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Thy Kingdom Come engraved on a gun shooting innocent people

Sermon: The Image of the Invisible God

The following is my transcript from a result sermon. It was the third in a series walking through Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, with this one covering Article 2: Jesus Christ. It has only been lightly edited to remove a couple names from our congregation, add an embedded video, and generally change to more web-friendly formatting.

Intro (2 min)

A couple of years ago, Emily and I had some friends over in our apartment. All of us were Christians, but with a variety of traditions and theological leanings. Somebody – I think it was Emily – asked everybody why they were a Christian. We had been sort of talking about forming a small group together, so it wasn’t out of the blue. Remarkably, nobody had the same answer. We heard the philosophical arguments, the historical arguments, their own experiences which they could only attribute to the supernatural. We heard a variant on Pascal’s wager, basically that if God exists, you want to be on God’s side. We heard somebody acknowledging their brokenness and need for a saviour.

My answer was that I am a Christian because of Jesus. All those other answers provided that night were probably true for me at some point or another, and they are all still true to some degree or another other than the Pascal’s Wager one.

Atonement - Cross

Sermon: Swallowing a Camel

I’m not really going out of my way to blog anymore with life pretty hectic, but I realized I should share a modified sermon I gave a months ago. There was another section that went further into atonement, but in my opinion it didn’t work very well, cramming too much into the last 5 minutes of a 20 minute sermon, so I cut that out here.

The Texts

Amos 5:18-24

Matthew 23


The Question

When I was younger, I wondered why Jesus was killed. I grew up in a moderate evangelical church, so I was given a big theological explanation of why Jesus died – penal substitution – but not why he was killed. I was a naïve white kid who generally thought that people got what they deserved in terms of justice from the state, so an innocent man receiving a brutal death penalty was tough to wrap my head around. Why would the religious leaders and the political leaders of Jesus’ day want to kill him, and how did they get away with it, if Jesus lived this perfect sinless life? Nobody else seemed to be curious about that question, or at least they didn’t talk about it. This was before I really started caring about theology, so it mostly sat in the back of my mind for years, but I don’t think the question ever fully went away.

Movie Theatre

MennoNerds Lent Vlog – Rebellions are Built on Hope

The following was written for a MennoNerds vlog.


This is probably my favourite photo I’ve ever taken. It was during a thunderstorm last summer with an amazing purple sky, looking out from our balcony. In the centre of the shot is the cross at the top of the Lutheran church right beside our apartment building.

3-dimensional cross from church in front of purple stormy sky

Poster for Hidden Figures

The Gospels, Hidden Figures, and Strength in Diversity

Poster for Hidden FiguresDuring January of each year, our church brings in a biblical scholar to teach through a book. This year is Matthew. In the first adult Bible Study last week, Tom Yoder Neufeld covered many introductory topics, including his explanation of the layers that go into each Gospel: Jesus, the oral history, the compiler, and so on. He also talked about how there was an effort in the early church to compile into one Gospel, which was soundly rejected. That left me thinking: Why? If the goal is strictly to convey the story of Jesus, doing it as a single story would have made a lot of sense. I don’t think that’s the whole goal, though.

Hidden Figures

This weekend, we went to see Hidden Figures. It is a fantastic movie from any objective measure, now picking up some Academy Award nominations, but one particular theme stood out to me and two scenes that really captured this theme.

Movie Theatre

MennoNerds Vlog: Movies and TV

Civil War shows several of the Avengers characters, divided by sidesOver on the MennoNerds vlog, I introduced a new topic about movies and TV. My script is below, or go and watch it on YouTube:


Hi MennoNerds vloggers,

Way back when we started this vlog, we talked about the value of stories, as well as more specifically about books. Stating propositions is rarely as effective as helping people relate through stories. The Bible is a great example of this. That doesn’t mean there aren’t facts involved in the Bible, but it isn’t a systematic theology textbook. It’s a story of God and God’s people told by particular authors, in particular locations and particular times, dealing with particular social issues, with particular theologies, and so on.

When the Bible was written, stories were most commonly spoken, not written down. Now again in more recent history, books are not the most common way we tell stories in our culture anymore. Whether that shift is good, bad, or neutral, that role of shared cultural stories now most often comes through the medium of video with movies and TV.

So my next question for the vloggers: what are your favourite movies or TV shows, and why? I invite the vloggers to go deeper if they’d like, but I’ll run through a few of mine quickly.

Eucharist as Appetizer

When our local church gathering ended this week, Emily turned to me and said she was hungry. Maybe that’s not that strange – our church ends about 12:15, just in time for lunch, but it’s not particularly normal for either of us. I theorized that the piece of bread for communion may have had an appetizer effect, telling our bodies it is time to eat and making us hungry.

Later in the day, the analogy kept hanging around in my head. Maybe it’s not that deep of a thought and really it isn’t much different than the language of sacrament used in much of the Church, but with different language in a way I hadn’t thought about it before.

Walden blocking TV

On the Loss of a Pet

Our cat Walden passed away last night. We had him for just over 2 years – it was only a few days earlier that Facebook reminded me of the first picture of him I shared the day after we got him, the same one I included here to the right. Like any pet, he could be annoying sometimes, but there was no question our lives were better with him. He was a gorgeous cat, very soft, and had a very loud purr when he was happy – which was often. He was energetic and social, often the life of the party whenever people came to our apartment.

Before I continue, I want to make sure it is clear I know that losing a pet is not the same as losing a human loved one. We talk about Walden as having been part of the family or as our “fur baby”, and that is true in many ways. I neither want to trivialize the loss of a pet by saying it is irrelevant compared to loss of a human nor do I want to trivialize the loss of a human by suggesting that they’re basically the same.

Atonement - Cross

The Atonement of God by J.D. Myers

The Atonement of God by J.D. Myers (cover)A few years ago I was strongly considering writing a book. My premise was essentially a systematic theology but starting with the idea that God looks like Jesus, particularly when it comes to rejection of violence. The Atonement of God by J.D. Myers is the closest I’ve encountered to trying for the same goal, with a couple of significant differences:

  • It is not nearly as comprehensive as a systematic theology, sticking to topics that are directly related to a non-violent understanding of the atonement.
  • The starting point is a non-violent understanding of the atonement in particular, rather than a non-violent God in general.

Maybe that excitement biased me, but I felt like the book was only moderately successful.

Style

My main complaints are related to the style, not the content. It feels sloppily written. It often gets very repetitive, which meant that although it was a short book, it probably could have been half the size. It doesn’t really do a good job explaining what is meant by some terms, such as pacifism (see below). It uses gendered language, and I don’t just mean some that are very understandable like male pronouns for God – I mean regularly using “man” to mean humanity.

Trouble I've Seen

Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew Hart

Trouble I've SeenThis was a great book for helping Christians understand the nature of racial hierarchies present in the United States – much would be also true elsewhere, but Hart’s focus is on his home country. A few factors make this a highly recommended read to me:

Hart speaks well from the facts as well as his own experience. Facts alone could easily come across as boring. His experience alone could be easily dismissed as an anomaly. This book carries a great balance: relatable but going much deeper than just a few stories of discrimination.

Hart’s work is accessible to white people (like myself) while critiquing the system of white supremacy. There are many ideas that I’m sure would still offend many of us simply because it puts us on the defensive for our complicity, and they should offend us if we haven’t been desensitized to it, but I never felt like he was attacking me individually. It carried a pastoral tone, using more positive reinforcement to call us into something better rather than berating us. I regularly see white people getting upset over language of white supremacy insisting that they individually are not a member of the KKK. Hart does a great job explaining why this is missing the point while being gentle toward those who are missing the point.