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Witness to God's Peace

Circles are beautiful symbols that represent a completely unified body. They are also used as metaphors for getting stuck in a never-ending cycle that seems to lead nowhere. However, when we circle something (on a calendar, in a book, on a page of notes), it indicates a singularly important phenomenon worth noting.

The picture above captures such a moment of recognition. And what it zeros in on is the basis by which we claim unity together.  Two sides of our spiritual journey, seemingly divided from each other, appear (disjointedly) combined under one banner’s purpose – Witness to God’s Peace.

As earth-bound individuals, we walk a path of truth which grounds us and makes us feel secure in who we are. Yet, as people chasing the wind, the movement of the Spirit in our lives (and the lives of others), we rarely find a landing spot on which we can be comfortable, or catch our breath.

In one sense, the Spirit is wild, unsettling, and hard to grasp. Like a goose on the loose, the Spirit moves with a great deal of force, and flies like the wind. The Spirit is uncontrollable, untamable, and always seemingly just beyond our reach (either from our inability to follow closely enough, or from the terror we experience when we get so close we can reach out and touch it).

What does it mean to go where the Spirit leads? How do we know when we’ve arrived? Why does faithful following feel unsettling, and settling on parameters leave the impression of unfaithfulness?

As those who have landed on Jesus as reconciler of all things, we must choose to walk towards those edges with a strong understanding of who we are and who we are not. We are not God. We are imperfect in our decisions, in our ability to discern the Spirit’s movement, and never meant to make that journey on our own.

We are, however, as wind walkers on earth as it is in heaven, called to seek out relationship with those whom Jesus did. People on the margins, on the outside, who need the breath of God in their lives, and who end up helping us move toward wholeness through their uniquely fitted place within the body of Christ.

When we become unified in our purpose to love with the radical hospitality of God, through the healing, reconciling movement of God in Jesus, and by that Spirit, it transforms any weakness we may see in ourselves, or in the new body now being formed together, into a strength to move as one with God working at Peace. By eliminating anything outside that focus, we narrow our vision in an ever-widening way that redefines what is possible in our lives, in the lives of our neighbors, and in the world, through the power of One Holy Spirit.

MennoCon19 - Worship

Questions of vitality and purpose surround every part of our existence. What makes us consider an organization, group, or individual dying or thriving is sometimes based on a faulty understanding of what we’re witnessing.

There is an age old saying about our inability to see the forest through the trees. Sometimes we become so focused on what’s taking place with our particular tree, we fail to see the impact the overall forest is having on it. This creates a phenomenon whereby we look for answers to forest questions in our singular tree.

At least, that’s how Sociologist of Religion and Religious Sociologist, Josh Packard, puts it. When speaking about trees like historic institutions, we need to understand that whatever we’re experiencing in that tree, it’s a forest problem, not a tree problem. So, let’s not waste time on our tree dealing with forest level issues.

Right now, at this time in history, people don’t trust institutions…period. Which is why the answer to the question of whether or not the church is dying or thriving, is that the church is very much ALIVE! Because Jesus didn’t create an institution. He formed a community of faith that does life together by the power of the Holy Spirit.

That Spirit of God is always at work, a whistling wind calling out to people. And the sound of that powerfully quiet voice gives us a clue as to where we can find a place to call home again. Like the children of Israel in Babylon, we long find our way back home.

However, fear hold’s us captive. It does this by a perceived sense of threat, by something, or someone other than ourselves. And our innate response is to attempt to destroy that entity in order to feel safe again.

However, Jesus said that he came to reconcile “all things” unto himself. He prayed a prayer of unity of purpose through diversity of contribution. And, as a community, who actively engages in conversation, and meaningful ministry, the church is positioned to reshape itself to fit that defined space of new birth again.

If the church will become a place where people can freely share their story (personal, and faith) without judgment…If the church will offer a space to listen to the needs of others…If the church actively invites a truly relational participation…If the church can set aside bureaucracy and politics for communal impact…then it will cease to be an institution of right belief and moral prescription, and become a gathered community that people can trust, again, to welcome them home in faith.

The church is very much alive, in you, in me, and in all who allow ourselves to be formed by the life, teachings, death, and resurrection work of Jesus, and informed by the Spirit of Christ leading us to something familiarly different than what we now know. In the womb of this messiness, where enemies and strangers are united, a new creation awaits full deliverance. Here, the heartbeat of God fills us with life-giving blood which flows to the farthest reaches of this beloved body of believers.

Changing Colors

We can change the color of the building, but the structure of the myth behind it, and why we see it that way, remains the same.

Whether its nations or corporations, people groups or steeple groups, politics or economics; we choose to classify, label, and color ourselves based on convictions, locations, and originations. By doing so we allow ourselves to be categorized based on factors that we may, or may not, be able to control. It allows us to form “us” groups; groups where “we” are under, or over, and against, anyone outside this, “our,” group (way of understanding, living, acting, believing, or being).

Those beyond our own constructed view of the borders become “them” and “they.” “Their” agenda (propaganda, memoranda, or modus operandi) goes from an object of scrutiny to personified evil. “They” morph into the body of this living, breathing, hated movement. Now that “it” has been largely depicted as “them,” the nations, corporations, institutions, ethnicities, genders, faith communities, political parties, ways of life, and all people associated to “them” become easily vilified, dismissed, abused, and stripped of all resemblance to “us.”

We protect “our” group by developing a way to destroy “them” conscience free. “‘They’ are no longer worthy of love because ‘they’ have lost ‘their’ humanity.” “‘We’ can’t be in relationship with ‘them’ because ‘our’ way is superior.” “There is no hope of ‘them’ ever seeing things like ‘us’ so ‘we’ would all be better without ‘them.'” Stories, myths, lies “we” tell “our” group because it’s easier to maintain a sense of “us” that way. And the possibility for “us” to ignore, attack, and even kill (in word or deed) “them” grows into the fruit of the god we truly serve by being this way: “ourselves.”

Jesus talked about this type of idolatry in his day; he called it out in John 8 when he saw the humanity in the woman caught in adultery. Jesus didn’t condemn her, he offered a way to relationship. When “we” lose “our” ability to see “them” as human, “we” also create a worshiping community that fails to see as Jesus does. Jesus looks at the different colors we all put on ourselves, the gods we sometimes follow instead, and sees only what we were born as by God the Father; children of the same eternal family to which Jesus himself belongs. If we claim to worship God, we must do likewise.