Ted Grimsrud

Good grief

In Biblical theology, Theology on April 6, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Ted Grimsrud

Sermon at Shalom Mennonite Congregation—April 6, 2014—John 11:35

The scripture text this morning is short, in fact don’t yawn or anything like that when I read it or you might miss it. But you probably know it. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible. The King James Version of John 11:35 says it this way: “Jesus wept.” The New Revised Standard Version is a bit more expansive: “Jesus began to weep.” I guess those translators couldn’t stand it that an entire verse had only two words.

Small verse, big message

I want to take these two (or four) words, this little Bible verse, and make a big statement. At this point of Jesus weeping, of Jesus experiencing deep grief—the word translated “wept” could actually be translated “wailed and lamented;” it signifies something quite intense—when Jesus weeps he shows us the intersection between the divine and the human like nothing else he ever did. In his grieving, Jesus most clearly shows us what God is like.

It’s notable that the Gospel of John, of all the gospels, shows us that Jesus wept. John’s Jesus is the most divine of the four gospels, the most—we could almost say—superhuman of the four Jesuses presented in the gospels. Yet John makes the point that Jesus weeps. I want to say that this fits; the most exalted, God-manifesting Jesus is the one who weeps, the one who grieves.

The godness of God is seen in God’s grief. The divine presence in humanity is seen, as much as anywhere, when we grieve. Our grief marks us as creatures made in God’s image, as creatures who possess the spark of God—even as our grief also marks us as human, all too human, fragile creatures, all too fragile.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually think of grief as all that great of a thing. I think of the few moments of deep grief that I have experience and I would be more than happy to have bypassed those moments. Though, as I reflect a bit, I realize that what I would want to bypass are the experiences that led to the grief, not the grief itself—grief was a response on the way to healing.

Let’s think about how we use the word grief. But first a tangent.

Revelation Notes (Chapter 10)

In Biblical theology, Eschatology, Revelation on March 30, 2014 at 11:32 am

Ted Grimsrud—February 19, 2014

[See notes on Revelation 9]

Revelation 9 concluded with a picture of “the rest of humankind” continuing to worship their idols even in the face of the terrible plagues that had killed “a third of humankind” (9:18). “They did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts” (9:21). It could be that the point of this image is to underscore just how stupidly stubborn these humans are, that God—in the plagues—had tried to get them to change their ways and they continued to refuse. However, it is much more likely that a different idea is being conveyed here.

We should understand the plagues not as directly sent and controlled by God but more as a way of describing the on-going traumas of fallen human existence in history. The plagues picture something that actually (we will learn beginning in chapter 11) has its direct source in the machinations of the Dragon but that nevertheless does not defeat (and even providentially furthers) God’s purposes. Hence, we may recognize that the point here is that the plagues could not hope to bring about repentance and the turning from idols. Indeed, though this is not an explicit point the visions are making, we can understand that the plagues tend to exacerbate the problem of humanity trusting in idols.

People trust in idols, and as a consequence are pushed by the idols toward “murders, sorceries, fornication, and thefts” (9:21), because they are insecure and traumatized, fearful and in pain. So if God wants to reverse this dynamic, it would make much more sense for God to take a different tack. And this different tack, already described back in Revelation 5 (the hermeneutical key for the entire book), will be detailed beginning in chapter 10.

Part of the Conversation? “Neo-Mennonites” and Mennonite Theology

In Anabaptism, Mennonites, Theology on March 2, 2014 at 9:02 am

Ted Grimsrud

[This essay was written about twenty years ago while I was pastoring a small "neo-Mennonite" congregation in Eugene, Oregon, for a festschrift honoring Gordon Kaufman. By the time the essay was published in 1996, I had left Eugene, co-pastored with my wife, Kathleen Temple, in a large, rural, pretty traditional Mennonite congregation in the midwest for two years, and gotten a job as theology professor at Eastern Mennonite University. I revised the essay in 2002 hoping to have it published again in a theological journal. That didn't work out. I'm putting it up now mainly because I realized I hadn't posted it on my PeaceTheology.net site yet. I also think the ideas are still relevant as Mennonites continue to struggle with the future of their tradition.][1]

The early years of the 21st-century are a time of challenge for Mennonite faith.  Mennonite churches are engaged in an intense conversation (not always self-consciously) concerning the meaning of Christianity in a tumultuous, rapidly changing world.  One of the central issues in this conversation is simply whose voices will be heard.  How will Mennonites define their faith, order their communities, prepare their young people – and who will have voices in this defining?

We face the challenges of defining major new ecclesiastical structures with the formation of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.  This time of defining new structures has thus far been fraught with stress as various kinds of fault lines have been exposed and unprecedented conflicts have emerged.

This essay reflects on this issue of who partakes in Mennonite conversations about the future of their faith.  I believe our best approach is to affirm that all the voices within the current broad community of Mennonites are to be respected parts of the conversation.  To make such allowance requires an awareness of the identity of these voices.

I want to speak of one set of voices in particular, what I will call the voices of “neo-Mennonites.”  I am a bit unsure of the best shorthand term for the general perspective to which I am referring.  I will use “neo-Mennonite” as a non-value laden term[2] to refer to people who affirm at least many of the elements mentioned by Mennonite theologian Gordon Kaufman in his 1979 book Nonresistance and Responsibility:

Many persons – especially younger professional people, well-educated and living in settings quite far removed, at least culturally, from traditional rural Mennonite communities – feel the need for an interpretation of the Mennonite perspective which breathes more freely the atmosphere of the contemporary life and culture in which they are so deeply involved.  They do not wish to give up some of the basic insights and convictions of the faith in which they were raised, but the only interpretations of that faith which are readily accessible do not seem to address the questions and problems they are facing. [3]

I will argue in this essay that “neo-Mennonites” should be seen as a legitimate part of Mennonite conversations on all levels concerning the big issues that face Mennonites in the new millennium.  I will focus my concern mostly on theology, but I mean to suggest that church-wide conversations on all aspects of church life should welcome the “neo-Mennonite” perspective as a legitimate part of the Mennonite “circle.”

I do not argue that the “neo-Mennonite” perspective should be privileged, but simply that it be respected as part of the conversation.  That is, the process of discernment Mennonites are required to enter into will be most fruitful if understood as a process in which all the appropriate voices are heard and taken into account.  One of Mennonites’ biggest danger in facing our contemporary challenges is to ignore or silence voices from within our existing communities.

The “neo-Mennonite” perspective exists now within the circle of the Mennonite church.  Even if not well understood, or even acknowledged by many in the churches, it is part of what the Mennonite faith community has become.  Rather than seen as an alien perspective, or one to be resisted, it should be seen as one voice in the Mennonite choir.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 831 other followers