It was my privilege to attend and address Mennonite Church USA at its convention in Phoenix (July 1 -6). Although the temperatures soared to the mid-40s Celsius, the weather could still not compete with the warm embrace I received from our kind sisters and brothers south of the human-made Canada-US border. Below is my message, on behalf of you, to them. I urge you to invite your friends and family in the USA to attend Mennonite Church Canada’s 2014 Assembly (July 3-6) in Winnipeg. If you prefer, you can watch a more extemporaneous videorecording of this address at the time markers 2:37 – 2:46
It has been an absolute delight to be with you this week. I have felt welcomed and warmly embraced. (Boy has this been a warm embrace.) We have moved to biennial gatherings so this is the first year that we do not have an Assembly in Canada. We purposefully staggered our Assemblies with you so that we could worship with each other again. Next year we’ll be gathering in Winnipeg July 3-6, 2014 and I eagerly extend you a special welcome. I feel fairly certain I can guarantee that it will not be as warm.
Conventions and Assemblies are important events. When the People of God gather, the earth itself takes notice. Indeed, according to Romans the earth groans in yearning anticipation of the freedom the Church of Jesus Christ represents. Your worship has been heard and felt.
Mennonite Church Canada is your little sister. Not your younger sister because we are the same age as you. We were given birth the same time you were born. But we are your little sister – tens of thousands strong, hundreds of congregations, and worshipping in 17 different languages – but your little sister.
We have never stopped thinking of you or claiming you as our sister. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God, siblings in the family of faith. We will respect human borders but we will not be bound by them.
This is an interesting time to be church in North America. Our Post Christendom context has had a great impact on the church. In Christendom, society gave the church a place of respect, influence and authority. But in the increasingly secular Post Christendom context society has relegated the church to a place of disrespect, disregard, and discount. We have lost our position of power.
But this is not all bad. Post Christendom helps disengage us, and disentangle us from the political systems of this earth. Not to oppose them but so that we can better portray kingdom of God values. Values of radical embrace and love, where the stranger is welcomed, the persecuted are given refuge, the powerless are given voice, and the forgotten are intentionally remembered. When we no longer are trying to defend what we have we are able to re-embrace what we have given up, let go, and forgotten.
Places and positions of power can distort. It can cause us to lose sight of who we are, who we represent, who we worship. Sometimes I wonder if in our places of respect and influence, we have said things that God has not wanted us to say. Sometimes I wonder if we have bound things on earth that God did not want us to bind.
It is an interesting time to be the church in a time of shrinking economies, declining church participation, and the waning influence of our faith. But the Church of Jesus Christ will not die. It does need the position of power. It may look as though it withers. It may appear faltering. It may feel at risk.
But this is the kingdom of God. This is the church of Jesus Christ – where even death is simply the context for resurrection.
Our purpose is not yet completed. There are things I think God still wants us to say. And maybe once we have lost enough power and influence we will be bold enough to say it. Once we have nothing to lose then God has everything to gain. Once we stop defending and protecting God from the impure, God’s redemptive and restoring passion can be released through us.
Sometimes, as your little sister in Canada, we worry about the things we read and hear about south of the border. But then we remember that our big sister is there, and that she is a strong sister – spread across the land in communities throughout the US.
We may not be able to be that prophetic voice to the political system here, but our big sister can. We may not be able to reach out and provide the healing ministry of touch to those treated as lepers, but our big sister can.
Oh yes, our chests swell. Smiles spread across our faces, because we know our big sister is actively bearing witness to the radically redemptive and transforming grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s our big sister! You go Girl!
We still have lots of work to do. We may not possess the same position of power but God’s work of redemption and restoration is not yet completed. As long as God remains active we will remain active. This is our calling. This is our honour. This is our fulfillment.
Together with you, across North America we are called to be followers of Jesus Christ. We will function by the power of the Holy Spirit, and by the grace of God we will grow as communities of grace, joy and peace. And I tell you, my sister, God’s healing and hope will flow through us to the world.