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Mobile app extends prayer book’s global reach

By and on Dec 4, 2017 in Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

ELKHART, Ind. — Users in 15 countries across six continents have downloaded a new free mobile app version of Take Our Moments and Our Days: An Anabaptist Prayer Book in the four weeks since its launch on Oct. 23.

The app contains the entire text of both print volumes of the prayer book — Ordinary Time and Advent through Pentecost — which were published in 2007 and 2010 by Herald Press in collaboration with the Institute of Mennonite Studies, the research agency of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.

Members of the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary community gather in the Chapel of the Word for weekly prayers with Take Our Moments and Our Days, an Anabaptist prayer book published by Herald Press in collaboration with the Institute of Mennonite Studies. — Annette Brill Bergstresser/AMBS

Members of the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary community gather in the Chapel of the Word for weekly prayers with Take Our Moments and Our Days, an Anabaptist prayer book published by Herald Press in collaboration with the Institute of Mennonite Studies. — Annette Brill Bergstresser/AMBS

“In its new electronic guise, Take Our Moments is a resource for people on the go and for ad hoc groups,” said Eleanor Kreider, an author and former mission worker in the United Kingdom who was part of the editorial group that developed the prayer books at AMBS over a period of seven years. “Being able to offer the content via a free app also removes barriers of cost and shipping.”

Kreider noted that the morning and evening prayer services — whose Anabaptist flavor is conveyed through the predominance of Jesus’ voice, space for communal reflection on Scripture and the choices of Bible readings — have appealed to users across various cultures, languages and Christian traditions.

She recalled when she and her late husband, Alan Kreider, were asked to lead morning prayers for an ecumenical workshop and chose to use the prayer book.

“We were astonished at the universal delight in Take Our Moments,” she said. “The Anglicans recognized the overall structure of the Daily Office, the Baptists liked the emphasis on biblical words, the Pentecostals felt at home with the free prayers, and the Mennonites loved to pray through the songs.”

The Ordinary Time volume — which contains a four-week cycle of prayers based on the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, Jesus’ parables and Jesus’ miracles — has been published in French and Korean. Kreider is aware of German, Spanish, Lithuanian and Japanese Christians who are using the services, too.

“A married couple who had never prayed together because of differing pieties found they could now do so, using the prayer book, because it provided both prescribed biblical wordings and places for free prayers,” she said.

Families who had never held devotions have told her the prayer book has enabled them to enjoy reading Scripture and praying together, with school-age children helping lead and younger ones offering their own prayers of thanks and petitions.

Easy for newcomers

IMS managing editor Barb Nelson Gingerich, who oversaw development of the app, said print users had been asking for a digital version. Gifts from several donors, including the Anabaptist Foundation in Vancouver, B.C., made it possible for IMS to contract with James Stuckey Weber to design it.

Gingerich said she finds it easy to use the app in orienting newcomers to the prayer practice. For more than a decade, she and her husband, James Nelson Gingerich, have hosted weekday morning prayer services in their Goshen home using the book.

“Usually we’re helping newcomers find their way with ribbons, flipping pages, etc., all the way through, but the app is user-friendly and easy to navigate,” she said. “Everything you need is in one place.”

Currently the app is only available in English.

“Right now, the app is pretty basic,” Gingerich said. “When it is used more widely, we’d like to get a sense of what people would value in terms of enhancements.”

AMBS vice president and CFO Ron Ringenberg is excited about the portability and accessibility of the app and plans to use it with his small group and also when traveling.

“The idea of making use of the intelligence of the smartphone for this purpose makes a whole lot of sense,” he said. “I’m thankful that there are individuals who thought it worthy to fund the development of the app.”

Marty Troyer, pastor of Houston Mennonite Church, is a prayer book user who has welcomed the app version.

“Over the years the Anabaptist Prayer Book has shaped how I see myself as a Christ-follower, energized my public witness as a peacemaker and aligned me over and over again with the God of love and shalom justice,” he said. “What is my identity in Christ? Who and how is God in the world? And how can I use my best gifts to join God in spreading that beautiful good news?

“The Anabaptist Prayer Book eases us from the stuck pattern of prayer as list to prayer as becoming.”

App for iOS: https://t.co/9Jksqd7dSw
App for Android: https://t.co/3ezElJyXfC

Kriss: Waiting with a smartphone during Advent

By on Dec 4, 2017 in Columns, Kriss: On the Way, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Advent is about waiting. The two most celebrated portions of the church year, Lent and Advent, both feature a similar framework of preparing and waiting. In Spanish, the verb for waiting (esperar) has the same root as the word for hope — esperanza. Waiting means anticipation of something impending.

Stephen Kriss

Kriss

Waiting has been transformed for me with the advent of smartphones. Now I rarely have the space and time to be unoccupied. My phone provides ready entertainment and distraction if I’m forced to wait. As an urban person, I used to carry a book or magazine for those periods of planned or unexpected waiting. These days I peruse social media or listen to music, respond to emails or send text messages. My waiting times are easily and readily occupied.

The confines of waiting spaces used to draw me more often toward conversation with people. Other times I would evaluate the intricacies of the space where I was waiting, noticing colors, patterns and contexts with more acumen than my preoccupied self notices with a smartphone in hand.

The advantage of having a smartphone is that I’m hardly ever bored. The virtual world is at my fingerprints as long as my battery has a charge. I hardly mind waiting, and my electronic diversion creeps into times when I don’t need to focus on the calls, messages and alerts.

I do my best to limit, but my Pavlovian, dopamine-provoked response sometimes gets the best of me. I’m overly responsive to the goings on of the world beyond where I’m attempting to be present in real time and space.

With all of this distraction, sometimes I’m caught up in the waiting space itself. Busy enough not to wonder if the waiting will end. Social media posts. Emails. New York Times news alerts. Texts that remind me of the weekend sale at JCPenney.

But also in the mix, morning texts from my dad, evening texts from my mom. Facebook messages from people I love in Kurdistan and England. Colleague check-ins from the Philippines, Mexico and Indonesia. This waiting means being occupied also by the important things of life that my phone serves to connect me with, breaking through the limits of time and distance.

Sometimes the calls and communication are reminders of places where I hope Jesus will again show up, where hope needs to be birthed once more. There are so many complex situations these days that I find myself often beyond words.

The global connectivity of my smartphone this Advent keeps me aware but can also be overwhelming. Advent cannot be fulfilled soon enough. The incarnating and inbreaking of God into our own space and time has too often already felt long delayed.

I’m distracted by so many things. But at times in those distractions, I’m more aware of what we are actually waiting to embrace — the renewal of life that comes with the fullness of salvation.

In the meantime, I wait. I text. I watch. I pray. I read. And while I’m waiting again, I remember the story of angels declaring a divine intervention to shepherds and probably sheep in the field — on earth peace and goodness to all. I wait, that a news alert might suggest on my phone or to my soul, that Christ has again come, that peace prevails, that hope is born anew.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.

Book review: ‘Plain Meetinghouses’

By on Dec 4, 2017 in Book Review, Columns, Latest Issue | 0 comments

With all the attention given to the way plain Anabaptists live their daily lives, it’s easy to forget that they are, at a fundamental level, a worshiping people. Beth Oberholtzer and John Herr have created an attractive reminder that Old Order Mennonites are not just quaint folks who dress differently than society at large and eschew technological advancements. Rather, like other Christians, they gather on Sundays to sing, pray and listen to words of instruction and encouragement.

"Plain Meetinghouses"

“Plain Meetinghouses”

Writer Oberholtzer and photographer Herr’s book, Plain Meetinghouses: Lancaster County Old Order Mennonites Gather to Worship, takes readers inside the worship spaces of Lancaster (Pa.) County Old Order Mennonites. Unlike the Old Order Amish, they meet in church buildings, which physically convey their principles of simplicity, nonconformity and community.

The authors explain the layout of the meetinghouses, their interior furnishings and interior design, even outbuildings. But Plain Meetinghouses isn’t just about architecture and aesthetics. The authors provide delightful insights into Old Order Mennonite life and belief, both inside and outside the church building. The book is history, theology, ecclesiology, hymnody and more, woven throughout narratives about cloakrooms, benches and tables.

For example, a description of alms boxes posted throughout a meetinghouse includes an explanation of Old Order Mennonite mechanisms for collecting offerings. A photo of a repurposed milk can, used to haul in water warmed by kettle outside to be used for footwashing, underscores members’ commitments to simplicity that preclude indoor plumbing and electricity.

Sections about church benches highlight the emphasis on community, describing how church members gather to build the seating together and how congregations will make their plans available to others. Examinations of horse sheds and hitching railings require addressing Old Order Mennonite transportation methods.

The book is organized according to the Lancaster Mennonite Conference family tree. After an introductory first chapter, the second chapter examines four early Lancas­ter places of worship, starting with the oldest, the Hans Herr house. It was built in 1719 as the family home but also hosted services until the mid-19th century. By including these buildings, Oberholtzer and Herr provide a baseline for comparison with those explored in the rest of the book: 21 meetinghouses of congregations that are part of groups that have left Lancas­ter Conference since 1845.

Four of the meetinghouses are used by two Old Order Mennonite groups. The Weaverland Conference split from Lancaster in 1893, spurred by the use of pulpits instead of the traditional preacher’s table. The Groffdale Conference then separated from Weaverland in 1927 when the latter began to accept automobiles. Since Old Order Mennonites meet for worship every other Sunday, two congregations can share one facility.

Herr’s photos wonderfully capture Old Order Mennonite congregational life, though no people were photographed (but some horses were). His interior shots, with their use of light and artful framing, are particularly compelling. Images such as rows of wooden benches, preacher’s tables laden with Bibles, horse sheds with dirt floors and even outhouses wordlessly depict simplicity and solemnity. Readers can easily imagine a style of worship that starkly contrasts with the sensory overload that characterizes many modern, mainstream services.

Overload is a problem that afflicts the book as well. While the photos are great, there are too many in too small of a space. Four on a two-page spread is common, and some have six or seven photos. That makes for a visually busy look, which can discourage readers instead of inviting them to engage with the images and the words.

With its emphasis on illustrative materials, Plain Meetinghouses has the feel of a coffee-table book. But the size is smaller than conventional coffee-table books. A larger format would have allowed for a more appealing presentation of its contents.

Oberholtzer’s text is informative while also easy to read. Like the subject matter itself, her writing is devoid of grand adornments and flourishes but still powerfully communicates. The photos have no captions, so all information is contained in the body of the text. Occasionally it is not evident what photo is being referred to.

While the book includes groups generally accepted as Old Order Mennonite, the lack of attention given to the Reformed Mennonite Church is a curiosity. The group was the first Lancaster Conference schism, breaking away in 1812 over concerns that the conference had deviated from the founding tenets of Anabaptism. Yet the Reformed Mennonites, whom scholar Stephen Scott called “the first keepers of the old way,” are covered in only four brief paragraphs and two photos. But that’s nitpicking a book that’s as charming as it is enlightening.

Rich Preheim is a writer and historian from Elkhart, Ind.

Mennonites join to provide food and shelter in DR Congo

By and on Dec 4, 2017 in Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

Displaced people who recently received food and shelter supplies distributed by Mennonite churches in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo have seen unimaginable horrors.

Innoncente Ngandu Tshalu’s husband was murdered by the local militia. Majilu Mulembo’s house was burned down by another armed group. Monique Meta was forced to leave behind everything she owns to run with nine children.

These displaced families, who are staying in the Kikwit District of the Democratic Republic of Congo, wait on Nov. 20 to receive a month’s supply of food and nonfood emergency assistance, including flour, beans, oil, sugar, salt, tarps and soap. — Fidele Kyanza/MCC

These displaced families, who are staying in the Kikwit District of the Democratic Republic of Congo, wait on Nov. 20 to receive a month’s supply of food and nonfood emergency assistance, including flour, beans, oil, sugar, salt, tarps and soap. — Fidele Kyanza/MCC

About 1.4 million people from the Kasai region in south-central DR Congo fled ethnic and political violence that erupted in August 2016 between a local militia group, Kamuina Nsapu, and national security forces. An estimated 5,000 Mennonites are among those forced from their homes.

Tshalu, Mulembo, Meta and many other displaced people found safety near the town of Tshikapa in Kasai Province. They have been staying with strangers, in churches and anywhere else they can.

On Nov. 29, Communauté Mennonite au Congo (Mennonite Church of Congo) distributed one month’s supply of flour, beans, oil, salt and sugar to 280 displaced households staying in Tshikapa. The church’s local relief committee also provided soap and tarps, which serve as shelter from the rain or privacy within cramped, temporary living conditions.

“Many people don’t have shelter, and some of them lost their fields,” said Fidele Kyanza, who on behalf of Mennonite Central Committee helped coordinate the distribution. “There are real dire situations, and many have lost everything they own.”

The week before, on Nov. 20, Kyanza also worked with Communauté des Églises de Frères Mennonites au Congo (Mennonite Brethren Church of Congo) to distribute the same supplies to 180 displaced families in the city of Kikwit in Kwilu Province. Food quantities were based on an average seven-member family.

Both distributions were coordinated in partnership with MCC and supported by numerous Mennonite organizations around the world.

Zacharie Mputu Lukadi, a Communauté Mennonite au Congo elder and member of the local relief committee, said the distribution not only helps save lives, it gives people hope. “Now people trust the church to help them,” he said.

MCC and the Congolese Mennonite churches have been working on a response plan for several months. Security and logistical challenges along the way delayed the response until now.

Nevertheless, MCC’s representative in DR Congo, Mulanda Jimmy Juma, said the assistance came at a crucial time and met needs that weren’t being addressed by other organizations.

“Most displaced people are in very dire situations,” he said. “Very few organizations are providing assistance, despite the high level of need. In the name of Christ, MCC and other Anabaptist groups want to help meet the needs of these vulnerable people who are suffering because of the crisis in Kasai.”

Kyanza said emergency food assistance promotes peace between displaced people and host communities because there’s less competition for limited resources. Displaced families can share with their hosts.

“Many times, a very poor family is receiving another very poor family into their home,” he said. “When you give support and aid to those families, you give harmony and peace.”

Majilu Mulembo said she will share the food that she and her seven children received with their host family. The distribution means that her children will have porridge and she will be able to eat three times a day instead of having a little food once or twice a day, said Mulembo, who is pregnant.

Organizations supporting the distribution include Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission; Caisse de Secours, the development arm of the French Mennonite Church; International Community of Mennonite Brethren; MB Mission; Mennonite Church Canada Witness; Mennonite Mission Network; Mennonite World Conference; and Swiss Mennonite Conference.

The urgent needs will continue, and MCC encourages ongoing donations. To give online, visit mcc.org/congo-relief. Donations also can be sent to MCC, 21 S. 12th Street, PO Box 500, Akron, PA 17501 or given by phone at 888-563-4676.

Franconia, Eastern District move to unite

By and on Dec 4, 2017 in Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

Franconia Mennonite Conference and Eastern District Conference may unite by November 2019, ending a 170-year separation.

At the two Mennonite Church USA conferences’ joint assembly Nov. 3-4 at Dock Mennonite Academy in Souderton, Pa., delegates affirmed a recommendation from the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team to enter a “formal engagement process” toward becoming a single conference in two years.

Members of the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team explain their final report at the joint assembly of Franconia Mennonite Conference and Eastern District Mennonite Conference, Nov. 3-4 at Dock Mennonite Academy in Souderton, Pa. — Franconia Mennonite Conference

Members of the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team explain their final report at the joint assembly of Franconia Mennonite Conference and Eastern District Mennonite Conference, Nov. 3-4 at Dock Mennonite Academy in Souderton, Pa. — Franconia Mennonite Conference

The team was formed after the two conferences voted in 2016 to start a process that could lead to merging. The next step is for the conferences to form a Healing and Reconciliation Team to address spiritual and emotional matters and an Identity Development and Structural Implementation Team to handle logistics. A final vote to merge would be taken in November 2019.

Franconia Conference minister Stephen Kriss said the conferences had been working alongside each other for a decade, sharing activities, assemblies and office space.

“It’s been a natural merging of relationships, as well as an honest desire to work at what reconciliation means, especially in a time of fragmentation,” he said.

It’s a much different scene today than in 1847, when differences in church authority and decision-making tore Franconia congregations apart, causing them to fight over meeting space and divide into two conferences.

Today, the differences between the conferences are relatively minor, according to Eastern District Conference moderator Jim Musselman.

“We really don’t do things that much differently,” he said. “There’s that perception that we do, but it’s more of a perception than reality.”

Past and present

The Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team’s report, which includes data from focus groups, individual interviews and an online survey, highlights concerns about “authentic Mennonite faith, pacifism and treatment of veterans after World War II.”

According to the report, since the World War II era, families left Franconia churches because a family member who served in the military had been expelled from church membership, and found welcome in Eastern District congregations “who were less authoritative in structure.”

Today, the report said, “[s]ome in FMC voiced concern about EDC congregations who fly the American flag and other possible theological differences, while many in EDC worry about FMC’s history of top-down authority. As the two conferences look toward a shared future, special care must be taken to ensure that EDC as the smaller conference is not simply swallowed up by the larger structures and policies of FMC, but that both conferences feel a sense of ownership as we work together to create something new.”

Musselman said whatever differences the conferences had were more historical than current.

“I think in the past on the Eastern District side, we weren’t so quick to discipline men that had served in the armed forces. Eastern District had more who did [join the military],” he said, noting that these were typically noncombatant positions. “Eastern District congregations tended to be more urban . . . and didn’t get the automatic farm exemption, whereas a lot of the Franconia churches were more rural.”

Logistical differences may be more of a challenge today than ideological ones. Eastern District is a small conference of 14 congregations mostly in southeastern Pennsylvania, with one in Boston. Franconia now numbers 45 congregations with the addition of four Indonesian churches — one in New York City and three from the Los Angeles area, making Franconia a bicoastal conference with the majority of its congregations in Pennsylvania.

“We’re committed to continue to keep moving as Franconia Conference while the reconciliation process continues,” Kriss said. “With the addition of four new congregations, we continue to enjoy the challenge of being an intercultural and geographically spread-out conference.”

A share of the blame

By on Dec 4, 2017 in Latest Issue, Letters | 3 comments

The church must take some responsibility for men who violate women. For centuries we have misinterpreted Gen. 3:16-18, which lists four curses: weeds, sorrow in childbirth, man ruling over woman, and a woman believing she needs a man to be a whole person. We pull the weeds and declare childbirth to be a time of joy, but we have said it is normal for a man to rule over a woman and it is normal for a woman to believe she needs a man to be complete. God reversed the curse of male domination in the virgin birth of Jesus. When doing his greatest work in all of history, God did not even use a man (Matt. 1:20). And he recognized a woman’s worth apart from a man (Luke 1:48). We ask violators to repent. Are we willing to repent for our misinterpretation?

Nathan B. Hege
Lititz, Pa.

Dusting off the soul

By on Dec 4, 2017 in Editorial, Latest Issue | 0 comments

“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Often attributed to Pablo Picasso, this quote belongs to a 19th-century German writer, Berthold Auerbach, who cited music as the cleansing agent. Whatever the source, it describes how art “activates the spiritual dimension of our lives,” said Laurel Koerner, a professor and director of theater at Tabor College, during a symposium on worship and the arts at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., on Nov. 18.

Is worship a work of art? At its best, it surely rises to that level. But even on an average, imperfect Sunday, worship has the power to wash the dust off our souls.

Today the dirt of everyday life builds up thick and heavy. The weekly layer of grime requires extra scrubbing. We’re painfully aware of swimming in a stream fouled by misogyny, racial suspicion and political idolatry. False gods invite us to bow down: guns and nuclear weapons that promise protection from crime and enemy threats; political parties that demand total loyalty while excusing all sins of their own; media figures who recite a daily liturgy of anger, resentment and suspicion. We may have not gone to church, but over the past six days we’ve probably worshiped something or somebody.

Is it possible for the seventh day to reclaim its supremacy? Can worship clean up the mess we’ve made all week? At the Bethel symposium, presenters discussed how worship can accomplish what great art does — surprise us, open our minds, lift our hearts toward God, scrape the mud off our souls.

With actor and playwright Ted Swartz, participants focused on worship as drama. Swartz talked about “chasing goosebumps” — the “aha” moments that move us, emotionally or intellectually.

To raise those good chills, worship leaders have to unleash creativity. The element of surprise is crucial. In the church it can be difficult to break out of a routine and do something new, but that may be what it takes to get people’s attention. Drama in worship makes an impact when it does the unexpected. It might even make people laugh. Laughter comes from surprise, and it’s fun — something the church doesn’t value enough, Swartz said. His own theatrical work models the power of humor to make us think — and to ask the right questions when there are no easy answers.

If worship’s surprises should sometimes be fun, they also should be discomfiting. Worship ought to challenge our assumptions rather than confirm what’s easy and familiar. You can’t grow without being upset every now and then, Swartz said. If your drama tells people what they already know, you’re wasting everyone’s time.

To create drama in worship, Swartz said, we have to find “the white fire between the black fire”: the story hidden in the space between the written words of Scripture. That’s where the story expands to include us. It’s where we discover the mystery and the creativity of a God who will clean up our souls as we worship.

Bible: The baby who threatened a king

By on Dec 4, 2017 in Bible, Columns | 0 comments

Acts 14 showcases the people’s impulse to make gods of human leaders. Listening to Paul and Barnabas speak, seeing them manifest God’s power, the people mistake these men for something they’re not, something they never could be. Paul and Barnabas have their work cut out for them, convincing the people that the framework they’re trying to fit these signs and wonders into won’t hold, that something new is happening.

Meghan Florian

Florian

The people assign them names of other gods, familiar names: Zeus and Hermes. But Paul and Barnabas are here to speak of one God, to bring good news of the living God who made heaven and earth, sea and sky. The people do not understand, and perhaps because of their fears of the power Paul and Barnabas manifest, of the kinds of gods they’re used to, they attempt to sacrifice to them.

This story rings true for us as contemporary readers. We sacrifice so much to the altars of human gods, mistaking one thing for another, trying to squeeze God into the world we’ve made instead of the other way around. And do we then turn on God’s messengers as the people turn on Paul, trying to stone him to death, if it turns out they are not who we first wanted them to be?

And, flipping the perspective, when we’re in Paul’s shoes, how do we respond? After being stoned, he resumes his travels, teaching and preaching and making disciples. Together these early Christians continue to pray and fast, committed to God and one another.

Matt. 2:1-12 is the story Christians celebrate on Epiphany, a sometimes overlooked part of the liturgical calendar, given that many of us are too exhausted after Christmas and the holiday season to pay attention to another important religious day. Advent is about anticipation, and most of us enjoy seasons of anticipation, at least when the thing we’re anticipating is a source of joy, be that celebrating Christ’s birth at church or the pleasures of friends and family during festive gatherings. Afterward, there’s an emotional letdown.

Despite the fact that most nativity scenes include the Magi, or wise men, as they’re known, these visitors were not present at Jesus’ birth. They saw a star heralding his arrival and traveled many miles without clear directions, searching for the one the scriptures foretold. They go to pay homage.

Their journey has complications. In Jerusalem they inquire with King Herod, who mines them for information before sending them on their way with instructions to report back. Herod is afraid. Confronted with a heavenly message, the star that led the wise men, his response is the opposite of the Magi’s. While they are drawn to follow the star and to seek the one for whom it shines, Herod’s response is to lay plans to protect himself, to destroy any who would threaten his power.

This year, as we work our way through Advent anticipation and Christmas celebration, let us ponder what it means to pay homage to this baby who so threatened a powerful king. What does Epiphany mean in our own day? When might we need to return home by another route, refusing to aid and abet rulers intent on destroying that which is good, in order to protect systems of injustice and domination? One way of honoring Christ’s birth in the spirit of the Magi is to refuse to align ourselves with the leaders and systems that injure and kill our neighbors. Instead of letting the dominating powers take the best of our gifts, how do we bring them to Jesus, as the Magi do?

Meghan Florian, of Durham, N.C., teaches writing at William Peace University. She is a member of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship.

Justifying selfishness

By on Dec 4, 2017 in Latest Issue, Letters | 0 comments

Perhaps the economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) understood it best when, referring to trickle-down economics, he said, “If you feed enough oats to the horse, some will pass through to feed the sparrows.” And might the following Galbraith quote apply to the currently proposed “tax cuts” being debated in the U.S. Congress? “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” Is this what’s really going on in Washington these days?

Harold A. Penner
Akron, Pa.

Kraybill: Tyrant loses moral authority

By on Dec 4, 2017 in Columns, Kraybill: Holy Land Peace Pilgrim, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Matthew reports that wise men from the East, presumably Gentiles, came to Jerusalem asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we have come to pay him homage.” When Herod heard this, “he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matt. 2:3).

Tyrants fear competition, and people of Judea had reason to fear what an erratic ruler such as Herod would do next. The king summoned chief priests and scribes, who cited Micah 5 to confirm that Scripture called for a messianic ruler to come from the nearby village: “O Bethlehem . . . one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel.” He will “feed his flock in the strength of the Lord” and “shall be the one of peace” (Micah 5:1-5).

Several steps of the palace of Herod the Great peak through the lawn immediately to the right of the lad jumping off the low wall. Herod’s palace, which rivaled the Temple itself, filled the entire area from these steps to the distant slender tower. — J. Nelson Kraybill

Several steps of the palace of Herod the Great peak through the lawn immediately to the right of the lad jumping off the low wall. Herod’s palace, which rivaled the Temple itself, filled the entire area from these steps to the distant slender tower. — J. Nelson Kraybill

But peace was not on Herod’s mind when he heard about the birth of a new king. Lying to cover his murderous design, Herod fed deceit into the communication network. He told the wise men to “go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

Instead of joining the worship, Herod soon sent troops to kill all baby boys of Bethlehem in hopes of killing Jesus. Joseph and Mary with the newborn Christ already had fled to Egypt as refugees.

Herod was not the nurturing shepherd that Micah portrayed as the ideal ruler! But when angels came to fields near Bethlehem to announce news of Jesus’ birth, they came to real shepherds. The angels brought a healing message in stark contrast to Herod’s cruelty: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace” (Luke 2:14).

Shepherds in ancient Palestine were not the despised, untrustworthy persons some interpreters make them out to be. But they held a humble place in the social order, matching the lowly status of Jesus’ servant-girl mother. Shepherds came to the stable to worship the ruler who Micah said would feed his flock. The wise men, probably well-to-do astrologers, came from a distant culture to offer gold, frankincense and myrrh.

There is no indication that shepherds and wise men visited at the same time. But, taken as a whole, the Gospels depict all of humanity bowing to the Christ child: rich and poor, marginal and elite, Jew and Gentile, domestic and foreign.

Herod seethed in his palace, a luxurious structure 1,000 feet long that featured multiple baths, banquet halls and gardens. The king had real estate and weapons but also so many enemies that he had to build safe houses at various places in his realm where he could retreat if his people rebelled.

Tyrants eventually lose moral authority. Revolts that erupted in Galilee and Jerusalem before and immediately after Herod died failed. But his kingdom fragmented over the next generation, and the Herod dynasty was gone. Two millennia later, the kingdom that began with the child in a stable at Bethlehem counts citizens on every continent, wherever people call Jesus Lord and accept the angel’s message, “glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace.”

J. Nelson Kraybill is a pastor at Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, Ind., and president of Mennonite World Conference. See more of his reflections at peace-pilgrim.com.