Archive for May, 2017

Contractualism versus Ecstasy

Easter 3

April 30, 2017

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
Bible reading: Acts 2:38-41

Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.


A few brief notes:

Contractualism versus ecstasy.
Contractualism is a little used word from philosophy.

 The way I’m using it in these brief notes

  is to be addicted to or obsessed with

   making everything into a contract with obligations.
Ecstasy, the way I am using it,

 is the experience of getting outside of my imperial ego,

  as Richard Rohr calls it,

   to a place of utterly joyful connection

    with others, with nature,

     with the song of all creation,

      rocks, people, rain, birds, creatures.
Contractualism is driven by agreements with force.

 Ecstasy is at its best an act of collective imagination.

Three stones from the sidewalk

This week Friday, I found myself sitting on the sidewalk

 outside Centro de Humanitario,

  a day labor center promoting work, dignity, and community.
It is also the place for the office of Denver Homeless Outloud.

 Due to a scheduling glitch, 

  we were meeting on the sidewalk.
It was a pleasant day.

 We talked about our Beloved Community Village,

  and what we needed to do next – 

   building time seems to be getting close!
There we were, a board of majority homeless or recently homeless folks,

 and representatives from community groups – in this meeting:

  The Interfaith Alliance and Beloved Community Mennonite Church.
Sitting on the ground, I found 3 stones.

 I began sifting them in my hand.

  They fell together in different ways.

   In one way, they almost fit like a puzzle.

    You never know.
You never know how different groups will fit together,

 and what may result.

  Our Beloved Community Village is a labor of love

   of a huge diversity of groups and entities:
The Interfaith Alliance

Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Bayaud Industries

The Buck Foundation

Denver Homeless Outloud

Food not Bombs

Whiting-Turner, giant construction group – built the Ravens stadium – Baltimore

Tim Reinen, architect with Radian, Inc.

Future residents of the the tiny home village

Mennonite Disaster Service

Everence – the Mennonite financial group

The City of Denver

Our strength is not in our organizational ability

 but in our diversity.

  Diversity gives us resilience,

   like a field of many seeds survives disease

    better than a mono-crop.
The stones in my hand tumbled and tumbled.

 What would be the next fit?

  It was like jazz improvisation.

   It was like shared story-telling at the fire.

    It was like a very creative business meeting.
I think that when we are open to the love of the Holy Spirit,

 our lives tumble like these stones,

  but not into chaos.

   Rather into wonderful moments of connection,

    some of them expected, some pretty surprising.
The stones are:

 sitting on the sidewalk outside Centro de Humanitario

  on the north side of downtown

   folks housed, folks homeless,

    folks used to food lines, 

     folks sitting down to the pizza that’s evening

      all in the meeting.
My heart ranged out to Fernando and Rebeca in Ecuador,

 their lives growing up in Mexico City,

  to folks sitting in the GEO detention center in Aurora

   to future residents of this village and other villages,
to Cathryn and Douglas, Carol, Monta Le and Steve,

 Dwight and Kim, Joe and Pat, Kristine, Taylor and Taylor and Nan,

  Luke and Emma, and all who draw near here,

   all joyful stones in the stream of love,

    Our strength is in our diversity.

How much my life is now an act of collective imagination

 and much less a life of contractualism.

  Tumble, tumble, how will the stones fit together?
These are moments of ecstasy,

 moments of getting outside my imperial ego of control

  in order to consider the movement of the Holy Spirit.

The baptisms in Acts

I think this is one way to think of the baptism story in Acts.

 “This corrupt generation” as the text says,

  is the spirit of contractualism,

   of making each other miserable with rules

    that inevitably favor a dominant group.
The invitation to baptism is an invitation

 to the wild, free work of the Holy Spirit,

  who had the crowd convinced that the disciples were drunk

   early in the morning.

    When really what it was, was joy. Yee-hah.
Contractualism versus ecstasy.
I remember my baptism.

 The immersion tank in front of the borrowed Baptist church,

  my pastor-father’s kind hands

   the great eastern-Colorado prairie all around,

    the endless sky above,

     the invitation to communion.
Rituals can mean a lot of things.

 Here, we hold practices dedicated to ecstasy,

  dedicated to inviting us beyond our imperial egos

   and into shared joy,

    the joy of ecstasy, where we discover

     and experience connections that bring life.
Peter invites people to repent.

 Repent of forced old relationship patterns,

  of all your distortions.

   Come now to the water of the Holy Spirit

    who flows freely in joy.
In the eve of WWI, nations had a series of 

 contractual agreements with each other.

  It was like a stack of promised swords,

   to paraphrase the historian Barbara Tuchman

    in her marvelous book The March of Folly.
We will enforce agreements.

 We will kill people for our agreements.

  How would I like to be a British soldier

   dying in a trench on the Passchendaele field

    because of some ruler’s contractualism?
Far better the love of the Holy Spirit,

 who asks us to live in peace with each other,

  who invites us to surrender our egos

   in favor of deep and joyful connection.
Come be baptized. 

 The stern narrowness of contractualism no more.

  Now only the joy of the water, the love.


Today, we will talk a bit about our shared “money practice.”

 How do we want to share among ourselves?

  First question – who do we want to be together?

   Where do we want to go together?
Pastors Cole and I are paid money to help facilitate our shared journey.

 But it is a shared journey.


Years ago, Tex Sample said that congregations can be like 

  a commissary or like a caravan.
At the commissary, you go to a fixed place,

 you pay, you get the goods.

  A commissary is a place of contractualism, I would say.
In the caravan, we’re all traveling along.

 We may not even know exactly where we’re going,

  maybe it’s just an good road-trip.

   But we get to do it together.

    That’s ecstasy.
I think that’s what made Jesus so mad at the temple.

 He walked in and saw money-changers.

  That’s a commissary. That’s contractualism.
He said “This house is to be a house of prayer for all nations.”

 That’s connection. That’s ecstasy.
But back to the road-trip.

 We get to do the road-trip of Isaiah 58

  that invites us to be in community with the hungry and homeless.

   The result will be that our light will shine forth,

    and we will find healing.
Or the road-trip of Luke 4

 in which the poor have good news,

  and it is declared right now to be God’s good year for everybody,

   the year of Jubilee.
The invitation is for us to talk about money today and next Sunday, at least.

 Two brief but sufficient conversations at least – cottage meetings.

  My invitation to us is to speak out of ecstasy

   rather than contractualism.

    Not, how can we get more money? That’s too narrow.

     But, what will be our shared joy?


Cole’s going to preach next week, and 

 he’s going to invite us to consider another Biblical road-trip.
Cole – preview?

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