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Pastor's Corner


posted Mar 16, 2017, 2:52 PM by John Garland

Alas, wouldn't it be great if Jesus were on TED talks? Wouldn't it be great to get that holy injection of inspiring adrenaline and insight each morning. Rather than understanding, God offers peace that passes understanding. Rather than inspiration, God offers a different way of seeing everything.

Richard Rohr wrote this for the Huffington Post a few years ago.

"Did you ever notice that Jesus does not tend to give what we would call “inspiring” or “motivational” talks? He is not a football coach, nor does he try to engage your will power as such. Your common Christian sense would deny this until you actually study his recorded Gospel messages, and see that it is factually true! Jesus is much more concerned about shaking your foundations, giving you an utterly alternative self image, world image, and God image, and thus reframing your entire reality. Mere inspiration can never do this.

If you depend on being emotionally inspired or newly motivated, you will need a new fix almost every day. If it is a true Gospel message, it will be more about regrounding, reshaping and redirecting you from your core. Thus the quintessential Lenten reading is Jesus’ first public proclamation that we know of. In some ways, it summarizes everything he says: “Now is the time, God’s reign is present, change your life, and believe some very good news” (Mark 1:15, my translation)."

power is fun, love isn't about us

posted Mar 16, 2017, 2:47 PM by John Garland   [ updated Mar 16, 2017, 2:49 PM ]

Power and love offer very different feedback loops. Why does power and control feel so addicting? 
Why does love feel so hard?

“What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible… is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”

Do we love? Or do we open ourselves to let God love through us?

Peace from our tradition

posted Mar 16, 2017, 2:44 PM by John Garland   [ updated Mar 16, 2017, 2:44 PM ]

This is a speech given by our beloved Rachel Epp Miller on Ash Wednesday:

Muslim and Christian Women Discussing Peace from our Traditions

University Incarnate Word

March 1, 2017


            The wisdom for peacebuilding in the Mennonite tradition comes directly from Jesus, himself. Known in the bible as God’s Wisdom, Jesus is the center of our faith. We look to Jesus to show us the way of God’s heart, the way to live a life of prayerful engagement, to be in community, the way to live in the midst of an often violent world. Since the 16th century, Mennonites have been committed to pacifism because we have seen nonviolence lived out in the story of Jesus who calls us to love our enemies, to do good even to our persecutors, to turn the other cheek and walk a mile in the “other’s” shoes. In a tradition that expected the Messiah to be a military hero, Jesus chose a radically alternative way. Centered in prayer and community, steeped in the tradition of the Jewish prophets, Jesus refused violence. He was constantly breaking down barriers through connection with others. Even at the point of death when Jesus could’ve taken up arms (indeed his disciples tried to) or called down angels—to protect himself or to further his mission—he refused, knowing the way of God’s heart is forgiveness and a radical peace that comes alongside, lifting up those who are suffering or oppressed. Every chance he got, Jesus invited people, ordinary people, to follow him. And this is what we try to do—certainly never perfectly and definitely never alone. Following Jesus takes the kind of courage that is only found in relationship to others, in the strength of community.

            In the Mennonite church we have, for centuries now, refused to fight in war. Our forebears have been conscientious objectors, choosing to serve this country in ways that support life. Many during WWII, for example, gave years of their lives not in the military, but in Civilian Public Service—in areas such as forestry, as guinea pigs in medical testing, and serving in mental health institutions. Many of the reforms in the 1940s-50s in our psychiatric facilities can be traced back to Mennonite conscientious objectors who worked for mental health reform in this country during and following WWII.

            It seems every generation of Mennonites has to learn anew what it means to follow Jesus, particularly in the area of nonviolence, in our own time and place. For generations, Mennonites lived in close-knit communities where conformity to the community’s norms was of utmost importance. They were known as the “quiet in the land,” living mostly separate lives from the world around them. This is, for many Mennonites, no longer our reality. We are engaged in the larger world. And with that comes a deeper sense of call from Jesus that goes beyond not fighting in war to really wrestling with issues of justice with and on behalf of our neighbor.

            In the 1980s, Ron Sider, stood before the gathered Mennonite World Conference in France and gave an address that challenged Mennonites to revisit our peace stance. He told those gathered that until we are willing to give our lives for the cause of peace (to the same extent that people offer up their lives in the cause of war, in the hopes of peace), our pacfisim will mean nothing. Inspired by this challenge, Christian Peacemaker Teams was born, an organization that has served all around the world in places of conflict, getting in the way of violence, building partnerships with other local peacebuilders, putting their lives on the line for peace. All of this out of a conviction that this is what Jesus calls us to do.

            There are many areas within the Mennonite church where we are struggling to know how to build a true and justice-soaked peace. We struggle with the same fears that seek to divide our larger society—the fear of scarcity, homophobia, racism and sexism, to name just a few. But it is exactly in the face of such fears that the call to peacemaking arises and Jesus draws us to deepening connection and engagement. Just recently our brothers and sisters of color in the Mennonite church met together. Out of their conversations arose their own definition (really, it’s a mandate) of what a peace church is (and I believe it sounds very much like Jesus). It reads, “A peace church recognizes the imago dei in all humanity. It not only prays, it takes action. A peace church responds to violence inside and outside its doors. A peace church stands with Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, LGBTQ people, immigrants and against all forms of violence. A peace church empowers disenfranchised and marginalized people. It understands multi-faceted forms of violence—systemic, educational, and environmental. It is more than the absence of war or the protesting of war.”

            The wisdom for peacebuilding in the Mennonite church is Jesus, and it is lived out in our daily lives as teachers, parents, business people, doctors, neighbors, gardeners, marchers...It’s lived out in gatherings like this as we commit to listening and learning from the stories and traditions of others, seeking the way of God’s heart together.


Rachel Epp Miller

We think a lot about relevance

posted Mar 16, 2017, 2:41 PM by John Garland   [ updated Mar 16, 2017, 2:43 PM ]

It is so lovely to be relevant.
Purpose, meaning, power.
What do you think about this line, from Henri Nouwen's work

“I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.”

Christ demonstrates relevance on a completely different plane.

Lent, day 4

posted Mar 4, 2017, 8:56 AM by John Garland

    We are constantly being manipulated to feed our hunger for love with other things: praise, things, power, sensation, accomplishment. “Ha,” it seems the devil says to Jesus in the desert, “prove that you are loved!”  You don’t have to prove it.  You do have to filter out many loud voices to hear God’s voice saying, “I knit you together, I know everything about you, because I love you now, and I will love you beyond your life too.”


    Henri Nouwen wrote about reclaiming our belovedness:

    “Once we relate to death as a familiar friend instead of a threatening enemy, we will be able to shed many doubts and fears, face our mortality, and live in the freedom and knowledge that we are God’s beloved sons and daughters.  Though I have known this to be true for many years, I have to reclaim the truth of my belovedness from time to time.

    “Our fear of illness, death, and the future takes away our freedom and gives our society the power to manipulate us with threats and promises.  When we reach beyond our fears to the One who loves us with an everlasting love, then oppression, persecution, and even death are unable to control us.  All forms of evil, illness, and death lose their final power over us.  We come to the deep inner knowledge—a knowledge of the heart more than of the mind—that we are born out of love and will die into love, that every part of our being is deeply rooted in love, and that nothing can separate us from this love of God”


Romans 8:38-39

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Lent, day 3

posted Mar 4, 2017, 7:06 AM by John Garland   [ updated Mar 4, 2017, 7:24 AM ]

Its easiest to cooperate with your own vision and harder to cooperate with others, but we find richness in cooperating with God's vision.  That takes some discipline, both to quiet the messages and desires that are not of God, and to hear the presence of God . . .
Anne Lamott writes in her essay "Ashes":
“Ash Wednesday…is supposed to be about preparation, about consecration, about moving toward Easter, toward resurrection and renewal. It offers us a chance to break through the distractions that keep us from living the basic Easter message of love, of living in wonder rather than doubt. For some people, it is about fasting, to symbolize both solidarity with the hungry and the hunger for God…
The ashes remind us of the finality of death. Like the theologian said, death is God’s no to all human presumption… [In awaiting redemption and resurrection] how can we cooperate with grace? How can we open ourselves up to it? How can we till the field? And so people mark themselves with ashes to show that they trust in the alchemy God can work with those ashes–jogging us awake, moving us toward greater attention and openness and love.”

Lent, Day 2

posted Mar 2, 2017, 12:15 PM by John Garland   [ updated Mar 3, 2017, 4:34 AM ]

Ash Wednesday is sad.

“From dust you came, to dust you will return.” You will die.

By the end of the morning yesterday I felt really, really sad about saying that so many times. And to say that to a child? And smear a reminder of mortality and loss on the skin of youth?

Why do we do that? Why do we forgo the question of, “are you okay?” and the declaration of “I love you, and I’m so glad you’re going to be okay,” with, “you will die, don’t forget…”?


There is a Christian discipline that is very important to our spiritual formation that is described in various ways, but one is “moving from denying death, to befriending death.” 


Death is scary and sad, but you don’t need to be afraid. (This won’t make a best-seller, a great advertising campaign, or a popular app . . .) We are surrounded by messages and billboards that tell us how chemically (eat this), physically (exercise this), socially (say this), violently (buy this gun), and plastosurgically (lift this) we can avoid mortality.  

And Jesus says, “Come to me . . . find rest for your souls.”


Henri Nouwen wrote a parable to introduce this spiritual formation practice of befriending our mortal state. Here, first, in his own interpretation:


“This story about the twins in the womb helps us to think about death in a new way. Do we live as if this life is all we have, as if death is absurd and we had better not talk about it? Or do we choose to claim our divine childhood and trust that death is the painful but blessed passage that will bring us face-to-face with our God? When we are ready to die at any moment, we are also ready to live at any moment. For me, preparing for my own death involved befriending death, claiming my belovedness, becoming a child again, and trusting in the Communion of the Saints. . .”


“Twins in the Womb”

Twins are talking to each other in the womb.  The sister said to the brother, “I believe there is life after birth.”  Her brother protested vehemently, “No, no, this is all there is. This is a dark and cozy place, and we have nothing else to do but to cling to the cord that feeds us.” The little girl insisted, “There must be something more than this dark place. There must be something else, a place with light where there is freedom to move.” Still she could not convince her twin brother.

After some silence, the sister said hesitantly, “I have something else to say, and I’m afraid you won’t believe that, either, but I think there is a mother.” Her brother became furious. “A mother!” he shouted. “What are you talking about?” I have never seen a mother, and neither have you. Who put that idea in your head? As I told you, this place is all we have. Why do you always want more? This is not such a bad place, after all. We have all we need, so let’s be content.”

The sister was quite overwhelmed by her brother’s response and for a while didn’t dare say anything more. But she couldn’t let go of her thoughts, and since she only had her twin brother to speak to, she finally said, “Don’t you feel these squeezes every once in a while? They’re quite unpleasant and sometimes even painful.” “Yes,” he answered. “What’s special about that?” “Well”, the sister said, “I think that these squeezes are there to get us ready for another place, much more beautiful than this, where we will see our mother face-to-face. Don’t you think that’s exciting?”  --Henri Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift

Ash Wednesday

posted Mar 2, 2017, 12:10 PM by John Garland   [ updated Mar 3, 2017, 4:29 AM ]

Ash Wednesday



The Lenten season begins.  It is a time to be with you in a special way, a time to pray, to fast, and thus to follow you on your way to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, and to the final victory over death.

I am still so divided.  I truly want to follow you, but I also want to follow my own desires and lend an ear to the voices that speak about prestige, success, human respect, pleasure, power, and influence.  Help me to become deaf to these voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to choose the narrow road to life.

I know that Lent is going to be a very hard time for me.  The choice for your way has to be made every moment of my life.  I have to choose thoughts that are your thoughts, words that are your words, and actions that are your actions.  There are no times or places without choices.  And I know how deeply I resist choosing you.

Please, Lord, be with me at every moment and in every place.  Give me the strength and the courage to live this season faithfully, so that, when Easter comes, I will be able to taste with joy the new life which  you have prepared for me.

Amen.  (Henri Nouwen, "Show Me the Way")

A Reflection

God’s mercy is greater than our sins.  There is an awareness of sin that does not lead to God but to self-preoccupation.  Our temptation is to be so impressed by our sins and failings and so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity that we get stuck in a paralyzing guilt.  It is the guilt that says: “I am too sinful to deserve God’s mercy.”  It is the guilt that leads to introspection instead of directing our eyes to God.  It is the guilt that has become an idol and therefore a form of pride. 
Lent is the time to break down this idol and to direct our attention to our loving Lord.  The question is: “Are we like Judas, who was so overcome by his sin that he could not believe in God’s mercy any longer and hanged himself, or are we like Peter who returned to his Lord with repentance and cried bitterly for his sins?”  The season of Lent, during which winter and spring struggle with each other for dominance, helps us in a special way to cry out for God’s mercy.  -Henri Nouwen

A Prayer

Faithful God, trusting in you,
we begin
the forty days of conversion and penance.
Give us the strength for Christian discipline,
that we may renounce evil
and be decisive in doing good.
We ask this through Jesus Christ.

-Henri Nouwen "Show me the way"

Support Needed

posted Jan 3, 2017, 6:53 AM by Mitzi Moore

John and his wife had a major accident last week, and were both hospitalized for several days. They are out of the hospital now, being cared for by extended family members, while their broken bones heal. The community is taking them meals. If you would like to help, you may sign up here.

December 11, 2016 Sermon

posted Dec 28, 2016, 11:17 AM by Mitzi Moore

Sermon, December 11, 2016

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