Ervin Stutzman’s last day as executive director of Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) is April 30. I would like to thank him for his years […]
“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:1-2, 10-12
Confession: Psalm 51 opens with a plea for God’s mercy, forgiveness, and cleansing. At the outset of Lent, we are invited to confess our sins which leads to forgiveness. In preparation for Ash Wednesday services at church, I extended an invitation last Sunday to members of my congregation to attend a service of healing and hope. Believe me, we need it. Rather, I need it. This year we have a women’s vocal group leading us in our Ash Wednesday evening service at church.
Restoration: Beyond confession, we are called to rekindle our joy found in the love and worship of Almighty God. The Psalmist calls for a willing spirit, a pure heart, and Spirit-joy gladness that springs forth from our lips and lives. The cadence of the well-known Psalm 51 moves naturally from confession to restoration in God’s very presence.
At Ash Wednesday in my home church, a group of District Mennonite churches will come together to worship. Our pastors will bring a word of greeting or a Scripture to help us enter into the six Sundays of Lent. Some years we use ashes and other years we have communion together; always a beautiful service of restoration in District churches.
Proclamation: In Romans 1:1-7 we discover a challenge to proclamation. “Set apart for the gospel of God” comes the call to Mennonites today. I am teaching a unit this week on what it means to be “born again” to my high school seniors.
Some of my students could teach the lesson themselves. Others, transfer students from China, have never heard the message. We are working through the Nicodemus story in John’s gospel, and while we may question the “born again” language, that’s what we find in Scripture. I hope to be faithful in proclaiming the good news of the gospel to my students during this first week of Lent.
Yet proclaiming the gospel as good news for salvation in our lives naturally moves beyond ourselves to others, as Paul wrote, “to all in Rome.” Paul’s startling announcement of speaking to those in the Imperial City helps give us courage to announce peace to empires, rulers and the powers.
Proclamation of the good news may mean standing with friends who are at risk from the changed immigration policies in the United States. Speaking the good news “to all in Rome” includes reminding the powers of this dark world that we are all immigrants, unless we are authentically indigenous to this land.
Mennonites have a much needed voice to offer in the public arena. To proclaim the good news should include a call for justice, peace, and equity. We cannot allow the marginalized to slide further to the edges of society. To be in step with God’s Spirit means walking alongside those who are threatened with deportation, finding ways of helping refugees to receive support in our communities, and continuing to send out missionaries to proclaim the good news of Jesus.
At church this past Sunday morning, a minister preached who had moved from Honduras to Harrisonburg, Virginia, nine years ago.
Preaching through a translator, the minister is putting shoe leather to his proclamation as his Virginia Mennonite Conference congregation in Harrisonburg is sending his familiy to Spain as missionaries. A couple about the same age as my wife and I, they have challenged me to stay in step with the Spirit.
Elwood Yoder has taught high school history and social studies courses for 34 years, since 1988 at Eastern Mennonite High School. Elwood has written seven books, including congregational histories and historical novels. Elwood is Editor of Shenandoah Mennonite Historian, and he is also Editor of Today, a publication of Eastern Mennonite School. Throughout Lent, we will be posting reflections on the lectionary scriptures for the day, the season of Lent and resistance and resilience in this current moment in our church and world.
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