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Rosthern Mennonite Church

“Stuck in the Past or Remembering the Future”

Craig Neufeld

September 10, 2017

 

Introducing Gratitude

Something I’ve been trying to work at for the last little while has been to foster an attitude of thankfulness, gratitude.  Growing up I was always reminded to say please and thank-you. My aunt, was always told to say the ‘magic’ word but because she could never figure out which one people were looking for she developed the phrase “please-thank-you-god-bless-you-amen” to try and cover her bases.

As a culture I think we’re not as grateful as we used to be.  I think, gratitude as been replaced with a sense of entitlement.  And I’ve noticed that if I’m not deliberate about it, I don’t express my gratitude very well, and I can take people and actions for granted.

Introducing the things that get in the way of Gratitude

For the next few weeks, when we don’t have a special service, we will be looking at the things in our lives which get in the way of us being grateful.  Those things that inhibit us from showing gratitude. Those things which prevent us from being gracious people.

We’re going to spend time considering things like Nostalgia, a kind of sentimentalizing the past, worry, something that I think we all do, entitlement, an attitude which prevents us from recognizing the broadness of God’s grace and love, greed, and disappointment.  

We’re going to reflect on all these attitudes, whether we recognize it or not, which get in the way of us being able to see the generosity of God around us, and our own calling to be a grateful and gracious people.

So this morning we’re going to begin with an attitude which I think we all need to fess up to.  Nostalgia.

Jacob

So a story for us:

Jacob’s feet hurt.  His stomach grumbled, and his lips were cracked.  He wasn’t used to living like this.  He wasn’t used to the dryness, the heat, the sun beating down on him.  He wasn’t used to walking this much.  It didn’t feel much like walking it was more like wandering, at least that’s what he thought.  They’d been following Moses for some time now.   The first while was exciting, they had left the city in the midst of a celebration.  Or at least they were celebrating. The Egyptians, the ones who had owned them, the ones who had enslaved them, weren’t very impressed with Pharaoh’s command to release the Hebrew people from slavery.  But Jacob and his family and all the other Hebrew slaves were pretty excited.  That was the first day, the second day was exciting for a different reason, Pharaoh had changed his mind, and had sent an army to capture them.  And they were trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea.  But Moses got them through that, and the people were excited and they celebrated, but now it was different, it wasn’t exciting anymore, the novelty of a ‘wilderness camping’ trip had worn off.  Their water had run out, and they were down to rationing the food.  No one was celebrating anymore, in fact, people were starting to complain.

They were complaining because they weren’t sure that Moses knew what he was doing.  It almost seemed like Moses was just as lost as they were, and worse yet, it looked almost like Moses had brought them into the wilderness to die.

While wandering Jacob began to remember the nice food that his master used to have laid out on the table each time he came in to clean up.  He remember the ripe fresh fruit, he remembered the seemingly bottomless carafes of water and jars of wine.  He remembered the shelter that he had over his head.  He remembered how comfortable his shoes were, not worn out like these ones.  Was it that bad in Egypt?   Looking back on it now, it wasn’t that bad, he was very tempted to go back, or, at the very least join in with the others complaining.  Moses had promised them freedom, a land of milk and honey, and instead…instead Moses was leading them to almost certain death in the wilderness.

Now Jacob was beginning to get bitter, he could feel his anger welling up inside of him. Why did he ever leave Egypt? He had it so good there, it wasn’t nearly as bad as this.

Just then, he stumbled, his foot caught a rock and he tripped, and fell face first into the hard desert ground.  Just as he was about to say a curse and scream out of frustration, he was picked up by two neighbours and offered some water.  And it was then that he realized how crazy he was.  What was he thinking, “Back in the good ol’ days, when we spent all day making bricks for building pyramids, when we had no rights, when we couldn’t stand up for ourselves, when Pharaoh occasionally killed us, THOSE WERE THE DAYS?!?!” My goodness.

Jacob began to laugh at himself, sure this is tough living, but it’s living and not slavery.  And that makes this better than where we were.

Nostalgia

There’s a saying that goes, yesterday is behind us, and it’s called the past, tomorrow is ahead of us, and it’s called the future, and today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.  It’s a challenge to live in the present.  Or at least it is for me, my mind is either thinking ahead of what the next project is, or trying to figure out that one puzzle, or I catch myself dwelling on the past, sometimes reliving situations and regretting that I didn’t act, behave or respond a particular way, or I find myself romanticizing the past, remembering the good bits, and selectively forgetting the not-so-good bits.

And I imagine that some of you might catch yourself from time to time in a similar situation.  We call can be caught up in remembering the past, or even romanticizing it.  Sentimentally focusing on the highlights.

The Problem of Nostalgia

The problem with Nostalgia is that never leads us forward.  It’s a candy-coated, much improved rendering of what once was.  And the present in which we find ourselves can never live up to such an idealized past.  Nostalgia can leave us stuck in the quicksand of our own edited memories.  And we can find ourselves perpetually ungrateful for the place we find ourselves because it doesn’t match up with a glorified past which we remember.

Nostalgia most acutely manifests itself in churches as an idealized memory of the church as it once was.  And we’re not immune here.  I hear it when people lament that we’re not the church of 400 people that we once were.  I hear it expressed that it was so nice when there were so many young families here.  I hear the deep longing to return to how things were.  I hear a sadness of how we are not what we once were.  And I can feel that sadness that grief.  And when we give in and hold onto these memories that this is how the church should be Nostalgia quietly steals our joy away, and it prevents us from seeing the ways that God is at work around us right now. 

Sometimes we need an abrupt reality check to open our eyes to what is present, and what is our own idealized fiction of the past.

When I look at the church ledger, our records show that we were at our largest with over 415 members in 1975, six years before I was born.  And a lot has changed in since then, and you’re right. The church isn’t was it what it once was, it’s different now.  And you’re right, when we used to have so many kids.  And when we had so many young families, the church was a really vibrant place to be, there was a lot of energy, there was a lot of activity, and it made it easy to come to church.  And you’re right. It’s not like that anymore.  And it’s sad, it’s tough.  But living longing for that memory, living hoping for the return isn’t living, it’s something else.

Peter

In our gospel reading, following the resurrection of Jesus, Peter, the disciple who denied Jesus, tried to go back to what he knew, he tried to go back and be a fisherman.  Either it was out of a sense of guilt, or out of a sense of shame, or maybe it was just because Peter didn’t know what else to do, Peter decided to go back to the one thing that he knew how to do, the one thing that he knew he could make a living from. Peter decided to fishing.  It’s like he needed that memory of the familiar, he needed to live out some of the happy memories to replace the sad reality that he was living.  But it didn’t work.  Peter was faced with the ugly reality that he wasn’t the fisherman that he remembered himself being, instead of catching a bursting net-load of fish, Peter got skunked on his fishing trip, that is, at least, until Jesus appears. 

If you read on from where our scripture reading stopped, you’ll notice that Jesus doesn’t allow Peter to continue on living out of the past.  Instead, Jesus offers Peter, redemption, and a new calling in life.  Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, mirroring the three times that Peter denied Jesus, and this time, three times Peter confesses that he does, and each time, Jesus commissions Peter to feed his lambs, to tend to his sheep, and to feed his sheep.  Jesus offers Peter a new calling, Jesus offers Peter hope, a new future to look forward to.

Remembering the Future

As followers of Christ, we must also live as a people of hope, a people who remember a future.  It sounds a little silly to say, it might even sound a bit confusing.

However, as followers of Christ, we are a people who are remembering the past actions and promises of Christ, and living with those past actions and promises as we gaze ahead to a unknown future , but a future that has Christ as our cornerstone.  But this past and future living is difficult, because the temptation is always there to remain in the past, remembering the ‘glory days.’ 

Remembering the future, and living with hope doesn’t mean that we forget how things once were, it doesn't mean that we have to get rid or not acknowledge those memories.  What it means is that we remember and appreciate how things once were, and know that God has something just as good in store for us.  In a way it’s an act of trust, trusting that the future, which we don’t know, is going to be just as good as the past that we remember fondly.

Remembering the future means making a different decision than the Israelites did, and not remaining stuck thinking that Egypt was better than the wilderness, and instead, being more like Peter and accepting Christ’s grace, and Christ’s calling for who we could become.

When we live with one foot in the glory days of the past it’s difficult to see fully how God is at work around us.  And yet, if we can be courageous enough to allow the past to be the past, and cast our gaze around us, perhaps we can notice the work of the Holy Spirit, and the evidence of God with us as we strive to be the Church in Rosthern.

Amen.

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Rosthern Mennonite Church

“Faithfulness: Living into God’s Kingdom”

September 3, 2017

Craig Neufeld

 

Sometimes, coming back from holidays is the hardest part.  When I prepare to go on a trip or a vacation there’s usually excitement and anticipation.  Putting together a packing list, thinking about all I’m going to need, and figuring out whether or not it will fit gets me excited for the adventure to come.  And then…well, and then it’s soon time for the holiday to end and for me to pack back up and come back home.  Except when you return home, you’re not the exact same person you were when you left. 

Returning from a short canoe trip this week I found myself struggling to return, it could be because it was too short a trip, or it could be because it was so different than my usual rhythm that I was a little disoriented, whatever the reason, I struggled to return; to come home.  And I found myself asking questions.  After living out of a 60L barrel, I was wondering, do I need all the stuff I have at home? After being so mindful of my waste, I started to wonder what habits or things could I do differently at home?  And after living with a different rhythm, I was wondering, what changes could I make at home?  I had come back from my trip a little different than when I had left. 

When we come back from trips, and many of us have, or are doing this in the next week or so, we’re changed.  We’re different, we’ve seen and lived and experienced new and different things.  We’ve might have seen different parts of the world, or maybe experienced a different way of living.  Familiar routines are interrupted and replaced with different routines.  We become changed. 

So at the end of summer I want to reflect a little on this change.  We’ve spent the last 6 weeks, and a few before then thinking about creation care, and we’ve learned some new things.  We’ve heard a variety of voices reflect on God’s creation and our call to care for that creation; to treat it gently, to not exploit it.  Today, our scripture from Isaiah grants us a glimpse of God’s kingdom, and our scripture from Romans, draws our attention to the groans of creation.  And we’re called to hold onto both as we explore our final fruit of the spirit, Faithfulness.

Faithfulness

As I see it, when I think of faithfulness in relation to the care of God’s creation, I can’t help but wonder how it’s connected to the other fruits we’ve reflected on this summer.  I think faithfulness, or at least faithful living, is tied into each of the fruits that we've explored.

A common question connected to creation care that I’ve been hesitant to answer, has been the “What do we do about it?” question.  I’ve been reluctant to offer an answer for a couple of reasons, first, I want you to think about it, and maybe come up with your own response.  Secondly, because I don’t feel good prescribing how to ‘fix’ a problem like climate change, and thirdly rather than jumping to a solution, I’ve wanted us recognize our role in creation care and climate change,.

Now that we’re onto talking about faithfulness, and faithful living, I think it’s come time to answer the question, ‘what can we do about it?’ or to phrase it another way, “How do we live faithfully into God’s kingdom?”  And I think that living faithfully into God’s kingdom is embodied in all of the fruits of the spirit which we have talked about this summer.  Faithful living is not isolated from other practices, rather it’s a combination of many practices.

Peace

So how is it that we can live faithfully into God’s Kingdom, firstly, Sabbath rest, for both creation and for us.  When we talked about peace last week, Krista focused on Sabbath, and reminded us how the Sabbath creates a distinctive community, a community of peace.  She also talked about how Sabbath expands our community because it shapes us as a people.  While the rest of society might prefer to run at a 24/7 pace, God has assured us that there is enough grace for us to take time to rest, whether that’s once every seven days, every seven years, or seven times seven years.

Creation needs a rest, whether it’s from being used, or from being exploited. Creation and humankind also need a rest from many of the ongoing conflicts.  We need to find and foster peace with ourselves, peace with creation, and peace with our neighbours, whether they be nearby or far away.

So what does or can that look like?  What might it look like for you to rest one day a week?  Maybe it means finding for yourself a place to retreat to, a place where you can be still and know that God is.  For me that is what the wilderness is, it is a place where God is, and where all of my defenses are stripped away, and I am completely vulnerable to God and God’s creation. And, interestingly enough, it’s a place where I feel relaxed.

It’s important for us to remember that Sabbath is just as important for creation as it is for those who dwell within God’s creation.  As much as we need rest from work, so too does God’s creation.  And I wonder what that might look like?  Creation can’t exactly take a retreat from us.

Self-Control

But Sabbath isn’t enough, we have to remember that part of the problem with creation’s pains and groans, is that humankind keeps taking without giving something back.  To satisfy our longing for more, humankind has plundered creation for goods and resources, some of which can never be replaced.

So in addition to Sabbath, we must learn to practice and live with ‘enough.’  When I reflected on my own struggle with ‘stuff,’ I was shocked and surprised with how many also echoed the same struggles.  There seemed to be a lighthearted lament or perhaps it’s best described as a groan, as we pondered and reflected on how much stuff we had.  And it wasn’t just the acquisition of stuff that we struggled with, but also how do we responsibly get rid of stuff.

In a world where disposing of stuff on one hand can be very easy, just throw it in the trash, we’ve learned that there are consequences, consequences to the earth, consequences to our water, consequences to other human beings.  Somethings that are thrown away will never go away in our lifetime, or even our children or grandchildren’s lifetime.  Think about those styrofoam cups next time you take one out of the sleeve.  And so we must learn some sort of self-control when it comes to stuff.

One way we can practice that is to learn where our stuff comes from, and where our stuff goes when we’re done with it, even before we choose purchase it.  Or better yet, we can learn to “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

Generosity

Many of the issues that we discussed this summer were tied closely to justice.  I don't think many of us will think of cell phones or computers in the same way after Todd’s reflection.  Creation Care and Justice are never really too far apart from one another.  And for many, to practice creation care is to be engaged in acts of social justice.  It is hard to separate creation care from justice. Creation care, justice and generosity are interwoven in how we live our lives.  When we practice creation care it is our response to the question “What does God ask of you?”  By being generous in caring for creation we bring justice to brothers and sisters all over the world.

All of this ties into the spiritual fruit of generosity because we must be aware of how we participate in all of these situations, our actions affect others around the world, and if we are to live justly, kindly and humbly, we must consider the consequences of our actions.  We must consider where our water comes from, and where it goes, where many of our creature comforts come from and how they get to us, because what we do matters to others.  It matters to others because we all inhabit God’s creation, and there’s only one of it.

But this requires an attitude adjustment.  The many natural resources around us are finite.  And we must be responsible with them.  We must think of them less as something to gain profit by, and instead, something to be borrowed.  With humility I reflect that we are only caretakers and residents in God’s creation for a period of time.  Knowing that creation has existed before us, and trusting that creation will exist after us, and that we are privileged to be a part of its story for the time of our lives. And we must treat creation with generous respect.

Patience

And to live into God’s kingdom with the kind of generous respect that we reflected upon, we must have a patient attitude.  We must foster and attitude that is more humble than entitled, an attitude that remembers that others are also apart of this creation.  An attitude that doesn’t need things immediately, but can wait for it to come in it’s appointed season.

Todd challenged us to think about how patience is an important part of creation care and how convenience often turns out to be bad for all of creation. Todd suggested that if we want to enjoy and experience God’s creation to the fullest extent, and if we want to treat all of God’s creatures, including ourselves, as God wants us to, we would do well to display the fruit of the spirit that is patience.

When we focus on convenience, we risk trampling the pasture and muddying the water for other creatures—creatures who may be very close and creatures who may be very distant. Our quest for convenience could have unexpected and unintended results around the globe. Displays of patience may have similarly far-reaching consequences that add to the glory of God’s kingdom.

Living with the fruit of patience in our hearts, helps us to not only protect creation from being molested, it also helps us to live fuller and more faithful lives in greater appreciation of the creation that surrounds us, faithfully engaging with God’s creation.

Kindness/Gentleness

And by living patiently, we are more likely to be kind and gentle to God’s creation.  I reflected on this while I was out paddling this week.  I frequently found myself relishing the sound of my paddle gently moving through the water, the rhythmic sound of water splashing was enough to calm my spirit.  I found that this calmness was reflected in other ways, I walked with care, I looked at what I was stepping on, and I noticed what was around me.

In Genesis we are called to have dominion over creation, but I don’t think that means we’re supposed to control and command creation, rather, I think, that this is more about a mutual relationship with creation.  And this can be an attitude shift.  For so long humankind has thought that we can take as much as we want without consequences, and in the last few decades have we begun to learn that we may have taken too much.  That we weren’t gentle enough with God’s creation. 

We must shift our attitudes to remember that we are to live alongside God’s creation, yes, we relish in it’s bounty, but we are also to be gentle with it, not taking too much, and leaving enough for others. 

Love

And none of this is possible without a love for God’s creation.  Out of love God has created, and God has called humankind to tend to, and to care for creation.  And so it’s my belief that through this calling, God continues to create in this world.  We are but one part of God’s great creation, and yet, we have been given the privilege to be called to care for Gods’ creation.

As Christians we must remember that we are a part of God’s story of Creation.  That we are but one chapter, and that we have been tasked to be caretakers for this time, and that we pass on this Holy privilege to the next generation.  This is ultimately Gods creation, and while we are humble caretakers of it, God still is active in it.

The Fruit of the Spirit

So you see, they’re tied together, all of them, Faithfully living, is a part of all of the fruits which we explored this summer, faithfully living in God’s creation and into God’s Kingdom requires that we live lives of peace, patience, self-control, generosity, kindness gentleness and love.  And by doing so, we help in caring for God’s creation, and also we work with God in helping create the Kingdom which Jesus proclaimed.  We become co-creators in God’s Kingdom.

I started this morning by reflecting on how coming back from holidays we’re changed.  I like to hope that after spending time with this series, we’ve been changed a little.  Maybe it’s in our attitude to creation, maybe it’s in a practice or two, maybe it’s in being able to have conversations that we didn’t know we wanted to have.  Maybe it’s in a new realization.  I don’t know but I want to hope and believe that we’ve each been changed a little by exploring how the fruit of the spirit can connect to the fruit of the earth.  I know for me at least, I’m going to think a little bit more about practices around the house and maybe I’ll make a couple of changes.  And in my own little way, I’m going to try a little bit harder to practice faithfully living in such a way that I live a life of peace, patience self-control, generosity, kindness gentleness and love.

Amen.

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Rosthern Mennonite Church

Sabbath Identity - Krista Loewen

August 27, 2017

The Mennonite game is easy to play - but difficult to master. For years Mennonites have been playing it, but after all this time, no winner has been determined for the simple reason that there is no clear set of rules. According to Daily Bonnet, a satirical Mennonite blog, “This game is appropriate for all ages, and although younger people will have more time to tally points, older Mennonites certainly have the advantage when it comes to knowledge about aunts and uncles and cousins-once-removed.” While the point system may be fictional, it is true that within our circles, we prioritize our collective identity. When we meet someone new, we ask ‘Who are your parents”, 5 points. Actually knowing the new acquaintance’s parents, 20 points. Owning a family history book?  5 points.  Discovering a non-mennonite in your family tree? - minus 10 points.

I find myself doing this often. It puts me at ease to know where someone comes from and it is a fairly efficient way of quickly finding out who’s in and who’s out of the fold. This matter of identity is central to Sabbath.

            Sabbath practice is often considered a break from work, or perhaps a nuisance when you need to buy something on a Sunday. But the life altering practise of Sabbath is an identity forming ritual. The Old and New testament tell stories of God’s people observing the Sabbath and taking on new identities.

The first new identity which is cultivated in God’s people is that of an inclusive community.

The prophet Isaiah writes to help the Israelite community learn to live together after their exile. This is where our first passage comes in: Isaiah 56 :1-5.

 1-3 God’s Message:

“Guard my common good:

   Do what’s right and do it in the right way,

For salvation is just around the corner,

   my setting-things-right is about to go into action.

How blessed are you who enter into these things,

   you men and women who embrace them,

Who keep Sabbath and don’t defile it,

   who watch your step and don’t do anything evil!

...

make sure no physically mutilated person (in other words a Eunuch)

   is ever made to think, ‘I’m damaged goods.

   I don’t really belong.’”

4-5 For God says:

“To the mutilated who keep my Sabbaths

   and choose what delights me

   and keep a firm grip on my covenant,

I’ll provide them an honored place

   in my family and within my city,

   even more honored than that of sons and daughters.

I’ll confer permanent honors on them

   that will never be revoked.”

 

So what did the Israelites learn about how to live together? First and foremost the message is clear that keeping the Sabbath, choosing what delights the Lord, and upholding the covenant are paramount. Then Isaiah has a special message regarding groups of people more often excluded from the temple and people of God: Eunuchs, foreigners, those that are physically mutilated. To these people Isaiah opens the door to the temple and announces that they are welcome!

Unfortunately I can’t relate to the Eunuchs. My skin colour, religion and ethnicity invite me into many spaces freely. But perhaps it is a bit like I feel when I’m in the airport after 12 hours of flying and see the reward members in their luxurious lounge. I see the goodness and just wish I had the card to be able to go inside, feast on the fresh fruit and enjoy the good company. Isaiah declares in this passage that you no longer need a card to get in! You just need the right Sabbath attitude to experience the holy grail of lounges. It doesn’t matter how you were born: russian or swiss Mennonite heritage, Ammonite or Israelite, fertile or infertile.

It isn’t proficient players of the Israelite game honored in God’s family. It is the physically mutilated individuals who hold fast to the Sabbath. This turns things upside down from what the Israelites might have expected. However it demonstrates that upholding the Sabbath includes and unites all believers based on their attitudes, not birthrights. (check slide)

Inclusive Sabbath practises aren’t just for the Eunuchs of the world. Our Leviticus passage indicates that the year of Jubilee was also focused on inclusion. The harvest during the sabbatical year should be shared with everyone (your family, male slaves, female servants, hired migrant workers and aliens living in a foreign land). All of these people deserve a share in the harvest. This list is significant. It includes everyone on the end of the totem pole of hierarchy.

And let’s not forget that the harvest for sharing is not guaranteed to be plentiful. The land has to lay fallow, untended, or pruned. I’m sure many of you have a lot more experience than I do with harvest and farming and can imagine what kind of mess the fields might be in after a year of growing wild. I only know that when I take a couple of weeks of vacation from weeding my little garden patch, it is hard enough to catch up!

I was, nonetheless, intrigued by what came up in my garden this spring. After the surprise snow in fall last year David and I failed to clear out everything from the garden and some things continued to grow in the spring warmth. We had  rubbery parsnips ready to eat in no time! Some of Larry’s infamous tomatillos sprouted up and, well we all know what Dill does when left to it’s own devices. I could have scraped together a sad little meal from our garden plot if I had to without doing anything to the land. But it would’ve been pretty funky and a meagre meal. Now imagine having to do this for a whole year, for every meal, and being told to share it with those people who are considered inferior to you. This would require a pretty radical humbling of oneself for the sake of others.

But the Levitical laws don’t stop there. You also need to share it with all of creation: the cows, the goats, sheep, and wild animals. (It wouldn’t be as much of a sacrifice to toss some rubbery parsnips to the goats though….) There is no separation in the sabbath laws between humanity and creation. They insist that all of creation come together and trust in God’s provision.

Sabbath is written as law for Israel during a time that their collective being is changing. And right in the rule book are indicators that this new community was cultivating a culture of inclusion by practising Sabbath. The Eunuchs were invited into the place of worship because they upheld the Sabbath. The animals and the lowly slaves of the household  were welcomed to the harvest table to share in the meager meal. Those with plenty were called to share what little they might have with those of inferior social standing. Sabbath creates a new inclusive community for God’s people.

Upholding the Sabbath gives a new identity to individuals as well.

Let’s look at the Eunuch’s experience. Previously this type of mutilation wasn’t acceptable in God’s community. However, Isaiah declares that God’s love is open to them, fully knowing what baggage they bring with them.  

I was struck by the isolation in the voice of the Eunuch. V3 reads “I am just a dry tree.” In the MSG translation it reads:  ‘I’m damaged goods. I don’t really belong.’” How many of us have heard that refrain in our head from one time or another and can relate to how alone he must have felt?

The Eunuch’s self identity is wrapped up in what he can, or cannot, produce and contribute. Upholding Sabbath puts aside the ethos of production and efficiency as prerequisites for inclusion in God’s community. No one is considered damaged goods by God if they cannot produce enough, keep up to Egyptian slave masters, or participate in the rat race of our current economy. Sabbath reminds us that we can stop seeing ourselves as vehicles for production, and start seeing ourselves as children of God.

            So often we get caught up in thinking that our value is tied to what was can do or produce. Mainstream society is really great at convincing us that more money, more food, more sex, more friends, more likes on facebook etc. etc.  are going to bring us a sense of peace and fulfillment. But yet these promises let us down and more often than not, these expectations leave us anxious, stressed out and overwhelmed. Practicing Sabbath is your ticket out of that mindset for a while. A chance to be reminded that you are unproductive, maybe even lazy according to other standards, and beloved by God.

            I am someone who lives with anxiety.  I often get caught up in planning and keeping busy as a way to cope. Recently I came to the realization that this pattern wasn’t actually working that well. In trying to do everything I wasn’t doing the things which drew me closer to God or gave me life. So I am try to do things a bit differently these days. I’ve chosen to work less than full time because that is what is healthy for me. In a sense I am taking a Sabbath so that I might have time to release myself from unhealthy patterns return to a rhythm of life more conducive to inner peace.  It has not been easy to explain to people that I am intentionally working less. I get a lot of questions wondering what I do with my time or whether I’ve found a job yet. Initially each question was a blow to the efficiency monster inside my head telling me that if I wasn’t doing everything all the time, I was failing. But I’m slowly learning to change the narrative and embrace my new sabbath identity: unproductive and beloved by God.

One author I read this week defined the message of Sabbath as this: I [God] will feed you with heritage and allow you to take delight in this heritage. I love the image of being fed our identity when we spend time in Sabbath. What does this look like?

Despite what I shared earlier, I am not someone who has found the way to practise Sabbath. I usually follow the pattern of retreating and unplugging for a while, feeling great, and then rushing back into “real life.” Last fall I had a Sabbath opportunity like this.  I went camping in Waskesiu and there was no one else around me. It was incredibly life giving to have time to soak in the slow pattern of fall, take some photos,  and be reminded of how much work it is to live. I thought, in my typical productivity mindset, that I would finish reading 5 books, journal every day, write a sermon and go for hikes. This is all in 2 days! It was completely unrealistic. The time it took me to make my meals, heat water for coffee, and set up my shelter took up most of my time. Friends have asked me afterwards, what did you do that whole time alone? And I honestly can’t say much more than “I lived!” I didn’t do anything but slow my thoughts down.

When I tried to enter into prayerful times, my mind would not. I was reminded of how difficult Sabbath as a practise is. We forget how to slow down and our minds go on rapidly before our souls can catch up to where we are. So what I took away from my Sabbath experience wasn’t a completed sermon but a renewed sense of where my soul was at. Walter Brueggeman writes this prayer in his book of poems which sums it up: “Giver of good gifts, Give us the simplicity to put ourselves down in your rest, whereby we may receive back our true selves by drawing close to you."

The last New identity offered to us in Sabbath is to be cultivators of peace. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians outlines that through Christ’s death and resurrection we are offered reconciliation for our sins, and called to offer this to others as well. In baptism we become new people and are called to be ambassadors of this reconciliation. As Mennonites our primary way  of this type of missional living is through discipleship - modelling our lives after Christ’s.

So, we strive to live like the one who rested and retreated with God in the garden; who was given to us because of God’s faithful timing, not by our own efficient work; who showed us that we are beloved, despite our ability to produce or our social standing; who calls us to listen and attend to the patterns of creation. How can we follow Christ if we do not spend the time practising and acquainting ourselves in the Sabbath rhythm?

In Buddhism there is a lot of discourse about seeds and what we choose to sow. All of our being (heart, soul, mind, bodies) have seeds of potential within. We have seeds of joy, peace, grace, and contentment. But we also have seeds of anger, hate, judgement, and impatience. Those seeds which we water and cultivate will flourish and grow into our identity. Those that are ignored will grow smaller and become less of who we are.

Sabbath gives us a chance to cultivate and grow new identities in the same way. Sabbath gives us rest from feeling outcast, and urges us to water the seeds of hospitality and generosity. Sabbath gives us the opportunity to water seeds of contentment and acceptance of who we are as inefficient people and urges us to water the seeds of patience and kindness when met with circumstances and people who do not perform up to our societal standards.

            As the seasons change and we enter into, and complete, fall harvest, which type of seeds will you be watering? What new identity might God be offering to you in the form of Sabbath?

Please join me in praying the words on the screen: Giver of good gifts, Give us the simplicity to put ourselves down in your rest, whereby we may receive back our true selves by drawing close to you.

Grace to all of you as you explore and receive your new Sabbath selves this fall. Amen.

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Rosthern Mennonite Church

August 6, 2017

"Patience and Convenience" - Todd Hanson

Good morning. We are in our third session of a series entitled "Fruit of the Spirit, Fruit of the Earth", which is looking at the fruits of the spirit and how they relate to Creation Care. Today’s fruit of the spirit is patience, and I want to tell you right now that I do not consider myself to be overly patient and I am not an expert on Creation Care, either. I sound like a Chinese lecturer. In a demonstration of humility, many Chinese speakers begin speeches by saying how poorly prepared they are, and I always thought of that as a counterproductive approach. But patience and creation care are both topics I need to learn more about, and I’ve done some research over the past weeks and discovered some interesting and some inspiring things, along with some things that cause deep despair, and I’d like to share those with you.

So first of all, what is patience? The word may bring to mind images of waiting at a traffic light or sitting in a waiting room, but patience is not simply passively waiting for time to pass. Patience is active. Patience is "The quality of forbearance and self-control which shows itself particularly in a willingness to wait upon God and his will. Believers are called upon to be patient in their expectations of God’s actions, and in their relationships with one another. Patience reveals our faith in God’s timing, omnipotence, and love, and is connected with hope. It would be hard for someone with no hope to be patient. Hebrews 12:1 describes running "with patience the race that is set before us" (NKJV). In the Bible, patience is persevering towards a goal, enduring trials, or expectantly waiting for a promise to be fulfilled.

To start with, there is one area of our lives where we can practice patience every day and have a positive impact on Creation, and that is in the decisions we make about what we eat. By choosing to eat food that is in season, we can cut down on transportation costs and the over-use of fossil fuels when we buy food that comes from across the country, the continent, or the world. And by preparing food from scratch, we can reduce the amount of packaging that adds to landfills. So there are two examples of how patience on our part can have a major impact on the environment.

I like to look at things from more than one perspective, and in thinking about patience I decided that one opposite of patience is convenience. When things are convenient that usually means that we don’t have to be patient, and when things are inconvenient we often need to exercise our patience. So this morning I want us all to think about how patience is an important part of creation care and how convenience often turns out to be bad for all of creation.

Even well-intentioned quests for convenience can have unexpected results. I’m not sure how patient you are for your first cup of coffee in the morning. I am not a coffee drinker, and I’m not sure how many cups any of you have had, but I hope that no one here has ever suffered from caffeine poisoning. In 1995, John Sylvan rushed to the nearest hospital thinking that he was experiencing a heart attack. Tests showed that he was not having a heart attack, so the doctor asked a series of questions to try to figure out what had caused his pounding heart, throbbing head, and tunnel vision. Eventually the question was asked, how many cups of coffee do you drink every day. John answered, around 30 or 40. He was an inventor, and was trying to come up with a machine that would brew single servings of coffee. When he had a working model, he named it with the Dutch word for excellence, and named the coffee pods, K-Cups. He tried to break into the office market but things did not go smoothly and in 1997, John sold his shares in the company for $50,000. Three years later, in 2010, 3 million K-Cups were sold. When the machines moved from office staffrooms to homes, sales exploded and in 2014, sales jumped to 9.8 billion. Recent estimates say that the non-recyclable K-Cups currently in landfills could circle the earth more than 12 times. John Sylvan has said that he regrets inventing his coffee maker and the way it has affected the environment. Today he doesn’t even own one. His quest for convenience had unexpected results.

Creation can also suffer depending upon how Christians see themselves and their position in Creation. In our opening hymn we sang about God’s love being in the sunshine, His life in the air, His power and law in the lightning and the stormwinds, his calm in the evening’s hour, his grandeur in the night (stars), and his power in the sunrise. I think I’d have been content for the lyricist to end with three verses, because in the fourth verse he identifies what I think is one of the major problems that Christians face when we consider our place in Creation. Considering all of these signs of God in nature, verse four claims that there is one thing in creation that embodies God "higher far and far more clear". And what is this creature that is so much more God-like than the earth, the sky, and the sea? It’s us. And by us, I mean humans. But other people seem to define "us" much more narrowly. These people believe the clearest embodiment of God is shown by "us" as in the citizens of our country, or the members of our denomination, or the congregation of our local church, or in it’s narrowest form, "us" refers only to me. For example, a popular slogan in the US these days is "America first", but I think their president’s personal motto is more like "me first". And his past and future policies seem engineered to have a predominantly harmful effect on God’s creation. Some of his policies remind me of the Ezekiel passage’s description of those who trample the pastures and muddy the streams. A "me first" attitude is perhaps the logical result of doing everything in the name of convenience. 

These days some people talk of de-conveniencing their lives, so I guess that means that they will, in a round-about way, end up exercising more patience in their lives.

Blue Zones

Mennonite Church Canada prayer request emailed five days ago:

"The situation in Congo evolved from political turmoil and conflict over global demand for Congo’s rich mineral resources, particularly coltan. Coltan is used in the manufacture of capacitors for electronic devices."

I did a Google search of "Coltan congo" and chose three links

May 12 Coltan and human rights in Congo

A miner working with a pickaxe and carrying 50 kg bags nine hours a day is paid $2.50 a day

July 10 How coltan and greed fuel Congo’s violence

The people who have been killed are victims of "a global culture of consumerism". In the 1800s, tens of millions of Congolese were sacrificed in order to produce rubber for the growing automoblile industry. During WW II, it was Congolese uranium that the enabled the Manhattan project, and Congolese uranium was used in the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since the nid-1990s, it’s been coltan, AKA "grey gold" that has caused untold suffering for millions of Congolese. Demand for this and other conflict minerals is high because they are needed for computers, phones, and electric cars. Demand will not be falling in the foreseeable future.

July 22 $750 million mining revenue in Congo "missing"

Over 3 years, 20% of the country’s mining revenue, due to corruption and mismanagement. The president and members of his family own many of the mines

The country is rich in natural resources but its people are among the poorest in the world.

When my phone stopped working I didn’t really even consider getting it repaired—it was almost two years old already and the phone company offered an early upgrade bonus, so I traded in my old one and got a new one. I hope that my old one was recycled, but I don’t know. As I said before, I’m not an expert in this. 

On Thursday Jeanette and I did some research into God’s creation by paddling 17 kilometres on Kingsmere Lake and then hiking 3 kilometres in the bush to visit Grey Owl’s cabin. It took us over four hours to get there, and we witnessed the wonders of God’s creation as we paddled along the lakeshore. Almost immediately, we saw two bald eagles. We couldn’t get over how calm Kingsmere was. It’s a huge lake, and the stillness was almost eerie. We were scolded by an otter, and saw maybe thirty loons congregating together. We could clearly here the sound made by a flock of floating birds as they took off, and heard the murmuring of streams emptying into the lake. We had the lake to ourselves, as far as we could tell, until after 10:00. At that point, we saw a fishing boat zipping across the lake to the trailhead of the path that led to Grey Owl’s cabin. The marina offers boat rentals to people who want to get to the cabin the easy way, and when we arrived at the cabin, the group was still there. I had been thinking about this patience and convenience contrast while paddling, and thought that this was a good example of how choosing convenience, in this case a fishing boat, over patience, in this case, a canoe, prevented these people from experiencing a full experience of God’s creation. Zipping across that lake there is no way that tour group heard what we heard or saw what we saw. Now of course, people have different priorities and concerns, and someone could point out that it takes even more patience and more time to hike the trail along Kingsmere, which is how Jeanette went there the first time under the guidance of Rudy Froese. By paddling a canoe, weren’t we choosing convenience over patience? Maybe. Another indication of our impatience is that we made the trip in one day although it is always described as a two-day adventure.

Anyway, we were more patient than the fishing boat people, who reminded me of an old Chinese saying as they zipped by. Zou3ma3kan4hua1 means glancing at flowers from horseback. If you really want to admire flowers, you need to stop your horse and dismount and actually look at them close-up. In the same way, if we want to enjoy and experience God’s creation to the fullest extent, and if we want to treat all of God’s creatures, including ourselves, as God wants us to, we would do well to display the fruit of the spirit that is patience. When we focus on convenience, we risk trampling the pasture and muddying the water for other creatures—creatures who may be very close and creatures who may be very distant. Our quest for convenience could have unexpected and unintended results around the globe. Displays of patience may have similarly far-reaching consequences that add to the glory of god’s kingdom. Over this next week I hope that all of us will have an opportunity or two to choose patience over convenience and that those decisions will bring glory to God and to his creation.

As we prepare to leave and embrace the challenges of our lives and our world, let us ask for God’s blessing. May God bless us with wisdom to care for our earth. May God bless us with love to bring forth new life. In the name of God, the Maker of the whole world; of Jesus, our new covenant; and of the Holy Spirit, who opens eyes and hearts. Go in peace, be witnesses to hope, and rely upon that hope to give you patience.

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