Hope and expectation

Pastor's resurrection sermon takes on new meaning

Oct 23, 2015 by

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There are two kinds of wonder, Hal Shra­der said in a sermon at the Mennonite Church USA convention July 1 in Kansas City, Mo., as he preached on the Luke 24 account of Jesus’ resurrection.

One is confusion and bewilderment. This is what the women who found the empty tomb felt as they “were wondering about this.” They didn’t know what to do next. Maybe some of us feel this way too. Anxiety and fear can paralyze.

Then there is the second kind of wonder: amazement that something miraculous is happening. This is what Peter felt after he saw the reality of the resurrection and “went away wondering.” Peter “doesn’t understand it all quite yet,” Shrader said. “How could he? But the passage does end with a sense of hope and expectation.”

Tragedy has amplified the power of Shra­der’s message. Less than four months after preaching these words, he died Oct. 19 in a motorcycle accident in Utah at the age of 47.

Shrader was the lead pastor of Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, Ariz. He had been drawn to Anabaptism as an adult and came to “deeply love this way of following Jesus,” he said in his Kansas City sermon. He had emerged as a leading Mennonite voice for Christ-centered peacemaking and outreach.

He broke barriers that divide people of different faiths and ways of life, including Christians and Muslims. He remarked to the Kansas City crowd that his tattoos were a “bridge” that helped him earn certain people’s trust, though they made others suspicious of what kind of people the church was letting in these days.

Now Shrader will be remembered by Mennonites across the country as the pastor who preached on the resurrection — and brought needed words of encouragement to his denomination — not long before meeting the risen Lord himself.

“Out of a time of chaos, fear and anxiety comes one of hope, new life and new possibilities,” Shrader said. When the fearful version of wonder threatens to paralyze us, “we need to remember who we are, and who God is, and move forward.”

“I like to remind my congregation that they punch above their weight class,” he said. “I hope that metaphor is not too violent, but they do. I tell them that our scrappy little church . . . [has] a gift to share with the world.”

He said he had met Christians who viewed Anabaptists as “mythic heroes” of peacemaking and who credited Mennonites with being on the cutting edge of discipleship. Can our reality match our reputation?

For a denomination burdened with internal conflicts, Shrader’s esteem-boosting message is timely.

Disciples who want to use their gifts can’t spend all their time dwelling on their faults and problems. As an adult convert to Anabaptism, Shrader had extra credibility to praise the Christian tradition he had chosen.
It must have been a God-inspired decision for convention planners to give Shrader a national pulpit this summer. His words take on new meaning now: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

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