Abiding | CDC Sunday | January 15

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https://joelssermons.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/20170115sermon.mp3           

Text: John 15:1-12

At a young age we’re taught about the five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing.  We’ve come to speak of a sixth sense as intuitive perceptions, intuition.  There was also a pretty good movie called “The Sixth Sense” way back in 1999.  It had a surprise twist at the ending that my dull sixth sense wasn’t expecting the first time I saw it.  Although I was expecting it the second time.

Joshua Cooper Ramo is now proposing a seventh sense, essential for survival in our time.  Last year he wrote a book called The Seventh Sense.  The catchy subtitle is “Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks.”  In an increasingly networked and interconnected world, Ramo suggests that a seventh sense is “the ability to look at any object and see the way it is changed by connection.” (Quoted HERE)  That’s the seventh sense.  Sensing, perceiving the web of relationships embedded in everything and everyone we come into contact with.  Ramo is especially interested in how this applies on the global scale to politics, terrorist cells, networks of trade and finance, and, of course, how technology and social networking change the dynamics of power and the ability to spread ideas and organize.

I’ve only read a couple reviews and summaries of the book and not the book itself, so can’t say a whole lot more about it.  But I imagine that if each of us were to exercise our seventh sense when it comes to something as simple as the clothes we’re wearing this morning, we would be mindful of where the cotton in our shirts might have been grown, the engineers and firms that designed the machines that separated the useable parts of the plant, where in the world and under what conditions the shirt was designed, sewn, and packaged, and found its way through the supply chain to the store where we bought it.  An especially keen seventh sense would go even deeper and wider to consider the broad economic policies and political climates that make such production what it is, the amount of fossil fuel and renewal energy embedded in that shirt, the extended networks of relationships of each person who had something to do with its creation.  Who either benefited or was harmed by the process.  And how one change in that massive network – a disruption or an improvement – has ripple effects throughout.

Exercising the seventh sense sounds both exhausting and exhilarating.  The “ability to look at any object and see the way it is changed by connection.”  If we have no seventh sense, one could make a pretty convincing argument that we are blind to a significant dimension of reality.

For the purposes of this morning, we might try exercising our seventh sense on ourselves as a congregation.  The shirts on our backs are one small example of the way we are embedded in networks of relationships, many of them imperceptible to our other senses.  Very specifically, this morning, we have been invited by our regional church conference, Central District Conference, CDC, to see the way we are changed by our connection to this conference, which ultimately serves to connect us to the life of Christ and the mission of the gospel in the world.  All 40 some CDC congregations have been invited to have a CDC Sunday this winter.

A biblical seventh sense kind of word is “Abiding.”  It’s one of those words in the CDC theme and Patty Shelly’s song, “Abounding in love, abiding in grace.”  It shows up frequently in John 15, the passage for CDC Sunday this year.  To abide in something is have a living relationship with that thing, to be changed by the connection, and to have an organic relationship with other similarly abiding things.

John’s gospel doesn’t have parables the same way that Matthew, Mark, and Luke do.  But John does love the extended metaphor, especially with the various I AM statements Jesus makes.  In John Jesus says thing like “I am the bread of life.”  “I am the light of the world.”  “I am the good shepherd that watches the sheep, and I am the gate that keeps the sheep safe.”  “I am the resurrection.”  “I am the way.”  “I am” evokes the Divine name revealed to the Hebrews, Yahweh, which, roughly translated, means something like “I am who I am.”  The “I” that Jesus identifies with goes beyond the ego self of Jesus of Nazareth and speaks of the Divine reality in which he participated, in which he invited all of humanity to consciously participate.

In John 15 Jesus says “I am the vine.”

Vines can be a nuisance, but the vine to which Jesus likens himself is not a wild vine, but a cultivated vine.  For people living in a dry climate, the vine represented the necessary partnership between the human and natural worlds, cultivated for one main purpose.  To bear fruit.  Life-giving fruit.  In the Hebrew scriptures the phrase “living under your own vine and fig tree” was a way of expressing security and safety.  If you’ve got a vine, you’ve got what you need.

“I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus taught.  “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…As the Divine parent has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”

Christ is the vine running through the center, we the branches.  Mutually abiding in one another.  Abiding in love.

If we do nothing else on Sunday mornings, we remind ourselves that it is only through abiding in love that we are sustained in all of our other connections and networks of relationships.  And that we ourselves are not the Source of that love.  We, like branches, abide in the vine of love, and thus have life.

I’m fully aware that the majority of us gathered here do not relate regularly with CDC.  Unless you have a highly developed seventh sense you likely do not think about CDC on a weekly basis.  For many folks, your first association with CDC isn’t church related at all, but the Center for Disease Control.  But this network of congregations and the way we do church together is very much a part of what supports us.  I won’t go so far as saying that CDC is the vine are we are the branches.  We’ll let Jesus keep that metaphor.  But, to extend the metaphor, CDC is very much like a trellis.  It gives structure and support to this group of congregations on the world wide Christ vine.

We had a unique chance this past summer to see who else is growing on the trellis with us as we hosted the CDC annual meeting.  During our business and teaching sessions we met in our summer home away from home, the basement fellowship hall of North Broadway United Methodist Church.  Palestinian pastor Alex Awad talked with us about the plight of Palestinian Christians and the situation on the ground in Palestine and Israel.  We heard stories from different congregations about how they were being a light in their own communities.  We also said farewell to our conference minister Lois Johns Kaufmann, thanked her for her faithful work, and blessed her in her retirement.

The gathering was also a time for CMC to share some of our flavor with CDC.  The Piecemakers had their comforters draped over the benches throughout the three worship sessions.  One of the most memorable events from all the CDC gatherings I’ve been a part of happened at the end of the Thursday night opening worship session when Mark preached.  Before the service began he had asked me to turn off the lights on his cue at the end of the sermon.  As the sermon was wrapping up Mark reached into the shelf of the lectern and pulled out a disco ball.  I dimmed the lights, and opening worship suddenly transformed into a dance party.  It’s a testimony to the spirit of CDC that just about everybody present made some kind of effort to move their Menno bodies to the music, odd as it may have felt for some.

If we are indeed connected, changing one another through our relationship, what kinds of waves of love does a comforter themed disco party send through the branches of CDC and beyond?

I’ve asked three other people to help us further exercise our seventh sense by giving brief pictures of how CDC intersects with their lives.  We can think of these stories as shining a light on the trellis on which we are all growing.

We’ll start with Jerry N and Camp Friedenswald, a CDC owned camp in southern Michigan.

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Last October about 20 of us joined 20 folks from Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship for a guided tour of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.  We met at round tables for lunch to discuss the experience and hear how each congregation was addressing racial justice issues.  The event was supported by a Reign of God grant from CDC, which basically paid half of all the expenses.  Megan S M was one of the participants.

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One of the committees of CDC is called the Missional Church committee.  Phil H has been serving on that committee and has been doing some thinking about church planting.

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And I’ll end with a story of my own.  This Wednesday I drove up to Bluffton in northwest Ohio to attend a pastor peer meeting for CDC pastors.  We get together once a month.  It takes pretty much a whole day including travel, but it’s one of the things that supports and sustains me.  During the sharing time one of the pastors talked about why she missed the previous gathering.  This is Wanda Stopher, pastor of First Mennonite in Bluffton, whose daughter Erin and husband Perry Leatherman attended here for a while.  This story involves another daughter.

Wanda had been at the hospital with her daughter who had decided to donate a kidney, to be used where most needed.  She had two, and she wanted to donate one, to whoever might need one.  Wanda was both incredibly proud of the moral courage of her young adult daughter, and grieving for the loss of this part of her daughter.  At one point, she told us, she was in the hospital elevator with a man carrying a container and she realized this was the container that was going to hold her daughter’s kidney.  Wanda felt compelled to accompany the container as much as she was allowed, to bless the container once the kidney was inside it and give it a pastoral benediction as it departed for a long trip to California where its new host awaited.

A seventh sense could explore any of the levels of relational connections that make something like this possible.  The medical knowledge and technological wonders involved.  The communication and transportationsystems.

And what kind of community is it that forms a person who comes to this kind of decision?  What other branches did she witness abiding faithfully in the vine, producing good fruit?  How were they all held up by a trellis that welcomed each new stretch of growth?

And now that we have heard these stories, family stories from sisters and brothers sharing the same vine, how do we respond?

“I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus taught.  “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…As the Divine parent has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”