Cycles and Saints

“We pledge to care for each other, including our children, nurturing the gifts of each person,and living towards just, nonviolent, and transformative relationships in community

We renounce evil, both personal and corporate, and join God’s plan for healing the earth,and bringing just peace to its people.

We accept God’s call to share the good news of transforming love, and welcome others to faith in God and belonging into Jesus Christ’s beloved community.

We encourage and pray for each other as we live out this covenant which gives us hope for the time when God brings all of creation into wholeness an end to all suffering.”

It is almost the end of a school year.  The kids know what I’m talking about.  Is anyone counting down the days yet?  We parents are scrambling to get kids into camps, kids are looking forward to having no homework and a more flexible schedule.  Teachers are anticipating testing and grades and a nice long summer off.  People who don’t have kids in school – well, you can remember what the school year cycle felt like and what anticipation of summer meant.

Christine Gough at the Practicing Families blog writes about it like this:

Each year, from September to June, I see this unfold time and time again. As a teacher, we welcome new students on the first day of school, everyone a bit nervous, but usually filled with a big dose of excitement and anticipation too. The learning and hard work begin, the fixed mindsets threaten to take hold. Assessments and projects push the bonds and trust to the brink. Some days feel dark and never-ending, and others stand as guideposts and mile markers not soon forgotten. Somehow May rolls around and a quick descent into June’s report cards and end-of-the-year rituals. The cycle rotates again and again, a little reformation moment going deeper and deeper each year.

Cycles give us a framework into which we can fit our life.  The calendar year cycle marks our occasions and gives opportunity to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.  It’s a measure of time.  The seasons give us an opportunity to enjoy (or lament) their attributes in their turn – now we’re warming to the spring weather and lifting our faces to the sun.  Later we’ll have the ripe berries of summer, crisp air of fall and the snow waiting in the mountains for skiing and tubing.  The cycle of the church year gives the people of God a framework for telling and retelling the salvation story and for deepening relationship and living into covenant.  Worshiping through the church year, especially as experienced through the lectionary, gives opportunity to live both the special seasons and the ordinary.

Throughout the epistles of the New Testament, the communities of faith who follow the way of Jesus are referred to as saints.  I’m not talking about the ‘big S’ saints in the way the Catholic church uses the word, referring to someone who is someone holier than other people, someone who has performed miracles or can intercede on behalf of regular folks with God because they have an ‘in’.  I’m talking about the people of the church – you and me and anyone who is a part of the community of Christ.

In the Roman’s text we heard, Paul says, ‘Contribute to the needs of the saint; exhibit hospitality to strangers’.  Saints are those in the community, strangers are outside it.  In the first part of our covenant, we saints, name who God is.  We name the God who initiates and invites and that our commitment to one another is a testimony to the love of God through Jesus.  It is an affirmation of our faith in our Creator and a commitment to following Jesus empowered by the Spirit.  In the first part of our covenant we name our theology.

This final part of the covenant spells out our ecclesiology – that is it allows us to name who we are as a church.  It spells out a little more fully what following Jesus means in this particular community of saints, Seattle Mennonite Church.   We will care for each other, nurturing each other’s gifts.  We will practice non-violence, saying ‘no’ to evil (I still would have said sin), healing the earth.  We will share the good news and offering hospitality to all people.  We will pray and encourage each other in the communion of the saints.

Paul talks about the varieties of gifts, of caring in community, of welcoming the stranger, he talks about prayer.  He talks to the saints in the church in Rome about these things.  We don’t know much about the church in Rome but we do know, that like us, some of its members were inheritors of faith from birth – Jews who had become Jesus followers.  And some had been drawn to the people of the way, this new belief in the One God because they were compelled by the message of the living Christ and the community of his followers.  While he doesn’t use the word covenant, this community is encouraged to live into the call Paul put on them together.

Our life together is similar.  Through the cycle of seasons we mark consecrated moments in worship, service and community – when we dedicate infants and families in our midst; when we offer elementary children Bibles of their own; when we wrap our high-school seniors in quilts and bless their transition into adulthood; when we baptize professing youth or adults into the body of Christ or welcome the confessions of faith of people who want to claim our family as theirs; when we stand together and sing, as we did last Sunday and invite God’s spirit to be present in a space that is dedicated to hospitality and the transformation of the community.  God is there.

It’s not just those ‘official’ moments that are signs of lived covenant.  For more than a month after Orie came home with us, we hardly had to cook a meal. And speaking of cycles, many of you cycle together for causes like Mennonite Central Committee or support folks like Zach and Caitlin riding for World Relief or just for fun because you love it and you love community. We are already living this pledge to care for each other, to renounce evil, and to accept God’s call to share the good news of Jesus’ love.

Over the last two weeks both Jon and Sue have talked about Jesus last discourse with his disciples in the gospel of John.  The beginning of that part of the Gospel has Jesus kneeling down during the Passover dinner and serving his friends by washing their feet.  At that consecrated moment – a celebration that cycled around every year – within their little community, Jesus demonstrated with them a deepened understanding of how they should care for and serve each other and that this service and love should extend into the world outside themselves as well.

Significantly, it was with all of the disciples that he offered this act of service.  Peter and Judas were both in the room.  Being the church is not always comfortable or even pleasant.  There will be conflict.  There will be disagreement.  There will be difficult decisions.  Jesus offered himself to his friends anyway out of relationship with them.  We are called to the same and we are guaranteed infinite opportunities to renew our covenant if we don’t quite respond to the call and invitation the first time(s). Our life together is, after all, a cycle.  Next year, and the next and the next, we will be able to say ‘yes’ again.  Yes to who God is and ‘yes’ to who we are in God.  And at all points in between God is there in the spaces between us and our brothers and sisters, inviting us and encouraging us to live our covenants to each other.

Our yes is a part of the larger ‘yes’ of all God’s people.   The marking out of time through the cycle of the church calendar is one we share with Christians around the world, also saying ‘yes’ to each other and the call of Christ.  We along with all God’s people share a scripture.  The story of Jesus and the people of God is our story.  We share a created form with all humanity, whom we believe created by God.  We share the circling earth on which we walk with all things that dwell upon it.  Way back at the beginning of Lent, we heard God’s promise to Noah and all creation that God’s love will be for us and all things that dwell on the earth forever.  That invitations stands.  Our yes in covenanting with each other is a yes to the greater invitation too, that we’re in the ‘yes’ together.  Caring for each other, living toward non-violent transformation, healing the earth, sharing the good news and welcoming others.  I pray that our covenant life together will indeed be good news to those we welcome.

As we live through this next year – guaranteed to be full of the new, and an ongoing experience of change and transition – we also know that we saints of Seattle Mennonite Church will have the life cycle of our life together in Christ to help us be church with and to each other.   Next week, along with Pastor Megan we will be celebrating Pentecost – the pouring out of God’s Spirit on people of every nation – the birthday of the church.  In the coming year, we will live through a cycle of being a covenant community.

About a year ago my friends Katie and Melissa got married after about 20 years of being together.  Over the years, as they’ve been offered greater legal freedoms in Washington, they’ve taken what steps they can to make their union ‘official’ and they have always been committed to each other, united in life and faith.  But they hesitated to get married because they weren’t sure anything would really change.  They would continue to affirm and love and support and care for each other.  They would share their resources with each other and bless each other.  After they married I asked Katie if she felt any different.   If being married was different than not being married.  I kind of expected to hear a ‘no’ since that’s kind of what they expected. Like I don’t expect to feel any different the day after I turn 38 than I do now, at 37.  But she answered ‘yes’.  She said she couldn’t quite put her finger on it because all of those things were true.  But there was something about their commitment to each other and also about the recognition of their community of that commitment.

Next  year, God willing, along with a new pastor – perhaps along with new friends and partners in the body – we will be able again to renew and celebrate God’s Spirit in the church by proclaiming  and celebrating that we will continue to be with and for Seattle Mennonite Church.   We will be Seattle Mennonite Church.  We will be Seattle Mennonite Church with and for each other and we will be Seattle Mennonite Church, witness by our faith and love, to our community.  May we continue to grow further and deeper into God’s vision of the community.  Amen.