Parables in the Park off to a great start.

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P1000526We have had 3 great Sunday nights in Beasley Park. In our first week we talked about the parable of the Mustard Seed, and spent time scouring the park for items we could use to also talk about the Kingdom of God and recreate the Mustard Seed story. Last week we talked about the parable of the Lost Sheep on a very hot day over cold drinks of fruit punch, lemon aid and iced tea. Each drink was attached to a Question station at a tree in the park. You want a glass of Iced Tea, you’ll need to visit the “When have you been a lost sheep?” tree. Want a glass of lemon aid? You’ll have to visit the “Who are the lost sheep in our society?” tree. I’m always amazed at the creativity of Commoners as they reflect on the words of Jesus.

sacred daysI’m currently working through a book called “Sacred Days” by Thomas R. Steagald. Here is what he has to say about parables,

“Jesus spins his tales; some have the ears to hear and eyes to see but some not. … Even those who want to understand don’t. The kingdom of God is like new wine, like treasure buried in a filed. it is like a mustard seed or yeast in three measures of flour. It is like birth  like death, like the wind. Jesus tells parables, and a scholar i used to know would say that they are like a good joke–if you get it, you really get it; it opens your eyes. If you don’t get it, you fell blinder, deafer, dumber than you already know yourself to be. Parables tell the truth, but they tell it “slant,” as Emily Dickenson wrote in her poem “Tell the truth but tell it slant.” The kingdom of God is like a bush with lots of different birds singing lots of different songs. It is like a fig tree. It is like a vineyard. The parables “dazzle us gradually” as Dickenson advises so that bolts of lightning do not rend our darkness. No, the surprise of truth comes more like fingers of dawn at the far edge of our incomprehension as a promise of incremental understanding. The light gradually enables us, bit by bit, to see. A parable resembles the sunrise for those who are awake and looking.” (Thomas R Steagald, Sacred Days, p.44-45)

Parrables in the Park copy

Waging Peace

Pen Pals Slide -April-June copy“Waging Peace”
Teaching Segment Notes
By Randell Neudorf
June 21st, 2015
Passage: Ephesians 6:10-24

The Commons is part of Mennonite Church Canada. This isn’t the tribe most of us grew up in, so we have been working hard to dive into the theological lens of our wider tribe.

Slide5The Mennonite Lens has three core values:

  1. Community
  2. Discipleship
  3. Peace

As we are looking at the end of Ephesians I want us to view this passage through these Values

Slide6Community Lens:

Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld (who I like to call Tom) has written a commentary about Ephesians from a Mennonite perspective. As a Mennonite Tom cautions that,

“…most commentators like to envision the individual Christian in the armour… Support for an individualistic interpretation grows if the passage is read in light of Cynic-Stoic views of life as battle… However this limits what kind of struggle is imagined and misses the biblical allusions to God as the divine warrior. It is much more in keeping with the gist of Ephesians to see this summons to battle directed to the church as a whole, to the body of Christ acting as a unified divine force.” (Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld, Ephesians Believers Church Bible Commentary P.291-292. Please Note that any citations unless otherwise noted are Tom’s words and ideas.)

This is why we are using this Mennonite commentary, written from an Anabaptist perspective. Anabaptism is a communal faith, and that changes things as we learn. In the Mennonite Anabaptist tradition a community reading of scripture is valued. God isn’t just in relationship with us as individuals, God is in relationship with us as a community, so it is in community (even reading the bible together) where God is made known. That is why we don’t have the same person speaking every week. We know God better through a diversity of people seeking God together. Remember that an individual faith is much easier, because you get to ignore everyone else, but I have found this is hollow and incomplete.

Slide7Peace Lens Slide

Warfare symbolism is sometimes really hard for people who have grown up in the Mennonite Tribe or other Peace Church Traditions. The language grates on their desire for peace in all things. Now that might not be the case for some of us who were raised in other traditions, but it is still important to not confuse the metaphor for the message. Tom says “…truth, justice, peace, faithfulness, the word of God, and prayer, are the effective means by which the powers are overcome.” (p.298). The armour is the metaphor not the actual ingredients. We shouldn’t get hung up on the metaphor. It is also really important to note that God’s armor & tools looks nothing like our own.

Another element of peace making can be found in the description of our enemy. Tom say,

“Verse 11 identifies the enemy as the devil … the term devil appears also in 4:27 but is rare in the letters bearing Paul’s name… Verse 12 stipulates that the struggle is not with blood and flesh. Why does that need to be said? Perhaps some believers were experiencing firsthand the hostility of authorities or rival religious groups, even if this letter gives no specific evidence of that. They might have been tempted to see such hostile persons as the actual enemy.” (p.295)

This whole naming of the real enemy leads to peacemaking – People are made in the image of God and are to be part of God’s forgiveness plan. They are our potential future brothers and sisters not our enemies. Tom asserts that “Blood and flesh are not the enemy. Blood and flesh are under the control of the enemy. The church must struggle against the enemy, not against the victims of the enemy.” These powers this enemy can also be spiritual or systemic evil. (p.296).

Thinking of the weapons and tools of peacemaking reminded me an Activist Drumming Workshop I went to 2 years ago at Cahoots Festival. It is amazing what a drum line can do in the service of peace and justice. At a protest the drum line can be used to combat Police and Military. If it seems like they are tense the drum line plays something fun to help the authorities chill. It is as if the drummers are putting on their own armour or riot gear, but instead of vest and helmets they have a whole bunch of drums and noise makers. The Drums also inspire protesters – If the Drum Squad want to help knock down a fence they play a pulsing rhythm that helps the crowd gain momentum to beak the barrier. The drums are a motivating call to action. Tom says that this armour section of Ephesians is also supposed to be a “Rousing Call to Action” (P290).

Slide8Discipleship Lens:

Discipleship is a word that isn’t really used much in society, and when it is used in church circles we may not even be all talking about the same thing.

Some people use discipleship as short hand for teaching converts the things you need to know about God. It is a passing along of head knowledge. You need to be able to say the right things.

This isn’t how the Mennonite Anabaptist tradition uses this word. Discipleship is about following Jesus (God who came to us as a Person). We are to be Disciples of Jesus, copying the actions and values of Jesus so that we can be more like Jesus. So by putting on the “armour of God” we are trying to emulate the character of God – Following Jesus as our example. Tom says that whenever Paul talks about “putting on” or “taking off” something that what is being hinted at is a connection to baptism. Putting on the armour of God is a reference to following Jesus in baptism, putting on new life and way of being in Christ. (P 311)

Baptism is a symbol of our commitment to be disciples (or followers) of Jesus. We symbolically wash away our old self and put on Jesus as our new self. In this passage this idea is framed as putting on God’s own armour. Tom says that Paul is referencing another Armour of God passage in the Old Testament, “…by drawing explicitly from Isaiah 59 for several items of armor, the author makes sure readers see that it is God’s own armor that the community is to don.” (P293)

“The Lord has seen this, and he is displeased that there is no justice. 16 He is astonished to see that there is no one to help the oppressed. So he will use his own power to rescue them and to win the victory. 17 He will wear justice like a coat of armor and saving power like a helmet. He will clothe himself with the strong desire to set things right and to punish and avenge the wrongs that people suffer. 18 He will punish his enemies according to what they have done, even those who live in distant lands. 19 From east to west everyone will fear him and his great power. He will come like a rushing river, like a strong wind. 20 The Lord says to his people, “I will come to Jerusalem to defend you and to save all of you that turn from your sins. 21 And I make a covenant with you: I have given you my power and my teachings to be yours forever, and from now on you are to obey me and teach your children and your descendants to obey me for all time to come.” Isaiah 59: 15b-21

So as disciples we are to follow after Jesus to the point where we put on God’s own Armour the very Characteristics of Jesus.

So let’s quickly go through the list of armour:

  • TRUTH is associated with a belt, some translations use the phrase “Girding your loins.” That phrase might need a little explanation. The idea is that you don’t want to trip in battle over your own clothes, whether it be a flowing robe or our pants falling down. Holding on to the Truth (tying the truth close to us) keeps us from getting tripped up. (P299)
    Slide9
  • RIGHTOUSNESS which can be thought of as JUSTICE is the Breast Plate. – Doing the right thing is not a passive protection, but an active making things right. You wouldn’t carry all that weight around just in case. Following Jesus is actively working for Justice. (P 300)
  • PEACE – shoes of readiness to announce the good news of peace. (P 300)
  • FAITH (or faithfullness) – is a shield. Shields are not just defensive, they are also offensive tools. When laying siege to a fortress it is the aggressors that stand behind a wall of shields (think of roman times where shields were linked to form a sort of human tank). This shield is not just that we have faith in Christ, but that Christ is Faithful to us. God is so Faithful that He is in Solidarity with us humans. (P 301-302)
  • SALVATION – is a helmet – Salvation isn’t a word that has a lot of meaning in our culture. Tom likes to equate it with LIBERATION. If we are putting on the Helmet of Liberation, it is not that we are just experiencing personal liberation/salvation, we are working to liberate others from oppression as well. (P 302)
  • WORD of GOD – the sword of the spirit – It is important to remember that in the bible Spirit, Wind, and the Breath that is used to speaks Words are all interconnected. Tom says, “This sword is the Word of God. In Ephesians the term word of God has not yet come into use as a synonym for Scripture [the bible]. Instead it refers to the whole variety of divine revelation and intervention.” It is closer to the word Logos (translated as Word) used in the beginning of the Gospel of John. (P 303-304). So this sword has more to do with the Holy Spirit then the Bible specifically.

Slide11In the Book of Revelation we see another image of a sword. This sword comes from the mouth of Jesus, God the Son. This is also an image of The Holy Spirit, Jesus’ own Spirit. The Sword is the Breath or Spirit of God, the Word or Logos that speaks things into existence. It is a sword used as a creative act not a destructive act.

I would like to end today by us listening to a mash up of this idea of Sword/Spirit/Word/Logos using the opening of the Gospel of John.

I’m going to read the passage and every time I say the word “WORD” I’m going to get 3 people to echo me by saying Logos/Spirit/Sword

John 1:1-5 READING (based on the CEV)

In the beginning was the one who is called the Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword

The Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword was with God and was truly God.

From the very beginning the Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword was with God.

And with this Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword, God created all things.

Nothing was made without the Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword.

Everything that was created received its life from this being,

and the life of this Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword gave light to everyone.

The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out.

The last 2 verses of Ephesians is a prayer for the listeners of the words spoken today, and I would like to pray those words for you as a Benediction or Blessing for you. If you are able please stand.

I pray that God the Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ
will give peace, love, and faith
to every follower!
May God be kind
to everyone who keeps on loving
our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Amen

 

Ephesians 6:23-24 CEV

 

Slowing Church Down

6J1A1910 The Commons Labyrinth - photo by Jennifer Kellner - 75 DPI

The Commons is starting to slow down. No, we as a church are not retiring, we just think it is time for a little different pace.

The plan is to switch things up in the fall for our Sunday Worship Gatherings. We are going to use our Gathering time to dig a little deeper into liturgy, spiritual practices, hospitality, old traditions and new creative expressions. To do this we are going to have to slow down a little. Think of it as “Slow Church.” There is a book by the same name, which I must confess I haven’t read but the phrase has been rattling around in my head for a while now. For me, the idea of being a slow church is; instead of just getting a quick taste of something novel (like a one off liturgical reading or a cool creative segment), we are going to try and slow down and savor what we are learning for a month or so. We want to turn exposure into long lived practice. The hypothesis is that the repetition of segment or practice would help us to enter into a deeper from of spiritual participation, and with practice become more aware of what the Holy Spirit might be whispering to us as a community as we seek to get to know God better.

Previously at The Commons we have worked to keep trying something new, to not get stuck in a rut. Gatherings could take on many shapes and forms from week to week. A panel discussion, tag team preaching, a lament, a meal, a party. Even communion might look different from month to month for us. This creative drive will still be true for us but the pace of trying something new will now slow down. We will live a little longer in each new experiment.

We believe that this slower repetition has the potential to spill over into our lives beyond Sunday Gatherings. Imagine taking time to practice the same breath prayer for 4 weeks within a segment of our Worship Gatherings. The chance that those same words might come to you outside of a Gathering are much higher than if you just recited those same words for just one week, as a novel experience. With the slow church model we hope to not just expose our community to interesting spiritual tools but to actually embed practical spiritual tools into our collective spiritual journey.

The first step in this slow journey is to put together a diverse Gathering Planning Team (which definitely needs a cooler name like “The Avengers,” or “The Alchemists.” I’m open to suggestions). This team has already begun to brainstorm about which portions of our Gatherings and learning opportunities need to be slowed down. Even something as seemingly simple as being responsible for hospitality (coffee, tea, snacks, etc…) can morph into a spiritual practice if we slow down and become intentional about it. Are we welcoming the other? The new comer? The outsider? Has the coffee been brewed to perfection out of love for our neighbour or just quickly done as something that needs to get checked off our list? Is there room to pray for the people you serve? Can fair trade coffee, loose leaf tea, and ice water become a form of communion? I think it can. Are you starting to see how slowing down can change everything?

As we slow down we also want to increase the sharing of responsibilities. We believe that this combination of collaboration and repetition will be a formative experience for both the community as a whole and individuals stepping into leadership. Take for example, if we decided that we were going to engage in a Lectio Divina reading for a month. We would pair up two people to craft, prepare and lead the experience each week as mini team. The benefits of this are:

  • Repetition reduces preparation time. When a jeweler prices a new necklace they have created, they don’t factor in the time needed to create the first prototype (that would be too expensive for almost all potential buyers), rather the jeweler prices out their time for the next 10 necklaces they make based on that prototype. The repetition reduces the time needed to create all subsequent objects of value and beauty. The work that use to go into a single gathering segment will now be spread over to an entire month.
  • You get a chance for a redo. So many times when I have tried something new at The Commons I have only been 50-80% happy with how the experiment went. Imagine if you put time and energy into a creative reflection and then were able to improve upon it for 4 weeks in a row you might be surprised where that could lead. • Diversity reflects God better. Two people (rather than one person) crafting an opportunity to learn about God is richer and truer for everyone. We are all made in the image of our creator but only each reflect a unique finite portion of our infinite maker. As more of us become involved we reflect a richer fuller image of the Triune God.
  • Collaboration can promote deep friendship. The hope is that this collaboration would lead to stronger community ties, compassionate support and deep friendships. As people take the time to chat over coffee about their Gathering project, they will also inevitably begin to chat about the rest of their lives, the successes, the struggles. They become co-conspirators in each other’s lives. The Cohort Leadership Team has been function like this for many years at The Commons, and it is time that the joy of leading together is spread around.
  • Our Communal Spiritual Journey is strengthened. It is a reality that not everyone person can be at Sunday Gathering every week. We all have work, family and community responsibilities that prevent us from gathering weekly. The repetition of learning will then allow more people to metaphorically “turn to the same page.” As we grow into new things as a community less people will have to play catch up or get left behind, because they missed one pivotal week.
  • Everyone is needed but no one is indispensable. People will be able to commit to crafting something for 4 weeks in a row because they are able to do it together as a pair. If one person is sick or away the other person on the team can jump right in.
  • It takes a lot of repetition to remember anything worth learning. This true for both learning how to lead something specific and for digging deeper into what God is trying to teach us.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this slower journey takes us. Just like walking a labyrinth, meaning is not always found in the destination but rather in the process and the commitment of repeating the steps.

Struggling With the Household Code

Pen Pals Slide -April-June copyEphesians 5:21-6:9
Teaching Segment Recap
By Randell Neudorf
June 14, 2015

All through the book of Ephesians we are given words to describe God. Father, Husband, Head…

We decided to take some time to collectively come up with words to describe God in the form of scrabble letters.

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We acknowledged that none of these words are a perfect fit, they all fall short. Yes God is Father, no God is not a Father, God is more than a Father. This is why we have so many different words and pictures for God, they each give us a little more of a clue to who God is.

Ephesians 5:21-6:9 is often called “The Household Code.” It is actually a fairly awkward and troublesome passage that has been used to condone slavery, wife abuse, and the mistreatment of children. We began by looking at the passage and blacking out any of the words that seem like they might be out of date, dangerous, or uncomfortable. This is what we ended up with:

EDIT - Ephesians 5 21 - 6 9

If you are unfamiliar with the passage you can read it here.

Is this even for me?

We then asked our selves “Is this even for me?” What if I’m not married? What if my parents have passed away? I don’t own any slaves and I’m not a slave myself, so what does this have to do with me?

For all of Ephesians we have been utilizing the Believers Church Bible Commentary by Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld (who I like to call Tom) says that this passage is actually for the whole church and not just relevant individuals:

“…given the emphasis on church as home and family in the earlier parts of Ephesians (eg. 2:19-22, 3:14, 4:6, 4:16), these instructions should be read as applying by implication to the church family as a whole.” (Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld, Ephesians Believers Church Bible Commentary P 253. Please Note that any citations unless otherwise noted are Tom’s words and ideas.)

That being said, a lot of this seems out of date & overwhelming. We need a lens to focus this passage through. For me that lens is Verse 21, the first verse of our reading today, Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Tom says that,

“…mutual submission is the walk of the wise, a manner of life rooted in God’s wisdom, empowered by the Spirit, and enlivened by worship.” This submission is connected to “walk as the wise in evil days (5:15-16)” (p.255)

Where is all this coming from?
Why is Paul writing all these rules for family and slaves?

“The Household Code” In Biblical times created a Pecking order for society:

  1. Husband
  2. Wife & Children
  3. Free People (former slaves)
  4. Slaves

It is important to realize that this pecking order, this Household Code was something that already existed, It wasn’t invented by Paul (the author of Ephesians) or the Church. This passage actually expands and subverst the cultural household code to include the idea Mutual Submission through the Holy Spirit. (p 255)

Both God and People function in many diverse roles all at once.

P1000365When we look at our scrabble board we see a lot of different roles and words being used in relation to God. As the community that makes up the church, we also function under many different word pictures. In this passage the church is described as a Bride, a Wife. Both men & women within the church function as wives in relation to Christ. That being said as followers of Jesus (the Husband of the Church), we are also all called to emulate Jesus’ sacrifice, in doing so become like the Husband. In relation to God we always function in multiple roles, we are all part of the Bride of Christ, we are all called to emulate Jesus our Husband. We are also called Children of God and Brothers and Sisters to the Incarnate Jesus who is both fully Human and fully God. Our own multiple roles stems straight from God’s own diversity. Christ is both our head–savior and lord–but also our goal–hope and mentor (p.257). In this passage “…two meanings of [the word] head as “authority” and “source” converge … the church is the prime beneficiary of the power of the raised and exalted Christ…” (ibid P 258).

This all turns the word “head” on “its own head.”

  1. Christ is like the authority, the brain sending signals to the nervous system of the body.
  2. also the word Head can be thought of as a mentor, the one we follow. Like a yoga or fitness instructor
  3. The head can also be thought of as the root or the bulb that the body of plant grows out of.

menschliches nervensystemyoga-class-instructora801defa06f1c5a5b8416aa24083f931

Hasn’t this passage been misused to allow abuse?

Yes this passage, this household code has been extremely misused to allow abuse to go unchecked. But when that happens it is a perversion of what Paul is saying here. Here is a couple things Tom points out in his Commentary:

“A wife’s subordination to her husband is commanded only within the frame of mutual subordination.” (p 258)

“Headship means lordship, yes, but a lordship that is expressed most fully in liberating and exalting the subordinate one” (p 259)

This House hold code has been used sadly for many people as an abusive power, and yet if we are following Christ and living in mutual submission this should not be the case. The bad uses of this difficult passage is the perversion of the intended goal of mutual submission. In following Christ’s form of sacrificial headship and submission, really Paul is breaking down the existing oppressive house hold code. Christ restores and elevates His Bride, giving her a place of honour and privilege. “…love finds expression in liberation….” (ibid p261).

Jesus modeled this same submission with the apostles (his subordinates). He was their leader, rabbi, and commander. But in this authority He lovingly empowering them to go out and lead and to grow into the gifts of His own spirit. In reality “Christ’s love is deeply self giving” (p 261). Some scholars think that Patriarchy may have been too strong at the time for Paul to fully come out and talk of full mutual submission, but the seeds were planted for that exact thing and there is no reason why the church today cannot embrace that. The house hold codes that were described by Paul (even in a system of hierarchy) if lived out fully absolutely lead to full mutual submission and partnership. (P 263)

How does any of this tie in with the teachings of Jesus?

Love your wife as you love your own flesh harks back to Jesus’ words right before the story of the Good Samaritan (p 265):

One of the teachers of the Law of Moses came up while Jesus and the Sadducees were arguing. When he heard Jesus give a good answer, he asked him, “What is the most important commandment?” Jesus answered, “The most important one says: ‘People of Israel, you have only one Lord and God. You must love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.’ The second most important commandment says: ‘Love others as much as you love yourself.’ No other commandment is more important than these.”” (Mark 12:28-31 CEV)

 Again, this expectation of mutual submission was a core teaching of Jesus and was an expectation for the whole community.

What about the Kids?

It is interesting that Children are addressed specifically. This tells us a number of things:

  1. Kids are listening, and are part of Paul’s audience.
  2. Children are an important part of the Body and have a role to play as well.
  3. We as the church are expected to be inter-generational.
    (p 269)

Tom does make a bit of a disclaimer here for the extent of this parental authority, “as in the case of subordination in the first set (5:21-33), no explicit limit is here placed on obedience (6:1). It is of course typical of terse commandments to ignore mitigating circumstances.” Two exceptions are outlined by saying “Obey parents in the Lord” as to say if they are following God’s desires. Also there is a warning to Father’s which implies that there are limits to what should be expected of children (ibid p269). One reason Fathers are directly centred out in this passage is because in the system of the day, Fathers were the sole authority over their children. (p270)

Parrables in the Park copyI just want to say one more thing about being an Inter-generational Church. Inter-generational stuff is so important. When we create something for someone that is not us (like the kids) we are practicing mutual submission. I’m not good at it, but we need to think this way. My wife Susan is amazing at it, that is why she is organizing the first week in our summer park series. Talk to her if you are looking for inter-generational ideas.

Isn’t Slavery just wrong?

No arguments here in support of slavery. Notice that when Paul is talking to Masters of Slaves the very first thing said is basically, What I just said to the slaves, the exact same thing goes for you as well. Plus don’t threaten them, and God is your judge, remember you have no special privilege in this new family (p274). Tom says “Though this is hardly a frontal attack on the institution of slavery, the exhortation, if taken seriously, is profoundly destabelizing to relationships of structural inequality.” (p274)

This New Household code is an act of Peacemaking

In a hostile environment the house hold code for Christians was a stabilizing element to be an act of peacemaking in the wider society. The freedom found in Christ could be viewed as a threat and so voluntary submission is really an act of peacemaking (ibid p280). Yes we will submit but we will subvert the patriarchal system, the slave system, the system that leads to the abuse of children. We the church will live out a new kind of submission code that echoes Christ our Lord who became a Servant.

For more Reflection on Authority and Submission:

Think of times in your life when you have been in charge of something or someone else. When have you been in authority. You might be a manager, a care giver, a baby sitter, or even the unofficial leader of your small group of friends. We all have moments in our life when we are in authority over someone else. While thinking about this authority in your own life read the verses directed to slaves and masters and see if there are any places where God might be calling you to incorporate acts Submission in your moments of Authority. Especially remember that the person in Authority (the master) is called to all the same things as the subordinate (the slave).

 Ephesians 6:5-9

Slaves, you must obey your earthly masters. Show them great respect and be as loyal to them as you are to Christ. Try to please them at all times, and not just when you think they are watching. You are slaves of Christ, so with your whole heart you must do what God wants you to do. Gladly serve your masters, as though they were the Lord himself, and not simply people. You know that you will be rewarded for any good things you do, whether you are slaves or free.

Slave owners, you must treat your slaves with this same respect [AKA all of the above]. Don’t threaten them. They have the same Master in heaven that you do, and he doesn’t have any favorites.