Dwelling Embodied in the World

I’m writing this in our new house, looking out at a busy West End intersection. Busy—and it’s Sunday. During a pandemic lockdown.

We’re not in Morden anymore, Toto.

In the first day of our initial “campout” in the new place, I’ve seen ambulances wail by, heard fire trucks head out, watched intoxicated men stumble past, witnessed meth users yelling at their invisible demons. I’ve also seen young moms pushing strollers with toddlers in tow, and couples out for a walk with their dogs. I’ve met our next-door neighbours, a courageous immigrant mother caring for half a dozen friendly children on her own.

Cars whiz by on their way from Point A to Point B, unaware of the menagerie of life on this single block in inner city Winnipeg.

I hear this word from the upcoming Sunday’s lectionary readings, the prayer of Jesus for his disciples: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one… As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:15,18).

We aren’t called to whiz by the messy reality of life from Point A to Point B. We are called to live life incarnate, like Jesus, dwelling embodied in the stuff of earth. For us, now, this will mean dwelling embodied in this West End neighbourhood.

I’m also reminded of “the world” we are leaving behind in Morden. It’s no more the “rural haven” many imagine than West End Winnipeg is the “urban blight” everyone thinks it is. Within those immaculate rural homes there are untold stories of domestic and sexual abuse. The quiet streets and friendly smiles paper over the evidence of a toxic mix of unaddressed poverty and racism. And don’t get me started on anti-vaxxer religion.

“The world” is all around us, whether in Winnipeg or beyond the perimeter. “The world”—in all its dappled shadows and light, all its many-hued array of goodness and evil, love and harm. May we have courage to follow Jesus in fully dwelling embodied in the world in which we live, exposing the shadows with grace as we bear witness to the light in love.

Christians and Israel (3) – God’s Kingdom is for All Peoples

This series is adapted from a sermon I preached on August 3, 2014, “What should we think about Israel?” See here for part one, “Describing the Crisis,” and here for part two, “Modern Israel is not Biblical Israel.” Follow the links throughout for sources and more information.

In the last post I claimed that modern Israel is not the heir to the biblical promises to ancient Israel. That claim is controversial among some Christians, to be sure, but I trust that my claim in this post will not be. At least, it shouldn’t be controversial, but all too often it seems that Christians act as if they don’t really believe it.

Here’s my second claim: as followers of Jesus seeking first God’s kingdom and God’s justice we are called to seek the good of all peoples, including both Israelis and Palestinians equally.

Jesus teaches us that we are to “seek first God’s kingdom and God’s justice” (Matt 6:33). This is a call to allegiance: Jesus is saying that our allegiance to God’s kingdom and God’s way of justice stands over and above our allegiance to any earthly kingdom or any worldly way of justice.

And God’s kingdom transcends borders, it transcends our geographical and political boundaries, it embraces our ethnic and cultural differences. God’s kingdom includes all peoples equally: every tribe, every nation, even all creation. To believe otherwise is, to be frank, not just un-Mennonite, it’s un-Christian—it is even anti-Christ, in opposition to Jesus and the global and cosmic scope of his reconciling work (e.g. Col 1:13-23; Rev 7:9-17).

So when Jesus calls us to “seek first God’s kingdom and God’s justice,” he is calling us to give our allegiance to the reign of God that transcends national borders and includes all peoples, and to seek justice for all within God’s shalom.

This means that we are called to seek the good of all peoples, including both Israelis and Palestinians, both Jews and Muslims.

This means that we are called to denounce violence wherever it is found, whether in Hamas rockets killing a 4-year old Israeli boy playing in the living room of his kibbutz home or in Israeli missiles killing Palestinian children playing soccer on the beach.

This means that we are called to put a spotlight on injustice and oppression, those situations where there is an imbalance of power leading to an abuse of power—as there certainly is in Israel taking over land in the West Bank for Israeli settlements, or in Israel’s disproportionate response to Hamas rockets from Gaza (and no, the “human shields” argument doesn’t hold water).

1054px-Israel-Palestine_peaceThis means that we are called always to strive for the things that make for peace. There are many average Israelis and average Palestinians who do not want war, who want to share the land and live in peace. There are many Palestinians who do not support Hamas and its violent ways. There are many Israelis who oppose Israel’s offensive in Gaza, or even Israel’s settlements in the West Bank. There must be a better way forward, and as citizens of God’s kingdom we must encourage the search for that way, to be peacemakers, true children of God (Matt 5:9).

Christians here in North America don’t help the situation when we blindly support Israel in all her policies. Given the horrible history of anti-Semitism, there is good reason for supporting an Israeli state that makes special provision for citizenship of ethnic Jews. But there is no good biblical or historical basis for seeing modern Israel as the rightful heir to the land. And, in any case, our ultimate allegiance is not to any nation state on earth, but to God’s kingdom and God’s justice—and thus we must seek the good of all peoples, including both Israelis and Palestinians equally.

I invite you to conclude this series the way we at Morden Mennonite Church concluded the original sermon on which the series is based: by praying the Lord’s Prayer, reflecting on it as a prayer for all people.

Our Father in heaven, in whose image all people have been created, hallowed be your name. May Your kingdom come, your will be done, your kingdom without borders, your will for justice and peace, on earth as it is in heaven…

Amen. Come, O Lord.

For some other Anabaptist perspectives and initiatives related to Israel and Palestine, check out these websites: Mennonite Palestine Israel NetworkChristian Peacemaker Teams – Peace and Justice Support Network. Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl.