Category: Discipleship

On Walking Long Distances

I went on a long walk last Friday. Seventeen kms or so, according to a map I consulted this afternoon, up and down a mountain. Not being a terribly proficient hiker and, consequently, not possessing a decent pair of hiking boots, I used someone else’s. Which (unsurprisingly) turned out to be a mistake. Halfway along my long walk, one heel had been rubbed pretty much raw. My hiking companion generously patched together a combination of gauze and duct tape to tamp down alongside the heel of my boot which enabled me to hobble the rest of the way up and back down on a hot summer’s day. Six days later, the heel is still a rather unsightly red. But the spectacular views of the Canadian Rockies were more than adequate compensation for the accumulated discomforts of my long walk.
I went on another long walk earlier this spring with my daughter. This time, it was around sixteen km. We joined a much longer walk called the Walk for Common Ground from Edmonton to Calgary for a one-day stretch between two small central Alberta towns. The purpose of the walk was to build community between indigenous and non-indigenous folks, to reflect upon treaty obligations, and to raise awareness more generally. It was another blistering hot day, and I returned home with a resplendent sunburn and aching feet. But, the shared experience with my daughter, the good conversation with new indigenous friends along the way, and the sense that we were participating in a meaningful activity more than made up for the difficulties of the walk itself.
A few summers ago, I was looking for some light reading and dove headlong into Henning Menkel’s “Wallander Mysteries” which follow the life and times of Kurt Wallander, a police detective in a small coastal Swedish town. These are your stereotypical page-turner crime novels—fairly formulaic, not particularly deep. Good summer reading, in other words.
I wasn’t expecting much food for theological thought in these books, but there was a section in the opening pages of Sidetracked, that has stuck with me since I first read it. The scene is a long way from Sweden, in the Dominican Republic, where a young father who has tragically lost his wife sets out from his impoverished village for the big city in order to get his young daughter baptized:

Pedro reached the city one afternoon as the heavy rain clouds gathered on the horizon. He sat down to wait on the steps of the cathedral, Santiago Apóstol, and watched the black-clad priests passing by. They seemed either too young, or in too much of a hurry to be worthy of baptising his daughter. He waited many hours. At last an old priest came slowing towards the cathedral. Pedro stood up, took off his straw hat, and held out his daughter. The old priest listened patiently to his story. Then he nodded.
“I will baptise her,” he said. “You have walked a long way for something you believe in. In our day that is rare. People seldom walk long distances for their faith. That’s why the world looks the way it does.”

Those last two sentences jumped out at me. People seldom walk long distances for their faith. That’s why the world looks the way it does.
In the context of the novel, walking long distances is literal. Pedro has walked a long way to find someone to baptize his daughter. And indeed, the Christian tradition has a long and rich history of pilgrimage—people literally walking for days, weeks, or months to visit sacred sites, or to spend extended time in prayer and meditation. My own Mennonite history is the story of people who are familiar with long distances, making their way from northern Europe to Prussia to the Ukraine, to places like Paraguay and Mexico and North America, always on the move seeking a safe place to practice their faith.
But the reference to “walking long distances” can obviously be interpreted metaphorically, too. We’re often quite prepared to exert ourselves for the health benefits or for the inspiring scenery or for causes we deem important. And faith can certainly weave its way through these exertions. But in broad terms, are we willing to “walk long distances” for our faith? Are we willing to sacrifice much of anything for it? Are we particularly keen to enter into the struggle of renegotiating and refining faith, of disciplining habits even when the bloom has come off the rose, of asking difficult questions or sitting with uncomfortable contradictions? Or is faith implicitly seen as a sort of spiritual garnish on essentially secular lives?
The other day a friend asked me if I thought that one of the reasons that the church was struggling in the North American West was because it asks so little of us. I’ve been thinking about that question a lot, lately. Perhaps the old priest in the novel is right. One of the reasons the world (or at least the church) looks like it does is indeed because we seldom walk long distances for what we believe in any more.
——
The image above is of yours truly, and was taken by my wife as I wheezed, gasped, and staggered toward the terminus of a long walk.

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Sixth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Preacher and Seeker consider their skills and talents

Preacher: “Thus says the LORD: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD.”
Seeker: When I was young, I looked up to people who had physical strength, who played sports, who had glamorous careers, who held the spotlight of media attention. But I learned when I came to faith that these things are fleeting and not worthy of pursuit. The famous, the wealthy, the glamorous rise and fall – here today and gone tomorrow.
Preacher: “They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.”
Seeker: What is fame and fortune that I might seek it? Each person is gifted with talents and abilities. They can be used to build and create a legacy worth remembering; or they can be turned into futile efforts to garner attention. Blessed are they who find satisfaction in the doing and not in the praise of others.
Then I asked myself, with my skills and talents do I seek the accolades of others, or do I hone my skills for giving glory to God?
Preacher: “Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Seeker: When I seek to honor the Lord with my talents and skills, I am like a tree that stretches out its roots, find nurture and sustenance in grounded faith in the Lord. The winds of change that rise up one person, and bring another – I will never have to fear them.
Preacher: “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse– who can understand it?”
Seeker: It is tempting to measure my self worth in the eyes of the public and the media. To judge my efforts by the approval of others. It is only when I measure myself against the example and the teachings of the Lord God Jesus Christ that I can know how well I have succeeded or failed.
Preacher: “I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.” ( Jeremiah 17:5-10)
Seeker: May the Lord search me, and discern what good I have done and what evil I have committed. Then I will seek forgiveness and mercy from the Lord for my wrongdoings, and praise the Lord for the blessings the Divine has given. Then I will use my talents and skills to further the mission of the Lord! Selah!

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Gospel Passage – Being called to be a Christian

“Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.” (Luke 5:1 – 4)
After re-reading the above verses several times, a feeling of foreshadowing came upon me. Simon, otherwise known as Peter. The first encounter between the two of them. And there is Simon Peter, a captive audience to Jesus. All of the moments and events between Jesus and the man who would be named Peter, likened to the “rocks” that Jesus will build his holy church upon. But let us move forward in the story.
“When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.” (Verses 5 – 7)
These are the types of verses I need to read right now. I have “worked” long and hard during my time of radiation treatment. Before that finding a new job after my old one was taken from me. And before that dealing with declining health issues. I feel like I have worked “all night” but my “net” keeps coming up empty. The Lord says to me, “Keep trying! Keeping lowering your net and I will fill it.”
“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who are partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.” (Verses 8 – 11)
Have you, beloved reader, cast aside all other considerations to follow the Lord? Was it after the Lord God filled your “net” so completely that you were convinced that you could depend upon the Lord for all things? The interesting thing about Simon Peter and his fellow fishermen is that they left the life they knew for what they thought would be a life of abundance, I am sure. But they learned is that while the Lord God can fill anyone’s net to bursting, that is not all there is (not nearly all there is) to living a Christian life. Nets filled with fish was only the attention getter. Jesus had much more to teach and show them. One of the things that helps me persevere is that the Divine will have a get deal to show and teach me from this experience. At least that is my prayer! Selah!

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Epistle Passage – “Growing up” to be a Christian

“Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (I Corinthians 15:1 – 7)
One has to wonder about the Corinthians. They remind me of newly converted Christians who want to espouse a new faith but keep getting muddled and caught up in previous beliefs and ways of life. In other chapters of Corinthians Paul sets down rules of living and living with each other. In this chapter he seems to be reminding of the basic tenets of faith and what he had preached to them previously.
“Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them–though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” (Verses 8 – 11)
Paul would seem almost a little too “preachy” if it were not for his self-disclaimer that he is the “least of the apostles” and that it is only because of the grace of God that he is who he is. Perhaps that is why he has so much patience with the Corinthians, because he knows what it is like to come to new faith and try to learn how to conform his life to it. We forget (maybe) that what we are reading is a Paul who has been steeped in faith. Maybe at his early beginnings he too had to figure out what is correct and good to do. That gives the rest of us a measure Divine grace and forbearance that we often may need. Selah!

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Old Testament Passage – Being called to challenging tasks, and remaining faithful

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:1 – 4)
Isaiah realized he was in holy space, or his vision was touched by the Divine. One has to wonder if/how his vision was influenced by the understanding of the Divine at that time, and the art and architecture of the time. But that does not, and should not, lessen the impact it had on Isaiah.
“And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” (Verses 5 – 7)
It makes me wonder just a little bit about how we prepared ourselves when we sit down to read the bible, do spiritual meditations, or worship the Lord. Do we ask or prepare ourselves to interact with the Divine? We may hold some minor in credulousness the Isaiah actually really saw this, seraph with tongs and live coal ectetera. But we cannot deny the the writer of the book of Isaiah went on to do and write some mighty stuff.
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” And he said, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” (Verses 8 – 10)
Of course one wonders why the outcome of Isaiah’s mission and ministry was that the people remained dull and did not understand. It was apparently not the fault and intention of Isaiah. It was that the called and chosen people has wandered so far from faithful worship of God that no words reached them or broke through.
“Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the LORD sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.” (Verses 10 – 13)
For all that, Isaiah could be talking about our modern times. I know that may surprise you, especially beloved reader if you consider yourself a faithful follower of the Divine. But I remind you that by the time we get down to the coming of Jesus there were still those who were faithful. The “burning” refers not necessarily to every man, woman, and child – but to the bulk of the nation. Or more precisely the identity of the nation. And so we may consider our world and the general nature of humanity. Are you one of the “pockets” of faithful believers. Might you be part of the “holy seed”? Selah!

Presentation of the Lord Day Year C 2019

“When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:22 – 24)
I started to write on this passage several days ago but I was becoming I’ll from the side effects of radiation and just couldn’t focus and think what to say. Some days later I am starting to recover and feel more myself. However, I am not at my computer keyboard but still in the hospital and am pecking this out on my iPad tablet. It took some thinking and logistics to get to this point of copying and pasting the text and then doing a hunt and peck to write with a pen stylus. So please forgive any spelling and grammar errors. The human spirit will not be subdued or stopped by adversity or challenge.
But enough of me. Let’s look to Mary and Joseph, and infant Jesus who, according to customs, are journeying to Jerusalem. It is probably a journey many young couples made, but for Mary and Joseph it was of special significance because of who Jesus was destined to become. There were also people already in place for this event. Consider that beloved reader, that it was fore ordained that at this day and time those who would inform and influence this young couple are in place and waiting to play their part.
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,”Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Verses 25 – 32)
It is hard for me, beloved reader, to separate out the posts/commentaries on scripture and what is going in my own life. It is the lens through which I understand how the scripture impacts me. You also, beloved reader, bring your life circumstances to the understanding and discernment of scripture.
Have you brought something or someone to the attention of the Divine? Are you seeking prayer or guidance in your life or on behalf of someone else? Does it seem like the waiting goes on forever? Consider how long the Jewish people had to wait for the Messiah. But then consider how long we have been waiting for the return of the Divine. As long or perhaps longer than the Jewish people, who once were the Hebrews and then the Israelites/Judahites, waited. Jesus came at the proper time, just as Mary and Joseph came to the temple at the proper time, and Simeon came at the proper time.
“And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Verses 32 – 35)
It also happens in the course of things that what we receive after waiting is not what we expected. It may not fulfill our expectations the way we thought it would. Not long enough or strong enough; or not gentle and mild enough. Like Goldilocks in the Three Bears, what we search and wait for it not “just right.” And it hurts when our expectations are not meet and fulfilled. The Jews expected a Messiah that would be like the king that the Israelites sought. A king that would rule on/from earth and bring victory to the Jewish people. But Jesus was not that type of king. It is a sign of faith, beloved reader, to wait and not be held to any one outcome.
“There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Verses 36 – 38)
We are expected to go about our Christian lives, doing what it correct and good, living out an authentic Christian life no matter what befalls us.
“When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” (Verses 39 – 40)
In the midst of the day I wrote this post, I was released from the hospital and returned home. I was glad to do so. But very quickly it became apparent that I would be plunged back into the daily tasks of home life. My almost two day of away time was, despite the ill health, a good reprieve. But as so many reprieves go, just when it gets to be therapeutic it comes to an end. I was deemed well enough to go home.
I thought of just commenting on the passage from the Gospel. But being a celebration day I wanted it to resonate a little more.
“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.” (Malachi 3:1-4)
However, beloved reader, I am leaving it to you to discern for yourself how my post title may apply to this passage as well. Think of what the Messiah was supposed to be like according the called and chosen people of God during Malachi’s time. Think of how the life Jesus prescribes for us winnows out those who cannot commit to such a life. And think of how we must live from now until the Divine comes again to winnow out the believers who have held firm. Selah!
 
 

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany 2019: The Psalm Passage – Being dependent on the Divine

If you were surprised by my “appearing” yesterday, do not be. You did not miss a day, and I did not slip a cog (although I was dealing with some mighty pain issues). This Saturday is the Day of the Presentation of the Lord, and I wanted to write a commentary on those passages, so I decided to add an extra day on Thursday and shuffle things around. So here it is Friday, and I am settling down to “praise” the Lord!
“In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.” (Psalm 74:1)
One of the prayers and pleas that I raised up to the Lord early in my seminary training was that I would not be “put to shame” in my classes. It was for me a bold step to say that I wanted to go to seminary and train for ministry. I honestly did not know if I had the intellect to be successful at a graduate level, and was not sure which direction I should go. Hence my prayer.
“In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.” (Verse 2)
Since that time I have received affirmation from many places, and have not once been “put to shame.” The Lord has been faithful in the promises that were given to me. And when I had dark times, as any and many people do, I was rescued. Once again during the “season” of my treatment of cancer (it is still hard for me to believe this is happening) I am reaching out and depending on the Lord to see me through this.
“Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.” (Verse 3)
It only recently occurred to me that during treatment I could use an established meditation technique to envision/image the radiation treatment shrinking the tumor. So dependent on the Divine, I did not think of using anything other than gathering up and applying the faith I have in the Lord to this situation. With the psalmist I also said . . . . .
“Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.” (Verses 4 – 6)

Vlog 28: Ideal Living Situation

Steve opens the next topic by asking the other vloggers about their ideal living situations and how their physical space relates to their following Jesus. Curtis provides the only answer and talks about living separate but not too separate, discussing the role of community in his life.

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