Sunday, August 26, 2018

Phil Kniss: Marked for life

"Milestone Sunday and Baptisms"
Joshua 24:14-18

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None of us like to be labeled.
To label someone is to stop seeing them as a whole person,
a complex person.
To label someone is to put them in a box,
to categorize them,
to simplify them,
so it makes it easier to know whether they are good or evil,
winner or loser,
friend or foe.

But actually, whether labels are helpful or harmful
depends on who is doing the labeling,
and for what purpose.

I think there are some labels we should aspire to,
labels that actually help us to become whole persons,
persons with all the wonder and beauty and complexity
our Creator had in mind for us.
And those are the labels given to us
by the only one who has the right to name us.

So while I don’t approve of us calling each other names,
when God is doing the name-calling,
it is something for us to celebrate.

And that is what we ARE celebrating this morning.

Baptism has deep roots in the Christian tradition,
and the Jewish tradition we grew from.
And it is the baptism of Jesus himself,
that helps us grasp its rich meaning.

When Jesus was baptized, God called him a name.
As he was coming up from the waters of the Jordan,
a voice was heard “You are by beloved son.”
That was a label. A declaration of identity.
“You are!”
Not “you should” or “you oughtta” or “you will.”
Not words of duty, but identity.

That is what baptism is.
It’s submitting to God’s name-calling.
At the heart of all our baptisms is that we are named,
we are christened by God,
we are marked for life—
“You are loved. You are mine.
You are worthy, because I have made you worthy.
And I have an intention for you.”

We sometimes mistakenly think that the milestone of baptism
is a mark of spiritual achievement.
As if this day of baptism is something
that we have strived for,
since we began to think and act for ourselves.
And that now, at last, we have achieved
a sufficient measure of knowledge,
or faith,
or righteousness,
or what have you,
that we can now, in good conscience,
accept the rite of baptism.
As if we made it! We did it!

Baptism is not so much a rite of passage,
or a moving from one level of maturity into another.
It is a naming ritual.

You who are being baptized today.
We are not asking you to demonstrate that you are
wise enough,
holy enough,
faithful enough,
biblically smart enough,
or anything enough.

We only need to know
that you have heard God calling you by this name,
that you are willing to take on this name,
that you are ready to devote the rest of your life
to learning how to live into this name.

What you are doing this morning is
saying “yes” to what God has already said to you,
when God invited you to be part of God’s family in Christ,
and to join with other members of this family.

And that’s the other thing I want to underline for us all this morning.
Baptism is not a solitary naming.
You are not being given a name no one else has—
like some parents are known to do,
choose a name to distinguish their child from other children.
The more unusual and unique the name, the better.

Nothing wrong with that.
But in baptism we are given a family name.
It’s the same name everyone baptized before you was given—
God’s beloved and chosen child.

In today’s Old Testament reading from Joshua 24,
we see a great example of this idea.
It’s a famous text, and quoted often, usually out of context.
It was at a critical juncture in the life of the people of Israel,
when many were turning to the gods of their neighbors,
instead of the God Yahweh, who delivered them from slavery.
Joshua stood before them and made a powerful declaration.
“Choose this day whom you will serve,
whether the gods your ancestors served . . .
or the gods of the Amorites . . .
but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

This often gets read in order to inspire us
to make individual, internal choices.
We are personally urged to choose to follow the way of Jesus,
in our daily lives,
instead of the many gods of this world.
That’s good advice, of course,
but there was a lot more at stake here in Joshua.
Joshua did not ask individual Israelites to make a moral choice.
He put the question to the tribes and clans of Israel,
to choose the family of their allegiance.

And he was not even speaking for himself alone.
“As for me and my household,” Joshua said,
and by that he did not mean a nuclear American family
consisting of Mom and Dad and 2.5 children.
It was an extended household, a larger collection of individuals,
located in an even larger clan,
within a larger yet tribe,
within the larger yet people of Israel.

He was saying to all these groups, “Examine your alignments.
Declare your loyalties.
Decide which family will determine your identity.
The family of Yahweh, the deliverer of the poor and oppressed,
that is our household’s choice.
Or the false and hedonistic gods of the nations around you.

He was demanding them to choose their family name.
And they chose wisely.
They answered, together as a family of families,
as a community of communities,
“Far be it from us
that we should forsake Yahweh to serve other gods;
for it is Yahweh our God who brought us and our ancestors
up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery . . .
we also will serve Yahweh, for he is our God.”

See, there is the naming thing again.
They are naming Yahweh “Our God, the Deliverer.”
So the naming cycle is complete.

God initiates our naming, calls us by name.
We complete the family circle,
when we accept the name,
respond to the name,
and name God in return, as our God.

That’s what baptism is,
an opportunity for those being baptized, and the church as a whole,
to publicly affirm our identity in Christ.
In baptism we commit ourselves to journey with a people
who have the same name, and know it.
Who are committed, together,
to live into our baptismal identity.

In baptism we claim a name for ourselves
which God has already given us, “My beloved child.”
and we become bonded to a family of God’s beloved children,
in order to become the whole person God intended.

John Bell wrote a simple song we plan to sing this afternoon,
at the outdoor baptisms.
So for the benefit of those who can’t be there, here are the words,
about being marked with God’s seal,
marked for life.
“Take, O take me as I am;
summon out what I shall be;
set your seal upon my heart and live in me.”

Josh Wenger, Josh Keim, Seth Keim, Reuben Mast,
we are your family,
and today we celebrate your choice to take the family name,
and seek to live into its rich meaning.
God give you courage and strength for the road ahead.

—Phil Kniss, August 26, 2018

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Sunday, August 19, 2018

MYF: Stories of service

As Reuben Mast, Hannah Mast, Andre Eanes (sponsor), Thaddeus Jackson and Josh Wenger share, the Park View Mennonite Church Mennonite Youth Fellowship recently spent a week with Serving with Appalachian People. 

Luke 10:38-42
Isaiah 58:6-12
1 Peter 4:8-11

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Moriah Hurst: The bread that sustains

“I am the Bread of Life”

1 Kings 19:4-8
John 6:35, 41-51

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I love making bread. My Mum taught me at a young age how to make a sponge with warm water and yeast. To let it rise and then add flour. Mum showed me the techniques of kneading, punching down and then shaping it into loaves. I worked first with bread and pizza dough, then moved on to doughnuts and bagels and later reached out into brioche and other trickier dough’s. I really like bread, the process of making it, the smell of it and the taste – I love eating bread! This is all made more difficult by the fact that I am allergic to wheat. Part of why we have switched to gluten free bread for communion, is that unless the bread is gluten free, I can’t take part in communion. We want to include all in this body of Christ.
            What memories of bread do you have? Was bread made in your household? Did you take a sandwich to school everyday? Was it white bread or whole wheat? Have you ever felt that hunger sitting in a room smelling bread baking and then having to wait till its cool enough to slice so that you can have a piece smothered in butter. Most of us eat bread – even those of us that are gluten free. Lots of cultures have their own bread even if it doesn’t look like the fluffy bread we eat. I know in some places a meal is not complete unless you have bread. Have I made you all sufficiently hungry now?
            So it is no wonder that Jesus uses the image of bread for one of his first “I am” statements in John. “I am the bread of life”. I worked for 5 summers at summer camp in Pennsylvania, Vermont and then Indiana. At these camps we needed ways of getting to know each other better so that we could support one another and jump into the intense community with each other that camp asks of you. One way that we would jump-start this getting to know you process and start the community growing, is that we would get staff to write “I am” sheets. 
    You would write down a lot of I am statements – I am a daughter, sister, very loyal friend. I am a dancer, swimmer, reader of fantasy junior fiction. You get the picture of what my I am sheet would look like. But these sheets also gave us the space for vulnerability. I am a missionary kid who sometimes feels homeless. I am hardly ever on the same continent as all of my family. I am racists and I am trying to become more culturally aware. They opened up windows into our lives. What would you put on your “I am” sheet?
            Jesus gives us windows and invitations into understanding more of who he is through these “I am” statements in John. The gospel of John writes with layers of meaning and this text is no exception. Jesus is not only the giver of bread but he is the very bread itself. God gives and Jesus is the bread. There are multiple things in the text that invite us to remember other stories from the Bible. The Jews murmur and are skeptical even critical of Jesus and his words. This is one of the few places the word murmur shows up in the New Testament and it harkens back to the Exodus when the people murmured with discontent because they had no food in the desert. And God gave them bread. God provided bread that would sustain them for the journey. Not too much but enough bread for that day.
            I want to jump over to the Old Testament text we heard read this morning. In this we find our friend the prophet Elijah in-between two stories we know really well. Elijah has just come off the mountain where he challenged the prophets of Baal to a standoff – my God against yours. Elijah lets the prophets of Baal go first, begging their god to send down fire to consume their offering. Elijah stands by and mocks them. No fire comes. Then Elijah asks them to soak his offering with buckets and buckets of water. He prays to God and the offering and all the water is consumed by fire. The text after our story is where God is not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire but in the silence, the still small voice. 
            But in today's text we find Elijah in-between. He comes down from the mountain where he has proved that God wins over Baal, that God is the Lord of Hosts and is alive. And he goes fleeing off into the wilderness. We find an Elijah who is depressed. He sits down under a solitary broom tree and asks to die. And then he goes to sleep. Elijah has literally come down off of a mountaintop high and goes so low that he wants it all to be over.
            The next part of the story is so gentle. An angel touches him. We don’t hear any trumpets or see bright lights. Just a touch and the words “get up and eat”. This is not your mother yelling up the stairs that breakfast is ready and you better get down here and eat or you are going to be late. This is bread and water brought to where Elijah is laying and the angel saying “eat”. There was a cake of bread and a jar of water and Elijah ate and then laid down again and went back to sleep. The angel came back and once again touches him. Doesn’t shake him or scold him. Just a touch and the words “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” Elijah eats and that food keeps him going for 40 days and 40 nights. That must have been some bread.
            At Kids Club this summer we have been learning the Lord’s Prayer with the Kids. We told the story of the great banquet and learned the part of the Lord’s prayer that says “give us today our daily bread”. As we sat and ate snack with these kids from our neighborhood, some of whom are food insecure, we talked about having enough bread for today. The Lord’s prayer teaches us to pray that we have enough bread this day. And I am reminded of the words of another table grace – Thank you O God for our bread and give bread to all those who hungry and a hunger for justice to those who have bread.
            Jesus is this bread of life that is offer to us. Not forced into our hands but given. Jesus talks about being draw to God, maybe like a mother drawing a child to her chest.
           I invite you to think with me today - what is this bread that is offered? What do we need to sustain us as a community and as individuals? There are many needs around us. This weekend we think particularly of the need for healing and radical change in the way our society approaches race. As we come to the one year anniversary of the violent clashes in Charlottesville, I wonder what is the bread that my African American brothers and sister need to sustain them on their journey. Maybe Jesus the bread of life needs to make us uncomfortable in life the way it is, so that we can see that our comfort comes at a cost for others.
            Do we ever even let ourselves be hungry? We spend a lot of our lives working so that we don’t need. Do we allow ourselves to really long for things and to hang out in that hungry unsatisfied space? Because we rush around meeting so many of our own needs I wonder if we miss the needs of others and if in removing our need to long for things, we are removing our longing for God?
            Where is our need and what is being offered through Jesus as the bread of life? Can we remove our blinders and get beyond our murmuring complaints and see where God is offering to feed us?
            Sometimes I find it hard to be honest with God. It is a challenge to be vulnerable and name my need and then to actually trust that God will fulfill that need. A few weeks ago we had a singing Sunday where we focused on God as shepherd. It was the Sunday right after Virginia Mennonite Conference summer sessions and the Sunday right before I left with the youth for our service trip. I was tired and teary. I thought that maybe God had put me in the wrong place and time and that Sunday I told God that. I was weary and I was not ready for the journey ahead. 
            As we sang I felt the breath of an invitation to trust this God that I claim to follow, to be open to receiving what I needed. Over the week through laughter with the young people, conversations with our cooks, the care of others when I was hurt and through quiet moments of prayer, I felt God gently giving me the bread I needed for the journey. Jesus the bread of life sustained me so that I could open a space to meet with those we had gone to serve.
           This bread of life comes as a surprising and gentle invitation to the very spot of our need. Can we have the trust to name our need and receive the bread that God offers.

           The children are going to help me hand out bread. Take some bread. Hold it, feel it, smell it, eat it slowly. What is its texture, flavor, feel in your mouth. As you take this bread think about your own life. What is your need? What do you need from Jesus, the bread of life, to sustain you for your journey? Are you placing your belief and trust in this God? Take a few moments to reflect.

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Andrew Suderman: The fear of scarcity and the politics of anxiety

“God’s Bread Basket: Facing our fears about enough”

Psalm 78
Exodus 16:1-4, 9-18
John 6:22-35

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