REVIVE US AGAIN #10 Sunday 22 January 2017 It’s a bit past 5pm. I just woke up from a nap. (Wow, according to the date I had just posted I had a long nap. It’s 2017. I know that. I’m corrected.)
Today is Anabaptist Fellowship Sunday. At church we celebrated the Anabaptist movement that started in Switzerland in January 1525. We joined with brothers and sisters around the world to praise God together.
Ray Epp from Menno Village in Japan led Children’s Time and shared the pulpit with James Krabill. Nelson Kraybill led us in a communion service. During second hour people who have immigrated from Latin America shared from their personal experience in coming to and living in the Untied States. Those are the bare bones of a rich worship experience.
I want to comment on another rich worship and study experience that goes back to June 1995.
Teaching the Disciples Class
The oldest Sunday school class at Prairie Street Mennonite Church used to be called The Disciples. Occasionally they asked me to teach. That’s what I did for two Sundays in June 1995.
In the opening I told the class that I accepted their invitation for three reasons: 1) I had no other assignments these first two Sundays of June. 2) I welcomed the opportunity to interact with them. 3) And, I had not looked at the lesson material before accepting. I told them that I felt as though I was carrying coals to Newcastle. I was among Bible scholars who knew the stories, who knew the history of the people of God, who had experienced the agony and ecstasy of it all. So I added a fourth reason: “to learn from you.”
The new quarter spanned two centuries of Old Testament history, the time of coexistence of the North (Israel) and South (Judah) as separate kingdoms. The immediate lesson topic was “When power is misused.” To orient ourselves to the kind of power gained by giving it away we read Philippians 2:5-11, the passage where Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross.
I told the class the story of my maternal grandfather, Christian K. Bender, who in the Cassel Amish Mennonite Church, where I grew up, was often looked to for a word in the wrap-up session shared by all the adult classes. The superintendent would ask, “What do you think, Chris?” “Chris, do you have a thought on this?” “Can you help us out, Chris?” It got to the point that often when a difficult question was posed that heads would automatically turn to the front, right where granddad Chris sat.
Granddad usually had a response. He knew Old Testament history–the order of the kings, the division of the kingdom, the highs and the lows in the life of the people of Israel–and in the life of the people of Cassel AM Church and the then Ontario Amish Mennonite Conference. He was a farmer who would as soon have been a lawyer. He was secretary-treasurer of the German Union Cheese & Butter Co., an avid reader, a target for some of the more conservative leaders in the conference, a model of right and kindly thinking for so many others, and, with grandmother Katie, a magnet for the grandchildren. He had the power of knowledge, wisdom, earned respect as a lay opinion leader, and a willing and humble heart to serve God.
In the Disciples class we identified positions of power in the home, community, denomination, and wider arena. We identified ways we come into those positions, including election, age, seniority, education, wealth, experience. I suggested we think of ourselves as a blade of grass growing through asphalt or a cracked sidewalk. “Would you feel powerful? Would you be powerful? Powerful like Rosa Parks?” One major point of the lesson, I said, “is that we have power, God gives us that power and trusts us with it.”
In further setting the stage for the Old Testament biblical story, I quoted the Builder study guide writer, Ken Seitz: “Significantly from here on, the survey will feature the historical books as well as appropriate prophetic materials. In this way, we will be helped to grasp the broad sweep of Israel’s history.”
To jump ahead, we read 1 Kings 12:6-11 and 16-17. New king Rehoboam first took counsel with the older men who had attended his father Solomon. These counselors told the king: “If you will be servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever” (v7).
Then the king asked counsel of the young men who had grown up with him. They told him to tell the people who were asking for a lighter load that there would be no such thing. “[T]hus you should say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. Now whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.'”
King Rehoboam took the advice of the younger set, not listening to the people. It did not go well for the people or for the king who tragically misspent his power.
In sum, we noted two ways of leading: 1) demanding subservience, rule with cruelty and control by leaders who have lost the people’s loyalty. 2) Earning respect, winning allegiance by serving the people by leaders highly exalted. Our discussion ended with responses to two questions: How can we guard against abuse of power? What are some helpful and healthful uses of power?
What a joy to recall the faithful witness of the Disciples, many of whom have gone on to their reward, yet others who in their 90s and one soon to be 100 still regularly attend church.
The power of small
Ray Epp this morning told us that Menno Village is a small food growing farm whose purpose is to build a culture of caring for one another, bringing Good News to rural communities as a spiritual force that counters the forces, structures and systems that vie to create an economy that does not care for others. Menno Village bears witness to the purpose and power of God’s economy.
Some scenes from walks this week
Let your power blossom.