Pastor Tig Intagliata shares from his experiences at the Mennonite Convention in Cincinnati “Bring the Peace” to reflect on Paul’s words to the Ephesians where peace, reconciliation and Jesus are intertwined.
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Ephesians 2:11-22; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
This is one of my favorite passages from the letters of the apostle Paul. I love how it talks about how the good news of Jesus has the power to break down barriers between people and unite them into one body, one family with Jesus as the head.
We here at Daniels Run Peace Church are a living testimony of how God has the power to tear down walls and bring people together from so many different cultures, countries and backgrounds,
United in our desire to walk in the ways of Jesus, with a vision of living love, growing justice, and welcoming everyone.
I also love this passage because it brings together the ideas of peace, reconciliation and Jesus. Jesus is our peace, he came to reconcile us to God and to each other, and bring peace—shalom, right relationships, healthy relationships between us and God and with one another.
So this morning I want to talk about this in relation to the Mennonite convention I attended last week in Cincinnati.
The convention was called MennoCon 21, the biannual gathering of Mennonite Church USA. Thank you for having that in our church budget. I believe that it’s important to be connected with the denomination that we are part of.
This convention was the smallest and first hybrid convention: about 600 attended in person, and 500 virtually online. I remember conventions almost 10 times as large in the past. But it was smaller, partly due to the pandemic, and partly because our denomination is smaller than it used to be.
The theme was “Bring the Peace” and one goal was to provide ways to strengthen our denomination’s peace witness. Another goal was to revitalize the Church through the events at the convention.
The title of my message today is “Peace, Reconciliation and Jesus”, and these three words kind of capture the way that I experienced the theme of Bring the Peace at convention. These words are part of the vision to be peacemakers in our world today, and I’ll unpack them in a bit.
The Structure of Convention was similar but a little different from other conventions I’ve attended. There was:
Worship: Since it was a smaller group, youth and adults were together and worship was once/day, in the evening.
Bible Studies: Every morning, led by Safwat Marzouk, former professor of Old Testament at AMBS; just accepted a position on faculty of Union Presbyterian Seminary down the road in Richmond, VA.
Bible studies also had a worship feel to them, because along with the Bible study, there was a worship team that led songs and hymns from the new hymnal, Voices Together.
Seminars: There were seminars in the mornings and also in the afternoons. Some were more geared toward youth, others for adults. I went to several really interesting seminars:
Can the Church be both prophetic and nonpartisan? Led by Ryan Ahlgrim, pastor of First Mennonite Church in Richmond.
Characteristics of Healthy Masculinity, led by president of the Mennonite Men organization, Steve Thomas.
Poverty, Spirituality and Work, led by the staff of MEDA, Mennonite Economic Development Associates, telling stories of MEDA’s partnering with local organizations in different countries to empower small business owners.
Seeking Peace in Africa, led by mission workers who are supported by Mennonite Mission Network.
This is the seminar that I’m going to spend a little time talking about this morning, and hopefully I can share more about the other three seminars at a later time.
Along with worship, bible studies and seminars, there also were different break times where people could just visit with people over meals, in the hallways, or at the exhibit area where there were different agencies and Mennonite colleges represented. As an extrovert, these were some of my favorite times!
And at the end of the convention, on Saturday afternoon, there was a virtual Delegate session. Since it was virtual, they decided to not deal with any significant issues in the denomination that involved discussion and voting.
There’s actually going to be a special delegate meeting next May in Kansas City for 3-4 days to deal with more of the issues facing Mennonite Church USA.
So what I’d like to do this morning is look at these three ideas—peace, reconciliation and Jesus. It will be like the old classic “three point sermon”.
For peace, I will connect it with a seminar I attended; for reconciliation, I’ll relate it to one of the Bible studies, and for Jesus, I’ll look at one of the messages at a worship service.
First, Peace. I attended a seminar called “Seeking Peace in Africa”, which highlighted a ministry that has a vision to spread God’s peace in that part of the world.
The ministry involves a couple named Peter Sensenig and Christy Harrison.
Peter was actually a classmate of our son Andrew at Eastern Mennonite University in the early 2000’s. He and his wife Christy lived in Somaliland and Zanzibar in East Africa for 5 years.
Christy is a maternity nurse and worked with women’s health issues related to pregnancy and childbirth. She shared that pregnancy is a time when intimate partner violence can increase, and she walked with women through this and all of the other challenges and joys of pregnancy.
One phrase that she said that I really liked was “Peace on earth begins with birth.”
Peter is passionate about peace education, building relationships with Christians and Muslims and creating opportunities for interfaith dialogue and for working together for peace in their communities.
Peter shared that he and others involved in these conversations between people of different faiths discovered that they had so much in common in the midst of their differences.
Peter and Christy are now preparing to go to a French-speaking country in Africa in about a year, possibly either Benin or Chad. During this next year will be living in Paris, where they will do language study and also work with the Paris Mennonite Center.
I was really impressed with Peter and Christy—who they are, what they’ve done in the past, and their commitment to continue living out their passions and training to build bridges between people of different faiths and backgrounds to be ministers of God’s healing and peace in a very holistic way in Africa.
Now on to the theme of reconciliation. This was talked about in one of the morning Bible studies by Safwat Marzoud, and it centered on the story of Joseph and his brothers found in the book of Genesis.
To quickly recap the story or Joseph:
Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him so they sold him to some travelers from Egypt to be their servant. While in Egypt, Joseph ended up impressing the Pharoah, and he put Joseph in charge of the distribution of grain during times of famine.
When Joseph’s brothers came to get grain, to feed their family, Joseph ended up revealing himself to his brothers. He had the power to deny them grain and make life difficult for them, but instead of taking revenge against them, Joseph forgave them.
And because he forgave them, they were able to be reconciled to each other as brothers in their family.
It was really interesting hearing Safwat’s perspectives on this story, partly because he’s an Old Testament Biblical scholar, and also because he is Egyptian himself.
One point he made is that in the African American tradition, the story of Joseph and his brothers is rarely told, while the story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt and toward the promised land is emphasized quite a bit.
Of course the Exodus story makes sense because of the history of slavery that African Americans have had in the United States and other countries.
Another reason that Safwat mentioned regarding ignoring the Joseph story is that there is the sense that forgiveness and reconciliation happened too quickly and easily between Joseph and his brothers.
However, Safwat did a good job of showing that in the story, while Joseph doesn’t take revenge on his brothers, at the same time he treats his brothers in a way that helps them to feel the pain and anguish that happens when people are mistreated and when children are separated from their families.
Joseph doesn’t gloss over what they did or sugarcoat the hurt that it caused him. And then he forgives them, and they are reconciled back together.
One well-known line from Joseph to his brothers at the end of the story says “you meant it for harm, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20)
One of the ways that “God meant it for good” that Safwat points out is by Joseph not taking revenge on his brother, it helped break the cycle of violence in his family or origin, preventing this kind of dysfunction from being passed down to future generations.
We all can probably think of examples of negative and unhealthy patterns and behaviors and attitudes that have been passed down from one generation to the next, whether it be in our family of origin or someone else that we have heard about.
Joseph’s actions helped pave the way for healthier relationships in his family, relationships marked by respect, grace, and forgiveness. These kind of relationships provide the fertile soil where reconciliation can take place.
One other point that Safwat made about this story that I really liked is that it shows the importance of empathy in bringing about reconciliation. Joseph’s actions and his honesty in telling his story helped his brothers both see and feel the pain that they had caused him; they were able to put themselves in his shoes.
And this helped them to empathize with what he had gone through, understand him better, and it played a role in the process of mending their relationship with him.
Safwat encouraged the Church to be a safe place where people who have been hurt can feel empowered to tell their stories, so those around them can understand them better, empathize better with them, and support them in the process of healing and reconciliation.
I’ve talked about peace and reconciliation. Now to move on to Jesus. The answer is always Jesus, right?
Maybe you’ve heard the joke about a senior pastor who visited a children’s Sunday school class. To bread the ice with them, he asks them the question, “What is brown and furry with a big bushy tail?”
The children just sit there staring at him.
He sits quietly for a few minutes waiting for one of them to answer. Sheepishly a child in the back raises their hand and the pastor calls on them. The child replies, “I know the answer is Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”
Anyway, my Jesus story comes from the worship service where Meghan Good preached on the topic “Jesus is the Peace”. Meghan is one of the pastors at Trinity Mennonite Church in the Phoenix area, the church that I served at for nine years before I was at Bluffton University.
Meghan’s message revolved around the question: “How much does Jesus matter to the work of peace and reconciliation?”
She believes that this is a key question for the Mennonite Church as we continue to be a peace church in today’s world. And I would say that it is also a key question for our congregation here at Daniels Run Peace Church.
Meghan believes that there needs to be a strong relationship between Jesus and Peace. She shared that having good intentions in working for peace is not enough,
That there are powers and forces at work in the world that are bent toward evil and chaos, that the efforts of well-meaning Christians for peace and reconciliation will ultimately not be able to make an impact unless Jesus is the gravitational center of our lives and our work.
Meghan quoted Ephesians 2:14, that Jesus himself is our peace, who has brought down the walls that have divided people.
She also referred to an earlier part of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, a prayer in chapter one, where Paul prays that they would know the immeasurable greatness of Jesus’ power, and how God put this power to work in Jesus when he raised him from the dead (1:19-20)
Meghan said that there is so much in our world that is broken beyond our ability to heal, and reminded us that “where Jesus’ presence goes, his power goes as well.” She closed by encouraging us and challenging us to be channels of a power that is beyond our limited power as mortals.
I am always inspired when I hear Meghan Good speak, and this sermon was no exception. I appreciate her emphasis on God’s power in using us to bring about healing and reconciliation and transformation, in our lives and in our world.
And I appreciate how she always keeps the focus on Jesus, like she did here.
Her message at the convention brought together in a powerful way the interconnectedness between Peace, Reconciliation and Jesus.
I want to close by reading the scripture again, and I invite you to ponder how peace, reconciliation and Jesus are intertwined, and how it might speak to you and to us as a congregation.