A space for telling stories about the church and the people who gather here.
(An excerpt from John's sermon Prodigal Church.)
In the late 1800’s, architects saw that cities were quickly becoming crowded and growing fast. As industrial work increased, people and buildings were springing up all over the place – and the demand was multiplying.
They had a problem. The function of buildings – for housing, for business, for virtually every purpose – was desperately needed still, but they were literally running out of room. The form that buildings had always taken, the way buildings were almost always made, was no longer meeting the needs of the people, they were no longer connecting to these new conditions.
And that’s how we got skyscrapers. The architects found a way to build structures upward instead of outward. Problem solved. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say.
In modern architecture, this style of innovation came to be known as this principle: form follows function. This means function first, then the form. Start with the function, and then figure out the form that best allows you to fulfill the function. The function of buildings has never changed, but their form sure has.
Even though we are always working to do it better, the function of the church is to be the vehicle of God’s love in the world, and God’s radical love is needed more than ever right now. But I think our form as the church is in desperate need of innovation, if we are going fulfill our function to the best of our potential.
How might we begin to transform how we do church together…in a way that allows us to live further into our function of being God’s vehicle for love in this world? What kind of form should follow our function in today’s context? What needs to change?
I invite you to give some thought to those questions. I’ll post them on our Facebook page for you to respond, or you can email me, or better yet, let’s get coffee or lunch together and talk. I do enough talking. I want to listen to you.
The reality is that I’m searching for answers to these questions, too, but I do have some ideas. Here are some of them:
1) I think the next form of the church will be less fixated on meeting just Sunday mornings. 2) I think the next form of the church will see sharing food and hospitality as an act that is integrated into worship. 3) The next form of the church will use their buildings to serve the community, not just the church. 4) The next form of the church will prioritize a yearly covenant over membership rolls and the gifts of people as much as pastors. 5) I think the next form of the church will be unashamed of the gospel and unashamed of the truth that the gospel calls us to seek justice, peace, and reconciliation and live in solidarity with the poor. 6) I think the next form of the church will be known for what it stands for, not whatever it stands against. 7) I think the next form of the church will look less like a modern institution and more like the early church…who gathered to eat together, share resources, and worship God wherever and whenever they could.
Like the first Anabaptists who sought to recover the radical wisdom and way of the early church in their 16th century context, perhaps we need to do the same for our 21st century world. While the architects who created skyscrapers innovated forwards, the church may need to innovate backward in order to innovate forward; getting back to our roots in order to grow upward and be refreshed for a brand-new world.
In last Sunday’s Advent passage from Luke’s gospel, we witnessed a sudden prophetic outburst from Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Zechariah proclaimed that his newborn son would “go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.” John will prepare the people for the savior. John will blaze the trail.
Turning to the third week of Advent, we see John in action. John is a person who famously dwells in the wild, just beyond the civilized confines of town. The passage begins as crowds of curious people enter the wilderness to repent and be baptized by him. John greets them harshly: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” John does not mince words.
Mere repentance isn’t enough for John: “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” In other words, show us the evidence. This demand puzzles the people. They ask, “What then should we do?” John came prepared to answer this question: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” So…start sharing! Good enough. Then, John gets more specific. To the tax collectors: “Collect no more than the amount prescribed to you.” To the soldiers: “Do not exhort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” Words of repentance don’t hold much weight for John. It’s when our words and actions are aligned that we show evidence of a truly repentant heart, ready for renewal.
After John explains his criteria for repentance and baptism, the people begin to speculate about him. There’s always an aura of mystery surrounding John. Is he the one we’re waiting for, the Messiah? The passage comes to an end as John squashes the speculation: “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John knows his role. He is the one who will prepare the way for the savior.
During this third week of Advent, we have an invitation to examine ourselves. How often do our actions align with our words? How often do our deeply-held beliefs lead to bearing good “fruit” for the world to enjoy? Put simply, do we practice what we preach?
During our journeys of faith, it is always important to ask these foundational questions of ourselves. After all, actions tend to speak louder than words. It’s cliché, but it’s probably true. Here, as people of the Anabaptist tradition, we might be reminded of the famous quote from Menno Simons that surely echoes John the Baptist:
“True evangelical faith is of such a nature it cannot lie dormant, but spreads itself out in all kinds of righteousness and fruits of love; it dies to flesh and blood; it destroys all lusts and forbidden desires; it seeks, serves and fears God in its inmost soul; it clothes the naked; it feeds the hungry; it comforts the sorrowful; it shelters the destitute; it aids and consoles the sad; it does good to those who do it harm; it serves those that harm it; it prays for those who persecute it; it teaches, admonishes and judges us with the Word of the Lord; it seeks those who are lost; it binds up what is wounded; it heals the sick; it saves what is strong (sound); it becomes all things to all people.”
By John Tyson
In late October, DMMC received news from the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants office in Des Moines that their shelves were almost empty. Important resources for new families such as blankets, coats, and winter clothing were needed immediately.
Over the course of three weeks, DMMC sprung into action! Generous donations of necessary items were collected and additional funds were raised to increase USCRI’s supply of important resources.
Following the worship service on Sunday, November 18, the DMMC Youth group went on a shopping trip together to purchase extra items with funds that were raised in previous weeks. Afterward, they dropped off items at the USCRI office and spent some time learning more about their mission of serving uprooted people who are seeking to begin a new life in Des Moines.
It was fitting to see this story of DMMC’s generosity coincide with a sermon series on abundant living. Just as God has given abundantly to us, we can give abundantly to our neighbors in Des Moines!
You wouldn’t have guessed it was a cloudy, rainy day when members of the DMMC community gathered together for our bi-annual spiritual retreat on Saturday, September 29. The teaching was engaging, the conversation was lively, the food was delicious, and the spirit of laughter and learning was burning bright. It may have been gloomy outside, but not so among us as we gathered together to dig deeper into the vision and mission of our congregation.
Led by Joani Miller, we engaged in creative activities that helped us to know each other better, shed limiting paradigms and expectations, and discover when we are most alive as participants in the life of DMMC. We discussed the possibility of cultivating new mindsets toward our faith and experience of church. We reflected on our mission statement and the challenges of being the church in our context. We expressed our wonderful gifts, the commitments that hold us together, and our hopes for the future. With Joani’s encouragement, we were dreaming, designing, and contemplating our destiny.
The day began and ended with worship and singing. Beyond our learning sessions, folks enjoyed a wonderful breakfast and lunch together. Conversations were flowing at each table, children were running around energetically, and relationships were deepening. Many thanks to DMMC’s Spiritual Care Team of Mary Boshart (Chair) and Glenn Baughman for their careful work to coordinate the Spiritual Retreat and for all their efforts behind the scenes. It was a wonderful time together!