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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Heroes and saints

What is a hero?

A hero typically is someone of outstanding courage, strength and daring.  Heroes often risk their life, and perhaps die, in a battle against evil.  We honor such heroes with statues, memorials, and solemn services.

These days our culture, it seems, has a hunger for heroes.  Witness the outpouring of emotion following the fatal shootings of two Canadian soldiers last month, one of whom was standing ceremonial  guard at the War Memorial in Ottawa.  Many of the tributes to these men described them as “heroes.”   This past Remembrance Day ceremonies saw record crowds, increased poppy sales, and saturating media coverage.  Perhaps because of relentless bad news, the attack on Parliament in Ottawa, and the sense that Canada is not immune to the wars raging elsewhere, many people are looking for heroes who will fight for them and assure their security.

The New Testament, though, does not talk about “heroes.”   Its word for those who are to be celebrated is “saints.”   The word “saint” means “set apart” for God.  A saint is an ordinary, usually  unheroic,  follower  of Jesus who dedicates his or her life to Jesus’s way.

In our main scripture for Memorial Sunday, Nov. 23, from Revelation 7:9-17, it is the saints who are the “heroes.”  But they are a very different kind of hero.  The saints have given their lives not in a violent battle against evil, but in faithfulness to the Lamb (Christ).   From the world’s point of view, saints often seem to be weak, ineffective, and defeated by evil.   But from the point of view of heaven, the saints are strong and triumphant, because they share in the victory of Christ.  Saints are honored not with memorials on earth, but with white robes and crowns of life in heaven.

In our Memorial Sunday worship, when we remember those close to us who have died in the past year, we will reflect on heroes, and more importantly, on saints.

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Going down

At the heart of Alcoholics Anonymous is its Twelve-Step program.   The 12 steps are guiding principles outlining a course of action from addiction, compulsion, and other behavioral problems.

The first step is the critical one:  “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”  Going down, losing control, and admitting that loss, is the prerequisite for healing.

In our main scripture text for Sunday, Nov. 16 from 2 Kings 5, Namaan, the powerful and victorious commander of the Syrian army, finds himself in a perilous situation he cannot control.  He must embark on a painful journey downward—down to the prophet Elisha in Israel, down from his prideful attitude to humility.  Only when he admits his powerlessness is he able to take steps toward healing.

Namaan can be a parable for the spiritual life.  Classical and modern spiritual writers talk about how, at some point in our lives, we too need to “go down” if we are to grow.  There almost always has to be a crisis, a stumbling, a loss of control, a “necessary suffering” (as Fr. Richard Rohr puts it) to shake us to out of our complacency, comfort zone, and pride, if we are to move upward on the difficult but ultimately rewarding journey toward spiritual growth.   As in AA, having the humility to admit that something in our lives has become unmanageable is the essential first step toward finding greater wholeness, and to discovering the God of grace.

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Hero without a gun

In April 1942, 23-year-old Desmond Doss was drafted into the U.S. army.  Unlike the other soldiers, Desmond refused to carry a gun.  Because of his Christian faith, he was a conscientious objector.

Desmond Doss’s story, which has been made into a film (The Conscientious Objector), is an amazing chronicle of perseverance, compassion, and bravery.  He was harassed and reviled by his army comrades for his unconventional beliefs, yet he stood his ground.  He performed his duties as a medic with great courage, on many occasions risking his life on the battlefield to rescue his wounded comrades.  But during his four years in the army, he never fired a gun and he killed no one.

Growing up, Desmond was fascinated by a poster picturing the 10 Commandments hanging in the family kitchen.  He was particularly transfixed by the 6th commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” which was printed above a sketch of Cain killing Abel.  “How in the world could a brother do such a thing?” the young Desmond wondered.

Desmond found that on the battlefield, he could draw strength by imagining Jesus beside him in the rain of bullets, “with an aid kit like me.”

When the war ended, Desmond had earned the respect of his army comrades.  He was also the first conscientious objector to receive his country’s Medal of Honor.   Later a comic book told his story.  It’s title:  Hero without a gun.

This Sunday, November 9, is Peace Sunday.  It’s a Sunday when we remember another hero without a gun, named Jesus.  Instead of taking the lives of his enemies, he died for them, and instructed his followers to follow his example.  That’s not easy, when one’s country faces an external enemy and taking up arms in its defense is considered the proper, responsible, and the most “loving” thing to do.   We need stories of saints like Desmond Doss, who faced and surmounted great trial and suffering because the 10 Commandments and the example of Jesus were the only way to live.

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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, Nov. 2, 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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When the mountains shake

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea….God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved” – Psalm 46.

On Wednesday, Oct. 22, in Ottawa, a mountain shook, both literally and figuratively.

The mountain was Parliament Hill.  The shaking occurred when a gunman entered the Parliament building and started firing, after first killing a Canadian soldier at the nearby War Memorial.

The repercussions of that mountain shaking may  be significant.  As the headline in the next day’s Hamilton Spectator put it, “Canada will never be the same.”

How do people of faith understand it when the mountains on which they build their legislatures, and their lives, shake?

The Psalmist and the prophets of Israel talked about mountains shaking, and we will reflect on their words in our worship on Sunday, October 26.  In brief:  they assure us that God, who sometimes instigates the shaking, is still in control of the world, and that God provides our ultimate security.

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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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