The Emmaus scenario

Will a revival of grace open our eyes?

Nov 7, 2016 by

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When two travelers failed to recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus, Jesus put their blurred vision to good use. As recorded in Luke 24, he kept his identity to himself as he taught Cleopas and a companion everything the Scriptures said about him. The conversation wouldn’t have happened in the same way if they had known who he was. When their eyes were opened, their spiritual sight cleared up, too. “Did not our hearts burn within us?” they asked.

Some North American Mennonites might be going through an eye-opening journey comparable to the travelers on the Emmaus road. Willard Metz­ger, executive director of Mennonite Church Canada, raised this possibility with the Mennonite Church USA Constituency Leaders Council on Oct. 18 in Hesston, Kan. He admitted that the conflict over how to relate to sexual minorities is straining Canadians’ bonds of unity just as it has done in the United States.

Metzger proposed an “Emmaus scenario”: Perhaps there is a purpose in our failure to see everything clearly now. Through our conversation about sexuality and inclusion, perhaps the Holy Spirit will teach us something new about how to be the loving and faithful body of Christ. Our eyes can be opened to better ways of relating to each other — especially those who have been treated as outcasts — because we have journeyed together through hard times.

What can we learn that will open our eyes? Metzger hopes for a revival of grace. As his denomination faces the prospect of losing congregations over a decision to make room for alternative views of same-sex relationships, he sees a “poverty of grace” that “makes me weep for the church.”

While Metzger spoke as an elder churchman, others brought diversity of age, gender and race to the call for clearer vision. Sandra Montes-Martinez of Iglesia Menonita Hispana (Hispanic Mennonite Church) and Jessica Schrock-Ringenberg of Ohio Conference spoke as two of the writers of “An Appeal for Healing and Hope for the Future of Mennonite Church USA from Younger Church Leaders.” With co-writers Peter Eberly and Jeremy Shue, they see “spiritual negligence” and “tribalism” as sins that cloud the vision of a denomination mired in conflict and constrained by a narrow cultural identity.

The young leaders warn that “without refocusing our agenda as a denomination, we could well remain paralyzed by our struggles and diminish for the next 50 years in our controversies. For too long, we have sought to preserve our denomination by the assumptions of a single, dominant ethnic heritage and allowed ourselves to fracture by being unable to manage our disagreements.”

The four writers urge the church to “lay aside issues that persist in dividing us for the sake of being renewed in the call of the gospel to new life in Jesus Christ.” It is by coming to Scripture together — the emphasis is theirs — that we grow in our understanding of God’s call and mission. Disagreements are inevitable, because now we see dimly. Therefore, they say, we need “teaching, preaching, testimony and prayerful discernment from all experiences across our church. This will help us discover the paradox that even conflicting interpretation can be the occasion for new light to spring forth for all of us.”

This hopeful and challenging word is timely for two denominations traveling rough roads. MC USA might have already negotiated the rockiest stretches. In Canada, the most treacherous paths may lie ahead. All of us need our eyes opened by walking with each other and with Christ, whether we recognize him or not.


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