Christ Above All Powers

“Christ Enthroned,” Book of Kells

Ascension Sunday is the Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s exaltation to the right hand of God, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,” in the words of Ephesians 1. But what does this mean? And what difference does it make for us, or for our world?

In this Ascension Sunday sermon Pastor Michael explores what it means for us to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord over all powers of this age.

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Present Moment Walking…With Hope

During our April 30 morning worship service, Pastor Kristy spoke on “Present Moment Walking…With Hope,” a wonderful reflection on the story of the two disciples’ encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35. Here’s her sermon:

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A Service of Healing and Hope

Join us this Sunday, May 7, at 7:00 pm, for a candlelight service of scripture, song, and prayer for mental health, for those struggling with mental illness and those who care for them. This service will be in the style of Taizé. It is in conjunction with the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week. Freewill donations will be gratefully accepted in support of the mental health recovery programs of Eden Health Care Services. All are welcome!

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When the Pastor Isn’t Blogging…

It has been a while since I have blogged here, and I haven’t blogged much recently on my personal blog, either. There are several reasons for this slow-down, not least of which is simply the need for a bit of a break during a busy season of life and ministry.

There is no shortage of good blogs to read, however, and I’d like to highlight a few of my favourite blogs and the people behind them. In some ways these are my pastors and teachers—I learn much from them and I am spiritually nourished by their words. In other ways these are my surrogates—often they express my own thoughts or feelings so exactly I think they must be reading my mind (only they articulate those thoughts or feelings much better than I ever could!).

Here, then, are five “Anabaptist pastor blogs” this Anabaptist-pastor-blogger most reads and appreciates. Or, you could say, here are some blogs to read when the pastor isn’t blogging.

Brian Zahnd (www.brianzahnd.com). Brian is the lead pastor of Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. Brian is more Anabaptist than most Mennonites I know, and has a wonderful way of articulating a radically Jesus-centred faith.

Rumblings, Ryan Dueck (www.ryandueck.com). Ryan is pastor of Lethbridge Mennonite Church in Lethbridge, Alberta. Ryan tells stories, offering insightful reflections on experiences in daily life. Little known fact: Ryan and I grew up in the same church in Coaldale, Alberta (I was, ahem, a few years ahead of him in school).

The Relentless Pursuit, Eric Kouns (www.erickouns.com). Eric is a former Mennonite Bible college professor and ordained Anglican—a self-described “liturgical Anabaptist.” What I most appreciate about Eric’s posts are his reflections on his journey from evangelicalism to a more “essentialized Anabaptism” (my words), which parallels my own journey in many ways.

Writing and Other Acts of Faith, April Yamasaki (www.aprilyamasaki.com). April is lead pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She offers thoughtful posts on everyday spirituality and ministry.

Re:Knew, Greg Boyd (www.reknew.org). Greg is senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. He’s another one who is more Anabaptist than most Mennonites I know. Greg has a wonderful way of exploring biblical texts and describing Christian truths in fresh ways.

There are a lot of great blogs out there that I also follow, by Rachel Held Evans, Scot McKnight, Pete Enns, Sarah Bessey, Benjamin Corey, Daniel Kirk, and many more. These include some other terrific Anabaptist pastor blogs—those by Moses Falco and Anthony Siegrist, for example. But these five are a great place to start when the pastor isn’t blogging and you need to satisfy your Anabaptist-pastor-blog craving. Everyone gets that craving sometime, don’t they?

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“Restore Us, O God!” Lent and Easter Sermons

Through this season of Lent, through Holy Week to Easter Sunday, we are calling on God to revive us, to renew us, to restore us. Pastor Michael’s sermons explore various dimensions of our very human experience of faith. This blog will be updated as new sermons are posted.

“We Hunger” (Mar. 5, 2017): Reflecting on our deep longings for sustenance, for security, for significance, in contemplating Matthew’s story of the temptations of Jesus.

“We Wonder” (Mar. 12, 2017): Reflecting on the stories of Abram in Genesis 12 and Nicodemus in John 3—two challenging stories of people being called to risky faith in a mysterious God who doesn’t fit neatly into our boxes.

“We Thirst” (Mar. 19, 2017): Reflecting on our deep thirst for love, as seen in John’s story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.

“We See” (Mar. 26, 2017): Reflecting on the story of the man born blind in John 9, the ways in which we don’t see the world the way it truly is, and how in Jesus we begin to see things clearly.

“We Breathe” (Apr. 2, 2017): Reflecting on our dependence on God even for our very breath, and on looking to God to revive our weary souls with the refreshing wind of God’s Spirit.

“We Hope” (Palm Sunday, Apr. 9, 2017): Reflecting on Matthew’s story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as indicative of our need for hope, satisfied in God.

“We Live” (Easter Sunday, Apr. 16, 2017): Reflecting on John’s “unusually ordinary” story of the resurrected Jesus cooking a breakfast of fish for his disciple, and how this points to the nature of the “life” God desires for us: a life where our humanity is validated, a life where our human needs are fully met.

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Some Notes on “Gaia’s Story”

It was a Friday afternoon, two days before I was to begin my sermon series on 1 Corinthians 1-3. I had the whole series laid out, my first sermon nearly completed. Highly exegetical, deeply theological, desperately needed. But utterly uninteresting. The thought hit me: “Why not tell a story?” And thus “Gaia’s Story” was born, each installment written one at a time.

“Gaia’s Story” is a work of fiction. However, I tried to make it as true-to-life as possible without getting bogged down in details of historical background or cultural context. 1 Corinthians is a letter that lends itself to this contextual reading: the problems in the Corinthian church were woven into the fabric of Corinthian culture, and much of Paul’s letter only makes sense when we understand some of that culture. Thankfully, ancient Corinth has been well-excavated; we know as much or more about Corinth as any other New Testament city. See here and here for some great photos of ruins and artefacts of ancient Corinth.

Plan of Corinth (Holy Land Photos)

Plan of Corinth (Holy Land Photos). Some of these structures are from a later period, but the basic plan of the city’s core was likely the same.

The only specific setting I mention in “Gaia’s Story” is the forum. This is the large “city square” that stood at the heart of Corinth. I’ve placed Gaia’s food stall among the shops on the north side of the forum, simply because it’s a great location: the temple of Apollo behind it to the north, the open forum before it with another temple to the west and a large basilica to the west, and looming to the south the Acrocorinth with its temple of Aphrodite on top. Other locations in the story such as Gaia’s flat and Stephanas’ home are undefined.

Popina (Food Stall), Pompeii

Popina (Food Stall), Pompeii

Gaia’s food stall features prominently in the story. These popinae were popular in many cities. Those that have been preserved were made of stone, with holes carved out for holding basins of food. Fires could be lit underneath to keep the food warm. These food stalls were likely popular for civic workers and tourists. They were also the only hot food many of the poorer citizens could hope to get, with no kitchens or sometimes even fireplaces in many of their homes or tenement-style flats.

Apollo Temple with Acrocorinth in Background (Holy Land Photos)

Apollo Temple with Acrocorinth in Background (Holy Land Photos)

Corinthian society was diverse but highly stratified. All types of people came to Corinth from all over the Roman Empire and beyond, bringing their languages and cultures with them. A wide variety of religious options were available for people to choose from; it was not unusual for people to adhere to several at once. Within Corinth, the upper classes were highly competitive, seeking honour through acts of patronage and association with honorable people. The working poor and slaves lived at the whim of the wealthy. Women could achieve significant status and roles in Corinthian society, but this was relatively rare and notable when it happened. All this is reflected in “Gaia’s Story.”

The characters in “Gaia’s Story” are a mix of historical and fictional. Gaia herself is fictional: “Gaia” was a common Roman woman’s name. Leukos, Agathon, Melita, Iris, Oresus, Joseph, and Jonathan are also fictional, though the names are actual Roman, Greek, or Jewish names from the period.

Stephanas, Crispus, Gaius, and Phoebe come from Paul’s writings. Stephanas was the one who brought 1 Corinthians from Paul (1 Cor 16:15-18). Crispus is mentioned among those Paul baptized (1 Cor 1:14); this is likely the same Crispus mentioned in Acts as a synagogue official who became a believer in Jesus (Acts 18:8). Gaius was another baptisand of Paul’s; I’ve given him the full name “Tisias Gaius” simply to avoid confusion with “Gaia.”

Phoebe is the most fascinating of the lot: she is described by Paul as a deacon and a patron of the church in Cenchreae, as well as the carrier of the letter to the Romans (Rom 16:1-2). As letter carrier, she would most likely have been the one to explain anything in Paul’s letter which the Romans did not understand—a high calling indeed. This is why I have had Phoebe read the excerpt from Paul in the final episode.

Apollos and Cephas (Peter) are also mentioned directly in 1 Corinthians 1-3. We hear more about Apollos in Acts 18: a Hellenized Jew from Alexandria in Egypt, well educated and highly skilled in rhetoric. These qualities make him a plausible candidate for being the author of the sermon known as the Letter to the Hebrews—which is why I’ve had Crispus read an excerpt from Hebrews as from Apollos in the last installment of the story.

Peter, of course, was a fisherman from Galilee, trained directly by Rabbi Jesus. We have no reason to believe that he himself had been to Corinth before Paul wrote 1 Corinthians; more likely is that he was known by reputation in Corinth, or that some of his followers had brought Peter’s particular angle on the gospel to Corinth. An ancient tradition (and a plausible theory) has Peter being the primary source of the Gospel we know of us Mark—thus my description in the final episode of Mark’s Gospel as Peter’s story of Jesus.

And the oracle of Christ from Jonathan in that final episode? That, of course, is from Revelation, which claims to be written by an otherwise unknown prophet named “John” (Rev 22:8-9) A bit of a stretch, I know, but it is fiction, after all.

Click through to listen to “Gaia’s Story.”

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No Foundation but Jesus

Audio clip and bulletin notes for a sermon preached at Morden Mennonite on Feb. 19, 2017, in a series called “Jesus: Our Church’s One Foundation.”

This sermon concludes our reflection on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians through the story of Gaia, a fictional woman in first-century Corinth. In this sermon Gaia begins to experience what Paul meant when he said that “all things our ours” in Jesus our “one foundation” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23).

Audio: “No Foundation but Jesus”

Pastor’s Notes:

West Forum, Corinth (Holy Land Photos)

West Forum, Corinth (Holy Land Photos)

  • The church in Corinth was a church divided over sexuality and marriage, spirituality and worship. There were factions within the church, each with its favourite theology and preferred leaders. Underneath all this were questions over how to faithfully follow Jesus within a diverse and changing culture.
  • Paul insists the church’s only foundation is Jesus, crucified Messiah and resurrected Lord. Christian unity lies in following Jesus and Jesus’ way of love together; this is even the mark of Christian maturity and spirituality. This means, then, that nothing else is a foundation for the church: not any particular set of rituals or way of worshiping, not any specific set of beliefs or moral code, not any religious or cultural tradition, not even the Bible. Jesus Christ alone is our foundation (1 Cor 3:11).
  • But this one foundation opens up the whole world to us. Paul insists that because Jesus alone is our foundation “all things are ours”: we can draw widely on a variety of people and experiences to grow in this Jesus-centred faith and life (1 Cor 3:21-23). This relates to the idea that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Ps 24:1): because God is our good Creator who has made all things good, everything is available for our edification and enjoyment.

Questions to Ponder:

  • What things am I tempted to place at the foundation of my Christian faith and life instead of or in addition to Jesus? What about us as a church?
  • In what ways am I intentionally drawing on a wide variety of resources—diverse teachers, writings, traditions, experiences, stories—to grow in my devotion to Jesus and his way of love?
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