Glowriding in the Kingdom of Heaven

Mennonite churches have been relatively successful at doing good for the most vulnerable in our society. Important work often seen as for our neighbours might include: building housing, serving meals, and sponsoring refugees. During a neighbourhood glowride my approach to good works began to change from doing for, to working with the most vulnerable. Before talking about that small but important distinction, I need to tell you about glowrides.

 

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Casting Out Demons (Acts 19: 8-41)

Prioritizing profit over the well-being of people seems like a bad idea, for businesses, for society at large, as well as for religious sects. Two stories contained in Acts chapter 19 remind us of this self-evident truth providing an economic lesson. Both concern religious sects that struggle against or outright oppose “the Way” as taught by Paul. My argument here is that each sect takes issue with Paul following his advice would mean that they could no longer enrich themselves at the expense of others.

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Saved by the Work of Christ’s Grandmothers: Part 3/3

Saved by the Work of Christ’s Grandmothers: Part 3/3

Part 1: How Ruth Saves Us From the Affordable Housing Crisis and Other Sins

Part 2: Mother Mary Revolutionary

Matthew 27: 57-61

“57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.”

We recently finished a series at Westview on the women who appear in Matthew’s Genealogy of Christ: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Through this series, I gained a better understanding of something oft-repeated in my childhood: that, “Christ died for our sins”. Below I argue that the courageous actions of outcasts reveal the sin and injustice upheld by insiders — the privileged and comfortable majority. Christ’s death reveals that salvation is a product of oppressed people’s resistance against injustice; such resistance calls the mainstream community to a better way of life. Continue reading

How Ruth Saves Us from the Affordable Housing Crisis and Other Sins – Part 1 of 3

How Ruth Saves Us from the Affordable Housing Crisis and Other Sins – Part 1 of 3

This post originally appeared on Westview Christian Fellowship’s blog and was adapted from a sermon.

Part 2: Mother Mary Revolutionary

Part 3: Saved by the Work of Christ’s Grandmothers

Female protagonists from ostracized communities is a common motif in the biblical canon, but often overlooked by interpreters. The narrator of the Book of Ruth is keen to remind us that the protagonist, Ruth, is one such woman, continually stressing her identity as an outsider: “So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab” (NRSV).  The stress on Ruth’s identity as a Moabite is not accidental. Israelites generally didn’t have a lot of respect for these neighbours, in part due to the story of the Moabite founding father, Lot, who had incestrial relations with his daughters.

Despite all of this, the book of Ruth reminds us that, like Naomi, Boaz, and ultimately Israel, we too should seek redemption in the resilience of those who reside on the outskirts of our community.  These outsiders offer us redemption, the opportunity for justice, and an insight into our own sin. Continue reading

Jesus Isn’t Talking to You (Matt. 7. 7-11)

Jesus Isn’t Talking to You (Matt. 7. 7-11)

Picture (wood cutout): Fritz Eichenberg “Christ of the breadlines” (1953)

This post originally appeared on Westview Christian Fellowship’s blog and was adapted from a sermon.

Jesus Isn’t Talking to You. The real audience of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7. 7-11).

Receiving whatever we ask for is scandalous in an age of consumerism. My son, like so many of us, never stops asking for things. If I gave in to all his requests, he’d quickly make himself sick with treats and would soon be able to recite by memory every episode of his favourite animated series. I’d be a truly irresponsible father.  This portrait of an indulgent father probably shouldn’t be the first that comes to mind when we think about God. Perhaps, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount isn’t addressing me and my family — whose material needs are thankfully satisfied — perhaps he has someone less privileged in mind. This subtle shift significantly changes the meaning of the sermon. Suddenly Christ isn’t talking me and mine when he says “ask and you will receive.”

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Transforming Abuse through Mutual Submission (Eph 5:18b-21)

Transforming Abuse through Mutual Submission (Eph 5:18b-21)

Consider a basic revenge flick such as “Taken,” or “The Revenant.” These movies often begin with a shocking injustice — the murder or abduction of a child, for example. The body of the film is then dedicated to the protagonist’s struggle to balance the scales of justice, so to speak, by chasing, outwitting, outmaneuvering, etc.,  the “bad guys” and finally taking sweet revenge. Twists and turns occur along the way, but classic revenge flicks often make us question the logic behind the violence portrayed on screen. Don’t get me wrong, injustice demands a response, and it should always make us upset. However, most revenge stories end in a spectacle of bloodletting, but the sacrifice leaves us unfulfilled, unconvinced that the cycle of abuse is truly ended. If revenge fails to transform injustice, how else might we respond, what kind of response does justice demands?

In many ways, chapter four and five of Ephesians address the above question, describing a better kind of response to “the darkness of injustice.” At the end of chapter four, the reader is first urged to avoid certain activities: “don’t engage in lustful greed” (4:19), for example. And then, in chapter five, there is a call to expose the harm: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (5:11-12). The author repeats these two imperatives — abstain and expose — along with a third: the author calls the reader to pursue change by transforming relationships defined by greed and abuse. We read,

“Instead, be filled with the Spirit,

  • 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,
  • 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:18b-21)

Although speech, song, and thanksgiving are important factors in transformation, I will focus on the third command, one whose dutiful terminology makes us squeamish: submit to one another. The term is even stranger if you consider how it’s used in our text. Think about it, if we all submit to each other, in a conventional sense, nothing would ever get done. Understanding mutual submission in Ephesians, therefore, requires expanding how we think about what it means to submit. For this reason, I want to push our understanding of this concept and see how mutual submission might be capable of transforming our relationships.

Before exploring our examples it important to stress that nothing said below should suggest for a moment that those experiencing abuse ought to submit to their abusers or let the harm continue. On the contrary, before pursuing transformation the author calls us to expose the darkness, naming the abusive relationship for what it is and putting a stop to injury. Addressing the fundamental issues behind abuse, however, demands more. Such a solution often requires a long, arduous journey of recovery.

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Repent and Burn (Matthew 3:7-12)

Repent and Burn (Matthew 3:7-12)

This post originally appeared on Westview Christian Fellowship’s blog and was adapted from a sermon.

Repent and Burn: The Baptism of John the Baptiser

In apocalyptic style, John the Baptist introduces us to three components of Christ’s kingdom of peace: repentance, the Holy Spirit, and fire (Matthew 3:7-12). What comes after is often referred to as “Christ’s Baptism,” but if we consider the examples below and the exegesis that follows, it’s clear that John experiences a kind of baptism as well.

Regrettably, my wife Jenica did the vast majority of our wedding planning on her own. It’s no surprise that my failure to offer help was a source of conflict on several occasions. For example, one evening, while Jenica was making wedding invitations, I looked up from my computer to realize that she was gone. Distracted, I hadn’t noticed her leave the room. Often when Jen’s upset she wisely disappears to cool-off before evaluating the situation. So when I realized that I was alone with a mountain of unfinished invitations, I knew something was amiss.  

The feeling I had at that moment is something I think we’ve all experienced. It’s the moment we realize that we’ve let down those we depend on. Jen expected my help. It was our wedding after all and weddings take at least two people, not counting all the support contributed by family and friends. Repentance, I want to argue, is the realization that we don’t do life on our own. We depend on a power greater than ourselves — friends, family, neighbors, government, water, soil, oxygen and in these God.

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