All Saints Day

Call to Worship (Isaiah 25:6-9)

Hurricanes and floods and environmental havoc;
drones and IEDs and handguns;
cancer and heart disease and ebola;
poverty and injustice and oppression.
The ways of death in this world are many.
The words of death surround us.
The fear of death envelopes us.
But we come now to hear a different Word,
a true Word
a life-giving Word.
We are here on Isaiah’s mountain
where tears are wiped away,
where a banquet table has been set,
where death has been swallowed up forever.
We do not fully understand it.
We may not fully believe it.
And yet here it is:
the power of Christ’s life within us and among us.
So let us be glad and rejoice in our salvation!

- – – – – -

grace cheetahReflection on All Saints Day

My youngest daughter and I dressed up as cheetahs last Saturday for “Boo at the Zoo.” I suppose if you saw a real cheetah in the wild it could be frightening. But our cheetah costumes were certainly not scary. I’m not into gory, scary costumes.

But some people are. I’ve seen fierce werewolves and bloody vampires and creepy ghosts wandering the streets. Plenty of costumes that reminded me that Halloween is not really about candy, it’s about death–it is particularly about our fear of death. In many ways, watching horror movies and dressing up as frightening things is a way that we confront our fears; by placing ourselves in the story–even in these imaginary ways–we hope to gain some control over these forces of death that are really uncontrollable.

Scary costumes or not, a lot of people observe Halloween. Not as broadly celebrated in our culture is All Saints Day on November 1, and All Souls Day, on November 2. In the Roman Catholic tradition, All Saints Day is a time to recognize all of the official Church saints–especially ones that may not get a lot of attention otherwise:

St. Columba, patron saint of bookbinders, poets, and Ireland.

St. Lydwina, patron saint of iceskaters

St. Edward the Confessor, patron saint of difficult marriages

St. Blaise, patron saint of throat ailments, veterinarians, and wild animals

And then All Souls day developed within the Church as a time to remember and pray for “normal” people of faith who had recently died. My faith tradition does not recognize formal saints or pray to or for those who have died. But we do remember how the lives of those who have gone before us can strengthen and sustain us in our faith. We do remind ourselves that our loved ones who have died remain alive with God through Christ.

For Christians, Halloween can be a fun celebration–who doesn’t love dressing up and getting free candy? But we do not try to fight death with death. We do not meet violence with violence. We do not try to overcome our fear of the uncontrollable forces of death by participating in the broad story of death.

As Christians, we face our fear of death by participating in the Jesus story. In the story of a God who loves us deeply–so deeply that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In the story of how Jesus overcame the forces of death and violence through the power of the resurrection.

As Christians, we participate in a counter-story. A life-giving story. We seek to live our lives within the power of Christ’s life. And we seek to understand death in the context of the broader story, the bigger story, of eternal life in Christ.

Categories: Call to Worship, Worship Pieces | Leave a comment

Yes, We Are Nice People

Me, Ruth Harder, Stephanie Krehbiel, and Sarah Klaassen

Me, Ruth Harder, Stephanie Krehbiel, and Sarah Klaassen

As some of you know, this fabulous foursome gathered in Kansas City a few weeks ago to talk to the Mennonite Church USA board. (Well, Stephanie was really just there to glare at people.) I appreciate the opportunity we were given to share about the movement of the Spirit in our communities and the hopes that we share for our denomination.

For those of you wondering how it went–it was fine. Ruth Harder and Sarah Klaassen are two of the most brave and articulate people I know. The board members listened respectfully. They were polite. They smiled at us. And nobody threw anything–not even a fit.

I did not come away from this session with any news about MC USA or any new insights into the inner workings of our denomination. But I did come away with one very clear message–something many people on the board wanted me to share with other inclusive-minded people. So . . .

Dear Pro-Inclusion Polarity Exacerbaters: The MC USA board members–at least the ones who spoke to me–are nice people. Every single person I talked with at the meeting was nice. I like them. And I think most of them like me. (I am pretty likable, after all.) You should like them, too. Because they are nice people. Who love Jesus.

I would also like to say:

Dear MC USA Board Members: I do like you. And so do a lot of my friends. Lots and lots of pro-inclusion, gay-loving Mennonites think you are nice people.

I like you.

I do not like the statement you put out about Theda Good’s credentials. Or the denominational policies against pastors officiating same-sex weddings. Or the way that statements coming from MC USA leadership present those working for inclusion as the problem children who are tearing the church art.

I am allowed to not like these things and still like you. I am allowed to disagree–even publicly–with your theology and/or your polity and/or your Biblical interpretation and/or your word choices and/or your fashion sense–my disagreement does not mean that I do not like you and respect you and understand that you are deeply loving and lovely human beings.

Dear Everyone: I think it would be helpful on all sides for us to keep a few key points in mind.

  • Liking someone and agreeing with him are two different things.
  • Respecting someone and agreeing with her are two different things.
  • Loving an institution (say, as a random example, a denomination) and supporting every decision made by institutional leadership are two different things.

Here is what many Mennonites–from a variety of theological positions–seem to believe: If we can just get everyone to sit down together and talk and realize that we are all nice people who like each other then this whole controversy will go away.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, friends, but this is not a workable strategy.

I could give you a list of several Mennonites who have listened to me, who respect me and love me and I think even like me–who are still not willing to be church with me if I am willing to officiate same-sex weddings. Which I am. Even though I like them and respect them and think they are nice.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am glad that most Mennonites are nice people. And I am glad that most of us like each other.

But being nice is only a tool we can use to deal with our conflicts. Forming personal relationships with others–liking each other–is simply a tool that can make working through conflicts more bearable.

Being nice people who like each other–this is not our end game, folks.

Our end game is to be ever-more faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Which means that we need to be nice and like each other while we talk honestly and work to create a denomination where all people are welcomed and valued.

Because the truth is that Mennonites have been nice about oppressing queer people they like for a long long time. And I, for one, do not like that.

Categories: GLBT Concerns, Mennonites | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Dear Peter

[This is an excerpt from a sermon I preached on 1 Peter. My husband, who does not usually provide sermon commentary, said, "It was gimmicky, but you pulled it off." Clearly he was deeply moved in the Spirit by my words.]

 

Dear Peter,

I just wanted to write to you as one church leader to another–to share my appreciation for your words, and also to bring up a few concerns I have.

The extrapolation of your “authority principle” to slaves is particularly concerning to me:

*Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly.

Let me guess–you were never a slave? You lived in a culture where most slaves were household servants, doing respectable domestic work. Where slavery was primarily an economic, not a racial or ethnic, institution. Where slavery was most likely a period of a person’s life, not their entire existence.

But I wish that you could have looked into the future and seen what slavery would look like in the early days of my country. The horror and brutality. The dehumanization of dark-skinned people. And the horrible legacy of racial injustice that the system of slavery has left in its wake. And I wish you could have seen what slavery would look like in my day. So much of it involving children who are used sexually.

If you had been able to look ahead to the realities of slavery that enter my mind when I read your words, I think–I hope–you would have written different words. I don’t understand how it is a credit for anyone to endure pain while suffering unjustly. I do not understand how:

*If you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

Yes, Christ suffered. But was that a good thing? Wouldn’t it have been better if the world had been able to embrace the embodied love of God without enacting violence against it?

And then Peter. Dear Peter. We get to the part about women.

*Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

Believe it or not, a lot of people now don’t think that husbands have authority over wives. Many consider marriage to be an equal partnership of mutual respect and decision-making. I guess that’s hard for you to understand from your context, but think about how things were developing in the early church–with Jesus valuing the partnership and testimony of women; Paul welcoming Priscilla into leadership in the church; and maybe you had a chance to read some of Paul’s letters: “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.”

You are, I presume, primarily talking to women who have come to believe in Jesus while their husbands do not. The idea is that the wives should not be rude or condemning about their new faith, should not, as we say these days, beat anyone over the head with the Bible. So, while I don’t really like this as marriage advice, it’s not bad guidance for evangelism: “that they may be won over without a word . . . when they see the purity and reverence of our lives.”

And I am glad that you put a little responsibility on the husbands here as well:

*Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honor to the woman as the weaker sex, since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life—so that nothing may hinder your prayers.

What I want to focus on here is that phrase “the weaker sex.” Maybe I shouldn’t admit this since I am a pacifist pastor, but when I read that I kind of want to punch you in the face. But then I take a deep breath and think about the first century. I know that that “weaker sex” line was just a statement of what everybody understood to be true. That was the given, not the controversy.

The controversy, the part that probably made people in your day want to punch you in the face, was the statement that women “are also heirs of the gracious gift of life.” For the people you thought you were writing this letter to, “heir” and “son” were basically synonyms. How can women–especially married women–be heirs? It was against human law for wives to receive an inheritance from their fathers, but you say that God the Father considers women equal heirs with men of the divine inheritance of life.

I bet that irritated some folks back then. Just like your “weaker sex” line irritates some of us today. Poor Peter, you just can’t make everyone happy.

Sincerely,

Joanna

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Prayer of Confession: Being Church is Hard

This week’s prayer of confession comes out of our current series on the shorter epistles, thinking about World Communion Sunday, speaking with the MCUSA Executive Board, and . . . you know . . . life in the church.


Prayer of Confession

God of each of us,
God of all of us,
Being church is hard.
We do not all agree
about who you are
or how to follow Jesus
or what faith means
or how to spend our money.
We do not always listen well.
We do not always speak kindly.
Sometimes we forget the truth of church:
We are all members of one body.
Every part is needed.
Every part is honored.
And it is a blessing to have these companions on our journey.
Forgive our failings
and strengthen our love.

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The Mountain of Fear and the Mountain of Joy

[This reflection is excerpted from a sermon I preached on Hebrews 12:18-29. You can find the full text here and the audio here.]

 

 

Generally, I find the section headings in Bibles less than helpful. But the section heading for this week’s scripture stopped me in my tracks: “The Mountain of Fear and the Mountain of Joy.” “Wow,” I thought, “are we ever living on a mountain of fear.”

Michael Brown has been in the news lately. And we’ve also read about John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Eric Garner–all unarmed; all black; all killed by police.

And, of course, problems with gun violence aren’t limited to police misconduct. The gun culture in this country is out-of-control. People insist on their “right” to have any and every kind of firearm–and to take those arms, loaded, into any and every public place.

We hear stories of rape and domestic abuse on the news and from our friends.

The mountain of fear. Perhaps it feels like we are there now–skirting around the base or even headed towards tree line where the air is getting thin.

“The Mountain of Fear and the Mountain of Joy.” I would love to spend less time on the Mountain of Fear and more on the Mountain of Joy.

The actual mountains being compared here are Sinai and Zion. Where Sinai has fire and darkness and gloom and storm, Zion has thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly. Where Sinai represents the old covenant that God made with the Hebrew people, Zion represents the new covenant God has made with all people through Jesus.

Sinai and Zion. The Mountain of Fear and the Mountain of Joy.

We should note that the writer of Hebrews does not tell us to choose Zion over Sinai. The writer does not offer a path for us to get from Sinai to Zion. This is not an admonition or a how-to manual. This is a statement of reality: “You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God.” The heavenly Jerusalem with the thousands upon thousands of angels–we’re already there. On the Mountain of Joy. That’s what Hebrews says.

We’re already there. But what does that mean? Does that mean we are always happy? Does it mean our ultimate goal in faith and life is personal fulfillment? I read a great line this week that was critiquing a recent prosperity sermon: “If our message cannot be preached with credibility in Mosul, it should not be preached in Houston.” It is a partial and weak faith that ignores suffering in the world. This selfish version of faith leads us to be, in Vincent Harding’s words, “missionaries of law and order, defenders of a status quo, and seekers for peace without a cross.”

The Mountain of Joy presented here in Hebrews is not a place to pursue our own happiness while we ignore the pain and suffering in the world. On the Mountain of Joy, the cross is central. When we come–as we have come–to the Mountain of Joy, we come, in the words of the writer of Hebrews, “to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

We have come the Mountain of Joy. And even here there is blood. And even here there is pain and suffering. Here there is peace with the cross. Here we hear the better word. The word of forgiveness instead of vengeance. The word of faith instead of fear. The word of justice instead of oppression. The word of light instead of darkness.

We have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God. And when it feels like we are on that other mountain; when the darkness and gloom and storm–when the fear–threaten to overwhelm us, we must listen for the better word. For the good word, the Good News, spoken through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

- – – – – -

And here is the call to worship that accompanied this scripture:

Let us give thanks
for the faithful who have come before us;
for the One who is always faithful.
Let us offer to God
all of our confidence, faith, and hope
along with our questions, doubts, and despair.
Because we do not approach a god of darkness, gloom, and storm;
We come to the living, loving God
through the new covenant offered by Jesus Christ.
So let us worship God acceptably
with reverence
and awe.

Categories: Bible Study, Preaching | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

On Being Church

Photo Credit: Doug Koch

Photo Credit: Doug Koch

*This reflection is excerpted from a sermon based on Matthew 18:15-20 that  I preached about three years ago. (Funny how the lectionary works like that!)

- – – – -

The Greek word that gets translated as “church”–ekklesia–shows up on only two occasions in the Gospels. Both in Matthew. The first is: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church . . . and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” The second and final use of ekklesia is in this morning’s Gospel reading. Again, Jesus is speaking. This time, rather than focusing on the strength and power of the church, Jesus anticipates church conflict.

“If a brother or sister sins against you . . .” “If.”

If somebody in the church says something that offends you; if he does something that you believe harms you in body or spirit; if she presents a barrier between you and God in some way. These things happen within the church; Jesus knew they would.

The gates of hell shall not prevail against the church; but conflicting theologies, combative personalities, different aesthetic sensibilities–these things can do a lot of damage to Christian communities.

Jesus knew there would be conflict within the church, likely because he was living with the conflicts among his followers every day. We can imagine some of the squabbles that broke out as they walked along the road together.

“Peter took my walking stick.”

“It’s my turn to walk next to Jesus.”

“But we had bread and fish for lunch yesterday.”

“Forgive us our sins.” “Debts.” “Sins.” “Debts.”

“Cessarea is this way.” “No, it’s this way.” “Well, if somebody would have just stopped to ask directions . . . “

Anticipating conflicts to come, Jesus gives his followers some pretty clear instructions: You speak to the offending person one-on-one. You speak to the person with a few witnesses. If the offending party still does not listen, only then do you take the conflict before the church body. The church community hears both sides of the conflict in light of Christ’s teachings; the church presents its collective wisdom in an attempt to reconcile all people to the body.

Only after these faithful attempts at reconciliation does the church let someone go. “Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” There is a point at which fellowship is broken.

This point of separation, however, is not a point we come to quickly or easily. And it seems to me there is some irony here: “Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” On the surface, for a first-century Jewish audience, this would mean to treat them as outsiders. Yet in the context of Jesus’ ministry, and considering that the writer of the Gospel of Matthew may well have been a tax collector himself, we have to wonder what Jesus really has in mind here.

There may be times when a person chooses to leave the church community. There may even be times–in extreme situations of abuse–when a church community needs to ask someone to leave. Yet even to the tax collectors and the Gentiles, the door is never shut. The grace of God can extend.

So that’s Jesus little Conflict Management 101 lecture for the disciples. And we know that the followers of Christ in every century will need this lesson. The church will face conflict after conflict after conflict. Sometimes, you have to wonder if the church is worth all of that effort. This church that is stronger than Hell yet somehow so vulnerable to the egos of those of us who make it up.

It is the church community–all of us together trying to follow Jesus–that makes the journey frustrating and painful and hard. And it is the community that makes the journey worthwhile and joyful and possible.

We, together, are the church. We are prone to sin, mistakes, messiness. Conflict is inevitable.

We, together, are the church. Because where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, he is here among us. And nothing, nothing, shall prevail against us.

Thanks be to God.

Categories: Bible Study, Preaching | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

My Aspirational Resolution

IMG_1616Some of you already know how I feel about the label “polarizing.” When Mennonite pastors signed a letter asking for space within the denomination, we were placed on one end of the polarity; those who said they would leave the denomination if inclusive churches were allowed to bless same-sex unions and credential LGBTQ pastors were placed on other end of the polarity. (An “exacerbated polarity”!)

I am hopeful that a resolution that promotes something like what the Rule of Love letter suggests will come before the delegates in Kansas City. And I hope that people realize that asking for space is not a radical, far-left position. It is a compromise position.

Here is the resolution I would like to submit for delegate consideration in Kansas City:

 

Whereas “the Bible is the essential book of the church,”1 the foundational document for Anabaptist/Mennonite Christians

Whereas “Scripture as a whole has its center and fulfillment in [Jesus Christ]“2

Whereas

  • Jesus offers hospitality to the outsider, the unclean, the despised (Luke 19:1-10; Mark 5:25-34; Matthew 15:21-28)

  • Jesus compels us to journey outside our comfort zones, to the land of the other (Mark 4:35ff, 6:45ff)

  • Jesus admonishes us not to judge or condemn (Luke 6:37)

  • Jesus risks the condemnation of religious authorities by associating with those they considered sinners (Luke 15:1-2)

  • Jesus receives the rejected with joy and without judgment (Luke 15:20)

  • Jesus teaches us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-47)

  • Jesus compels us invite and associate with the outcasts (Luke 14:12-14)

  • Jesus breaks rules to bring healing and hope (Luke 13:10-17)

  • Jesus welcomes all who confess him as Lord; even those convicted and dying on an adjacent cross (Luke 23:39-43)3

  • Jesus speaks in favor of overarching principles of peace and love over and against a strict adherence to ancient legal codes (Matthew 5:21-48; Matthew 22:37-40)

Whereas the current policies of MCUSA do violence to the personhood of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer) people by forcing them to choose between full acceptance by their denomination and living into the abundant life to which God calls them

Whereas the current policies of MCUSA communicate demeaning and destructive messages that contribute to many LGBTQ people leaving their beloved denomination and even their faith in Jesus Christ

Whereas the current “teaching position” of MCUSA falsely labels all physically intimate same-sex relationships as “sinful,” thus leading some Christians to question their worth in the eyes of God and, in some cases, to attempt/commit suicide

Whereas the ongoing conversation and discernment around issues of sexuality is being perpetrated at the expense of LGBTQ Christians

Whereas “justice delayed is justice denied”4

Whereas LGBTQ Christians are gifted by the Holy Spirit to contribute to the body of Christ as MCUSA seeks to “grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.”

Whereas the exclusion of LGBTQ people and their gifts harms the life and mission of the denomination

Therefore, be it resolved that as members of MCUSA we will

  • Repent of the violence our denominational documents and policies have done to LGBTQ people and those who have sought to support them

  • Amend all church documents as needed to support full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life and ministry of the denomination at all levels of participation and service; such amendments will include but are not limited to: the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, the Membership Guidelines, and a Mennonite Polity for Ministerial Leadership

  • Provide a generous scholarship fund for LGBTQ students who wish to study at AMBS as a means of offering reparations for the many called and gifted people who have been refused pastoral leadership in our denomination

  • Extend grace and forbearance to those individuals, congregations, and conferences that will choose to remain in fellowship with MCUSA despite being at variance with the inclusive position of the denomination

 

1Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, Article 4

2Ibid.

3All of the bullets up to this point are from the brilliant paper Karl Shelly wrote for the Indiana Michigan Conference

4Martin Luther King, Jr.

Categories: GLBT Concerns, Mennonites | 3 Comments

Reflections on Matthew 16:21-28

Pink Menno hymn-sing; Pittsburgh, 2011. Photo credit: pinkmenno.org

Pink Menno hymn-sing; Pittsburgh, 2011. Photo credit: pinkmenno.org

The other day as I was clicking around online, I came across a blog written by a fellow Mennonite pastor. I liked what she had to say in her most recent entry, so clicked on the little button near the top of my screen that said “Follow this Blog.”

I follow several blogs and some Twitter accounts. There are news stories that I follow. Some of you follow specific TV shows or sports teams or the stock market.

It strikes me that we use the verb “follow” in a pretty passive way these days. Maybe it’s the passiveness of “following” in our culture that allows us to talk about “following Jesus” without batting an eye. Without making sure we have good sturdy walking shoes and an updated will. We just click the little “Follow Jesus” button at the top of the screen and plan to check in with Jesus once a week or so–probably on Sunday mornings.

If we think about it, though, we know that following Jesus is nothing like following a blog or a team. Before we are even allowed to sign on as followers, we are called to deny ourselves and take up our cross. The “deny myself” button, the “take up my cross” button–these I do not click so readily.

“Follow me,” says Jesus. Not once a week. Not if I seem to be headed in the same direction you’re going anyway. Stay behind me and follow. Step by step. Every day.

Hard words for those who have already given up so much to be with Jesus. Hard words for us in our hesitations to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses.

Here’s what I’ve realized about myself when it comes to taking up my crosses–I don’t like to do it. I want to be a follower of Jesus. And I’m sometimes even willing to take definitive, dare I say self-denying–steps along the path of Christ. But when the crosses show up, I don’t want to deal with them.

I will follow Christ’s call to be a pastor, but do I really have to deal with theological controversy or talk about land easements or re-schedule that meeting again? I will follow Christ’s call to be a mother, but if I could just sleep through the night, watch a grown-up movie, have a few moments of quiet. I will take a stand for my beliefs about including sexual minorities in the church, but how long will I have to listen and be gracious . . . and be patient?

It is true that there are often consequences to following the path of Christ. And it is true that some of those consequences seem difficult to bear.

Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow.

We tend to hear these words in a minor key. We see them in shadows; dark colors and jagged edges–the dark side of following Jesus. We don’t like it, but we listen. We don’t want to be like Peter–denying the reality of Jesus’ humanity and suffering.

Here’s what I wonder about Peter, though. Did he listen to everything Jesus’ said? Peter surely heard Jesus say that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer and be killed. Peter heard this and he said, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you!”

Peter’s response makes me wonder if he also heard Jesus say: “On the third day, be raised.” If Peter had heard that part, why would he have said, “God forbid it!”?

Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow. And on the third day . . .

In 1961, a group of students in Nashville, TN, decided to participate in a Freedom Ride–a racially integrated ride into places of deep segregation and racial violence. These students knew that previous freedom riders had faced bombing and beatings. And so each young person, the night before they left for the ride, signed their last will and testament.

They were willing to deny themselves and take up their crosses in order to follow the way of Jesus.

Bull Connor–a driving, violent force for racial segregation in the city of Birmingham Alabama and beyond–was heard complaining about these students. Regarding these students who were risking their very lives for the cause of justice, Bull Connor was heard to say, “I just couldn’t stand their singing.”

- – – – – -

The above reflection is excerpted from this sermon.

You might also be interested in this call to worship and prayer of confession.

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Reflections on Exodus 3

Moses has a thousand reasons to stay right there with the sheep, not the least of which is the fact that, as far as he knows, Pharaoh still wants him dead. But with or without a warrant hanging over our heads, speaking truth to power is hard. It’s not something most people do readily. It’s particularly not something people generally do when they are comfortable. Comfortable with their job, with their community. Comfortable with the fact that the real horrors are miles away, worlds away. None of our concern.

And so, in an attempt to get out of “going” anywhere, our hero asks, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Now, those of you who teach probably tell your students that there are no wrong questions. And if you’ve been teaching for very long, you’ve probably heard a few questions that made you re-think your position. I definitely think that questions can be wrong. And this one is. “Who am I?”

But we still ask it over and over again. Who am I that I should lead in worship? Who am I that I should help the homeless? Who am I that I should speak out for peace? Who am I that I should speak up against the enslaving powers of our day?

And, truth be told, we probably want to hear what, just maybe, our hero Moses wanted to hear: “Why, you’re Moses. You’re Joanna. You’re Fred. You’re Sally. You are beautiful and talented and–just between you and me–a lot smarter than most of the rest of them down there.”

But alas, what we want to hear and what we do hear are two different things. God says, “I will be with you.” Notice how this doesn’t answer the question. Who is Moses? God will be with him. It is the presence of God that is important. Not the limitations of the person God calls.

“I am with you,” says God. But our hero Moses seems to need a little more convincing. He says to God, “Suppose the Israelites ask me, ‘What is this God’s name?’ What should I tell them?”

I suppose Moses’ question is a fair one. God knows his name, after all. So God obliges, sort of. God utters the divine name: I am/shall be what/who I am/shall be.

Grueling hours have been spent in the ensuing centuries trying to figure out what this Hebrew term means. But I think Bernard Robinson’s observation is key: that God’s response to Moses “may well have puzzled early readers as much as it does present day ones.” I will give you a name, God says, but not a name by which you can control or even comprehend me.

Moses, you tell the Israelites “I AM has sent me to you.”

Our hero is, after all, part of the equation. He is called by God to participate in the saving work God plans to do among God’s people. And our hero will succeed. Despite his hot-headedness. Despite his reluctance. Despite any public speaking phobia or speech impediment he may have.

Moses will succeed because God–the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah–the God who is who God is and who will be who God will be–that holy, immanent, transcendent, confounding God–will be with him.

Who am I that I should free the oppressed people of our world? Who are you to confront the Pharaohs of our day?

We’re asking the wrong questions. We shouldn’t ask “Who am I?”. We simply need to realize that the One who goes with us is the great I AM.

- – – – – – – -

The above reflection is excerpted from a sermon on Exodus 3:1-17.

You might also be interested in this benediction.

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When Conservative Mennonites Accuse Liberal Mennonites of Betrayal

Some of you may find this hard to believe, but I enjoy being in conversation with conservative Mennonites (at least the ones who don’t condemn me to hell as they bludgeon me with Leviticus). When I find the right dialog partners–or they find me–and when I listen well and open myself to the Holy Spirit, sometimes I learn something. Sometimes I come to a better understanding of the thoughts and feelings of others. (Please note that understanding and agreement are not the same thing.)

One recent conversation has helped me better understand why so many conservatives in MCUSA accuse liberals of “betrayal.” It’s an accusation I hear a lot–and one I deeply resent.

My conversation partner explained to me that when conservatives agreed to join the newly-formed MCUSA denomination, they understood themselves to be entering into a covenant. As part of that covenant, churches within the new denomination would not bless same-sex unions or ordain gay pastors. That is what the Confession of Faith and the Membership Guidelines said. That is how they understood it.

So those of us who officiate same-sex weddings and support the ordination of LGBTQ pastors are, indeed, breaking the covenant that conservatives thought they signed on to.

The thing is, that is not the covenant that my church signed on to when it joined MCUSA. Peace Mennonite has been publicly welcoming and affirming since before MCUSA existed. And the denomination invited us in and never once said, “By the way, you’ll have to quit accepting gay people if you want to be in this denomination.” I can guarantee that if we had been presented a covenant that required us to exclude LGBTQ people from the full life and ministry of the church, we never would have signed on.

And this covenant the conservatives signed is not the covenant I signed on to when I accepted ordination in the Mennonite church. I was asked (as are all ministerial candidates, I think) about my points of agreement and disagreement with the Confession of Faith. And I told the ministerial board that I disagreed with the statement in Article 19: Marriage is between one man and one woman. They ordained me anyway. If they had said that I could only be a pastor if I refused to officiate same sex weddings, I would not have signed on to that covenant.

Is it possible that even though we are all in the same denomination we agreed to different covenants? That we have misunderstood the terms of this relationship from the beginning?

We could spend time placing blame here: Is it the denominational leadership’s fault for misrepresenting the covenant to one or both “sides”? Is it the conservatives’ fault for willfully misunderstanding the covenant, for just assuming that their interpretation of the denominational documents (like their interpretation of the Bible) is the only interpretation? Is it the liberals’ fault for glibly going along with the merger and not thinking through what it might mean to be at variance with certain statements in the Membership Guidelines and the Confession of Faith?

At this stage, I don’t think placing blame will help us move forward. (It might make us feel better, but it won’t help us move forward.) We are in the situation we are in regardless.

The conservative churches entered a covenant to be in a denomination that would uphold their view of Christian marriage. The liberal churches entered a covenant to be in a denomination that would allow them to include LGBTQ people in whatever ways they felt called to include them. Yet we have all ended up in a denomination together. So where do we go from here?

Categories: GLBT Concerns | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

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