Sunday School Wrap Up & Church Picnic!

Sunday School celebration, baptism, church picnic—it’s a full Sunday coming up at Morden Mennonite!

Note that there is no Sunday School this Sunday, June 10. We’re into our summer schedule now, which means Morning Prayers are at 9:45. Common Ground coffee time will continue at 10:15, and the Worship Service at 10:40. During this Sunday’s service we will celebrate the Sunday School year that has just wrapped up and we’ll celebrate a baptism together.

All are welcome to stay for the picnic right after the service. We’ll be at Rampton Park behind the church if the weather is nice, or in the Fellowship Hall if it’s not. If you’re planning to come, bring lawn chairs, dishes, and water bottles—we’ll supply the food and the fun!

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The Narrow Way to Life

A sermon by Pastor Michael Pahl on May 20, 2018, called “The Narrow Way to Life.” The sermon is the final one in a nine-month series on the Sermon on the Mount. It is based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:12-29.

Here is a written excerpt:

This, then, is what Jesus means when he talks about the “narrow gate that leads to life” and the “broad way that leads to destruction.” He’s evoking the story of the newly formed nation of ancient Israel, with Moses proclaiming the Law and confirming the covenant, and calling them to choose between “life” and “death.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has given a new law for God’s new people formed around Jesus the Messiah, a new law in fulfillment of Moses’ law, a new law that is an old law, the law of love—and now we must make a choice.

Will we choose to follow Jesus’ teachings, and so experience flourishing life on earth, living in justice and peace, in harmony with all?

Or will we choose to ignore Jesus’ teachings, and so continue to experience degradation, devastation, destruction, and death, the harmful consequences of our harmful actions?

Some Christians think the “narrow way” of Jesus is believing certain truths that only the faithful few believe, like “the Bible is the Word of God,” or “Jesus is the only way to heaven.” Some think the “narrow way” is living a “clean-living” lifestyle that most other people don’t live: not swearing, not drinking, going to church every Sunday, and the like.

But the “narrow way” Jesus talks about is not about having correct doctrine or a strict morality. In fact, those common ways of thinking about the “narrow way” are more akin to Jesus’ opponents than they are to Jesus.

No, the “narrow gate” is following the teachings of Jesus that he has just given, summed up in the teaching he’s just declared: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

And the “life” Jesus promises isn’t “life after death” or “heaven.” It is true that believers have the assurance of being “with the Lord” after death, but the full motion of salvation in the Bible is that of bringing heaven down to earth.

That’s the way the story ends in Revelation, you might recall, with the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth and God dwelling among us on that renewed earth in a new creation. And, you might remember, that’s the hope Jesus has taught us to pray for, to seek after: God’s kingdom come, God’s will being done, on earth as it already is in heaven.

So again, the choice before us—before you and me individually, before us as a church, before us as a human race—the choice before us is this:

Will we choose to follow Jesus’ teachings, and so experience flourishing life on earth, living in justice and peace, in harmony with all?

Or will we choose to ignore Jesus’ teachings, and so continue to experience degradation, devastation, destruction, and death, the harmful consequences of our harmful actions?

For more on this, see Pastor Michael’s blog post on “What is the ‘Narrow Way’ of Jesus?”

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The Practice of Merciful Forgiveness

A sermon by Pastor Michael Pahl on April 29, 2018, called “The Practice of Merciful Forgiveness.” The sermon is a reflection on Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness in the Sermon on the Mount.

Here is a written excerpt:

Earlier, I said this: Forgiveness is a necessary part of the very fabric of the universe; it should be as ordinary as breathing, as everyday as eating and drinking.

That is, in fact, how Jesus talks about it in the Sermon on the Mount. Mercy is embedded in the Beatitudes, one of the essential qualities of those truly blessed by God. Forgiveness is embedded in the Lord’s Prayer, something we long for, we pray for, daily.

It’s also how Jesus talks about these things beyond the Sermon on the Mount. Teachings about forgiving another person not just once, not just seven times, but seventy times seven times. Stories about being forgiven a half-million-dollar debt but refusing to forgive a debt of a few thousand dollars. His example of scandalously, freely forgiving sinners, and of hanging on the cross, praying for the forgiveness of the very people who put him there.

Forgiveness is a necessary part of the very fabric of the universe; it should be as ordinary as breathing, as everyday as eating and drinking.

And so we need to make merciful forgiveness another of our daily spiritual practices, one of our “habits of holy love.” How can we do this? Two quick thoughts.

We can practise self-awareness of sin. This doesn’t mean beating ourselves up over our sin, but being realistic about it: we all sin, we all harm others, intentionally or unintentionally. 1 John 1 puts it pretty starkly: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

When we practise self-awareness of sin, it makes us more prone to seek forgiveness of others when we harm them. It also makes us less prone to judge other people for their sins, real or imagined.

We can also learn the liturgy of forgiveness, and use it regularly. The basic liturgy is simple: “I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”—and in response—“I forgive you.” Teach this liturgy of forgiveness to your kids and grandkids and great grandkids; practise it yourself. No excuses, no conditions: “I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” “I forgive you.”

Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount presents us with a hard but important lesson: it is only in forgiving others that we can fully experience the forgiveness of God.

The truth is this: we are forgiven by God in order to forgive others. But if we do not forgive others, harboring resentment and or anger toward others, have we truly experienced God’s forgiveness? If we stand in self-righteous judgment over others, have we truly experienced God’s mercy? If we do not show lovingkindness to others, whether neighbours or enemies, have we truly experienced God’s love?

As hard as it may be for us to hear, the answer to these questions, from Jesus and the rest of the New Testament, is a resounding “No.”

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Spring Fundraising Dinner

This Sunday, April 22 at noon, we are having our annual Spring Fundraising Dinner. This was previously known as the Homemakers Dinner, and it continues in that same tradition: a chicken dinner with all the trimmings topped off with the best cream puffs you’ve ever had, all in support of a good cause.

This year that good cause is two good causes. Funds raised from donations at the dinner will be split between supporting Hippo and Miriam Maenhout Tshimanga, our partners in international Witness, and supporting our summer camps sponsorships for campers and counselors.

Hippo and Miriam are Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers based in South Africa, serving “in the areas of leadership development, Bible and ministry training, women and family ministries, capacity building, and understanding identity and spirituality from an Anabaptist perspective. Their ministries involve visiting congregations, relating to pastors and other ministry leaders and sharing teaching, resources and experiences.”

Each summer we pay half of the registration fees for kids from our church to go to a summer Bible camp. Most summers we also sponsor teens or young adults from our church to serve as camp counselors with Camps with Meaning. We have two so far who are planning to serve as counselors this summer, and several planning to go as campers.

Join us this Sunday for this fundraising dinner. Even better, make sure you come for the worship service in the morning—the youth are leading the service, and you won’t want to miss it!

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Nothing Between Us

A sermon by Pastor Michael Pahl on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018, called “Nothing Between Us.” The sermon is a reflection on the story of Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb of Jesus while it was still dark, and wondering how the stone would be rolled away.

Here is a written excerpt:

In that darkness, on that rocky path to the tomb, we stumble over many things.

Broken relationships, for example. You know what I mean—a relationship that isn’t healthy, that isn’t functioning properly, that is frayed or fractured in some way. I want you to think about a broken relationship you know of.

It might be one you’ve experienced, maybe even that you’re experiencing right now. Maybe it’s between a parent and child, or between siblings, or between friends, or between colleagues or neighbours. There had been a relationship, a healthy, positive relationship, but something has happened, and now it’s strained or even ruptured.

Or maybe that broken relationship you’re thinking about is a larger one, a relationship among many people, or a relationship between two groups of people. Between two families, a family feud of sorts. Between first century Jews and Gentiles, like our Acts reading this morning. Between the descendants of European settlers and indigenous peoples, maybe. Or, even between two nations, like the rocky relationship between United States and North Korea.

Or maybe that broken relationship you have in mind today is that relationship between us and God. This, too is a relationship between persons, and this, too, can have barriers in it, things that keep that relationship from being whole and healthy.

At the bottom of each of these broken relationships is the same reality. Behind each of these broken relationships, whether individuals with each other, whole groups of people with each other, or our relationship with God, the same dynamics are at work.

Fear keeps us from reaching out across the divide—fear of the other, fear of the unknown, fear of suffering. Or maybe it’s shame that keeps us from opening ourselves up to the other person, or a burden of guilt we’ve borne for years. There could be some deep, indescribable sorrow that keeps us cocooned within ourselves, some deep pain that haunts us.

And behind those experiences are their root causes, sins that have been committed, some harm brought about through words spoken or deeds done, by you, or by the other, or by both. A misunderstanding, maybe even willful ignorance. Simple pride, or a moment of self-righteous judgment. A betrayal, perhaps, at some point in the past. An abandonment. Cruel words, or maybe even a violent act.

On the cross Jesus bore all those things, so we don’t have to any longer. And by resurrecting Jesus from the dead, God has reversed all those things, so we can experience that reversal ourselves.

In the resurrection, everything that the cross represents has been turned upside down. Fear has been turned into trust. Shame has been turned into honour. Guilt has been turned into innocence. Sorrow and pain have been turned into wholeness and joy. Betrayal and abandonment have been turned into faithful embrace. Cruelty and injustice have been turned into justice and peace and life.

All these barriers to relationship, all these and more that we could name, all are reversed in the resurrection of the crucified Jesus from the dead. This is indeed good news! This is gospel!

Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!] Alleluia!

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Surprised by Jesus

A sermon by Pastor Michael Pahl on March 25, 2018, Palm Sunday, called “Surprised by Jesus.” The sermon is a reflection on the story of the “triumphal entry” found in John 12:12-16.

Here is a written excerpt from the conclusion:

The Gospels, then, insist that life with Jesus is filled with surprises. If we’re going to hang around with Jesus, we’re going to be surprised by Jesus—simple as that.

But the Gospels also show us that there are different ways we might respond when Jesus does something in our life that leaves us slack-jawed with wonder, or when Jesus leads us in some way, or teaches us something, that runs counter to all our nice and tidy expectations.

We might respond like the religious powers of Jesus’ day. We might insist, “That’s not how God works! That’s not what God is like!” We might stick with our assumptions, our misconceptions, our wrong expectations, and reject Jesus standing right there in front of us: the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the very “least of these.” We might even find ourselves crucifying that Jesus, certain we’re doing the right thing.

No, not the best way to respond to Jesus’ surprises.

Or we might respond like the crowds that surrounded Jesus. We might follow Jesus when he’s popular, when it’s comfortable, when we like what he says and he gives us free bread. So, sure, we’ll sing a few hymns and wave some leaves once a week. But when the tide turns against Jesus, when following Jesus means saying no to our own comfortable self-interest and taking up our own cross, we turn our backs on Jesus. In other words, we accept the good surprises but we refuse the hard surprises.

Not the best way to respond to Jesus’ surprises, either.

But we might instead choose to respond like the disciples—imperfectly, falteringly, yet persistently, sticking close to Jesus through all the surprises he throws our way.

Like the disciples, we might take Jesus’ presence for granted, all those surprising blessings every day, each a miracle in its own way—but every once in a while we wake up to Jesus’ presence, even if it takes a stormy sea to do it, and we once again fall at his feet in amazement.

Like the disciples, we might be a little slow to understand, or even a lot slow to understand, when Jesus teaches us something surprising that doesn’t fit what we’ve always known—but we stick with Jesus, and eventually we get it, our attitudes and perspectives slowly changed to be more like Jesus’.

Like Mary Magdalene, some of us might wonder if this surprise of mercy could really be true, delivered from evil, restored to wholeness—but we stick with Jesus, and in the end Jesus confirms it with a holy task for us, sharing God’s surprising mercy with others.

Like James and John, some of us might get all caught up in power and prestige, missing Jesus’ surprising call to humble service, or we might demand hellfire and brimstone from heaven, missing Jesus’ surprising call to love enemies—but Jesus sticks with us, and in the end it’s us calling people to love one another in the humble way of Jesus.

Like Peter, some of us might even deny Jesus in the crucial, surprising moment—but Jesus sticks with us, and in the end he gently forgives us, and even uses that experience to call us to some new avenue of service.

How will we respond when Jesus surprises us? It’s not an if but a when—if we’re hanging around Jesus at all, surprises are bound to happen. So how will you respond, the next time Jesus does something in your life, or leads you in some way, or teaches you something, that takes you by surprise?

May we be open to the surprising leading of Jesus, even if it’s into a wilderness.
May we be open to his surprising ways, even if they involve a cross.
May we be open to the next thing he brings our way, whatever it may be,
and see in it the blessing of God.

May we be open to the next person he brings into our life, whoever it may be,
and see in them the face of Jesus.

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Easter at MMC

Take note of our Easter-related services at Morden Mennonite Church. Mark them on your calendar, and be sure to join us!

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