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 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 enemies.

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 this 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 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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And God created conflict

From  the color of the carpet to who should be included as members, the church has always experienced conflict.

Maybe we should blame God.   The creations stories in Genesis 1-3 suggest that conflict was bound to happen.  Notice:

  • all humans contain a bit of God within them (“created in the image of God”);
  • diversity is the hallmark of creation (“male and female,” seeds, plants, birds, fish, and animals “of every kind”);
  • humans have freedom (the freedom to choose whether to eat from the forbidden tree).

God’s created world is a mix of wildly diverse life forms.  It climaxes in human bearers of God’s image, who are called to exercise “dominion” over God’s world.  Each human being is unique, and each is endowed with freedom of choice.  All this diversity and chance was built into creation before the fall.   And God said, “All this is very good.”

It’s also an invitiation to conflict.  A colony of ants or an assembly line of robots may work harmoniously together.  But ants and robots are not human beings.  Had humans not been created in God’s image, with diversity and freedom, with the capacity to think, reflect, feel and act, they probably would not have conflict.

True, conflict can be painful, and sometimes in the church is seen as sin.  We do need to learn to deal with conflict constructively, especially in how we treat each other when we differ.

But Genesis suggests that conflict is a natural part of our life.  Were we like ants or robots, we would not bear God’s image.  Our life might be conflict-free, but it would be far less interesting, dynamic  and rich.

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When the server becomes the served

Last Sunday, our worship at The First Mennonite Church included a sending blessing for a young woman going abroad with a service program of our larger Mennonite church.

Sometimes the one who sets out to serve others become the recipient of someone else’s service.

In the early 1970s, I went to Zaire, Africa (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) with the Teachers Abroad Program of Mennonite Central Committee.  My assignment was to teach school in a remote bush village.  I wanted to serve others in a developing country.

Once during the Christmas holidays, the server became the served.

Two students invited me to walk with them across the forest to their village, a distance of about 30 miles.  Our overnight stop along the way, they said, would be at the home of the pastor of a small church deep in the Zairean bush.

For the trek I had purchased a pair of locally-made shoes.  Though  inexpensive, that purchase turned out to be costly.  About two hours into the walk, the shoes began to pinch.  The deeper we went into the forest, the more my feet hurt.  And we had barely begun our trek.

At dusk, we reached the pastor’s small, mud-and-thatch house.  My blistered feet were screaming.

Though I was too proud to admit it, the pastor seemed to know I was in pain.  With few words, he brought me a chair and a basin of water for my feet.  He also soon produced a huge pot of steaming, sweet, milky tea.  I drank one cup of this delicious necter, then another, then another.  As the hot tea slowly coursed through my body, and the water soothed my blistered feet, my spirits lifted.  I felt revived.

That night, I was given the only bed in the house with sheets.  As we prepared to leave the next morning, my words of thanks to the pastor felt awkward and inadequate for his gracious, simple, life-giving hospitality–and for his service.

I’ve thought often of that pastor, whose name I have forgotten.  I still remember with gratitude his deed of service to the server.  Not only did he help me in my physical distress.  I also believe that through him I gained a glimpse of Jesus, who came as one who serves.

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We are ‘charismatic’

Some people have a special ability to influence and inspire a large number of people.   Their exceptional attractiveness and charm enables them to generate enthusiasm and loyalty.  They light up a room just by walking into it.  We could say that such people have charisma.  

While some people seem to be born with charisma, the “wikiHow” website assures us that we can  learn charisma by practicing these 5 skills:  exuding confidence, standing tall, making people feel special, being witty, engaging others.

However they got it, the people we know who are popular usually have a certain amount of charisma.  So do celebrities, and, for better or worse, some political leaders.

Jesus, too, had charisma.  People were attracted  to  him not only because of his teaching and miracles, but also because of the strength of his personality.  In his presence, they experienced a special confidence and hope in God.

Charisma comes from the Greek word charis, which means “gift, favor, grace.”  The Apostle Paul uses charis many times to talk about how the Spirit of Jesus gives gifts to those who have faith in Jesus—gifts of wisdom, knowledge, service abilities, and healing, among others.   All of these gifts come together in the church, making the church “charismatic.”

Our main scripture text for Sunday, Aug. 17, is from Acts 9.  There we see Peter doing the same kinds of powerful works that Jesus did.  He is able to do them because he has a special kind of charisma, the charisma of Jesus.

The amazing news is that the same charisma that Peter had can be ours, too.   Jesus comes to live in ordinary people like us, and gives us gifts to bring his healing and hope to others.   In the church, Jesus’s charisma makes us—yes—“charismatic.”

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Home

At the end of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wakes up in her house in Kansas.  After her whirlwind trip to magic land of Oz, she realizes that “there is no place like home.”  She now sees more clearly that her home is a safe haven, a place of acceptance and welcome.

Many of us yearn for such a home,  and thoughts of “home” can stir deep emotions.  When we ask someone to describe the home where they grew up, they’ll likely recall such details as the house they lived in, where they slept, and what mealtime was like.  They might also talk about their relationships with their parents and siblings.  For better or worse, home, and the memories of home, become part of us and travel with us throughout our lives.

In Psalm 91, our main scripture text for Sunday, Aug. 10, the Psalmist talks about “home.”  His home, though, is not a physical place in a location laden with nostalgic memories.  Nor is his home based on kin, culture and nation.  The Psalmist’s home is in God.  And though evil has come his way, God has been a trustworthy, secure home.

What does “home” mean for us?  What part does God play in our experience of “home”?

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