Sunday, August 14, 2011

Epistles, Prayers, Preachers, and Parables

August 14, 2011
2 Corinthians 5:16-20; Matthew 7:24-27

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In the next 25-30 minutes, we’re going to hear words for the church
coming out of the two recent assemblies we’ve participated in—
the Mennonite Church USA biennial convention
in Pittsburgh, July 3-9,
and the Virginia Mennonite annual conference
here in our neighborhood July 21-24.

These words for the church will be in the form of
Epistles, Prayers, Preachers and Parables

We’ll begin with a reading from Paul’s epistle to the church in Corinth,
the theme text for our week in Pittsburgh.

Then we’ll have a section of prayers for MCUSA.

Then we are going to get just a taste
of some of the preaching that happened in Pittsburgh.
I chose five of the preachers and put together
small video samples of their messages,
all growing out of the theme text, 2 Cor. 5,
and all about crossing bridges and reconciliation.

You will hear, in order . . .

Shane Hipps—one of the teaching pastors
at a megachurch called Mars Hill Bible Church,
and a former Mennonite pastor from Phoenix—
in the opening joint youth and adult worship,
urging MCUSA to practice the ministry of reconcilation
as a higher calling than the pursuit of either justice or purity.

Next, Madeline Maldonado, a pastor with her husband David
of an Hispanic Mennonite church in Fort Myers, FL,
tells her story of healing from an abusive childhood.

Then Bishop Danisa Ndlovu, from Zimbabwe,
president of Mennonite World Conference,
calls the church to begin the ministry of reconciliation
within the family of faith.

Then, Ted Swartz, an actor/comedian from this community
speaks to the youth about his journey of healing and reconciliation
after his long-time acting and business partner Lee Eshleman
took his own life several years ago.
Ted compares this to the story of Jacob and Esau’s reconciliation.

Finally, Ervin Stutzman,
who could have given his sermon in person this morning,
but instead will have to listen to what’s left of it
after I chopped it down to two minutes.
In it he passionately implores the church
to be reconciled to God,
so that we can be ambassadors of reconciliation.

After these sermon clips,
we move to Virginia Mennonite Conference.
Beginning with the reading of today’s parable from Matthew 7,
about building houses on rock or sand.
The focus of Conference this year was on the practices of the church
which will carry us forward into the future,
after a year of celebrating 175 years of history.
This parable is about practicing our faith,
as Jesus compared the two builders
to people who either acted on his teaching,
or did not act on his teaching.

Then, prayers for Virginia Mennonite Conference.

Then, we’ll conclude with some words for the church
that I gave at the closing joint worship service
a couple weeks ago held at EMU.

So, without further announcement,
let’s enter into this period of listening to words for the church—
epistles, prayers, preachers, and parables.

Words from Paul: 2 Corinthians 5:16-20

Words from PVMCers: prayers for Mennonite Church USA
(sung response: HWB 353 Lord, Listen to your children praying)
Peyton Erb, Millard Showalter, Lisa Mast, Virginia Spicher, Ervin Stutzman, Annika Maust

Words from Pittsburgh preachers: Shane Hipps, Madeline Maldonado, Danisa Ndlovu, Ted Swartz, Ervin Stutzman

Words from a Parable of Jesus: Matthew 7:24-27

Words from PVMCers: prayers for Virginia Mennonite Conference
(sung response: HWB 353 Lord, Listen to your children praying)
LeVon Smoker, Gloria Diener, John Lehman

Words from Pastor Phil: Thoughts on a “practicing church”

I am not afraid for the future of the church.
I am thrilled to be part of the church of Jesus Christ
in this post-Christian culture.
Every poll paints a dire picture of declining attendance
and diminishing loyalty to the church.
Denominations are running back to the drawing board,
scratching their heads,
wringing their hands (in desperate prayer?)
and coming up with new plans and strategies and programs
to return the church to its glory days.
But I am not afraid for the church.

I see Christians from every tradition, including Anabaptist,
returning to their roots (being radical).
They are rediscovering that the heart of church
is living out their faith in covenant communities of disciples
who participate in God’s saving mission in the world.
They are rediscovering the ancient practices
that formed communities of Christians since the book of Acts.

They gather in groups small enough to sit around tables
and break bread together
and know each other deeply.
They practice the life of Christ together,
and take it into their neighborhoods and into the larger world.
They worship together,
discern together,
study scripture and pray together.
In the daily rhythms of their lives they embody God’s reign
wherever they are.
They know that simply attending church,
sitting in rows,
and listening to 20-minute monologues,
will not form true disciples of Jesus.

So they join in communities to practice the life of Christ.
I have great hope in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit
to turn a small group of seriously flawed human beings
into the means by which God brings about
his saving and reconciling mission.

I don’t know what this means for the church as we know it,
or for the institutions that hold that church together.
The church is being marginalized in our culture.
But guess what?
Whenever the church is shoved to the margins, it thrives.

It happened to the church in the first three centuries,
to the 16th-century Anabaptists,
to Christians in Ethiopia in the 70s and 80s.
The church thrives because it can’t depend on the surrounding culture
to prop it up.
It has to lean hard on the Holy Spirit and each other.

The church won’t thrive by God swooping in to forcibly resuscitate it.
It will thrive when it engages in practices that create openings for God.
Life comes from God alone.
But God’s life flows into and through us only as
we purposefully create openings for it.
That’s what Christian practices do—create openings for God to act.

Will the Virginia Conference of the next 175 years
look like it does today?
Will it have a substantial headquarters
and staff and budget and programs?
I don’t know.
But I do know that if we keep proclaiming Christ as Lord,
if we keep leaning on the Holy Spirit,
if we keep gathering at each others’ tables
to nurture the ancient practices of the church . . .
Mennonite-Anabaptist Christians will, in fact,
be alive and well and engaged together
in God’s saving mission in our neighborhood,
and around the world.

I do not fear for the church.
Rather, I joyfully seek to imagine and embrace God’s future
for God’s people—
in authentic community and mission,
practicing the life of Christ in the world.

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