Are you a missionary?  Probably not, in the traditional (full-time, evangelizing, church-planting, overseas-going) sense of the word.  Me neither.  For most of us, our time is dominated by non-churchy things: family, careers, friends, hobbies, recreation, and the endless to-do list of home-and-community responsibilities.  With all of that on our plates, who has time and energy for the work of God?  Aren’t missionaries the ones who give up all or at least some of that other stuff in order to do “ministry”?

But what if God’s work is more than just evangelism or church-building?  In WMC’s worship series on “God’s Mission,” I’ve encouraged us to take a wider view of how we think about missions:

God’s work is something all of us are created and called to do—and be—in a wide variety of capacities.  In other words, all work is God’s work.  And often, God’s work is less about what we do and more about who we are: the simple gift of presence and paying attention to the people and the world near to us can be the high calling of God.

So in this understanding of God’s Mission, maybe you really are a missionary.  Do you share in creating or building or growing things or people?  Do you participate in healing, repairing, or helping?  Are you present with people, offering encouragement, inspiration, friendship?  Yep, those are missionary activities.

In our April 17 worship service, our church wants to name and bless this kind of missional engagement that often happens beyond the structures of the church.  We are planning a time of commissioning, anointing with oil (for those who would like that), and prayer.  I’ll invite participants to share a sentence or two about how they see themselves participating in God’s Mission (or a few longer testimonies, if time and willingness allow), and the church will speak words of affirmation and blessing over them to acknowledge the significance of their particular calling.

This might seem like something that doesn’t apply to you—isn’t commissioning only for those doing big and important things?  Wouldn’t it seem like bragging to suggest that God has called me to do something special? I’d like to challenge those notions.  We are all created and called to be part of God’s Mission in all things.  We humans are terribly poor judges of what is truly important, particularly in recognizing these things in ourselves.  Can we allow each other to name and bless the work of God in and through us?

So if being commissioned and/or being marked with a bit of oil on your hands or forehead would help you to receive God’s blessing, courage, strength, and awareness, come and allow the church to bless you.  And if you know someone in the church who is a missionary without realizing it, encourage them to receive this blessing as well.

All work is God’s work, and we are all called and gifted to join in.

 

February 10th marked the beginning of the Lenten season. This year my appreciation for this service deepened. In talking to other Mennonites I was surprised to hear that some have never been marked with ashes and usually just begin Lent with a Pancake Supper. How Mennonite of us to choose to have a large community meal that can include farmer sausage! Other Mennonites I talked to felt that the imposition of ashes, or a service on Ash Wednesday in general, is just too catholic of a practice to do in our Anabaptist churches. On the contrary at Wildwood this year we had a joint service with the L'Arche Saskatoon community. L'Arche has roots in the Catholic community so even the premise that we might worship together might be considered scandalous.I have, however, come to really appreciate the liturgical calendar and Ash Wednesday fits firmly into this.

Our service at Wildwood Mennonite called us to follow Jesus' example of entering into the desert wilderness immediately following his baptism. Jesus fasted to build spiritual strength and integrity in order to accomplish God's calling. But Jesus also enters the desert after hearing the affirming words of his baptism - "You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased." While affirmed in his identity in God, Jesus needed to wrestle with who he was as a created being and what his ministry would look like while on Earth. Jesus questioned who he was, why he was here, and what life was for. Entering into Lent urges us to ask the same questions. We have 40 days set aside to take up this task and Ash Wednesday is the doorway into this journey.

We encountered, however, a locked door while gathered together in worship.locked door

We approach the door ready to open it and start only to find that we hold ourselves back. What would unlock that door and allow you to walk with Jesus?

What burdens and baggage do you need to put down first?

What have you created inside yourself that isolates you from God?

When you come out of your baptism with God's words ringing in your ears what words will God send with you in the desert?

Our service had had a time of reflection for us to visit 3 stations.

The first was the Baptismal water.

water

Dipping our hands in the water reminds us of our cleansing and that God is pleased with us.

The second station was the keys.

Keys

We wrote on paper keys the things we needed to unlock within ourselves and taped it onto the door.

Station three was the imposition of the ashes.

ash

We remind ourselves that we are dust and that we will return to dust. The ashes began as palms of celebration on Palm Sunday.

But now they are burnt, black and grey. Dry and Lifeless.

On Ash Wednesday the dry black, and grey ashes mix our baptismal  waters and mark us for a journey. They mark that we are God's. They mark that there is no sin, darkness or grave that will keep us from the love of God. The Ashes lead us to live out the gospel, as Jesus discovered while in the desert, that brings the good fruit of justice, peace, and generosity. These ashes are worth wearing.

Come back to God - back from wherever it is you are wandering, weary and worm. Come back to God out of your individual and personal lives. Come back to God with all your heart the Lenten season - and you'll find yourself home.

Sunday, May 30, 2015

We arrived in Ottawa Saturday night, not knowing what to expect of these full days to come of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Closing Events. Little did I know that it would be such a pivotal event in my life, pushing me into a new way of seeing the world and our country of Canada.

I'll share a few memorable moments and words from our first day.

We found our way to the start of the 8km Walk for Reconciliation and joined the crowd in listening to speakers and honoured guests welcoming us and commenting on the TRC. In English, French, Ojibwe and Cree, they shared their journeys and hopes for this new chapter in Canada's life together. 

One indigenous leader talked about the First Nations' response to the trauma and pain of the residential school legacy. "We need to name it, claim it, let it go, and replace it with something new - this creative work of replacing what has been let go is something that all of us here need to work at together," gesturing to the gathered crowd. I looked around and found myself surprised to notice that this was probably the first time in my life that I was in such a mixed group of indigenous and non-indigenous neighbours. The reality of our segregated society hit me.

As I was reflecting on the sadness of how neighbours had come to this development of separate societies living side by side, another indigenous leader asserted, "Anishinaabe people have been here thousands of years, we must not let the events of recent years define us." Immediately I was humbled by the recentness of this conflict. It's true. Our indigenous hosts have been through a lot, but they are still in their land that they have been living in sustainably for thousands of years. The smallness of our troubles in comparison to their great history and cultures gave me hope. How beautiful our communities could be if we made space for the sturdiness of history to guide us together!

An indigenous elder then came to the podium. Wearing his traditional regalia, he shared his journey as a survivor of the residential school system. Anticipating a heart-wrenching account as I'd heard at other events, I was surprised to hear his experience of self-discovery. "I have worked hard to find out who I am," he explained in French and Cree, "and I have come far. From our dark history, the sun has been found. It took me so long to say I love you to me, you, the world. But now I can say with confidence, I love you." The next and final speaker added to this story of restoration and healing, calling for reconciliation which will be the "healing of the spirits of our nations." Amen!

We began to walk.
 
For the two hours, around 7000 people calmly walked through the streets of downtown Gatineau and Ottawa, drawing the attention of passersby. Along the way, pushing Rohan in the stroller, we met people from across the country, from many different nations and religious traditions, and even a few international representatives. Rohan even got out a few times to walk too! As we walked, we talked to each other. Conversations revolved around reconciliation, visions of how our society could be different, stories from survivors, and the hope that we had for how the TRC report could move us forward as a new community. Walking past Parliament Hill, conspicuously uninvolved in the event, I heard talk turn to our need for political action for reconciliation, united across party lines and at both local and national levels. Even when silent, my thoughts stayed with themes of living together with our indigenous neighbours in new ways. This two-hour collective meditation on reconciliation and living in the right way was a powerful act. I knew God was walking with us. (For a video made by organizers Kairos Canada, with a cameo appearance by Rohan, check out: https://youtu.be/30JbW0sPbcA)
 

When we arrived at Ottawa City Hall, musicians and speakers continued the day as people mingled on the lawn. A tipi was set up and Rohan crawled towards it. Inside two elders were welcoming guests, offering chances for smudging and conversation. Rohan  and I went inside and he immediately made friends with the grandmothers and grandfathers inside. How precious for him to be a part of this, I thought. For him, there are no boundaries between us and he has smiles for everyone. What do I and our generation need to do to allow him to continue living in this way, with love for all?

 
As our group was waiting for others to meet up and head back to Ottawa Mennonite Church, who was hosting us, I watched CBC radio host and University of Manitoba administrator, Wab Kinew, charm the crowd. He was giving a "shout out" to each of the nations present, calling out the names of indigenous nations from across the country who responded with cheers when he called their names.   It was a glimpse of how our country could be: joyous in our diversity and our gathering together. Celebrating, honouring, and sharing our rich cultures with each other. What a vision of reconciliation! 

 

As you’re hopefully aware, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) formally draws to a close with final events in Ottawa May 31 to June 3. Although the TRC is ending and some Canadians are hopeful that we can now put the abuses of the Indian Residential School (IRS) system behind us, the reality is that the work of reconciliation is ongoing.

As a church that was an active part of the IRS system, a significant part of this responsibility falls on our shoulders.

What can and should churches do to move in the direction of reconciliation with First Nations people?

The hope of reconciliation is right relationship, so for many the next step is as simple as seeking out opportunities to relate well. Be a good neighbour to the First Nations people we live near. Visit Wanuskewin, Batoche, Fort Carleton, Ancient Echoes Interpretive Centre. Listen and ask questions. Attend and enjoy the many First Nations cultural events open to the public. No special skills required, just show up with a desire to learn and understand.

In addition to relationship-building, we also need to do our own work as a settler community of faith. Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the TRC, spoke in 2014 to a group of Mennonites wondering about the next steps towards reconciliation. The whole talk is worth a listen, but in case you don’t have an hour to listen to one of Canada’s greatest leaders… some of the things I picked up from Justice Sinclair:

1) We have our own work to do in undoing racism and understanding settler privilege. In spite of our best intentions, the way we see our world and our neighbours is impacted by our hidden prejudices and self-centeredness.  The way we see ourselves and, in a Mennonite church, our heritage and history, is at best incomplete and one-sided.  Do we dare take an honest look at ourselves and the whole story of how we’ve come to be who we are?

2) Reconciliation demands restoration: of power, of property, of treaty rights. Justice Sinclair tells the story of a kid who steals another’s bike. Later, feeling guilty, he goes back to the bike’s owner and asks for forgiveness. “Well,” comes the reply, “first give me back my bike and then we can talk about forgiveness.”  

You and I weren’t there as the Canadian government meticulously removed First Nations people from their land; we didn’t sanction the IRS or its abuses. We didn’t steal the bike. But—and this is huge—we’re still holding the bike. We benefit from use of the bike, from the income and stability it affords us, from the confidence and opportunities of being bike owners. What does it mean to give back the bike? Is it enough to pay compensation for the abuses of the IRS? Is it enough to share the land with our First Nations neighbours? Do we owe them more than that?

3) There are major theological implications to our relationship with First Nations people. Spiritual abuse was a huge part of the devastating impact of the IRS, by design. Was Christianity twisted by the government, by deviant clergy, for their own destructive ends? Or was the Church’s agenda of mission--converting savages and saving their souls—also to blame? In other words, did the means of forcing Christianity on native children ruin the otherwise good end of spreading the gospel?  Or is was the goal of conversion itself the problem?

These are big questions of great importance for the ongoing relationship of Christians with First Nations people. Do we (still) view First Nations spirituality as inferior, something to lead people away from? Or are we worshiping the same Creator in (very) different ways? Or somewhere in between: can we respect and learn from each other’s spirituality, while holding fast to our own beliefs and practices?

Justice Sinclair suggests that if the goal of Christians is still to convert, though by gentler means, then reconciliation is not possible. I’m not sure what we do with that; the call for evangelism is one of the most strongly held beliefs in the Christian tradition.  And yet, reconciliation demands respect and equality. Does our current theology have the tools and space to work at this balance?  Are our intentions, whatever they are, clear to those neighbours with whom we seek relationship?

We have some work to do.

When

Adult Sunday School: 9:45 a.m. 
Worship: 10:45 a.m. 

Family Singing Time: 10:15 a.m. 
Junior Sunday School During Worship

 

Contact

Phone 306-373-2126
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Pastor Joe Heikman
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