Pastor’s Blog

Located in the town of Vineland, Ontario, we are a small, friendly,  inter-generational church in the Anabaptist tradition that worships God and together seeks to follow Jesus’ example.   We have a long history—we were the first Mennonite church in Canada.  On this site you can learn about the people and the work of our church, find directions to our facility, and learn about our history.  You are welcome to join us!

Worship Service at 11:00 Sunday mornings (10:30 a.m. 1st Sunday in July through Labour Day)  Sunday School for all ages begins at 10:00, except in summer.  Hope to see you there!

Pot-luck lunch usually on the first Sunday of the month (except in July/Aug)

3357 Rittenhouse Rd, Vineland (see directions page for details)
 

We look forward to meeting you!

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Death? Yes. Resurrection? YES!

In the 1997 blockbuster film Titanic, Jack and Rose enjoy a fairy-tale romance aboard the giant ocean liner.  Disaster strikes when the unsinkable ship hits an iceberg and sinks and Jack drowns.  But in the film’s last scene, we see Jack and Rose, back to life, reunited on the ship’s grand staircase, as if the tragedy were but a bad dream.

Unless it’s the bad guys, it seems that Hollywood does not much like death.  It’s happier to just live on and on, immortal.

Which is what Jesus did not do.   He really died.  He did not just appear to die.  He did not just live on in the hearts and minds of his friends.  Nor did he have some “immortal soul” or  “divine spark” that endured after his body expired.  Jesus was really, truly, completely dead.

And then God turned the tables on death.  All four gospels, along with the Apostle Paul, affirm that Jesus was raised from the dead.  It’s the resurrection that stands at the heart of Christian faith, not some “immortality” of a soul that just goes on and on.

The truth of Jesus’s resurrection, though, takes a while to dawn on Jesus’s friends.  In our text for this Easter Sunday (John 20:1-18), Peter, the chief disciple, races to the open tomb, enters it, and sees grave clothes lying about.  But does not come out crying, “Jesus is alive!”  He just goes away.

The other disciple with Peter (possibly John) also sees the empty tomb.  Unlike Peter, he “believes,” but it is not clear what he believes.

And Mary Magdalene, perhaps Jesus’s closest friend, is so distraught with grief that the two angels in the empty tomb are only annoyances to her.  Even when she meets Jesus clothed as a gardener, she does not recognize him, and only pleads for her dear friend’s dead body to be returned.

If it’s hard for Hollywood to accept that death is really death, it was also hard for the dead Jesus’s followers to believe that he had been made alive.

But they finally do become convinced.  And then there’s no stopping them.  They go into the world with the audacious claim that, while death is—yes—real, Jesus’s resurrection is–YES!– also real.  More real, even, than death.

If we’re honest, we’ll admit that Hollywood has got it wrong.  Our experience tells us that life can be tragic, and that death is real.

And then, our faith assures us that we need not fear that unpleasant truth, because death is not the last word.  The last word belongs to God, and that word is resurrection.

He is risen!  Happy Easter.on

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Jesus’s Palm Sunday parade. Huh?

Imagine waiting for the arrival of the Queen of England.  You are in a thick crowd that lines the street.  Anticipation fills the air.  Finally the motorcade comes into sight.  First come the advance cars.  The people around you wave flags and cheer wildly.   Finally the great woman herself comes into view.  Her upper body is visible, so she must be standing in an open-topped  limousine.  Then you see the limousine, and—huh?

Something is wrong.  She is not riding in an armor-plated black SUV after all.  Her Majesty is riding a bicycle.  Huh?  What can this mean?  A Queen who is not haughty but humble, not proud but unassuming, not ruling from on high but identifying with us earthlings?

In his account of Jesus’s “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem (21:1-11), Matthew doesn’t put Jesus on a bicycle.  But he does seat him—huh?–on a donkey.  A what?

In the Old Testament prophetic book of Zechariah, which Matthew quotes, the donkey is a lowly, humble animal, in contrast to the war horses kings usually ride.  So Jesus’s choice of entry vehicle may be saying something about his reign—that he is—huh?–a servant “king,” not the militant conquering victor from God which many were expecting.

The donkey also can be a symbol of ridicule and scorn.  Julie and I learned this while teaching in the West African country of Ghana years ago.   Mennonite Central Committee had sent a Canadian agricultural expert to advise the Ghana Mennonite Church farmers on how to improve their yields.  The farmers wanted expensive tractors.  The expert recommended donkeys, because these animals would be more economical and sustainable.

Huh?  The farmers were insulted.  “Donkeys?” they gasped in amazement.  “We’ll be laughed at by our neighbors!  We’ll be known as ‘the donkey church!’”

Perhaps by riding a donkey, Jesus is also mocking the kings and rulers who were riding so arrogantly atop their magnificent steeds.   By his choice of entry vehicle, he may be saying, “In God’s reign, true power comes not through your instruments of war.  God’s power, in your eyes, looks insulting, ridiculous, laughable—like a—huh?–donkey.”

When Friday of Jesus’s triumphal entry week comes, we’ll see the supreme expression of God’s power.   And, like that donkey, it will not look at all powerful.  But for those with eyes of faith, that lowly, scornful cross will be, as the Apostle Paul puts it, “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).

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April 6 sermon — Lazarus, Jesus and questions

The raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45)–a story that reeks of anger, grief and death–is a long and puzzling one.  Not least is it puzzling because it seems out of place in the Lenten lectionary cycle.   Easter is the Sunday to celebrate resurrection from the dead.  But Easter is still two weeks away.  Why, this Sunday, still deep in Lent, do we have an Easter story before Easter?

Four verbs are prominent in the story, and they also raise puzzling questions.

11:6 – “Remain.”  Jesus “remained” out in the countryside four days before proceeding to the bedside of his sick friend Lazarus.  Perhaps a better translation would be “dawdled,” because by the time Jesus gets to Lazarus’s house, his beloved friend has died.  Why doesn’t Jesus “rush” when he gets the news?  Why does he “dawdle?”

11:36 – “Weep.”  Here is the shortest verse in the Bible:  “Jesus wept.”  Why?  Because he is moved to tears by his friend’s death?  Because of his empathy for Mary and Martha, who are also grieving?  Because of the lack of faith in God’s power Jesus sees in the people around him?  Because of his identification with weak, suffering humanity?   And does Jesus’s weeping imply that Almighty God also weeps?

11:43 – “Come out.”  Why does Jesus bring life to the dead Lazarus by means of a command, rather than, say, by touching him, or by snapping his fingers like a magician might do?  It seems as if Jesus is expecting Lazarus to play a part in his own rising.  Is Jesus also commanding us to “come out” of something, in order to experience his aid?

11:44—“Unbind.”  Jesus also issues a command to the bystanders:  “Unbind him, let him go.”  Why doesn’t Jesus himself finish the raising that he began with his command by also stripping off the grave clothes?  Why does he ask others to complete  his job?  Is Jesus also asking us, his followers, to unbind, release, set free other people?  If so, what are the “graveclothes” that bind people up in death?

Many questions about this strange story.  But perhaps the most important ones for us are:  “How am I Lazarus?   How is God wanting me to experience Easter before Easter?”

 

 

 

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March 30 sermon — How do I see?

What does it mean to “see?”  Here’s what the dictionary says:

“See,” verb.

  1. to look at, view, scan

“I see a blue sky.  I see clouds.  I don’t see any birds.  I see people rushing to work.  I see a boy kissing a girl.”

  1. to perceive, discern, understand

“I see beauty in the sky, clouds and birds.  I see that our fast-paced world is stressful.  Can’t you see that I love you?  I don’t see the answer to my problem.  Now I’ve seen the light!”

We see, and then, at a deeper level–sometimes in an “ah-ha!” moment–we SEE.

Our New Testament text for this Sunday (John 9:1-41) is a biting, witty drama in several acts.  Jesus, the disciples, the Pharisees, family and friends see a blind man.   Upon meeting Jesus, the blind man sees.  As the story unfolds, he–ah-ha!– SEES more and more.  The bystanders see what happens to the blind man. And they think they SEE who Jesus is.  But surprise!  They don’t SEE at all, and the light they think they have is really darkness.

Some Lenten questions for us:  what do we see in the world around us that brings us pain, grief, courage, hope, joy?   How do we SEE God in these things?  When have we confused light with darkness and darkness with light?  If Jesus would touch our eyes, how might we SEE differently?

 

 

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March 23 sermon — first thoughts

Our human body can live weeks without food, but only days without water.  Water!  Cooling, cleansing, refreshing.  Whether it comes in the lake in which we swim, in the rain which moistens the ground, or in the cup from which we drink, water indeed is life-giving.  Little wonder that for Jesus, living in hot, dry Palestine, water signified life–not just refreshed physical life, but also the life which flows from God’s Spirit.

Centuries ago, St. Augustine testified to a truth he had come to learn only through much spiritual anguish: “Our hearts are restless, O God, until they find rest in thee.”  We could paraphrase Augustine’s words like this:  “Our inner thirst is never quenched, O God, until we drink from your-life-giving stream.”

In our primary New Testament scripture for this Sunday (John 4:5-42), Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a public well and asks for a drink.  In so doing, he crosses social, moral and religious barriers.  In the conversation that follows, Jesus offers the woman living water.  Their opening dialogue centers on water in both the earthly and spiritual sense.  It then moves to a discussion of the woman’s personal life.  Gradually the woman grows in her openness to and understanding of Jesus.  Her response to him climaxes in her request for living water and her witness to Jesus among her townspeople.

Lent is a time for self-examination.  Some questions we might consider:  What are my ‘thirsts’?   If Jesus were to probe my personal life, what would we talk about?  What might  ‘living water’ from God mean for me?

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March 16 sermon preview — Born again, from above

Birth is a wonder and a mystery.  In the Bible, the birth of a child is a festive occasion.  Elizabeth and her neighbors, for example, celebrate joyously when her son John is born (Lk. 1:57-58).

Birth can also be a mixed blessing.  Mothers well know that the miracle of birth is accompanied by pain and suffering.   The pangs and agony of birth are frequent figures of speech in the Bible (Isa. 42:14, Rev. 12:2).

In our New Testament Lenten scripture for Sunday from John 3:1-17, Jesus uses birth as a metaphor for the new life God wants to give us.

But as with human childbirth, being born through God’s Spirit does not come easily.    Just ask Nicodemus, whom we meet in this text.  He simply cannot grasp the idea of being “born again.”

“You must be born again” has been a frequent theme of evangelistic preaching,  through revival meetings and highway billboards.  In such usage, the one needing to be “born again” usually is understood to be an unbeliever outside the family of faith.

But Nicodemus is not this kind of person.    He is not an outsider to faith, but an insider.  He is not a sinner on the road to ruin because his deeds are not wicked but good (or at least respectable).  As a teacher of Israel, not unbelief, but belief–careful exposition of the traditions of Israel’s faith–has been Nicodemus’s business for a long time.

But it is solid, devout, righteous Nicodemus the believer whom Jesus says must be “born again.”  And the alarming thing is that Nicodemus misunderstands and resists Jesus’  words.  He is unable to grasp the depth of his need.

As with physical birth, spiritual rebirth, too, often seems to be accompanied by birth pangs.

The good news is that God wants to bring more abundant and joyful life to birth in us.   Some questions for Lent might be:  how well do we know Nicodemus?  What new things might God want to bring to birth in us?  Do we have the courage to undergo the stretching, perhaps anguish, that may be necessary for this new life of God to be born in us?

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Lent: preparation for Easter

As Easter approaches, many churches observe the season of Lent.   The word “Lent” comes from an Old English word for spring, and originally referred to the “lengthening” of days in springtime.   It is during these lengthening days leading up to Easter that Lent is celebrated.

Lent is a season of penitence for sin.  It is sometimes accompanied by fasting, or by giving up something as a token of penitence.   Lent begins 6 weeks before Easter, on Ash Wednesday (March 5). In the early church, ashes from the burning of the previous Easter season’s palm branches were placed on the heads of worshippers, as a symbol of their penitence.

During Lent, baptismal candidates in the early church–who already had had three years of instruction–underwent a final 6 to 12-week period of preparation leading to baptism on Easter Sunday.  They prayed, fasted, underwent rites of exorcism, and were taught the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  The entire faith community prayed and fasted with them.

In the early church, Lent also was a time for the reconciliation of those who, by reason of grave sin, had been excluded from the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  Lent emphasized that believers needed the ongoing support and care of the Christian community if they were to be able to live out their faithfulness in the world.

The traditional color of Lent is violet, appropriate for a time of self-examination, confession, and penitence.   Like Advent, Lent can be a time when we prepare ourselves for the most important of all Christian celebrations–Easter, when Jesus was raised from the dead.   Lent can also be the time for us to examine ourselves spiritually and seek renewal.   It can be the season for us to confess our sins, to symbolize our penance by a personal sacrifice, to be reconciled with those from whom we have fallen away or who have drifted from our church, to ponder anew the death of Christ for our sins, to prepare to meet our risen Lord in the glorious celebration of Easter, and to recommit ourselves to him and the body which emerged from his death and resurrection, the church.

In our morning worship services during the 5 Sundays of Lent, which this year begin on March 9, we will follow a Lenten theme, “Encountering God:  what have we witnessed?”   May this Lenten season be a time for us to examine ourselves and to discover afresh the spirit of the risen Christ.

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