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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

 

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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.

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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

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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.

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


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

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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!


Sermon 04/16/2017: The Politics of Resurrection

April 18, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Dayna Olson-Getty on Matthew 28:1-17 and Colossians 3:1-4.

Click here for a transcript

We began our worship this morning by announcing the good news of the resurrection to each other. "Christ is risen!" we proclaimed, "Christ is risen, indeed!"

For many of us, that's an affirmation of deep hope and joy. For others of us, it may bring to the surface doubts or misgivings about whether we truly belong in this community gathered to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. But it's unlikely that any of us, no matter our response, considered the possibility that we might risk arrest for claiming that Jesus Christi is risen from the dead. But those who first proclaimed this news were making a declaration so politically subversive that it was dangerous.

Easter is a season when Christians often reflect on and celebrate the inward, personal, life-transforming power of the resurrection in our lives. And the transformation and healing of our inner selves is a vital part of the redemption and salvation we receive in Christ. Many of the resurrection accounts in the Gospels attest to the intimate, life-changing encounters of the disciples with the risen Jesus.

John tells us about Jesus meeting the grief-wracked Mary in the burial garden, tenderly speaking her name, trusting that she will recognize his familiar voice. We hear about Jesus the good shepherd who seeks out his terrified and despairing little flock of disciples, feeding them with freshly grilled fish and comforting them with his presence. Luke tells about the resurrected Jesus who traveled with a couple of despairing disciples on the way from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus, reigniting their hopeless hearts with the light of scripture and with his own illuminating presence at their table.

But, my friends, the power of resurrection life encompasses much more than individual, personal, and inward transformation. It is also profoundly political. On the day that God raised Jesus from the dead, all the legal and military forces of Rome had done their best to destroy him. The resurrection of Jesus was a direct confrontation of the political authorities of his day. In fact, one scholar has called the resurrection of Jesus "the first act of Christian civil disobedience." And proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus, as we did this morning, was a dangerous act of political subversion.

Last Sunday, we celebrated the triumphal entry, when Jesus was hailed as God's anointed deliverer of his people. But in the week that stretched between the triumphal entry and Easter, Jesus' conflict with his faith community and with the governmental authorities intensified exponentially. In the course of his last few days, Jesus faced a trumped up religious inquisition, a baseless legal trial, wrongful arrest, a brutal physical assault, emotional abuse and sexual humiliation, and finally, state-sanctioned torture and execution. And this, if we read Matthew's accounting, was not just personal suffering – it was politically motivated.

In ancient Rome, crucifixion was used as a way to publically demonstrate the dire consequences of challenging the ruling authorities. The threat of torture and execution allowed Rome to keep the "pax Romana" – the Roman peace – in the outlying provinces using only a small occupying force. Like tyrants in every time and place, the Romans had built their power on the ultimate human weapon – death.

And the possibility of resurrection – even the potential for false rumors of resurrection – was so threatening to those whose power rested on the threat of death that, following Jesus' burial, the Roman governor authorized a guard of soldiers to secure Jesus' tomb, and, for good measure they sealed it so that any tampering would be evident.

Early the next morning, Matthew tells us, the two Marys go to keep watch at his tomb. To their utter surprise, they are greeted by a jarring earthquake and a blindingly bright messenger from God. While the guards cower in fear, this angel – who blazes like lightening - rolls away the enormous stone sealing the tomb, and perches on it as if it were an impromptu throne. The guards – who had been sent to keep watch over a dead man (surely they thought this would be the easiest job ever) – become like dead men themselves, frozen in their fear.

"Do not be afraid," the angel tells women. "He is not here, he has been raised." Following the angel's instructions, the women hurry to tell the other disciples, and on the way to preach this good news, they meet their risen Lord himself, and fall at his feet in love and worship.

It's striking that in this narrative, like all the other gospel accounts, no one actually sees the resurrection. We who follow the resurrected Christ have the testimony of witnesses to the empty tomb and to the risen Christ, but we have no indisputable proof, and no record of how just this inexplicable reality came to be. We have a living church that testifies to the presence of the risen Christ, but no explanation, short of the miraculous, of how Jesus' mangled body was brought back to life. And even so, it's a terribly threatening story for rulers who depend on fear for their power. Even so, it's given birth to communities of resistance around the world, who declare with their lives that they trust in a power that is stronger than death.

The most fearless person I ever met is a Burundian woman named Maggy Barankitse. Maggy was a young woman living in the tiny village of Ruyigi in 1993 when ethnic-based violence broke out across her country.

Maggy, who was born into the same privileged group as the attackers– could have simply walked away unscathed. But she stayed with her friends and her adopted children, many of whom were members of the ethnic group that was being targeted, doing everything she could to save their lives. Maggy managed to bribe the attackers to allow 25 children to live, but 72 people died that day in the Catholic bishop's residence where they had sought refuge. As punishment for refusing to help her attackers, Maggy was stripped naked, tied to a chair, and forced to watch the massacre. She was the sole adult to survive.

Afterwards, Maggy spent days burying those who had died. And then she began to seek a way to rebuild her life and her community. She welcomed the children orphaned in the attack into her home as her sons and daughters. Then she began to take in more orphaned children – children of every ethnic group. Her dream, she says, is to see a new generation in which children of different ethnic groups grow up as brothers and sisters.

By the time I met her in in 2010, Maggy had taken in 10,000 children, placing them in inter-ethnic child-led households, and building schools, farms, businesses and a hospital so that her children could grow up with dignity and love. Maggy's reasons for this work are deeply personal – after the massacre, she says, the children rebuilt her heart. They brought her healing, hope and joy.

But her work is also profoundly political. In a region still torn by ethnic-based violence, the creation of inter-ethnic families is seen as a direct affront to those in power. It's a living testament to another political possibility. Maggy, whose deep faith in Christ fuels her work, lives as a woman who is entirely fearless. Those who attacked her friends and family that day intended that the she would leave terrified and silenced. Instead, she walked out of the bishop's compound as a woman who had looked death squarely in the face, and then miraculously been handed back her life.

Maggy is unafraid of the armed groups that sometimes roam the countryside where she travels – she's been known to invite them to give up fighting and come work for her – or of the politicians and military leaders in the capital who find her out-spoken truth-telling to be deeply threatening. She lives as woman who has died and whose life is hid with Christ in God. She lives as a woman whose life cannot be destroyed by any act of violence. She lives as a woman who has staked her life on the claim that Christ is risen indeed.

The church testifies that the resurrection is God's declaration of a powerful new reign, founded on a radically different source of authority. Its power flows from the unquenchable self-giving love of the One who created our world and gave his own life for us, rather than from the threat of violence and death. The resurrected Jesus is God's declaration, in the face of the most powerful and brutal empire of its day – and in the face of all oppressive rulers, systems and powers- that the way of love is stronger that the way of violence and death. The resurrected Christ is God's embodied witness that the way of peace that Jesus taught and lived, despite all appearances to the contrary, has and is overcoming the way of violence and death.

The resurrection does not reverse or un-do the evil done by tyrants and the systems that empower them. The resurrection accounts tell us that Jesus bore the scars of the violence he had suffered, even in his resurrected body. But the resurrected Jesus gives us revolutionary new a way forward when we are faced with powerful people and systems that misuse their power and perpetuate violence. And the resurrection gives us a way to live differently ourselves when we are tempted to use our power or privilege in ways that are coercive or manipulative or self-serving.

And we, as people of the resurrection, are empowered by the Spirit of the resurrected Christ to live as people of love, empty handed and open-hearted, in a world that is armed to the teeth. The promise is not that we won't suffer, or even die, as a result. The promise is that we have been joined with God in a life that cannot be taken from us. And so we are called to live as people who stake our lives on the resurrection power of God in Jesus – as people who follow the one who has overcome violence and death through the self-giving love of God.

A few weeks ago, we wrote our anxieties and fears on origami paper in worship. Before we folded those papers into the doves that decorate our space this morning, I prayerfully read what we wrote. Many of our anxieties are deeply personal – fears for our families, anxieties about work, about aging and illness, about decisions we must make. But many were also profoundly political – fears for the systematic destruction of the earth, fears of war, fears for neighbors and loved ones who are targets of discrimination, fears of the political legacy our children and grand-children are inheriting.

My friends, in the resurrection, God is responding to each and every one of our fears and anxieties- the personal and the political, the individual and the systemic, the inward and the outward.

Be not afraid, my friends. Christ is risen, Christ is risen, indeed. Come and see the living 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 04/09/2017: Success Strategies JDS

April 10, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

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

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


Sermon 04/02/2017: Crash Course in Lent

April 4, 2017 by cmc_admin

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

Click here for a transcript

Crash Course in Lent

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

The Prophet Ezekiel

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

Mass Graves

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

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

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

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

Valley of Bones

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

Dead Rat—Dead Cow

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

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

Dry Bones

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

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

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

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

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

Lazarus

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 15:13

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

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


Sermon 03/26/2017: The Blind See

March 28, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Dayna Olson-Getty on John 9:1-41.

Click here for transcript

L'Arche

In 1964 a wealthy, well-educated, and successful young man named Jean Vanier bought a run-down old stone house in the tiny French village of Trosly – this house didn't even have indoor plumbing - and he welcomed into this home two men with intellectual disabilities who had spent much of their lives in a psychiatric hospital. Jean was from a prominent family– his father was the Governor General of Canada - and he had left behind a promising career as a naval officer in order to seek a way to live the gospels more fully in his daily life. Jean began this radical experiment with the idea that he wanted to do something for those who were suffering. But as he lived together with Raphael and Philippe, he began to discover, to his surprise, that they were healing him. "Essentially, they wanted a friend." Jean said. "They were not very interested in my knowledge or my ability to do things, but rather they needed my heart and my being." And that kind of friendship, love and acceptance was precisely what Jean needed.

Through his friendship with Philippe and Raphale, Jean began to recognize that those of us who are independent and successful by the standards of our society are, as he puts it, "healed by the poor and the weak, that we are transformed by them if we enter into relationship with them, and that the weak and the vulnerable have a gift to give our world."

Jean's life together with Philippe and Raphael attracted others who were seeking a concrete way to live out their faith and the little household became a movement. Today there are 147 L'Arche communities in 35 countries on 5 continents. In each of these communities, people with and without disabilities share daily life together, seeking to grow through authentic friendship and mutuality, and to bear witness to the value of each human life. The guiding principle of L'Arche communities remains the conviction that people with disabilities are teachers, rather than burdens, and that their lives are a gift to the world.

You'll notice in your bulletin this morning a flyer about National Disabilities Awareness month provided by Pleasant View, a local network of homes for people with disabilities that is supported by our own conference - Virginia Mennonite Conference – that is shaped by many of the same convictions that shape L'Arche communities.

The story we heard this morning from the Gospel of John is about a man who was blind from birth and whose sight was miraculously restored by Jesus. His place in first century Palestine seems to have been similar in some respects to that of Philippe and Raphael in rural 1960s France. This man, unable because of his disability to carry out the usual peasant occupations, is left to beg on the streets. He has parents, but they seem none too invested in his well-being. And, perhaps most painful of all, he is ostracized and excluded from much of the life of his community.

Jesus restores this man's sight, but the miracle that we witness in the life of this man is not just about healed eyes– it's about perception, insight, and discernment. It's about the man's growing ability to recognize Jesus, and to respond to Jesus in ways that allow him to move closer to Jesus, where he can see even more clearly. And it's about the invitation his life provides to those around him to see differently as well.

What do the Pharisees see – and not see?

But before we talk about what the man who was formerly blind can see, it's important to pause and notice what the Pharisees can and can't see. The Pharisees were a small spiritual brotherhood within first century Judaism. They were committed to living out faith in every aspect of everyday life. Pharisees embraced simplicity of lifestyle, and they resisted the pressure to assimilate to the surrounding Greek culture, seeking instead to keep Jewish traditions and culture alive. They practiced daily prayer and prioritized the communal study of scripture.

The name Pharisee literally means "set apart" or "separated." Pharisees believed that all adult male Jews – not just those who were born to priestly families or who had academic training in the scriptures – were eligible to perform the rituals of their faith, and they sought to keep the same degree of religious observance in their own homes as that required of priests who led temple worship. Their commitments to each other included limiting their contact with people who did not observe the same level of holiness in everyday life.

Pharisees in the New Testament have a bad reputation – they are often portrayed as Jesus' adversaries. But they were not so different from us. As Anabaptists, we also seek to live out our faith in every aspect of our lives, to live as a small counter-cultural minority within a powerfully assimilating society, to embrace simplicity of lifestyle, prayer, and the communal study of scripture, and to uphold the call of all believers to live as God's holy and chosen ones.

And those similarities make me wonder if the same inability to faithfully perceive that afflicted these Pharisees is an inability that might threaten us as well.

When the Pharisees look at the man who was blind from birth, their perception of him is not primarily of a person who shares in their own call to live as God's holy and chosen ones. They see his disability as a sign of God's punishment for sin – either for some sin this man committed before his birth, or for the sin of his parents.

And in their commitment to faithfully live as holy people, they keep their distance. They interpret this man as a questionable –even a corrupting - influence rather than as someone beloved by God, someone sent by God to bear witness to God's goodness.

Seeing things differently could have been quite costly for these men. Associating with the man who was born blind would mean breaking one of the central commitments of the Pharisaic brotherhood – the commitment to remain separated from non-Pharisees. A Pharisee who broke that commitment would likely end up being treated as an outsider by his fellow Pharisees. An entire life's investment in seeking to live a life pleasing to God, a reputation as a person who is beyond reproach, and a place of belonging within a tightknit community with a shared life of faith– all these could be lost in one interaction.

Maybe even more unsettling is the loss of clarity and confidence about the boundaries of a holy life and a holy community. If this blind man – who seems so obviously ineligible for holiness and service to God – could be included in the household of faith, then who is to say that a devoted Pharisee might not find himself unexpectedly outside the household of faith? If the Pharisees allow for seeing this man as called by God, they will also have to allow for the possibility that the solid and clear boundary line that has always separated insider and outsider is far less settled and impermeable than they had thought.

The very existence of this man and his healed sight calls into the question the idea that some of us are too far outside the bounds to be called and loved by God. His testimony declares that there is no one – no one – whose starting place is too sinful or shameful or broken, too limited by physical disability or emotional pain or mental illness or cognitive impairments, too far from God. And it calls into question the idea that living a life devoted to rigorous spiritual practice can ensure that we will recognize and respond to the presence of God when God appears right in front of us, in the face of fellow human.

What can the man who blind from birth see?

For all the devout faith practices of these Pharisees, it is this man who was born blind who has something to teach them. Despite the fact – or maybe because of the fact - that he has lived his whole life with the shame and stigma of being a "sinner" and an outsider, this man is willing to take the risk of seeing differently.

Even before he is healed, the man obeys Jesus' instructions, going to the pool to wash, although it isn't clear what, if anything, he expected would happen when he did. And then, when his neighbors begin to ask nosy questions, he boldly gives witness to what he has experienced, even though it doesn't fit their expectations of what is possible. The man who has been branded "broken," "impaired," a "sinner" for his whole life dares to make the audacious claim - to the community that has given him those labels since birth - that he is whole and well.

And when these same neighbors bring him to the Pharisees for an official religious interrogation, the man refuses to side with those who argue that Jesus must be a sinner. Instead, he testifies to what he knows from his own experience – that Jesus is a prophet, someone who speaks and acts for God. Unsatisfied with his response, the Pharisees increase the pressure, but the healed man holds firm, giving witness to what he knows "I do not know whether he is a sinner." He says. "One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see."

At each turn in the story, this formerly blind man takes the very next step on the path of faith. Each time he names the truth he knows - what he has seen and experienced through Jesus. Step by step, the next turn in the path of faith becomes clear. And step by step, this man moves tenaciously toward Jesus.

Some of us need to hear the invitation this morning to look to our brothers and sisters – and especially to those we might not expect to have something to teach us – and listen to their testimony about what they have seen and heard of God's presence in their lives, even if it shakes up our understanding of God's presence in the world in costly ways.

And some of us need to hear Jesus' invitation this morning to know ourselves as God's beloved ones, holy and chosen, despite the judgements and negative expectations of others around us. The good news of Jesus is that there is nothing in our lives – no, addiction, no shame-filled past, no humiliation or rejection, no physical or cognitive limitation, no desperate struggle with despair or rage or anxiety or fear - that can disqualify us from the love of God in Jesus. We are all invited to start where we are and take the very next step towards Jesus.

At the end of this account, after the Pharisees officially ban this man from their synagogue, Jesus the Good Shepherd seeks him out, and reveals that he is the One sent from God. And the healed man responds with belief, and with worship. This man who is officially banned from his worshipping community for telling the truth about his experience of God in his life, worships the God who came to seek out those of us who have been rejected, shamed, stigmatized, or abandoned. And in doing so, his ability to see shines a light on the path of faith for believers in Jesus down through the centuries, all the way to us, today, gathered in this sanctuary, seeking the next step forward on the path of faith.

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

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


Sermon 03/19/2017: Living Water

March 21, 2017 by cmc_admin

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

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

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

Click here for a transcript

Living Water Cliche

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

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

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

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

Living Water at Every Stage of Life

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

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

No worry faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water in Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

Drink up

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

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


Sermon 03/05/2017: American Appetites

March 13, 2017 by cmc_admin

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

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

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

Click here for transcript

Lent Disciplines

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

Satan

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

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

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

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

Appetite-Approval-Ambition

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

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

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

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

Lent Disciplines

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

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

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

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

Table Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sermon 02/26/2017: 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 02/19/2017: Spirituality for the Storm

March 7, 2017 by cmc_admin

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

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

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

Click here for a transcript

The word of God is solid ground (HWB 314)

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

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

Improvisation

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

Construction Zone

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

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

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

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

In the Heights

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

CMC Vision Update

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

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

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

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

Jesus enacted the word of God

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

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

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

Jesus and Jeremiah

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

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

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

Jesus says...

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

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

Charles Tindley (1851-1933)

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

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


Sermon 02/12/17: Bread for the Journey

February 22, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Dayna Olson-Getty, on Matthew 6:1-18.

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

Click for transcript

When asked to describe his practices of prayer, the South African Archbishop and anti-apartheid leader Desmond Tutu, said this:

One image that I have of the spiritual life is of sitting in front of a fire on a cold day. We don't have to do anything. We just have to sit in front of the fire and then gradually the qualities of the fire are transferred to us. We begin to feel the warmth. We become the attributes of the fire. It's like that with us and God. As we take time to be still and to be in God's presence, the qualities of God are transferred to us.

This morning we heard from the Sermon on the Mount about the practices of prayer that Jesus commends to those who follow him.

Jesus begins the sermon with his startlingly up-side-down beatitudes, and then continues by naming some of the ways that our human inclinations lead us into cycles of violence, lust, broken relationships, and retaliation. For each of these destructive human cycles, Jesus offers a practical path for a different way of living that creates an opportunity for peace and reconciliation between people. "Seek out your accuser and be reconciled," Jesus says. "Go the second mile." "Love your enemies." In each of these, Jesus gives us practical instructions for relationships with our fellow human beings that allow us to walk toward deliverance, even in the most difficult of relationships.

In the section of the sermon we read together this morning, Jesus shifts to our spiritual practices in relationship to God. Judaism in Jesus' time taught three major practices for cultivating a spiritual life – prayer, giving alms to the poor, and fasting. These spiritual practices were meant to create space for a deepening relationship with God, and to be tangible ways of remembering and living the reality that God is the creator and sustainer of all of people.

But Jesus warns that even these practices of devotion to God can be used for self-serving and destructive ends. Prayer and fasting and giving to the poor can become ways to meet our need to be recognized and seen as significant by others. And when they do, we lose out on the real rewards of our spiritual practices - a deepening relationship with and communion with God. The danger in performing our spiritual practices publically, Jesus is warning, is that we can end up impressing our neighbors, but missing out on knowing and being transformed by God.

But Jesus has a very concrete, practical way to help us avoid this trap. Don't do your praying in public, Jesus says. Go into your bedroom – the most intimate and private space in your home, where you spend time to the people closest to you – and close the door. Pray there, where no one else will you see, and you won't have to worry about your motives. Similarly, when you give to the poor, do it as quietly and unobtrusively as possible, and when you fast, don't let it be apparent from your appearance.

Jesus seems to take it for granted in his teaching that those who are seeking to live in relationship with God will practice prayer, giving to those in need, and fasting. But I think many of us face a danger that is not directly named here – one that is as much of a problem as practicing piety for social gain. Many of us - myself included - are tempted to skip these practices of inner spiritual life. Maybe because we've seen them done for the wrong reasons, or in ways that seem completely disconnected with real life, or maybe because they require serious effort and commitment, or maybe because we just don't know how to start – many of us are tempted to attempt Jesus' path of delivering love in our relationships with other people without also practicing a deepening life of devotion to and communion with God.

But Jesus teaches that these practices of deepening relationship with God are at the heart of a life lived in his way. Without them, we will struggle to have the strength and courage and love to live like Jesus. Without them, we face the danger of living entirely out of our own understandings of who we are and what is needed in a given situation. Without them, we risk slipping into thinking that we are responsible to bring God's kingdom on earth as it is heaven. Without them, we risk burning out, becoming cynical, or giving in to despair.

This is a time in our country's life when many people are focusing on practices of outward resistance to evil and of transformation of relationships. Some of us have marched in the streets, or posted welcome neighbor signs in our yard, or attended community meetings. Many of us are thinking with new intensity about how to practice acts of hospitality and peacemaking and advocacy for the vulnerable in our everyday lives.

Those who have been at this work of seeking to live the way of Jesus in difficult and challenging circumstances for years tell us that a life of prayer is indispensable to a life of action for justice and peace in the way of Jesus.

The Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, reflecting on the lives of the prophets, suggests that one of the reasons Jesus encourages us to pray in secret is that we have things we need to discuss with God that are too raw and personal to discuss in polite company. Having it out with God, he suggests, it what will give us what we need to be who we are called to be in our public actions and witness. He writes, "…it is secret prayer that permits energy, freedom, and courage for public ministry. The servants who faithfully show God to the world are those who live in a deep, disputatious conversation with God."

In other words, if you want to be live a life in the way of Jesus, a life that gives witness to God's coming kingdom, then spending time in prayer is indispensable. And the kind of conversation you need to have with God in the face of struggle or suffering or injustice is often best prayed without an audience.

The prayer that Jesus is inviting us to practice in not an otherworld piety divorced from real life. The prayer he invites us into is a passionate and honest conversation where we can give voice to our deepest, most urgent, most honest needs, to our longings, rage, disappointment, to our fears, grief, joy, delight. And it's a conversation where we can become still and hear God's voice of love, reminding us that we not be afraid, that we are beloved, and that God is already at work in our world, redeeming even the most unredeemable of circumstances. It's the quiet place where we can find our own perceptions realigned in light of God's upside down blessings, where we can hear God calling us to counter-intuitive actions of delivering love for our enemies as well as our neighbors. It's a conversation where we can receive bread for the journey.

So where do we begin, or where do we begin again?

One place to begin is with rest – with soaking up God's loving presence the way we'd soak up the warmth and beauty of a fire on a cold winter day. We need to hear God's words of affirmation and love spoken to us as God spoke them to Jesus – "you are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased." If you want to start here, find some time to sit in silence and let the noise in your head quiet down. Pray the psalms, or spend time imagining yourself in one of the gospel stories. Pray your gratitude and delight for the gifts and joys of life. Or just listen in silence to God's companionable presence.

Some of us need to begin with arguing. If that's you, go ahead and pick a fight with God. Bring your hurt or outrage or fear or despair into conversation with God. Bring an unsolvable problem or an unbearable stress in your life or in the life of the world to God. Ask your hardest questions. Demand an answer. Insist that God be who God has claimed to be. And then listen.

Some of us need to move our bodies in order to have a good conversation. If that's true of you, you might want to try praying while you walk or run or bike. Or walk a labyrinth or develop a prayerful yoga practice to begin or end your day.

Some of us communicate best when we have the freedom to engage our senses and be creative. If that's true of you, you might want create a prayer space in your home with objects or pieces of art that help you experience God's loving presence. Maybe you would pray best by writing your prayers in a journal or by writing and singing your own psalms of lament and hope. A college friend of mine – a visual artist – made a photo book of people and situations she wanted to pray for regularly and used that as her guide. Maybe you need to dance, sing or draw your prayers.

Many of us find we pray best with when we are praying with other followers of Jesus. You may want to use a guide book, such as Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals, or Take Our Moments and Our Days –an Anabaptist daily prayer guide. I really like the online audio prayer guides Pray As You Go and Mission St. Clare because they allow me to pray with a guide book while walking or running. Maybe you need a standing weekly appointment to meet a friend for prayer or a regular check-in with your small group about how it's going with your practicing of prayer.

And if you feel outraged and angry about events in our world, try praying for your enemies. The scholar and activist Christena Cleveland describes gathering some of her seminary students to lament recent injustices in our country. After bringing their grief and anger to God, this group made a list of all they hope for themselves – strong relationships, healthy bodies, satisfying work, loving families – and they prayed these things for the leaders who have implemented the unjust policies and practices they had just lamented.

However you begin, or begin again, know this - God is waiting eagerly, with the table set and fresh, warm bread prepared. This daily feast is meant for you. And this daily bread of God's loving presence can strengthen, transform, and sustain you, as it did Jesus, as it does Bishop Tutu, as it can do for all of us.

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Sermon 02/05/2017: Jesus Heals a Servant

February 8, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

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

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

Click here for a transcript

Ancient Paralysis Problem

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

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

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

The Spirituality of the Beatitudes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Centurion Encounter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking Rank Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sermon 01/22/2017: Bumbling to Unity

January 26, 2017 by cmc_admin

Sermon by Rev. Stephanie Sorge Wing from Trinity Presbyterian Church.

Click here to read a transcript.

Note - this sermon was preached at Community Mennonite Church as part of an ecumenical pulpit swap

Stepping into a pulpit when you don't know the congregation can be tricky. Especially when you do so after such a big weekend for our divided country, and particularly when a passage like the one from 1 Corinthians comes along. This Sunday is in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. That is the occasion that led a group of pastors who gather regularly to study the Word together to suggest a pulpit swap for this Sunday. National events and the lectionary passages were incidental, at least according to our plans. But when is anything really incidental to God?

As we study Scripture, it's important for us to try to understand the context in which it was written. That's often difficult for us to do, really. The times, the places, and the world views can be so foreign to us today. However. Of all the cultures and contexts presented to us in the Bible, the church in Corinth is probably the one most similar to our contemporary world. There might not be any letter more pertinent to our time than this one.

If we were to take a trip together to Corinth today, we would see a sleepy little village. Not much to write home about, really. But back a few hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Corinth was a city of wealth, power, and high culture – a jewel in the crown of the Greek Empire. It was so important and influential that when the Romans went to work conquering the Greek Empire, they determined that this magnificent city had to be leveled in order to achieve political dominance.

For 100 years the city lay in ruins, until 44 BCE when Julius Caesar gave permission for the city to be rebuilt as a city for "Freedmen" – men who were born as slaves but who had somehow won their freedom, often through military service. As such, the city became a kind of safe place for many different people. A melting pot. But back in its heyday, Corinth was a bustling, very diverse city. It had just about every religious sect, belief, and practice represented, including Christianity. Because of this, there was quite a bit of syncretism and borrowing of traditions, mixing of beliefs. The city was also notorious for its vices, but the heart of it all, religion was alive and well.

Paul spent 18 months in Corinth, working first with the Jews and then reaching out to the Gentiles. In his time there, the church became firmly rooted in the city. After he left and went to Ephesus, problems in the Corinthian church came to his attention. First, a group called "Chloe's people" came back to Paul reporting problems. Then the church itself sent a letter to Paul detailing some of their disagreements and asking for his help in resolving them. It is to this context that Paul writes.

Even among the earliest Christians - before there was much time for real corruption, right? - there were real and deep divisions. Being spiritual seemed to take priority over following Jesus. Groups pointed to themselves, or to their schools of religious thought, rather than pointing to Christ. Christians arguing with each other, left and right. It's hard to imagine…

My guess is that they wanted to hear "you're right," or "they're wrong," - an answer to their disputes. But the disputes were minor compared to the division itself. Paul's first plea is to Christian unity, for the church to be united in mind and in purpose. I wonder if that was any easier for them back then than it is for us today.

It's certainly not easy for us these days. Each week, there are a handful of letters to the editor of the DNR in which self-identified Christians take swipes at each other. It's a local replay of what has been playing out over this whole election cycle, over who can truly claim the mantle of Christ. The question has been asked openly and between the lines in so many ways and places: "How can you call yourself a Christian and…." fill in the blank. Christian unity is sorely lacking these days, just as it was for the Corinthians, and has been in the two thousand intervening years.

We hear Paul's plea. We recognize the importance of Christian unity. That's why I'm here today! Of course Mennonites and Presbyterians are united in the Protestant stream, but Menno Simons and John Calvin were sharply divided over some deep theological disagreements. And yet, Community Mennonite is probably far more similar to Trinity Presbyterian than we are to some of the other Presbyterian churches in town. This pulpit swap is a response to the challenge of Christian unity, and yet I have to admit that those of us involved in this ecumenical pulpit swap are far more like-minded than not. Despite the theological differences between our churches, I would venture that the ways that we struggle to live our our calling as disciples are more alike than not. This kind of unity actually isn't that difficult. It's when reaching out beyond like-minded Christians that it gets much more difficult.

The differences feel as sharp now as they ever have. Sometimes it seems like we're reading two different sets of sacred texts, or following two different saviors. Within my own family I have those whose understanding of Christianity and what it means to follow Christ are very different from my own. I usually avoid theological discussions at all costs, because I don't want that to come between us. Then, there are some Christians who I really love and respect but with whom I seriously disagree, but with whom I can begin having some conversations. It is still so difficult for it not to get personal. Or for us not to end up just saying, "Well, I belong to Paul and you belong to Cephas." To just shrug and say we're in very different strains of Christianity, with an emphasis on the word strain.

Prior to the election, I made a plea for all of us to join together around what unites us, which is greater than what divides us. But to be honest, I've been struggling since then to figure out just how to put that into practice myself. I continue to struggle. It seems as though no amount of theological or Biblical discussion or debate will solve our divisions. It's helpful to hear Paul's reminder, that our aim in proclaiming the gospel, is not to do so with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross be emptied of its power.

Each week, I - along with many other ministers of the gospel - struggle to be faithful and find something to say with eloquent wisdom. It's kind of a big part of what we do. Sometimes we are more successful than others - with the faithfulness, the eloquence, or the wisdom. But sometimes the most faithful response we can make is to bumble and fumble along, trying not to trip over too many of our own words as we make our way to the cross.

That cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the very power of God. Of course, that's one of the problems - that the cross means something different to many different Christians. For some it represents a narrow gate, or maybe even a balance beam towards salvation. I've seen drawings that depict a great chasm, essentially with the cliff of damnation on one side and the cliff of salvation on the other. The cross is a narrow bridge between. But you'd better watch your step!

For others, the cross represents sacrifice. For some, it's a reminder of the public and humiliating death of Jesus because of his perceived political threat. Some see it as suffering, and others as triumph. But however we see that cross, I think we have to recognize that the very power of God that it represents is the power of God's unfathomable love.

As we bumble and stumble our way through the minefield of division, I am convinced that the only way we can meet up beyond those lines is by claiming the power of the love of God. It's easy to feel powerful when puffed up by pride, or rage. Or to feel powerless as everything seems to be crashing in on all sides. But true power - the only power that can truly unite us - is the power of the love of God. The only way forward is love.

Friends, we belong to Christ alone, and we are bound together - with each other and with all of humanity - not by bonds of our own choosing or commonality, but by the bond of the love of God in Jesus Christ. A love so revolutionary that it was displayed for all to see on a cross, of all places. A love so complete that it enfolded in forgiveness even those who taunted and tortured in the midst of pain and great suffering. A love so incomprehensible that all we can really do is bumble and mumble and fumble our way around it.

That love unites us. That is the only power that can unite us in moving forward. We have a long journey ahead, that is for sure. There are many divisions in our world, in our country, and in our community. But most grievous of all, there are still bitter divisions within the body of Christ. When we tear and snipe at each other, it is Christ's body that is being hurt. Even today Jesus says, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do." Forgive us, God, for we know not what we do.

This is a week dedicated to Christian unity. This Sunday and this week have nothing to do with the timing of a national transition in leadership. But seeing where we are as a nation, there is so much work for us to do as people who claim to follow Christ. This Sunday of Christian Unity recognizes that in order for us to be the body of Christ in the world, and get to work as the hands and feet of Christ, we need to stop sniping at each other. We need to stop tearing each other down, because the other is us. We are one body.

This pulpit swap is a good place to start. It helps to begin with those who are adjacent us. Different, but adjacent. But then we also need to start stepping out, in love, with love, towards those members of this Christian body who we might not even claim, and those who most certainly don't want to claim us.

Our first steps may falter. Our words will surely fail us. But the love of the cross, the power of God in Jesus Christ, will not. So today, and tomorrow, and the next day, I pray for each of us that we have the strength and courage to step out, and to follow Jesus just as those first disciples did. To follow even though we don't know why or how, not boasting of our understanding, but only because that is where God calls us to go. Mumbling, bumbling, and fumbling in love. 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 01/15/2017: Journey with Jesus--Jesus is Baptized

January 15, 2017 by alisha.huber

Baptism and the Dream City from Jyoti Art Ashram

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

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

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


Sermon 1/1/2017: Greatest of All Time

January 11, 2017 by cmc_admin

salt-types
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!


01/08/2017 Sermon: See Dat Babe

January 8, 2017 by alisha.huber

The Story of the Three Wise Kings by Tomie dePaola

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

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

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


Sermon 12/25/2016: The Meaning of Christmas

January 5, 2017 by cmc_admin

refugee-nativity

Nativity in an Iraqi refugee camp

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

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

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


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

January 4, 2017 by cmc_admin

sunrise
Reading by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig

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

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


Scripture Monologue 12/18/2016: Hannah (based on I Samuel 1:1-2,10)

January 4, 2017 by cmc_admin

woven-cloth
Reading by Pastor Dayna Olson Getty

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

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


Sermon 12/11/2016: Vision of Peace

December 15, 2016 by cmc_admin

aleppo-update-1440x619

Image credit: IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation

Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

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

Click here for a transcript

Military Uniforms Transformed

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

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

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

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

Peace in the Christian Tradition

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

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

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

Peacemaking in the Bible

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

Isaiah

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

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

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

Ephesians

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

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

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

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

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

when the Almighty was still with me...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sermon 11/13/2016: Post Election

December 10, 2016 by alisha.huber


Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig.

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

Click here to read a transcript

Your kingdom come

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

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

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

Ancient & Current Context

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Gospels in View

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

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

Malachi

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

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

Practical Response

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

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

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

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