Thursday, 22 October 2015


Scriptures for First Mennonite Church, Oct. 25, Deut. 6:4-14, 2 Tim. 3:10-17

Our congregation is in the midst of a 4 week series about "what we believe together", an examination of the core pieces of faith as expressed in a book of shared convictions of Anabaptist-related churches and published in cooperation with the Mennonite World Conference.

This Sunday, Tim's message will examine the question; "What does it mean to take the Bible seriously?"

It is a live question.  "ITS ALIVE!!!" (Sorry, I can't help but here that phrase in a dramatic Frankenstein manner!)  The question is a bit of a monster that creates disagreement.

Some think scripture isn't taken seriously if it isn't taken literally. Others think it isn't taken seriously unless historical context, broad themes, and current context are thoroughly considered. Others read something offensive (think violence, patriarchy, slavery...) and don't want to take it seriously at all!

I'm (seriously) in all three camps at least to some extent! Some things I do take literally. Some things I reject. The Bible is so much more than a fact book, a history, or a contextually-bound guide to faith and life, and yet it is all these things at times too. Most helpfully, for me, is thinking about scripture as the ongoing story of God's people. It is told in different times, through different cultures and understandings, in various literary genres, all for the purpose of restoring us to right relationship with God and each other. All for the purpose of redemption. And that story is ongoing.

I agree with 2 Timothy 16; "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness..."but I don't think it's all on the same level of usefulness, and inspired doesn't mean infallible (back then, or now). There is a crucial role here for the Holy Spirit. We need this Spirit of God here and now if we hope to apply ancient wisdom and stories to contemporary times and issues. We need the guidance of group discernment, none of us hears God's voice in a vacuum. The scripture and the issues it raises, addresses, and ignores is alive today, how are we understanding it?

An excellent book I highly recommend for those who wonder about taking the Bible seriously today is Peter Enns' The Bible Tells Me So; Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. 
This is a highly readable, helpful look at scripture and today's context.

Question: How important is the Bible for you and your understanding of the church? In what ways is it important or irrelevant?

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

In full accord and of one mind?

For October18. Phil 2:1-18, John 16:15-17, Micah 6:8

We just got back from a family reunion Thanksgiving. Mom and I talked about how fortunate and blessed we are that we get along, that there are no major blockages or breakdowns among us. This is in spite of some significant differences. Faith wise, we range from conservative to liberal, politically from liberal to conservative, environmentally from don't throw anything away to convenience first, etc... Sometimes we just don't talk about the things we differ on, sometimes we discuss/argue. What doesn't change is that we respect each other. We know that in spite of differing interpretations and expressions, we are united in Christ. We are a faith family that goes beyond the sameness of our genes, and that means love will trump the rest.

When I read Philippians 2:1-18, a healthy family experience helps me to understand Paul's words, however, it certainly doesn't make it easy or make me good at it! What does it mean to be of the "same mind" when we absolutely have no agreement on a particular issue or issues? How can we look not to our own interests, but to the interests of others? How can we truly be glad and rejoice (v17-18) with each other when there are things like suffering (Paul is writing from jail) that we observe, or things like jealousy of each other (like when one family/friend has money while another does not?)

When I extend myself beyond thinking about my immediate family, I have even more trouble understanding how this "same mind" is to be understood and practiced. How does this apply in the church where there are many families, many functions and dis-functions, multiple opinions, and huge diversity?

Rev. Mary Austin puts it well when she comments on Paul's ; "...being in full accord and of one mind." She says; "Having lived my whole life in a denomination willing to fight over everything from the place of gays and lesbian people in ministry to the color of the carpet in the church parlor, this is almost unimaginable. Could we ever get there?"

Does this sound familiar?

I think we'd do well as individuals to read this passage before going to any church meeting. We'd do well as a body to read it before our meeting, and then to read it again at the end, to "check" to see how we are doing. Of course, we all know someone else who should read it, but that's not ours to force. What is ours is to take personal responsibility. To learn humility, to follow Jesus' example.

It is difficult to recognize our selfish ambition and conceit, let alone give it up to consider what might be best for someone else. I like the interplay in this passage between individualism, and community. We are to be responsible for ourselves, yet we are to think and act communally. That means that when the body speaks, it is irresponsible of us as individuals to undermine decisions-we have to always be striving for what is best for the whole body, to give of ourselves even when it is hard, and to assume that others are also trying to do this.

An example for me is the difference of opinion I have with some people over whether the lgbtq (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer) people should be fully welcomed into membership and all position in the church. I want to welcome them fully, I believe this is Biblical and right. Others disagree with me and are just as convinced that they are interpreting the Bible correctly. We disagree, but I hope we can respect each other, and truly believe that the other is trying as hard as ourselves to be faithful to what God is telling the church today. Within my family and my church family there is difference on this issue, yet we love each other and will continue to be family and respectful of each other-at least, that is what I am trying to work toward.

How is this "in full accord and of one mind?"  I don't think that Paul is pushing us to complete agreement and sameness in all things. There are, however, some core things that must be agreed upon. God is love. Christ is our center. We are to care for each other to the point of sacrifice, like Jesus did. Beyond that, can we manage to negotiate our differences well so that there is healthy discussion instead of "murmuring and arguing" (v14)?

I hope we can. Paul believed the Philippians could do it. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit so we'd have help to do it. I want to keep trying.

I'm still not sure what "in full accord and of one mind?" might practically look like in my family or my church, but I think reading Philippians more often before I have to get into discussions, might just be a constructive push toward the right mindset and heartset for unity.