The Church is Like a Family

A sermon by Michael Pahl on October 6, 2019, called “The Church is Like a Family,” reflecting on Mark 3:31-35. This is the fifth in a five-part series called “Together we are a Church.”

Here is a written excerpt from the conclusion:

For the first three hundred years after Jesus, Christians were nothing close to a majority in the Roman Empire. They were a minority group, often ridiculed and despised.

People thought these Christians were cannibals because they talked about eating Jesus’ body and drinking Jesus’ blood. The wealthy and powerful looked on them with disdain because they were mostly made up of women and slaves and the poor. They were mocked because they worshiped a crucified convict as a god.

But one thing people couldn’t deny was that these Christians—who called each other “brothers” and “sisters” and called God their “Father”—these Christians cared for one another like true family. The early Christians distributed money and food to the widows among them, when these widows’ own families would not. The early Christians took in children off the streets, even babies who had been left outside to die, and adopted them as their own.

In other words, the early Christians welcomed into their “family of God” all those who had been cast out and cast aside by others, cast out from their own families and cast aside by society. And when these early Christians—these castoffs from the world—gathered together as “sisters” and “brothers,” they shared a meal together, all of them equal in status, every person leaving clothed and well-fed.

All of this was in direct response to the teaching and example of Jesus.

“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus says in Mark 10:14, “do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

“Whatever you do to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine”—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned—“you do to me,” Jesus says in Matthew 25:35-40.

“When you have a meal,” Jesus says in Luke 14:12-13, “do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives. Rather, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”

“Here are my mother and my brothers and my sisters!” Jesus says in our passage, Mark 3:34-35. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

And in Mark 10:29-30 Jesus gives this promise: “Any who have left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, will receive a hundredfold in this age of homes, brothers and sisters, mothers and children”—finding belonging in the family of God.

We are the family of God. Jesus is our brother, God is our loving parent, and we who seek to follow Jesus’ way of love are siblings together. We belong to each other, bound together by mutual affinity and affection, these bonds strengthened by our shared experiences and our shared stories—especially the good news story of Jesus.

We are the family of God. May we continue to press into this reality, learning together afresh what it means for us to belong to one another, to share our lives together to strengthen those bonds of affinity and affection. And may we have the courage be the family of God in the world, loving one another in the way of Jesus—especially all those the world casts aside.

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The Church is Like a Temple

A sermon by Michael Pahl on September 29, 2019, called “The Church is Like a Temple,” reflecting on 1 Peter 2:4-10 and Ephesians 2:17-22. This is the fourth in a five-part series called “Together we are a Church.”

Here is a written excerpt from the introduction:

Where do we meet with God?

Where do we experience our Creator? Where do we connect with the Being that underlies all being, the creative Life that animates all life, the One “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)? Where do we rest and rejoice in the Love that propels us forward into greater goodness and truth and beauty, into greater justice and peace?

In other words, what are our temples?

The Apostle Paul, in his speech to the academics of Athens in Acts 17, asserts that “the God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands” (Acts 17:24). Paul here is simply echoing the words of the Prophets, like Isaiah in Isaiah 66:

Thus says the Lord:
Heaven is my throne
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is my resting place? (Isa 66:1)

There is nothing we can ourselves build that can properly “house” the God who is Being itself, who is Life itself, who is Love itself, the One “from whom and through whom and to whom are all things” (Rom 11:36; cf. 1 Cor 8:6).

So, where do we meet with God? What are our temples?

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The Church is Like a Garden

A sermon by Michael Pahl on September 22, 2019, called “The Church is Like a Garden,” reflecting on John 15:1-8 and 1 Corinthians 3:5-9. This is the third in a five-part series called “Together we are a Church.”

Here is a written excerpt:

We are God’s garden, Morden Mennonite Church. How can we become a healthier, more fruitful garden here in God’s world?

We can start by becoming more aware of our interconnectedness with each other, and even with all living things.

We often have a distorted view of our own autonomy. We think we are completely independent beings, as if we are not formed by our environment and other people, as if we don’t in turn have an impact on things and people around us.

And we often have an odd view that we as humans are utterly distinct from all the rest of creation, as if we don’t have billions of microorganisms milling around inside each one of us, as if we don’t share 90% of our DNA with cats. (It’s true.)

Many people who report having a mystical experience of some kind describe this as part of the experience: an awareness of how completely interconnected all things are, and how they themselves are woven right into the fabric of this interconnected universe.

What mystics—including Christian mystics—have been saying for centuries is borne out by modern science: we may be self-aware individuals with some measure of free will, but we are not autonomous. We are never truly independent.

We are, as Genesis 2 reminds us, “of the earth”: the earth is in us even as we are in the earth. And we are, as Genesis 2 also reminds us, “bone of each other’s bone and flesh of each other’s flesh”: we are a part of each other even as each other is a part of us. This isn’t some pagan pantheism; this is historic, biblical Christianity.

This means we need to care for the earth. We need to work for clean air, clean water, healthy ecosystems, a healthy planet. And in a climate emergency, as we now find ourselves, we need to press hard for these things, demanding change from those with power to make change.

It also means we need to care for each other. If our own physical, mental, and spiritual health is dependent upon the health of our environment, the health of all others, we need to care for each other in all these ways so that all of us can be healthier.

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2019 Soup and Pie Fundraiser

This Sunday, September 22, at 5:30 p.m., we are hosting our annual Soup & Pie Fundraiser for Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Nancy Howatt, Canadian Foodgrains representative from Manitou, will be the speaker, and Vic Engbrecht will be providing the music. The supper—delicious cabbage borscht and a variety of homemade pies—is by donation, with cheques payable to “Canadian Foodgrains Bank.”

Invite your neighbours and come on out for a wonderful meal in support of a great cause. This event is open to any and all!

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The Church Is Like a Body

A sermon by Michael Pahl on September 15, 2019, called “The Church Is Like a Body,” reflecting on 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. This is the second in a five-part series called “Together we are a Church.”

Here is a written excerpt from the conclusion:

We feel our limitations, our frailties, our fallibilities, deep in our bodies. When we get up the courage to pause and think about it, we can even recognize our mortality, the precariousness of human life. And yet we are each capable of doing wonders: feeling affection, sharing delight, showing compassion, speaking truth, practicing goodness, creating beauty.

This paradox is well expressed by another psalmist: “When I look at your heavens, O God, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor” (Ps 8:3-5).

We are but dust, formed from bits of second-hand carbon and recycled water. Dust we are, and to dust we shall return. And yet we are created in God’s image, crowned with divine glory and endowed with the divine spirit. We are each capable of doing wonders.

This paradox is true for each one of us, embodied spirits, enspirited bodies that we are. This paradox is also true for us as a church.

We are very much like a body, a frail and fragile bundle of weakness and woundedness. Yet we are together capable of doing wonders: we are not just like a body, we are the body of Christ.

Jesus Christ is our head: he is the source of our life, the centre of our existence, giving us purpose and direction. Christ’s Spirit is within us, among us, animating us, empowering us.

And so we continue Christ’s mission in the world:

  • being Jesus’ ears in the world, hearing the cries of the afflicted and the oppressed;
  • being Jesus’ eyes in the world, searching for the lost, those shunned by the privileged powerful as worthless and by the righteous religious as sinners;
  • being Jesus’ hands in the world, embracing the least and clothing the naked and healing the sick and welcoming the stranger;
  • being Jesus’ mouth in the world, sharing this good news of God’s kingdom with the poor and the poor in spirit;
  • being Jesus’ feet in the world, carrying this good news, these listening ears, these loving hands, to the ends of the earth if need be.

It seems impossible, that this frail and fragile body of weakness and woundedness could do these wonders of God. And yet we have this promise from Jesus himself: “I will build my church”—Christ’s own body within the world—“and the very gates of Death will not prevail against it”—the most powerful forces of evil will be overcome by the more powerful force of love in the way of Jesus.

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What Is the Church?

A sermon by Michael Pahl on September 8, 2019, called “What Is the Church?” reflecting on Matthew 16:13-19. This is the first in a five-part series called “Together we are a Church.”

Here is a written excerpt:

The word “church” here is ekklēsia. It’s a word that is often used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to refer to the “assembly” of all Israel, “the gathered people of God.” The idea, then, is that Jesus is creating a new “assembly” of God’s people, a renewed people of God gathered around him.

That’s probably the idea behind Jesus’ enigmatic statement: “on this rock I will build my church.” He means Peter’s confession—that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel—this is the foundation of the church Jesus will build.

In other words, Jesus himself—the Messianic King bringing about God’s kingdom on earth—Jesus himself is the foundation of the restored people of God. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:11, “No one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”

The church, then, is all those people who are built upon Jesus, gathered around Jesus, together seeking to walk in Jesus way’ of life, his way of love that brings about God’s reign of justice and peace and joy.

Jesus’ words are a solemn pledge: Jesus will build his church. It’s not we who need to build his church. It’s Jesus’ church, and he will build it. We simply need to be the church, we need to be this new assembly of God’s people gathered around Jesus.

And Jesus’ pledge comes with a promise: Jesus will build his church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

It’s important we understand what Jesus is saying here. “Hades” is not “hell,” but rather “the realm of death”: the gates of death’s kingdom will not withstand the church Jesus will build. All the consequences of human sin, all the destructive effects of our harmful attitudes and actions—all this “death” with a capital “D”—will be powerless against the people who are gathered around Jesus.

Yes, it’s true: the image Jesus paints here is not a defensive one, as if Death is assaulting us and we are defending our own gates. It’s an offensive attack: we who walk in Jesus’ way of love are storming the very gates of Death.

This means, then, that Jesus’ pledge and promise carry within them the very mission of the church: we are called to walk with Jesus in his way of love, his way of cross-like, co-suffering love, and so take on all the cruelty and hatred, injustice and oppression this world has to offer. Whatever we bind on earth—binding the very powers of evil—has already been bound in heaven. Whatever we loose on earth—liberating the oppressed, bringing freedom to the captives—has already been loosed in heaven.

The church, then, is to be where heaven and earth come together. The renewed people of God, gathered around Jesus, is where we should catch the first glimpses of God’s will being done, God’s kingdom coming, on earth as it is in heaven.

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“Together we are a Church”

This Sunday is our fall kickoff!

As of this Sunday we get back to our regular routine of Sunday School, Adult Sunday Study, Youth events, and other church programs. Join us on Sunday at 9:00 am for Morning Prayers, at 9:30 am for Sunday School and Adult Sunday Study, at 10:15 am for our Common Ground coffee time in the main foyer, and at 10:40 am for our Worship Service.

During our fall worship series we will be exploring this question together: “What is the Church?” We can even make this question more personal: “What does the church mean to me?” Or together: “Who are we as a church?” Through our Scripture reading and prayer, our singing and stories and sermons, we’ll be reflecting on some biblical images of the church to help us re-imagine ourselves as the church of Jesus Christ: the body of Christ, the garden of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the family of God.

Together we are a Church!

Update: Here are Michael’s sermons from this series:

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