Breathe and Be Filled
by Patrick Nafziger
As many of you probably know, Christine and I were at convention the week before last. And as I prepared some comments for this morning, I thought about how easy it is for those of us in church leadership to talk about things like convention, or the delegate assembly, or different things that happen in the broader church, and we make all kinds of assumptions that the people we’re talking to know what we’re talking about.
And so I thought it might be good this morning to give just a little bit of background for all of us before we get too far along this morning.
Every two years, our denomination holds a church-wide convention. We choose a city with a convention center that is large enough to house around 8,000 people, and then we prepare to spend a week in that city in hotels, in restaurants, and in service projects that need some help in that city. For the past couple, we’ve even built a house at the convention center to take to New Orleans on a big truck.
Mennonites from all across the USA gather for these conventions. There are seminars, worship services, and delegate sessions. There are separate activities for youth, young adults, children, and adults…
Entertainers such as Ted and company perform new works, choirs perform, other musical artists entertain until late into the night, gallons of coffee are consumed…friends old and new reunite and reconnect, we offer each other a shoulder to cry on or just a laugh or two…there’s usually at least one hymn sing where thousands of people gather to sing the familiar songs as one body. It’s quite a good time.
And this year we met in Columbus.
Christine and I attended as delegates from our congregation—that means we represented Millersburg Mennonite Church as part of the delegate body that carried out church business throughout the week.
The delegate assembly is kind of like a giant church council meeting.
Wednesday through Saturday we attended delegate meetings twice a day.
And in those meetings, delegates are assigned randomly to tables of between 8-10 people for the week. As business comes to the delegates, you have some time to talk as a table group and then after that, there’s a time to share at microphones so that all the tables could hear the highpoints of the discussion.
This ‘table group’ setup is a way our church tries to encourage everyone to participate in the conversation rather than just the few who would be willing to stand up and address 850 people all at once.
There were 850 delegates that were present at this years’ convention, around 100 tables were set up in this giant room.
And I’ve made the comment that I might have gotten more sleep during the delegate meetings than I did during the rest of the week! J
Joking aside, there’s just way too much that happens during convention to try to share on a Sunday morning.
But the overall theme of the convention was based on John 20: 21-22, which says “Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
And so the theme for the convention was ‘Breathe and Be Filled’.
We got to hear lots of good speakers; two that I was most excited about were Shane Claiborne and Greg Boyd.
Shane Claiborne is one of the founders of an intentional community in Philadelphia called ‘the simple way’. The simple way was born when a group of young people from Eastern University in Philadelphia (Shane and a bunch of his friends) learned about a group of homeless people that had taken up shelter in an abandoned church building. The denomination that owned this church building was going to evict this group of homeless people, and so Shane and his friends basically ended up moving in with them to draw attention to the situation and to be a prophetic witness to the church and to the city.
What has come to be known as ‘the simple way’ took root in the inner city of Philadelphia, in a terrible neighborhood.
This movement has served as a model for what’s come to be called ‘a new monasticism’ in the church; where some Christians are fleeing from the current centers of power in our world and fleeing to find refuge in today’s deserts—the abandoned places of the empire.
The inner city is one such abandoned place.
They live there in community, they share their lives, their possessions, they work and play, pray and study scripture together as a prophetic witness to the mainstream church but also to their communities; that there is more to life than meets the eye.
Shane spoke to the adults about the ways we commonly hear about the Spirits’ work; how some people’s lives are all messed up and broken before they find Christ, broken by drugs or alcohol or promiscuity; and then they find Christ and become followers, and things start to come together, their lives get cleaned up, they settle down, etc.
On the other hand, there are people like Shane, people who had it all together, having grown up in the suburbs in an evangelical church; people who went to college just to get a good degree to get a good, high paying job, then these people meet Christ and get all messed up!
In his words, he is still trying to recover from his conversion! J
The Spirit of God can’t be predicted in how it works!
The leading of the spirit is not always a safe thing to follow!
Have we recovered from our conversion? Have you settled for safety?
We also got to hear a guy named Greg Boyd. Greg shared his testimony with the youth on Saturday night.
Greg is a senior pastor at a non-denominational Megachurch in St. Paul Minnesota. His church averaged 5,000 or more people in attendance on a weekly basis a few years ago.
However, during the 2004 presidential campaigns, he felt pressure from certain evangelical leaders and people within his congregation to preach politics from the pulpit; to ‘sway’ his flock in a certain political direction.
But rather than doing that, Greg preached a six-part series that refused to align the church with worldly political power of any kind. He refused to connect the kingdom of God with any kingdom of this world. He preached about how the church has lost its way when we identify ourselves with political labels, and about how the power of God can never be forced or voted for.
It wasn’t a very popular message at that time in U.S. History.
As a result, roughly %20 of the membership of that church stopped coming. Almost a thousand people left his church.
Instead, he talked about how as a child he had severed his emotions from the rest of his life. He grew up in an abusive situation, and he talked about how at the age of 6, he decided to never let his stepmother hurt him again. So he numbed himself emotionally in order to not feel the pain that she would inflict from time to time.
He challenged our church with his words, questioning whether the church has severed itself in a similar way; severing our intellect from our emotion, making ourselves numb to the pain but also to the joy that’s all around us. He talked about how the Holy Spirit lives within each one of us, and has already given each of us all that we need to carry out God’s will in the world. But he challenged us that we need to be able to feel it, not just think it through.
It’s an image that stuck with me. He spoke to the youth, like I’ve already said. So that evening Christine and I skipped the adult worship to go be with the youth, to hear him speak.
When we were with the youth, all during that service we experienced lots of movement. There was jumping, clapping, people running around the arena in time to the songs that were playing.
Beach balls bounced around the crowd and flew here and there as we worshipped God.
It was a visual feast; bright colors adorned the platform and different colored lights shone down on the front. Glow bands were displayed in the darkened hall and music was pumping the whole time.
There was a high level of emotional energy in the room.
And that’s where we heard Greg speak and challenge us with the separation of our intellect and our emotion.
Soon after he finished, we left that service a little bit early to go back to our hotel;
As we walked back, we went through the convention center, and we walked past the place where the adults were still having their worship service. I looked in and I felt like I had just left one world and stepped into a completely different one.
All week, during the adult worship times, we had a big piece of tie-dyed material hanging up front as the backdrop for the stage. That was just about the only source of color in this huge, gray, concrete room lit by fluorescent lights.
Our songs were beautiful in the four-part harmony, and they were probably theologically correct as far as that goes—but there was very little movement…well, we might have clapped for a song or two here and there.
Experiencing two such contrasting services within about 10 minutes of each other—it just made me laugh and it made me wonder what we’re doing to our youth and to ourselves.
We bring our youth to convention and teach them to experience the movement of the Holy Spirit in one kind of way—with lots of movement and lots of energy and noise and excitement…and then when you reach a certain age, you’re expected to jump into, be excited about, and embrace the mission of a church where 90% of our expression of worship happens from the neck up.
There’s got to be a more holistic way. It is true that worship happens in both settings; it is true that the Spirit of God moves among us no matter what style of worship we prefer or participate in.
But why must there be such a canyon between the two? Why does it so often need to be just one or the other?
Are we willing not only to teach the youth in our church, but are we willing to be taught by them? Can we not only make space for more expressive forms of worshipping God—but can we participate ourselves in using more of our body and our senses?
How can we be whole Christians; a Whole church?
How can we unite that which has been severed, and heal that which has been broken?
By our power I don’t think we can.
But the spirit of God is at work among us! We cannot be where the spirit isn’t.
It is not something that needs to come to us in our worship, we do not need to ask for the presence of God to descend among us or to ‘show up’—No!
The spirit of God is already here! Breathe and be filled!
We do not need to pray for the spirit to come at all; Rather let’s pray for eyes to see it, ears to hear it, and courage to point it out!
For we are children of God! Bodies, hearts, and minds reclaimed and renewed by the power of God through the Holy Spirit, led forth in prayer, bearing a message of love.
As the Father has sent Jesus, so Jesus sends us! So Breathe and be filled with the spirit of God that is already here!