….is a study/discernment process for reflection, renewal and reporting by member churches of Mennonite Church USA, based on the three Renewed Commitments for MC USA. These were discerned from last summer’s (2017) Future Church Summit in Kansas City, MO.

Those three Renewed Commitments are:

Follow Jesus As an Anabaptist community of the living Word, we listen for God’s call as we read Scripture together, guided by the Spirit. Through baptism we commit ourselves to live faithfully as Jesus’ disciples, no matter the cost.

Witness to God’s peace. We are called to extend God’s holistic peace, proclaiming Christ’s redemption for the world with our lives. Through Christ, God frees the world from sin and offers reconciliation. We bear witness to this gift of peace by rejecting violence and resisting injustice in all forms, and in all places.

Experience transformation. The Holy Spirit dwells in and among us, transforming us to reflect God’s love. Through worship the Spirit gathers the body of Christ, where our diversity reveals God’s beauty. The Spirit empowers our communities to embody the grace, joy and peace of the gospel.

This three-month study is offered so that congregations and their members might experience renewal and greater understanding around those three unifying commitments, and so that we might give feedback to MC USA in advance of next summer’s biennial MCUSA conference, at the end of this study, sometime in December, 2018.

Many members of Zion Mennonite Church are participating in weekly study/prayer and reflection sessions during the Sunday School hour. This last Sunday, September 9, we began where spiritual renewal always does, with a focus on our “Belovedness and Confession” (of sin and brokenness). The materials are rich, and we only got so far in the study.

The scriptures we read were:

a. Psalm 24:1:  “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it…”
b. Genesis 1:31: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day
c. Romans 3:23:  “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
d. John 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
e. Ephesians 3:18-19: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

We reflected on the striking contrast of both the deep, incomprehensible beauty, blessedness and belovedness of Creation (including ourselves) in God’s sight, and the deep brokenness of Creation (including ourselves) due to sin. One side of this paradox does not diminish the other; each brings out the magnitude of the other. While we so often hear and read John 3:16, we need to keep that verse in connection with verse 17, “for God did not send his Son into the world to condemn….”

A few other Bible passages which speak to us about our belovedness, and that of Creation, include:  Hebrews 13: 5:  “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you;” Isaiah 43: 1 “But now, this is what the Lord says—  he who created you, Jacob,  he who formed you, Israel:“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”; and Jeremiah 31:3: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”

Then we discussed the following questions:

a. Why is God’s love an appropriate starting point for renewing our shared commitments as disciples? 

Answers included: 1) because it’s 2018, when God’s love is more in our minds, teaching and preaching, than the judgment, rules and condemnation we majored in in the past; 2) because the only thing that really changes us–and we all need to grow and change–is a love that doesn’t need to change us in order to love us more. Shame, guilt, fear alone will not really change us where change matters. Such unconditional love alone changes us in ways that matter.

b. What other starting points might we consider for this conversation?

Some of the usual starting places in the past have been shame, fear, conformity to custom.

c. Scripture speaks of God’s love as “surpassing knowledge.” How can we know
something that surpasses knowledge? 

How can we know anything with certainty? Are we sure we are always right? Yet there are other levels and ways of knowing besides the words we keep between our ears. Do we really “know” something apart from living it and doing it?

Questions we did not get to include

d. Do we feel any tension between “affirming our belovedness” and “not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought” (Romans 12)? How do we live faithfully within that tension?

e. How has the Mennonite church been known by our love for one another?

f. How has the Mennonite church not been known for its love for one another?
What do we need to confess?

g. Would those outside our congregation, conference, agency or constituency group “know that we are Jesus’ disciples by our love for one another” (John 13:35)? Why or why not?

h. How might our congregation (or conference, agency or constituency group)
better affirm God’s love for us? For all creation?

You are invited/encouraged to reply to this blog in answer to any of the questions above, a-h, and they will be posted on this blog for our future reference.

For your continued reflection this week:

a. be attentive to moments when you experience God’s love.

b. be attentive to barriers that hinder your experience of God’s love.

Feel free to reply to this blog with any testimonies or discoveries you may have this week in answer to the two questions above.