We had a wonderful weekend of learning recently with Gerald Gerbrandt (President Emeritus of Canadian Mennonite University) who continues to teach part-time with a particular focus on Scripture. The following few choice quotes don’t do justice to all that he shared with us, but here at least is a taste of his presentations Friday and Saturday (Feb 14-15) for those of you who missed it.
A Few Nuggets:
Scripture is one continuous story.
Jesus is the lens through which the whole story is to be read.
It is deliberately multi-voiced, making use of complex dialogue.
The truth (or the essence) of the story is in the story, not in some moral or teaching or doctrine derived from the story.
The art of reading Scripture is a creative discipline that requires engagement and imagination, not detached objectivity.
Scripture is an unfinished drama. (N.T.Wright)
We are invited to improvise the last act in a manner consistent with the characterization, plot lines and themes given us in the first acts.
Reading Scripture necessarily requires engagement. The goal is transformation and faithful living, not information or even theology.
An Outline of the Drama:
Act I – God, World, and Chosen People (Old Testament)
Act II – Unleashing the Kingdom (Gospels)
Act III – Citizens of the Kingdom
Scene I – from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts to Revelation)
Scene II – from then until now (Church HIstory)
Scene III – continuing the drama today
This week, I received a delightful surprise in my mailbox! What a beautiful reminder – me and you and all of us are loved by God!
Every November just before US Thanksgiving, I attend the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting as part of my professional development. It’s the largest gathering of scholars, pastors, and students of religion in North America so it’s a great place for learning and to connect with others. I’ve already shared some of this year’s highlights on my own blog: The Best of AAR/SBL gives an overview and Wendell Berry at AAR/SBL includes my notes from one of the special sessions.
In this post, I’d like to focus on the Mennonite Scholars and Friends Forum. This Saturday morning gathering is coordinated by the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre on a different theme each year. This time it was From “Creation Care” to “Watershed Discipleship”: An Anabaptist Approach to Ecological Theology and Practice. Here are my notes from the main paper by Ched Myers (Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries).
This paper starts with a review of the current ecological crisis. We have the “fundamental choice between discipleship and denial, to live in light of or in spite of.”
Yet Ched Myers says that approaches that have gained traction in the church are too abstract, focused more on the aesthetic. He says we need a more radical approach that addresses “the fantasy of human autonomy” in which we think we are primary and entitled to consume everything: “If the root of the problem is alienation from the earth, to the earth we must go.”
I. What is watershed discipleship?
- begins with the physical reality of the importance of watersheds (areas bound by a common water/river system, so e.g. we are in the Fraser River watershed)
- moves us rom social abstraction to watershed practicality:
Recognizes a “basin” of relations
Connecting with the great economy of nature
Means people covenanting with specific land – we have ancient resources for this
Not just going green but:
- reflecting local biodiversity, e.g., in choice of flowers on altar
- baptism connects to watersheds
- mission trips could include nature walks, solitude and anti-fracking protest
- community solidarity with people of the land including those “inconveniently present”
II. What makes watershed discipleship Anabaptist?
- It’s about translating into practices
- Focuses on specific place
- Connects with more-with-less experiments
- Heterogeneous, non-hierarchical
- Citizenship apart from nation state
- Draws on past to preserve the future
- Resonates with environmental ethics
This is just a taste of a fascinating morning on creation care that left me with a lot to think about, practice, and share.
This year, I’m excited about our study of 1 Corinthians which will include:
- preaching through the book on Sunday mornings;
- a Corinthians-style worship service for Thanksgiving where the congregation is encouraged to bring an item for our worship display, an offering to support Indigenous Relations, an item for the Food Bank, and/or a Scripture or story to share;
- a new Connection Group focusing on Sacred Pauses & 1 Corinthians.
To introduce the focus and content of the letter, I wrote the following litany:
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (3:11)
The foundation for blessing and grace. The foundation for our unity.
I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. (1:3, 4)
The source of wisdom. The source of our ministry and teaching.
God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1:30)
What is God’s wisdom for human sexuality, legal disputes, marriage, singleness, widowhood, food sacrificed to idols? What is God’s wisdom for testing and temptation?
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. (6:19-20)
How do we glorify God in what we wear for worship, how we celebrate the Lord’s Supper? How do we recognize and release the gifts of the Spirit for the common good?
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love. (13:13)
Let us receive and proclaim the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Let us give thanks for this life and for the resurrection of the dead.
Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? (15:54-55)
For Jesus Christ is our sure foundation.
For Jesus Christ is our sure foundation. “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” (16:23)
To end my study leave, I was privileged to join the Mennonite Church Canada UK Learning Tour August 21 – September 2, 2013.
It was a wonderful tour starting with two days in London, and included a day trip to Coventry, a day trip to Oxford, and a longer stay in Birmingham, where we were joined by UK Anabaptist leaders as well as Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers Mike and Cheryl Nimz. A special highlight of the tour was three days at Greenbelt, which is an annual Christian Arts Festival that focuses on faith, justice, music, and art.
I’m excited to share about my experience during our adult elective times (September 8, 15, 22, 9:30am in the banquet room), and in my preaching during the coming year. For a more personal look at the tour, you might be interested in Coventry Cathedral in a Day or other upcoming posts on my personal blog. Or check out the blog by Mennonite Church BC Moderator Lee Dyck who was also on the tour and has already posted many of her pictures and comments at London here I come.
In the meantime, here’s a photo of me with my excellent travelling companions from across Canada. I had a wonderful time, and it’s also great to be back home!
It was wonderful to receive so many responses to my July 28 sermon–and yes for the grammarians in the congregation, the title Superman, Jesus, and Me is actually correct :-) It’s like the documentary movie Roger & Me–in the same vein, this sermon is about Superman, Jesus, and Me (not I).
Grammar aside, one of the main points of the sermon was this quote from Tim Geddert’s commentary on Mark:
Ultimately carrying the cross means saying yes to God,
yes to whatever it might be that the discipleship road
demands of each one of us.
Then I asked us as a congregation:
What is our yes to God?
Here are the responses (with personal names removed for privacy reasons):
“Accepting life as it comes to me, especially living daily with my physical (back) problem but keeping hope alive for change”
“Being a support to members of our Connections group”
“To be the mother and Oma God wants me to be”
“Yes, I will support extended family members”
“To help a refugee (Cambodian) family through some difficulties – re employment and family concerns”
“Family, Integrity, Neighbourhood”
“Grandchildren, neighbours and friends with illnesses”
“Reaching out to my non-Christian neighbours and friends, sharing God’s love with them”
“We will be talking to MCC tomorrow regarding a possible 1 year assignment to Egypt starting sometime this fall. We have turned this over to God and it will be….or not. We would LOVE to be sent”
“To walk with our friends in their time of grieving. To support them in any way we are able”
“Helping care for my extended family – health issues; relationship issues; extending love and understanding to growing adolescents”
“My “YES” to God – gladly caring for my semi-invalid husband. He is so precious to me. My “YES” to people God brings into my life”
“Learning to love my “enemies” – being more accepting of people I think of as “other” – homeless, street-entrenched people, people with addictions and mental health issues. I need to see these people as Jesus does”
“To accept the afflictions and diseases God has for me”
“Yes to praying for a refugee”
“My yes to God means to pay attention when He speaks and be obedient”
“Yes to opening my home to someone who needs a place to stay”
“Assist a cousin dealing with a deep depression”
“Caring for the needs and happiness of others before my own comfort”
By God’s mercy and grace, may we continue to say yes to God!
Thank you to all of you at Emmanuel for your support and affirmation during this portion of my study leave. One of my projects during this time was this short video for MennoMedia as part of some new curriculum for youth called Claim(ing) Faith. Although it features youth, the content is multi-generational. “Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you” (James 4:8). What practices help you to draw near to God?
As part of Mennonite Church Canada and Being a Faithful Church, this year we’ve been talking about how we interpret Scripture, particularly the “paths” of good biblical interpretation like paying attention to context and the “ditches” like prooftexting that we need to avoid. Here’s a short video on reading the Old Testament by Iain Provan of Regent College:
The Emmanuel Mennonite Youth had a wonderful time preparing and serving during the worship service on Sunday April 14th. It was a joy to experiment and explore what a multi-voiced sermon time could look like for our community. It is the hope of the youth group that you left the service feeling as if you participated with them significantly in worship, conversation and wonderment over the Matthew 25:31-46 text.
As we navigated the questions together, we asked the question “If you could add to this story (Matthew 25:31-46), what would you add?” The answers we received were astounding and encouraging. I would like to use this space as a place in which to share how we as a community would add to this classic text. Thank you to those who handed in their sheets to the ushers.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me….”
- Matthew 25:35,36
when I felt no one cared you gave me a place to belong.
when my home was shabby and falling apart you helped me improve and make it cheerful.
I was young and you listened to me.
I was old and you honoured me.
I needed money for school and you sent some for me.
I needed a phone call when I was sick and you called me.
when I was hooked on drugs, cigarettes, and liquor you sent volunteers to visit, comfort, and show love.
when I told you I was gay, you welcomed me.
I was bullied and you stepped in.
I was depressed and you encouraged me.
I was invisible and you saw me.
I was untouchable and you embraced me.
When I was mocked, you stood up for me.
What would you add?
For my April 7 sermon, I asked “why are we here as a church?” More pointedly, in what ways do we bear witness to Jesus?
I shared two primary ways that I see our congregation bearing witness to Jesus:
1. Worship – this is one of the primary ways we have of being church together, worship is part of what it means to follow Jesus, it helps to define who we are.
2. Empowering people to use their God-given gifts both within and beyond the church.
Then I asked the congregation–what would you add as a third thing to this list? Or would your list of three things look entirely different?
Here are the answers I’ve received so far, mainly by email:
- hospitality – “This is the friendliest church I’ve ever been to.”
- service – “So many people are in service vocations or have been in voluntary service, and we have a higher proportion than most churches of people serving in different ways in the church and in the community.”
- search for community, or a sense of belonging
- to encourage one another
- to nurture and encourage the development of committed disciples, responding in friendship to those in spiritual and material distress in our community
- to love and be loved
- to help build His Kingdom through His church
- and one question: could we perhaps sing one less song each Sunday and read more Scripture, and be known as a church that reads Scripture?
More answers are welcome in person, by email, or be brave and please leave a comment below.