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Sermon Snippet on being “Missional”

The following is an excerpt from my sermon this past Sunday. Just to show that I am on board with some of MC USA’s priorities. You can also read other sermons from our “Enough for All” series: Proverbs 30:7-9; 1 Kings 17:1-16.

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How do we not worry? Seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. 

If you would, permit me just a moment for a vocabulary lesson. The word “missional” is something of a buzzword in our denomination right now. And a lot of progressives hate it. In part because it sounds like “missionary” and we all know horror stories of how Christians have oppressed native peoples in the name of “spreading the gospel.”

In part because “missional” is often thrown out by denominational leaders and conservatives as a sort of counter to those of us working to affirm the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Mennonites in our midst. People write things like: “We’re not going to worry about these ‘side issues.’ We should just all go be missional.”

So “missional” gets a bad wrap. And it’s too bad. Because I think, at its heart, being missional means we do exactly what Jesus says here: seek God’s kingdom first. Being missional means we pay attention to what God is doing in the world and we find ways to join in that effort. Many of us experienced a missional moment this past Thursday night at the Nehemiah Assembly. God is clearly working in this city toward better care for those with mental illness, toward a means of providing more affordable housing. Every single city and county official who was asked to support these efforts said “yes.” God is at work and we get to be part of it! When we are caught up in the God-work going on around us, we have less time and energy to spend worrying about ourselves.

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Sermon Snippet: 1 Kings 17:1-7

–This is part of a sermon I preached on 1 Kings 17:1-16. The full text is available here.

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I try to be a person of faith. As a pastor, having faith is part of my job description, I suppose. But I tell you what, Elijah has me beat. There is an impending drought, and God tells him to go hide in the wilderness, by the wadi—which is a riverbed that is sometimes dry, sometimes not. So, go hide out, says God. And not only that, but “I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”

What? That is crazy. Straight up crazy. But Elijah didn’t say a word about how ridiculous this plan was. He just “went and did according to the word of the Lord.” And sure enough, in swoop the ravens with bread and meat.

Now, you won’t be surprised to know that I’ve been thinking about this story in terms of what it might mean for us as a congregation as we discern together next steps in addressing concerns about our building size.

I imagine Elijah knew that food would be scarce as the drought set in. This was a problem that I imagine he tried to solve. Perhaps he even made a process agreement:

–Issue: I am going to starve to death because of the drought.

–Process Goals: Collect food that can be stored; plant crops that do not need much water; beg on the street . . .

I don’t know what possible solutions Elijah might have developed for his particular problem. But I’m willing to bet “hide out by the wadi and let the ravens bring me bread and meat” was not one of them.

I don’t say this to in any way disparage our careful congregational processing. Still, there are many options within the options we we have thought of; and I’m sure some options that fall outside the realm of anything we can plan for or imagine. Maybe there is a wadi somewhere nearby where, as we speak, ravens are weaving a beautiful sanctuary for us.

I don’t think Elijah’s story says that it is bad to think through things and make wise and reasonable plans; but within our planning we should always be listening for the voice that is beyond what we can control and conceive. We should remain open always to the surprising blessings that God has in store.

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The Wait is Over . . . Unfortunately . . .

Me and my foundational document.

Me and my foundational document.

Believe it or not, I have been eagerly awaiting the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board resolution–for weeks. Weeks! And it is finally here. Unfortunately.

For those of you who just want the Readers’ Digest condensed version: the resolution from the MC USA Executive Board, “On the Status of the Membership Guidelines,” is a train wreck of a resolution. If you are a delegate, DO NOT VOTE FOR THIS RESOLUTION.

That is all. Carry on with your life.

For those with the forbearance to wade into the wreck and examine the carnage, I offer a translation of the document from resolution-speak into reality-check:

The Membership Guidelines, adopted by the delegates in 2001 and updated in 2013, shall continue to serve Mennonite Church USA as the guiding document for questions regarding church membership and same-sex relationships/marriages, alongside the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.

So, kids, we know there are differing theologies of sexuality within the denomination, but we’re just going to pretend like we all still agree with our 15-year-old ill-conceived guidelines–or at least that we agree on the parts that deal with the “issue” of “homosexuality.” If you don’t agree, kindly keep that to yourself. We’re all  for forbearance. But Karl,—and the rest of you “at variance” pastors– you can’t officiate gay weddings. And Theda, Mark—your ordinations won’t count.

In order to exercise forbearance on matters that divide us and to focus attention on the missional vision that unites us, the delegate assembly will not entertain changes to the Membership Guidelines for the next four years.

If you pesky liberals would just shut up already about justice and inclusion and the Bible and Jesus, we could get back to following our foundational documents and using our big ambiguous words.

We look to area conferences to interpret and implement these documents in mutual accountability with other area conferences, particularly through the CLC.

Western District should definitely not pass a resolution that allows pastors to officiate same-sex weddings. Because mutual accountability means liberal conferences should not challenge or upset more conservative conferences. (Also, stop calling them “conservative conferences.” They prefer the term “evangelical Anabaptist.”) Conference leaders should be more concerned with what other conference leaders think than with joining in the work God is doing in the midst of their member congregations.

We presume area conferences will grant ministerial credentials consistent with the guidelines in A Shared Understanding of Church Leadership, as seems best in their context.

We will pretend that we are the responsible adults in this denomination and Mountain States and Central District are rebellious teenagers who will soon have a moment of insight and turn from their wayward ordaining of queer pastors. We expect all conferences to ignore the Spirit-guided discernment of their communities and deny the gifts of pastors in their midst who happen to be gay (or lesbian—is that the same thing? Do we have to use all the letters all the time?). And never mind that the current version of the “Shared Understanding” document is a provisional revision that will itself be discussed by delegates at the assembly. And that MC Canada has different wording only for the section of this document that deals with pastors in same-sex relationships and those officiating same-sex weddings. Which is the part we are talking about here. Just . . . never mind all those minor details . . . What we mean to say is, “Shame on MSMC for credentialing Theda. Don’t you dare ordain her or else . . . ”

We call on the CLC to take seriously its role as “elders” for the denomination, “discerning and advising the Executive Board, the Delegate Assembly, and the Mennonite Church USA on issues confronting each of them relative to faith and life,” as well as their other functions named in the bylaws (Article IX). We also call on the CLC to exercise mutual accountability by engaging in conference-to-conference peer review when area conferences make decisions that are not aligned with the documents named above, and to make recommendations to the Executive Board if necessary.

We want to take church leaders who have thus far functioned as a support system for each other and make them police each other. It would be so much easier for us if conference leaders would be the ones to enforce the rules. Right now if we want any discipline to happen we have to write the sternly worded letters ourselves. And then people get upset and write us sternly worded letters back. And that hurts our feelings.

We join hands for the work that binds us together—proclaiming Jesus’ gospel of peace, evangelizing the world and growing as missional Mennonite communities. We desire all people who are inspired by the Anabaptist vision laid out in the Purposeful Plan of Mennonite Church USA to join us in this work.

We think if we ignore the presence of queer people and their allies in Mennonite Church USA, they will eventually go away—or at least be quiet. We think it is possible to promote peace, spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, and enhance the vibrancy of individual Mennonite communities while continuing policies and practices that oppress and exclude a particular group of people. We desire all people who agree with us–or will pretend that they agree–to join our work.

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For those of my friends who helped to write and/or who support this resolution, I welcome your discussion about where I am misunderstanding the intent. (Frankly, I hope I am misunderstanding the intent.) For those of my enemies who helped write and/or who support this resolution . . . I suppose I welcome your discussion too because, you know, Jesus says I have to.

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Confession of Faith in a Queer Perspective: Article 20

Most of you have seen the news about Evana—the new “non-denomination.” And depending on how strong your stomach is, you may have even looked through the entire web site and noticed the way that the “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective” is being used as code for that one line in Article 19: “We believe that God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life.” I see Evana co-opting the CoF the same way conservative/fundamentalist/evangelicals have been trying to co-opt the Bible for decades now–as if there is only one faithful way to understand and interact with the document. As if those of us who disagree with the “official” position on marriage are not entitled to also claim the Confession of Faith as our own.

I, personally, care a lot more about the Bible than the CoF–(One person’s “foundational document” is another person’s “outdated descriptive statement.”)–but still I do not want the conservatives to get to claim it as “their” document. I do not want progressive/liberal/ Mennonites to throw out the baby with the bathwater—so to speak. The truth is, there is a lot of really good, Jesusy, Anabaptist theology in the Confession.

So, rather than spend hours and hours and pages and pages lamenting how Evana gets it wrong, I decided to focus on how those of us not participating in Evana might be able to get it right. How can we read and challenge and be challenged by the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective?

To help us think about this, I’ve asked some LGBTQ Mennonites I know to write about one or more of the articles in the CoF. If you would like to participate, you can sign up here.

Our first installment comes from my friend, colleague, and all-around amazing person, Sarah Klaassen.

Article 20. Truth and the Avoidance of Oaths

We commit ourselves to tell the truth, to give a simple yes or no, and to avoid swearing of oaths.

Sarah KWhen I was in high school I fell in love with another girl. Being in love and adolescent at the same time can be torment anyway, but maybe a little more when you’re gay, Christian, from a rural area, and the internet hasn’t really taken off yet.

One day I found myself laying on the auditorium floor before basketball practice flipping through my Bible. Leviticus: a man who lies with another man should be put to death. First John: love comes from God. Yes or no: not so simple any more.

As a queer kid feeling mostly alone in the world, it was necessary to learn quickly what we all learn eventually: truth is not a matter of absolutes. It is messy, relative, contingent.

In divinity school we read theologians and ethicists who loved community, who preached and taught loyalty to Christ’s singular community, so appealing for this born and bred Anabaptist in an ecumenical ocean. But there was my big, black, queer ethics professor unveiling my exceptionalist assumptions with great levity: “Whose community do you mean? Whose community? Could it be mine?” The same is true with matters of theological allegiance. We must not forget to ask: “Whose God? Whose Christ?”

Yes and no: they seems so binary, so rigid, so concrete. They try to snap us into place, pin us down, label us in ways we may or may not accept, fit us into someone else’s Truth. Tension, dissonance, paradox: aren’t these, rather, the heart of our faith?

Sarah Klaassen

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Rev. Gals Blog Tour

womaninthepulpitThere’s a little Facebook game going around right now where you add “with a Chainsaw” to the title of whatever book you are reading. I joined in the fun and posted: There’s a Woman in the Pulpit with a Chainsaw. (Not to brag, but that comment got the most likes in a very long thread.)

So far, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor has not presented me with any chainsaw-wielding pastors. (But I haven’t read the last section yet, so I can still hope.) This book has presented me with a pastor wielding knitting needles and one looking for the plunger and one boiling water in a tea kettle to pour into the stock tank she is using for baptisms. (OK. That one is me).

The book has shown me a pastor clutching a pitcher of frozen juice to her body as she speaks to her congregation, hoping desperately that the liquid will thaw before she has to pour it into the communion chalice; also, a pastor late for her first day on the job because she had to help her partner compost a dead cow.

You can’t make this stuff up. Actually, you can—we could, we women pastors, because we are fabulous and creative—but we don’t have to make it up. Because life as a pastor offers opportunity after opportunity for all kinds of experiences—from the silly to the sublime; from baking bread with children to holding the hands of the dying.

I was honored to be part of the consulting group that visioned this book in its early stages and contributed material for the proposal. Even before I got my copy of the book a few days ago, I had read several of the contributions. I had high hopes for this collection, and I was not disappointed. My colleagues are women of deep faith, sharp wit, and holy words.

One fear I have is that this will be viewed as just a book for clergywomen. And certainly you should buy a copy for every woman pastor you know. (Except me. I already have a copy.) But it’s not just for women pastors. It’s not even just for pastors. I think any person who loves the church and its people will find humor and insight and grace in these pages.

(Perhaps I should qualify that statement: Any person who loves the church and is not offended by phrases like “rat’s ass” and “packs her penis in her purse” will find humor and insight and grace. Those who are offended by these phrases will probably only find themselves upset and should just subscribe to “Guideposts.”)

I want to thank Rev. Martha Spong for her expert job at editing. And I want to thank all of the writers (my mom is in here too!) for their willingness to share these glimmering pieces of their lives with honesty and beauty.

**Now go buy the book already!

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Reflection for Good Friday

The chapel sermon on our final night of Jr. High camp was always the same: a passionate re-telling of Jesus’ violent death on the cross, with the assurance that, “Every time you sin, you pound the nails deeper and deeper into Jesus’ flesh.”

And there we sat, dozens of awkward barely-teenagers, with tears streaming down our cheeks because of that one time last year when we forged our mom’s name on a test, or hid in the closet at 9:05 with the phone we weren’t allowed to use after 9:00, or wrote “Mrs. Smith is a poopyhead” in the margins of our notes, or noticed how hot the shirtless high school guys looked out running the track; we cried because we were killing Jesus.

This, of course, is crazy talk. I had a feeling it was crazy talk a long, long time ago. And after two seminary degrees and almost a decade in ministry I can confirm it: when I got impatient and yelled at my son last week, that action did NOT, in fact, pound the nail deeper into Jesus’ tortured flesh.

This is the kind of theology that makes many thoughtful Christians want to distance themselves from the cross altogether. But while I have set aside that Jr. High camp version of the crucifixion, I still hold the cross as a central symbol and event of my Christian faith.

The foot of the cross is holy space because it speaks deep truth about humanity and deep truth about God. The cross is, in part, about sin. Not because our every minor misstep is responsible for killing Jesus, but because the cross reminds us that we, as humans, are capable of pettiness, of injustice, of violence. We sometimes grasp for power in ridiculous and dangerous ways. We can let fear control our actions and our interactions. And our individual sins can morph into systemic sin that oppresses and wounds many, many people.

The foot of the cross is holy space because it assures us that God desires intimacy with us so deeply that God became human. God did not just look human. God did not just hang out as a human for as long as it was convenient. God, in Jesus of Nazareth, became really, fully human–so human that he died on the cross.

And so it is at the foot of the cross that we can most clearly see our need for God. It is at the foot of the cross that we can gaze most intently upon God’s love for us.

I leave you with this blessing for this holy day:

As you stand in the shadow of the cross, may the darkness guard your heart with love; may the chilled air fill you with holy breath; may you rest in the peaceful uncertainty of knowing that things are not as they seem. Amen.


Here are a few previous pieces related to Good Friday scriptures:

Reflection on Jesus’ trial–Why was he such a threat?

Reflection on Matthew’s version of Jesus’ death

And some theological reflections from John’s account

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For Maundy Thursday

Imagine the scene of a family meal. Perhaps Thanksgiving or Christmas. There’s a big table with all the leaves put in, and Aunt Betty’s tablecloth doesn’t quite reach the ends. Chairs are crowded around the table—six nice wooden ones, a few wobbly chairs brought up from the  basement, a couple of metal folding chairs, and, of course, the piano bench where the two smallest have to sit and share the curved end of the table.

It’s supposed to be a nice meal. The food smells good. Grandpa says “Amen.” You say, “please pass the jello salad.” But then uncle Herman says, “Can you believe those anti-family kooks letting gay people get married.” And your cousin Frank, who’s still in the closet, looks intently at his mashed potatoes.

Or maybe all is pleasant until Aunt Cindy whips out the brochures for the new product she is selling and encourages everyone to place an order. “Just don’t get gravy on the order forms.”

Or maybe the doorbell rings; it’s your sister’s ex-husband here to see the kids.

Or Grandma says, “Now you kids know the chemotherapy isn’t really working. Glenn has a copy of the will. Pastor knows how I want the service. When the time comes, please don’t fight over the china.”

That’s often what things are like around the table–awkward, uncomfortable, disconcerting. Even around the holy table, the sacred space of the last supper. The mood in the upper room must have been incredibly tense that night. Jesus and his disciples knew that Jerusalem was a risky place for them to be. Jesus had been making strange statements about death all week. The authorities could break into this upper room and bust up the party at any moment. And then Jesus, the master, the teacher, strips down, kneels, and performs the task of a common servant. How embarrassing.

It can only get worse as Jesus calls the bread his body; the wine his blood. Suggesting Jews drink blood, well, it’s not Kosher. And it is a vivid reminder that he will soon die a violent death.

The communion table is a sacred space, a holy place, to be sure. But it is not always comfortable. All sorts of people crowd around the table and argue about who should be there and what should be said and how things should be done. The history of communion in the Christian church is spotted with pain and schisms. And yet the table remains a holy place, where the power of God surges among us in amazing, grace-drenched ways.

The former archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, used his position of influence to speak out against the oppressive practices of land owners. He also stood tat the holy table often. In March of 1980 he was leading the people in the mass–“This is my body”–when the bullet went right through his heart.

Paul’s letters attest to the struggles of the earliest church to share the meal among rich and poor; slaves and free; men and women; and, most notably, Jews and Gentiles. Over time, of course, some of the categories of division change. Most of us are no longer concerned with distinctions of Jew and Gentile. But there are still plenty of divisions to overcome: Catholics and Protestants; Americans and Russians; blacks and whites; Israelis and Palestinians; Sunni and Shia; liberals and conservatives. The categories change. The nature of the conflicts change. But our human need for reconciliation remains.

The table is a holy space not because everyone around the table agrees with each other, but because it brings together those who disagree. In bringing people together, the table holds out the hope of peace.

Yes, there was fear and tension in that upper room. But the presence of Jesus brought a peace that reached beyond the turbulent circumstances. We are told that Jesus and his friends sung a hymn before they went out into the night.

Yes, Romero was killed at the communion table. But the words he said to a reporter a few days before his murder have proven true: “A bishop will die. But the church of God—which is the people—will never perish.

The table is a holy space, though not necessarily a comfortable space. It is a place to which God draws us; a place in which we allow Christ to become a part of us; a place from which the Holy Spirit leads with transforming power.

*You can read the full sermon version of this reflection (along with other good sermons) at the Bridgefolk site.

Creative Prayer Experience

Create an invitation to the meal in the upper room. If Jesus had sent handmade invitations, what would they have said? Address the invitation to yourself as a reminder that you are Christ’s chosen guest each time you share in the communion meal.

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Looking Toward Easter

Here is a Call to Worship for Easter morning, based on Isaiah 25:6-10:

God has destroyed the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations.
Let us rejoice and be glad in God’s salvation.
God has wiped away our tears and removed our disgrace.
Let us rejoice and be glad in God’s salvation.
God has swallowed up death forever.
Let us rejoice and be glad in God’s salvation.
The morning has come. The stone has been rolled away. The tomb is empty. The Good News is proclaimed.
Let us rejoice and be glad in God’s salvation.
For Jesus Christ is Risen.
He is risen indeed!


And here are links to previously posted Easter resources:

Sermons:
Mark 16:1-8
John 20:1-18
Matthew 28: 1-10 (and a briefer reflection)
Luke 24: 1-12 (and a reflection)

Liturgy:
Communion
Call to Worship
Calls to Worship
Benediction
Call to Worship, Offertory, and Benediction

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The Week Ahead

Joanna:

I’m re-posting this piece from a few years ago. Because I need to hear it again.

Originally posted on Spacious Faith:

Holy Week tends to be pretty hard on pastors–or at least on me.  There is, of course, the practical aspect of organizing and leading extra worship services. (Between today and next Sunday there are seven worship services in which I have a significant part.)  More worship services means more sermons to write, more music to choose, more people to coordinate, more liturgy to develop, and more time leading worship.

Really, though, I usually find that the hardest thing about Holy Week, for me, is the emotional disconnect.  I’m reading through and preaching on the road to the cross, and the cross event itself, all while planning for a glorious celebration on Easter morning.  “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” runs around in my head all week with “Christ the Lord is Risen today!”  It’s exhausting.

And to be honest, I tend to resent the exhaustion.  I want to…

View original 311 more words

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Prayer Practices for the 5th Week of Lent

Creative Prayer Experience based on John 12:20-33
Create a drawing or collage of a growing plant–possibly a wheat stalk. Show the “dead” seed within the earth and the living plant above. If you would like, you can add words to your collage. Within the earth, write words that represent “deaths” you have experienced–deep disappointments, things you have given up, parts of the Jesus-path that are most difficult for you.  Above the ground, write words that express the life you have in Christ–the joy and grace you have found along the way.

Creative Writing Exercise
Consider Jesus’ statement in John 12:27: “Now my soul is troubled.” Jesus speaks these words after his entry into Jerusalem in anticipation of his arrest and crucifixion. If Jesus were talking with his closest friends or praying to God, what might he say about his troubled soul? Why is his soul troubled?  What does he most desire at that moment? How does he grasp for peace in the midst of his anguish?

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