Written by Jake Froese
Oct 26, 2014 IF THE ROOT IS HOLY Interesting, the things that come along with speaking engagements. This time I took a couple deep gulps almost immediately after I had accepted the invitation. Mennonite Heritage Sunday. Gulp. I have just agreed to speak on that topic in that congregation in Calgary that has more experience on exactly that than any other. I know something of your history, and I stand in awe of your early beginnings. Immigrants straight into an urban setting in Alberta, streets paved not with gold, but lots of work and the freedom to ply skills as had already been learned in Europe – a place of opportunity. In my 35 years in Alberta I remember many a conference session carefully guided by good thick German accents spoken by wise and respected elders from this and some of our other Alberta congregations. Ah, I can even get a little sentimental about this. If only I could hear a little more of that accented passion and ownership rather than all those power-point presentations I have to look at these days. I am hoping that your congregation may continue to experience the blessing of those people even after your services transition to English-only in these next several weeks! Not only that, then I gulped again. I receive a confirming email from your Pastor Ed informing me that the worship leader is Ted Regehr! Now my mind goes even further back. My pastoring career started in Saskatchewan. There I lived in the shadow of the U of S, (a much more formidable place of knowledge than U of C will ever be). And at that place the head of Dept of History was a certain Dr.Ted Regehr! Whenever we wanted some things historical explained to us, we engaged him as the speaker. Here we are this morning! However, without further adieu, I venture into places where fools fear to tread! Actually folks, this is precisely what also gives me energy and confidence for this morning. Our history is actually our ongoing story, a story about community, and in order for the story to continue, it is wrong to disqualify myself, and it would be very wrong to disqualify any of you. So here I am this morning, duly qualified and from this high place, as Tony Campolo once said, “I am four feet above reproach”. Within our history there is a faith story, and our faith story has an amazing equality, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” Matt 18:20. And there is an amazing authority. As our 16th century Anabaptist forebears claimed, our authority resides not in the Pope, not in a properly ordained protestant Preacher, but it comes from the belief that God is fully among us when we gather in God’s name. And what is the ordering principle when we gather? Not our constitution, not bylaws, not political or societal trends, not political correctness, it is sola scriptura. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is[a] useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 2 Tim 3:16. So, let’s go. This year the theme for us faithful historical Christians on this Mennonite Heritage Sunday is The Christian Family. At first it may strike us as kind of generic, a huge topic – check that out in your local library! You can walk for hours just reading titles! Or Google it! Family is like motherhood and apple pie. We know a lot about it, yes? Or do we? What if I just ask a couple questions, like what is family? Husband & wife? mother & father? Mother & father & children? Mother & mother & children? Father & father & children? Is family a clan? (Remember Mel Gibson’s Braveheart? – once upon a time even civilized countries like England and Scotland had clan wars). Christian Family is our theme, an important topic for this day. And please rest assured, the preacher will address it not philosophically, etymologically, and maybe not even politically correctly! I shall try biblically! Sola scriptura. In the Deuteronomy passage we have an O.T. presentation of covenant renewal. It is in the 5th Book of the Law – the author gives an address – a reminder – this day they (the family of Israel, the clan) stand before God in order to enter into covenant, even in their history up to now they have already strayed from the path they should have taken. They have come among other influences, “filthy idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold that were among them” Deut 29:17. So here it is a day of renewal, kind of by the skin of their teeth that they are able to stand before God. Nobody is singled out, it’s simply a very important occasion – and it is by the grace of God! <OT interplay of Grace and Law!> And be careful, disobedience means that they will be rooted out of their land (:22-29), though after repentance in exile (prophetic) God will restore them again (30:1-10). As my Interpreters Bible says about this portion, “This is not a [warning] that needs to be searched for in a distant place (30:11-14). It is present before them, and it offers them the choice of life or death (:15-20). The moment of decision is at hand”; choose life. Cf Joshua 24:15. The thing I might just highlight this a.m. is also, there they stand, assembled together. In OT all over you cannot escape the fact that the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, needed to choose to take responsibility for one another. There they stand as a family – together. Individual ethics impacted their corporate life. Yes, there are the heroes and the villains, Kings who did good before the Lord, and evil before the Lord, but it is always the corporate impact that moves it forward. Not unlike our people, the Mennonites, many other ethnic immigrant peoples. One of things I’m learning as I get a bit older – especially among our people who have had historical trauma – is that there are 2 faces of us. Big story, and personal story. Mennonites came from Ukraine, via Germany (and some tragically could not escape, ended up in Siberia), to U.S., to Canada, to Paraguay, Mexico? etc.etc. Big events, like Mennonites coming from Chortiza in the Ukraine and arriving in Rosthern, SK in 1923 have their own little stories (eg hospital visit Mr. K.). eg. A Hard Passage, Arthur Kroeger, Edmonton: U of A Press, 2007. So many of us are/were a part of a big clan, family members lost, surrogate parents, aunts and uncles, grandmas – survivors – incorporated as caregivers and that has become a part of our family lore and history moving forward. I know that our historian brother Ted, right beside me here, could provide many stories and a long bibliography for any of us who might wish to know more. The Ruth passage is a variation; choosing the faith lineage. Ruth the Moabite woman whose Jewish husband died, instead of going back to ‘her people’ she goes with Naomi her mother-in-law back to Judah to be among the Jews. It becomes pretty raunchy how she and mama kind of get into the good graces of rich old Uncle Boaz, and he becomes interested (gets stirred up a bit), but he does the responsible thing – checks it out, any other next of kin who might be takers? and I imagine sigh of relief when the one guy says could cause a problem in my household, so old Boaz adds Ruth to his harem, and she is enabled to do the noble thing, to receive his seed and thus continue the Jewish lineage! This is indeed a part of our Bible’s presentation of family. Choice is a seed choice! So, Boaz becomes the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. (Matt 1:5,6). Yes, morality (family morality) in the O.T. – our Bible – included much attention to where and how the seed got deposited; hence also in other parts quite the stories about concubines, multiple wives like Sarah & Hagar, Rachel & Leah, etc. In the N.T. we have a new perspective. This subject of family receives a radical rework from Jesus. For one thing that seed theme takes a hike. And in answer to a question from one of the Pharisees about OT understanding of divorce he says in Matt 19:5 ‘For this reason a man shall leave father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate’. From Jesus on the personal ethic seems more focused. The apostle Paul quotes this same scripture (Eph 5:31) and speaks (just as though he knows what he’s talking about), in support of the mystery of a Christian household – one husband, one wife, and how they should get along ‘subject to one another out of reverence for Christ’ (5:21). Need I say it, this is the basis and framework of the nuclear family which has lived and been among us all the way into the 21st century – hence my motherhood and apple pie comment earlier. However, as I mentioned earlier, today we are faced with many interpretations of family. And, as we have also seen, even within the Bible, we have varying interpretations thereof. I should like to conclude with the Romans passage. It is a passage not specifically addressing the marriage or family topic. It speaks, however, of Jews and Gentiles relating in a changing world as Christians (followers of Jesus). [Display Romans 11:13-24] Let me read part of it :13-16. If the root is holy. Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, at one time persecutor of new Christians, circumcised, trained in the synagogue, an expert in the cultic laws, bound and determined to keep the faith squeaky clean (let there be no mistake), now speaks to all peoples, and yet respectful of his roots! There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:28. He speaks now of holiness. “You shall be Holy on to Me”, so goes the song, so goes my soul, my sentiment this morning in conclusion. In :17-24 he tells us about branches lopped off, of his own people lopped off so that Gentiles might be grafted in and the need for both Jew and Gentile. Is that any reason for gloating? No. And now here just a bit more good news. Our Mennonite history too has been grafted into that Holy root. * Should Gentiles now gloat because those legalistic Jews got their whatfor? No. 12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 1 Cor 10:12 * Does God like old Christians better than new Christians? No. * Does God like you better than your gay brother or sister? No. * Does God like nuclear families better than clans? No. * Does God like blended families? Of course! Whatever the size or makeup of your family, whatever challenge, whatever pain, joy, or circumstance you have the invitation to be Holy. You have still the responsibility and the privilege to be grafted in to that tree of Life. “I’m so glad I’m a part of the Family of God.” Thank God, each of us here today has the invite.