picture of sin and salvation.  When sin is hostility or estrangement, then God's salvation is reconciliation and loving relationship.  You know, some of us feel alone in the world. When our suffering is hostility or estrangement, it's often an expression of profound losses in our lives.   With those of us who are angry or lonely--not just in the moment, but in life more generally--the Lord is patient. The church is to be a community of patient, loving kindness.  We know that prejudice and division is not just personal, but collective. We accept that some will be hostile to one another or to the good news. Present to the pain, we discover God with us.

[SLIDE #14]  Another reason we need salvation is that some of us are racked with guilt.  We think we know what's right, but we've not done it.  We think we know what's wrong, but we've done it anyway.  When sin is the heavy experience of guilt, then salvation is forgiveness.  You know, the God who created the universe, certainly has the power to forgive.  Forgiveness as a form of divine rescue from sin can also be described as being justified--debts paid, sins forgiven.  If you're a person whose wants the world to be right--if you hunger and thirst for righteousness--then you might also be profoundly disappointed in yourself or your community because you haven't always been right.  Jesus speaks to you from the cross--the cross that stands for everything that's wrong in the world--your sins included--and Jesus says, Father forgive them, for they do not know.  We know a lot, but not enough to keep ourselves and our communities free from sin.  So we need forgiveness, from God and from one another to keep our covenant of faithfulness.

[SLIDE #15] Here's another way we Christians understand the human condition.  When sin results in illness or death--and by that I mean physical death and spiritual death--God heals us and gives us eternal life.  If you are in touch with trauma--your own or secondary trauma--then you may best experience God's salvation in terms of healing and receiving God's kingdom as an abundant life.  The life God is giving us is full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. And we can share in this abundant life here and now as well as beyond the grave.  God does not eliminate trauma and sin, but their power is not absolute. We can experience healing and abundant life in Christ.

[SLIDE #16] When sin is fragmentation and confusion, then salvation is coherence, wholeness and meaningful identity.  As Christians we have more than ideas about sin and salvation, we have a God who comes to us as a person.  Jesus' world was confused about power and God's salvation. Jesus' body was broken for us. Yet, Jesus was not confused.  He shared with those whom he loved, who would listen with their ears and their hearts, the truth about worldly power and the truth about God's power of love.  He lived an undivided life. I love that line in Colossians:  In him all things hold together.  

[SLIDE #17]  Who have we made king in our lives?  How has the power of sin taken hold or taken over in our lives?  Perhaps the simpler question is: Do we need Jesus? If we are present to our own suffering and if we recognize the suffering of those beside us--even when it takes a different form from our own, we will see Jesus.  He is always with us making peace. Do we need Jesus? My answer is yes and day-by-day and today we will be with him in Paradise.  

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!


Receiving New Members 11/17/19

November 25, 2019 by cmc_admin

On Sunday, Nov. 17, CMC welcomed seven new members and their families to our congregation. In lieu of a weekly sermon, each adult reflected on our congregational covenant and their faith journeys.  The congregation offered their blessing and loaves of bread baked by Jennifer Murch.  Listen to their testimonies below.


Sermon 11/10/2019: After Death

November 25, 2019 by cmc_admin


Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Job 19:23-27 & Luke 20:27-38

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Life After Death

Loving our enemies.  The necessity of suffering and a crucified Messiah.  Resurrection. I don't know whether these seem immediately relevant to your life this week, but they were all central to Jesus' curriculum for his first century followers.  And 20 centuries later these are still on the syllabus. Here we are, students, disciples, authorized eavesdroppers on the inter-Jewish argument between Jesus and the Sadducees.  Let's ask for help from the One who lives and reigns forever. May the words...

Sadducees

They asked Jesus a preposterous question about which of seven brothers will have to be responsible in the resurrection for a widow who during her lifetime was passed from one brother to the next in keeping with a law of Levirate marriage.  Levirate marriage was supposed to produce a son to inherit property, which would prevent the widow, from falling into poverty, prostitution and death. In a patriarchal marriage system, in a system where land is wealth the law provided some justice.  But the situation seems absurd--even abusive from our vantage point; the law fails. This weird argument is repeated in three of our Gospel. It must be sort of important. I'm going to say why Jesus' argument about resurrection matters. But first, the Sadducees.  At the time of Jesus they were in charge of the Temple. Their commitment to scripture was centered in the Torah--Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy--like every other Jewish party. However the Sadducees actually limited their scriptural studies to this collection.  They were not interested in the prophets, not interested in the writings. They had the historical origins of Israel without prophetic critique. They had the law without the wisdom tradition. But they had a lot of great material. And Jesus works with whatever scrap of truth we have and builds from there.  Hallelujah!

Now the Sadducees controlled the Sanhedrin, the Jewish governance system compromised because Palestine was occupied by Rome.  Israel as a nation had lost a lot of ground. The ruling Sadducees hitched their own power to that of the empire's success, and tried to squelch Jewish resistance movements.  So they distanced themselves from Rabbi Jesus and tried to write him off as a teacher with spurious conclusions about life after death.  

It's not that they thought Jesus' head was in the clouds.  They thought Jesus was too doomsday. Jesus said that the Son of Humanity would suffer, that the present generation would reject God's Messiah, that the Temple had become a den of robbers.  Jesus spoke of desolation to befall Jerusalem and heavenly signs that all the power brokers were going down in a crash. Jesus wept over the city saying they had missed their visitation from God.

The Sadducess did not perceive a world gripped by the power of evil.  They preferred to believe that if Jews kept the law, kept order in the Temple, kept a grip on whatever meager advantages they had, God would divinely reward Israel in this life.  Jesus believed that the justice, forgiveness, righteousness and peace of God's covenant would require giving his life, suffering at the hands of worldly powers and dying. And he believed in resurrection.  

If you've read the Gospels, you might remember that Jesus has lots of clashes with leaders.  The pattern of these stories is that everyone's always arguing about Torah--God's teaching or law.  And through some verbal jiu jitsu Jesus always wins these arguments. For example, just prior to this, Jesus bested a bunch of leaders who questioned his authority for teaching good news in the Temple.  Jesus responded with his own question about John's baptism. He turned the tables on them! He also literally turned the tables of the Temple economy some days before. So, when the big guns arrive, the Sadducees, it seems like Jesus takes their bait only to pull his Biblical opponents closer and take them by surprise.

Biblical Evidence for Resurrection

Jesus claims that God's power to raise the dead is right there in the Torah.  Abe, Isaac and Jacob are family clan leaders who are no better than any other family on the earth.  Israel believes that the God of all creation, all people, all nations chose through one dried up, unproductive old man with no place to live and a wife who seemed no better, to bless all the nations of the world.  In Genesis God proves what can be done with sad sack humanity. God overcomes their barrenness in order to bless them and all nations. In the rest of the Torah, we follow Moses. Moses--an adopted highly educated, rich boy, flees Egypt after a violent rage against the machine of empire.  While Moses is having an identity crisis in the wilderness and recovering from the trauma of having killed someone, God speaks to him from a burning bush.  

God calls Moses back into the redemption story of his ancestors.  Because God's big Shalom Plan is to redeem from slavery the family of Abraham and Sarah...and all the other people who found themselves needing a blessing, a future, a home, a purpose, and a God who would respond their pain, with deliver, healing, freedom and life.

Thousands of years later, at the time of Jesus, Jews remain loyal to their God-given identity in these foundational stories and aim to live according to the law embedded in their stories.  Now Jewish leaders argued vigorously about the implications of their story and their law. Jesus had a rather popular and perhaps dangerous direction in his Biblical interpretation. He claimed that God's blessing of all nations and redemption of the oppressed and freedom was underway, under the noses of Rome.  And Jesus required that everyone break with systems of oppression and sin in order to receive this new kingdom. There was a baptism to indicate one's break with systems of oppression and death and one's entrance into this kingdom. Jesus announced that the kingdom of God, this Shalom Plan would favor the poor, the excluded, and even people of other nations.  If the Torah experts were not aligned with the poor, the women, the children, the sick, the excluded, and the foreigners, then Jesus was not afraid to say they were wrong about scripture, wrong about God, wrong about redemption and wrong about resurrection.  

Were the Sadducees just pretending to be interested in the fate of this woman after her death?  No. It's so much worse. They were pretending to be interested in which brother will bear the burden of this worthless barren woman in an imagined afterlife.  Jesus, by contrast, is genuinely building community that cares for the material and spiritual well-being of widows. Disciples of Jesus learn to see women as dignified human beings regardless of marital state.   If you need the God who cares for the widows, the orphans, the poor, the strangers, the outcasts and the sick, then let me introduce you to Jesus Christ. You will not be disappointed. Jesus says, this woman enters the afterlife without any need for a patriarchal marriage; she herself is free and worthy and alive.  And you missed her humanity altogether.    

Willard Swartley 

This past week one of my New Testament professors died.  We weren't quite expecting it. He taught me to keep learning to read the Bible, to listen for Jesus' word in a world that is desperate for good news and people who will give their lives in according to a new world order.  He regularly visited me in my first pastorate in IA and preached at my ordination service, on April's Fools day 2001. Willard Swartley was here in town last month and though we were at the same event, we just missed each other.  I'm grateful that Ruth passed along his greeting to me. It came as a welcome surprise when I needed the kind of encouragement and support he has offered in my life of ministry.  

One brief story.  When I was a twenty-something and gingerly holding the possibility of pastoring a church the search committee of the IA congregation who eventually called me to be their pastor read my ministry file.  Willard's daughter-in-law was on the search committee. So she contacted Willard and said, we read this young woman's application. She sounds like an environmentalist--is she as as bad as so-and-so? Now, when I was told the story I didn't know the person to whom I was being compared, so that detail is lost to me.  But Willard's reported response I cannot forget. He said: Oh no. She and husband are much worse.  And then he proceeded to recommended me to Cedar Falls Mennonite Church.  That formal beginning in ministry confirmed the direction of my life, to become a servant of the Word.  Wouldn't you know that the week Willard dies I have to preach on this baffling NT text. Here's the best I can do.  

The Divine Shalom Plan & Our Part

Jesus takes us back to the time when God spoke through a burning bush.  Moses had only recently realized that rather than indulging his privilege passing as a high ranking Egyptian he would align himself with oppressed brothers and sisters whose labor was being exploited.  God's covenant to bless all the nations of the world, to give landless people a home was not nullified when the ancestors died or the empire rose. The God of the living, was still working out a Shalom Plan and Moses--who was kind of a mess at the time--had a part to play.  There, amidst the flame, in the company of the living ancestors, Moses began a lifelong resistance to empire, a commitment to building up a people of peace, learning and teaching faith in a living God.  

Jesus says:  to God they are all alive--the ancestors, those whose material and spiritual needs were not fully met in this life.  God's covenant to bless all the nations, free the captives, to bring life to the barren, and raise up a savior is being fulfilled.  The message to the Sadducees--the message for us--is that we will either die with Christ, giving our lives in love as part of the Shalom Plan or we will be co-opted in the machinery of death that is all around us.  

Over the past two days, nine of us from CMC (Andrea, Veva, Kent, Ben, Brian, Mike, Jason, Art and I) participated in Racial Equity training.  We were learning and reviewing a language of structural racism, a history of white affirmative action in the US, and lessons in economics and psychology regarding how systems in our society perpetuate oppression against people of color for the economic advantage of people considered white.  If you overheard a snippet of this training, it would seem too doomsday. Like the Sadducees of long ago, many white people and many persons of color in the US would prefer to believe that law-abiding, good intentions are enough for God's promised life to be granted in this age. But, as one of our trainers said "an organized lie is more powerful than a disordered truth."  Jesus would have us get the truth in order, so that we might not succumb to racist lies dressed in law, folded into good intentions and poisoning narratives of the self-made American family. Hallelujah! Jesus will work with whatever scrap of truth we have and build from there the prophetic resistance and holy wisdom we need to play our part as people of peace in a nation bound by racist oppression.

According to Jesus, resurrection is in the DNA of Israel's whole story.   God will keep God's covenant, the Shalom Plan, for all the living--for all who need a blessing, a future, a home, a purpose, and a God who would hear our pain, and deliver freedom and peace.  As the church we see Jesus as the quintessential evidence of God's power of resurrection. As one Pharisee put it: In Christ consider yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God. (Rom 6:11)

Last Sunday during our All Saints Day ritual there was no burning bush, yet we worshipped amidst candle flame reminders of those who have died, yet are alive to God.  Next year I'll light a candle for Willard. And perhaps by then some of us will be represented by flickering candles too. Human beings have always speculated about the meaning of our deaths and the possibility of life beyond death.  Religious traditions, ours included, have both conclusions and uncertainties about these matters. I don't suppose this sermon resolves all your personal or theological queries about resurrection, but perhaps it helps. Don't we want to live in such a way that by the time we die, we have already given our lives for Christ and the Shalom Plan for the whole world? 

The wisdom from Job suggests some certainty:  I know that my Redeemer lives and at the last will stand upon the earth, and after death, then in my flesh I shall see God.  Some days, I have that kind of confidence, that after death, in Christ there is more life to come.  Mysterious perhaps, but that doesn't preclude it being true, does it? Other days I have a reverent agnosticism about life after death.  Who knows? Not I.  

Today I see resurrection--especially Jesus' resurrection--as divine confirmation of a Shalom Plan for the whole community of the earth--people, plants, water, animals, elements and air.  And I see resurrection as a way to name the power we share as followers of Jesus to play our part, to resist the lies, to give our lives. How do you see resurrection today? And what does resurrection mean for how you will live until you die?

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

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


Sermon 11/03/2019: In Christ

November 7, 2019 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Ephesians 1:11-23

 

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In Christ & the Communion of Saints

Sometimes as I'm writing a note, I end with the phrase--in Christ--and then sign my name. 'In Christ' is a reminder of scriptures, like this one from Ephesians, that reconcile diverse believers and unite us in Christ. Because we are in Christ, there is a great power at work among us. In Christ the church--Jewish and Gentile--receives an inheritance of wisdom and revelation which comes from the present work of the Holy Spirit, and through the glorious Jesus tradition as lived by the saints who, though they have died, are also with us in Christ. Today we remember and celebrate the saints in Christ.

Our Anabaptist theology emerged in Europe during a reformation of the Western church. One of the early Christians creeds, also affirmed by Anabaptists was the Apostle's Creed, which refers to the communion of saints. The Creed concludes:

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body
and the life everlasting.

Catholic, in this context, means the universal church. Today Mennonite don't recite this creed much, though it's in our hymnal as an affirmation of faith #712. The early Anabaptists didn't recite the Apostles Creed much either, but they affirmed it in order to clarify that their faith--though distinctive --was nevertheless in Christ and part of a much larger and longer tradition.

The communion of saints is distinct from ancestor worship that many traditional cultures practice, but there are continuities as well. Rather than cutting deals on the other side--counseling us or harassing us--the Christian view of saints is that time bends. Saints today are together in Christ with those who have gone before us. We participate with all the saints in Christ's death and resurrection. Together we share in the glory of a kingdom that is not yet, but already emerging and visible in the light of lives lived for Christ in the past or today.

St. Francis and our Mortality

One beloved Christian saint who preceded the Anabaptist movement was St. Francis. In our age of rampant materialism and environmental degradation, many contemporary Christians are inspired by what we know of Francis' life in the 13th century. An early 20th century poet wrote:

Would I might wake St. Francis in you all,
Brother of birds and trees, God's Troubadour,
Blinded with weeping for the sad and poor;
Our wealth undone, all strict Franciscan men,
Come, let us chant the canticle again
Of mother earth and the enduring sun
God make each soul the lonely leper's slave;
God make us saints, and brave.
(Vachel Lindsay 1879-1931)

Surely today we're lighting candles in memory of some who were brave--perhaps even brave in facing their own death. One of my poet friends has pondered personal mortality with a poem called The life I owe. She brings some humor to a sober topic, yet I'm taken with her weaving together her Mennonite faith tradition, a Franciscan-inspired concern for the planet and the glorious unknown beyond our own death. Here's her poem:

The Life I Owe
I hope it's raining when I die
And that the waves are crashing high
And lightening flashing in the sky.

I'd like to go out with a roar
Of thunder and a good downpour
The kind that makes me feel secure

All cozy huddled in my bed
All tucked about the neck and head
Even though tomorrow I'll be dead.

Or maybe I should hope for snow.
Yes, snow might be the way to go.
An inch, a blizzard... I don't know.

For feeling cozy and secure
There's nothing better, that's for sure;
And snow does something even more.

Not only does it make no sound
Caressing every inch of ground,
It makes the whole thing feel profound.

It's natural to imagine death
How one might draw one's final breath
And what one might surround it with,

What metaphor or simile
Hyperbole or subtlety
Might turn it into poetry

Wherelast lines often are the best
Illuminating all the rest
And everyone is so impressed!

And yet I know one can't foresee
Much less control mortality
One has to let what will be be.

The where and when if I'd decide
Would mean the how of how I'd died
Would be determined suicide

Which still, though not, you may agree,
The sin it maybe used to be
Is not my kind of poetry.

No, when I die the weather may
Be nothing but a tired cliché
And I won't have a thing to say.

If there's to be precipitation
With interesting interpretation
It will be none of my creation.

I may die murdered in my sleep
Or so demented I just keep
On sinking till I'm six feet deep.

Whatever weather passes through
Or happens by will have to do.
No pressure, but it will be you,

You who survive me, looking back...
The system, if there's one to track
Much less a meaning to unpack.

Yours to interpret or invent
Or trace if you can find the scent,
The pattern, what the whole thing meant,

As if the weather ever stood
For anything, as if it could
Mean something meaningful or should.

But meaning comes when it is sought
The same way poetry is wrought
With mother lodes of afterthought,

Afterthought and reverie
Not pro- but retro-actively
Supplied by anyone but me

Since I, as I've already said,
Can't help this time since I'll be dead
No longer lying here in bed

Thinking back and back until
Things coalesce and there's that thrill
That aha moment, if you will,

When everything all comes together,
The sound, the meaning and the weather,
And you could be felled by a feather

When everything you thought you knew
Turns out to be not only true
But different somehow, simpler too.

But you...it will be you not me
Who has the last epiphany
About my life if one's to be.

Me, I'll be dead as I keep saying.
And rain or shine
I won't be weighing
The pros and cons. I'll be decaying.

Not gasping famous last words though
Just giving back the life I owe
To the love that would not let me go.

Yielding up the flickering days
I borrowed from the fairer rays
Of the light that followed all my ways.

Those are stanzas from a song I knew
When I was young and thought them true.
The crazy thing is, I still do.

It matters how you say a thing
And to what truths you choose to cling
From all those songs we used to sing.

It's not just fun, though. There's a cost.
For every truth you claim, one's lost.
I learned that truth from Robert Frost.

If you claim love, you must discard
Some walls, for starters, which is hard.
But he said, 'Trust me. I'm a bard.'

And I could name a braver one
Who never even wrote words down
Yet with them crumbled laws of stone.
And he said, 'Trust me. I'm God's son!'
Or rather, he called God our father
Who loves us something like a mother
Which makes him something like a brother...

You choose your favorite metaphor.
I've got to end this one before
The climate changes even more

And weather is no more the leaven
That lifts so easily to heaven
We who don't know what we've been given.

Whatever metaphor you ride
Or melody on which you glide
To safety on the other side,
Let's promise now (however wide
We land from where we aimed our pride
And whether we land dignified
Or mystified or terrified)
We'll seek each other bleary-eyed
And share our sagas once we've died.
(Christine Longenecker 2018)

Ephesians as a Candle

The early church had to face death. They had to face the death of Jesus, a violent and literally terrorizing death. The early church had to face the death of those who knew Jesus in the flesh--women and mean who had met him in Galilee and were witnesses to the resurrection. The early church had to face the death of apostles whose leadership and letters had introduced them to Jesus and sustained their churches. And of course, they had to face the death of beloved family and friends, as we all do. Ephesians is probably late among the New Testament letters, from a time when the Christian movement had been sobered by many losses. The Apostle Paul himself may have been dead by this time, lost to the empire's violence. So Ephesians, many scholars believe, was attributed to the Apostle Paul in order to extend his influence. Whether written by an elderly Apostle Paul or one of his companions who knew and loved him well, Ephesians is candle flame of love--an interpretation of Paul's theology and ethics with light for the new generation in Christ.

The Violence of Climate Change, O'Brien

In his recent book Kevin J. O'Brien a white North American Lutheran addresses privileged church folks who are concerned about climate change. His looks to the lives of five American Christian saints who, though they have died, bless today's church with the wisdom, revelation and enlightened action that we need to lament and resist the structural violence of climate change. These saints of the past knew nothing of climate change, but resisted structural violence in its other American forms. The Quaker John Woolman, resisted the American institution of slavery in the 18th century. As a young merchant's clerk, Woolman found himself writing a bill of sale for a person--an enslaved African. Recognizing his moral failure and entanglement in a violent institution harming fellow human beings, Woolman later refused to draw up papers that would have bequeathed one slaveholder's human property to the next generation. Purifying his own life--by refusing to wear clothes whose dyes were a product of slave labor--Woolman became an abolitionist both here and in Europe. Because of his light and love many Quakers ceased to hold Africans in servitude and their stream of the church became a force for change in this country. In 1865, 93 years after Woolman's death, the US abolished slavery.

O'Brien also celebrates Jane Addams who developed alternatives to poverty and war through Hull House in Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Addams referred to her work as "civic housekeeping," as if with a wink and stretch her public and political engagements could be accepted by as fittingly women's work. Addams worked at multiple scales--as a sanitation inspector in her neighborhood, to founding the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, to counseling President Wilson regarding the peace treaty to end WWI. Though she travelled and published, she remained among the poor at Hull House her whole life. Addams expressed her Christian faith through democratic ideals, believing that all God's children deserved to be well fed and educated, in order to contribute to the common good.

O'Brien includes chapters on Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King Jr. clarifying how their Christian faith informed their lives of justice, love and peace. The final American saint in the book is Cesar Chavez, who aligned the struggle for agricultural workers' rights in California with the voluntary sacrifices of Roman Catholic piety. I was moved by understanding Chavez' fasts and union organizing for ag workers and grape pickers as voluntary sacrifice countering the involuntary sacrifice of workers harmed by poverty wages, pesticide exposure and indignity. In the lives of saints who have gone before, we see a willingness to give life, love, money and energy for the struggle to be a faithful church of justice and peace in Jesus' name. These voluntary sacrifices are Christlike. These were extraordinary Americans who belonged to non-violent social movements because they were Christians. Much of the light that we have for being Community Mennonite Church comes from these saints in Christ.

The Ordinary Dead

In Christian tradition there are separate holidays for remembering the saints duly canonized and the ordinary dead. Our All Saints Day ritual collapses those distinctions because the ordinary dead have been so very influential in our lives of faith. Frances Bellerby, a 20th century English poet wrote for All Souls' Day, the day for remembering ordinary folks. Her poem focuses on the personal loss of a sibling or companion whose presence is still deeply felt on seeing the color of fall leaves and butterfly wings. Without trying to pursue things none of us understands, her poem blesses all of us who have been enchanted by the mysterious presence of someone we've loved and lost.

Let's go our old way
by the stream, and kick the leaves
as we always did, to make
the rhythm of breaking waves.
This day draws no breath –
shows no colour anywhere
except for the leaves - in their death
brilliant as never before.
Yellow of Brimstone Butterfly,
brown of Oak Eggar Moth –
you'd say. And I'd be wondering why
a summer never seems lost
if two have been together
witnessing the variousness of light,
and the same two in lustreless November
enter the year's night…
The slow-worm stream - how still!
Above that spider's unguarded door,
look – dull pearls…Time's full,
brimming, can hold no more.
Next moment (we well know,
my darling, you and I)
what the small day cannot hold
must spill into eternity.
So perhaps we should move cat-soft
meanwhile, and leave everything unsaid,
until no shadow of risk can be left
of disturbing the scatheless dead.
Ah, but you were always leaf-light.
And you so seldom talk
as we go. But there at my side
for it seems as if a mist descends,
through the bright leaves you walk.
And yet – touch my hand
that I may be quite without fear,
and the leaves where you walk do not stir.

As we remember the shimmer of saintly lives and the ordinary persons we've loved, another Christian poet, Malcom Guite pushes the church to be more inclusive as we light candles in memory of saints and all souls. Guite's sonnet sonnet for All Souls Day includes a word I didn't know when I first read the poem. A gibbet is a gallows, and here it's a reference to the cross of suffering.

Sonnet for All Souls Day, Malcom Guite
Though Satan breaks our dark glass into shards
Each shard still shines with Christ's reflected light,

It glances from the eyes, kindles the words
Of all his unknown saints. The dark is bright
With quiet lives and steady lights undimmed,
The witness of the ones we shunned and shamed.
The lone and left behind whom no one claimed,
Plain in our sight and far beyond our seeing
They stand beside us even as we grieve,
He weaves them with us in the web of being
Unnumbered multitudes, he lifts above
The shadow of the gibbet and the grave,
To triumph where all saints are known and named;
The gathered glories of His wounded love.
The candle flames and the faces here, are persons in Christ, who is fully God, who is fully love, who embraces and blesses us with an inheritance of faith. May the Christlike love in your life persist, so that we will remember one another as flames of love, justice and peace.

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

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


Sermon 10/27/2019: Meeting God in the Temple

October 29, 2019 by cmc_admin

 

Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig on II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

click to view transcript

TLC:  A Meeting Place with God

Every year from the time I was in 3rd grade through 9th grade I spent a week at Trout Lake Camp in the summer.  Trout Lake Camp:  a meeting place with God.  This was the tagline for the camp--it still is--and it was true.  For me, camp became a meeting place with God--amidst the trees, on the lake, in worship and Bible study, with counselors and cabin mates.  My childhood and adolescent pilgrimage to Trout Lake Camp set a pattern for my future. Throughout my life I've looked for ways and places to meet with God.  Perhaps you have some places that for have been a meeting place with God. This place for worship or our smaller contemplative worship service on Sunday evenings gathered in the flame of a candle, the sound of a singing bowl and the light of the stained glass window.  Perhaps there is place in your home--around the table with family or a solitary place with a Bible or a view or a journal. Perhaps there is an outdoor place--in your own garden, in a nearby park or national forest--where you find a meeting with God. Let's together become such a place.  [PRAYER]

Perhaps we should be more cautious in speaking about meeting with God as if it's the same as the appointments in one's calendar or particular places:  Brenda--zoom call at 11am. Geoffrey--9am at Black Sheep. Brendon--Tue, before Gifts Discernment. I have never written--God, Wed morning arm chair. I hope that's because meeting with God is so primary in my life that the appointments require no calendar reminder.  The rhythm of worship with all of you, solitary prayer and retreat, studying scripture is built into my days. And then there's my job which includes a lot of this too. But I empathize with Christians, even church leaders, who neglect appointments with God, who with some trusted friends admit that they feel isolated, bereft and wonder whether and where God is in their lives.  I too have experienced loneliness in my relationship with God.

Parable in the Temple

Israel was very intentional about a meeting place with God.  As they wandered the desert a collapsible tent--the tabernacle--was their meeting place.  Later, Israel invested their built environment with a huge Temple, designed according to divine instruction.  The construction of both places--the tabernacle and the temple--engaged Israel's artists, so that design and beauty drew the people toward God.  Over the centuries, despite seasons when temple leadership was underwhelming or corrupt, Jews had a meeting place with God, as well as a calendar of sacred appointments and plenty of wisdom and law about keeping those appointments.  

Jesus set one of his parables in the Jerusalem Temple where two men are praying out loud.   These aren't just any two persons. They have stock roles in the Gospel of Luke. The Pharisee is esteemed character, in the parable.  He is not doing bad things. He is not stealing. He is not cheating on his wife. He is not ripping off the masses to line his own pockets.   In fact, the Pharisee does good things. He fasts, so that he's hungry for the redemption of Israel, the coming Messiah. He calculates a percentage--a large percentage--of his income and gives it to God, fulfilling the law.  And, as a Pharisee, he's part of a reform movement practicing God's law in daily life--not just in the Temple, but in every home and synagogue. By any measure, this Pharisee is better than a tax-collector. He doesn't really have to point that out, but he does.  The Pharisee points it out to God. As if God can't measure the righteousness of a Pharisee against that of a tax-collector. This parable is more like a joke. Who among us is living according to some of society's best lights and through privilege or perseverance has avoided the scorn of being one of society's outcasts?  If that's you--and that's me--we're the Pharisees. The joke's on us.

The other guy praying in the temple is the tax-collector, whose livelihood is the essence of ethical compromise.  He collects taxes for Rome, exploiting his own people and charges more in order to make a living himself. He is the picture of complicity.  (Kind of like we who are complicit in racism, climate change, and corporate exploitation.) This tax-collector, with a mess for a life, perhaps full of shame or regret doesn't even look heavenward as he prays.  Yet Jesus says, he goes home justified--or made right by God. The tax-collector has genuinely met with God in the Temple. You see God--the God of scripture--is able to set the whole world to rights and works with anyone who is truly open to this work.  God cannot help but respond to the cry for mercy from a tax-collector.   

If you look around, some people don't really need God.  They live pretty well. They are fair and caring. Their families are more or less intact.  They support good causes and good candidates. However, like the Pharisee, they--or should I be saying 'we'?--create some distance between ourselves and those we judge inferior, whom society rejects because of race, or class, country of origin, level of education or employment status.  By distancing ourselves from our neighbor, we also distance ourselves from God. We forget our own desperate need for daily being set right according to God's kingdom--not our own, according to Jesus' values, not society's values. Making a favorable comparison between our own life and that of our neighbor reveals how much we focus on ourselves.  The Temple is a place where we focus on God.

Parable for the Church

By the time the Gospel of Luke was written there was no Temple in Jerusalem.  The Temple rebuilt by Herod the Great was destroyed in the year 70CE and this Gospel was completed in the 80s.  Jesus may have told this parable heading to Jerusalem, anticipating his own identification with all who are scorned.  And Luke--the only Gospel writer to remember this parable--shared this parable with communities of Jews and Gentiles whose gathered after Jesus' death and resurrection, after the destruction of the Temple to worship God.  Their worship substituted diverse bodies, and united spirits for Temple stones. The meeting place with God became known as church, the assembly.  

Among the early believers who first heard Luke's Gospel were some former Pharisees, who recognized the crucified and risen Messiah.  They met in Jesus' name to worship God and to be a sign of the kingdom. Among those first to hear Luke's Gospel were some former tax-collectors who also recognized this crucified and risen Messiah.  They met in his name to worship God and to be a sign of the kingdom. Former Pharisees, former tax-collectors, Jews and Gentiles, women and men, literate and uneducated--they came from diverse situations--some with admirable personal histories, others with rather sordid back stories, yet they were church together.

Like us a couple thousand years later, the early church was learning to pray together, to meet with God in ways that were in continuity with the Jewish tradition and in ways that were surprisingly fresh and always in ways that broke down the hierarchical conventions of their society.  As church we don't erase our histories, our stories, our reputations in society. One purpose of this parable is to hold us together by the mercy of God. We poke fun at our sometimes self-righteous posturing. We lament the great social divisions still reflected in the church. And we share a common prayer.  Meeting with God in communal worship is one of the ways God sets the world to rights--makes us righteous or justifies us.

The Jesus Prayer

The prayer upheld in this story is not the Pharisee's prayer.  It's the tax collector's prayer: God, be merciful to me, a sinner.  This is one of several very similar prayers for mercy included in the Gospel of Luke.  The first time it's on the lips of another scorned segment of society--the 10 lepers who cry:  Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!  Then it's spoken by the tax-collector in this parable.  A third time the blind man outside Jericho cries: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.  These Biblical prayers are the basis of The Jesus Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  

This mantra prayer from the Orthodox tradition is intended to be recited over and over again until it simply flows through us without feeling clumsy.  

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  

This prayer is frank about our need for God and ushers us into a meeting with the Divine wherever we are.  

I first learned The Jesus Prayer as a high school student.  I read The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger for my 10th grade English class and wanted to read more by the same author.  In Salinger's Franny and Zooey Franny learns the Jesus Prayer in order to "pray without ceasing," combatting some of the shallow aspects of her life and society.  In the Baptist tradition in which I was raised, the only set prayers I learned were the Lord's Prayer and a few table graces. Nearly all the prayers in my life were spontaneous.  So, when I learned the Jesus Prayer as a 15-year-old I was taken with the idea of a short Biblical prayer that one would recite over and over again, until it was an undercurrent, a heartbeat, a stream beneath the stream of consciousness.  I tried it. And over the years I've often used The Jesus Prayer.  

Ten years later as a 25-year-old one of the pastors of a Mennonite congregation I began attending preached about this prayer and recommended editing it or adding to it in case all this repetition of referring to ourselves as a sinner would create some kind of self-condemnation.  That was probably good counsel for some of the Mennonites, who had little compassion for themselves. For me, though, my experience of this prayer has been an experience of freedom. When I identify myself as a sinner, it simply means I really need God and I know it. It's not that I'm worse off than anyone else or even that my particular sins are especially in view.  The prayer brings relief, especially for someone like me who wants to avoid doing bad things and live a good life. I'm a bit like this Pharisee.

This week, pray the Jesus Prayer.  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  Recite the prayer to yourself on a walk, or as you load the dishwasher.  Pray it on your commute or as you pump gas. It's a mantra-type prayer. Through repetition the prayer clears the brain-fog and spirit-smog from within and opens up a meeting place with God.  Mantra prayers quiet our inner criticism as well as our interior self-congratulation. The Jesus Prayer prepare us to receive whatever God is doing within us and through us.    

In your bulletin this morning there are several variations on the Jesus Prayer.  If the language of the prayer as used by the Orthodox Church since the 400s is an obstacle for you, choose an alternative.  Our Orthodox brothers and sisters would counsel us to stick with the traditional wording and let God work out the kinks. The main thing is to keep our appointment with God, because we need God.  We need the merciful reign of Jesus Christ in our lives because we are ordinary sinners and we need to be made right, so that our attempt to set things right are aligned with God's vision for the world and the church.

II Timothy

Our epistle reading for this morning is from a letter written not from the Jerusalem Temple, but from a Roman prison.  Temple and prison, these locations are significant. In II Timothy Paul seems to have reached the end of his active ministry.  As an icon of mature faith Paul, the church planter, apostle and teacher, is now anticipating that he will be executed or die in prison.  Most of his friends have left--on errands for the Lord or given up the cause of Christ. But Paul has the experience of the Lord meeting him in prison.  At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted.  May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength.  The Roman prison as a meeting place with God?  Paul even anticipates death itself as a meeting with the Divine.  He says: ...the time of my departure has come...And even in death Saint Paul believes:  The Lord will rescue me...and save me for his heavenly kingdom.  To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.  

Next week is our All Saints Day service when we remember those who have died.   These scriptures remind us that the life of the church is not simply pursuing the good and avoiding the bad, but seeing our need to be made right by the God who hears our cry for mercy and daily sets us to rights.  Today we rejoice that in the gathering of Jesus' followers we have found a meeting place with the God who redeems and makes us right, so that we become part of the divine healing and hope for the world. Oh, for a thousand tongues...

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

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


Sermon 10/13/2019: Remember Jesus Christ

October 22, 2019 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig on II Timothy 2:8-15 & Luke 17:11-19

 

click to view transcript

One Sign of the Kingdom

...one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. That reminds me...of the kingdom.  Somewhere between Galilee and Samaria--where our prejudices are exposed, where the religious power of priests is disputed, where deep healing occurs, the kingdom comes.  Somehow as Jesus is on his way to the cross in Jerusalem, as he--as we--accept the risks of offering our lives for God's justice and peace, the kingdom comes. Sometimes when a bodily experience alerts us to spiritual transformation, the kingdom comes.  In our Gospel passage, the kingdom blossomed in one person's life. And he was a Samaritan.  [PRAYER:  May the words…]

When we look back on our lives, when we remember the experiences of physical, spiritual, emotional, mental and relational healing, we thank Jesus--or at least some of us do.  Now the 10 suffering from leprosy knew Jesus' reputation as a miracle worker or they wouldn't have called out to him in the first place. And, if you didn't notice, Jesus healed them all.  But it was just 1 of the 10 who returned to thank Jesus. Sometimes I read that next verse as if the Lord Jesus was full of weary disappointment: "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 

Now, Jesus doesn't give up on healing at this point in his ministry.  Afterall, one is enough to be a sign of the kingdom, a sign that salvation is coming for us all.  But the pace of Jesus' healing ministry slows. There are two more healings in the Gospel of Luke.  Jesus heals the blind man outside Jericho and in the midst of his arrest, Jesus heals the slave whose ear was severed  by one of the disciples. The violence and harm committed by the church must be rectified. And then the healer of our every ill, was taken before the corrupt powers, beaten and crucified.  He died there on a cross. Three days later he was raised in the extraordinary healing power of God's resurrection love and Jesus became the sign of the kingdom. He is the one through whom salvation is coming for us all.  Our lives too can be restored, healed, rectified.

Congregational Survey

This past week in a congregational survey CMCers considered some ministry staff positions for our church.  We also received comments relating to staffing models and pastoral responsibilities. Thank you for responding to the survey and if you haven't yet contributed your perspectives, please do this week, so Council can learn what you're thinking and respond to questions and concerns before our congregational meeting next month.

The survey also includes nominations for leadership roles in our congregation--pastoral search committee members, pastoral elders and a gifts discernment chairperson.  When I reviewed the data on Thu there were already 63 CMCers nominated to serve on a pastoral search committee. There were 40 nominated to serve as elders. And only two persons received as many as three nominations.  Both of these persons are already serving on council. From my pastoral perspective, this means that when we look at one another in our congregation, we see many in whom there is a spirit of power, and of love and of self-discipline; many whom we trust to make good decisions on behalf of the congregation while honoring diverse voices; many who recognize Jesus as the source of healing for their lives and for the world; many persons who remember to give thanks; many individuals who are signs of the kingdom.  

Healing and Salvation

Bible scholar and Mennonite pastor Meghan Larissa Good suggests that when the church reads the Bible, we are "authorized eavesdroppers" on an ancient conversation about faith.  We want to learn enough about the literary and historical context of these conversations to participate appropriately. In the Gospel of Luke, and in this healing story, we overhear a conversation about salvation--your faith has saved you.  What is salvation?   Who is saved? And we learn that healing is a primary description of salvation in this Gospel.  If healing is something you're seeking right now in some area of your life, I encourage you to pray the simple prayer from the voices of those with leprosy:  Jesus, Master, have mercy on me!  If you need Jesus, you might take up the Gospel of Luke and notice how Jesus provides healing and salvation for diverse persons and groups.  In this Gospel's prelude to Jesus' public ministry, we're promised that salvation and healing is indeed for "all flesh." It's a quotation as old as Isaiah, as fresh as John the Baptist and as true as Jesus Christ.  

Remember Jesus

Now, in Second Timothy, we are again "authorized eavesdroppers."  We overhear the correspondence between two generations of church leaders--an elder counsels the younger generation.  The elder writes: remember Jesus Christ.  It seems odd.  Who can forget Jesus?  Or perhaps we all do...and often.  The elder Paul, or another elder writing in Paul's name, reminds the younger generation, Timothy, of three illustrations of perseverance and endurance.  The soldier who must struggle in battle for the sake of a long-term cause. The athlete, who trains the body, sometimes enduring injury before winning a victory.  And the farmer. She must sow seeds, wait on the rain, tend young plants and weed until the harvest. Just as the soldier, the athlete and the farmer take a long view in their work, so too did Jesus Christ.  So, remember Jesus Christ.  The Messiah did not have a short-term program for Israel's liberation, but a long-term vision of persons forgiven, communities healed, nations at peace and all flesh made whole.  Jesus was assigned a healing/salvation project and he persevered.  

Likewise, Paul was not focused on a narrow, single-issue Gospel.  He preached and practiced a thick view of Jesus, a salvation that transformed every dimension of life.  And thus the apostle endured conflict with fellow workers, persecution by opponents and incarceration by the state.  The writer of this letter is in prison, expecting death, yet blessing the next generation with responsibilities for the life and mission of the church.  The upshot of the letter is that Timothy must take the long view of ministry and not give up when it gets difficult. According to God's word to us in II Timothy, we should expect some hardship, rejection and suffering as we aim to be faithful.   To give our gifts and lives for the cause of Christ's gospel may be likened to a battle, an athletic competition, or laboring in a field. The cause of Christ is absolutely worth our daily effort. We persevere because of our resurrection hope.  

So, this week:

Remember Jesus Christ.  Remember how like a soldier he fought with demons, battled Satan, opposed the empire and sparred with religious elites.  Remember when it all seemed to end in the cross?  

Remember Jesus Christ.  Remember how like an athlete he raced to benefit the children, the women, the poor, the excluded, the homeless, the foreigners.  Remember when they scorned him saying--he eats with sinners--and his reputation was trashed?  

Remember Jesus Christ.  Remember how Christ planted seeds--these artistic parables, these personal healings scattered across Palestine among rich and poor, slave and free, citizen and immigrant--all these seeds with the potential of blossoming as the kingdom among us.  Remember when no one seemed to understand his parable stories and just one remembered to thank him?  

I know this past week, some of you have felt the numbness of the soldier as the battle wages on, felt the fatigue or disappointment of the athlete, known the discouragement of the farmer.  So, this week...remember Jesus Christ.  Remember that he was raised from the dead.  Jesus' resurrection is the New Testament rationale for persevering in the hard, but worthy tasks of our Christian lives.  Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we endure. Is there an area of your life where you need perseverance or endurance?  Maybe privately you've been ready to give up? Paul and Timothy had a close relationship and the elder insists that this is the time to persevere.  Now, of course, spiritual maturity requires discernment about when it is time to release a particular responsibility and when it is time to persevere and hold on.  Our scripture today is for those of us who need endurance for their current situations. And our scripture today is for all of us who need Jesus, who need saving and healing.  

And then the elder shares his playlist.  In these verses we heard from Second Timothy is another hymn.  It's like Paul saying to Timothy, this is what kept me going when times were difficult.  And this even keeps me going when I'm facing death in this Roman prison. Here's the song:

If we have died with Christ, we will also live with Christ.  

If we have endured, we will also reign with him.  

If we deny him, he will deny us.  

If we are faithless, Christ remains faithful, 

for he cannot deny himself.  

Perhaps this imprisoned elder letter writer had more time to sing than did Timothy in the midst of demanding and complex leadership situations.  And so, he shares a song. Maybe he wrote it in prison? I don't know. Maybe this was one the two sang together when the mission was fresh and both had freedom to travel and energy for the battle, the race, the labor in the field.

The lyrics remind us of Jesus, especially his passion and death--when one denied and another betrayed, and nearly everyone deserted him.  The song reminds us of the faithfulness of Christ to his earthly mission and the faithfulness of the risen Christ today, to church in the midst of our daily work.  

These pastoral epistles--the letters of I and II Timothy and Titus, always make me grateful.  I admit I chafe at some of the subject matter. And if you haven't read them in their entirety you probably would too.  But the intent of these letters is to sustain the individuals who have particular callings in the life of the church, when the times are challenging.  As CMC calls folks to serve on a search committee or as a pastoral elder or pastor or director of Children's Faith Formation, as CMC calls folks to serve in any role, we are calling persons into God's great healing and salvation project.  And there will be times when the work requires endurance. I hope when we look back on the life of CMC is in the 2020s, we will be able to say: That reminds me...of the kingdom.  That church reminds me of Jesus.  

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

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


Sermon 10/06/2019: Spirit of Power, Love, and Self-Discipline

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.

Let's pray.  

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!


Sermon 09/29/2019: Struggle Matters

October 3, 2019 by cmc_admin


Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig on I Timothy 6:6-19

 

click to view transcript

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.

Congregational Decision

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.  

Struggle Matters

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!


Sermon 09/08/19: Life & Death Matters

October 3, 2019 by cmc_admin


Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Deuteronomy 30:15-20 & Luke 14:25-33

 

click to view transcript

Three Premises

  • 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.

Deuteronomy

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?  

Gospel

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.

Decision

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!


Sermon 09/01/2019: Mealtime Matters

October 3, 2019 by cmc_admin


Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Luke 14:1, 7-14

 

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.  

Labor Day

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.

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

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


Sermon 08/25/2019: Faith Formed in Community: Jesus Growing in Strength, Wisdom, & Favor

October 3, 2019 by cmc_admin


Sermon by Sarah Ann Bixler on Luke 2:39-52

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

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


Sermon 08/11/2019: Gathered Into One

October 3, 2019 by cmc_admin

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sermon is a poem by Leah Wenger inspired by the 2019 MCUSA convention.

Accompanying images are watercolors by Lois Kauffman inspired by the same convention.

click to view transcript

Unity is hard work, we could blame it on god
It takes grace, it is grace
The church is a mess, thanks BE to God

Into a unity with each other, into THE one
All things gathered in Christ's body
God is gathering everything
No thing is left undone

A unity of diversity
I will let you find me
Give you a future with hope
Gather you from the nations
And let you find me

So now let's grasp this news
Unity from division
Jews and non Jews
Natives and immigrants
With nothing to lose
You are now neighbors

A counter cultural punch
Let's walk with this hunch
This peace poem gathers the far and near*

The far was us in Babylon
The near got to stay home
The far are the wandering strangers
We welcome you home
Far and near
Into one

Let's fit ourselves into this peace loving mitten
Walls come crashing down
Stories are rewritten
The fence is torn
Our souls are reborn

This is transformation
The cross once stood for state terrorism
No one had thought let's make it into earrings
Like an electric chair

This is Costly reconciliation
Images of violence
Into new creation
Bringing the strangers home
While home is still in formation

We're at home with distinctions
Defining ourselves
Proclaiming our missions
To differentiate from others
We are ANABAPTIST Christians
We should be careful

The messy womb of a church
Institutionalized Racism, threatening militarism
Increased and industrialized materialism
Hidden and protected sexism
Light isn't reaching the prism
We're concerned about criticism
Add schism to the -isms
The anabaptist disease

Torn by fear of difference
Fear and forbearance
Our world not gathered
But keeping out
Scattered

How can we aim to gather
When we can't even sustain
Those that remain
Despite the stain of shameful pain
WE remove those that threaten
Our definition of gain
Scatter, not gather
Slaughtered and slain
Our peace, thought to be
But not really engrained
How else could we explain
Turning a blind eye
To those that are detained

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
How can we as a people fear what we don't know
Instead, love all God's creatures here below
So that God's love through us bestow

Can it be that easy?
Love your enemy to let yourself fly free?
No, no this can't be
There will always be those with whom we disagree.
Without getting away from them
We'll never have unity

Even in peace loving churches
We shut out
You make my point

If only they weren't here
Or they turned to think like me
We'd have nothing in this house but
Blessed Unity

Fear and forbearance
Baring the minimum

God as one who wishes to gather
From the edge of the cosmos
Every inch of matter
Unity is not harmony
Not achieved by agreement
The restless reality of God gathering strangers
Is that harmony utilizes dissonance

The church is a mess
Thanks be to God

Be wary of assuming
That everything is good
When we have won the argument
Weather or not we should

Unity is the starting point
Not the end result
Christ is at the center
Institution is not
So what now?
Where do we go from here?

You can't be a Christian by yourself
You must enter into fellowship
Bring the tensions, disagreements, misgivings
Because that's where Christ transforms things

If you aim at humility
You're likely to miss it
But here's Humility in action
Forget about being humble
Then you'll hit it

Patience
Enduring with hope
Three strands of twine make an unbroken rope
We need each other
Patience does not come without suffering
We suffer each other
For the sake of His body
Church hurts
Grace each other as God has graced you
With patience

By grace we have been saved
How far does patience stretch
Well how strong is love
Love stretches
Love stretches to the far and the near
Love bends to those who are already here

Does hope ever end?
With the prodigal son can we hope to mend?
And to whom, our love, do we hope to send?

The shamed father of the prodigal son
Never stops Checking the far horizon
Even when patience runs out
When endurance runs too thin
There is a glimmer of hope
That keeps one checking the horizon

MCUSA
We will be ok
This with confidence I can say

Don't ever stop checking the horizon
Celebrate the great spirit moving
The unity of the spirit is bigger wider deeper
Than any of our institutions
Unity of spirit
Is not unity of denomination
It's much deeper than that

God can use our schisms
For God's greater mission
Unity in Christ is no longer division

Breaks have led to conversation
Our failure at walking together can be
Used For reconciliation
To make us better at walking

Unity is hard
We could blame it on God

But the mess of the church
Provides opportunity
To transform ourselves
Into a spirit of unity
A spirit of grace
A spirit of hope
That never stops checking the horizon
That works to gather the far and the near
That works to bless those who are already here

The spirit runs
So deep

The church is a mess
Thanks be to God

*(eph 2:11-22)

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

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


Sermon 07/28/2019: Wrath & Love

October 3, 2019 by cmc_admin


Sermon by Jason Gerlach on Mark 15:15-32 & John 20:1-18

click to view transcript

[MANUSCRIPT coming soon]

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

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


Sermon 07/21/2019: Sloth & Joy

October 3, 2019 by cmc_admin

 

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Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 and Proverbs 6:6-11

 

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Sermon Part I

This summer as Community Mennonite Church we've been preaching against the vices sometimes called the "seven deadly sins" and advocating the virtues of Christian living.  Here's an image of the vices updated for our age of digital technology. [SLIDE #2] Certainly all of these technologies can be put to virtuous uses as well, but some of us can identify with the temptations and traps represented here.  Today, we're focusing on sloth--depicted here as binge-watching Netflix--which seems ironic. This weekend at least 16 of us from CMC participated in the Virginia Mennonite Conference summer assembly. [SLIDE #3] In addition to rich and moving worship services, great Bible teaching by Sarah Bixler who will also be preaching here next month, and a powerful sermon from MDS director Kevin King, the delegates worked for hours--all Friday, and all morning Saturday.  In fact, we went overtime yesterday. And, led by our own Sam Miller, the local carpenter guild, framed a house for a WV family in extreme heat and record time on Friday morning. Mennonites are not known for sloth.   

[SLIDE #4] Even if sloth is not your besetting sin, you know what I'm talking about.  Perhaps you or someone close to you has suffered from this vice at one time or another.  Christians through the centuries have valued work and rest, and each generation warns the next about laziness.  Jesus himself said: We must work the works of the One who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.  (Jn 9:4)  There is an urgency about the work of the gospel as well as a necessity for work to meet household needs and give purpose to our days.  In the beginning, God gave humanity work--to tend and preserve the earth. This word from God in Genesis dignifies many different types of human work.  The VMC assembly focused on cultivating good soil for sowing seeds--the word of God. Some aspects of our society pressure us into overwork. Even if we're doing good work, lives without rest or refreshment are as unBiblical and unsustainable as lives of laziness and sloth.  It's a challenge each day, each week, each year, each season of life to find rhythms of work and rest that emerge from our relationship with the God who loves us and created us with a purpose.  

[SLIDE #5] Today we're listening for the word of God from two scriptures in the Bible's wisdom literature:  Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. If you haven't heard of Ecclesiastes, it's in the Old Testament right after Proverbs, which is the far more popular book of the Bible.  [SLIDE #6] Hebel is a Hebrew word repeated 38 times in Ecclesiastes.  Hebel gets translated in different ways.  It literally means literally mist, vapor, wind and metaphorically vanity.  Hebel refers to the fleeting nature of reality and our inability as human beings to grasp life's meaning or purpose.  [SLIDE #7] Ecclesiastes is a Greek name for this Biblical book of wisdom. Ecclesiastes means the teacher or the one who gathers the assembly.  The voice we hear in Ecclesiastes is that of a wisdom teacher and also an unknown narrator who comments on the teaching at the very end of the book.  And in this book we listen for God's voice, God's word, as well.

The Teacher or Preacher, Qoholeth in Hebrew, explains that what we typically pursue in life--careers, pleasure, status, wealth--are in reality--hebel--a vapor, a mist, a chasing after the wind.  [SLIDE #8] To the disappointment of the hardworking and industrious folks among us, it turns out that the educated elite of the ancient world discovered that life is temporary; we're all going to die. Life is enigmatic and paradoxical. If we're eager to make meaning of our existence, Ecclesiastes disrupts our progress on a ladder of life's meaning and puts to poetry the gnawing truth that our daily lives and commitments are...hebel.

And so whether or not physical laziness is a problem for us, we are existentially prone to sloth.  I know we've had a lot of definitions this morning, but here's one more. [SLIDE #9] Sloth translates the Latin acedia--without care.  If sloth were just about physical laziness, then some of us would feel exempt; we're simply too busy building houses, washing dishes, keeping appointments, planning events, meeting people, doing business, and carrying on as God's people.  Yet, a calendar full of activity does not protect us from this vice. Sometimes what we're busy doing makes us care-less about God's priorities for human life--relationships, tending the earth and welcoming the kingdom of God.  

Spiritual writer Kathleen Norris has written Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's LifeIn one passage she clarifies:   

"Acedia is not a relic of the fourth century or a hang-up of some weird
Christian monks, but a force we ignore at our peril. Whenever we focus
on the foibles of celebrities to the detriment of learning more about the
real world- the emergence of fundamentalist religious and nationalist
movements, the economic factors endangering our reefs and rain
forests, the social and ecological damage caused by factory farming -
acedia is at work. Wherever we run to escape it, acedia is there,
propelling us to 'the next best thing,' another paradise to revel in and
wantonly destroy. It also sends us backward, prettying the past with the
gloss of nostalgia. Acedia has come so far with us that it easily attached
to our hectic and overburdened schedules. We appear to be anything but
slothful, yet that is exactly what we are, as we do more and care less, and
feel pressured to do still more." ― Kathleen Norris

The New Testament wisdom writer James was quite familiar with the Biblical idea of hebel.  In fact, James takes the whole matter further.  Listen: Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there doing business and making money.'  Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  (James 4:13-14)

James says you and I are nothing but an ephemeral mist!  These Biblical wisdom writings in Ecclesiastes and James go to great lengths to say that in the big picture our life is next to nothing.  We all die--by crucifixion or otherwise. That's true, but it's also a device. Sure, we're soon to vanish off the earth, but the good news is that God is everything.  God is our only source of life or meaning. Rather than chasing after the wind to give our life meaning, or being victims of acedia and ceasing to care about God's priorities, Biblical wisdom writings--Old and New--urge human beings to live all day every day as a response to God!  The triune life of God is the ultimate reality and our lives are a response to the truth and love of God. This is human life Jesus lived.  

Children's Time

Ask children:  

What kinds of work do you do inside your house?
Jobs or chores in the kitchen?  Jobs or chores in your bedroom?
What kinds of work do they do outside?
Do you have any jobs or chores in the garden?  In the yard?
God wants us to have good work in our lives.  God also wants to rest.  

What kind of work do your parents do?  At home? Somewhere else?
Do your parents sometimes work too much?
Do you know what my job is?  I'm a pastor.  

Listening prayer.  We're going to listen for God's word.
God might want to tell us who God wants us to be.
God might want to tell us what God wants us to do.
And we won't know if we don't listen.  

So for our listening prayer--the adults, youth and older children can
join us.  We're going to be very quiet.  We don't want to be frozen, but we
want to be relaxed and alert.  Because we're listening for God's word.

So, let's begin by letting our shoulders relax and taking a deep breath.  Now let's close our eyes. And listen for a sound that is very far away. Maybe you can hear a car outside.  Or even a bird if we're very quiet. [PAUSE]

Now listen for a sound that is across the room.
Maybe you can hear someone moving in their chair.
Or maybe one of the little babies is making sounds.  

[PAUSE]

Now listen for a sound that is very close to you.
Maybe you can hear someone breathing if you're very quiet.  

[PAUSE]
Now let's listen for God's word inside us.  God might be quiet or tell us something. We'll be quiet together for just a minute, so we can all listen.

[PAUSE]

Thank you, God, that you speak to us with patience and love.
Thank you for your word for our lives.  AMEN.

Did you hear something from God?
Sometimes I don't hear anything when I listen for God's word.
When I don't hear anything I believe God is still saying--thank you for listening.
You might still hear something from God during worship today.
So keep listening to the Bible, to the sermon, to the songs and prayers.  

Sermon Part II

We have to be careful when we speak about sloth or acedia as vices because many of the signs of sloth are similar to clinical depression and need some special care.  After hearing Proverbs 6--a salute to the industrious ant!--we don't want to apply it to the wrong circumstances. [SLIDE #10] And if you're interested in how we read the Bible and connect these sometimes odd and always ancient words with our life today, consider an adult ed class this fall where we'll study a couple books that will help.  The Bible Unwrapped:  Making Sense of Scripture Today by Megan Larissa Good and Fire by Night:  Finding God in the Pages of the Old Testament by Melissa Florer-Bixler.

One of my favorite stories when I was a little girl was about the ant and the grasshopper.  It wasn't in a storybook. My mother just told it from memory and it always changed a little bit in the telling.  I only learned as an adult that it was one of Aesop's fables. [SLIDE #11] This is the illustration from The Library of Congress.  As I got older my mother would tell part of the story and I would tell part--each of us making up new details. My mother was usually the grasshopper suffering from acedia, playing the fiddle and singing songs rather than caring about winter preparations.  My mother would dance and sing and I would laugh. I was usually the ant collecting my food for the winter and storing it up with my family of ants. The moral is "there's a time for work and a time for play." Looking back I think this story was funny to me because my mother was the one who did a lot of the work in our family and made sure that there was enough of what we needed.  But telling this story over and over to each other and laughing together was one way I knew that her work of raising children was part of her joy in life.  

What if our work and activity this week were truly focused on the God's word to us for this season in terms of relationships, tending the earth and welcoming the word of God?  Who does God want us to be? What does God want us to do? There is joy in responding to God's word in our lives. The narrator of Ecclesiastes--who comments at the very end of the book--claims that in the end our reverence for God and the commands of love will be the measure of our mist-like days of life.  We don't determine life's meaning and if we try, we will not be able to grasp it, but God speaks a good word to us like good soil, we can receive it with joy.

[SLIDE #12]  Zoologist Lucy Cooke has a heart for misunderstood animals.  So you can well imagine that she's interested in rehabilitating the image of the sloth.  Cooke claims that for our health and that of our planet, human beings should learn from the sloth who consumes little and lives a slow sustainable life.  She has written Life in the Sloth Lane: Slow Down and Smell the Hibiscus.  [SLIDE #13] 

The point of her book, in addition to great photos and insight about these amazing creatures is "slowing down and appreciating life for what it is instead of chasing after what you want it to be."  Chasing after the wind. This chasing after is the overworked, over scheduled lives that some of us live. But there is joy in receiving our creator's word for us.  

[SLIDE #14] What is life, but a gift from a loving God who created all things--including animals like sloths and grasshoppers and ants from whom we learn so much?  Slowing down enough to see God's handiwork in the world and hear God's word--especially with respect to work and rest--will protect us from sloth and give us joy in Christ.  In spite of Aesop's fable, animals don't suffer these vices, nor do they develop these virtues. Human beings are unique among the animals. We are made in the image of God. Our ephemeral lives, though nothing but a mist, are valuable to God.  And because of Christ we can enter into the work of God in the world. This week let's listen for God's word to us about work and rest. Share what you hear with me or another pastor or someone else you trust. As we hear and respond to God's word for our lives, joy can break into a day of work or a season of life that is stressful or difficult.  

At the very end of Ecclesiastes after the wisdom teacher has expounded on the vanities of human life.  The narrator says: When all is said and done, here is the last word: worship in reverence the one True God, and keep God's word, for this is our work.  

Yesterday at the delegate assembly when things were getting difficult, Executive Conference Minister Clyde Kratz spontaneously shared God's word for the conference.  It felt like he was pastoring us. [SLIDE #15] Clyde spoke about our VMC's commitment to evangelism through VMMissions and recalled the mission workers and credentialed leaders we had commissioned in a beautiful worship service Thu evening.  Clyde celebrated our commitment to service, and the recent example of building a house for the West Virginian Walker family. Then, he referred to social transformation. Clyde believes VMC congregations often neglect or ignore this kingdom work.  He didn't use the term sloth or acedia, but he was concerned that we easily become care-less about social transformation. He credited Community Mennonite with being the only folks currently urging VMC to attend to social transformation. He mentioned my recent request that he sign on to a petition for abolishing the death penalty in VA and share this with conference pastors and leaders.  

Hardworking Mennonites can slip into this deadly vice and care-less about God's word in terms of social transformation, staying busy with aspects of mission and service more comfortable for us.  Even our gospel work of sharing God's word, serving others in need and social transformation in terms of justice and peacemaking is a vapor. Our lives, like Jesus' earthly life are fleeting. It is only because the risen Lord Jesus is rescuing us from acedia, sloth, every vice and even death, that we have life.  It is only because Christ has sown a word into our lives that we work and rest in joy. This week, listen for God's word for your own life and for our life together that we may labor in the joy of the Lord and rest in Christ's peace.

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

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


Sermon 07/14/2019: Snakes & Ladders - Gluttony & Temperance

July 26, 2019 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Dayna Olson-Getty on Luke 16:19-25 & Philippians 3:17-21

 

click to view transcript

Reflection 1

Gluttony and temperance are words that - to my ears - sound so outdated and obsolete that it's hard to imagine what they might have to do with the everyday lives of people like us. 

But if we set aside images of drunken Roman Emperors gorging themselves or of prim Victorian ladies with anti-alcohol placards, and think about our own experiences with food  - suddenly there's a lot to say about the virtues and vices of eating. A lot of our human experience is connected with food - hunger and satisfaction, shame and delight, seeking relief from loneliness or stress, and experiencing joy and human connection.

One of the unavoidable realities of being human is we need food- day after day, to survive and thrive. It's one of those humbling daily reminders that we are creatures, not creators and that, like every other living creature, our lives are dependent on God's provision of daily bread. 

But food is a lot more to us than fuel for our bodies. Our food practices - which foods we choose and how we prepare them, when and with whom we eat, and how we eat - are all rich with meaning. They tell us a lot about how we view ourselves, each other, and God - about our belonging, value, and relatedness.

Jesus delves into those meanings when he tells the Pharisees this disturbing story of Lazarus and the rich man. The general outline of this story would have been familiar to them because there are similar folk tales and legends in Egyptian, Greco-Roman, and ancient Jewish cultures.

In the version Jesus tells, the rich man dresses every day in the luxurious purple clothing fit for a  prince and feasts on an overabundance of exquisitely delicious food. The crumbs that are under his table probably refer to the flatbread that very wealthy people used to clean their hands between courses - This rich man is the kind of guy who has so much food that he can just toss his used bread to the dogs. He's one of the 1% - the wealthiest of urban elites who control the political and economic lives of the other 99%. This is a guy with a closet full of Armani and a personal chef who serves steak and caviar every night.

And Lazarus is impoverished. His only clothing is the purple of his infected skin. He's not just poor - he's literally dying of hunger right on the rich man's front steps. 

In Jesus's world, people like Lazarus became destitute because they fell into debt and lost their land - usually as a result of crop failure, drought, or over taxation. It's quite possible that Lazarus lost his family land to an economic predator and that some of the overabundances of food on the rich man's table quite literally came from Lazarus's land.  Once he'd lost his land, Lazarus's only option to survive would have been to hire himself out as a day laborer. But if there was not enough work or the work did not pay enough, Lazarus would quickly have become malnourished and too weak to work. And without the ability to work, he would have continued to sink into destitution, as many people did until he died from starvation or disease.

I'm guessing that's it's not hard for most of us to see Jesus's point about the ethics of wealth and food. It's a terrible injustice when we habitually overindulge while other people starve to death for lack of food. We get that part of the story - after all, we're the people who write cookbooks about eating simply so that others may simply eat.

But making peace with food is more complicated and difficult for many of us than just reckoning with the ethical implications of what kind of food we eat, where our food comes from, and how much food we do or don't waste.

We live in a world that encourages us every day to look to food or drink as a source of comfort, affirmation, pleasure, and emotional pain relief. We hear these messages from advertising, but they are echoed in other ways in our daily lives, and in our own heads and hearts. Do any of these promises sound familiar?

Feel like your masculinity is a little shaky? Try a big chunk of red meat - it's guaranteed to leave you feeling like a lion - powerful and in control. 

Frazzled and exhausted from a long day of being the mommy of a ridiculously needy toddler or a defiant pre-teen? All you need is a quiet place to hide out - the bathroom will do in a pinch - and big glass or two of white wine.

Feeling profoundly unsexy, overworked and stressed out? A box of luxury chocolates will meet your longings for sensual pleasure and leave you feeling like a pampered goddess.

In spite of these promises of emotional fulfillment through food, we also live in a culture that tells us that our worth as human beings is directly related to our body's appearance - and that the way to satisfy our longings to be desired and valued and in control is through working our way to a "better body" - often through restricting what we eat and abstaining from the very kinds of foods that are promised to comfort us. 

And the messages we hear, and replay in our heads, tell us that the failure to do so is not just a matter of health - it's a matter of whether or not we are acceptable human beings. One of the ways popular American culture draws a line between people deemed shameful and repulsive, and people considered desirable and valuable, has to do with how our bodies look and assumptions about what our body size and shape indicate about our eating habits.  When we combine this intense focus on bodily perfection with the empty promises that food will comfort us, we find ourselves in an impossible double-bind - one that can ensnare any of us, regardless of how perfect others think our body looks.

It's no wonder that for many of us food, body image, shame, and self-worth have become an entangled mess that often leaves us estranged from or captive to our own hunger. We crave comfort, pleasure, desirability, relief from stress, control - and indulgence or restriction of what we eat promises to give us all this and more.

In the midst of this tangle, it's easy to miss out on the fact that food - and our practices of eating - are not only meant to be the way that our bodies are fueled - but that savoring food and sharing food can be a sacramental practice - a holy moment, an embodied experience of God's presence among us and of joy in our deep connectedness with each other.  Food doesn't just nourish our bodies, it also nourishes us emotionally and spiritually. It's one of the ways we give and receive love, provision, comfort, security, and celebration.

Reconnecting with experiences when food has been sacramental - when we have felt God's delight or tender care or joyful abundance as we ate  - is one way that I think we might be able to sidestep some of our tangle about food, at least temporarily, and catch a glimpse of what it might look like to eat in a way that feeds our bodies and souls. 

Spiritual Practice

For the adults - I want you to take some time to remember - in as much detail as you can - a meal that has nourished your soul as well as your body. Remember where you were and who else was there. Remember, if you can, what you ate and drank, and how it felt and tasted in your mouth. Remember the sounds and sights of the meal, what it was like to be present at that table. Remember what made the meal meaningful and pleasurable. Remember how you felt in body and soul. Savor God's presence in that meal.

For the children - Guided eating meditation using chocolate chips and mini marshmallows, followed by a prayer of gratitude.

Reflection 2

In Jesus' story about the rich man and Lazarus, they meet up in the afterlife. The rich man's gorgeous clothing has been replaced by tormenting flames, while Lazarus is resting in the seat of honor, next to Abraham. And the rich man, seeing Lazarus and Abraham, and feeling the agony of his own thirst, begs Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his tongue with water. 

It's this part of the story that helps us see the poverty of the rich man. In valuing his own bodily pleasure and comfort, the rich man missed out on recognizing and responding to Lazarus as a brother. In life, if he saw Lazarus at all, he only saw him as someone in need, and not as someone whose life and presence might be part of God's goodness in the world, part of God's provision for him.

Even in Hades, this rich man is ordering Lazarus around as if he's a slave - and he doesn't even manage to address Lazarus directly but instructs him through Abraham. Lazarus is sitting with Abraham, their mutual father, but this rich man is still blind to the reality that Lazarus is his brother. The rich man sees Lazarus as an object, as valuable only for his ability to meet the rich man's needs.

And because of that, the rich man misses out on communion. He has had food, but no satisfaction of his deepest longings. He has had wine, but none of the joy that comes from giving and receiving. He thinks he can meet his own needs, but he misses out on the greatest gift of the table - on communion with his brother. He values his physical hunger and bodily pleasure so highly that he misses out on what he really most deeply wants and needs.

So before we start imagining ourselves as Lazarus burning in the fires of hell, it's important to take a pause and ask what our hunger is trying to tell us.  As with envy, lust, and greed, we need to pause before jumping right into shame and judgment and self-condemnation and listen to what our desire is telling us. We need to ask, what is it that my body and soul need in order to be well-nourished? 

What do I really need? It might be food, but it might also be something more. Rest? An opportunity to be seen and heard, to know that I'm loved and accepted?  Comfort and companionship for a broken heart? Affirmation that I'm a delightful human being just as I am?

Asking these questions isn't easy. It opens us up more fully to the vulnerability of being human. Any of us over the age of five can feed ourselves in a pinch - a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a bowl of cold cereal will quell our hunger pangs. But these other needs - to be known, to have deep relational connections, to savor the delight of human companionship - they are needs that we cannot meet on our own. They are needs that can only be met through God's provision and through giving and receiving in relationship with other hungry, vulnerable, human beings. Receiving the nourishment that will satisfy those hungers requires bringing our hunger to the table. It requires relinquishing some measure of control and entrusting our nourishment to the care and provision of God through our brothers and sisters.

And that's risky. Sometimes people we entrust with our need don't respond or don't respond well. And sometimes our trust is betrayed by people who appeared to be trustworthy but are not - and we are wounded. But, my friends, it is worth the risk.

When I think of meals where God's delight and joy has been tangible to me, I think of a dinner with some of my dearest college friends who traveled hundreds of miles to visit me during one of the loneliest years of my young adult life - a year when I felt lost and invisible in a city where I knew almost no one. I can't remember what I cooked that night, but I do remember setting the table with a tablecloth, real china, and wine glasses, with a bouquet of spring tulips and a pair of candles in the center. As the sunset and the room grew dimmer, the table sparkled in the candlelight, and the faces of my friends glowed in the warm light. I remember savoring every moment of what had been commonplace when we lived together in dorms - the opportunity to linger over dinner together, talking and laughing and soaking up the joy of each others' presence- and that it nourished my soul.

I think this may be why shared meals are so much a part of the story of our faith - why the Gospels are full of stories about wedding feasts and lavish banquets and massive picnics where bread and fish are multiplied, and of Jesus welcoming his beloved friends to his table. Why a shared meal of bread and wine is one of the central practices of our faith.  Because God's invitation to us in Jesus is to come to the table hungry - to bring our longings and needs as well as our abundance and generosity, and to receive God's good gifts of nourishment, communion, and joy from each other's hands. May it be so. 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!


Sermon 6/30/2019: Greed Gratitude & Generosity

July 2, 2019 by cmc_admin

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Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Luke 12:13-21 and II Corinthians 8:1-15

 

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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.  

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

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


Sermon 6/23/2019: Snakes & Ladders: Envy & Contentment

July 1, 2019 by cmc_admin


Sermon by Dayna Olson Getty on Genesis 4:1-16 and Matthew 20:1:16

 

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Many of you know that when Eric and I moved to Harrisonburg five years ago, we moved into a house in the Northeast neighborhood that has a big open backyard. That first summer, Eric - who is the resident gardener in our household - laid out garden beds. turned the soil, worked in compost and planted seeds. We watered and waited. And not much happened. A few plants came up, but, with the exception of the onions, they didn't grow very well. Some of them withered and died. Those that survived didn't produce well.

We couldn't figure out why. After muttering some dark pronouncements about his apparent lack of gardening ability, and testing the pH of the soil, he began asking other gardeners to help him figure out why nothing would grow in his big sun-filled garden beds.

Eventually, he came up with a theory about what was wrong. There was a small black walnut tree on the edge of our yard. Black walnuts emit a toxin into the soil through their roots that prevents many plants from growing in close proximity. Our internet research had indicated that the toxin would be confined primarily to the tree's drip line - and our garden beds were well beyond that, but it turns out that the internet was wrong. The black walnut tree was emitting toxins into the soil that reached three or four times as big an area as its dripline, effectively making our entire back yard inhospitable to most of the vegetables we had hoped to grow. 

So - with some sadness - we decided to cut down the black walnut, and Eric set to work cleansing the toxins from the garden beds - turning the soil over and over again to let in air and light, and adding lots and lots of compost. The next year, we planted and watered and waited. And lots of plants came up. So many plants that some of them needed to be thinned out, and then thinned out again. And even after all the thinning, we had a bumper crop. On one particularly memorable day, we filled Noah's wading pool nearly to the brim with thick juicy carrots, rinsed them with a garden hose, and brought trash bags full of them down to the OCP kitchen.

If you are like me, the language of vices and virtues may not be the easiest entry point into conversations about growing in Christlikeness. Maybe because I grew up in a church tradition with lots of rules, talk about vices makes me think of the long lists of regulations that feel arbitrary and oppressive.

But the language of vices and virtues isn't about those kinds of rules. And it isn't about checking off boxes on some moral checklist so that we can feel comfortably superior.

It's more like the work of gardening. There are certain habits of heart and life that the Christian tradition tells us to look for and to root out because they emitting toxins in our lives and prevent good things from growing. And similarly, there are virtues - healthy habits of our hearts and lives - that create good conditions for Christlikeness to flourish. The Christian tradition of vices and virtues is a tradition of practical wisdom about how to create space and good conditions for growth - a wisdom tradition developed by generations of spiritual gardeners and passed along from person to person and community to community. 

Envy is one of those toxins that can poison the soil of our lives. Envy emits toxins into us and into our communities that kill off healthy and flourishing relationships, often before they even get a chance to start growing.

Envy is like jealousy on steroids. When we are merely jealous, we see what our neighbor has and we want to have some too. When we are envious, we want what our neighbor has- but even more so, we want for our neighbor not to have the thing we want, or at least not to be free to enjoy it. Envy seeks to take, to destroy, even to kill.

Genesis 4 tells us that Cain and Abel are the first brothers born into this new world God has created. Cain is born first, and he works the soil. Abel is the younger brother, a herdsman. Somewhere in this first chapter of life on earth, there is an occasion for the brothers to give thanks to God, who has given them this land and its plants and animals and made them fruitful. So they both bring an offering. Cain brings some of what has grown from the earth he has tended, and Abel brings animals born to his herd.

And God is pleased with Abel and his offering, but not with Cain and his offering. The story doesn't say why God is pleased with one offering and not with the other. If you are thinking that that sounds unfair, you are not alone. Theologians have theorized that Abel had a better attitude than Cain, or that God preferred a blood sacrifice, or that Abel gave of his best while Cain just brought whatever was on hand. But the story doesn't say why God regarded one and disregarded the other. 

And I wonder if the lack of explanation isn't intentional. Because that is how human life is - how our lives are. 

One classmate gets tenure at a prestigious university and becomes a well-respected expert in his field - meanwhile, his college classmate - equally intelligent, hardworking and dedicated - suffers through a series of bad bosses and lay-offs, and has to start his career all over again at midlife. 

Or a woman easily conceives and gives birth to happy healthy babies, while her colleague lives for years with the secret searing pain infertility, trying to avoid baby pictures and kid-talk at office gatherings.  

Or one sibling is his parent's golden child - the one who can seemingly do no wrong - while the other child is saddled almost from birth with his parent's own projected fears and failures - he's labeled irresponsible, untrustworthy, a bad kid - and eventually he begins to see himself that way as well.

As far as I can tell, God isn't equitable and impartial in giving favor in this story. But God does see and care for both brothers. God sees that Cain is in danger because of his disappointment and anger and warns him - "Cain, he says, watch out! Sin is crouching just outside your door, ready to pounce on you like a lion stalking prey.  You need to do something about it before it takes over your life."

I think it's worth noticing that Cain doesn't take his hurt and anger to God. We have stories in scripture of lots of people who do just that - Hannah weeps with such grief in her prayer for a child that the priest thinks she's drunk, Job dares to interrogate God in the face of his suffering, Moses argues and whines to God in the desert like a cranky toddler.

But Cain turns his disappointment and anger on his brother, who has no more control over the situation than Cain does. Cain's desire to be well-regarded by God turns to envy of his brother's acceptance. Envy takes root and becomes hatred. 

Cain can't do anything about whether or not God approves of his sacrifice. But he can do something about whether or not he has to be reminded about it every day by his brother's face. So he destroys the reminder of what his brother has and he does not - he murders his brother, taking control of what is not his to control. And then he lies about it - pretending to be both ignorant and innocent.

And what started with an aching need for acceptance and recognition turns into a far-reaching toxin of hatred. Abel's life is violently cut short. Adam and Eve have to face the horrible grief and rage of knowing that one of their beloved sons  - a child that Eve co-created with God - has killed the other. And Cain is exiled. God sends him to the Land of Nod - "Nod" is the root of the Hebrew word "to wander" - so he's literally sent into the land of wandering, far from his family. In killing his brother, Cain has taken matters into his own hands, but he ends up even more alienated than he was before. Now he wears a reminder of what he has done, and of God's grace to him, on his own body.

Like Cain, our jealousy and envy often have roots in a desire for something that - when separated from shame, self-loathing, hatred and insistence on control - is not a bad desire, maybe even is a good desire. 

Like removing toxins from garden beds, God invites us to remove envy from our life so that something beautiful  - so that contentment - can grow there. Contentment a deep sense of peace and joy in what is. It's a deep certainty that we have enough, that there will be enough, that we are enough. Contentment is a gratitude and delight in what we have and who we are. And this peace and joy come to many of us only after we've done the hard work of wrestling with the beast of envy that lies in wait. 

The evangelical author, Mary Ellen Ashcroft suggests that the first step of mastering envy is to listen to what our envy is telling us about what we desire. 

If we can find the desire at the bottom of our envy, she says, then we can reckon with whether the desire is legitimate and important enough to us that we are willing to pursue it in an outright and honest way. Sometimes it is - sometimes envy is like an alarm going off, telling us that there's something very important that we want or need and do not have. Maybe there's something we needed and did not receive at an earlier stage in our lives - unconditional love, security, to be seen and delighted in. When we are suffering from a lack that occurred years ago, a good therapist or spiritual director can often help us find ways to heal. And sometimes there's a longing for something we need now - maybe friendship, achievement, recognition, love, a life legacy. Only when we know what it is we truly desire can we decide if it's something we are willing to prioritize and pursue.

And if we discover that the thing we desire isn't something we choose to pursue - or if our desire is truly something over which we have no control - facing it openly and honestly gives us the opportunity to mourn our losses and let them go. And we have an opportunity to claim the truth that the unmet need in our life is not a reflection of our lack of worth. It's not our fault. It's not a punishment from God. It's not a reason to live in shame or to believe that are less valuable than those who have what we long for. We have an unmet longing, but that does not mean that we are not enough, that we are not beloved.

Envy tells us a toxic lie. It says -  "if you win, I lose. If you flourish, I wither.  If you receive love and admiration, I'm sentenced to isolation and pity. If you gain power and influence, I'll be powerless and insignificant." Envy is based on the idea that there is not enough for everyone, that God's provision for one means that another will go without. 

But God declares - in creation, in grace, in love -  that the world is not fundamentally a place of scarcity and fear, but a place of abundance. God's reminds us again and again that there is enough, we have enough, we are enough - inviting us to make space for contentment to take root and grow a bumper crop of gratitude and joy in our lives.

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

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


Sermon 06/16/2019: Loving Like Jesus

June 19, 2019 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Seth Crissman

 

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


Sermon 06/09/2019: Languages of Faith

June 19, 2019 by cmc_admin


Sermon by Sophie & David Lapp Jost

 

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Community Mennonite Church: it is good to be back with you all! And really, on Pentecost Sunday, what a perfect time to talk about our year in Nazareth, where we worked in three languages with people from every inhabited continent at the Nazareth Trust!

In Acts 2, we read that at Pentecost, a crowd exclaimed, utterly amazed, "Aren't all these who are speaking Galileans?" This exclamation was actually familiar to us. Due to a strange choice of words on the Nazareth Village website, which claimed until recently that "our experienced local guides will lead you," we are often greeted with amusement by the mainly Israeli Jewish tour leaders. Upon handing their tour groups to me, leaders often joke "so, David will be our local guide today!" "No," I have to say, "I'm no Galilean." At least I can confirm when occasionally pressed that yes, my name is actually David.

At the Nazareth Village, though, one gets the sense that the story of Pentecost is continuing. In a year, we give tours in 22 languages. While a modest majority of the guests are American, Scandinavian, or Dutch, many are Indian, Brazilian, Guatemalan. Groups that I led came from most every church, from Baptists to Irish Holdeman Mennonites to non-denominational churches to the 1,900 year old Syriac Church of India. Two thousand years ago, Jewish reformers speaking many tongues left Jerusalem; today at the Village, a stream of people speaking many tongues come back. At the Nazareth Village, we blend history, archeological excavations, architectural replicas, scripture, and commentary on present-day Nazareth and its people, and present this to guests on a guided tour.

In addition to leading guests on tours of the Village, I coordinated weekly devotionals and chapels for the international volunteers with whom we worked, and visited patients at the Nazareth Hospital with a team of local chaplains.  This provided exciting chances to interact with patients as well as our fellow volunteers and friends on a spiritual level. After graduating last spring with an MDiv from AMBS in pastoral ministry, it was great to explore these new forms and levels of ministry work in an unfamiliar setting. In all these ministries, we were both privileged to see God at work, and hear from others ways that they experience the Spirit at work in the world. We want to tell you about how our colleagues, patients, fellow churchgoers, and village guests spoke to us not only with words, but with languages of faith. In many ways, our fellow Christians helped us see new ways of encountering God, sensing the Spirit, and following Jesus. Testimony, pilgrimage, reverent speech, patient persistence, liturgy, and literalism were some languages for sharing faith that we heard. We hope to find ways to continue noticing these in the future, and we hope you can, too.

We begin with testimony. We were honored this year to hear many talk about their lives of faith, and how they have encountered Jesus. A major theme at the hospital this year was forgiveness. I appreciated hearing comments from our Spiritual Director on what forgiveness can mean in the Arab cultural context, particularly in relation to issues of land and peoplehood, but also religion. One striking example of testimony that David and I got to experience came from one of my fellow chaplains, Simon, a man from the nearby village of Reine. The week before we arrived Simon's young cousin Jonathan was brutally stabbed near his home and later died in the Nazareth Hospital. Jonathan was the only child of parents who had waited years for him to come. Yet after his death they quickly became known, to the surprise of many in the area, for their choice to forgive his murderers. I heard this story the first week we arrived in Nazareth, and several times since, but each time I was amazed to hear how often this provides Simon with a chance to share with others in the community, especially at the hospital. In that cultural context retributive justice is common, and so Simon is regularly asked by patients, particularly Muslims, how can this kind of forgiveness be possible? This question provides him with a clear opening for sharing the Gospel and Jesus' message of forgiveness.

Of course, parts of this story may sound familiar to those in our community who know of Michael Sharp's murder in 2017, or of the forgiveness of Amish parents whose children were killed at the Nickel Mines school in 2006. Not only do these and or Jonathan's parents' stories serve as testimony to the human capacity to forgive evils, but most importantly they serve as testimony to the redeeming work of Christ throughout the world.

For many people, including us, travel to the Holy Land offers a chance to reflect on what God has done and is doing in a new place, and consider how that might inform one's own life. This is pilgrimage. The tradition of going somewhere to understand these things better tends to be far from modern Western minds. Many of those of us who can travel often -- for work, to visit family, for vacation. Traveling to deepen our faith, however is less usual.

We had the privilege of seeing many people from all over the world, and their excitement as they encountered this part of the world where the Christian faith began. For people from a wide range of Christian (and, of course, Muslim and Jewish) backgrounds, a visit to the Holy Land is a period of prayer, intense and continuous learning, and reflection. It's amazing to see people prostrated on and kissing a stone in the Holy Sepulchre, or hear dozens of pilgrims singing as they walk up the Via Dolorosa, the route of Jesus' Passion. Once when I was trying to enter the West Bank during Ramadan, I was crushed for about two and a half hours in a crowd of Palestinian worshipers who came in to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the main Muslim holy site. Return entry to Bethlehem was an ordeal, with a massive crowd of people crushing together and shoving each other to squeeze through one or two revolving turnstiles. The chance to pray was worth a lot to them.

It was not uncommon to see people experiencing a kind of pilgrim euphoria at the Nazareth Village, too. Many of our visitors prayed, spoke, and worshipped in a different way than they did at home. Seeing excavated terraces where Jesus walked and a wine press where Jesus likely treaded grapes the visitors are often visibly moved, emotionally and spiritually.

My favorite case of pilgrim euphoria gone wrong occurred early in our time there. Our last station in the village is our replica synagogue, where we discuss Synagogue architecture, 1st century Jewish worship, and tell the story of Luke 4 and discuss Jesus' rejection of the warrior Messiah vision that his audience craved. After this presentation, groups sometimes ask to have some worship. If there is time before the next group's arrival, we happily oblige.

One day, I had a group of about 30 apparently ordinary Americans. After our tour, they asked if they could do worship. I agreed, and they began singing, first singing a lovely hymn in four part harmony, and then some call-and-response chanting. I'm going to ask you to join me in this, CMC. Please chant after me. I don't remember all of their prayers -- most were ordinary -- but I remember a few. "Lord bless this village!" "Lord, bless the city of Nazareth!" "Lord, bless David." "Lord, bless David's family." At this time, the group leader turned to me -- he had occasionally broken up the chanting by saying or asking something -- and asked me "David, you said you were married. What's your wife's name, and do you have kids?" "Sophie," I said, "and not yet," I said, apparently in a way that sounded sad. He turned back to his tour group, resuming the chant "Lord, bless Sophie," and then "and Lord, open Sophie's womb at the right time!" "and Lord, strengthen David's seed at the right time!"

I stared at the ground, chuckling and reflecting that I'd presumably never have an experience like this again.

The different speech patterns in Nazareth impressed and formed us, particularly the sincerity of reverent speech. In the US context it's very normal for us to hear people says things like "oh my God," "oh Lord," or "Lord have mercy," as part of our daily language. In this cultural setting such language is rarely used to literally evoke thoughts of God, and is also often negative. In Nazareth people would use these same phrases as well, but much more often such language in Arabic is intentionally used to evoke thoughts and references to God. When asking a Muslim how they are, one might get the response "ilhumdullilah," which means "praise be to God." In the same way a Christian might respond "nushkuralla,"... "thanks be to God." In this Arab setting these phrases are used and understood as a reference to the person's well-being coming from God. When you want to say that you hope something will come true, or will go well, both Christians and Muslims say "inshallah," … "God willing." Again, these phrases are literal faith language used many times a day, with the effect of keeping the speaker and the spoken-to grounded in their human experience as those worshipping the One who is all-in-all.

Another aspect of daily reverent speech relates to the public communal celebrations of the Christian year. In many ways Israeli society is secular, primarily in the Jewish spheres, but increasingly in the Christian and Muslim Arab spheres as well. However, this hasn't stopped either faith from continuing to celebrate their most sacred yearly events. Those of you who read our pray letters heard some about what it was like to engage in both Christmas and Holy Week/Easter celebrations in Nazareth. Both were interesting and exciting, but I was especially blown away by how often huge crowds of believers gather in public spaces (on the main road through town at Christmas, on the roads outside the churches at Easter) to celebrate together on these occasions. I became so much more aware of what it means to have grown up in a country where church and state are (mostly!) separated. Even singing Christmas carols in the three Nazarene hospitals wasn't something that required special permission or visitor name tags. The hospitals are all Christian, but Christians and Muslims alike joined us in song that evening. Like the daily Muslim calls to prayer, this open proclamation of faith was not uncomfortable, even for those who have different beliefs.

Over the last several years in Goshen, we enjoyed visits with Evelyn, Eleanor, and Alan Kreider, stalwarts of the Goshen Mennonite community. We appreciated Alan Kreider's book, the Patient Ferment of the Early Church, which presents an inspiring perspective on how the church took root and grew despite a lack of power or a cultural foundation in most of the Roman Empire. Alan cites patience as a key part of the story, and the willingness to endure decades of stagnation and even persecution for the sake of the Gospel.

The patience and persistence of Palestinians is extraordinary. "Existence is resistance," read signs in Bethlehem and Hebron. Seventy years into the occupation, prospects for a better life for Palestinians remain bleaker than ever. International support for the occupation is strong. Both non-violent Palestinian resistance and the occupation's critics in the West are silenced and cynically dismissed in the media as motivated by anti-Semitism. Most of the Arab world now works with Netanyahu, and even a surge of Palestinian advocacy in the West would be less effective, with the region lining up behind Israel.

In this context, hope is irrational, and to work toward justice is to work for something we may well not see in our lifetimes. And yet, so many Palestinians show this spirit of patient ferment. We think of the only Gazan we met, a Christian at a bus stop in Nazareth who works at a Baptist hospital in Gaza. In better times, he met and married a woman from Nazareth; now he is only allowed in to see her and their two daughters for one or two months annually. We think of longtime friends of the Lapp family, a family from Bethlehem with a Palestinian father and American mother. The mother was never allowed a long-term residency in Palestine and was expelled last fall; only after enormous effort, an expenditure of about $20,000, and international diplomatic intervention was she allowed to temporarily return in time for her son's wedding in Bethlehem last month.  We think of taxi drivers and shopkeepers who eagerly told us their family stories, hoping they could get Americans to listen, while also showing us hospitality despite all our country has done. The way people continue to show faith and to act out of love seems to us to be a sign of God at work, and a sign of deep faith in eschatological justice.

Liturgical experiences were something that David and I looked forward to when we moved to Nazareth, especially having both grown up in Mennonite churches. While most of the other volunteers attended the local evangelical Baptist church, David and I regularly attended the local Maronite Catholic church. This church is located on the top of the highest hill in town in a modern building which replaced the previous building in the Old City. The Maronite church is an Eastern Rite Catholic church, which began around 400 CE with Saint Maron, and only became Catholic in the 1600s. This means that the church has retained much of their earlier more orthodox rites and traditions, such as iconography. The image you see on the screen here is one of the stained glass windows at the Maronite church, all of which depict stories from the New Testament. Although we attended the Maronite church regularly, I especially enjoyed several visits to the Greek Orthodox church across town, which provided a completely different experience of liturgical worship and tradition within the same Arab society and culture.

Some of my experiences of liturgical language in the hospital included the practice of crossing oneself before or after prayer. Because the Christian community in Nazareth is primarily Catholic, often before praying with a patient that we knew to be Christian the local chaplains would cross themselves to open their prayer. Although all the chaplains are Protestants, many of them engaged with patients in this way to be hospitable to their needs in a vulnerable time.

Another experience of liturgical language that I was aware of and adored during our time in Nazareth is the language of religious art. As has historically been the case worldwide, the liturgical churches are those most prone to having religious art in their sanctuary, in worship, and as a part of home life. In Nazareth these churches include the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Melkite Catholic, and Maronite Catholic churches. For historical reasons the Melkite and Maronite Churches retain the iconography tradition that the Roman Catholics dropped early on. In these and the other major churches in Nazareth and elsewhere around the country we got to see how religious art is used and taken very seriously as a part of what it means to proclaim the Christian message in the Holy Land with, or without words.

People in Nazareth read the Bible more literally than most of our Western peers, and we valued this literalism. Coming from an intellectual Christian community, it refreshed me to see a context in which people often engage Biblical stories as a recounting of real events. This does not mean that we or most of the people around us believe that everything recounted in the Bible happened literally as described. But among our Christian sisters and brothers there, we sensed a deep belief that the Gospels are more or less accurate accounts. This was refreshing, as I think without a communal belief in the church that the Gospels tell a more or less true story, Christian faith is unlikely to be passed on, through generations or to neighbors.

This feeling of the reality of the Bible was not limited to Christians, either. For people of Abrahamic faiths in Israel and even secular people, a certain measure of literalism is intuitive. Various Biblical stories are taught through the public education system, faith-based institutions, and heard in the local community. As Sophie has speculated in the past, it may be easier to believe these things when you live in the place where they happened. Residents of Nazareth took us to their roofs on multiple occasions to point out villages where events in Jesus' life took place, or told us about what cliff they thought Jesus might have been taken to to be thrown off in Luke 4.

For me, two people especially spoke this faith language. One was Christine Farah, our supervisor. Christine was educated as a human rights lawyer in Wales, and entirely shares our perspective on Israel-Palestine and politics in general, and is an ardent socialist. She is also a devout Christian. She emphatically asks visiting groups to pray for Nazareth and prayed with us through some of the more difficult times with my dad's health back home. Like many in Nazareth, Christine talks about Jesus' life growing up there, not as a possibility, but as an event. Like Jesus himself, Christine talks about the devil as a reality; not as a concept, but a real, influential being set against God.

Unsurprisingly, we read a lot about Jesus this last year, and one text that also presented a clear approach for me was NT Wright's Simply Jesus. Wright has a gift for avoiding the cultural baggage of much traditional Christian language while still telling Jesus' story. He describes how Jesus came at a moment of convergence of multiple forces: the imperial assertion of Rome, the hopefulness and also corruption of his own community, and the onrushing, long-hidden, Spirit of the God of the Old Testament. Wright's work does well at reading both Testaments on the terms of their authors while also engaging history.

We want to end on a note of thanks, and of looking forward. We have been richly blessed in our time in Nazareth. We're so grateful to you, Community Mennonite, for helping nurture us throughout life, sending us, supporting us, and praying for us and for peace and justice. We're glad for the chances we had to grow in relationship with God and people in Nazareth, and we hope very much to go back, for short times and also potentially long term again, at a time when Israel would be more likely to grant us visas. We look forward to continuing in Germany in international ministry next year; Sophie more directly in congregational work, and me resuming engagement with refugee issues and church-related environmental work. We feel energized and excited to go into this new chapter, taking with us many fond memories and a deepened sense of God at work in the world. Thank you.

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

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


Sermon 06/02/2019: Saving grace

June 5, 2019 by cmc_admin

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Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig on Acts 16:16-40

 

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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.  

Saving Grace

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.  

Suicide Prevention

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.  

Why worship?

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.  

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

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


Sermon 05/26/2019: God's grace finds us where we are

June 4, 2019 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Jason Gerlach on Revelation 21:10 & 21:22-22:5 and Acts 6:9-15

 

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It's Memorial Day weekend, which kicks off the summer travel season.  Fridays in June, July and August are the busiest travel days of the year in the United States.  Select any one of them and you've selected a day of greater nationwide travel than even the day before Thanksgiving, which many assume is the busiest day of the year.  The season of summer travel has begun!

I'm reminded of this fact, about this time each year, when in conversation with high school seniors anticipating their upcoming graduation, summer trips, and educational or gap year plans for the fall.  Those conversations take me back to that same time in my own life when I learned of an opportunity in Central Java, Indonesia.  Were I to mark my life with push pins and yarn on a map, I'd be able to track how one decision led to a next: from Central Java to Harrisonburg, from afternoon conversational English and Bahasa Indonesia classes where together Agung, Edi, Susanti and I guided each other through the ins and outs of practical language choices to a more permanent pursuit of congregational ministry with children, youth and young adults.  Little did I know that responding to that one decision, heart opened to the possibilities that would transpire from that point forward, that it would guide my life through one transition after another.

Similarly, I've recently held premarital counseling sessions with three couples who will be married this summer.  The sessions have centered around the results from the Prepare/Enrich instrument, building communication skills, learning how (as a couple) to make financial decisions, planning the wedding ceremony, and discussing the upcoming transitions of living arrangements and the commitment they are making to each other.

There are yet more venues in which I've heard about upcoming transitions.  The Dean House Voluntary Service Unit Committee has heard from both Ali Zuercher and Liza Brenneman that they will conclude their time at the organizations they are serving and move out of the Dean House this summer to pursue graduate school opportunities.  So, our committee has been in conversation with four college graduates who expressed some level of interest in our Voluntary Service location.  We're still awaiting a commitment for next year as those four individuals have, for a variety of reasons, decided not to join the unit: one was offered a lab technician position at UVA; another selected Americorps as her volunteer organization; another will begin a role as resident director at a Mennonite college this fall, and the fourth expressed a pressing need to save money toward further schooling opportunities.

On Tuesday, I heard senior track teammates pass along nuggets of wisdom to the members of the team who'll return next year; things like, "if your coaches demand a hard workout with lots of sprints, give it your all, you'll see the reward by the end of the season."  "Or," another senior piped up, "you can throw discus and shot put and then not have to run hard workouts."  The remaining seniors encouraged their teammates to try out new events, to spread encouragement around, and to get to know all teammates equally.  The track team congregated together after the school-wide spring sports reception took place, in which many heartfelt goodbyes were expressed for an athletic director who'd served the school faithfully for twenty-two years.

I've also heard transition comments in conversations about CMC's conference affiliation decision; and in conversations with people who'll move back to Harrisonburg soon; or those who've committed to stay in their current work setting for the next year but then seek out other vocational opportunities; and as the current members of Catechism class assess whether their next step is to join the church.

Many have expressed their questions about their upcoming transition by saying something along the lines of "What does it mean?  I wonder."  Or, "We're asking ourselves, what's next?"

And I haven't even mentioned MC USA's biennial convention or the many trips that members of our congregation are leading to Jerusalem, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Guatemala to only name a few.

Some summer trips will go smoothly.  Others, will not.  I don't know if you know this but Paul, the apostle, traveled.  Alot.                                                          CLICK SLIDE

And, as recorded in Acts 16:6-8, which comes directly before this morning's passage, the text says Paul and Timothy wanted to travel broadly but couldn't.  Listen to the text: "They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia."  It also says, "When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas."

So, according to the text, Paul and Timothy stumble around the region running into one barrier after another.  Bared by the Spirit from going south and west into Asia or from going north into Bithynia, they appear backed into a coastal corner at Troas by God's repeated, declarative statement, "NO!"  These earlier verses, if included in this week's lectionary reading, remind us that God is in charge of this mission; that the church sometimes searches for God's calling in mistaken directions; and that God's Spirit speaks into what humans consider to be frustrating and difficult times of discernment.

It isn't until Paul experiences a night vision that his next step becomes clear.   Spurred on by a dream, Paul is called to travel across the sea to search out a Macedonian man beckoning for him to, "Come over to Macedonia and help us."

So, they set off.  Three dudes on a boat at night.  Paul, Silas and Timothy.

Allow me to back up.  Paul received the vision alone, but, as recorded in verse 10, the vision had to be interpreted by someone other than Paul alone.  Listen: "When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them."  Interpretation requires more than one person and it is at this point in the story that the communal "us/we" enters the story.  There are two possible explanations for how the communal we enter the story: (1) did the narrator transition from an eyewitness to a participant seemingly swept up at the moment?  Or, (2) did the author select communal we language as a narrative technique so that readers of Luke/Acts could assess their place in the story?  Whatever the case, the language choice confirms that Paul and others felt God was using the Macedonian dream man to bring about immediate action.  Preachers were needed in Macedonia.  GO!  Formerly the message was NO!  Now, it's GO!

Although I find the night-vision-as-God's-call curious, it's not as curious to me as the fact that there's no further mention about the Macedonian man.  Once in Macedonia, he seems to be forgotten.  Instead, Paul, Silas, and Timothy hang out for some time and then (later) meet a woman named Lydia.  She was one of several women who gathered at a place of prayer on the Sabbath, possibly the site of a future synagogue.

A few days ago I didn't know much about Lydia nor the town of Thyatira.  But, in researching the person and place, as well as consulting with Pastor Jennifer, here's the piece of information I found most relevant.  Despite much political unrest, power grabs and the uncertainty and disillusionment experienced when empires were overthrown around her, Lydia held onto her cultural background and distinctiveness.  If we traced her family lineage we'd find ancestors who lived during the reign of Cyrus the Great and the Persians after they defeated the Lydian capital of Sardis.  Other ancestors would have lived through the time period when the Greek empire ruled the area.  And, still, other ancestors lived under Roman rule.  Despite all of those cultural machinations (Persian, Greek, Roman) Lydian culture wasn't completely erased.  Interestingly, Lydia's own name serves as a cultural identifier for people from a specific region.  Her name, Lydia, signifies a place of origin rather than a personal name, which suggests that she may have a former slave.  But, at the point of Acts 16, she's a free woman who works with textiles -- purple textiles to be exact.  This detail about purple textiles counters what I just shared about her as a possible slave.  So, how do we resolve these disparities?  Aligning what we know (that Lydia worked with purple textiles and that the city of Lydia was in Thyatira) we can access that her status may have been more like a well-to-do householder than a former slave.  Thyatira was an important center of the wool trade.  A guild of wool workers is mentioned in an old inscription, and other inscriptions name several dyers and fillers in and around Thyatira, as well as the neighboring cities of Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colossae.

Now before I continue on… may I highlight just a few things?  Though Paul, Silas, and Timothy apparently waste little time getting to the Macedonian city of Philippi they are required to wait.  Not much happens for a while.  Patiently waiting, they were there for some days (just how long it was we're not sure).  The appeal in the night vision seemed urgent, and their response to it was immediate, but the results were not seen right away.  When God does begin to work in Philippi, it comes with a surprise.  Paul's vision had involved a Macedonian man.  But the first to welcome the gospel in Philippi was a woman from the area Paul had just left in the east.  Lydia had also traveled by boat to Macedonia possibly along the same route as Paul, Timothy, and Silas.  She was transient like them.  Simple explanations about God's mission are clearly going to be wrong.  How odd, and grace-filled, that this woman from Thyatira, in Asia, where the Spirit had forbidden Paul to go, is now met in Philippi.

In Acts 16:9-15 I'm struck by the humility of the characters; wandering, waiting, respecting cultural, religious and societal practices while drawing near to people, talking, befriending, accepting hospitality.  I'm struck by it until I'm not.  Well, what I mean is that I'm struck by it until I read one phrase. It's a qualifying phrase that explains that Lydia was "a worshipper of God".  When I read the phrase I feel confounded.  Now I know why the phrase is included in the narrative.  I know the phrase identifies her as Jewish.  I get it.   But, to me, it stands out when compared to the humility and respect throughout all other parts of the passage.  Why include it?  Is this a distinction Paul, Silas and Timothy readily looked for: whether a person was Jewish or not?  Possibly.  Or, was it included for those who would hear of their travels?   Does it help signify something in the post-resurrection world, I wonder?  Does it function to distinguish between what is or is not Christian?  And, does that distinction carry with it some form of judgment?  Does it tidy up an question of Christian identity (former versus present) and function similarly to the times Paul asks about the character of Christian lives, about the shape that Christian practice takes, in order to prevent the breakup of Christian community along lines that follow differences between Jewish and Gentile practice, between upper- and lower-class lifestyles and privileges, or between those who continue to eat meat offered to idols and those who do not.  Does it function to distinguish an alternative society, a special kind of club?

Theologian Kathryn Tanner points out that "...because of several complicating factors, Christian identity simply cannot be secured by a sharp cultural boundary."  She provides the following reasons: (1) it's rarely clear on what side of the boundary something falls (Say the boundary is supposed to mark a sharp religious difference; Christian practices gain their identity as religious practices that exclude those of any other religion.  Still up for grabs is whether any of the practices at issue are religious or not) and; (2) where the boundaries are drawn is never fixed; social practices that are excluded at one time and place are included at others.

The reason the phrase "a worshipper of God" stood out because it functions differently than the rest of the passage.  Again from Tanner, "Although all that seemed relevant about another way of life was that it was not Christian ... the missionary impulse in Christianity tended to work against a dichotomous typification, against a 'they are all one way and we are all another' mentality."  Heralded should be Paul, Silas and Timothy openness of heart to God's mission and guidance.  However, when retelling their journey they noted the boundary Lydia traversed: once she was not a part of us, now she's included.  I ask again, "Was this information necessary?  For whom was it included?  Were a similar story to happen today would it have been included?  I'd venture to say no.  As Tanner notes, "This suggests, contrary to the influential views of H. Richard Niebuhr, that in the Christian case relations with the wider culture are never simply ones of either accommodation, on the one hand, or opposition and radical revision, on the other, but always some mixture."

A number of years ago three friends and I spent a week toward the end of summer traversing the states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.  During the trip we sought out local swimming holes and used book stores; we hiked the Long Trail; we swatted flies in Bar Harbor; we staked out J. D. Salinger's residence; we ascended Mt. Washington; we ate Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream.

At Mt. Washington's peak we headed toward the Visitor's Center along with many other visitors.  We were thirsty but, even more, we were uncertain about the time.  Our campsite for that evening wasn't nearby and we guessed it to already be mid-afternoon.  We felt pressed to begin our return trip.  At the Visitor Center's entrance, we met up with a family of four.  We held the door for them or they for us, I can't remember.  What I do remember is that one of us asked the father if he could tell us the time.  He told us by turning his wristwatch in our direction.  We thanked him and went on our way.

Innocuous, right?  Nothing to it.  We were all summer visitors to a National landmark years before the proliferation of cell phones as time-telling devices.

It would be innocuous if there wasn't more to the story.  Three days later we checked into a Youth Hostel in Portland, Maine, just before dinner time.  Together we'd decided that this would be the evening we'd eat at a restaurant as the next day we were headed to Bar Harbor where we had reserved a campsite for our final nights.  We asked the Youth Hostel caretaker for restaurant suggestions.  He gave us some suggestions; two nearby "weren't bad," he claimed, but his favorite was much further away but "well work the walk."  As it happens with a group of friends; three wanted to eat at one location while the other did not.  In time, we found ourselves walking across town aimlessly, still undecided about which restaurant to choose.  We rounded a street corner and I took note that we were walking toward a family.  A block separated us but they have headed our direction on the same side of the street so the distance was narrowing.  All of a sudden, I knew that I knew these people.  I nudged my friend and asked him, "Is that the family we met at Mt. Washington?"  He looked and nodded.  As we neared the family, we stepped onto the street shoulder to allow them to stay on the sidewalk but as we did so, my friend called out to the father, "Can you tell us the time?"  The father stopped and looked at us.  His face changed numerous times over surprise, perplexity, fear.  And then he recognized us.

This time we introduced ourselves.  Explained our trip.  They did the same.  We tried to convince them that we weren't following them.  But, when we recognized them my friend explains he felt like he had to repeat the question we'd asked at the Mt. Washington Visitor Center.  It was awkward.  We laughed it off and then went separate ways.  At the restaurant, my friends and I talked about it throughout our entire meal.

Many years later I wonder what the family thought of us.  Was it something they dismissed as a coincidence?  Did they feel at the time (or since) that we had ulterior motives?

As much as it's unsettling to meet someone in an unfamiliar context many of us have experiences of just such an occasion.  We can be visiting a foreign country and meet someone from our hometown or other times it takes no more than five minutes to figure out via some version of six degrees of (Mennonite) Kevin Bacon that we know each other or that our grandparents knew each other.  We could all share similar stories.

But, I can't shake this experience.  It's one I think about often.  I don't know how to feel about it or its probability.  Should we have, in the moment, even acknowledged their presence or let it pass?  Should we have been open to something even more: inviting them to dinner or telling them the details of the remaining days of our trip to assess whether we'd overlap a third time?

God's grace finds us where we are.  When we hold onto dichotomous boundaries unaware of how they cause harm or, when we feel we've missed an opportunity to befriend other people, not only once but twice, possibly causing uncertainty or fear.  And, God's grace finds us amidst upcoming transitions.

This morning's passage shows that along life's circuitous routes God is in charge of God's mission.  God sets its direction, and God determines its results.  But, the characters responded to God's mission with hearts opened: (1) Paul, Silas and Timothy were open to shifting travel itinerary; (2) Lydia was open to listening to Paul, Silas and Timothy; (3) Lydia's household was open to joining her in baptism; and (4) Paul, Silas, and Timothy warmly receive Lydia's hospitality.  These characters opened their hearts to God's work.  God's grace found them where they were.  God's grace finds us today where we are!  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!


Sermon 05/19/2019: Adventure with Jesus

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...

CMC Vision

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.

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

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

 

 


Sermon 5/12/19: Child, arise!

May 16, 2019 by cmc_admin

Eastertide - Resurrection Wonder

Sermon by Dayna Olson-Getty

"Child, arise!"

Revelation 7:9-17, Acts 9:36-43

click to view transcript

Some of you have probably heard of the book Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis - It was #1 the New York Times bestseller list last year, and the second most popular book on Amazon.

Hollis tells about a life filled with anxiety attacks, alcohol abuse and poor choices - and her realization that she wanted to live differently.  She began seeking resources - therapy, self-help podcasts, books - that could help her make changes. She tells her readers how she identified the lies she was telling herself - lies like "I'll start tomorrow" and "I'm not good enough" or "I'm better than you are" - and attacked each one of them head on, changing her life through hard work, tenacity, and determination. What she learned, she tells her readers, is that "You, and only you are ultimately responsible for how happy you are."

There are lots of things we have choices about in our lives, and many of the things that plague us can be addressed by looking reality full in the face and then making a decision to take some action.  And there is tremendous freedom in realizing both that we can't control anyone else's behavior and that we can make choices about our own.

But Hollis has been critiqued - and rightly so, I think - for ignoring the reality that are plenty of terrible things that happen in life that we can't change through better choices, and plenty of nearly unbearable tragedies that can't be fixed by hard work, tenacity, and determination.

For instance, it's pretty hard to wash your face and get on with life when - like Tabitha - you're already dead.

I'm being a little sarcastic - but those of us who have buried a child, or a parent, or a beloved spouse - we know that this promise of self-determination is a lie. The reality is that we are vulnerable embodied human beings. We are not ultimately in control of our lives. And while we often have a lot of choice about how we live in the face of that reality, pretending to have power and control where we do not is at least as destructive and dangerous as refusing to recognize and take responsibility for the power that we do have.

The story we heard this morning from Acts is about a woman who dared to face the reality of her human vulnerability. Like many of the stories of women in the Bible, we have to do some reading between the lines if we want to know much about Tabitha's life. She's from Joppa - that's modern-day Tel Aviv - a seaport town 35 miles from Jerusalem, close to the border between Judea and Samaria. Joppa was a city of mixed identities, where Jews and Gentiles lived side-by-side, and people of many different ethnicities, nationalities and religions passed through or settled down to live. Like many port towns, Joppa wasn't exactly known for its piety or propriety.

One of the few things we know directly about Tabitha is that she was that she was devoted to good works and giving to the poor. Tabitha was a prolific seamstress. In the early church, women whose husbands had died had the option of joining a community of widowed Christian women who took a vow of celibacy and shared a life of prayer and service together. It seems likely that Tabitha was a leader in a community of widows who had chosen to live a life of prayer and service, supporting themselves by working together in a sewing co-op.

The fact that no male relatives are named in the story leaves us wondering if Tabitha, too, was bereaved and economically and socially vulnerable because of the death of a husband. And we know that she must have been considered an important leader in the Christian community in Joppa because, when she dies, her fellow believers send for Peter - and she's the only woman specifically referred to in the New Testament as a disciple.

The name "Tabitha" - or "Dorcas" in Greek - means gazelle. Gazelles are small, quick, graceful animals - kind of like little deer. The ones that live near Joppa are only about two feet high at the shoulder and can run up to 60 miles per hour. They are incredibly well adapted for life in the desert - they can go their entire life without drinking water, getting all the hydration they need from plants. Gazelles live in the in-between spaces - often just beyond the outskirts of cities and towns. They are border creatures - not fully belonging to the desert or to the settled places.

Gazelles in the Bible are symbols of beauty, life, and love. They also were a symbol in the early church of proselytes - Gentile converts who chose to commit to the Jewish community and faith, leaving their birth faith - and often their family connections - behind. Like gazelles, converts were border creatures, seeking the water of life, but never fully in the heart of the community. Some scholars think that Tabitha was given the name by her faith community because she was a convert.

I wonder what it was like for Tabitha to try to find a place of belonging as a widow in a faith community that wasn't hers by birth. I wonder when she felt most at home and fully herself - maybe talking and laughing by candle-light over a sabbath dinner with some of the friends with whom she worked and prayed. Or maybe when she gave alms to those in need and heard, in response, their thanks to the God of Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel.

And I wonder how often she still felt like an outsider. Those who join a community from the outside know that it often takes years - if it ever happens - to find the same ease and unquestioned sense of belonging of those born into the heart of a community. An outsider can choose a faith community, but true belonging depends on the willingness of the faith community to choose the outsider in return, and to continue to choose them - to reflect back to them their belonging, to claim them as one of their own, not just in the good times, but also when things get rough and the community begins feels stressed or threatened. And as a widow in a faith community that celebrated family life, Tabitha would be doubly an outsider, and doubly vulnerable.

But this community does own her. There's no more vulnerable moment in human life than the moments after death. There's absolutely nothing we can do, no matter how powerful we are in life, to guarantee that we will be treated with dignity and respect after death. We are dependent on others - on their willingness to extend the same care and respect to us as they would want for themselves and their loved ones.

Tabitha's community gives her this care. They surround her in death as they had in life.

When a member of a Jewish community dies - and this is done today in much the same way that it was in Tabitha's day - members of their synagogue gather - often within hours - to care for their body. The body of the person who died is washed, immersed in water for ritual cleansing - similar to a baptism -  and then dressed in a white linen shroud. From the moment of death until burial, the person who has died is attended continuously by a family member or member of their faith community.

When Peter arrives, Tabitha's body has been washed and prepared for burial by her friends. There is a window of time, no more than a few hours, between the time when her body is prepared for burial and the time when she will be laid to rest in the earth. It's in that window of time - when death and loss are at their most present and unbearable - that Peter arrives.

Peter sends all the mourners out of the room and then kneels to pray like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, looking death straight in the eyes. And then he calls out her name.

"Tabitha, arise!"

Tabitha hears her own name - and she does rise. She sits up, and then takes Peter's hand and stands.

Tabitha rises, not through her own power and control, not through hard-work, tenacity and determination, but through the life-giving power of God. Tabitha is called back to life, and called to new life, by the creator and giver of life. Tabitha doesn't earn life, or grasp it, or create it herself - she receives life as a gift from the giver of life.

Peter calls her friends back into the room and  presents the newly alive Tabitha - it's as if he were presenting a newborn child or a newly baptized convert - Here is someone you know and love he's saying - who, in this moment, has crossed the threshold of a new identity, a new status, a new place in you community. He's presenting her as one who has passed through the waters of death into new life, who has been reborn.

I don't know anyone who has been raised from the death in the way that Tabitha was. But I do know people - some of us among them - who have received the gift of life in the midst of the traumas, griefs, and losses of life. I have seen the Spirit at work, bringing new life where there was despair, anxiety, fear and hatred.

When I think about what I would say to someone facing what Tabitha faced - something other than "Girl, wash your face" -  I think of this poem called First Lesson by Philip Booth. He writes:

Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man's float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

No amount of determination or hard work or tenacity will allow any of us to avoid suffering and grief and - sooner or later - death. Thrashing around in the face of the things we cannot change will only wear us out and make it harder for us to know ourselves to be held.

But the promise of this story  - the promise and wonder of resurrection - is that even in suffering and grief and death, we are not alone, we are not forgotten, we are not abandoned. Jesus is there calling our name, inviting us to rise up to new life.

So don't be afraid, my friends. Lie back, trusting that the love of God will uphold you, and that Jesus is on his way, coming to speak your name and invite you to rise into newness of life.

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

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


Sermon 05/05/2019: Do you love me?

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...]

Resurrection Matters
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]

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

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

 


Sermon 4/21/19: Blessed Hunger, Holy Feast

April 22, 2019 by cmc_admin

Easter Sunday

"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

CMC 4-21-19

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! 

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

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


Sermon 041019: "Perceiving Jesus Today"

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

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

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Sermon 03/31/19: Fourth Sunday of Lent

April 3, 2019 by cmc_admin

Lent 4: Blessed Hunger, Holy Feast

Sermon by Lydia Haggard, Pastoral Intern

Scripture: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

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

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Sermon 03/24/19

March 25, 2019 by cmc_admin

Lent 3: Blessed Hunger, Holy Feast

Sermon by Rev. Cyneatha Millsaps

Scripture: Isaiah 55:1-9; Luke 13:1-9

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

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Sermon 03/17/19: "Whom Shall I Fear?"

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

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

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Sermon 3/10/19: "Challenge, Choice and Outcome"

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

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

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Sermon 02/24/19: Not You, But God

February 27, 2019 by cmc_admin

Beauty in Brokenness: Beauty in Betrayal

Sermon by Pastor Dayna Olson-Getty

"Not You, But God"

Scripture: Luke 6:27-38; Genesis 45:3-11, 15

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

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Sermon 021719: Beauty in Brokenness

February 18, 2019 by cmc_admin

Fear Not, Little Flock: Vocation Among the Nations

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

"Reward & Punishment or Grace & Justice"

Scripture: Jeremiah 17:5-10; Luke 6:12-26

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

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Sermon 02/03/19: Striving for God's Kingdom

February 13, 2019 by cmc_admin

Fear Not, Little Flock: God delights in providing

Sermon by Jason Gerlach: "Striving for Gods Kingdom"

Scripture: Psalm 84; Luke 12:29-32

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

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Sermon 01/27/19

January 29, 2019 by cmc_admin

Fear Not, Little Flock: Strive for God's Kingdom

Sermon by Dayna Olson-Getty

Scripture: Luke 12:22-34; Isaiah 62:1-5

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

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Sermon 01/20/19: Fear Not, Little Flock

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

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

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Sermon 1/6/19: "Starlight Journey"

January 7, 2019 by cmc_admin

Love Revealed: Epiphany Sunday - Light

Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig

"Starlight Journey"

Scripture: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

 

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

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Sermon 12/23/18: "Revolutionary Love"

December 31, 2018 by cmc_admin

Love Revealed: Advent 4 - Blessing and Restoration

Sermon by Dayna Olson-Getty

"Revolutionary Love"

Scripture: Micah 4:2-5a; Luke 1:39-55

 

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

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Sermon 11/18/18: Feedback Loops

December 10, 2018 by cmc_admin

Lessons from Jesus: Wisdom or Rumors?

Sermon by Pastor Jason Gerlach

"Feedback Loops"

Scripture: Mark 13:1-8; Hebrews 10:11-25

 

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

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Sermon 12/09/18: Paths of Peace

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

 

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

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Sermon 11/11/20018: Footnotes to the Nightly News

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

St. Martin

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.

Armistice Day

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?

 

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

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


Sermon 10/28/2018: Blindness and Vision

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.

 

New Vision

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.

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

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


Sermon: 10/21/18: "It Takes a Community"

October 22, 2018 by cmc_admin

Lessons from Jesus: Top Down or Bottom Up?

Sermon by Carlos Madrid

"It Takes a Community"

Scripture: Mark 10:35-45; Hebrews 5:1-10; Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16

 

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

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


Sermon 10/14/18: First or Last?

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 Genius

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

Hard Sayings

"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.

Spiritual Challenge

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.

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

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


Sermon 10/08/18: Master or Little One?

October 8, 2018 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Dayna Olson-Getty

"Master or Little One?"

Scripture: Mark 10:2-16; Genesis 2:18-24

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

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


Sermon 09/16/18: Follow Me

September 17, 2018 by cmc_admin

You're Invited: Follow Me

Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig

click to view transcript

Follow Me

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.

Spiritual Training

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?

Lord

Master

Light

Savior

Way

Star

Teacher

Truth

Lamb

Healer

Life

Sun of Righteousness

Christ

[Song begins: Navajo language--I have decided to follow Jesus]

"Follow Me"

Scripture: Proverbs 1:20-33; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

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

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


Sermon 09/09/2018: Be Opened

September 10, 2018 by cmc_admin

You're Invited

"Be Opened"
Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Senseig

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Scripture: Mark 7:24-37

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Be Opened

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

Kyrie, eleison

[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.

Gospel

[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.

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

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


Sermon 08/26/2018: "For the Love of Enemies!"

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

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

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


Sermon 08/12/18: Prayer from the Belly

August 17, 2018 by cmc_admin

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Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig

"Prayer from the Belly"

Scripture: Jonah Chapter 2

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Prayer from the Belly

12 August 2018

CMC

Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Jonah 2:1-10

[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.

Loving Enemies

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.

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

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


Sermon 07/29/18: Speak and Act for Peace

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

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

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


Sermon July 22, 2018: A Stubborn Faith

July 23, 2018 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Jordan Luther, Pastoral Intern

"A Stubborn Faith"

Scripture: Genesis 32:22-32; Hosea 12:2-6

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

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


Sermon: July 15, 2018

July 17, 2018 by cmc_admin

S is for . . . Service

"Rejoice with those who rejoice . . ."

Sermon by Rose Shenk and Bruce Buckwalter

Scripture: Romans 12:14-18

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

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


Sermon: July 8, 2018

July 11, 2018 by cmc_admin

Selah

Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Scripture: Psalm 148, Psalm 136:1-5; Psalm 20; Psalm 23

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

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


Sermon: June 24, 2018

June 29, 2018 by cmc_admin

Journey Forward

"Things Unseen"

Sermon by Jay and Sheri Hartzler

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:1-12; 16-18

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

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


Sermon: June 17, 2018

June 19, 2018 by cmc_admin

Journey Forward: Experience Transformation

"Is Our God Too Small?"

Sermon by Jordan Luther, Pastoral Intern

Scripture: Ephesians 3:7-13; Mark 4:26-34

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

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


Sermon: June 10, 2018

June 14, 2018 by cmc_admin

Journey Forward: Witness to God's Peace

"Seeing What's Possible"

Sermon by Jason Gerlach

Scripture: Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 5:38-48

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

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


Sermon: June 3, 2018

June 14, 2018 by cmc_admin

Journey Forward: Follow Jesus

"Old 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

CMC 6-3-18

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.

-Reduce violence.

-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.

Conclusion

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.

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

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

 


Sermon: May 27, 2018

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?

Born Anew

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.

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

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

 


Sermon: May 13, 2018

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

CMC 5-13-18

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.

Non-conformity--Our History

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]

Non-conformity--Our Practices

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.

Conclusion

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.

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

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

 


Sermon: May 6, 2018

May 11, 2018 by cmc_admin

Resurrection Life: Beloved

"I have called you friends"

Sermon by Pastor Dayna Olson-Getty

"Chosen Family"

Scripture: John 15:9-17

 

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

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

 


Sermon: April 29, 2018

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.

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

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

 


Sermon: April 1, 2018

April 2, 2018 by cmc_admin

Easter Sunday: God's promises fulfilled

"Resurrection Fools"

Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Scripture: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; John 20:1-18

click to view transcript

Resurrection Fools

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.

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.


Podcast: 2018 Lenten Hymn

March 28, 2018 by alisha.huber

Hymn by Gloria Rhodes and Bradley Lehman.

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

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


Sermon: March 25, 2018

March 27, 2018 by cmc_admin

Lent IV: Surprised by God's promises

"Your King is Coming!"

Sermon by Dayna Olson-Getty

Scripture: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; John 12:12-16

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

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


Sermon: March 18, 2018

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.

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

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


Sermon: March 11, 2018

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.

Perspective

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.

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

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

 


Sermon: March 4, 2018

March 9, 2018 by cmc_admin

Lent III: Wisdom for living God's promises

"A Living Temple"

Sermon by Dayna Olson-Getty

Scripture: Exodus 20:1-17; John 2:13-22

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

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

 


Sermon: February 18, 2018

February 27, 2018 by cmc_admin


Lent I: God's promises for all creation

"Life Has Been Leading Up To This Moment"

Sermon by Jason Gerlach

Scripture: Genesis 9:8-17; Mark 1:9-15

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

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


Sermon: February 25, 2018

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.

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

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


Sermon: February 11, 2018

February 16, 2018 by cmc_admin

Transfiguration Sunday

Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Scripture: Mark 9:2-9; Romans 12:1-21

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

[SLIDE--II Corinthians]

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?

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

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


Sermon: February 4, 2018

February 9, 2018 by alisha.huber

Treasure in Clay

"So that God may be Glorified"

Sermon by Dayna Olson-Getty

Scripture: 1 Peter 4:10-11; 2 Timothy 2:1-7, 20-21

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

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


Sermon: January 21, 2018

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

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[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.

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

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

 


Sermon: January 14, 2018

January 17, 2018 by cmc_admin

Treasure in Clay

"Extraordinary Power"

Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Scripture: Mark 1:4-11; Acts 19:1-7; II Corinthians 4:1-12

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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

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.

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

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

 


Sermon: January 7, 2018

January 10, 2018 by cmc_admin

Let it be declared

"Returning Home By Another Road"

Sermon by Kent Davis Sensenig

Scripture: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

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

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


Sermon: December 31, 2017

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

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Christmas Matters

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.

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

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

 


Sermon: December 24, 2017

December 27, 2017 by cmc_admin

"Infant Insurgent"

Sermon by Dayna Olson-Getty

Scripture: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:26-38

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

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

 


Sermon: Sunday, December 17, 2017

December 20, 2017 by cmc_admin

"Joys Unending"

Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Scripture: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; John 1:6-8, 19-28

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

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

 


Sermon: Sunday, December 3, 2017

December 14, 2017 by cmc_admin

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

Scripture: Mark 13:24-37

Click to view transcript

Believe with Me

(CMC 12-3-17)

Jennifer Davis Sensenig

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

Introduction

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

Biblical Storytelling Mark 13:24-37

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

Advent

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

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

Believe

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

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

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

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

Knowing-Not Knowing

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

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

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

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

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

Keep awake

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

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

The Spiritual Work of Advent

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

 

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

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

 


Sermon: Sunday, November 26, 2017

November 28, 2017 by cmc_admin

Click to view transcript

Special, Suffering and Sent

Genesis 40-41

26 November 2017

Jennifer Davis Sensenig, Community Mennonite Church

Prison Writing

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

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

Joseph in Broad Strokes

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

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

Special

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

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

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

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

Suffering as a Sign

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

Sent

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

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

Suffering as a sign.

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

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

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

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

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

Oh that I knew how all thy lights combine,

And the configurations of their glorie!

Seeing not onely how each verse doth shine,

But all the constellations of the storie.

This verse marks that, and both do make a motion

Unto a third, that ten leaves off doth lie:

Then as dispersed herbs do watch a potion,

These three make up some Christians destinie:

Such are thy secrets, which my life makes good,

And comments on thee: for in ev'ry thing

Thy words do finde me out, & parallels bring,

And in another make me understood.

Starres are poore books, & oftentimes do misse:

This book of starres lights to eternall blisse.

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

Scripture: Genesis 40-41

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

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

 


Sermon: Sunday, November 19, 2017

November 20, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Dayna Olson-Getty.

Scripture: Genesis 37

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

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

 


Sermon: November 12, 2017

November 15, 2017 by cmc_admin

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

Scripture: Genesis 32:1-33:7

Click to view transcript

Reconciling Embrace

CMC

Jennifer Davis Sensenig

12 November 2017

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

Opening

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

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

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

Purpose of Jacob's Story Cycle

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

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

National Story

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

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

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

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

Biblical Storytelling Genesis 32:1-33:17

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

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

 

 


Sermon: Sunday, November 5, 2017

November 10, 2017 by cmc_admin

First Families: Preposterous Promises

Scripture: Genesis 16:1-16; Hebrews 11:1, 8-12

Preacher: Matt Carlson

 


Scripture/Sermon: October 29, 2017

November 1, 2017 by cmc_admin

First Families: Leaving Home

Scripture Presentation by Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Scripture: Genesis 12-13


Bonus Podcast: Isaac Villegas thoughts from retreat

October 12, 2017 by alisha.huber

As a bonus episode, here are some thoughts Isaac Villegas shared at our recent church retreat.

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

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


Sermon: October 8, 2017 by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

October 10, 2017 by cmc_admin

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

Scripture: Genesis 3:1-13

Click to view transcript

Hiding and Seeking

Community Mennonite Church

8 October 2017

Text: Genesis 3:1-13; Psalm 139

Beginning Stories

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

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

Questions

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

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

Where are you?

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

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

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

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

Confusion Story

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

Where are you?

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

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

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

Abre mis ojos…

Open our eyes, Lord...

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

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Sermon: October 1, 2017 by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

October 5, 2017 by cmc_admin

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

click to view transcript

Creation Community

Jennifer Davis Sensenig

CMC 1 October 2017

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

Beginnings--Genesis

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

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

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

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

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

St. John's Bible

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

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

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

Green Congregation Initiative

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

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

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

Scripture

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

"Creation Community"

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

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Sermon from Sunday, September 10, 2017

September 13, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Susan Schultz Huxman, "The Power of Place."

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

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Sermon from September 3, 2017 - Chaos and Spirit

September 6, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Joyce Peachey Lind.

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

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Sermon from August 27, 2017: Practicing Life

August 28, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Dayna Olson-Getty.

Click here for transcript

  • Genesis 1:1-2:4; 4:1
  • Exodus 25:1-9; 35:20 – 36:8a; 40:34-38
  • John 1:1-18
  • Acts 2:1-21
  • Isaiah 65:17-25
  • Revelation 21:1-7; 9-27

Genesis 1 (Slide 1)

God said:

Let there be!

Not because God needed, not because God lacked. Not because God fought or feared.

Because God loved. Because God desired. Because God laughed and played and delighted and made. Beauty, life, a world full to bursting with life begetting more life.

Into the dark and formless void, God spoke, and there was. The light and dark, the solid and liquid, the heat and the cold, the squirming and crawling and swimming and flapping, the orbiting and revolving, the photosynthesizing and the absorbing, the rooted and the winged.

And then the speaking, laughing, delighting creatures, bearing God's image, held in communion

– created with Creator.

Exodus (Slide 2)

And God said to the image-bearers:

You create!

Let the sanctuary of your belly grow round and taut, full of life. Create with me a child who will live outside your body, just as you live outside of mine. Co-create with me in love, in delight, in joy. And the one you birth will create, and his children will create, and the whole earth will be filled to bursting with beauty and delight and love.

And God said to the created ones:

You make!

Bring your skills, your intelligence, your imagination, your will – and make! Make cloth and carvings, stonework and lamp oil, gold leaf and pillars. Measure and cut, spin and pound, sew and weave, and hammer, design and build.

Make a sanctuary with your own hands, out of the stuff of this earth, and I will dwell there. I will live among you in the midst of this vast and formless desert. In cloud and fire, I will dwell among you. As light and life, I will dwell among you.

John 1 (Slide 3)

But we who were made, are every day unmade. All around us, the world is uncreated faster than we can re-create. And we, the creatures invited to create from the stuff of the earth, to create in love and joy and delight, instead make border walls and bomber drones and prison cells. We make violence and half-truths and safe distances. We make enemies and walls of silence. Our making unmakes God's making.

So God came to dwell among us, in this bombed-out building of a world. God huddles with us in the dark, in the cold, in the void that has unfolded between us. The One who always was, the One who spoke us into being, the one who loved and desired and laughed and played and delighted and made – this One has come to dwell among us, taking up residence with us in the valley of the shadow of death.

And this One who made all that is, waits with us, in grief, in hope, in groaning expectation.

Acts 2 (Slide 4)

And God says: Receive!

The Uncreated One gathers us, we who are made of the stuff of the earth, we who have scattered and become strangers to each other, like a mother hen gathering up her chicks at dusk. And the Creator breathes on us again the breath of life, and life and light roars up again among us. Together we are knit together – sinew to bone, muscle to skin - into a dwelling place for God, a living, breathing, dancing, weeping, laughing tabernacle for the Uncreated One. We dream dreams. We see visions. We awaken to ancient memories of a world teaming with life, flooded with love. We hold among us the quickening hope of a new creation. We are full to bursting with new creation, like a womb full of child.

Isaiah 65 (Slide 5)

And God declares: I will make all things new!

I will breathe my re-creating, renewing, re-vivifying Spirit into every crack and corner of this dying creation. I will leave no cinder block or garbage heap or hardened heart or abandoned block untouched. I will speak into being new life, and it will spring up from long-dead stumps, from desolate ground, from the unmarked graves of the abandoned.

I will make my home among my created ones. I will dwell among them in beauty and delight and love. And I will be their light and life and love. Once again, we will live in joy-filled communion – Creator with created ones, creature with creature, created ones with created world.

And God says: Come! Co-create this new world with me!

Bring your skills, your intelligence, your imagination, your will. Gather some ink or acrylic paint, gold leaf or embroidery thread. Oak beams or finger paint. Fabric scraps or a lump of clay. Bricks and mulch. Sand, water, paper, chalk.

Imagine something that is not. Look with eyes of a love – dare to see not only what is, but what will be. Dream of a world where joy springs up in the darkest corners. Make spaces for other dreamers. Create beauty that gives witness to my dream of a re-created world. Open your heart to visions of one new people, together giving birth to a new world inside the burnt-out shell of the old. Practice life in the midst of death.

And God says: Come! Co-create this new world with me!

Bear my image. Dream my dreams. Shape my visions with the stuff of the earth, held in your hands, carried in your own body.

My friends, God is inviting us to create - in love, in delight, in joy. God is inviting us to join in God's joyful work of making all things new. God is inviting us to join in the communion of co-creating and giving witness to the re-creating love of the One who made our world.

Do we dare? Do you dare?

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

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


Sermon and Scenes, August 13, 2017

August 14, 2017 by cmc_admin

August 13, 2017

Living Joyfully Through Spoken Word

Sermon and Scenes, "Abundant Joy"

Another Scene, "Resurrection Life"

 


Sermon from August 6, 2017: Everywhere and Nowhere

August 8, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Jason Gerlach

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

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07232017 SERMON: MC USA Reflections

July 25, 2017 by cmc_admin

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Sermon 07232017: MYF Reflections

July 25, 2017 by cmc_admin

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Sermon: 06/18/2017 Making Peace with Power

June 19, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Dayna Olson-Getty, on Matthew 3:13-17 and Acts 2:1-24, 32-39.

Click for Transcript

In recent weeks, I've found myself thinking a lot about the role that power plays in our lives and communities. "Power" is a word that makes a lot of us a little uncomfortable – maybe "influence" or "authority" or even "polity" feel more acceptable. But regardless of what we call it, power ebbs and flows through our relationships, our families, our church systems, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our government.

When we want to understand where power is located in a community, we ask questions like, "How are decisions made? Who could veto that proposal? Who would we have to convince in order to create something new? Who is responsible to keep our community safe when one of us is hurting others? Who gets to decide how to tell our shared story? How does this community clarify who can belong and who cannot?"

I recently read a book that has been helpful to me in thinking about Christian discipleship and power. It's called Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing by Andy Crouch. Crouch argues that we have often, as Christians, seen power as primarily a dangerous and corrupting influence – something to be feared or avoided - and not as a good gift from God.

This view of power as fundamentally dangerous or corrupting may ring especially true for those of us who have been shaped by the Anabaptist tradition. Many of our origin stories – the stories of sixteenth century Anabaptists - are stories of profound powerlessness and suffering at the hands of powerful political and religious leaders. Such formative experiences of the abuse of power have led many Anabaptist communities to develop a strong guardedness about the pursuit or acquisition of power.

And while serious caution is warranted, given how disastrously we humans tend to abuse power, our narrative about power often makes it hard for us to honestly assess when and where we do have power.

But the truth is, we all have power, to some degree or another, in at least some arenas of our lives. Some of that power is the direct, decision-making kind of power – the power to say yes or no, the power to create something out of nothing, the power to choose one course of action over another.

And some of our power is indirect – we make suggestions or recommendations, we articulate a perspective or share a personal story or piece of advice.

But unless we can identify and own our power, we have very little opportunity for using it for redemptive rather than destructive purposes. We have to make peace with our power before we can use our power to make peace.

Crouch argues that power flows from God and was first given by God to human beings before sin entered our world. Power is meant to be used for good, for the flourishing of human communities, of people in interdependent networks of relationships. Flourishing creates the space and conditions for all of us, including the most vulnerable members of our communities, to fully become all of who we were created to be.

Crouch defines power as "the capacity for meaningful action." Those with power have the ability to act in a way that has an impact, that causes something to happen. And it's not just random action – it's action that's meaningful. Their action is part of a larger story that began before this moment of action and will continue on after it. Their action moves the story forward in some way.

The power to nurture true human flourishing, Crouch argues, contains a paradox. Power for human flourishing requires both authority – the meaningful capacity to take action - and vulnerability - meaningful risk of loss. Those who want to see a community flourish have to use their authority in a way that releases control over the others who are involved and over the outcome. This kind of use of power calls us to use authority with open hands and open lives, to invite transparency and accountability, to make space for others to influence and shape the outcome.

Organizations go bad, Crouch says, when leaders seek authority and control without being willing to risk that others might push back or have influence as well. That kind of power – power that seeks to avoid vulnerability - comes at the expense of others ability to act. It leaves the less powerful with few options other than reacting to what has already been done to and for them. This kind of power easily becomes exploitative, increasing the authority and decreasing the vulnerability of the more powerful, while decreasing the authority and increasingly the vulnerability of the less powerful. We call that kind of use of power "injustice."

Those who are entrusted with the power to take meaningful action on behalf of a community must also, Crouch says, be willing to take on the real risk of meaningful loss in doing so- the risk of failing, the risk of being betrayed, the risk of being misunderstood, the risk of being wrong. Those who hold power on behalf of a community are called to a vulnerability that leaves them open to the very real possibility of suffering on behalf of those they lead. This kind of power, Crouch argues, is what we know as love. It's taking action for the good of another, even as we open ourselves to grief and loss in doing so.

In both of the passages we read today, God gives power in ways are very public and visible. And in both cases, it's power that includes both authority and vulnerability.

In the first passage – from Matthew 3 - we see Jesus going down to the Jordan River where John the Baptist is calling people to confess their sin and be baptized as a sign of repentance in preparation for God's judgement.

Jesus is literally the last person who needs this baptism, and John knows it. He protests, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"

But Jesus insists that he must be baptized by John.

And when Jesus steps into that water, he steps into solidarity with God's people. He doesn't need the baptism of repentance, but his people do, and they need him to stand with them in their sinfulness and weakness. Jesus steps into the water of public confession and repentance, into the river of death and rebirth. He takes on the vulnerability of standing with the people of God at their most needy and defenseless. Jesus steps into the water, identifying with the sinners who will find wholeness and holiness through him.

And in response to this embrace of vulnerability, God gives Jesus authority. The Spirit descends on him and God declares "This is my Beloved son, with whom I am well-pleased." Jesus, God is saying, has been chosen and given power for a particular task, the task of making God known through his life and death. Jesus has been given authority to take action on behalf of God's mission of shalom – of the flourishing of all creation.

Jesus continues to hold authority and vulnerability together throughout his ministry. Forgiving, teaching, healing, creating and recreating – speaking and acting over and over again with the authority of God. And yet, his life is filled with vulnerability. He gives himself to people who betray him. He speaks truth even when it threatens, and risks backlash from, those with political and religious power. He risks everything, even his own life, for the sake of those he loves.

Authority and vulnerability are also at the heart of the Pentecost story. Luke tells us that the disciples were all together when the house where they were gathered was filled with the sound of a violent wind, and tongues of fire appeared among them and rested on each of them. Wind and fire are signs in scripture of God's fearsome presence – Luke is telling us that, suddenly, God is there among them, full of power, breathing fire, riding on the wind.

And the power of God, the creator of the universe, is not only present with them, God's power is present in and through them. They begin to speak in languages that are not their own, in the mother tongues of their immigrant neighbors. And each one hears the word of God in his or her own native language, in the language of childhood, and of memories, and of dreams.

This powerful God among them has poured out power in and through them. And it is a creative power that is speaking a new community into being, a community that crosses cultures and languages, genders and age differences, economic class and social status, a community that speaks in the heart language of each person, offering a space of belonging and flourishing.

It's hard to imagine a more direct or visible sign of God's bestowal of power. These disciples haven't been ordained by the laying on of hands – they've been ordained by the visible, audible indwelling presence of God!

So I think it's striking what happens next. Those who experience this event of astonishingly abundant divine power don't respond by asking how they can get some too. They don't respond to this awesome display of power by seeking power. They hear the story of Jesus' death and resurrection and they are, Luke says, "cut to the heart." They respond to this outpouring of power with confession, with vulnerability. They respond by entering the waters of repentance and death, and trusting that they will be raised up to new life. They follow Jesus into vulnerability. And in doing so, they receive the empowering gift of the Holy Spirit.

Those first disciples lived as we are called to live. They stepped forward into the way of Jesus, who although he had all authority, took on all vulnerability for the sake of empowering love.

The author of the letter to the church in Philippi, quoting an ancient hymn, put it this way:

Christ Jesus…though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

My friends, as we consider our own authority and power, let us follow in the way of Jesus, embracing both meaningful action and risky, vulnerable love for the sake of the flourishing of God's community of beloved ones.

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

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


Sermon 05/28/2017: Remembering the Poor

May 30, 2017 by cmc_admin

 

Sermon by Pastor Dayna Olson-Getty on II Corinthians 8:1-12 and 9:6-9; Romans 15:25-29.

Click for Transcript

I'm going to begin this morning by asking you to join me in a somewhat dystopian thought experiment. And before I begin – let me assure you that this is not prophecy – just an experiment in imagination – and that I won't ask you to stay in this imaginative world very long.

OK, ready? Imagine for a minute this version of our future life in Harrisonburg. Imagine that our community has suffered some sort of terrible calamity that has brought our economy into a steep decline. Businesses have closed, non-profits have gone under, universities are shuttered. People who have always had more than enough are struggling to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads. In this imaginary version of the future, many of us in this congregation have lost our jobs and aren't able to find new ones. The necessities of life have become scarce and expensive.

I imagine that if we found ourselves in this version of the future, we would help each other. No doubt we would distribute the money that our congregation has already set aside in our Compassion Fund for unexpected needs that arise among us. I imagine that many of us would use our household savings to provide for our families and to care for each other. If the crisis continued, some of us would likely try to sell some property to provide for others. Some of us might invite another family to share our home until the crisis had passed, or host a nightly neighborhood potluck so that we could ensure that everyone had something to eat, or set up a clothing swap in our fellowship hall.

We have a lot of resources among us, and I imagine that, if we shared our resources, we could support each other for quite a while. But eventually, we'd deplete all those resources – and then what? Unless help came from outside of the impoverished region, we would eventually become destitute.

This is not unlike the situation faced by the church in Jerusalem in AD 57.

Several years before, when Paul had traveled to Jerusalem to meet with the leaders of the community of believers in that city, there was already a significant financial need. Paul was in Jerusalem to try to work out a deep conflict that had arisen between Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus. Some Jewish followers of Jesus were insisting that the Gentiles needed to follow the ritual purity laws of Judaism in order to be a part of the community, while Paul and his ministry partners insisted that that was not necessary. After a heated debate, the two sides came to a compromise. The leaders of the Jerusalem community gave Paul their blessing to continue proclaiming the good news of Jesus among the Gentiles without requiring Gentile believers to follow Jewish ritual purity regulations. The one thing they did require of Paul was that he "remember the poor."

And Paul took that assignment to heart. For the next five years, throughout his missionary journeys, Paul raised money wherever he went, asking the newly converted believers in the Greek and Roman cities where he ministered to contribute to the gift he was assembling to bring to the poor among the believers in Jerusalem.

In the early days of the Jerusalem congregation, wealthy members sold their property to provide for their brothers and sisters. Luke describes this community in the book of Acts as one where "there was not a needy person among them." But as the years went on, those resources were depleted.

Because of the Roman occupation, the residents of Jerusalem faced persistent food shortages and extremely high taxes. Many Jews retired in Jerusalem, which led to an increasing number of elderly people who needed financial support. And then, in the 40s, Palestine suffered a severe famine.

By the time that Paul was gathering money for this fund, poverty within the Jerusalem community had become deep and entrenched. The poor among the believers in Jerusalem were destitute.

But even with that level of need, it's striking that Paul invested such a tremendous amount of time and energy, and took such great risks, to raise and deliver these funds. Anti-Jewish prejudice was strong in the ancient world and the history between these communities – of Jews who were deeply offended by what they saw as the Gentile church's carelessly violating traditional ethics, and of Gentile believers convinced that the Jerusalem church was being oppressive and domineering in their demands – this history meant that there was deep mutual distrust. And it's likely that most of the members of the Gentile churches themselves lived only a notch or two above subsistence on the economic ladder.

There were also significant cultural barriers related to giving. In Greek culture, when wealthy people gave to those in need, they expected to receive prestige and honor in return. Becoming a benefactor was a way to gain power and status within one's community – those who were recipients became clients of the benefactor, with long-term obligations of service and allegiance to the patron. In this patron-client paradigm, giving to strangers who lived hundreds of miles away made no sense at all because the recipients could not return any benefit to the givers.

And Paul's own challenges and barriers to this work of fund-raising were not insignificant. Even while he was collecting this money, Paul was in conflict with Peter, one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church, because he had reneged on the agreement between the Jewish and Gentile communities. And the travel involved, including the travel to Jerusalem, meant risking arrest or even death for Paul, whose association with Gentiles made him a target.

And there was a significant risk that, after all the hard work of raising these funds, the Jerusalem community might refuse to accept them. To publically accept a gift from Gentiles would risk deepening the rift between the community of Jewish Jesus-followers and the broader Jewish community of Jerusalem, marginalizing these vulnerable people even further.

So why on earth did Paul devote 5 years of his life to raising this money? And why did he risk his life delivering it?

Paul's arguments to the community of believers at Corinth give us some clues.

The point of this gift, he tells them, is not how much or how little they have to give. Instead, this fund-raising campaign is intended to create what Paul calls "fair balance" - or equality of resources - between those who currently have more than enough and those in need, anticipating that in future circumstances, those who give might themselves become recipients.

Paul is envisioning a global network of faith communities in which economic resources flow across the boundaries of culture, ethnicity, theological conviction and nationality to provide for those in need from the resources of those who have more than enough. Paul wants to forge lasting bonds of solidarity, binding together these distant and mutually distrustful branches of the Jesus-community in mutual interdependence. Paul wants the Gentile believers and the Judean believers to become kin, the kind of kin who send money when someone is in need and who aren't too proud or fearful to accept it.

Paul's method of fund-raising is intentionally distinct from the Greek systems of patron-client relationships. Even the poorest members of the Corinthian church are asked to participate. The money will then be pooled, making one larger gift from the Corinthian congregation, and that will be pooled with the gifts from the other Gentile congregations, until it's no longer possible to identify the gifts of individual givers who might require something of the recipients in return.

This gift, rather than creating security and status for the giver, asks the givers to make themselves vulnerable, putting whatever financial security they have in the hands of brothers and sisters half a world away. The Macedonians, who gave out of their poverty, Paul tells them, are the exemplars of this kind of giving – this is not a mutually beneficial contract or a global mutual insurance pool, but a wildly vulnerable act of faith that is undergirded by trust in God's abundant provision through the community of God's people.

So does this story of Paul's risky cross-cultural, globe-spanning fund-raising have to do with us?

First, it seems abundantly clear that Paul considers both giving and asking for money as highly valuable ministry activities, integral to the lived witness of God's new community. For those of us who give and those of who raise money on behalf of others, this is a word of blessing and affirmation. The work you do in raising money to care for those in need, to fund the work of the church, and to create communities that give witness to the possibility of God's beloved community is holy work, just as much as preaching, or praying, or leading Sunday morning worship.

Second, this story points out the importance of relationships across differences of theology, culture and nationality in the community of God's people. Paul is asking these Gentile believers to take a risk in giving to people who they have never met, and will likely never meet. But it's not a blind risk. Paul has visited this community multiple times. For all their differences, he knows the Jerusalem community well enough to feel confident that this money is really needed and that it will be used well. And when he delivers the gift, he takes along a representative of each of the congregations who gave, creating an opportunity for direct relationships between these communities.

Third, this story helps us to see that, when we are gathering funds for the work of the church, the method and the message are inseparable. Not unlike the ancient Greeks and Romans, we live in a culture that rewards giving with power and prestige, and often expects some form of subservience from the recipient. We only have to look at the entangled history of western mission and colonialism to see what deep harm is done when we bring this paradigm into our relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ. Like Paul, we need to find ways to shape our giving practices so that we foster mutual vulnerability and interdependence, rather than hierarchy and domination.

Finally, and most of all, this story challenges us to see ourselves as responsible for the economic needs of fellow believers across differences of culture, nationality, economics, and theological conviction. We are called to giving and receiving as kinfolk who are invested in each other's well-being for the long-term and who risk putting our trust in God's provision through the extended community of God's people.

Perhaps one way to measure how we are doing in living out these commitments is to return for a minute to our dystopian imaginings of life in Harrisonburg during a severe economic crisis. What would it be like to be on the receiving end of cross-cultural or transnational relationships with communities of faith who we have funded in our years of prosperity? Have we created relationships of such mutuality and trust that we wouldn't mind swapping places and becoming the recipient in the relationship in our time of need? Would we be comfortable receiving in the same way and under the same conditions that we have asked others to receive?

Like the community in Corinth, God is calling us to forge bond of kinship across great distances and differences with our brothers and sisters, using our excess, no matter how small, to participate in God's economy of abundant provision for all.

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

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


Sermon 05/14/2017: Kingdom Economics

May 15, 2017 by cmc_admin

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

Click here for a transcript

Lies we Live (or Die) By

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

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

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

Giving Alms

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

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

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

What do we treasure?

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

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

Everyone Welcome Mission Project

(Hadley Jenner's Voice in italics)

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

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

HHJ-Yes, we gave $15,000….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Group Shared Emergency Savings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sermon: 05/07/2017 CMC Jubilee Debt Reduction

May 9, 2017 by cmc_admin

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

Click here for transcript

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

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

CMC Reality

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

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

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

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

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

Bridge of Hope

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

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

CMC--Living Generously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CMC Jubilee Debt Relief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sermon 04/30/2017 Living Generously, The Joy in Freewill Offerings

May 2, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by guest preacher Teresa Boshart Yoder.

Click here for a transcript

Opening prayer

Good and loving God, source of every grace and blessing,
We bring you thanks as we gather today for the many gifts you have given us.
We seek to be good stewards, Lord!
Bless us as we gather here to share your gifts.
Send us Your Spirit and be present among us — in the mouth of all who speak, in the ears of all who listen
at the heart of all we say and do.

The freewill offering model introduced: Exodus 35:1 - 36:7

The first recorded fundraising effort was a huge success. It was to raise money to build the tabernacle. It's a great model of what can happen when God's people come together for a common cause. If you have time, read the full story from Exodus 35:1-36:7.

Exodus 36:5b - 7, a fundraiser's dream

God ordained giving before there were even needs that could be met with money or possessions. Mixed messages abound on the topic of giving and tithing, leaving you in the pews confused and discouraged, unfortunately this can lead to disinterest or giving up.

Jeff Anderson relates in his book "Plastic Donuts" that we use the idea of "acceptable gift" rather than tithe. In the Bible, acceptable gift means "pleasing'". He argues the ten percent standard was never a biblical standard, but it can be a helpful tool and lead to meaningful spiritual experiences. Jeff found when he did a deep dive into biblical texts about gift occurrence (like when the widow dropped her two coins into the temple treasury, or Moses gave instructions for the animal burnt offering), he counted roughly 2,000 mentions from Genesis to Revelations.

People often need some vision for giving systematically, and the tithe provides a clear, measurable benchmark for action. But the tithe can unintentionally set a standard in motion and when applied in the Christian faith, legalism creeps in, tithing becomes about rules and regulations. This may lead to guilt and shame for those under this standard, and pride and complacency for those at, or above, this percentage.

God gives us freedom of choice to determine our gifts. But since giving to God is not a small matter, the amount we give matters to God. God measures our gifts based on our unique abilities and respective heart condition. I believe God views our gifts more broadly than a one-size-fits-all standard like the ten percent tithe.

It doesn't take much awareness to realize that our society is obsessed with money and financial gain. Up-to-date stock quotes are available over the internet. Bookstores are filled with books on how to make money and numerous entire magazines are devoted to the same goal. That doesn't even address all the ads….and ads….. And ads urging us to spend money as fast as we can make it or even faster if you use your credit card. Not surprisingly, savings in America is at a low while debt is soaring (especially credit card debt).

The church isn't immune to this. Often, our Anabaptist heritage makes money a taboo subject—especially in a church setting. For many of us, money and the church are completely separate subjects and never the twain shall meet. But, while we are reluctant to talk about money, the bible isn't. Stewardship themes on money and possessions are addressed more frequently than any other subject in scripture, with the exception of the "Kingdom of God".

Now-- I am a nurse and worked for 35 years as Director of Women's Health divisions for health systems. I have had to tell women they have breast cancer and walk with them on their treatment journey. I have had to perform CPR on newborn infants and work with parents whose children were getting bone marrow transplants because it was their last hope for life with their cancer. I joined Everence; a faith based financial institution just about 2 years ago, calling it my second career moving toward retirement. When they told me I would be expected to preach sometimes and the topic would be mostly stewardship, including money, I wasn't sure I could do it. Think about that… maybe that is why Jesus felt it was so important to talk about money and stewardship…. None of the rest of us wants to.

The world of religious giving is experiencing a seismic shift. The world of religious giving in which many of us grew up is not the world of giving today. Since 1970, giving to religion has not been keeping pace with inflation. There is some good news though; studies show that people who attend church, mosque or synagogue weekly are 2-4 times more generous in their giving than non-church goers. But the religious marketplace is changing; it has been altered by many new providers of religious goods and services that compete for those usually provided by traditional denominations. Non-profit charitable organizations registered with internal revenue went from 865,000 in 2001 to over 1.2 million in 2010, an increase of almost 50%. A lot more organizations and groups are asking for our dollars and getting them, the congregational church is often not asking. Another interesting statistic is that 10% of church members provide over 65% of those churches dollars. At least one out of 5 American Christians (that is 20%) gives literally nothing to the church, religious organizations or other charities.

Giving patterns and practices evolve from one generation to another. Clif Christopher in his book, Not Your Parents' Offering Plate, discusses relevant information for those involved in congregational leadership who are looking to keep the vision for giving alive. Some of his ideas are edgy. But as he describes early on in his book, society, the church and the offering plate of the Church of the 21st century has seen dramatic changes. As a result of these changes how the church addressed generosity and stewardship issues 50 years ago may not work today. We see a diminished loyalty to the local church as well as an increased sophistication in fund raising efforts by para-church and civic organizations which, like it or not, are competing for your hearts and dollars. Christopher challenges us to reflect on what we have been doing and asks ourselves if we think it will keep us financially solvent in maintaining current ministry needs and as we add new initiatives for future outreach.

One of his challenges to us is we have become too complacent in general about the expectations for our members. He feels leadership needs to be more assertive with challenging church members towards greater stewardship faithfulness in the ways we earn, save, spend and share with our financial resources. Christopher notes that the churches that are growing today are those who have raised the expectations about giving and regular church attendance. Congregations that shy away from these subjects tend not to attract seekers looking to grow and be challenged spiritually. I admit when I read this part of the book I got a little squirmy. How would I feel to hear this from my pastor over the podium.

I read an article about a young youth pastor who was serving a large congregation in an exclusive community. The senior pastor was concerned that the congregation's giving was below expectations. As a thank you he hosted a meal for the top contributing families. (Nonprofit and charitable organizations do this all the time, did some of you react when I mentioned the church did this?) The youth pastor was stunned that he received an invitation, he was a top giver! It dawned on him that the fancy cars that his teenagers and their parents drove might well be purchases on credit, they may have high incomes but also had high expenses. This helped him focus conversations with the youth and their families about articulating one's purpose and defining priorities, two keys to a generous mindset.

Can the church compete with the clamorous claims of contemporary culture? Are we equipping disciples to live each moment with an awareness of God's abundance and to respond generously? How are we transmitting Jesus' great love command and our call to live out these words to the best of our ability by grace and through the gift of the Holy Spirit? In what ways are we encouraging families with children to foster gratitude and thankfulness that will counter the individualistic messages of consumer culture?

Scientific proof now exists that human beings are hard-wired to be generous. It's part of our very core of being. Researchers in psychology, neuroscience, and sociology are finding compelling evidence that children — infants even — are predisposed towards altruism and kindness. Our Creator God has lovingly equipped us to be faithful stewards, to care for one another and for creation, but this happens in real life, not in an uncomfortable effort that's tied ball-and-chain to a budget. People want to make a difference, and we are willing to be generous when given the right opportunities and reasons for doing so.

In a book by Henri Nouwen: The Spirituality of Fundraising. Nouwen says that if you are really passionate about something — about a cause, about Jesus, about your faith community — then inviting others to give money to it is a gift to them. This simple thought can move us from a mentality of scarcity to a mentality of abundance. I have been reading a devotional "Why Give" by John DeVries. In it he notes; Scrooge, that old miser in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", was a miserable old man until he learned how to give. By the end of the story, he is dancing and giggling through the village, having discovered the joy of giving. My prayer is for you to find something very like that joy.

I want to share a story by a member here at CMC:

CMC Member story:

Even though my childhood family was very poor, I grew up with a strong sense of tithing and stewardship. I was taught by my parents, by both words and deeds, that giving back to God is foundational in our Christian belief and commitment. My memories from childhood are that when we had income, from sale of a crop, for example, the first thing we did was to set aside a tithe to give to our church. No matter what our financial circumstances might be at the time, setting aside to give came before necessities such as groceries or clothes, paying any debts we might have, etc. I remember when I got an allowance of ten cents a month. My dad would give me a nickel and five pennies so I would have a penny to put in the offering plate at church.

The summer after my high school senior year I worked hard to earn money for my freshman year at EMU and, true to my teaching, I tithed my earnings. When I left for EMU in the fall, I had not yet given all the tithe money I had set aside. I brought it back to EMU with me, probably between $50 and $100, in a jar. During the fall semester, as financial "needs" arose, I dipped into my tithe fund. I'm sure I thought of it as borrowing and I would pay it back when I could. But when the school year ended I still had not paid it back, a matter which caused me considerable guilt.

The next four years brought marriage and the birth of two children, all the while continuing my education. While I/we continued to tithe during those years, it seemed there was not enough money to give beyond a tithe to pay back the tithe money I had "borrowed." Eventually, though, we were able to give above the tithe. Since that time I have repaid that "loan" thousands of times over. We are grateful to be able to give over and above a tithe. And when we do, I frequently think that I am still repaying what I "borrowed" during my freshman year in college.

Cultivating a mindset of generosity should impact all aspects of the congregation's work. A mindset of generosity encourages seeing everyone—members, staff, pastor, friends—as people with all kinds of gifts to share. Money is only part of the equation, but a necessary part. Where are the signs of generosity in our congregation now? How can you participate, encourage and lift up those signs and missions? What else can you do to reframe current practices so that they reflect a more generous spirit?

As Jennifer shared last week:

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.

The tithe is a very controversial matter today and you will hear conflicting views. I personally don't see value in time spent debating the tithe, but would seek to gain unity in generosity and heart giving or giving of your own free will. I think we would want to share materially to where we are fed spiritually. I think we should commit to giving faithfully and you need to think about what feels joyful to you for giving to the church. I think we need as a church, as parents and family, to teach on giving. Actually tithing can sometimes be supported as a "tenth belongs to God". I challenge us that all things belong to God, are given to us as stewards of all Gods gifts and possessions.

I leave you with the verse from I Peter 4:10—like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.

God looks for, and delights in, our freewill offerings. Free will means what it says. It does not mean something that has been manipulated or demanded from us, or given because guilt or condemnation has been placed upon us.

So again, I wish for all of you like Scrooge that old miser in A Christmas Carol be dancing and giggling through Harrisonburg, having discovered the joy of giving.

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

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


Sermon 04/23/2017: First Things First

April 24, 2017 by cmc_admin

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

Click here for a transcript

Giving our Lives to God

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

Ancient Giving

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

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

Abraham and Melchizedek

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

First Fruit Ritual

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

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

James

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

CMC Story

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

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

Generosity Trends at CMC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving

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

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

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