Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Building Longer Bridges

The following is the last sermon that I gave at North Kildonan Mennonite Church.


I have a friend named Paul. Paul is the outgoing youth pastor at Douglas Mennonite Church. Paul has decided to go back to school, but before he leaves his congregation, he left them a gift. Paul wrote a book called Before I go, in it he records his 9 most important devotionals from the past 10 years of ministry. He had this book professionally printed and gave a copy to each of his youth.

This Sermon is my “Before I go,” This is my last Sunday here, next weekend I’m taking the youth on a retreat, Wednesday the 23rd we have a final chat and play and then I’m gone.

As I leave, I offer you a vision for what North Kildonan Mennonite Church could become. While you might not agree with the specific recommendations that I am going to make I trust that you can at least appreciate the underlying ideas and take them for yourself.

Two months ago, it was my turn to give the devotional at worship committee. We each take turns bringing in an article, or a poem, or an excerpt from a book that we think speaks to us.

I brought in this book: Preparing Sunday Dinner by June Alliman Yoder, Marlene Kropf and Rebecca Slough.

In it, one of the authors, tells a story. Growing up, she often heard her parents say “there’s always room for one more” meaning that they made their resources- beds, chairs, or food at the dinner table, generously available to guests. Sometimes there wasn’t room on the family’s main dinner table, so they would bring out card tables. Her mother would insist that the card table receive the same fine table cloth and bouquet of flowers that the main table had. In no way were the extra quests to be made to feel second-class.

Later she references the Mennonite Central Committee Cookbooks “More with Less” and “Extending the Table” describing how these books have encouraged generations of cooks to expand their culinary horizons. I myself make a mean Pakistani Kima.

The author’s point is that it might be easier to make room on our dinner table, and to try new foods than it is to extend the table of worship. Planning worship that includes people of all ages, differing cultures and economic groups, and varying theological perspectives can be difficult, but it is the mission of the church. Each element of worship has the potential to either be an act of hospitality or to be a barrier preventing others from joining us in worship.

I’d like to take it a step further and suggest that every aspect of how we live in community can do the same because as James H. Charlesworth from Princeton Theological Seminary said:
“Jesus was trying to break down barriers that separated people. All these Tremendous Barriers; Jesus was a barrier breaker.”

Someone on reddit once said, “If you are more fortunate than others, it's better to build a longer table than a taller fence.”

I want to propose Three things that we can do to be more hospitable.
Three different tables that we need to build longer.

First, we should build a longer dinner table

Last Winter, the young adult group was facing a bit of a slump, As you know Maginot Lion meets every week on Tuesdays. Usually for a bible study or a games night. In January and February we were only having 4 or 5 young adults out on a Tuesday. Then Valentines Day happened to fall on a Tuesday, so Chris let us know that he was bringing soup, and 12 young adults showed up. Two weeks later was Pancake Tuesday so we had a breakfast food potluck, and this time 16 young adults came including guests! That’s when we learned that the way to a young adult’s heart is through their stomach and we’ve been having monthly meals since.

One of the single greatest things that NKMC does in this community is to serve as a Winnipeg Harvest distribution site. It is really impressive to watch the volunteers run the distribution line. It is in spaces like that where our congregation truly acts as the church.

A couple of years ago, Gary discovered that there were a fair number of families in our congregation with classic vehicles, slowly he and a group of congregants put together a plan to hold our first annual Show and Shine. On Pentecost, they threw a bunch of hotdogs on the barbecue parked their cars with the hoods up, and invited everyone to check out their sweet rides.
And people came. There were tons of people from the community, people that have never had any connection with NKMC besides the fact that they live close by. In fact so many people came that we ran out of hot dogs! Someone ran to the store to get more so that the party didn’t stop.
What if we did this regularly? What if we had more meals that we invited the community to? What if we posted on our sign when we were having a potluck? Or our Christmas dinner? What if we hosted more events in the parking lot? Members of our Geographic community might feel more welcome to come and join us!

One of the primary reasons I’ve been told we don’t do that is because we are concerned about making sure we have enough food for everyone.
As we have seen with the show and shine, running out of food isn’t a problem. If push comes to shove we can run to the store to get more!

As Pastor Franz said last week, “You Can tell a lot about people by the parties they put on.”

In scripture Jesus tells a story about a feast, but when the feast was ready nobody who was invited came they all claimed that they were too busy, so the host had to send his servants into the highways and byways to find the poor and the lame and invited them to come to the table.

We prepare great feasts on a regular basis, perhaps it’s time we break down the walls of this church and open it up to those in our community.

The next type of table that we should build longer is the Board table.

By this, I mean we need to invite more voices into how we make decisions.

When you consider how to move forward, my hope is that you find ways to include the youth and young adults in meaningful dialogue. They need to feel like their voices are valued.

 In the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy there is what’s known as the Seventh Generation Principle. It says that every decision we make should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.
It’s a principle often used in regards to environmental stewardship, but the Iroquois saw it more holistically, including sustaining relationships.
When we make decisions as a church, do we consider how our decisions will affect future generations?
Will there be a North Kildonan Mennonite Church in Seven generations?
We have benefitted from those that have gone before us. Those who have made it possible for us to have faith.
What can we do to encourage our children and our children’s children to follow Jesus?
Recently at a Youth Minister’s Fellowship, we were discussing the Fuller Youth Institute’s “Growing Young” research. Churches are both shrinking and aging as more young people disengage. Based on research with over 250 American churches, Growing Young is a strategy to involve and retain young people. 
One of the key points in this research is giving youth the keys to the church.

Now, clearly, this refers to the metaphorical keys, and not physical keys. Giving the youth the keys to the church means giving them real, tangible responsibilities.
But more than giving them responsibilities, it means giving them the ability to have their voices heard.

One of the other youth pastors suggested that when we hand the keys to the church over to our youth, that they will open different doors than what we are expecting, and that this is a good thing.

Two years ago, Mennonite Church Canada’s Future Directions Taskforce released what was supposed to be their final recommendations, which in light of current economic realities called for severe structural changes to our denominational offices. This included many layoffs from key positions, as well as eliminating or transferring ownership of certain programs.

Many people were upset, I know I was upset when I heard that the faith formation worker was released. So a group of students from Canadian Mennonite University got together and wrote a series of documents responding to the recommendations. Calling ourselves the Emerging Voices Initiative, we sought to bring in voices that weren’t heard in the initial consultation. This included Missions workers, their mission partners, and young voices. Our blog became a major partner in the ongoing restructuring process.
When working groups were put together to work on the recommendations, we noticed that the “token young person” on them were mostly in their 30s. So we reached out, and several of our members joined the teams.

We weren’t given the keys to the church, we had to actively reach out and take them. Of course when we did take them, MC Canada was more than willing to give them to us, but what if this had been different? What if instead of laying off a formation consultant tasked with helping child grow in faith, we hired more of them? IF we want the church to survive into the future, we need to encourage children to own their faith. What if MC Canada had included all of these voices earlier in their deliberations?

 North Kildonan is facing similar demographic challenges that the National church is facing. Look around this sanctuary. The congregation is getting older. It is a simple matter of demographics. Families aren’t having as many kids as previously, and people move away for a variety of reasons. If this church doesn’t attract young families in the next 10 to 20 years, the congregation will not survive.

If we believe that what we’ve built is worth preserving, then we need to be willing to allow new ideas.

Human beings don’t like to change the status quo. We’ve realized that if we find the safe option and stick with it we will be comfortable. We are like a ship in a harbour during the storm. John Shedd once said “A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” Young people can have ideas that are radically different than what we have done previously and can bring in a new life to this congregation.

However if we put them on the spot and ask them for their ideas, they are going to go blank. But if we find ways for their voices to be heard and they are encouraged to bring ideas forward as they develop, then they will feel welcome to continue bringing ideas forward.

The Third table that needs to be made longer is our study desk.

Theology is a messy thing. As Ryan mentioned last month, we are finite created beings trying to describe an infinite, non-created being. We are going to screw up when we do theology.

Take for example the Trinity. We affirm monotheism, that there is only one God, and yet we say that God is three distinct persons. When we try to explain it we can overemphasize one side or the other.

I don’t believe that there is actually a good way to describe the trinity, rather, by formulating and understanding both sides of the discussion, we can rest in the knowledge that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

One of my favourite bible studies that I’ve done with the youth is the bubble study.

In it I describe Rene Descartes’s concept of knowledge structures. Ideas get built on top of other ideas.
But then sometimes we realize that foundational ideas we hold aren’t the truth, and knowledge structures come tumbling down.

I proposed to the youth that instead of knowledge structures, we should make knowledge bubbles. That are made, and are good for a time and then pop, but it’s not the end of the world, because half the fun is in blowing new ones!
We need to hold our theology loosely because we could be wrong, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do theology.
One example is our stance on Homosexuality. I used to be a staunch defender of the Orthodox, Biblical perspective that marriage is meant for one man and one woman for life. Based on my reading of the scriptures, this was clearly the only way that we could be faithful to scripture.

I knew we hadn’t treated LGBTQ people well in the past. And I thought, we needed to do better at hating the sin but loving the sinner, but scripture was clear!

I had heard that there were theologians who were LGBT affirming, but clearly they weren’t being faithful.

I also have a really good friend, he and I studied Theology and Philosophy together at CMU, and we had many deep, real conversations about our faith. He was a good Christian.
And THEN he came out to me. He told me that he was gay.

This really threw me for a loop. How could my best friend, a good Christian be gay?
So I actually started reading those affirming theologians.
And I found good faithful Christians, who had good hermeneutics and exegesis.
But instead of a beginning with a reading of the law, they began with Jesus, and how He welcomed the outsider in.
These theologians used solid understandings of the historical background of the biblical text to challenge common assumptions about passages like Romans 1, or 1 Corinthians 6:9, etc.

And I realized something.
Both sides of the debate are full of good Christians trying to be faithful to their understandings of scripture.
This debate is ripping apart the church as a whole, it is dividing our denomination. Churches are leaving conference because they can’t be in communion with each other.
When I watch my friend’s siblings refuse to celebrate his birthday with him and his boyfriend. When family members send him emails calling him an abomination. I realize that this can’t be the right way to treat our brothers and sisters in Christ and has pushed me towards a more affirming position.
Just because people disagree with us does not mean that we can’t worship together, work together, be church together.

So again, I say we need to build longer tables so we can invite the outsider in. Tables of food where we can invite those outside our doors in. Tables of decision making where we can invite those who don’t have power to share their voice, tables of study where we can learn from those that disagree with us.

Finally, I want to share how you’ve already extended the table… to me.
When I started here, you took a chance on me. Sure I have a degree in Bible and Theology, but I had no real experience working with youth.
In Fact, Stephanie is better qualified for this job than I ever was. Her degree was Youth Ministry, and she has experience as a sponsor at Sargent.
Thank you for being hospitable to me, and allowing me to develop my gifts for ministry. I know that it can be difficult to understand me sometimes, but I feel like I have improved immensely from where I began.
Thank you to the Children, the youth, and the young adults. And thank you parents. It has been an immense pleasure being a part of your lives. I hope that God has used me some small way.
Thank you for extending the table to my family. Thank you for your support when Simon was in the hospital, and thank you for all of the lovely gifts you gave us. I think that Simon could have a new blanket every night for a month.
As we leave, please extend the table to others as you did to us.

Thank you.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Palm Sunday: A New Hope

This was originally given as the Palm Sunday Sermon on April 9, 2017 at North Kildonan Mennonite Church.

Over the Lenten Season, we have been using the conference theme of Restore us, O God! Each week we have focused on a different verb, We Hunger, We Wonder, We Thirst, We See. This Week, the theme given to us was Restore Us O God, We Hope!

Hope is good. It drives us forward. In the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the rebellion was faced with a huge problem, they had just found out about the existence of the Death Star, a giant space station capable of destroying a planet, and that it was nearing completion. Many rebel leaders were ready to give up and live under Imperial domination because they didn’t see any other option. Jyn Erso, an outsider, spoke up saying “We have hope! Rebellions are built on hope!”
Now it might seem really nerdy, and a little weird to start a sermon off with a scene from a Star Wars movie, but it is more relevant to today’s passage then merely the word “hope”.

See, When Jesus was travelling from village to village, proclaiming that the Kingdom of Heaven was here, he was acting like every other religious zealot. Gathering the masses to his side, promising them that the long anticipated day of reckoning, the day when their foreign oppressors would be driven out, was coming. 

Jesus was starting a rebellion. Among his followers were violent revolutionaries. Simon the Zealot is obvious, as well some scholars think that Judas Iscariot’s name refers to another revolutionary group, the sicari, a league of assassins who intended to drive the romans. James and John, were called Sons of Thunder, which probably has to do with their attitude, but a few scholars think that it might have to do with some sort of revolutionary group as well. These people followed Jesus because they expected him to lead them into battle.

While the Rebel Alliance was fighting the Galactic Empire in order to restore the Old Republic as a beacon of liberty and democracy, Jesus’ followers thought that Jesus was going to fight the Roman Empire to restore the kingdom of Israel to its former glory.

I used to work as a cleaner and had a lot of time to listen to audio books. Being the cheap Mennonite that I am, I found free recordings of public domain books. One of the longer books I listened to was Ben Hur: A tale of the Christ, written in 1880. If you haven’t read the book, a movie was made last year, or there is also the 1959 classic with Charlton Heston. It had that amazing chariot race.

In the story, Judah Ben-Hur is a Jewish nobleman who is falsely accused of attempting to assassinate the Roman Governor. He is sold into slavery, and on his way to the coast to become a galley slave on a ship, is offered a cup of water from a young carpenter, which gives him the strength to carry on. Years later he has earned his freedom, regained his wealth and returns to Jerusalem to win back his family’s honour.

Along the way he meets that young carpenter who is now a Rabbi named Jesus and becomes one of his followers. He witnesses Jesus’ miracles and believes that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah who will free them. Using his wealth, Judah funds the raising of a secret army ready to help Jesus when it’s time to overthrow the Romans.

When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Ben Hur thinks that the time has come, and sneaks his army into the crowd ready to strike on Jesus’ command. Much to Ben Hur’s consternation, Jesus instead spends the week teaching in the synagogue. Ben Hur witnesses Jesus’ arrest and Crucifiction, and is able to give Jesus a drink, vinegar on a sponge, returning Jesus’ favor. It is at the point of Jesus’ death on the cross that Ben Hur commits his life to Christ, realizing that Jesus was not an earthly king, but a heavenly king, and the saviour of the world.

Now clearly there wasn’t really a secret highly trained army waiting in the wings for Jesus, but the fact remains that there was a large crowd begging someone they thought was God’s annointed one to “Hosanna”.

Hosanna in hebrew means “Save Us”.
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna Son of David

While it is an exclamation of praise, its underpinning is a cry for help. They were praising Jesus because they expected him to save them,

The Jews under Roman occupation, who face a heavy burden, who live in darkness have seen a great light. They have caught a glimpse of Hope. They expected Jesus to call them to arms.

Passover, and other pilgrimage festivals were hotbeds of anti-Roman sentiment. The Jews resented Roman occupation, and messiah figures took advantage of the crowds to incite violence. This violence was always met with overwhelming force and always ended in failure. The hope was that Jesus would succeed where others failed.

And Jesus did succeed, but not in the way they thought.

Jerusalem had a garrison of roman soldiers stationed at it which was reinforced for the major pilgrimage festivals. These reinforcements, marching in full imperial trappings, came from the west about a week before the festival proper to prevent uprisings. A week before the Passover, perhaps even the same day as the arrival of the troops, Jesus entered Jerusalem from the eastern gate treated as royalty.

But the entire time, he challenged the assumption of being a military messiah, by drawing on powerful symbols. In a world of violent revolutionaries, Jesus’ actions prove that his kingdom is a kingdom of peace.

 While the roman general would have come in on a war horse portraying might, Jesus rode in on a donkey, a symbol of peace from the prophet Zechariah who spoke of a king of peace, “lowly and riding on a donkey”.
Justin Martyr also connected Jesus’ use of a foal to Genesis 49 when Jacob is blessing Judah saying a ruler will come from Judah who would bring peace and tie his donkey’s colt to the choice vine.

The crowd laying their coats on the ground is symbolic of with when Jehu was proclaimed King in 2nd Kings and his followers put their coats on the stairs in front of him (though this seems like a tripping hazard to me).
The Palm Branches are important to both Hebrew and Roman cultures. 200 years earlier, Palm Branches were part of the victory celebration following the Maccabean revolt. The Maccabee Brothers had led a revolt against Greek Oppressors. Jews in Jesus’ time saw themselves as in a similar situation as their forbearers, and thought that if they could do it once they could do it again all they needed was a leader.
Palm Branches were also important to Roman Mythology, they were a symbol of the goddess Nike or Victory, so the Romans would see the waving of palm branches as Jesus claiming victory.

However, while Jesus is greeted enthusiastically on Sunday, while they call him “son of David”, and “the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” we as readers recognize the truth to these statements more than the crowd saying them does! When asked who Jesus is, they say that he is “Jesus the Prophet”!
The crowds didn’t realize Jesus’ divine significance. He merely is a prophet standing up against injustice, not the victorious king of Peace, the son of God that he truly is.

The Irony continues in the Crowd’s fickleness.
 By Wednesday Judas has agreed to betray Jesus, Thursday Jesus is arrested and by Friday the crowds that cheered his triumphal entry are calling for his execution. Palm Sunday is not a simply a joyous festival, but a symbol of the blindness and fickleness of human loyalties. It is a pageant of “Royalty and death”. The one called king, is also crucified. Jesus is only vindicated on Resurrection Sunday.

In light of the resurrection, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem provides hope for the hopeless. Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world. No earthly country is truly a Christian Nation. But wherever we find ourselves, we commit ourselves to following our true King, Jesus Christ. It is our loyalty to the Kingdom of God that calls us to welcome the refugee, to put together relief Kits for Mennonite Central Committee,

It’s the reason why Michael Sharp dedicated his life as a peace worker with Mennonite Central Committee and the United Nations. He would walk unarmed into rebel camps to drink tea and share stories. In 2013, he said “If Jesus’ example is for everyone everywhere, what does that look like in eastern Congo, where war has been the norm for 20 years?” The 34 year old from Kansas worked with a program that has convinced 1600 Rwandan rebels in the DRC to stop fighting, in doing so they give hope to future generations, the children of these men now have the opportunity to go to school, rather than living in a Jungle and being illiterate. Two weeks ago Michael was kidnapped and killed while investigating human rights abuses. He gave his life following Jesus.

Jesus walked into Jerusalem, a city under enemy occupation, in the name of peace. As we take the final steps of our Lenten Journey, as we approach the cross, we follow Our King of Peace. Most of us will not lose our lives trying to reach rebels in the Jungle, though that is a possibility. We are called however to live our lives following Jesus’ example. We are called to bring hope to those around us.

Last Monday, I shared the story of the Triumphal Entry with the kids club. We talked about how Jesus is the King of Heaven. Every week at Kids Club, we finish by praying the Lord’s Prayer, which says “Your Kingdom Come here on earth as it is in heaven.” I asked them what that means, and one of the kids said that we are supposed to love God and love each other. As we finish today’s sermon, would you please join me in praying the prayer that Jesus taught us and think about the hope it offers us:

Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever, amen.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Habakkuk Chapter Three: Trusting in a Sovereign God

The Following was given at North Kildonan Mennonite Church on January 29th, 2017. It is the final of four sermons that the Pastoral staff gave on the book of Habakkuk. You can find the other sermons on the NKMC website.

We’ve reached the end of our series on Habakkuk. Gary said the other week that I was supposed to bring all of this together, we’ll see if I can do some of that.

A couple months ago in a Worship Committee meeting, Gary suggested that now would be a good time to pick a book from the Bible for a sermon series. Chris and I thought it would be a good idea to pick something that we weren’t very familiar with since it would make us learn something new as well. If I haven’t taken a course on the book, then I can’t just repeat what my professor has to say about it. This led us to look at the Minor Prophets since that is what we are most unfamiliar with and eventually to Habakkuk since it is both long enough that we could do multiple weeks on it, but not too long that we would have too much work on our hands. Also, Habakkuk also has a funny name which made Chris and I giggle.
Somehow, Gary and Franz let me off easy for pulling a stunt like this, and have given me the fun chapter.

A brief recap of what we’ve talked about already:
Habakkuk takes place in the southern nation of Judah. Habakkuk can see the writing on the wall that Babylon is soon going to conquer Judah, and wants to know why God is letting this happen, Gary and Franz did an excellent job recounting the dialogue between Habakkuk and God. God explains to Habakkuk that God is using Babylon to punish Judah, and that God is working towards redeeming everyone. After five woes to the unjust, the book ends with Habakkuk’s prayer.

Habakkuk’s prayer brings back images of the Exodus. Plague going before him, delivering God’s people, trampling the sea, and so on. It is a promise that one day God will create a second exodus, and bring his people out of Babylon.

A key focus of the psalm is the Sovereignty of God. God “Splits the earth with rivers” “Sun and moon stood still”. God uses this power to attack the “leader of the land of wickedness” punishing him and destroying his warriors.

Habakkuk’s readers would have understood this to be the emperor of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, and would have hoped for God to plague Babylon the way he plagued the Egyptians. Their hope was that one day God will Defeat Evil, Bring Justice to all and rescue the oppressed.

Other prophetic authors also promised a coming day of the Lord or Day of Judgement, where eventually the Jews could return home in glory.

But this isn’t what happened.

The Babylonian exile eventually ended, but not with the glorious exodus that Habakkuk, Daniel, and others promised. King Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon, and told everyone that the Babylonians had captured that they could return home, but not everyone did.

 This is because when Babylon had conquered Judah, Jews that had not been forced to move to Babylon had also fled to nearby countries like Moab, Ammon, Edom and Egypt to escape Babylon’s reach. As well, Jeremiah had told the Jews living in Babylon to seek the welfare of the city they were in, and to plant roots in their new homes. this population of Jews that live outside of the promised land are known as the Diaspora.

When the prophet Ezra returned home with many Jews, there were still some who stayed behind in Babylon because they had built new lives for themselves, and others stayed in their new homes in Edom and Egypt.

This second Exodus wasn’t as total as the prophets promised. The Diaspora still existed, the rich still held their power over the poor, evil still existed and injustice continued. So the Jews took a second look at the promises and a new understanding emerged that one day they would be completely fulfilled. They had an apocalyptic hope that there would one day be a day of the Lord, when God would reign on Earth. When there would be no more tears and no more sadness. One day God’s anointed leader would come and usher in this Kingdom of God.

Just as the Persians replaced the Babylonians, they were themselves replaced by the Greeks, the Greeks were driven out by a Jewish revolt led by the Maccabean Brothers, and for a brief time the Jews were interdependent, but eventually infighting resulted in the Roman Empire swooping in and taking over.
The people of Jesus’ day longed for the coming of the Lord, For the Kingdom of God. When Jesus stood in the Synagogue and read from Isaiah that

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

his listeners recognized this passage as being about the impending Kingdom.

From there, Jesus starts going around and saying “The Kingdom of God is at Hand” or “The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand” if you are reading from Matthew.

These actually mean the same thing Matthew, writing for a predominantly Jewish audience, avoided using the word “God” when possible, so he talks around it by using the word Heaven to mean God because God is in Heaven.

Anyways, Jesus spends the next 3 years proclaiming the Kingdom of God is at hand. It’s starting. Get on board! Many of his parables are about not missing the boat.

The kingdom of God is at hand. It is within our grasps, you can feel it, but it’s also not quite there. It’s already here, but not yet fully realized. It’s like a rough draft of a story, here, but not yet the final version of it. Or if I had two more days to work on this sermon
Jesus starts to collect disciples, his generals, who are going to lead his people to victory! Among them are Zealots and revolutionaries! Jesus has to be getting ready for a fight, right?

Jesus eventually marches into Jerusalem. People are ready to rebel! They think this is our moment! It is happening here and now. The Pharisees and Saducees tell him to get his crowd to shut up because they can see that the rebellion is about to begin and they are afraid of losing their positions of priviledge.

 Jesus goes into the Temple flipping the tables of the unjust money changers and sacrifice sellers. This is it! Everybody’s excited! Now that he’s cleansed the temple, surely he’ll next march on the Roman Garrison!

But he doesn’t. Instead he goes to Bethany for the night and returns to the temple the next day to teach. Over the course of the week, Jesus is arrested on charges of Treason and rebellion and crucified. It looks like his mission has failed. The crowds abandoned him, his disciples have gone into hiding. People think that this Jesus movement will is over; now that the head is cut off, surely the body will die with it.

It seems’ like the kingdom of God has failed

But Jesus doesn’t stay dead!

Three days later, he rises from the Grave! Jesus’ victory wasn’t merely over some earthly empire, rather his victory over the finality of death robs all earthly structures of their power.

The most an empire can do is kill you, Jesus’s resurrection shows that death isn’t the end.

Jesus returns, and commissions his followers to continue sharing the good news to all the world, that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. As he ascended into heaven, he promised that he would return for us one day and the Kingdom will come in its fullness.
Yeah, it’s not here completely, but we are called to work towards the Kingdom’s fulfillment.

In the same way that Habakkuk uses the image of Egypt to promise a Babylonian Exodus, John in Revelation uses the image of Babylon within his own context, and calls for the people to come out of her. Now obviously this isn’t a call to leave the literal city of Babylon, it had long ago ceased to be politically relevant, rather Babylon in John’s Revelation represents the empire of the day,

Empire doesn’t just mean Babylonian and roman empires, but has come to mean all forms of oppressive political and economic systems that stand in opposition to the Kingdom of God.
John’s revelation calls for an end to the Adulterous relationship of the church with Babylon. John’s message is active, we are supposed to come out of her, to resist oppression and evil rather than to benefit from said corruption.
While the weapons of empire are coercion and violence, hate and fear, the weapons of the Kingdom of heaven are love and mercy.
I think I read St Francis of Assisi’s Prayer last time I preached so I’ll read only a short portion this time:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
There is a growing tide of hate and fear these days, God calls us to bring hope and love.

While the empire wants us to fear the other, to close borders and build walls, we are called to build bridges and open our arms wide to embrace the other.
While the empire sees nature as resources to be exploited and extracted, citizens of God’s kingdom seek to care for God’s creation.
While women, people of colour, members of the LGBT community, and numerous other forms of minorities fear for their physical wellbeing in the empire, they should feel safe within the church.

As Gandalf once said “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
 When Jesus said “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,” he meant it.

So what does this have to do with Habakkuk chapter 3? Habakkuk’s prayer is a message of hope. It’s reminds us that God is in control.

As the empire encroaches around us, intimidates us, makes us feel stupid for loving our enemies, tells us to give up on keeping our waters safe from pollution, when we face real consequences for our faith, we can hang on to the hope that comes in the knowledge that The Lord our God is Sovereign, and that He is in command. As Oscar Wilde wrote “Everything is going to be fine in the end. 
If it's not fine it's not the end.”

Jesus is coming back. God is in charge, and our hope is in him, just as Habakkuk’s was all those years ago. Amen,

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Naturally Imperfect

The Following is an article I wrote for CMU's Student Newspaper, the Doxa. You can read the Doxa's digital edition here.

 On March 12, 2015, Loblaws announced that they would begin to sell “Naturally Imperfect” produce in their Ontario and Quebec Stores. In most cases, produce has to be just the right size, shape and colour without any imperfections or else a grocery store will not sell it. Life is not perfect. There is plenty of good food out there that gets thrown out because a carrot has a weird bend in it or an apple isn’t red enough. Loblaws will begin to sell this type of produce at a slight discount.
Canadians waste $31 billion dollars each year in food waste. This is a huge issue. If we can redirect some of this waste, especially when there is nothing wrong with it, then more people could afford to eat healthily.
One organization that is doing this is Ontario Christian Gleaners, an interdenominational organization that receives donations of produce that farmers can’t sell to grocery stores. They then dehydrate the fruits into snacks, and the vegetables into soup mix, and give this food to development agencies that can use it in famine situations.
When I heard the news that Loblaws was going to sell this naturally imperfect food, I was concerned that it would impact organizations like OCG, so I reached out to them for comment. Shelly Stone, OCG Manager, responded to me.  OCG processes 25,000 pounds of donated vegetables every week, the amount of produce that Loblaws is going to prevent becoming food waste is not going to significantly affect them.
Shelly told me that the amount of food waste in Canada is “astounding” and hopes that as Loblaws makes this option available, consumers will become better informed about their food. She writes that 25-30% percent of some farmer’s produce never makes it to market. This can be because it is too small, or a stone in the soil caused vegetables to twist around it. “We do applaud Loblaws for leading in this initiative”.
You too can help to reduce food waste. Perhaps one day Loblaws will expand this program in Manitoba as well. Until then, when you go to Superstore, you can see pink “Reduced for Quick Sale” stickers that offer 30% off of perishable items. This is because the food is reaching it’s “best before date” or “sell by date.” As Shelly notes, the food is still fine to eat at this point and hasn’t reached its expiration date. By purchasing this food, we can prevent it from ending up in a landfill. Or, if paying for food is too mainstream, you can fully embrace your identity as a hipster CMU student and go dumpster diving since so many retailers throw out food that is still safe to eat.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Embodying Resurrection: Luke 24 and Acts 3

I preached the following sermon this past Sunday (April 19th) at Riverton Fellowship Circle. The texts I am referring to are Luke 24:36-48 and Acts 3:12-19.

This week’s story comes from the Gospel of Luke.
Following Easter Sunday, which we celebrated 2 weeks ago, the disciples were confused and afraid.
 They had heard that Jesus has risen, but many of them were still confused? How is this possible? How could Jesus be alive?
They saw him on that cross outside of Jerusalem just a couple of days ago, crying out to God: “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”
Was this rumour of Jesus being alive some sort of ploy by the romans to make them come out of hiding? Crucifixion is the sentence for rebels, If their Rabbi was killed for leading a rebellion, maybe the romans wanted to capture his followers so they could face the same punishment.

but it was Mary Magdalene and the other women that supported them that said that the tomb was empty, and Simon Peter, Jesus’ second in command says that he saw Jesus. Both are people that they could trust  And just a couple of minutes ago two disciples came into the door saying that they had walked all the way to Emmaus with Jesus, and that he had explained to them why the Messiah had to suffer.
Their confusion only increased when suddenly Jesus is there. It’s a Ghost! Oooooooooooooooooooh!

Or at least they thought it was a ghost.

But Jesus shows them that he is real.
He tells them  Look at my hands and my feet. It’s me! Touch me and see; a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones, as you see I do.”
They touch him, but somehow the disciples are still suspicious, so Jesus tells them to get him food, apparently even if you can touch them, Ghosts still can’t eat.

Then once he’s proven that it is him, he explains how this has happened:
He says:

“This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Even though everything they needed to know about Jesus was available in the old Testament, the disciples still needed Jesus to make it real before they could understand.

David Steinmetz explains this in his article: Uncovering a Second Narrative: Detective fiction and the Construction of Historical method.

When you read a Sherlock Holmes, or an Agatha Christie novel, three things happen:

First you read the main story where the detective goes around looking for clues, while obviously something happened, you aren’t quite sure what, you don’t know who did it.
Secondly the detective reveals who did and how.

Finally the detective walks you through the original story and explains how everything makes sense with this new information.

This is what Jesus is doing. The Disciples knew the story of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, but they were still waiting for someone to save them.

Then Jesus comes, lives a life telling them they are saved, but he’s crucified
Now that he has returned from the grave, he explains how the old testament told his story, even if they didn’t know how to read it.

Finally he sends them out telling them to preach:
 repentance for the forgiveness of sins to be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

They need to go out and preach repentance for forgiveness of sins.
And just as Jesus first presented the real world evidence of his resurrection: by letting them touch him and by eating their food, before he presented the textual basis for his resurrection, Jesus’ followers need to demonstrate the real world evidence of what repentence looks like before we can expect the people we are talking to to listen to what we have to say.
We are the hands and feet that Jesus tells the wanderers to look at to see the resurrection.. We are the evidence that sparks people to look at their own lives and change.

For me, the people's whose actions allowed me to understand the good news are my grandparents

Donald Wenger  was the son of a Farmer, Born in Pennsylvania to a conservative Mennonite family, he was called into pastoral ministry by the drawing of lots.

Back then, when they needed a new pastor, they would pick a couple people from the congregation and put their names in the songbooks, shuffle the song books around, and then pick one. The person whose name was picked was then their pastor.

Even though he didn’t feel qualified to be a pastor because he was not familiar with the bible, he still pastored in pennsylvannia for several years because that is what GOd was telling the community. Then he was given the opportunity to learn more about the bible at a small school in southern Ontario, he brought his wife and 4 children to Kitchener, a city about an hour south west of Toronto. Where my Dad was born.

While studying there, a congregation learned about this student and asked him to be their pastor, letting him use his class notes for his sermons. He led three congregations in southern Ontario before being led to leave the ministry to start a cheese and meat store in Toronto, then become an insurance sales person, and finally a Christian book distributor. But the whole time he showed what it meant to be a follower of God. He read his bible, he loved his family, and he helped those around him any way he could.
My Grandmother Ruth, worked as a cashier in a general store, then as a teacher before becoming a mother to five children, she walked diligently alongside my grandfather, together they sponsored a family of Laotian refugees who now consider Don and Ruth Wenger as their own parents. She also has her own ministries. She covers all of us in prayer every day. And drives other people in their retirement complex to get groceries. Now that my Grandfather has dementia and can’t read anymore, she reads the bible to him daily. They embody resurrection living to me. They love each other, and everyone that comes into contact with them very much.

I didn’t know how much an impact they made until I was a freshman in university. I attended a congregation in Toronto, and the second week I was there, I told someone my full name and they recognized it.

 It turns out that 40 years ago, my grandparents had attended that very congregation, and had shown them the same love then that I had witnessed myself. They remembered my grandparents as people who cared for those who needed help. And 40 years later they were still a part of that congregation’s story.

I look at the story of my grandparents and see God at work, building his resurrection community. My grandparents embody lives transformed by following God, and seeing that transformation, their grandchildren are able to then listen to the biblical story, believe, and repent, seeking God’s forgiveness and transformation.

Let’s go back to the bible, Just before the Acts text we read today, a couple of weeks after Jesus' appearance, the disciples were walking to the temple and Peter and John healed a lame beggar. This leads to the part we read today. When people question what they’ve done, Peter and John are able to teach them the gospel. Telling them about Jesus, and how the people in Jerusalem had killed him, and how he was resurrected.

They demonstrated the transforming power of the Gospel through their healing, then they teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ. Telling them to turn to God so their sins may be forgiven, and their lives transformed.

Let’s be like those disicples, who demonstrate the resurrection power in their lives, and share the gospel, even if they are afraid at first.

Let’s be like my grandparent’s whose lives act as witnesses to the faith they taught me and my cousins.

Let’s embody Christ’s resurrection for those that come after us. So that when they see how we live, and listen to what we say, they too will repent and follow Jesus.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Creation and Covenant: The Story of Scripture

The Following is a story I wrote for a class I took called, Reading the Scripture in the Church. I hope you enjoy it.

Creation and Covenant: The Story of Scripture
Timothy Wenger
BTS 5310

Prologue: Creation and Sin

In the beginning was God the Creator.

And the Creator spoke into the nothingness and created light. The Creator loves light.

The Creator spoke again and created sky. The Creator loves sky.

The Creator spoke again and created land and sea. The Creator loves land and sea.

The Creator spoke again and created plants. The Creator loves the plants.

The Creator spoke again and created the sun and the stars. The Creator loves the sun and the stars.

The Creator spoke again and created fish and birds. The Creator loves fish and birds.

The Creator spoke and created animals for the land. God loves animals.

The Creator spoke and said “Let us make humans, who can care for what we’ve created. They will be our face on creation.” So the Creator created humans, and they were given the earth to care for. The Creator loves humans.

So the Creator had created, and created a way to care for the creation. When this was all done, the Creator rested.

But the humans didn’t care for creation. They wanted to be more than just the creator’s face, they wanted to be creators.

They created separation from the Creator by not obeying the Creator
They created enmity with each other through violence
They created destruction of nature by building cities

The Creator still loved the Creation, and so the Creator creates one more time: The Creator creates a Covenant.

Act 1: The Covenanting God
Act 1: Scene 1 Covenant with the World
The Creator mourned the hurt caused to creation, and looked at the humans and saw that there was one left who had not participated in this destruction. This human was Noah.
God spoke to Noah and told him that God was going to create a fresh start for creation. The Creator told Noah to build a large boat to hold all of the different birds and animals. Noah obeyed, and when he finished building the boat, The Creator brought all of the different animals to the boat, once the animals were on board, Noah and his family entered the boat as well. Then the Creator sent rain and flooded the earth.
            Noah and his family waited on the boat until the water receded. They found themselves on top of a mountain. Noah thanked God for saving them and all of the animals.
            Because they were created in God’s image, God told the humans that they cannot kill each other and that though they were now allowed to eat animals, they must drain the lifeblood out of them as a sign of life’s importance. In return Creator made a covenant with Noah and all of creation, that God will never again destroy the earth. As a sign, God placed a rainbow in the sky, so that all would remember the covenant God made with creation.

Act 1: Scene 2: Covenant with a Family
            So Noah’s descendants populated the world. But rather than spreading out and allowing the land to sustain them, they created a city, with a massive tower as a challenge to God’s authority. So God forced them to spread out by making them speak different languages, but the humans still did not understand their proper relationship with God, the land and each other.
            There is a man named Abram, who was married to Sarai, God called them to leave their home and come to a land that God would show them. God made them a promise that Abram’s family will become a great nation, that will be prosperous, and that will bless all peoples. So Abram and Sarai and their household left their home. God showed them the land of Canaan, and told them that though there are people living there now, one day Abram’s family will possess the land. God makes a covenant with Abram that Abram will father many nations, changing Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s to Sarah, God promised to give the land of Canaan Abraham’s descendants’ and to be their God. God tells Abraham to circumcise all of the men in his household as a sign of God’s Covenant with Abraham. This covenant is God’s plan to help all people come back into a proper relationship with God, the Land and each other.

Act 1: Scene 3: Covenant with a Nation
            Sarah gave birth to Isaac, who in return had a son named Jacob, and God made this same covenant with them, that they would become a great nation, be given land, and be a blessing to all nations. During a famine, Jacob and his family moved to Egypt thanks to his son Joseph.
            But after Joseph’s death, there was a new Pharaoh of Egypt who did not know about Joseph. Jacob’s family had grown exponentially into a people group called the Hebrews. The new Pharaoh was worried that they might take over Egypt. So the pharaoh enslaved them, making them build many projects. But the Hebrews remembered the covenant that God made with their foreparents, and cried out to God to save them.
            God heard them and remembered the covenant that God had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. A Hebrew named Moses was hiding in Midian after killing an Egyptian. His father in law, Jethro, was the high priest there, and Moses tended Jethro’s flocks. One day a sheep wandered away from the herd and Moses had to go after it. The Sheep climbed up a mountain, and went into a cave. Moses followed after it and found a bush that was on fire but was not being consumed.
            And The Creator God spoke again. God told Moses that the God of Abraham has heard the cries of God’s people. God chose Moses to free the Hebrew slaves from Egypt and lead them to the Land God promised to their foreparents.
            Moses was unsure that he could do this. God gave him another name for God to tell the elders of the Hebrews: “I AM WHO I AM.” This is a promise that God’s identity will be revealed to them through God’s actions.
            Moses returns to Egypt, and tells the Pharaoh that God wanted the Hebrews to be free. Pharaoh refused, and makes the Hebrews work even harder. In response God sent 10 Disasters on Egypt, demonstrating that the great I AM controls all of Creation. But it took the final disaster, the death of all the first born sons of Egypt for the king of Egypt to allow the Hebrews to go free. After the Hebrews had left, Pharaoh decided that he had made a mistake and wanted the Hebrews back, so Pharaoh’s army was sent to recapture the Hebrews. Moses and the Hebrews were caught between the Pharaoh’s army on one side and the Red Sea on the other. God told Moses to put his staff into the water and the sea parted for them to walk across. Once they got across, the sea crashed down onto the Egyptian army and the Hebrews were safe.
            Moses led the Hebrews through the wilderness. When they were thirsty, God gave them water, when they were hungry, God gave them bread called manna and quail. Moses was very busy with leading the Hebrews when his father in law came to visit him. When Jethro saw how busy Moses was, he told Moses that Moses was supposed to be the Hebrews’ representative to God, and that he needed to delegate his judging duties so he could focus on teaching the Hebrews what God wanted them to do.
            Shortly afterwards, they arrived at Mount Sinai. Moses climbed the mountain and God made an offer. Since God had saved the Hebrews from Egypt, if they kept God’s covenant, then God would make them into a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation. They would demonstrate to the world how to be in right relationship with God. Moses brought this offer to the Elders of this new nation, Israel, and they accepted. Moses returned to the top of the Mountain, and God gave him the 10 Commandments that made up basics of the covenant. On top of that, God gave more instructions about how to be in right relation to God, others, and the creation. Include instructions for a tent that God could meet with them.

Act 2: Israel living under the Covenant
Act 2: Scene 1: The Land of the Covenant
            Moses led them to Canaan, but when Moses sent in spies to examine the land, while they saw that the land was fertile, most of them were afraid of the inhabitants of the land, only Joshua and Caleb believed that God would hand them the land. Because of this, God made Israel wander in the wilderness until the generation that did not trust God passed away. Before Moses died, he taught the new Generation about the Covenant that God made with their parents. The people recommitted to the Covenant with God, and God allowed them to enter the Promised Land.
            God then chose Joshua to lead the people of Israel. As they approached the City of Jericho, Joshua sent spies to examine the city. They were almost caught, but a prostitute named Rahab let them hide on her roof, after the city officials escape, they promised Rahab and her family safety.
            When Israel came to Jericho, instead of attacking, God told them to walk around the city. After seven days of walking around the city, the priests blew their trumpets and the walls came tumbling down. The Israelites killed everyone except for Rahab and her family. Israel swept through Canaan, God conquering town after town for them. Once Israel had taken over, Joshua gathered the People of Israel at Shechem and they renewed the covenant they made with God.

Act 2: Scene 2: The Cycle of Covenant
            But once Israel got into the land, they fulfilled their part of the covenant for a while, but eventually they would stop living in right relationship with each other and with God. When this would happen, God would allow the remaining inhabitants of the land to oppress Israel until they called for help. God would raise up a Judge who would lead the Israelites to freedom, they would renew their covenant and live faithfully for a while, but eventually sin again and repeat the cycle.
            One such Judge was Deborah, who rallied Israel and defeats the Jabin King of Canaan, another was Gideon who led Israel against the Midianites. When Gideon rallied thirty thousand soldiers, God told him to send home 29700 of them so Israel could not think that they did it by themselves, rather they needed to rely on God.

Act 2 Scene 2: A Love Story
            During the time of the judges, an Israelite named Elimelek went to Moab to escape a famine with his wife and two sons, while there his two sons married Moabite women. But by the time the famine ended, both Elimelek and his two sons had died. His wife Naomi, was left in a foreign land with two daughters in law, Orpah and Ruth. Naomi decided to return to Israel. She told her daughters in law to go back to their families, but Ruth refused saying that she would stay with Naomi. They returned to Israel. Because they did not have any way to make money, Ruth would go to a nearby farm and pick up the shafts of wheat the laborers left behind. One day as she was picking up wheat. The owner of the farm, Boaz saw her and fell madly in love with her. Boaz told her that instead of walking behind the labourers, she could pick alongside the women who worked for him. When Ruth returned home with the extra food, she told Naomi what had happened. When the harvest was finished, there was a big party, and Ruth slept with Boaz. Boaz tells her that he loves her and they get married, and Naomi was invited to live with them.

Act 2: Scene 3: David’s Covenant
            Several years later, there was a Judge named Samuel. Even though the people knew that God was supposed to be their leader, they wanted a king like the nations around them. Samuel and God tried to dissuade them, but the people were adamant. God relented and allowed them to have a king, as long as God got to choose it. God’s first choice, Saul, did well initially, but eventually became too power hungry, so God chose another, David, the youngest child of a shepherd, the grandson of Ruth.
            David turned out to be a better King. He brought peace to the kingdom and even though he committed significant sins, he truly desired to obey God. When David tried to build a temple for God. God refuses to allow David, a warrior king to build God’s Temple, rather God makes another covenant. God will make David’s name great, and David will always have an heir to the thrown in Jerusalem.

Act 2: Scene 4: Kings and Prophets
            God allowed David’s son Solomon to build God a temple. Solomon spared no expense as he built a home for God. God lived among the people. But after Solomon’s death, his son forced the people of Israel to build too many projects. As a result the Nation of Israel split into two, the northern ten tribes became Israel, while Southern two tribes became Judah, David’s heirs remained king in Jersusalem, but their kingdom was diminished. God continuously called both kingdoms to remember the Covenant they had made with God. But while they would follow covenant for a while, eventually they would fall into idol worship, and injustice. When this happened, God would send a prophet, who would bring them back to the Covenant. The prophets warned Israel and Judah that eventually God would eventually lose patience with their ignoring the covenant and would eventually remove them from the land of the covenant. During Hoshea’s reign in Israel, Shalmaneser, King of Assyria conquered the northern Kingdom and sent the people of Israel into exile.
            Judah continued in this cycle for a while. When Josiah was King, they were cleaning out the temple and found a copy of the Covenant. Josiah had it read to the people, and they made a new covenant with God that they would obey God’s teachings. However, later kings brought the people back into idolatry, and God eventually allowed Babylon to conquer them, destroy the temple and send the people of Judah into exile as well.

Act 2: Scene 5: Exile and Return
            God did not forget God’s people though. Even though they were sent into Exile, God continued to send prophets, who told them to settle in to where they were and care for the wellbeing of their new homes. Eventually Babylon was defeated by Persia, and Cyrus allowed people in exile to return to their homes. A few of the People of Judah (or Jews) returned home, but because they had been in exile for so long, many decided to stay where they were. The Jews that returned home rebuilt the temple. There was a sense in which the exile had not ended because so many Jews were still outside of the land of the Covenant.  

Intermission: Scene Change
            Many years later, Rome has taken over a large part of the world. They had control of the Jewish homeland, and taxed the people heavily. The Jews wished to be free from this oppression. Many believed that God would send a leader like the prophets and judges of old who will save them. Some people, who called themselves the Pharisees thought that they needed to follow every commandment in the covenant to the letter and began building traditions around the Torah to keep them from breaking actual Torah, they hoped that when they did it good enough, God would send the leader. Others, called the Essenes believed that the world is too sinful and hid in the wilderness, waiting for the leader to come and lead them to battle to liberate the Jews. Others, called the zealots, believed that if they started the revolution, God would send the leader to them. The last group was the Sadducees, who did not necessarily like Rome, but Rome kept them in power so they wanted to keep the status quo. The common people also hated Rome, because they were taxed so heavily and hoped that the leader would come, but did not necessarily have a vested interest in how it would happen.

Act 3: Jesus and the New Covenant
            God did not forget the covenant, Israel was supposed to be the way in which the Creator reformed the world into the way it should be. With God, Humans and the rest of Creation all in right relationship with each other. It was time for the Jews to become the People of the Covenant. To do this, God needs to challenge their understanding of what it means to be a people of the Covenant. God sent part of Godself, the Son, Jesus to Earth, not as a warrior, but as a baby. Jesus is born a Jew, of the line of David, but he is also the descendent of Ruth and Rahab, non-Jews who were welcomed into Israel.
            When Jesus had grown up. God sent a man named John to prepare the Jews for the coming of the long expected leader. John told them to repent, John told them to take care of each other, sharing their possessions with those who had done, and to be baptized as a sign that they were becoming truly a part of the Covenant.
            Jesus one day came to where John is preaching, and told John to baptize him. When Jesus rose out of the water, a dove appeared in the sky, and God spoke saying “This is my Son, who makes me pleased.” From there, Jesus went into the wilderness where he was tempted to lead through social programs or acts of power, but Jesus passed the test. Jesus then began to call people to follow him.
            Jesus climbed the side of a mountain and taught those that followed him how to follow the covenant. It sounded different than how they remembered Moses teaching them about the Covenant. They had to love enemies. They had to set aside their own justice to bring others back into community, into right relationship.           
Jesus traveled around performing miracles, telling everyone that God was in charge again. He healed people who were not allowed in the community. He welcomed non-jews to live the way God wants humans to live. He challenged the status quo, telling the rich to not oppress the poor, and the religious leaders to not be hypocrites.
People listened to him, some of his followers were Zealots ready to fight, the crowd wanted to crown him King. When Jesus entered Jerusalem during the Passover, people said “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”.  It looked like he was going to free Israel from the Romans.
During the last night of the Passover, Jesus met with his followers. He washed their feet, and served the traditional Passover meal. But when he picked up the bread. Jesus said “This is my Body, broken for you”. Then when he picked up the cup of wine, he said “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
Then Jesus got arrested. His rocking of the status quo and challenging the religion of the day pissed off both the Sadducees and the Pharisees. They brought him before the Roman authorities and said that he tried to cause an insurrection. Jesus was crucified, the penalty for rebellion.
Jesus’s followers were shocked and confused. What about restoring Israel so it could be the blessing for all nations? What about bringing God, humans and creation back into right relation?
            Jesus didn’t stay dead. God raised Jesus up, and Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary mother of James met him outside his tomb. Jesus was Resurrected. Jesus met with his disciples and told them to spread the good news that God is Charge to all nations. Jesus has completed his mission and ascended into heaven, promising to come back.

Act 4: The New Covenant
Act 4: Scene 1: The New Covenant Spreads
Jesus’ followers obey his commandments. God’s Spirit descends on them, and they preached that there was a new Covenant open to all. God is in charge, and that everyone should be in right relationship with God, fellow humans, and creation. Their message started in Jerusalem, spread to the rest of Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the earth. As the message spread, groups of people, called churches, started to form who tried to live out the Covenant as best they could.
Church leaders started writing letters to distant congregations to help them understand what it means to live in the new Covenant. One of these leaders was Paul, who traveled a lot starting many new churches. As non-Jews joined this new covenant. The church realized that they need not be bound by the physical symbols that the old covenants used, as long as they only follow God, and love their neighbours.
Act 4: Scene 2: The Church Today
            The story doesn’t end there, today the Creator God calls us to enter into this new Covenant. The world has not had all of its relationships healed yet, so we need to continue to do that. We need to Follow Jesus’ teachings loving God and loving neighbour. We can look at the story that has happened before us, and learn from it.
            When we see oppression, we should remember that God saved the Israelites from oppression in Egypt and with the Judges, and that we are called to act for justice.
            When we see the poor, we should remember Ruth and Naomi who were welcomed back into the community through Boaz. When we see sexism, we should remember Rahab and Deborah, women whose action saved Israel. When we see racism and xenophobia, we should remember that Jethro, a Midianite, taught Moses how to lead his people, and that Rahab and Ruth were outsiders welcomed into the people of God.

Act 5: Return to Right Relationship with the Creator

            One Day, God will finish the work of the Covenant. Jesus will come back, and we will be in right relationship with God, and the rest of Creation. It will be like the beginning when God the Creator made everything. There will be no separation. Gender, language, and ethnicity will not be barriers. There will be justice for all. God will be in Charge.