January 11, 2015

This Sunday, the story of the tower of Babel will kind of form the core of my sermon (Genesis 11:1-9). A good passage to reflect on in preparation for Sunday is Proverbs 2:1-5. The title of my sermon is “Babel (on and on and on)”.

This year at Millersburg Mennonite, those who want to are reading through the Bible in a year (see our church website for a reading plan if you’d like to join us). It’s a big challenge, and it can feel like trying to drink from a fire hydrant. But, it’s also been really rewarding thus far.

In reading the scriptures over the past 8 days, I was struck by the story of Babel, and by Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 concerning true character. There is a human tendency to seek greatness and glory…whether by achieving great feats as they did at Babel, or by polishing a veneer of righteous living, as they hypocrites do in Matthew 6.

At Babel, God comes down and confuses their language. No longer able to communicate effectively, the people give up their project and go their separate ways.

It’s interesting that God never commands them not to build the tower. It was enough simply to make communication a bit more difficult. God knows that when we set our minds and hearts to becoming great or achieving great things…we lose patience to look beneath the surface of another person’s life.

Language can indeed impose a barrier to human relationships…but not one that needs to separate us from each other. I think we can read God’s action here as an invitation to know one another on a deeper level…an invitation we still refuse because we’re in too much of a hurry to build our own towers; monuments to our selves…and communicating across language barriers simply takes too much time and energy away from our own goals and ambitions.

Likewise, Jesus teaches in Matthew 6, that pagans babble when they pray. They think they will be heard because of their many words.

But he teaches another way. Jesus instructs his followers to pray alone, to give in secret, to not let on that you’re fasting…in other words, Jesus teaches us to focus on our own inner work before God rather than the tower of Babel that we’re seeking to erect.

I’m also intrigued by the idea that there’s a possibility that Babel and Babylon were the same place…they might not have been…but regardless, I like the idea that Babylon…the center of power in the ancient world, the high and mighty nerve center of an empire…could share a root that’s come to mean ‘nonsense’.

All empires seek their own greatness and preservation at any cost. All empires build themselves up, heaping words upon words, babbling all they can in order to drown out any competing stories.

God’s way is different, and requires us to listen, to learn each others language, to discover that many times our giving, our praying, our fasting…it changes us more than the other.

We’re also having a potluck featuring Biblical foods after church. Feel free to join us. Sunday school begins at 9:15, the worship hour at 10:30. I hope to see you here!

December 21, 2014 (Advent 4)

This Sunday, I will be preaching from Luke 1:26-38 as we anticipate Christmas. The title of my sermon is “Let it Be with Me”.

This year, as I read the familiar passages and prepare for yet another Advent sermon, I’m struck by the bittersweet mixture that Mary is asked to accept in her role as the mother of God’s son. Gabriel comes and promises her the world; gives her glad tidings of great joy…I have to wonder, what mother wouldn’t like to hear that her son will do well, he will rule; indeed his kingdom will never end?

And yet, to embrace that promise is also to embrace the misunderstandings; the gossip, the slander that the people would spread about her, the unwed -yet pregnant- betrothed bride of Joseph, the carpenter with royal lineage.

I have to think about her joy at the angel’s words, but also the pain of seeing his kingdom take shape through flogging, crucifixion, and death.

We are not promised happy endings. Faith is a journey that consists of peaks and valleys. To embrace the reign of God is also to embrace the methods of God in getting there…methods that involve sacrifice, humility, and longsuffering service.

At the end of the day, Mary’s response is helpful for us to repeat as well…”Let it be with me”. Let us encourage each other along the way, let us embrace patience and a loving ear, let us consider the promises of God as more valuable than status, power, or wealth. Finally, let us resign ourselves joyfully to the vocation of birthing this new creation.

Sunday school begins at 9:15, Worship at 10:30. Come join the conversation as we get closer and closer to Christmas day!

November 30, 2014

This Sunday, I will be preaching on Mark 13:24-37.
My sermon title is “The Mystery and the Meaning of Life”, and a good verse to reflect on in preparation would be verse 31, which says “Heaven and earth will pas away, but my words will not pass away.”
This is the first Sunday of Advent, and it is also special because we will be doing two baptisms (which is quite fitting to begin the church year in that manner!)
My sermon will pay attention to the “apocalyptic” nature of this passage. In other words, this Sunday’s text seems more at home in Revelation or Daniel than in a gospel, because of the content.
The fig tree, the coming of the Son of Man, the necessity for watchfulness, these passages all speak of an apocalyptic moment, when something hidden becomes revealed.
The longer I pastor, the more opportunities I’m given to see what happens when people take the covers (or masks) off of their lives…and I can say we’re generally  much better served when we choose to have that moment for ourselves, rather than having someone do the revealing to us or for us. Advent is a season that can call us back to ourselves, to remove our masks before God and maybe even before each other. I think that’s part of what Jesus is getting at, and I think that’s why it’s so fitting to have a couple of baptisms as we begin the church year.
You’re invited to join us at Millersburg Mennonite this Sunday. I hope to see you here!

November 16, 2014

This Sunday, I will be preaching on Matthew 13:51-53. The title of my sermon is “The Storeroom”.

Each of us, I think, has a storeroom within our souls where we maintain and protect various treasures that we encounter along life’s journey. These intangibles are precious to us, and we store them up in the form of memories, emotions, esoteric moments we want to return to at a future point for further reflection, for encouragement in a time of need.

However, just like the fruit cellar in my house, these storerooms can quickly become repositories for junk. Something valuable (like a relationship) breaks. Rather than throwing it out, we put it in the storeroom, thinking that some day in the future, we’ll get back there to mend it. Unfortunately, that day usually never comes.

Our storerooms can become piles of hidden junk rather than serving the purpose they were intended to serve.

Jesus tells his disciples in this passage, that they should be like masters of a house, who bring out of their storeroom both old and new treasures. All the contents of this sacred room need to be examined in the light of Christ’s redeeming love.

I hope to see you Sunday!

November 9, 2014

This Sunday I will be preaching on Matthew 13:44-50, which is a passage that encompasses three parables. In the first, Jesus compares the Kingdom to a treasure hidden in a field. In the second, he compares it to a merchant in search of fine pearls. In the third, he compares it to a net that was thrown into the sea and catches fish of every kind.

In the first two stories, the main character sells everything in order to acquire the object they’re seeking. There are a couple of points worth reflecting on…first that the treasure and the pearl are of seemingly infinite value (some people say pearls were regarded as more valuable than gold in the first century). At the very least we can say that the men in these stories value the goods as worth more than the sum of their current holdings.

The Kingdom of Heaven, when we encounter it, it is the invaluable treasure we stumble upon as we go about our business.  We would be fools to ignore it, and thieves if we took it improperly. Owning this treasure requires a total investment, and marks a true change in how we then live in relation to it.

The Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus goes on to say, is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. It’s interesting to me that we so often read this parable in the same manner as the last…the kingdom is the pearl, and we are the merchants, and Jesus is calling again for complete, total investment. But I don’t think that’s what the parable says.

We are the Pearl. The Kingdom of Heaven is the merchant, who seeks us, finds us, and bestows upon us infinite value and infinite worth, stopping at nothing (not even death) to give us a place of belonging and redemption, a place where our true value is simply enjoyed by the One who made the purchase.

It’s also like a net that catches all kinds of fish…both the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean. There are elements of attraction to the kingdom for all of humanity, all get ‘trapped’ in the net of God’s reign…but there is also an element of separation, or sorting out. Not all will be found to be ‘worthy’ when time is fulfilled. This isn’t a statement of angry judgement. I think it’s more like a wildlife conservationist might sort the good from the bad to try to bring healing to the whole ecosystem. There will be those who belong, and those who don’t belong when the kingdom comes in fullness.

You’re invited to come and join the conversation. I hope to see you here!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

This Sunday we will be looking at Matthew 13:31-35. The title of my sermon is “Mustard, Yeast, and the Foundation of the World”. Both of these parables use natural processes in our physical world to describe underlying, or foundational, spiritual realities upon which we build our lives. Just a simple, small seed contains the potential for growth into a comparatively huge mustard plant…and we all know that just a little bit of yeast can work its way through and leaven a whole batch of dough.
This is what seeds and yeast do…seeds grow, and yeast ‘leavens’. Their impact upon their surroundings is wrapped up in their nature, and the end result is many times the original input.
The Kingdom is like that. Like the mustard seed, it starts small, seemingly insignificant. Yet it grows strong and tall with a tenacity that makes it just about impossible to eradicate from a field where it was once planted.
Likewise, the parable of the yeast describes a process by which something small works its way through a large amount of flour, until all of it was leavened.
This parable is particularly shocking, first of all because Jesus is likening the kingdom to a process that was relegated to women at the time (and isn’t Kingdom building a manly pursuit?), secondly yeast was apparently seen as an unclean thing (back then it was basically fermented (rotting) old dough), third, because the ‘Three Measures’ of flour is more than a bushel of flour!
This woman isn’t just interested in feeding herself or her family.
She was wanting to feed the village!
If you’ve ever mixed bread dough without a mixer, it’s clear that she’s not afraid to roll up her sleeves and work hard towards that end. Mixing that much dough by hand would half kill me!
The Kingdom of God, like mustard, will be welcomed by some and not by others. It starts small, like any seed does, grows, multiplies, and eventually benefits all who are connected to it. Like ancient Yeast, it might offend our sensibilities, it might show up where we least expect it, and it might require some hard work to establish its presence…but the end result will blow our minds in scope, for it will lead to an abundance that’s hard to imagine.
These parables lay the foundation for the New World Order that Jesus brings. It starts small, just the seed, just the spore, but it goes to work on the world that hosts it, and brings about change on a magnitude we can hardly fathom.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

This Sunday we are looking forward to hosting Shirley Showalter, author of the book Blush: A Mennonite Girl meets a Glittering World during our Sunday morning worship. Shirley will be preaching on Luke 10:38-42, (the story of Mary and Martha) and will also be referencing John 12:1-8 (when Mary anoints Jesus’ feet). The title of her sermon is “I Love to Tell the Story”, and she will be inviting us to consider the importance of passing our stories down from one generation to the next.

Shirley will also be leading an informal discussion during our Sunday school hour, beginning at 9:15.

I hope to see you here!