Sermons by Jason Gerlach

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 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


click to view transcript

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 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.

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: 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 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.

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


Sermon 02/26/2017: What is on the Horizon?

March 8, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jason Gerlach, on Matthew 17:1-9.

Click here for a transcript

A mountaintop. A summit. An apex.

Peter, James and John accompanied Jesus to the mountaintop. Maybe they thought it was for the view? Or, maybe they were grateful to be out of the valley? Certainly they were able to see Jesus at work in the valley, what, with all the people, all the requests, all the need. Maybe they were simply glad for the break? Little did they know that their mountaintop experience would consist of seeing Jesus in radiant clothing or that they would hear God's voice. Although, if they'd been listening to the Hebraic stories of Moses and Elijah, they might have picked up on some common motifs: master, disciples, mountain, cloud, audience, and vision. If they were familiar with those stories, they wouldn't have been surprised when they heard God's voice on a mountaintop.

How would you define Jesus' mountaintop experience? Was it simply a story of confirmation? "This is Jesus, listen to him." Was it a form of reaffirmation, echoing Jesus' baptism? Or, would it better be categorized as a precursor of his resurrection? Just how would the disciples have understood their mountaintop vision of Jesus wearing shining white clothes, surrounded by Moses and Elijah? That is the question!

For a moment, let's consider Moses and Elijah who appeared on the mountaintop with Jesus.

For Moses, in Exodus 24, the mountaintop was a place of commune. Another opportunity to relate one-on-one with God. It was also the place of memory. And, it's the setting for one of my favorite biblical thought experiments. In response to God's invitation, Moses climbed Mount Horeb and remained on the mountaintop for forty days and forty nights. I find that I am fascinated by imagining how Moses spent his time during those days and nights. When I think about Moses's lengthy stay, I've considered that it probably took some time to find an adequate stone tablet, sizable enough to fit ten commandments into two columns and large enough that he could round off the top of the columns. And then he needed to locate a pointed, chisel-like stone as carving tool. And, he needed to brush up on his penmanship perhaps. And, he needed to figure out spacing. And, he needed another stone in case he messed up. And, he needed… (forgive me, I'm being facetious). But, I do wonder whether all of that carving took forty days, some five hundred hours? If not, how did he spend the rest of his time?

See, I imagine that Moses started carving right quick after he located the stone and the carving tool. He carved Thou shall have no other Gods than me. Done. Then, Thou shall not take the Lord's name in vain. Then, Remember the Sabbath. Then, Honoring parents. And then, (oh boy!) this was where things got real. Moses was a volatile man. Hidden away, deep within him, was the memory of a time he'd like to forget. Years ago, in a fit of rage he had given into his anger and killed an Egyptian, then buried him, and a few days later fled the area when he realized that what he thought was concealed, was actually known by many. While on the run, Moses encountered God for the first time, hearing God's voice in fire flaming out of a bush. God called out to Moses. A relationship began between Moses and God. And, despite the significant roles Moses played in leading God's people, in which his relationship with God surely deepened, Moses held onto to his secret. But, on the mountaintop, communing with God for forty days, that's when everything caught up to him. Can't you just see it? "Moses, are you ready to carve the next commandment? Go ahead, carve Thou shall not kill." (Laughter) Maybe at this moment, Moses cowered. Or, bewildered, he walked aimlessly in circles. Maybe he stammered or stared at God, slack jawed. Maybe the reason Moses was on the mountain forty days was because of his own avoidance.

But, when I imagine this story, I envision Moses eventually coming around. He needed to talk to God about what had happened all those years ago. By naming it, Moses was able to experience a deeper relationship with God, including forgiveness upon claiming the error of his ways. From the mountaintop, he was able to view the horizon for the first time. Maybe it now looked different than before. Relief. Release. Maybe he held his head higher, and could now see further.

Interestingly enough, Moses finished carving the ten commandments, headed down the mountain, became angry, and then returned to the mountaintop not only to re-carve the ten commandments but to ask God to forgive the people as God had forgiven him.

If Moses represents relationship, Elijah might possibly represent immortality. For Elijah, the only person in the Bible to return to the mountaintop once shared by Moses and God, the mountaintop setting was refuge. He found shelter in a mountaintop cave after traveling forty days and nights to escape the enraged Jezebel. Later, in 2 Kings 2, Elijah's life was preserved for eternity as the biblical account records his ascension to heaven in a whirlwind of of flaming chariot and horses.

Now, these are the characters who gather around Jesus at his Transfiguration. What did Peter, James and John think of their presence? Did they understand their presence as emphasis on relationship and immortality? And, how did they make sense of the shining white clothes or the veiled reference to resurrection? Was the mountaintop for them, a place of foreshadowing?

Allow me to pause and check-in. I recognize the possibility that when I started talking about mountaintops, you revisited your own experience of Mt. Washington, Kilimanjaro, Pikes Peak, Matterhorn or Table Mountain. Or, Mass-of-nothing; I mean, Massanutten. These experiences stick with us because of the journey of hiking to the top as well as the vantage point they provide. From mountaintop, the horizon seemingly goes on forever unless other mountains or clouds obstruct your view.

If Peter, James and John were awed by the natural beauty around them, that detailed has been lost. Their experience on mountaintop was one of worship, but also fear. Ecstatic that they could witness Moses, Elijah, and Jesus together, they wanted to celebrate and preserve. But, they also felt unsettled, possibly wondering whether they could live up to the command to "Listen to Jesus" or fearing for Jesus's life and their own. Descending the mountain, Peter, James and John may have seen, for the first time, what lies on the horizon.

This combination of worship amidst fear has recurred over and over again throughout history. Stories abound of imprisoned Christians whom, refusing to recant, followed a fairly common routine leading up martyrdom, which consisted of letter writing, prayer, singing familiar memorized songs, and even hymn writing. Persecuted Anabaptist would gather in haymows for meetings and worship. Throughout the Antebellum Era of the late 18th and 19th Century, slaves would secretly leave the plantation during the night and congregate in "hush harbors" in a nearby forest. Wet quilts were hung from trees forming a temporary tent-like structure (something like Peter's imagined dwellings?). The quilts were damp so that they would absorb the sounds of worship. For the time of prayer, a large stockpot was placed on the forest floor and one slave after another took turns praying aloud but directly into the pot to muffle the noise. Dried leaves and shells were spread on the paths leading to the hush harbor to provide warning if a plantation owner was searching the forest. Hush harbors provided the only opportunities to worship; together slaves would sing, pray, and discuss promising stories and passages in the Bible that offered hope. Amidst constant fear, they would congregate to worship; hush harbors serving as their mountaintop throughout their lived everyday experience in which there was little hope on the horizon.

We read the Transfiguration story prior to Lent as a reminder. The harrowing journey of Lent will conclude in the death and resurrection of Jesus. But, the resurrected Christ is notably different than the Transfiguration. The resurrected Christ isn't wearing shining white clothes, the resurrected Christ is disfigured, his wounds visible to anyone who comes near.

We live in a time where everything has become one subject. When from one day to the next another "disfigured" body can be targeted: the alien, the Muslim, the transgendered, the marginalized, excluded, problematized. In fact, this isn't how it should be. Instead, society from the Biblical story up through today, will continually be assessed, concerning whether it is just, based on its attentiveness to the widow, the alien, and the orphan.

The good news of Jesus's resurrection is not only victory over death, it's a recognition of the falsity that only some are considered disfigured. The disfigured Christ shows that the contrast is not between abled and disabled but between the temporarily abled and disabled. The disabled Christ should remind us of the fluidity of all bodies. If anyone experiences disfigurement, then the body of Christ needs to break itself open and make room. We are called to parody the world when bodies are marginalized, excluded, problematized.

What is on our horizon? What might tomorrow bring? Can we see beyond it?

Theorist José Esteban Muñoz encourages the practice of futurity, which he defines as the process of seeing something that is not yet here. He states, "Indeed to access [this] visuality we may need to squint, to strain our vision and force it to see otherwise, beyond the limited vista of the here and now." By doing so, one embraces potentiality. The present is not enough. And instead one should look beyond the horizon to glimpse the future that is not-yet-conscious.

The Transfiguration, it seems to me, might best be understood as the process of seeing beyond what is on the horizon. Maybe Peter, James and John glimpsed the shining white clothes representing the not-yet-conscious future. For them, the "here and now" was toxic. They were ridiculed, persecuted. And, Jesus: he was abducted, convicted, disfigured.

If we are to catch a glimpse of the Transfigured Christ it'll be while we worship. And then, we too will echo Peter's claim, "Lord, it is good that we are here." In response, a voice from heaven, stated: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."

For Peter, James and John listening to Jesus meant descending the mountain possibly realizing, for the first time, what lies on the horizon.

In listening to Christ today we will find commune and refuge but even more we will accompany the disfigured Christ to address all that is toxic and divisive in the here and now. We cannot glimpse the Transfigured Christ if we don't listen to Jesus and the call from long ago to provide for the widow, the orphan, and the alien among us.

Together, let us acknowledge the fluidity of all bodies. Let us listen to Jesus. And, let us worship as well as envision what lies beyond the horizon.



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

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

Sermon 1/1/2017: Greatest of All Time

January 11, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jason Gerlach

Click here for transcript

It's a New Year! It's a beginning. It's fresh. Now what if beginning in 2017 you responded in the negative to every suggestion, request, or inquiry whether inward or outward? You'd decline new opportunities at work. You'd deny the inward nudge toward altruism. You'd reply "no" without further explanation to text messages, phone calls, emails. You'd rebuff the people closest to you. Even worse, you'd limit imagination, possibility, knowledge, discernment, and the flutterings of the Holy Spirit. What would happen if, for once, you chose 'you'? What would you be saying 'yes' to if you always responded in the negative?

You wouldn't acquiesce to your dog's pleading eyes. You'd scoff at handshakes and a waving hand. You'd build higher walls, firmer barriers. You'd think of faster, more emphatic ways to say 'no'. You wouldn't contribute to congregational singing, heck, you wouldn't even turn to the correct page. You'd reject any opportunity to participate in something larger than yourself: a group of friends, a task force, a Ministry Support Team. "Nope, I'm good," would be your reply.

To begin the New Year with this thought experiment is to tip our hat toward absurdity. It feels a bit much. Who would want to live like that?

If in 2017, we can't always respond in the negative, can we do the opposite? Well, to consider that possibility we'd engage in a different thought experiment, yet one that would conclude as equally unsatisfying.

My maternal grandfather, Jacob Harnish, loved his wife. Together, Jacob and Alta raised six children. Their eldest child is my mother: Mary Jane. Jacob was bi-vocational, he operated a family-size farm and he was a Lancaster Conference bishop. He carved wooden tops and enjoyed watching them spin across the kitchen table, eventually they either fell off the side or bumped into the flower vase, which stopped their rotation. He enjoyed the game Uncle Wiggly. He owned a radio, but kept it tucked away in the attic. He felt Alta's cooking was too bland. Yep, not enough salt. So, underneath the same kitchen table that provided a smooth surface for his wooden tops, Jacob built a small tray. It was positioned a few inches to the side of his knee. And, everything was measured correctly so that a rectangular Morton salt tin could easily slide onto the shelf. Upon plating their food, Jacob would wait for Alta to briefly return to the kitchen, he'd slide the tin from underneath the table, shake it over his food, and return it to its concealed location before she reentered the dining room. The hidden salt shaker went undetected for many, many years.

In 2017, don't sneak around to suit your taste. Let your preferences be known!

Throughout 2016, we've identified an Olympic sprinter, gymnast, and swimmer as GOAT. We've recognized greatness among us in Lin-Manuel Miranda and FLOTUS. We've commemorated the greatness of those who've recently died: a legendary boxer (Muhammad Ali), a golfer (Arnold Palmer), and a news reporter (Morley Safer). Each one has been labeled GOAT. Each of these individuals -- in comparison to many others who share the same field of work -- can arguably be identified as "The Greatest of All Time". G-O-A-T. GOAT. This term gets thrown around to describe a premier athlete, or a play that stands out on a basketball court or football field. Posthumously, we claim a musician, or the musician's most acclaimed album, as the greatest ever. Commemorating celebrity accomplishments or showing reverence for a beloved relative, we'll select the emoji profile of a goat, preferencing the kitchy acronym over the silliness of a picture of a domesticated animal.

At this point, you may be convinced you know where this is headed. Yes, Jason, we get it: Jesus is the Greatest of All Time. If that's what you're thinking, well, (1) obviously, (2) there might still be something for you to consider before this is finished.

Along with Ben Risser, pastor of Ridgeway MC, I've regularly visited inmates in the Rockingham -- Harrisonburg Regional Jail for almost eight years. Over that time it became increasingly unsettling to me that only about 10% to 15% of the inmate population had access to religious Bible studies, Sunday night worship services, or Christian counseling. The unsettled feeling led to angst and then, more recently, it led to a vision of Mission Worker intentionally placed within the jail. So, Ben and I approached Virginia Mennonite Missions to ascertain their approval. Over the past weeks, we've considered the possibility with jail authorities, we've written a job description, interviewed candidates, and finalized approval of a new halt-time position. I'm glad to announce that Jason Wagner will be the new jail chaplain. You may or may not know him, but on January 29th he'll join our worship service to share about this newly created position.

Months ago, when Ben and I identified a need within the local prison we were uncertain what might emerge. When it became apparent that position and person might come together, I celebrated the evidence of God at work. How marvelous! For me, the pairing of Jason's skill to the position stirred me deeply. For this dream to be satisfied seemed to confirm the timing. There is a time, and it's now!

Visiting those in prison is the sixth of six good deeds listed in Matthew. It's one of the good deeds Jesus lists as the authenticating expression of one's discipleship. I've wondered if it's listed last because of its ongoing nature. No matter how often -- weekly, daily -- persons in prison are visited, their circumstances will not be altered. Visitation, prayer, friendship can go a long way in bringing about the necessary life changes, in encouraging those incarcerated to authentically express their own good deeds as witness of Christ's love for themselves and their cellmates. Visitation can help "pass the time" but it won't reduce the sentence. All the other deeds listed in Matthew: providing for the tangible needs of the hungry, thirsty, naked, and sick change the person's circumstances significantly. By distributing food, water, clothes, and medicine a person's hunger or thirst can be satisfied. Clothes and medicine protect the body through fabric and antibodies. Even, the status of "stranger" can be altered significantly if the welcome is genuine. However, prisoner visitation signifies that these good deeds need to be regular, repeated. It also complexifies what Jesus is saying by signifying a group larger than one person, in essence, highlighting that there are many who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and unknown by categorizing these good deeds along with a prisoner known to be surrounded by many other prisoners.

Despite all that is being done in Harrisonburg (including thermal shelter, food distribution, Faith in Action, Suitcase Clinic, and initiatives to provide better transportation), the "Great Judgment" story makes it clear that the "sheep" had not even recognized the Risen Lord present in the needy, but yet, they acted out of compassion. Neither the sheep nor the goats knew what they were doing. Cognitive awareness of serving the Lord appears irrelevant in this account of salvation. The emphasis here is that faithful servants are those who act compassionately and justly in all situations. Whenever I encounter someone in great need, I have two choices: I can provide direct, material assistance, or I can quite literally go to hell. The whiny, half-hearted middle ground I've carved out for myself isn't found in the text. It isn't there even though I turn to it often.

In September I attended the annual ASALH (Association for the African American Study of Life and History) conference. It was held in the Richmond Marriott. I've traveled many times to the campus of Union Presbyterian. It's one of the place I know in the city. Over the past five month the turns have become routine. The landmarks are now familiar. But, the Marriott, I had no idea. To raise the stakes, that Saturday evening it poured. Despite the rainfall, the trip was going well until I realized that GPS was taking me onto a toll road, which wouldn't have been a problem except I hadn't prepared for it and only had a few coins with me. There was not even one dollar bill in my wallet. So, before I turned onto the toll road, I made a decision: I'd keep following GPS, in the hope that it would eventually direct me toward the Marriott, but every time GPS suggested the toll road, I'd force it to re-route. Additionally, I'd begin looking for a convenience store, which would have an ATM machine. This plan led me out of downtown (away from the Marriott) and into a residential area -- a prime location for a convenience store, right? I decided to drive deeper into the residential area, pausing at each stop sign to consider the options: left, right, straight. After the fifth time of choosing straight and driving further away from downtown, I came to yet another stop sign presenting the same options. It was pouring. It was dark. And, not a single person was around. Of course, the residential area did provide a "convenient" ATM. In despair, I chose to turn instead of continuing further away from my destination.

The turn led me to an overpass, which took me overtop of the toll road I was avoiding, and eventually back into downtown. It seemed as if it was one of the only places to crossover, at least in that part of the residential neighborhood. I arrived at the the Marriott, attended the conference, and withdrew money from the ATM before departing for home. This time I willingly chose the toll road. When I arrived at the toll booth, I realized my stupidity. The toll was 75 cents! I grabbed change from the glove box, paid the toll, and drove home w/o needing the money I'd withdrawn from the ATM.

The other times I travel to Richmond, I'm presented with an opportunity that reinforces the absurdity of this middle ground of unresponsiveness. Almost every time I pass a man with a sign sitting along the street two blocks from the school. "Anything Helps!" Usually I keep my earbuds on and drive by without making eye contact. Midway through the semester Union sent a campus-wide email indicating that they were providing gallon ziploc bags full of "necessities" to distribute to anyone in need. The final week of the semester, I grabbed one of the gallon ziploc bags and, when I passed the man, handed it to him through the car window. The drive home passed quickly as I remembered his smile.

Every time, I have a rather stark choice: learn to live as a sheep or accept a goat's unhappy destiny.

Sheep aren't smart, and as established earlier, the "Great Judgment" story indicates that cognitive awareness is less important than repetition and attentive awareness. But, neither are sheep proud. A key to living as a sheep may be paying proper attention to others, seeing "the least of these" as they are seen in today's gospel – not as indigent recipients of my occasional surplus, but as channels of grace, indeed as the source of grace, as Christ himself.

I've been wrong all along to see myself as benefactor and savior to the hungry, thirsty, estranged, naked, and imprisoned. Only in rare moments of graced introspection do I grasp the honest truth: I'm unsatisfied remaining a sheep. I want to be – and, more importantly, be seen as – the Good Shepherd, some form of a savior. Yet, in the few occasions I've taken the time to be truly present to those truly in need, I inevitably received far more than I could ever offer to someone. I found myself beneficiary rather than benefactor.

None of this provides a complete program of Christian living but it identifies a place to begin at the start of a new year!

In Matthew's gospel, the "Great Judgment" story is followed immediately by Jesus telling his disciples, "…the Passover is coming, and the Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified." If he'd lived for thirty or fifty more years, he'd have established an organized game plan, including gradual steps and target audiences. He died before this was possible, but he identified a direction. It's a good thing that what we have is only a template. It's a good thing that we need to try, mess up, and try again. It's even better if we never realize that attentiveness to others has become modus operandi. At a similar point in John's gospel -- just before Jesus' Passion -- Jesus tells his followers, "I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12). In Revelation, the voice John hears, states, "Behold, God's dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]" (Revelation 21:3). We have the opportunity to become the Greatest of All Time. Not a goat, but GOAT. We have the opportunity to recognize that God is among all of God's creation, and if we surrender totally to caring for others greatness will follow. But only if we remain vigilant against co-opted terms for political gain. But, only if we give of ourselves. But only if, as a community, we provide opportunities to connect people to need and connect to people in need.

It's astonishing! In caring for the needs of others we're ministering to God!

Maybe there was a time to sprinkle in a bit of your wishes here or there. That time is gone. Maybe there was a time to sneak in a morsel, to bring about change unbeknowingly. That time is gone. Now is the time to embrace Christ's template. To try, to mess up, and to try again. Now is the time to protect people from divisive speech or action and to identify when our actions cause division. Now is the time to guard persons experiencing any form of discrimination. And, now is the time to articulate who we are becoming. Now is the time to explain why following Christ matters and why it is the greatest task of all time!

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

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

Sermon 8/7/2016: Is the Steering Wheel Broken?

August 10, 2016 by alisha.huber

Sermon by Pastor Jason Gerlach.

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 06/05/2016

June 7, 2016 by alisha.huber

Sermon by Pastor Jason Gerlach.

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

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

Sermon 03/20/2016: If You See Something, Say Something

March 21, 2016 by alisha.huber

Sermon by Pastor Jason Gerlach.

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!

Drama: Emmaus Road

December 31, 2015 by alisha.huber

Emmaus by Janet Brooks Gerloff

On June 6, 2010,  Pastor Jason Gerlach shared this retelling of the Emmaus road story.

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 11/22/2015: A Life for an Eye World

November 23, 2015 by alisha.huber

Sermon by Pastor Jason Gerlach.

In his sermon, Pastor Jason referred to an interview with Kathryn Fenton. You can listen to that interview here.

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 6/7/15: "Between One and Sixteen Ounces"

June 8, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jason Gerlach

Sermon 4/12/15: "Right Hand on Left Side"

April 13, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jason Gerlach

Sermon 2/15/15: Everything's off balance

February 16, 2015 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jason Gerlach

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