Tag Archives: church

Sensing God Through Our Sight

This Sunday, we’re kicking off a new series at The First Mennonite Church called Sensing God Through Our Worship.  The series was created by Arlyn Friesen Epp of Mennonite Church Manitoba and explores how we might experience God through all 5 of our senses.

This Sunday, we’ll be looking at Sight!

For me personally, there are two sights that often come to mind for me when I think of God.  The first is Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son.

Rembrandt

Of course, I’ve been personally impacted by much of Henri Nouwen’s writings on this painting, and this image often reminds me of things such as God’s grace, mercy, love, acceptance, belonging, and redemption.  The Son finds true healing, true self-worth, and true self-value in the intimate embrace of the Father.

When I think of seeing God in nature, my mind immediately jumps to a very special place for my wife and I, Vespers Point at Camp Hermosa in Goderich, ON.

the point_Fotor

Not only do you get incredible sunsets and a view of Lake Huron that constantly reminds you of the amazing things that God has made; but this is where people have been taking time to worship God every summer evening for over 80 years.  Marriages have been proposed here.  People have shared vulnerable, gut-wrenching stories of loss here.  People have made their first decision to believe in God and follow Christ here.  Families have been meeting here for several generations.  This sight reminds me of a very sacred place on God’s good earth.

What sorts of sights connect you to God?  Or make you feel like you are experiencing something of the divine?

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Wrongs to Rights

This Sunday, we kick off a month-long exploration into a discussion that affects all of us.  For the next few weeks, we’re going to look into one of the moments in history when church was not at its best.  And we need to hear this truth.

The recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, published in 2015, details just how much churches participated in the systemic cultural genocide of First Nations people across the country of Canada.  And this doesn’t include just particular denominations or particular churches.  It largely includes all of us who were doing church in Canada over the last 200-300 years.

But we believe there is hope.  Hope both for our First Nations brothers and sisters and for the church.  The TRC is a step forward in hope.  Now, the next step is for us to listen, learn,and discern how we will respond to the evidence of history.

This Sunday, Tom Neufeld will share with us on some of the history behind the church’s colonialism and exploitation of First Nations peoples, and he will share this within the context of stories within the Bible itself where people of faith decided that it was okay to harm and exclude a particular race or group of people.

To get the conversation started, here’s a video from Mennonite Church Canada connected to the TRC sessions that took place in Montreal in 2013.  We think this will be of great value for you to check out before we begin on Sunday

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Trump, the Pax Romana, and Palm Sunday

This Sunday, many churches around the world, including our own, will take time to remember and honour Palm Sunday: the moment when Jesus enters into Jerusalem and begins the events prior to his arrest and crucifixion.

Two particular things happen on Palm Sunday: Jesus rides a donkey colt, and a number of people wave palm branches and shout, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

The symbol of riding on a donkey colt was meant to conjure up the image of a King riding into Jerusalem.  Solomon rides on a mule when he is anointed as King over all of Israel.  Zechariah also prophesies that when the long-awaited Messiah, the great King of Zion, will enter Jerusalem “riding on a donkey’s colt” (Zech. 9:9).

The addition of palm branches is interesting.  Palm branches were already a common symbol of royalty in Jewish culture at the time; but palm branches were particularly connected to when the King entered the Temple and performed a sacrifice upon the altar.

Palm Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry as a King into Jerusalem and we see two things quickly emerge in this image of Jesus: 1) the donkey colt was also a symbol of humility and 2) Jesus is going to be a King performing a sacrifice.  But instead of sacrificing an animal on the altar, he sacrifices himself upon the cross to heal the world of its sins.

Now try lining up this image of King with that we see quickly emerging in our beloved Donald J. Trump.  As a leader or ruler, Trump says things like:

“We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning. Believe me.”

[Speaking of a protester] “I want to punch him in the face.”

“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of ’em, would you? Seriously. Okay?”

“See, in the good old days this didn’t use to happen [people protesting], because they used to treat them very rough. We’ve become very weak.”

When asked about the recent assault of a protester who was subsequently manhandled by three police officers (not the man who actually assaulted him), Trump says, “He deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”

Trump represents what we could call the Pax Romana or “Peace of Rome.”  Just before the birth of Christ until about 180 A.D., Rome enjoyed about a relative peace for about 200 years.  Their claim was that the civilization and military expansion of the Roman Empire had engineered this peace.

However, the Pax Romana was anything but peaceful.  The Empire engaged in widespread torture and executions in order to maintain power over oppressed cultures, and it still engaged in warfare.  It just didn’t have any major civil wars during this time or any major opponents who threatened the stability of the Empire.

But the basic concept of the Pax Romana was that physical force and violence against your enemies creates security and peace.

This is what Donald Trump believes will happen when he uses physical and verbal force against protesters.  This is also what also lead Trump to say things like: “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.”

This was the logic of the Pax Romana.  Use whatever physical force is necessary in order to ensure peace.

Two different leaders.  Two different concepts of “King.”  One leader advocates that because he is so rich and powerful, he will make America great again.  The other leader rides on a donkey colt to announce his arrival.

One leader says you have to sacrifice people on the altar of peace and security in order to be safe.  The other leader sacrifices himself to save the world.

This Palm Sunday let’s ask ourselves “What is truly the peace that we want for the world? And which kind of King will we ultimately follow?”

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Dangerous Religious Thought Pt. 2

So, you might recall that last week, I responded to Gretta Vosper’s statement of “our use of theological language that posits a moral authority is a very dangerous tool in the 21st century,” by suggesting that “You don’t have to just be religious about God to be dangerous. You can be religious about anything and be dangerous.”

You might also recall that I alluded to Part Two of my response to Rev. Vosper by quoting Jesus when he says “love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you…if you love only those who love you, what good is that?” (Matt. 5: 44-46, NLT).

When we consider the teachings of Jesus, are they dangerous? Is the moral authority of Jesus dangerous? Jesus certainly says, “anyone who obeys my teaching will never die” (John 8: 51, NLT) and “anyone who listens to my teaching and obeys me is wise” (Matt. 7:24, NLT). So he certainly seems to posit himself as a moral authority in the lives of people who listen to him.

But what do you think of his teaching?

In the quote from Jesus that I included in last week’s post, Jesus doesn’t seem to demand the destruction and murder of those people who oppose him. Instead, he tells his followers to love them, and pray for them. Is that a dangerous religious thought?

Jesus says in Luke 6: 20-21 that God blesses those people who are poor, hungry, and in mourning. Not people who are rich, greedy, and boastful. Is that a dangerous religious thought?

In the fourth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus breaks down both gender and cultural barriers by not only talking to a Samaritan woman (something a good Jewish boy was not supposed to do), but also giving her dignity by saying she has access to God. Is that a dangerous religious thought?

Don’t get me wrong. I think there have been many dangerous Christians throughout history who have been capable of great and terrible things; but therein lies the exact problem. It is “Christians” who have been dangerous, not “Christ.”

We must never confuse Jesus with the circle of people who are around Jesus and following him. We follow Jesus, not the circle of people around him. We follow Christ, not Christians.

And I would argue that Jesus is not a dangerous moral authority but rather an incredible model of love and peacemaking.

Don’t believe me? Don’t go solely on my opinion. Check out the gospels for yourself. See what you think of Jesus. Decide for yourself. Is the moral authority of Jesus dangerous, or is it actually quite intriguing?

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Stand up and be counted

There’s been a lot of to-do in the media this last while about the census. Long form, short form, mandatory, voluntary. Censuses have been around since Jesus’ time. The Emperor Augustus decided that “all the world should be taxed”, and Jesus was born in Bethlehem because his parents went to be counted, so that they could be taxed. Our census has nothing to do with taxes, in fact all of the information on it is completely confidential.

As Christians, we can stand up and be counted, because we have nothing to fear from our government. We can check the Catholic or Protestant box and not worry that there will be secret police knocking on our door the night after we hand in our forms. This is not the case in many countries.

In September, Phil and Julie Bender will be visiting us and speaking of their work with Mennonite Church Canada’s Witness program in China. China is a country where church and state have a different relationship than in our country. I’ve been reading about the history of Christian mission in China, it’s a fascinating story, filled with courageous stories as inspiring as the book of Acts.

How would our worship change if it was illegal to be a church in Canada? Where would we meet? Who would risk having our worship service in their home? How would it affect our faith if people from our congregation were in prison, being tortured for their faith in Jesus Christ? This may not be happening in our community, but we live in a world where our brothers and sisters in Christ do suffer like this. Do we want to hear their stories?

This week’s prayer: God, in our free country it’s easy to become complacent about our faith. We pray for our sister churches around the world who suffer persecution…give them strength and courage. Open our ears to hear their stories.

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