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A place of restful trust…

September 5, 2011

Scripture text:  Isaiah 32

It’s Thursday morning, and I’m sitting at McDonalds while my van is being worked on next door.   The scene around me is feel good Americana.  The regular crowd is gathering to read the paper, drink coffee and trade stories.  The conversation flows easily.  There is talk of the start of the football season, the Eagles game that night, the good meal you can get at the Elks lodge on Friday night and an upcoming trip to New York.

On the other side of the dining area another group works on Sudoko as FOX news streams from the television on the wall.  A veteran has lost his leg in service of country. There is a golf tournament in Dallas on this day to raise money for the families of veterans.

Close by, a middle-aged man in camouflage shorts and a t-shirt sits down with his breakfast and strikes up a conversation with the man an adjacent booth.

Did you serve overseas?  I saw your tattoo.  Usually when I see a guy your age with a tat, I assume he has served in the military overseas. 

Where did you serve?

He talks about the war movies he watches.  He laments that conventional warfare is a thing of the past.  Today it’s all about dropping bombs…guys sitting at computers. 

He talks about growing up blue collar…about not being religious…about going to church every now and then…about Religion is a manmade thing…about having faith, but not being catholic.  He thinks they are too into Mary.

This is the scene where sermon work became grounded this week.  Read more…

Pittsburgh Examen…

July 13, 2011

Mennonites from across the United States traveled to Pittsburgh last week for our biennial assembly.  We gathered as children, youth and adults of all ages.  We gathered to worship, to connect and to discern together the mind of the Spirit as we seek our missional vocation in the world.  Here is an examen of the week in a bit of a stream of consciousness style.

Gratitude for the Pastor’s Day gathering…for the holy informality and musical gift of Brad Yoder who channelled Mary Oyer and led us on various journeys with the same song (i.e. “Somebody prayed for me“)…for the stories and challenge shared by Mary Thiessen-Nation…for the vision and challenge of John Stahl-Wert…stories about bridges out of poverty…about kingdom vocations extending into the private sector of for-profit business…for a theology of place which has taken root in Pittsburgh and flourished through the ministries of Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation, Pittsburgh Mennonite Church, PULSE and Fernando’s Cafe…for the acknowledgement of mutual treasures across various Christian traditions and between the church and business leaders.

Gratitude for the story of welcoming the stranger at Habeckers…of the stranger becoming us.

Gratitude for the overall spirit of the gathering in Pittsburgh. I sensed a shift from a greater level of anxiety and divisiveness at Columbus 2009. Gratitude for the Pittsburgh Experiment that seemed to open up a different space and a different way of being together as delegates.  The space was more about communal discernment than Robert’s rules. Gratitude for the grace manifested at delegate table 19 as we dwelled in the word, listened to stories, and worked together at discernment.

Gratitude for a creative space that allowed for the prophetic voice to speak from the front and the back of the ballroom.  In awe of the diversity of gifts and callings among the people of God.  Stirred by a prophetic voice coming from a universalist trapped in an Anabaptist body. Read more…

SMC Litany…

May 24, 2011

We are…Sunnyside people…urban people…suburban people…rural  people
Some new…some old…some not-yet born…some gone on to their eternal home

We’re from wealth and we’re from poverty
We’re from tradition and we’re from pushing the edges
We’re from Cambodia, Detroit, Franconia, Guatemala City and Lancaster County

Ordinary people…living between harsh reality and expectant hope
Ordinary people…risking failure and disappointment; trusting vision and imagination
Ordinary people…reaching towards God’s extra-ordinary dreams for us.

Austin, Beiler, Benny, Blantz-Philips, Bowman, Bredeman, Burkhart, Castañon,
Cynthia and Lulu, David and Kevin, Denlinger, Derksen, DiCola, Ebersole, Frey
Greiser, Hawryluk, Herr, Hershberger, Hess, Hickey, Hunter

Ordinary people…cultivating communities of faith, hope and love.

We are…Sunnyside people…urban people…suburban people…rural people
Seeking unity as we gather to worship and give honor to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

We’re from acapella hymns, worship teams, bluegrass, and orchestra
We’re from spoken confessions, silence, honoring desolations and consolations
We’re from open hands receiving the bread of Communion and the Blessing of Benediction.

Ordinary people…belonging in groups…Life Group, Sister Care, Men’s Group, Silent Friends, Junior High, Youth Group, Young at Heart
Ordinary people…”believing, behaving and belonging”, or is it “belonging, behaving and believing?”
Ordinary people…longing for deeper communion and a fuller revelation of God’s love among us.

Kauffman, Kilheffer, Landes, Landis, Lapp, Lattanzio, Leaman, Lengacher
Martin, Matz, Mellinger, Miller, Mullen
Ortega, Patterson, Rich & Leah, Ricketts, Riehl

Ordinary people…cultivating communities of faith, hope and love.

We are… Sunnyside people…urban people…suburban people…rural people
We scatter to carry the fragrance of Jesus into our communities and around our world

We’re from Tuesday Night at the House and Wednesday nights in homes
We’re from mission assignments, summer work teams, and community gardens
We’re from first Sunday School in a dance hall to a “Ridiculous” First Friday band

Ordinary people…trusting that God is already at work in our communities and our world
Ordinary people…honoring body, mind and spirit in the face of all humanity
Ordinary people…offering vulnerable hospitality…willing to risk the messiness of relationships

Sauder, Scheaffer, Scheid, Shenk, Shoemaker, Shultz, Smith, Sprunger,
Stauffer, Stoltzfus, Stoner, TJ, Trey, Trimble, Tshudy, Warfel,
Weaver, Weidman, Winchell, Winter, Witmer, Wright, Yoder, Zach and Zehr

Ordinary people…extra-ordinary people…cultivating communities of faith, hope and love.

And now these three abide…Our Centered Faith, Our Rooted Hope, Our Grounded Love
And the greatest of these is Love.  Amen.

(Litany written by Jean Lengacher for the installation of Jason Kuniholm as bishop of Lancaster District)



That you may grow into salvation…

May 23, 2011

Baptism Service at Weaver’s Pond
Scripture:  1 Peter 2:2-10

Mackenzie came to me with a homework assignment this week.  The assignment was to interview me (a parent) and ask what one belief or tenet I try to live my life by and would want her to remember as she goes through life.  What would you have said?  It is difficult to boil it down to one statement, but this is what came to me on Wednesday evening:  God is love.

The other Saturday Jansen, Hollyn and I went out to plant garden.  We got the seeds, worked the soil and planted green beans, zucchini and carrots.  I have been wondering how all the rain we have had will effect what we planted.  We watch and wait and trust.

In many ways it is the same with our baptism.  Like seeds going into the ground, in a new way today each of you is expressing a desire to be planted in the soil of God’s love.  Baptism reminds us that like seeds, we must die with Christ so that we may be raised with him in newness of life (Romans 6:4).  Baptism is a sign of entering into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We watch and wait and trust for the new life that will emerge.

Hear these words from Isaiah 43 (1, 4).  “I have called you by name, you are mine.  You are precious in my sight, and I love you.”  Today, you are expressing your yes to God’s love.  As you remember your baptism, may you remember that you are rooted and grounded in God’s love.

Richard Rohr has a book that has just come out  entitled:  Falling Upward:  A Spirituality  for the Two Halves of Life.  He says there are two major tasks in the human spiritual journey.  The task of the first half of life is to  answer some central questions.  “Who am  I?”  “What makes me significant?”  “How can I support myself?”  “Who will go with me?”

You are in the first half of life.  As you live into these questions, may you be  rooted and grounded in God’s love. Read more…

Green pastures, peaceful streams…and feasting with enemies

May 16, 2011

Easter 4A
Text: Psalm 23 and Acts 2:42-47

The invitation of the Spirit this morning is to examine our week and sit with the words from Scripture. Our task is to hold all that was our lives in the last week as we sit with the text.  The Spirit has been with us throughout the week. The Spirit is inviting us into this text.

As we center ourselves in the text, I invite us to be aware of our breathing, which is the ever present gift of life from our Creator.

I invite us to allow our bodies to be at rest in this sanctuary…gathered together as a community in the presence of God…

I invite you to close your eyes. I will lead us in an examen of our week. Then I will read the words from Scripture. We will take our time. This isn’t about a transfer of knowledge. It is about being present with God as he is present with us.

As we move through this time feel free to write down any words or images that come to you. But don’t feel pressure to have some kind of experience. Just relax and trust the Spirit to lead us.

Examen of Week:

What was your week like? Places you went. The people you were with. Tasks… Conversations…

What emotions did you experience this week?

What challenges did you face this week? What opportunities came your way?

What drained you and depleted you? What was life-giving and energizing for you?

1The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need.

Were there places this week where you felt scattered…where you wondered if you had everything you needed?

As you look back on your week—all that it was and all that it wasn’t—can you say: The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need. Read more…

A hopeful lean into the future…

May 9, 2011

Easter 3A
Scripture: Luke 24:13-34

The accounts of the resurrection are remarkably inclusive. Jesus appears as a gardener to a woman who had faithfully followed him. He appears to the disciples gathered behind locked doors in Jerusalem. Later on he will appear to Saul—a zealous persecutor—on the road to Damascus. If Jesus is interested in establishing a selective power structure, we don’t see that based on who he encounters after the Resurrection.

The Emmaus story is an indication that there is room in the Resurrection movement even for bit characters. We never hear of Cleopas before this account or again after this passage. We never learn the name of his companion. In terms of the big picture of the church and its mission they are nobodies. They are ordinary people who have been following Jesus and his disciples. They could be any one of us.

This week we learned that a thirty-something Colombian leader has been named to lead Mennonite World Conference and that the office is moving from Strasbourg, France to Bogotá, Colombia. For much of church history the Jesus story was told through the lens of power–through a European lens. This handoff of leadership to the global South seems to be aligned with the narrative arc of the Emmaus story.

For Cleopas and his companion the story is over. They are walking back home. Jesus has died and they have lost their faith and hope. They are not looking for him; in fact, they don’t even recognize him when he joins them. Their hearts are heavy.

Richard Rohr says that all great spirituality is about what we do with our pain. I have an acquaintance who two years ago was planting a church. There was conflict and he was asked to leave by denominational leaders.  Today he views religion as a prop that limits humans from being all they can be. He has moved beyond organized religion. I share this not to pick apart his story—or judge where he is standing. But just to ground this Emmaus story in real life. Disillusionment with God, the church, religion is real. We have our own stories to tell.

The Emmaus story provides a hopeful image—that we are not alone in our pain and confusion. The image is of God walking alongside human confusion, pain and loss of faith and hope. Emmaus invites us to expect God to seek us out in these places. But Jesus may come in a way that is unrecognizable. He may come as a stranger along an ordinary road, the road each of us is on every day.

Who is the stranger among us? (TED video until 5:17)

The Emmaus story challenges us to see that it isn’t our unshakable faith and deep spirituality that connect us with the risen Christ, but our smallest gestures of hospitality and friendship.

In the midst of their confusion—their slowness of heart—Cleopas and his companion respond to a stranger with hospitality. The stranger who has listened to their story…the stranger who has told their faith story back to them in a way they had not heard or seen before—even from their own scripture and tradition. This stranger is the one whom they invite to stay with them.

At supper when Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and gives them the bread, they recognize him, then almost immediately lose him again as he vanishes. The Emmaus story teaches us once again that we do not possess Jesus. Not when we gather at table around Scripture and the Breaking of Bread. Not when we invite him into our homes and our hearts.

This is sometimes hard to accept—as individuals…as the church. Perhaps this story invites us to let go of our need to control the Jesus story. Even when we have the Scriptures and knowledge of the tradition, the Risen Christ comes and goes. Jesus does not just stay at our table. Jesus is in the process of bringing healing and hope to the universe and everything in it. He has other roads to walk…other tables to show up at.

Even though Cleopas and his companion do not get to hold on to Jesus, their experience on the road and at table has transformed them. They immediately return to Jerusalem to find the disciples and the rest of their group.

I am beginning to wonder if Christian faith is less about words and more about paying attention. Paying attention to the gardener…the stranger walking with us along the road of life. Paying attention to our hearts—the heaviness we carry—and the hope that comes as we recognize God walking with us in those places.  I came across a poem this week that speaks to a way our hearts burn within us.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass…
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

– Mary Oliver

What is the task? How do we pay attention?

The youth group went on a prayer walk this week. They took their cameras along to take photos of places of desolation and consolation.

Outdoor prayer service at Binn’s Park that was being communicated in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language.

A tree that had been damaged when the building collapsed on Queen Street is sprouting new buds, with a backdrop of the new building that is going up where the collapsed building once stood.

Dumpsters at McCaskey have been painted (probably by high school art students) in unique and creative ways, turning a symbol of dirt and waste into art.

Where are the places we are carrying shattered hopes?  Here is a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer as we walk along the Emmaus Road this week:

“Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love.”

Bread of peace…

May 5, 2011

this is to remember
that on the same day Osama
bin Laden was killed
we had a fellowship meal
at church

alongside the ham balls
and cheesy potatoes
there was Turkish bread
and dirty rice with

though it is not our typical practice
to greet one another with hugs…
on this day we embraced
as brother and sister with open
arms and hearts

we sat together and talked
about weddings, jobs, a new house

we ate bread
shared between children of Abraham
who teaches us to welcome
strangers into our tent

Looking for resurrection…

April 24, 2011

Easter A
Scripture text:  John 20:1-18

The yearning for resurrection is all around us. Listen to these lyrics: “I’m living in an age/That calls darkness light….  Set my spirit free/Set my body free.”  They come from an album (Neon Bible) by Indie rock band Arcade Fire who won a Grammy for album of the year in February.  They make music with political and religious themes.    They also express a yearning for resurrection.

It is a yearning for renewal that I experience when I paint a room or dig in the dirt to plant a garden.  The yearning for resurrection is also in the groaning we hear when we pick up the newspaper, when we hear our brothers and sisters being detained in China as they gather for Easter worshipAll of created life is groaning waiting for the future God has prepared for us, we hope for the day on which all you have made will be rescued from death and decay, we wait for the redemption of our bodies and the restoration of our world.  (Roms 8:18-25)

In the midst of a groaning world, we turn once again to the gospel in which our hope is grounded.  In the account of resurrection in John’s gospel, Peter and John hear from Mary Magdalene that something has happened at the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid to rest.  They run to find out what has happened.

John gets there first, but its Peter who goes into the tomb only to find two piles of old clothes.  The linen wrappings are lying in a heap and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head is rolled up in a place by itself.  When John enters the tomb, he sees the same thing and believes.

Believes what?  That resurrection had taken place or that Mary’s report was true?  They saw and believed, but they did not yet understand.  If Peter and John were emoting we don’t see it in the text.  Encountering empty tombs where bodies have been laid can be confusing—disorienting.  They did not yet understand that Jesus must rise from the dead, so they see the empty linen clothes and return home.  Sounds like a journey inward.  Read more…

Beyond our vision…

April 18, 2011

Stumptown Mennonite Church
Matthew 21:1-11

At the core of Christian faith is the affirmation that God enters history as a human being. This affirmation calls us to examine what happens that gets him killed. Since today is Palm Sunday, it seems only right that we pick up the story with Matthew’s account of the events that lead to Jesus’ passion.

In chapter 15, the Pharisees and scribes come from Jerusalem to confront Jesus about some matters of right practice. There is the healing of the daughter of a Canaanite woman. Great crowds are following Jesus. There are more healings and the God of Israel is being praised. Peter confesses Jesus as the long-expected Messiah in the Roman city of Caesarea Philippi. Then in 16:21, Jesus begins to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die.

Their pilgrimage reaches the outskirts of Jerusalem in the town of Bethpage, on the Mount of Olives. As he has throughout his gospel, Matthew is clear about the connection between the unfolding events and the prophetic tradition of Israel.

The location is significant. The Mount of Olives was the traditional location where the Messiah was expected to appear. In Zechariah 14:1-5 the Mount of Olives is the place where the Lord declares he will stand in order to defeat those who have gathered in Jerusalem. From that mount the Lord will become king over all the earth.

The mode of transportation is also significant. Jesus rides on a donkey, Matthew tells us, because in Zech. 9:9 the ruler of God’s people will come in this way. In sending two of his disciples to go into the village and bring a donkey and colt back, Jesus is making preparations for an entry into the city of David in a way that would clearly be perceived as an explicit messianic claim.

If this is a triumphal entry, it is also unconventional. Donkeys are not a creature normally associated with kings. He has come to be acknowledged as king. But what kind of king?

Some commentaries actually imagine two processions into Jerusalem. On the opposite side of the city, the Roman governor—Pontius Pilate—will enter the city on a war horse at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. His purpose in coming is to maintain law and order during the days of the Jewish festival of Passover. Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God. Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire.

What does the crowd see?

Read more…

Beyond our vision…

April 3, 2011

Lent 4A
Scripture: John 9:1-41

This is a story about healing. It is also a story about seeing. It is about the way we see sin—in others…in ourselves.

The sin question emerges at the beginning of the text (v. 2). The disciples and Jesus are walking along; they see a man who has been blind from birth. The question: Jesus, who sinned, this man or his parents?

The question may seem strange to our ears. We do not interpret blindness as a sin issue. When we encounter a blind man making his way across a busy intersection, we may even admire the courage of a human being overcoming the challenges of a disability.

We might want to ask the disciples: how could the man have sinned in the womb? What are the temptations of a zygote, an embryo, a fetus?

Perhaps blaming the parents makes more sense to us. When we think of sin issues, we are aware of generational patterns. It is easy to blame parents for juvenile delinquency.

But Jesus does not seem to be interested in having a theological discussion about sin. He sees the situation of the blind man as an occasion to “work the works of the one who sent him.” Read more…