There’s a recurring phrase throughout these two passages (Luke 9:1-6 and 10:1-11), a phrase that gets us at the heart of what “witness” or even “mission” means. Listen again to these snippets from our Scripture passages:
“…he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God…” (9:2)
“…say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’…” (10:9)
“…‘know this: the kingdom of God has come near’…” (10:11)
This is, in fact, the “gospel” or “good news” that Jesus himself proclaimed. At the beginning of his ministry in Galilee he declared, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God…for I was sent for this purpose” (4:43).
And that was his first sermon in his hometown synagogue, remember?
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
“Today,” he said to his family and friends, “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This good-news gospel promise of God’s kingdom come near bringing justice and freedom and healing and peace—this is now happening!
This, then is the “something” that we as Christians are bearing witness to: God’s reign of justice and peace and life has come near to us in Jesus.
We have seen and experienced God’s kingdom come near. We have seen and experienced God’s kingdom come near
in unexpected deeds of mercy when we lay battered and bloody by the road of life,
in startling moments of sheer joy or quickening hope when we were being swallowed by sorrow and despair,
in unexplainable experiences of deep healing—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually,
in extraordinary acts of liberation or justice just when we most needed it and least expected it.
We have seen and experienced God’s kingdom come near.
We are all witnesses of God’s reign of justice and peace and life come near to us in Jesus. We don’t choose to be witnesses of God’s kingdom in Jesus—if we have seen and experienced these things, we simply are witnesses of God’s kingdom in Jesus.
So, the question is this: How are we supposed to be good witnesses? Exactly how are we supposed to bear witness to God’s kingdom come near through Jesus?
This Sunday, September 30, at 5:30 p.m., we are hosting our annual Soup & Pie Fundraiser for Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Gordon Janzen, the Canadian Foodgrains Manitoba rep, will be the speaker, and the Glencross Quartet 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!
Grace and peace to you through our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Peace,” I say. “Peace through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
But do we really believe it? Peace in every way—peace within us, peace between us, peace among us—this full and lasting peace through our Lord Jesus Christ? Do we really believe this?
Our church’s vision and mission statement says that we do!
“We are followers of Jesus Christ,” our mission statement declares, “committed to the way of peace in our lives.”
And that’s not the only place “peace” comes into our vision and mission. “We seek to express the reconciling…love of God,” we say, to be “a nurturing community of peace.”
We are on a journey with Jesus toward this goal, to an ever “greater peace.”
If you’re counting, that’s four separate references to “peace” or “reconciliation” in our vision of who we want to be, our mission of what we want to do. In other words, peace is a big deal to us!
Of course, that reflects our desire to be a distinctly Mennonite church, situated among the historic “peace churches.” Churches in the Anabaptist stream have nearly always been noted for their distinctive “peace theology”—committed to nonretaliation and nonviolence, objecting to war on the basis of conscience, constructively working toward reconciliation and a more just society.
But many Mennonite churches have abandoned a distinctive peace position. They’ve either dropped it from their self-description or they’ve quietly let it gather dust on their theological shelf.
How about us? Are we still “followers of Jesus Christ, committed to the way of peace”?
For many Mennonites, like many other Christians, this is a purely pragmatic question.
Nonviolence is impractical, many of us think. Of course we should avoid violence in our everyday life. But in the big bad world of violent criminals and violent terrorists and violent despots? Nonviolence just doesn’t work, we might think. We tell ourselves that sometimes violent people can only be dealt with through violence.
And nonretaliation? Maybe that’s fine for when that jerk cuts in front of me on the highway, but as a way for society to deal with violent crime? No way! A harsh jail sentence is what’s needed, we might think, sometimes even capital punishment. “A life for a life” is simple justice, we say to ourselves, and it’s a pretty good deterrent to boot.
In other words, many Christians say, “Yes, Jesus came to bring peace: peace with God and peace with each other. But while we can have peace with God now, which gives us peace in our hearts, and while we should strive for peace with each other, we need Jesus to come back before that ‘no more violence, no more war’ thing can become reality.”
But for Mennonites historically, and for many of us still today, this is not about pragmatics. It’s not about whether nonviolence is “practical,” or whether nonretaliation “works”—it’s about obedience to the teaching of Jesus, faithfully following the way of Jesus.
But here’s my even stronger claim: Jesus’ way of peace does actually work, if we will only give it a chance. Jesus has given us everything we need for peace now, peace in every way. Either we just don’t realize it, or we don’t really believe it.
Following a living person, of course, suggests walking a particular path, walking in a particular way. As I said before, that’s actually how the first Christians thought of themselves—they called themselves “The Way,” meaning, “Those who follow the Way of Jesus, the Way which is Jesus.”
And what is this “way of Jesus”? It is, in its essence, the way of love.
Jesus’ way of love is receiving God’s devoted, compassionate, merciful love for us as the free gift that it is: God is passionately committed to our flourishing, and the flourishing of all creation.
Jesus’ way of love, then, is responding to God’s love with a devoted love for God, heart, soul, mind, and strength: committed to seeking God, to knowing God, to trusting in God, to living out God’s will in this, God’s world, among all God’s children, all created in God’s image.
Which means Jesus’ way of love is a compassionate love of neighbour, anyone we meet along the journey, as much as we love ourselves: committed to the well-being of others just as much as we are committed to our own well-being.
Which means Jesus’ way of love is also a merciful love of both stranger and enemy: committed to welcoming anyone who is not from among us or who is different from us, and forgiving, even blessing, anyone who sins against us, who seeks to oppose us or even to harm us.
This is simply the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels. It’s also the way of life Jesus lived—right to the cross.
This way of love is, to use Jesus’ words, “the narrow way that leads to life”—real life for ourselves and for all people. This way of love gives comfort to the troubled and strength to the weary. It gives hope the hopeless and purpose to the wandering. This way of love, lived out fully, will even bring about true justice and lasting peace in our world.
I like the way our church vision statement describes this way of life, Jesus’ way of love: we “seek to express the reconciling and transforming love of God, through Jesus Christ, being guided by the Holy Spirit.”
God’s love is “reconciling.” It always seeks to tear down walls, not build them, to build bridges, not divide, to heal the ruptures between us and the wounds we inflict on each other.
God’s love is “transforming.” It accepts us where we’re at, but it never leaves us the same. It changes us, making us more and more like Jesus in his way of love.
And so, devoted to God, following Jesus, moved by his Spirit, we strive to bring this reconciling and transforming love of God to the world.
All this sounds wonderful—and it is! As I said—as Jesus says—this is the only way to real life, to true justice and lasting peace. It is God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven, the way God’s kingdom comes on earth down from heaven.
But following Jesus in this way of love is not easy. Jesus was killed for it, remember! We’re not following @Comfy_Jesus on Twitter—we’re following the Suffering Servant and Crucified Christ.
For some, Jesus’ way of love wasn’t holy enough. Jesus was soft on Sabbath, they said. He was too cozy with “sinners,” they said. He didn’t keep the strictest requirements of the Law the way they thought he should.
For others, Jesus’ way of love was too political. Free healing for the sick! Good news for the poor! Sharp rebukes for the rich! And all this talk of “God’s kingdom near at hand”—right under the noses of the ruling Romans!
Things haven’t changed all that much. Jesus’ way of love is just as counter-cultural as ever. The Really Religious and the Privileged Powerful have never liked it. They have always been willing to condemn and crucify anyone who comes in the name of the Lord, loving in the way of Jesus.
Which is why Jesus calls on those who would be his followers to count the cost.
“You want to be my follower?” Jesus says. “Here’s what it means: you need to deny yourself and take up your cross every day. You need to lose your life if you want to find it.” That’s our passage today, Luke 9:23-24.
“You want to be my follower?” Jesus says. “Just so you know: I don’t have any possessions to my name, no place even to lay my head.” That’s just a few verses later in the same chapter, Luke 9:57-58.
“You want to be my follower?” Jesus says. “Then be prepared for some animosity: your own family might even turn against you.” That’s Matthew 10:34-39.
Sometimes I hear people say that Jesus would never have been crucified simply for teaching the way of love and living a life of love. I can’t help but think that these people have never really known the radical love of God revealed in Jesus.
The gospel comforts the disturbed, but it also disturbs the comfortable. Before we can receive the healing love of the Great Physician, we need first to recognize that we ourselves are among the sick. Like Nicodemus—as a Pharisee and leader of the Jews, he was the epitome of both the Really Religious and the Privileged Powerful—like Nicodemus, we need to be born again.
Here, then, is our mission, should we choose to accept it: to live out the reconciling and transforming love of God, through Jesus Christ, being guided by the Holy Spirit, and so to become a nurturing community of peace, witness, and service to one another and the world.
In other words, to be true followers of Jesus Christ.
I love road trips—whether it’s a short trip like the one our family took to Gimli recently, or a longer one like the epic road trip we took last summer to Montreal.
I love that feeling when the van is packed, the family’s all in, and we head out on the open road. We’ve got a destination in mind, a place we want to get to by the end of the day, that ultimate destination a few days down the road.
But a road trip isn’t just about the destination. It’s also about the journey, the things we’ll see and experience along the way—both the much-anticipated and the surprising. When you start off on a road trip, the whole world seems laid out before you, inviting you to adventure.
Of course, that’s the beginning of the road trip. Everyone’s eager. Everyone’s well-rested and well-fed. Everyone’s got their space and no one else’s stuff is encroaching on it. But by lunchtime on the first day reality sets in: we’ve got 20 more hours of this. Groans and complaints, major and minor, start filling the cramped space among us.
And, of course, the road trip never goes as planned. Even assuming you safely arrive at your chosen destinations along the way and the big one at the end, you’re still guaranteed to have had some unforeseen bumps along the road. Like locking your keys in the van at a remote provincial park and waiting hours for the tow truck to come—while a thunderstorm bears down on you as you huddle together in your bathing suits. Yep.
Still, on a family road trip we stick together, we problem solve together, and in spite of all the expected difficulties and unanticipated problems along the way, the end result is a journey to remember, an experience that has changed us for the better.
There’s a reason why we often picture life as a journey. The idea of moving toward a destination, facing difficult challenges and overcoming unforeseen obstacles, sharing both sorrows and joys along the way, being shaped profoundly by the whole experience—it’s a compelling metaphor for our lives.
It’s also a compelling metaphor for our life together as a church—which is why some years ago Morden Mennonite Church decided to use that metaphor to describe our mission as a church: “We are on a journey with Jesus toward greater peace, greater witness, and greater service.”
We are on a journey with Jesus. We are “moving toward a destination”—greater peace, greater witness, and greater service. And together we are “facing difficult challenges and overcoming unforeseen obstacles, sharing both sorrows and joys along the way, being shaped profoundly by the whole experience.” This is the journey of faith, our journey as a church together.
It’s a phrase we hear often at Morden Mennonite Church, a way of describing who we are and what we’re about. It is, in fact, a phrase plucked from our mission statement as a church, summed up as “We are on a journey with Jesus toward greater peace, greater witness, and greater service.”
This fall we will be reflecting on this shared mission in our worship services – starting this Sunday. What does this “journey with Jesus” look like for us today? What might it look like for us in the future?
This Sunday is also the startup for our fall programs, including Sunday School for children and teens as well as Adult Sunday Study. Come walk with us and let’s share this journey with Jesus together!
9:00 Morning Prayers | 9:30 Sunday School/Adult Sunday Study | 10:15 Common Ground Coffee | 10:40 Worship Service
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!