Katey Ebaugh was a student at Bluffton (Ohio) University when she gave this speech at the 2016 conference, Leading into the common good: An Anabaptist Perspective. We will be publishing additional speeches from college students reflecting on Anabaptist identity and leadership later this month.
I have hope in the church!
I have been so encouraged by this conference and the sharing that has gone on. I wrote this speech about a month ago and the really crazy thing is that almost everything I have in my speech was already mentioned at this conference. So you can use this as a type of summary and also as an encouragement for the church to continue in these new directions, which will lead to a great church that is rooted in Christ and not focused on culture.
I am going to begin today by reading Matthew 28:16-20. As you listen, I encourage you to think about how it relates to the church. The passage says:
“Then the 11 disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'”
What I will be sharing with you today are a few brief examples of modern ways I believe God is calling the church into action that will lead to the future church that I dream to see.
First, the church and every person in the past, present and future has been called to focus on Christ above all else. A way we can be guided to make wise decisions in the church is to learn from our history.
In the Old Testament, I see over and over times when God got mad. Like God must have a huge coat of buttons, because the Israelites pushed many, many of God’s buttons (that was a joke). But as I read, I noticed a theme about the times when God got really angry at his people. It was often when they ignored him and acted arrogant. In the New Testament, I also see how Jesus calls out the hypocrites who seem like they have it all together, and he instead goes to help the needy and those seeking him. Was it because those seeking him were perfect? Absolutely not. In fact they knew and acknowledged how imperfect they were. This is opposite of what the Pharisees and Sadducees did. Is this what the church does? Do we try too hard to hide our imperfections?
Going back to the Old Testament stories, when the people realized they were wrong and decided they wanted God again, God showered them with grace. He knew they were imperfect, but he led, blessed, and loved them when they longed for the Holy One, even though they messed up.
Secondly, we are to praise God for his grace and power. These actions remain true forever, because God does not change. We serve a radical God who lifts up the humble and cares for the lowly. He called David, a rich king, a man after his own heart. God loves those who seek him despite their flaws. It is so fantastic for a church to continually go to God in prayer, acknowledging weaknesses and learning how to spend more time listening to and seeking our powerful God. Then we can praise God because he is working all around the world and he has the authority.
It has been proven that unity is at the heart of God. Some of the most touching, soul-moving moments I have experienced have been in times where people of different backgrounds and beliefs have been unified together in love. Being unified with the global church is such an impactful experience, as many of you may know.
To take this idea of unity further than inside the church though, what if the church worked for peace alongside Muslim people as well? Buddhist people? Atheists even?
Lastly, I want to share some of the modern ways God is bringing his people together. First, with refugees. As we just read from Matthew 28, Jesus told his people that the whole earth belongs to him and we are to go and make disciples of all nations. God has a tendency to work in ways far beyond our own understanding. What if the scattering of refugees around the world is a way that God is bringing the nations together? What a shame it would be if we deny refugees hospitality or neglect caring for their needs. I believe God is wanting the church to welcome his people and show them his love in humility.
One way a small Mennonite church called River Corner is working at this is by supplying furniture, cars, and things needed to live to newly arriving families in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. My friend, Steve Warfel, felt a calling to care for the Nepali refugees who have flocked to Lancaster, and so he quit his job to be more available to help them find jobs and show them the love and care of Christ. River Corner, a church of 40 people, has been blessed by taking this action. They have also learned quite a bit about how to be stretched, interact and include people from very different cultures than their own.
The second example comes from racial justice and equality movements in our society. Recently I attended the intercollegiate peace conference at Goshen (Indiana) College where the theme was “Black Lives Matter!”
How many of you have helped with or have been following this movement? I am guilty of not actively contributing to it before that conference, but after hearing from fellow colleagues and peers who have experienced overt racism and discrimination, I realize that there is still an issue of inequality and white privilege built into the foundations of our society. Things from what is taught in school history books, still segregated neighborhoods and the inhumane treatment of our neighbors are all signs of injustices that need to be addressed.
The church does not need to take charge of these movements, but rather step up alongside our brothers and sisters. A small way I think the church can reduce the idea of white American privilege is to stop telling kids going on short term missions trips that they are going to help the needy, but instead tell them that they are going to be humbled and work alongside our equal brothers and sisters.
In conclusion, we are imperfect and therefore we see imperfections in the church. However, we are not called to perfection, but rather to seek a God who is perfect and more infinite than we could ever fathom.
Our calling in the church is to remain in Christ, and if we remain in Christ then we will follow his radical ways and commands in love. We can do this today by meeting people in our world where they are at and stepping alongside peace and justice issues such as researching and helping the Black Lives Matter Movement or other movements that fight injustice. Also working together with beloved Muslim people on projects and showing hospitality and open doors to refugees.
I will end by sharing with you a powerful message from a nineteenth-century Danish Philosopher named Soren Kierkegaard. He said “The Bible is very easy to understand, but we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.”
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