Monthly Archives: April 2015

Forgiving debt

I don’t usually draw attention to the sermon from the previous Sunday and advise folks who weren’t present to definitely read or hear it online – but that’s what I’m doing here.  If you weren’t in church on Sunday, you should catch the sermon.  The reason isn’t so much that it was unusually stellar – but that it includes a call to action in which everyone is encouraged to participate.

Here’s the summary:

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray – what has come to be called The Lord’s Prayer – he included the phrase “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  We sometimes plug “sins” or “trespasses” into that slot, but the original language speaks of “debts.”  The majority of folks in Jesus’ time were buried in debt in a system overloaded with high rents, fees, taxes, and tolls.

In our time the high cost of US education has, in the words of a recent Sojourner’s article (attached in this email), led to “a new form of indentured servitude.”  Education debt has unique rules detrimental to the borrow such as not being able to refinance at a lower rate, stiff penalties for late payments, not eligible for bankruptcy, and having federal tax returns and benefits withheld to pay an overdue balance.

People also get swamped with medical and other forms of debt.

When Jesus taught his followers to pray and act for debt forgiveness, he was referencing the ancient Hebrew teaching of the Jubilee in Leviticus 25, a form of which the early church practiced by sharing goods, such that there was not a needy person among them – Act 4:32-37

So…in order to better become the answer to our own prayers, and in order to continue Practicing Resurrection during this Easter season, we have created a CMC Jubilee Fund.  If you do not have student loans or any other debt you consider overwhelming, you are invited, in the next two weeks, to give to this Fund.  Our goal is to raise $10,000 but maybe that’s too small a goal.  If you do carry student loan debt or other debt you consider burdensome for getting by each month, please let me know by responding to this email simply with the word “Debt.”  This will remain confidential with me and a few of our finance folks.  At the end of the two weeks we will divide up the total Jubilee Fund by the amount of people needing debt relief and mail out checks. (For example: We raise $10,000, 50 people express debt burdens = $200 check per person.  If both members of a couple carry individual debt, they should both sign up.)   All of this is happening in-house with CMC and is open to anyone who considers CMC their faith home.

I’m also grateful that Everence, the stewardship agency of Mennonite Church USA, has agreed to match up to $2,250 of our Jubilee Fund.

The sermon gives more details about the biblical setting of debt and debt forgiveness, the current state of indebtedness in our country, and how this Jubilee Fund will work, respectively.

If you were not present on Sunday but carry student loan debt or other burdensome debt you can participate in this by sending me a brief email so you can be counted.  If you weren’t here Sunday and are free of burdensome debt you can participate in this by giving to the CMC Jubilee Fund – checks made out to Columbus Mennonite Church with “Jubilee Fund” in the memo line.  I’m glad to answer any questions you may have and hope to be getting some emails soon to join with all those already on board with this.

On a final note, Rev Tim Ahrens of First Congregation Church in Columbus (a fellow member of BREAD) is doing his Doctor of Ministry work addressing student debt and has produced a brief YouTube video which nicely communicates the state of the situation.

Let’s Practice Resurrection and become the answer to our prayers.

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Spirited community

The CMC Annual Report landed in your email inbox last Friday, April 17 – and I know you’ve all read it multiple times.  I read through it this morning, noting the happy coincidence of it being Earth Day.  Although congregations are organizations, some folks suggest it’s more helpful to think of them as organisms – less a machine and more a living being.  Reading through the annual report is something of a brief tour through the ecosphere that is Columbus Mennonite Church.  We are a growing, learning, stretching, sharing, collaborating, strategizing, praying, serving creature, and much more than a collection of individuals.

Today I was at a lunch gathering with other Columbus pastors at which the presenter spoke of the general failure of community throughout society and the great gift religious congregations offer in creating and sustaining community which overcomes our tendencies toward individualism.

The thought that we are separate, independent individuals is one of the great myths that Earth Day seeks to overcome.  It’s a lot easier to destroy something if one believes it to be a spirit-less object completely separate from oneself – a resource to be consumed or sold to the highest bidder.  An alternative spirituality is to love and appreciate and cherish the non-human Other for its own sake, and to find in it a partial reflection of one’s own being, a common origin from the nuclear core of stars and the boundless imagination of the Creator.

I like to think of congregations as living organisms that are conscious of their interdependence, celebrating the awe and wonder of participating in a Spirited universe.  The name we give this reality is Christ, through whom, as The New Testament letter of Colossians says, “all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible….and in whom all things hold together” (Col. 1:16,17).

Being resurrected

Three things for this week’s blog:  1) A brief reflection on spring/resurrection.  2) CMC in the news.  3) Quarterly Sabbath Weekend note.

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When spring is, finally, in full motion, one might be tempted to panic.  Life is pushing out everywhere, some grand revelation is underway, and my blurred eyes can barely perceive it.  How many more chances will I get?

“Raised up,” is how the Scriptures speak of resurrection.  The form is acted upon, effortless.  No one sees the moment when it happens, but there it is, in front of you.  The panic comes with the thought that everything has changed except me.

I want to see brand new and am tempted to squint harder.  No.  I want to be caught up in something as effortless as being resurrected.

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In the last few weeks Columbus Mennonite has been in the news:

+ The Saturday, April 11 edition of the Dispatch included some quotes from Mark Rupp regarding Ohio ministers participating in support of marriage equality.

+ The Easter Sunday, April 5 edition of the Dispatch had a lead article on a number of congregations which hold sunrise services, including Columbus Menno.

+ CMCer Linda Mercadante appeared on the NBC Today Show for their Holy Week coverage on faith and spirituality in America.  Our church fellowship hall, along with a couple CMCers, makes a brief cameo, as does Ruth Massey’s Bible.

If you follow any of these links note that CMC appears in the second half of each of these.

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This will be a Quarterly Sabbath Weekend for me.  We’ll be up in the Bellefontaine having a family work weekend at my sisiter’s house – painting, laying tile, and other such fun stuff.  It’s a brain Sabbath, not a body Sabbath, which is good on both accounts.  We also have hopes to go down to southern Ohio and see the wildflowers at the Arc of Appalachia, which claims to be one of the best spots for this in the US.

Practice Resurrection

Be like the fox 

who makes more tracks than necessary,  

some in the wrong direction. 

Practice resurrection.

Last year about this time I had a conversation with a pastor friend from Virginia.  He noted that his congregation had decided to carry the theme of resurrection all the way through the Easter season until Pentecost, seven weeks after Easter Sunday.  His reasoning: if we are going to dedicate a whole season of Lent to repentance and wilderness wandering we also ought to dedicate a whole season to celebrating the ways we experience and practice resurrection.  Makes sense to me.

So, this year, for the next six Sundays, our worship will proceed with the theme Practice Resurrection, the final phrase from Wendell Berry’s poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” an excerpt of which appears above.  We are resurrection people, and resurrection is not merely something to be believed, but something to be practiced.  We practice new life which, in turn, takes on a life of its own.

Throughout the poem Berry gives different glimpses of what practicing resurrection might look like:

So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing.

Ask the questions that have no answers.

Plant sequoias.  Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest.

Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. 

This will be one of five poems read this Sunday – in place of a sermon – as four other CMCers will be sharing poetry that speaks to them of resurrection/hope/beauty.

Here are the ways we’ll be Practicing Resurrection during the Sundays of Eastertide:

April 12: Practicing resurrection through poetry and song.

April 19: Healing in the wake of John Howard Yoder’s abuses (a prominent Mennonite theologian).

April 26: “Forgive us our debts” and the practice of Jubilee

May 3: Justice work in Franklin County through our partnerships with BREAD

May 10: Celebrating new CMC members and renewing our commitments to one another

May 17: Guest speaker Carol Wise, Coordinator for the Supportive Communities Network.