Monthly Archives: February 2015

The other side

There is a nice coincidence between this week’s worship theme, Land, and where we are at in the adult Sunday school study of the Gospel of Mark.  Next class we will pick up at Mark 4:35, when Jesus, having finished teaching in parables from the shores of the Sea of Galilee, tells his disciples, “Let us go to the other side.”  It is the first of five times (also 5:1,21; 6:45; 8:13) in the next four chapters that Mark utilizes that phrase, “the other side” – the popular teacher and healer whose entire ministry up to that point had taken place in his home region of Galilee, now shuttling back and forth across this wide lake which separated Jewish territory from that of the Gentiles.  During that span there are also two references to “crossing over” (5:21; 6:53) as well as a journey by foot across this border.

Humans spend much energy, time, and money creating, maintaining, and defending boundaries and borders.  But Jesus was a boundary crosser.  His did not cross boundaries to claim or colonize land, but rather to claim people as children of God, and to colonize hearts and habits with what he called “the kingdom of God.”  Unlike other kingdoms, or kin-doms as we might prefer, this one leaves people and land healthier, freer, and more abundant.

We cross borders all the time – between neighborhoods, between social groups, between the private and the public, the personal and the political – sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally, sometimes because we must or because we feel called to do so.  It’s not so much a matter of whether or not we cross borders, but how we do it.

Who knows?  We may even be transformed by “the other side,” which is how I read what happened with Jesus’ in his encounter with the Syrophoenician (foreign) woman in Mark 7:24-30.

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A dusting of snow and ash

Today is Ash Wednesday and it snowed this morning and a little more this afternoon.  Today is the beginning of Lent, a day in which we recite these words to one another: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”  Despite the cold forecast ahead, and despite the groundhog supposedly seeing his shadow two weeks ago, the snow will soon enough be gone.  “Remember, snow, that you are water, and to water you will return.”

Ash Wednesday is our annual reminder of the impermanence of all things.  Snow, bodies, consumer goods, social status: it will not stand.  Isaiah and the Psalmist use other images to say the same thing: “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades” (Isaiah 40:6,7, and Psalm 103:15,16).  This is neither something to celebrate nor something to lament.  It is something to remember.  Something to call to mind and hold tenderly, even as we are held tenderly within time’s passing.

What does last, the Psalmist goes on to say in verse 17, is “the steadfast love of the Divine.”  It continues, “from everlasting to everlasting.”  To be a receiver and giver of love, connection, grace, mercy, is to participate in something everlasting – something that has been going on before we arrived on the scene and something that will continue well after we’re gone.

To be marked with ashes as we do today – and, to be dusted with snow on your clothes which can happen for a few more weeks – is to receive the message that now is the time when this love is being made manifest.  The kin-dom of God is now, and we are recipients of it within the confines of these bodies.

At tonight’s 7pm service (yes, small advertisement here) we will sing, pray, sit in silence, receive ashes, and hear two poems, one of which is this:

Blessing the Dust
by Jan Richardson

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

Discerning gifts

Last evening the Gifts Discernment Committee met at church.  This is the group charged with inviting members to serve on various Commissions each year.  This is the group thankful for the strong response received from the Gifts Discernment forms in which you named people you felt were gifted to lead us in areas such as Worship, Christian Education, Community Life, and Mission.  This is the group that could very likely be giving you a phone call in the next few weeks.

Columbus Mennonite is what you might call a “highly participatory community.”  “Shared ministry” is another way this has been described.  We believe all people have gifts and that we are enriched by the sharing of those gifts.  We value collaboration and fresh input.  Although some folks’ gifts are practiced and polished, we also want to be a place where gifts are tested and developed.  We are not simply consumers of religious goods and services, but rather a fellowship of giving and receiving.

During the meeting last night I was struck with the group’s awareness of the full (um….busy!) lives so many of us lead.  When considering who to ask for various roles, common comments were: “She’s about the begin grad school,” “They have young children,” “He might be moving in the next year,” “She has a very demanding job,” “He is already doing so much for the church.”  These comments weren’t spoken out of discouragement, but rather were seeking to take into account life circumstances.  Overall we are deciding to not say “No” for anyone and to let them do that themselves if they feel so led!

This highlights the creative tension we live with as a faith community and that I feel as a pastor.  I feel drawn to both encouraging people to share their gifts, and encouraging people to take good care of themselves and practice Sabbath keeping.  I want this to be a congregation of lively energetic activity which leads to the transformation of individuals and our community, as well as a place of rest and refuge from the flurry of activity that surrounds us every day.  I see that each person’s calling is not merely contained within the life of the congregation but includes professional vocations, raising children and grandchildren, and serving through various other organizations.

We are all discerning – daily it seems – how and where to use our time and which gifts to develop to what end.  Where and to what to say “No” –   when and to whom to say “Yes.”  I trust that the world is a richer place because of this ongoing discernment, and that the Spirit is leading the way.

Doing justice

Doing justice is hard work.  It’s hard figuring out how to do it and it’s hard to do.  It’s slow moving and tiring.  It usually involves just showing up, which isn’t necessarily all that fulfilling in itself.

One of the things that we at CMC have going for us is that we do not work for justice alone.  We are a part of a coalition of 50 congregations across Franklin County, known collectively as BREAD (Building Responsibility, Equality, And Dignity), who identity one significant issue every year and work for justice in one specific way on that issue.

This week I’m in Orlando, Florida with ten others from Columbus and 180 others from around the country at the annual DART (Direct Action and Research Training) clergy conference.  I apologize if this feels like an unjust location to be in this week.  Not to rub it in, but during a couple hours of free time this morning several of us went for a hike in a nearby local conversation area and discovered a wild orange tree ripe with fruit, which we promptly ate.  Suffering for the cause.  But I digress…

The keynote speaker this week is Old Testament scholar, and Hebrew prophet incarnate, Walter Brueggemann.  WB has done extensive work in helping people of faith think of justice work within the framework of the Exodus story, overcoming Pharaoh’s narrative of scarcity for Yahweh’s narrative of abundance.  WB traces the narrative from Pharaoh’s nightmare of a coming famine and Joseph’s role in interpreting the dream and implementing a system of collecting reserves, to a gradual monopolization of all resources in Egypt as the famine comes and Joseph demands that people pay for the stored up food first with their money, then with their cattle, then with their bodies and labor, leading to enslavement and harsh enforcement of that enslavement.  WB’s sequence for this is Scarcity -> Anxiety -> Accumulation -> Monopoly -> Violence.  It’s a sequence repeated through the Bible and throughout history, reinforced by fear which shuts down the ability to imagine any alternative.  In an appropriate jab toward us pastors WB pointed out Genesis 47:22 which notes that Pharaoh took control of all the land of all the inhabitants, except for the priests, because Pharaoh needs priests (and pastors) to bless his way of running things.

Imagining another way is the beginning of justice work, but when people of faith confront the systems in place we are often told the narrative of scarcity – there’s not enough.  Not enough money to invest in this new program, not enough resources for this group of people.  Meanwhile, money and resources are spent on things that benefit small groups of people with more power.  Justice work involves building power through organizing people.  You most likely know that the key show of power for BREAD is the Nehemiah Action event, happening this year on Monday, May 4, at 7pm.  Might as well get that on your calendar : )

I am finding this conference to be both challenging and encouraging as I think about how we at Columbus Mennonite work for justice in Franklin County.  It’s hard work and because we join with others it means we sometimes focus on issues that don’t seem to directly affect our everyday lives, but it is work that flows directly out of our understanding of the call of Christ.