by Justin Burkholder, South Philly summer intern
Mennonite Convention 2019 was a fresh experience providing fruitful conversations, an open space to connect with God, and learning from one another about how God is moving, particularly through the Mennonite churches in this country.
Delegate sessions were fulfilling because of the unique opportunity to unite in Kansas City as brothers and sisters of various ages across the country. Conversations circled around shortcomings, mountain-top experiences, future challenges, and the unity of the Spirit laid out in Ephesians. Through three sessions on Ephesians, delegates were equipped with the charge of living cohesively amidst the reality that the church is messy; both locally and globally. The church was reinvigorated to praise God instead of allowing the differences to divide or define us. Tension or chaffing can be helpful because uniformity does not allow the space for challenging one another. In a world stained by sin, complete uniformity is not an option. Living together in harmony is encouraged, however, as Paul heavily emphasizes in Romans 12:18. The call to the church in Ephesus to “maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3) has powerful relevance to the church in the twenty-first century.
A speaker I thoroughly enjoyed was Meghan Good. Her sermon was titled He Breathed on Them. One story she highlighted was the unexpected call from God in her life. It was an ordinary afternoon when she felt an unquestionable revelation from God asking her to show up in a room for an unknown purpose. Waiting for her were two friends who were eager to pray for her life and calling. She felt the Spirit pour over her and comfort her in unfamiliar ways. It was a moment she felt renewed by God and credits it to the breath God breathed in her.
Meghan emphasized that much of our church has been running on empty, not seeking the source of our energy, our breath, our ruach. In scripture, God’s Spirit is also translated as wind, breath, energy. Meghan highlighted Genesis 2:7 which describes God breathing life into Adam. This is the original design and source of energy for humankind who believe in God as the creator. She gave the analogy of a hot air balloon because the balloon must be fueled by a consistent release of air or it will crash. Running through life without this source is exhausting and frustrating, but I—we—have learned to adopt the routine of faking it until it becomes too difficult on our own. God did not intend it to be this way.
I believe our church must do a better job of accountability and vulnerability, because we have mastered and become comfortable with going through the motions. These motions are built to eventually return emotions of guilt, shame, and loneliness. God instead demands freedom. As Leonard Dow taught, the chains suddently fell off for Paul and Silas in prison when the wind-energy was released through the space (Acts 16:25-27). I believe God intends to release that energy through the church today so that we all witness and experience the power of God’s Spirit working through us. God is waiting with his arms wide open, ready for us to receive him. When we take one step towards him, he runs, eager to embrace us (Luke 15).
I was encouraged at convention to seek him directly. I do not want to run on my own and grow weary. We are not asked to go through any religious hoops to access him. Thanks be to God for the gift of his church and his Spirit.