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!

Special Note – We are Hiring! We are searching for a lead Pastor with a strong grounding in Anabaptist values and social justice issues. Please send your CV to Henry Paetkau at hpaetkau@mcec.ca for consideration.

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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Revisiting the man who did good

Not long ago, a man in Hamilton, Ontario became identified with one of Jesus’s best-known characters without intending to.

The man lived in a downtown condo, and got tired of looking out his window at the trash in the parking lot below.  So he decided to clean up the mess.  He collected several boxes of assorted cans, bottles and paper litter strewn on the ground, and stacked them against a posted sign in the alley advertising designated trash pick-up times.

While working, the man was approached by three city of Hamilton bylaw officers.  He thought they were coming to help him.  He was wrong.  They rewarded his good deed with a $125 fine.  When the man asked what he had done wrong, the officers told him that he had committed “illegal dumping.”  He had moved the trash from private property to a public alleyway.  “It’s alright for you to pick up the trash,” the officers said.  “But when you place it on city property, the taxpayer ends up paying for it.”  They said the man should have called the city to report the litter, rather than cleaning it up himself, though the city conceded it could have been seven days until it got removed.

The connection between this well-intentioned citizen and Jesus lay in the story’s headline:  “City trashes Good Samaritan for downtown parking lot clean-up.”

The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is one of the best-known stories of Jesus.   “Good Samaritan” has become so much associated with doing selfless good deeds that the label has been enshrined in the names of hospitals and care centres, housing projects and boys ranches.  There are even Good Samaritan laws to protect us from liability suits, should we stop to help a stranger in distress and get into legal trouble.

But Jesus’s original story contains sharp twists and subtle layers of meaning that we may miss because it is so familiar.  On Sunday, July 19, our worship will focus on this famous parable.  We will try to listen to it anew, and see what fresh insight the story of the man who did good might yield for us.

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A whale of a story

One of the more memorable Bible stories is Jonah and the Whale.  Children seem to love it.  On the internet we can find cartoons of Jonah set to catchy jingles, such as this one:

Who did who did who did who did

Who did swallow Jo-Jo-Jonah?

Who did who did who did who did

Who did swallow Jo-Jo-Jonah?

Who did who did who did who did

Who did swallow Jo-Jo-Jonah?

Who did swallow Jonah down?

The whale did the whale did the whale did the whale did

The whale did swallow Jo-Jo-Jonah,

The whale did the whale did the whale did the whale did

The whale did swallow Jo-Jo-Jonah,

The whale did the whale did the whale did the whale did

The whale did swallow Jo-Jo-Jonah

The whale did swallow Jonah down.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVFMMUF441Q)

Often the moral of the story is something like, “Jonah survived being swallowed by the whale, so God can do miracles.”  Or, “Jonah tried to hide from God but couldn’t, so we can’t hide from God either.”

Actually the Jonah story, which we will consider in our worship on Sunday, July 12, is more for adults than for children.  And it is about a lot more than a stubborn man riding in the belly of a whale and coming through unscathed.  It is a story of obedience and disobedience.  It is a story of justice versus mercy.  It is a story that makes a whale of a claim about God, one that prompts the reader to ask:  “Can I accept a God who is unfair–unfair in the mercy, compassion and pity he shows toward very wicked people?”

At the end of the story, this question is unresolved for Jonah.  Will he grow enough spiritually to have the same compassion and pity that God feels for the wicked?  We don’t know because Jonah just sits there, sulking under his withered bush.  The real ending of the Jonah story is up to us to write.

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Unsung heroes

History contains many unsung heroes.  Along with the great military, political, cinematic, sports, and sometimes religious figures whom we celebrate with statues, multimillion dollar salaries and magazine covers, there are numerous persons who have made valuable, courageous and self-sacrificing contributions to humanity while garnering little or no acclaim.

Take Henry Woodward and Thomas Evans.   Who has heard of them?  They were Canadians who in 1874 filed a patent for an electric light bulb.  It actually worked.  But they did not have the money to perfect their invention, so they sold their patent to Thomas Alva Edison.  Edison modified their design, and gained renown as the “inventor” of the electric light bulb.  But without the prototype developed by the obscure Woodward and Evans, Edison might never have become famous.

The Bible, too, has a canon of unsung heroes.  In our worship on Sunday, July 6, we will reflect on one of them.  She is a little maid in 2 Kings 5, an Israelite captured by the Syrians and carried off to serve in the household of the great general Namaan.  This maid doesn’t even have a name.  But her action has a profound and saving effect.

Jesus said, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”  Among other things, that might apply to who we consider “great.”  Our spiritual life, and our discipleship walk, would be enriched and strengthened by reflection on these unsung biblical heroes, who one day, at the end of history, will receive a golden crown and be accorded the honor that they deserve.

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Transitions

While transitions come at any stage in life, they are especially prevalent during the young  adult years.  From age 18 through the 20s and even early 30s, many life decisions need to be made about school, career, friends, marriage, and perhaps faith commitment.

In the late young adult stage of his life, Jesus too faced a major life transition.  At about age 30, the gospels record Jesus stepping out of what until then has apparently been a settled home and career in a small, rural Galilean village.  He chooses to be baptized by a wandering preacher, hears a call from God, and sets out to announce the Kingdom of God.

But a crucial part of Jesus’s transition involves establishing his adult identity.  He is forced to confront the question, “Who am I?”  In the wilderness, the tempter seductively proposes three possible identities for Jesus to adopt.  Ultimately Jesus refuses the tempter’s offers and chooses another identity for himself.  It’s the identity that God gave him at his baptism, when God declared Jesus to be “my beloved Son.”

In our worship on Sunday, June 21, we will remember the young adults of The First Mennonite Church who are facing transition.  We will ask how Jesus’s experience in facing a key transition period in his own life might speak to us today, when we also face transitions.  We will explore how Jesus  answered the question “Who am I?” in a way that sustained him through the challenges, joys and sufferings of announcing God’s Kingdom.

How Jesus answered his own “Who am I?” question  is critical for us, when we think of who we are, of what is most important to us, and of how the same tempter  seductively whispers to us to create an identity for ourselves that is less than God might wish.

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Overcoming Babel

Most of us likely have had the experience of trying to communicate and not feeling heard.  It can happen among friends, marriage partners, parents and children, and church members, and regularly happens among nations.  Who has never said (or at least thought), “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure you are aware that what you heard is not what I meant”?

One might think that with all the modern communication technology, communication would get easier.  Not necessarily so.  After the attacks of September 11, 2001, some Muslims in Indonesia nearly went to war against Christians and Jews. “We have to do something, otherwise the Christians or Jews will kill us,” some were saying.  How did they know that?  “The internet.”  While email, Facebook, Twitter and the rest can be marvelous tools in facilitating communication, they also can accelerate our human tendency to miscommunicate, misunderstand, and babble.

“Babble:  a confused mixture of sounds or voices, a scene of noise and confusion” (Dictionary.com).  A story in Genesis 11, which we will consider in our worship on Sunday, June 14, gives an account of serious–and fatal–babbling.  In a city called Babel, God, in an act of judgment against human arrogance and pride, confuses humanity’s tongues.  The people, who heretofore were one community with one language, are now scattered, and their communication becomes impaired and difficult.  The curse of Babel has become “babble.”

Until the Spirit comes at Pentecost (Acts 2), and a miracle happens.  Suddenly the diverse peoples of the earth, divided by language and culture, now all hear the good news of Jesus, in their own tongues.    Humanity’s ears have been opened and its speech has been healed.  The confusing babble of Babel has been overcome.  And our human tendency to miscommunicate and misunderstand continues to be pushed back, in the church, when we let the Spirit  open our ears to hear and  grace our lips to speak to each other.

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Ordinary Pentecost

Communication can be difficult.

Perhaps you’ve played the telephone game, where persons in a circle whisper a sentence to the person beside them.  The sentence is passed around the circle, and by the time it reaches the last person the sentence has become quite different from how it started out.  The saying, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure you are aware that what you heard is not what I meant” resonates in our experience.  And in spite of the explosion of social media—email, Facebook, Twitter—the difficulties in communication only seem to be compounded.

But on the day of Pentecost, as reported in Acts 2, a miracle happens.  Not only do people acquire the gift of speaking clearly.  They also receive the gift of hearing.  Everyone on whom the Spirit at the first Pentecost descends hears clearly, in their own language, the word of God spoken by others.

Pentecost will be the focus of our worship on Pentecost Sunday, May 24.  We note that at the original Pentecost, it was not just the preachers or religious functionaries but ordinary people who were empowered by the Spirit of God to speak the word of God—in other words, to prophesy.  Everyone—old and young, male and female, people of all classes, including slaves—received the ability to speak of what God is doing in their midst.

Ordinary people, using ordinary words, to speak the extraordinary words of God.  That was God’s gift on the first Pentecost.  It is what Pentecost continues to be about today.

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He has gone up!

In the wider church, Sunday, May 17 is Ascension Sunday.  It remembers Jesus’s ascension to heaven after 40 days on earth following his resurrection (Acts 1:6-26).   This story, and the first thing the disciples do in its wake, will be the focus of our worship this Sunday.

We give a lot of attention to Jesus’s death on the cross and his resurrection on the third day.  But the ascension is the neglected child in this trinity of momentous events.  Does it mean anything for us in 2015?

Churches in Europe give more attention to the ascension than we do.  In some cathedrals there is a hole in the ceiling, right above the altar, and on Ascension Sunday a porcelain Christ figure that has been placed on the table is pulled up through the hole, leaving everyone in the church, like those first disciples, “gazing up toward heaven.”  Then, after a moment, a dove is lowered through the same opening.  In some churches there also follows a shower of almonds, nuts, raisins and other treats from above…rather like the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost.

But the ascension is about much more than Jesus floating up into the sky.  It really is a political statement about the crucified and resurrected Jesus ascending to power as the world’s true Lord.  As in the Old Testament, where God “goes up” to reign in power over the nations (Psalm 47), so also has Jesus “gone up,” to reign at the right hand of God over the world.

Watching the news can make one conclude that the world’s lords are the ones who control the most money, armies and political power.  And the daily reminders that the world is in the grip of powers that are often evil can be depressing.

That’s why we need to complete Jesus’s death and resurrection with his ascension.  The ascension affirms that it is the risen Jesus who ultimately reigns over the peoples and nations of the earth, that one day his invisible rule will be disclosed for all to see, and that his will—God’s will—shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Thank God that Jesus has “gone up!”  That is very, very good news.

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