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)

3557 Rittenhouse Rd, Vineland (see directions page for details)
 

We look forward to meeting you!

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The anxiety machine

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear…” (Matt. 6:25).

Some time ago a newspaper carried a report that a new airport scanner may soon be examining us when we pass through airport security.  Along with peering at what’s inside or under our clothing, this new scanner will also be measuring something inside our hearts and minds—our anxiety level.

At present, when we head for our flight gate, we pass through a metal detector, which sets off a buzzer  if we forget to remove our belt or the loonie in our pocket.  Our reward:  a security agent pats and wands us down as if we are really a suspicious character.

But apparently a device is now being developed to also measure our anxiety.  Like a polygraph, it looks for sharp changes in body temperature, pulse and breathing.  That way it’s supposed to be able to determine whether we’re showing the signs of stress a would-be terrorist would be showing.  If our heartbeat or breathing are elevated, we would be taken to another area and interviewed in front of a camera that measure tiny facial movements to determine if someone is lying.  So if this new machine really comes to pass, we’ll have a new worry:  whether we can get through airport security without showing that we’re worried.

We live in an anxious world, made ever more so by the constant news cycle that plays up mayhem and death.  And the measures we put in place to address our worries—such as anti-terrorist measures, including that anxiety-measuring machine– often end up making us more anxious.

In our main scripture for Sunday, Oct. 26, from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus addresses the problem of anxiety.  He knows that we worry about many things, and that we often strenuously strive to secure our lives against the insecurities and dangers that worry us.

And Jesus proposes an antidote to excessive worry the anxiety-machines of our hearts and minds generate.  His answer has a lot to do with trusting in a God who cares deeply about us and the world, and living freely under that God’s reign.

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Praying as Jesus prayed

How should we pray?

That is a question over which believers have wrestled, saints have pondered, and volumes have been written over the ages.

Sometimes we pray like the man in this story prayed.  This man had a seminary education, and so presumably had studied things like prayer.  He and his family and friends went hiking in the woods.   Toward the end of the afternoon they stopped for a rest.  To his horror, the man discovered that his 9 year old daughter was missing.   He became frantic, and for the next two hours everyone searched through the forest to find this little girl.  This man’s prayer started off as, “Dear Lord, help me find my daughter.”  After about an hour, he became more frantic and his prayer became, “Dear Lord, if you help me find my girl, I will be the best dad ever, and I will never raise my voice at her, ever again.”  Then as the sun was going down, and as he was becoming desperate, his prayer became, “God if anything happens to her, we’re through!  You hear me?  I’m not going to do you will ever again, I’m not going to talk to you ever again, and I’m going to hate you forever!”  The man did find is daughter, but chances are it wasn’t  because he was threatening God.

In our main scripture for Sunday, October 19 from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:7-13), Jesus addresses the question of how to pray.   His answer, known as “The Lord’s prayer,” has become so familiar that perhaps we miss what Jesus teaches us about the nature of the God to whom we pray, about the proper priority of our prayers, and about what we need most to survive every day.

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Ordinary thanksgiving

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22).

There once was a turkey named Bill who lived on a farm, lovingly attended by a farmer and his family.  Bill strutted, preened his feathers, and gobbled as if he owned the barnyard.  Bill was also handsome, colorful, and mean.  No one–neither animals nor people–liked him, but everyone respected him.  Eventually Bill paid the supreme price for being a turkey, in a land where we annually give thanks decree of our government.  Bill’s life ended on the Thanksgiving dinner table as an ample symbol of God’s grace and nature’s bounty.

If you are like me, you will be eating turkey this long weekend.  Can you imagine Thanksgiving without it?  But it was not always so.  It used to be that turkeys like Bill were special, the fare of only the well-to-do.  If you did have the good fortune to have one for your Thanksgiving table, it indeed was reason for thanking God.  Now Bill and his kin can be bought for under $1.00 a pound.

Which raises an important question:  can you and I see God’s hand, God’s gift, in common, taken-for-granted, and inexpensive things like turkeys?  Can you and be I thankful, joyously thankful, for things that are ordinary, predictable and routine?

Near the end of the story of Noah and the flood, God assures the world of his gracious provision.  The things that we take for granted, like seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, are hardly miracles because they are so ordinary.  Yet they, along with the unexpected surprise or miraculous deliverance for which we might thank God, are also divine gifts for which we should be thankful.

And that includes the common, ordinary turkeys that will grace our dinner tables this weekend.   They, too, are gracious gifts of God, sent from heaven above.

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A taste of what’s to come

If you go to a fancy dinner party, chances are that you will be served an appetizer—crackers and cheese, grapes, hors-d’oeuvres, fruit punch, wine.  An appetizer is food, but it is not the dinner.  It is food that anticipates, promises, whets the appetite for the main course that will be served in a little while.

Pioneers who crossed the North American prairies sometimes were given an appetizer of the destination towards which they were moving.   After a long hard trek, the wagon trains would climb a mountain, and from the top the pioneers could see, way off in the distance, the lush plain that would be their future home.  That brief glimpse was a promise, a foretaste, an appetizer of the new land ahead of them.  It would encourage and energize them to keep on trekking.

This Sunday, October 5, those attending The First Mennonite Church will be offered an appetizer.   It will be food, though not a meal.  It will be a glimpse of a new land, not a final destination.  We call the appetizer that we will be invited to receive “communion.”

The bread and cup of communion offer a taste now, ahead of time, of the banquet which God will make for all people at the full coming of God’s Kingdom.  The bread and cup offer a glimpse of the city of God that is coming, where the sick are healed and the hungry are fed and all wars cease.  Like our tasty pre-dinner appetizers,  the bread and cup of communion whet our appetites to keep on trekking  in faith toward the restored creation that is coming, in which God and humanity will live together in harmony.

Jesus invited his disciples to eat the bread and drink the cup, out of loyalty to him and in anticipation of God’s coming Kingdom.    The same invitation is also there for us.  Let us come and eat, give thanks and rejoice.

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The hardest love

Perhaps the hardest, and most controversial, of Jesus’s teachings are his commands to not “resist” evildoers, and to love our enemies.  These words are found in Matthew 5:38-48, our text for Sunday, September 21.

One person who overcame his hatred of the enemy was Father Hugh O’Flaherty, a Vatican priest in Rome during World War 2.  During the war, Colonel Herman Kappler commanded the Nazi SS forces occupying Rome.   Kappler was a harsh overlord.  When a bomb killed 32 German soldiers in Rome, Kappler responded by executing 320 prisoners.

Father O’Flaherty ran an underground network that aided escaped Allied prisoners of war and Jews.  One day Kappler decided to apprehend this troublesome priest when he made a visit outside his Vatican enclave.  But discovering the plot, O’Flaherty escaped through a coal shute.  Kappler tried other ploys to capture and kill the priest, but was always outsmarted.

After the war, Colonel Kappler was tried, convicted for war crimes, and sentenced to life imprisonment for his slaughter of the 320.  Only one person ever visited Kappler in prison. For years, almost every month, Father Hugh O’Flaherty would call on the former Nazi.  Though he risked his life to save many whose lives were threatened by Kappler, the priest also knew that he was called to forgive and love his enemy.

Loving this enemy was not easy for Father O’Flaherty.  To the end of his life, he was marked by the pain and horror perpetrated by the former Nazi colonel.  Yet Father O’Flaherty found the resources to visit him and show him the love of Christ.  In March, 1959, former SS colonel Herman Kappler was baptized into Christ by Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty.

Loving our own enemies–that is, seeking their welfare regardless of how they have treated us and how we may feel about them–is not easy either.  But Jesus seems to think it is possible for ordinary people who have begun to live in God’s reign to do so.  And as Father O’Flaherty’s story shows, sometimes our effort to love our enemies leads to reconcilation and their transformation.

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Communicate clearly

As an English teacher in China, communication could be a challenge—not only because of the difficulty of the Chinese language, but also because of how English could be used there.  I would often come across English signs that were, well, creative in their use of the language.  Foreigners called it “Chinglish.”  Some examples:

“Danger, No Nearing” (beside a steep drop-off along a mountain path)

“Please pass by tums, no crowding” (on a pedestrian walkway)

“The grass smile to you, please go around” (on a restricted area in a park)

And my favorite:  “Trip and fall down carefully” (on a freshly-mopped floor)

The communication wasn’t the clearest, but the point was usually made.

In one of our New Testament texts for Sunday, September 14, Peter urges his congregations to be careful and clear in their communication–not on their signs, but in their words and deeds regarding who they are and what they stand for:  “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).   Peter’s churches were being looked upon suspiciously, as a kind of cult engaged in superstitious or anti-social behavior.  Hence clear communication about who these “Christians” were, and why they lived as they did, was imperative.

Our Anabaptist forbears communicated their convictions clearly—so clearly that many of them were tortured and killed.

Today we are not burned at the stake for our beliefs.  In fact, our culture allows us religious people to believe pretty much anything, so long as we keep it to ourselves and do not try to communicate it too loudly.

Still, Peter’s challenge to the church to clearly communicate its convictions remains.  What does The First Mennonite Church communicate about who it is, what it believes, and why it lives as it does?   Is our witness such that outsiders will be curious and ask us about the hope that is in us?

 

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Upside-down blessing

Recently a friend signed off an email with these words:  “It’s time to go watch some depressing news and then get to bed.”

She was right.  The news is depressing.  The headlines this week include stories about ongoing fighting in Ukraine, the beheading of an American journalist by Islamic extremists in Iraq, continuing tensions between Israel and Palestinians, and the worsening Ebola epidemic in West Africa.  At home, teachers in British Columbia are on strike, and there are continuing calls for a federal inquiry into murdered Aboriginal women.  And there are many local bad news stories.

The news was also depressing in Jesus’s day:  Roman soldiers oppressing Jews and desecrating God’s holy soil of Palestine, rich dominating poor, children sold into debt slavery, disease, suffering, and early death.  And that was the news  in the ordinary times.  It was even worse during times of war.

But in our main text for Sunday, September 7, from the Gospel of Matthew (5:1-16), Jesus  does not advise, “Turn off the television, throw away the newspaper, escape into video games, curl up into bed and shut out the bad world.”    Quite the contrary.    Instead, he asks:  “Do you feel discouraged and hopeless over the state of the world?   Do you mourn the loss of someone who was a victim of injustice?  Do you burn inside with a passion borne out of pain that the world become a better place?  If so, then congratulations!  Good for you!  You should be happy!   Because it is you—you in your discouragement and need and pain–who are blessed.

A rather upside-down blessing, for those who seem anything but blessed.  But then, the Kingdom of God whose arrival Jesus announced is an upside-down Kingdom.  Not the smugly self-assured and insulated but the poor in spirit; not the satisfied but those starving for righteousness; not the dishonest and the hypocrites but the pure in heart; not the judgmental but the merciful; not the purveyors of violence but the peacemakers are the ones positioned to receive God’s Kingdom.  They are the ones who will fit in and be at home there.

 

 

               

 

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