Sunday, 27 June 2010

Jesus in the Gospel of Luke

Preacher: Veronica

When Sue told me we were doing a series of sermons on Jesus in the four Gospels I immediately said, ‘Oh, I bagsy Luke’. It’s not only my favourite Gospel but has one of my all time favourite passages in all Scripture, the healing of the woman bent double which you’ve just heard.

What I hadn’t realized until I started reading up for the sermon, was that Luke is not only the longest of the four Gospels, but taken together with his sequel, the book of Acts, Luke is the most prolific writer in the New Testament - he wrote even more than Paul. And I also hadn’t realized what a tough task it is to preach on a whole Gospel rather than just one or two selected passages. What I’m going to offer, then, is no more than an overview. I do recommend you read right through Luke, which will only take you a couple of hours - but then I expect the three other preachers will also exhort you to read through Matthew, Mark and John, so please forgive me for that.

I want to keep the details of date, authorship etc brief cos that’s the boring bit. We know very little about who Luke was, although we do know he was a missionary companion of Paul (there are passages in Acts where he turns to the pronoun ‘we’ rather than ‘they’ which suggests he was there at the events described). There is strong Scriptural and external evidence, and tradition, that he was a Gentile - as far as we know the only Gentile to write Scripture - and that he was a doctor. His Gentile origin shows in the high standard of his Greek, although his writing also has many echoes of Jesus’ language, Aramaic, and of Hebrew. As for the date of the Gospel, it could be anywhere between the early 60s AD and the early 2nd century. You pays your liberal or conservative commentator and you makes your choice.

What is much more generally agreed is the driving purpose of Luke’s writing. One commentary I looked at was entitled ‘Luke: Historian and Theologian’. That pretty much sums up the general opinion. While he sets out his credentials as a historian in the preface which we heard, he is clearly writing history for a theological purpose. Some have classified his Gospel as ‘Heilsgeschichte’ or ‘salvation history’ - and I included that just so I could say ‘Heilsgeschichte’ which is a lovely word. But his interest is not just in the history of salvation, but in the character of salvation and its inclusive scope. In fact he is the only Gospel writer to use the word ‘salvation’ at all, and he has more instances of ‘save’ and ‘saviour’ than the others as well.

Of course the label of ‘salvation history’ could also be used, in different ways, of the other Gospels, with the relationship of theology and history varying. So what else is special about Luke?

In preparation for preaching today I re-read the whole Gospel, using one of those Bibles that has references at the head of each passage, showing where there are parallels to this story or teaching in the other Gospels - especially of course the other synoptic Gospels Mark and Matthew. And I was amazed at the number of passages in Luke that didn’t have any cross references at all, because the story was exclusive to Luke. In fact I developed a new TLA for my notes: ETL, standing for ‘Exclusive to Luke’.

Here’s a relatively short list of what we wouldn’t have if we didn’t have Luke’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry. We wouldn’t have several well loved parts of the Christmas story for a start: this includes the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and the birth of John the Baptist, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and her challenging poem the Magnificat which I think makes her the first New Testament prophet, the song of Zechariah, the angelic visit to the shepherds, the story of Simeon and Anna at the Temple, Simeon’s prayer which we call the Nunc Dimittis, and finally the childhood story of the boy Jesus cutting loose from his parents at the Temple and going to debate with the scribes and teachers.

That’s only the beginning. Without Luke we wouldn’t have Jesus’ manifesto from Isaiah 61 at the Nazareth synagogue. We wouldn’t know the names of prominent women who followed Jesus and financed him - in fact we wouldn’t know that they did. We wouldn’t have the parable of the Good Samaritan. We wouldn’t have the story of Mary and Martha’s dispute over the household jobs. We wouldn’t have the parable of the rich fool who planned bigger barns to store his wealth, but then died that night. We wouldn’t have the disciples questioning Jesus about the unmerited suffering of the Galileans Pilate killed, and his enigmatic answer. We wouldn’t have the healing of the ten lepers, of whom only one - a despised Samaritan -
returned to thank Jesus.

Nor would we have the parable of the shrewd manager, difficult and obscure as it is. I have my own interpretation which sees it as about God cancelling our debts to him, but I don’t have time to go into that here. Without Luke we wouldn’t have the parables of the rich man and Lazarus, the lost coin, the woman baking bread, the widow and the unrighteous judge, the Pharisee and the publican, and crucially the Prodigal Son. We wouldn’t have the story of Zacchaeus, which makes this the Gospel for short people. We would not have Jesus telling his hearers to take the lowest place at a dinner, or Jesus weeping over Jerusalem.

Nor would we know that Jesus was sent to be tried before Herod as well as the Sanhedrin and Pilate. We wouldn’t have Jesus on the cross saying ‘Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’; or his saying to the repentant thief next to him, ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise’. And we wouldn’t have the full story of the walk to Emmaus, which if nothing else has given us the hymn ‘Abide with me’, and that would be a great loss to football and rugby fans.

In fact the amount of unique material in Luke is so great that I could use the whole sermon to list it and analyse it. Instead I just want to list a few of the major emphases in Luke, which are all clearly shown in the material that’s unique to him.

I’ve already mentioned the emphasis on salvation, which is a more explicit theme in Luke than in the others. Luke is clearly at pains to convey that this salvation is not for a chosen few. The invitation is to all. From the very beginning Luke is interested in Jesus’ interaction with all sorts of people. His birth is announced to lowly shepherds, and his genealogy goes not like Matthew’s version back to Abraham, father of the Jews, but to Adam, father of everyone - and from ‘son of Adam’ to ‘son of God’. In Luke’s account of John the Baptist’s work, Luke shows him giving socially and economically radical commands to those who follow him. And he also includes the end of the ‘voice crying in the wilderness’ prophecy about John, which reads ‘and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’, which is missed out in the other Gospels.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry in Luke we see him interacting with social outcasts of all kinds, from the lepers to the hated tax collector. Luke’s Jesus is a friend of the poor - indeed in the Beatitudes he blesses not the poor in spirit or those who hunger for righteousness but simply the poor and the hungry. Also only in Luke are these blessings followed by a series of ‘Woe’s to the rich and well fed - so Luke acknowledges that good news to the poor has inevitably to include some bad news for the rich.

Luke ‘s Jesus is also very much a friend of women, often in socially unconventional ways. He has a number of women’s stories not found elsewhere, including my favourite which I’ll come to in a moment. There is also a large number of occasions where when Luke tells a story or parable about a man, he immediately balances it with one about a woman. For instance, in the birth stories, he tells us about Anna as well as Simeon’. With the parable of the mustard seed he includes the parable of the woman baking bread, while the lost sheep is followed by the lost coin - both of these examples of a woman standing for God in a parable. In Luke, when Jesus says that he will give no sign except the sign of Jonah, he immediately starts to talk not just about Jonah’s mission to Gentiles, but about the Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon. It’s a great exercise to go through Luke looking for these man/woman parallels, and I’m grateful to Trisha Dale for first pointing it out to me.

It’s only Luke who records the conflict between Martha and Mary, in which Jesus commends Mary for sitting at his feet, in the position of a disciple or student, rather than worrying like Martha about the domestic stuff In my favourite, the Luke 13 story of the woman bent double, Jesus uses a unique phrase not found anywhere else in the NT - he calls her a ‘daughter of Abraham’. And that healing has always seemed to me to be a kind of symbolic raising up of women from a lower status, into being able to stand alongside men on an equal basis. I used to do a workshop on it where I read the passage and a poem I had written on it, while all the hearers stood in a circle with all the men bent double and all the women standing straight - which I won’t inflict on you today but which provoked some really interesting discussion. Luke also tells us another of my favourites, the anointing of Jesus’ feet by a sinful woman in Luke 7, which I’ve also written a poem about.

As well as the inclusiveness of Jesus’ call, Luke has a strong emphasis on the centrality of forgiveness. As we’ve seen already, he has several parables about forgiveness which others don’t record. And at the end of his version of the Sermon
on the Mount, instead of Matthew’s rather scary version: ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’, Luke has ‘Be merciful as your Father is merciful.’

Such radical openness and mercy, in Luke’s vision, can only be achieved by the infilling of the Holy Spirit. At the very start of Jesus’ ministry, Luke tells us that he returned from the desert ‘filled with the power of the Spirit’. This filling is not only the basis of Jesus’ ministry but it is available to us too as we follow him. As well as sending out the Twelve to teach and heal on his behalf, in Jesus later sends out the seventy, and this has a strong overtone of a mission to the Gentile nations as well as the Jews. And indeed Simeon has prophesied exactly this at the beginning, calling the baby Jesus ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel’.

Luke’s Jesus also exhibits and calls us to a radical humility. He twice quotes Jesus’ saying, ‘For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted’. Only in Luke does Jesus’ say, in response to the dispute about who is greatest: ‘I am among you as one who serves’ , a saying which always reminds me of these words inlaid in the floor of the Chapel of Industry at Coventry Cathedral.

Jesus in Luke then, is the one who calls all, men and women, high and lowly, rich and poor - not only to be healed and cleansed by him but to follow him. He is the one who forgives lavishly. He acts in the power of the Spirit which brings healing to the sick and the oppressed and good news to the poor. One commentator says, ‘Whereas in Matthew the keynote may be said to be royalty, and in Mark power, in Luke it is love’ .

But Luke’s Jesus is not just a sort of hippy dropout preaching peace and love in a 60s sort of way - not that I have anything against hippies, I was one myself. With sayings like the ‘Woes’, his message is a challenging and sometimes frightening one. His view of salvation has scary economic consequences, as we see in his response to Zacchaeus promise to give back his ill-gotten gains: ‘Today salvation has come to this house’. In fact ‘Today’ and ‘now’ are words much more frequent in Luke than in other Gospels: he wants to proclaim that God’s salvation in Christ is for now, not for some distant heavenly realm in the future.

You can probably see now why Luke is my favourite Gospel. It’s a great Gospel for a feminist, as well as a short person; and I think with its challenge to fight social inequality, it’s probably a great Gospel for Anabaptists too.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The One Certain Thing

Preacher: Emily

Our sermon series this summer focuses on the four gospels and I believe we are having a speaker each week who will focus on each of the gospels individually. This afternoon, I am going to frame our thinking about the gospels by presenting an overview of some of the common themes and values that run between them.

As many of you know, I am a PhD student in the study of religions at SOAS the school of Oriental and African studies in London. At the moment, I am one of the only people studying Christianity in a department with a heavy focus on Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. In theory, this is a wonderful opportunity for me to learn lots about many elements of different traditions.

In practice, this means that I am often trapped for many hours in small rooms with people explaining the minutia of the Yupdipthika, the classical salafiyya tradition in Egypt or the important contribution of Ibn Arabi in defining the ubermensch tradition. While I am sure that one day this will cause me to dominate a pub quiz if the topic is small esoteric aspects of eastern traditions, it actually means that I have alot of time on my hands to sit and think about how my faith tradition, Christianity, and my denomination, Anabaptism, and my research is very very different.

One person in my program searches for appearances of a character named Kapila in hundreds of Hindu texts. Unfortunately for him, Kapila is one character among thousands and sometimes appears as a demon, sometimes as a cow and sometimes as a human teacher. (I can see the looks on your faces beginning to resemble mine in the midst of these lengthy Kapila lectures so let me just say this - )

The fact that we have a tradition in which the same basic story of the one person – Jesus – is told from four perspectives, is a very useful and interesting contribution of the Christian faith. The story is part of our continuity – the bridge between how it all began and who we are now. Our sacred stories remind us of how it began and what that means for who we are now.
As you are undoubtedly aware, we have four canonical gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but these were not the only gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. They are just the final four that made the cut in the 4th century. In the apocrypha we have other accounts: Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of the Hebrews and others.

Beyond these, we have a tradition which is rich with other popular retellings. We have thousands of icons, paintings and sculpture in a variety of artistic mediums. We have literature ranging from The Last Temptation of Christ to Christopher Moore’s book Lamb: the gospel according to biff christ’s childhood friend. In movies we have The Passion of the Christ, Life of Brian, Jesus of Montreal among others. We have Clarence Jordan’s bluegrass Cotton Patch Gospels. We have Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell on stage.

As an amateur etymologist or simply word nerd – I find the word Gospel interesting as it points us back to the centrality of the story. Gospel comes from the words “god spell” or “good spell” – an English translation of the Greek euangelion. Good news. The story about god which casts a spell over us, which unites us and, at times divides us.....this is at the heart of our tradition. Some stories are so important, so powerful that we continue to retell them – to ourselves and to others. It is the Gospels that play this role in our faith.

As Mennonites, we believe that the story of what happens to us as a community is also important. We believe that what happens out there in the world, the way our stories intersect with other people’s stories is as important as our sacred story – so we take time each week to share stories, to create community, in our home groups and in church each Sunday. We don’t just rely on one of us – this is the strength of the Anabaptist tradition, we are a community of lay leaders. People from other traditions sometimes ask me, how it is that we trust people who aren’t the leader to tell the story each week and I think that the answer is that we trust multiple viewpoints of the same story. We believe that the story builds the bridge between the individual and the community, between the tradition and the present. We bear witness to the work of the Holy Spirit on earth by gathering each week to retell both our ancient story and the stories of our own lives.

Today, in the far off land of Wooster, Ohio in the United States, my ten year college reunion is taking place. I am not there obviously but this landmark anniversary has been the cause of much rumination for me lately. It’s ok that I am not there – the important thing about reunions is the chance to retell the story – the story of who we are and how we got that way. Sometimes it’s easier to tell it when you can smell the same cut grass, hear the same library chimes that help cast the spell of who we all were ten years ago. But sometimes it’s just the retelling of the story that carries us through.

So, as Mateo and I drove down the Eastern coast of the US last week, we dropped in for a visit on a variety of friends from my college days. Seeing dear friends again was a great joy and as we bask in one another’s presence, our conversation took a familiar path.....we told and retold many of the key stories in our history together. My friend Morgan and I sat on her porch in North Carolina and retold the story of the night we had spent outside in Palestine watching Israeli rockets overhead and pondering whether our optimism and pacifism would see us through the night. As Mateo and I attempted to calm her two hysterically crying twins, my friend Amal and I retold the story of the torturous joint book project where we met. The contexts of my friendships with these two women have changed but the joint story of our friendship has not. And so, as we attempt to catch one another up on the years that have come between, we keep returning to some of the same themes – the stories of how we met, the setting, the times that tested us, defined us. The stories are the measure of our friendship. We become connected when we tell and receive the stories of one another’s lives. We co-create common stories with our friends through shared life with them.

This is also the function of the four gospels. Our most sacred text is about co-creating a tradition by telling a story. Remembering the beginnings and the endings, marking the miracles, preserving the details. In telling the story we re-create our community. When we hear and retell the stories of the life of Jesus, we act as participants in a larger story that includes us too.


As Chris has very artfully demonstrated in pulling together a theme for today’s service – the setting of the story matters. Our Gospel writers were almost certainly based in different contexts with Matthew writing for a predominately Jewish audience, Mark writing for Romans, Luke for Greeks and John for Gentile Christians. And the settings between the four Gospel accounts do not always match – some have Jesus appearing after resurrection in Emmaus, others in Jerusalem. There seems to be a dispute as to the location of the Last Supper as where the bulk of Jesus’ ministry took place. But the four accounts do take place in concrete geographical space and the singular story takes this sense of place into account.

While the power of the psalms often recall more generic space – our psalm this afternoon recounted mountains, rivers and seas; the gospel accounts are typically quite specific. Our reading from Luke specifically locates the action in Jerusalem and the Mark passage notes both Jerusalem and Bethany. These details help to ground our experience of the story.

Each Sunday afternoon we gather in this space, this point defined by particular sounds, smells and, I would hasten to add, particular (cold) temperature. This locality is also part of who we are – our joint story specifically recalls this place. This space in this community and our LMC in Highgate are interwoven in the story of who this community is. In our liturgical intercession this morning, we concentrated on the context of our urban environment – recalling the spaces of community, the spaces of suffering and praying together for the wholeness and healing of this particular context. This too is part of the story of who we are as a congregation.

Our story as Christians and our story as a congregation is rooted in both an ancient story and a contemporary story – we are suspended between these two narratives, trying to live lives that are compatible with each.

Points of View

Many biblical scholars have made much of the significant differences between the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke and the Gospel of John. Again with the background on words – the word synoptic literally means “seeing with the same eye” and refers to the fact that the gospel accounts of the Matthew, Mark and Luke seem to have much more in common than the account of John.

Depending on your particular upbringing, political orientation, literary preferences, you probably have your own favourite gospel. Some of the accounts focus more on parables, others take a more expository slant. Some emphasize the humanity of Jesus while others seem to concentrate more on his divinity.

Styles aside, the gospels cannot seem to agree on several points of data regarding Jesus....He performed either 29,23 or 10 miracles. He retold either 31,13, 37 or 3 parables. It is unclear exactly who carried the cross and who was there to witness the empty tomb. We are not sure exactly how involved Jesus was with exorcism or with interacting with scribes – accounts vary dramatically.

And all of this is really ok I think. Even the stories with which we are most intimate and familiar look different from different contexts and different storytellers. I think that a few of you may have been around to hear Mateo and I recount the story of how we met – a story which is consistent only in the most obvious of ways. We agree on who the central characters are and we agree that we met in a Spanish language class. Beyond that, there is discrepancy. We have not yet agreed on the canonized version of our story. And since Mateo is not with us this morning to guarantee that you hear his side of the story, I will just tell you this – in one account, the character of Mateo offers, with unrelenting enthusiasm, countless invitations to go on dates – all of which are soundly refused by the character of Emily who feels both burdened and secretly thrilled by the flirtation of this British stranger. In the other account, the character of Mateo helpfully and professionally points out a number of venues and public events which would be of mutual interest to both parties given their common interest in international public policy. Purely professional.

Two accounts – one story.

And more recently we have had to acknowledge a few other voices. On our most recent trip back to the States, we were attending the wedding of our friend Jenny. Jenny was actually in the class where we met – the only person that had a front row seat to our courtship back when we were (mateo) and (Emily) not (mateoandemily). Hearing Jenny’s account of our meeting story is therefore very intriguing to us. When I recently asked her what she remembered – she dramatically rolled her eyes and commented on how INCREDIBLY irritating we both were. “Mateo was constantly flirting with Emily” (I like this detail as it affirms my account of the story) but she continues “and Emily was pretending to need help in Spanish so she could keep leaning over and asking Mateo questions” (not my version of events). But Jenny, looking radiant in her wedding dress, brightens up and says “who would have guessed you would be married and here for my wedding? The whole story is just so unexpected!”
Indeed. And hearing Jenny’s account of the events enriches our own story. This is the value of the communal storytelling project.

The New Testament is a grand communal storytelling project – attempting to retell one of the most riveting and pivotal events in history. In a sense, the Christian story is a written account of the early community telling itself the story of itself. For there to be discrepancies in details is not an inconvenience, it is a richness, adding texture to the events. The Gospel of Matthew is the “thinking gospel” and concentrates on law, logic, order. The story of Jesus is the story of fulfilment of Jewish prophecy. The Gospel of Mark is the gospel of grace – the disciples are portrayed as hopeless, fumbling idiots and it empowers us by helping us to believe that if the disciples manage to be good followers of Jesus, so can we. The story of Jesus in Mark is the story of a person of action, Jesus acts in history and the disciples try to make sense of what it all means. The Gospel of Luke is the solidarity story – the place in which the most stories of solidarity with the poor occur. Jesus in this account is a philosopher and a teacher, an engaged activist on the side of the oppressed. And finally, the Gospel of John is the mystic story with high Christology and Jesus is the divine incarnation, the embodiment of God on earth.

This week, as a church community, we expect to hear news that will significantly shape our story. We are bracing ourselves for a twist in the plot; we are aware that there may be a possible change in the setting in our future. Regardless of what we hear, I believe it will be ever more important for us to keep telling each other the story – the story of who we are, the story of what we believe. And I know, we are up to the task.

Something I like about this congregation is that you appreciate a good story – and we have such rich story tellers amongst us – we have writers, and bloggers, we have film reviewers and theatre reviewers, we have people who sell books, we have actors. We are people who tell stories, people who can appreciate the power of a well told story.

I want to leave you with a poem called The One Certain Thing by Peter Cooley, poet from New Orleans, writing about the importance of language, words and stories. The poem is addressed to his children and is his attempt to explain how words preserve moments and people in time. When I first read it, I was struck by how this poem might also be applied to what might have gone through the thoughts of the gospel writers as they penned the words that became our canon. So when you hear it, I want you to ponder both of those directions.

The One Certain Thing

A day will come I’ll watch you reading this.
I’ll look up from these words I’m writing now—
this line I’m standing on, I’ll be right here,
alive again. I’ll breathe on you this breath.
Touch this word now, that one. Warm, isn’t it?

You are the person come to clean my room;
you are whichever of my three children
opens the drawer here where this poem will go
in a few minutes when I’ve had my say.

These are the words from immortality.
No one stands between us now except Death:
I enter it entirely writing this.
I have to tell you I am not alone.
Watching you read, Eternity’s with me.
We like to watch you read. Read us again.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

A Salvation Journey

Preacher: Barbara

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
the Word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance
for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the Prophet Isaiah:
The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
And the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;
And all flesh shall see the Salvation of God.
Luke 3:1-6

Earlier this Spring I read Sue Haselhurst’s email to Wood Green Mennonite members and participants – a request for volunteers that would be willing to preach, lead worship, or help with other Sunday tasks. And, it was then I sensed it was the time to “take-up” once again – what has been a most meaningful part of my life: assisting in worship.

Since Wood Green offers a very different setting and style of worship (than to which I have been accustomed), I decided it would be less daunting to do one of the personal talks that was needed on June 6 or July 4 Communion Sundays.
And – that is what has brought me here today.

As Jeremy read in Luke’s Gospel: long ago, God’s messenger, the Prophet Isaiah, proclaimed the hope that all flesh shall see the Salvation of God. And, for our time together, I have chosen salvation as my theme.
And in conveying that message, I will share something of my life with you - a little from the beginning: how I came to know the God revealed in Christ, and the difference that makes in my life. And therefore the title: A Salvation Journey.

I first came to know Christ through –


Being born into a Christian home is one of life’s most precious gifts. I first came to know the Lord through my father and mother. As little children do – I learned from and was influenced by what I observed at home. The “faith and practice” of my parents, Willard and Elizabeth Barge, was a most positive experience – and became the foundation – the grounding – for my own life. And, though they are now both deceased – their “living” spirits remain as one of the greatest influences on my ongoing Christian walk.

Through them I came to know and to accept a life of obedience to the gospel. My parents were disciplined in the faith and dedicated to its practice. As many of you, we had our religious rituals. Ours included family devotions. Each morning we began with scripture reading and prayer before breakfast – followed by discussion around the table as we ate. With the focus being “the newspaper in one hand” – “the scriptures in the other” – our parents encouraged us to formulate “gospel application.” As you might imagine – especially if you knew Bill & Liz - those conversations were (at times) quite lively!

As a family we also attended worship every Sunday, as well as participated in special services and mission opportunities.

But more than those rituals – more than any theology my parents verbally shared – more than any “idea or conviction” they spoke aloud – it was watching them “in action” that helped me know God - and seek to follow God’s way. I saw the “good news” come alive as I observed them in their daily lives.

My parents were kind spoken, wrote letters and notes of encouragement, regularly invited persons to dinner, listened to others’ opinions, they championed the downtrodden, spoke out against injustice. They formed friendships with people of varied economic backgrounds, from other races and cultures, even from differing faiths. They were not perfect – sin-free – but they were faithful in spirit, peaceful in action, positive by nature, hospitable, forgiving, merciful, caring, and compassionate. In their lives, the fruit of God’s spirit was evident.

I was introduced to the gospel of Christ through the lives of my parents, and was transformed through its power.

As I reflect on their influence, I am reminded of the little verse by Edgar Guest, entitled:

Sermons We See

“I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day,
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the ones who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.

I first came to know the Lord through my loving parents, and for that gift I will be eternally grateful.

I also came to know the Lord and to accept the way of Christ through –
My journey began with the Mennonite Church, a church that is very dear to my heart. My Mennonite ancestors – came from Germany to America – fleeing religious persecution and seeking freedom of expression and service in a new country. It is a Mennonite heritage that focuses on –
• OBEDIENCE - through discipleship
• SIMPLICITY - in all of life
• LOVE - manifest through service, missions, and a peace witness in the world –
- It is a heritage that is deeply rooted in my being, and even today remains a constant challenge to my living.

However – it was at a non-denominational church camp in the summer of 1957, that I made my first public commitment of faith. There “I was ‘saved’!” Those are the words I wrote in my little Bible, a gift from my Grandmother Barge. I remember that experience well.
I was ten years old – and away from family for the first time – excited and a little fearful – spending a week with other little kids from varied church backgrounds. And, on the last night of camp, a young evangelist spoke, and asked the questions: “Are you saved?” “Where would you be if you died tonight?”
At my little country church, Mt. Joy Mennonite, near Calico Rock, Arkansas – I had never heard it put quite that way. And, when I saw all the other kids going forward, I joined in. It was a big step for me: for I was “owning” my own faith – making my first “individual, personal” commitment.

Now – looking back – I am very grateful for the wisdom of that young preacher. For when he prayed with us that night – he instructed us to go back home, and visit with our ministers about the decision we made.

I did talk with my parents and my minister, Manasseh Bontrager, and three years later, on June 12, 1960, I was baptized and formally became a member of Mt. Joy Mennonite – even though I already was participating and serving in that tiny community of faith: teaching a Sunday School class for little children and helping my mother give flannel-graph programs on Sunday evenings (that was long before the days of personal computers and power-point).

A few months later, my family moved to Hesston, Kansas. It was there I met Darrell Jantz, a next-door neighbor, and classmate at Hesston College Academy. Darrell’s heritage is also Mennonite. And in 1963, we were married at Hesston Mennonite Church, by Peter Wiebe, pastor and influential mentor on my faith journey. Darrell and I remained members at Hesston Mennonite until we moved to Duncan, Oklahoma in 1969 (a community without a Mennonite congregation). The week we arrived we were invited to the First United Methodist Church, and were warmly welcomed into that family of faith.

Through forty years of membership in that particular body of Christ, my faith deepened, I was nurtured and mentored, and my “call” was crystallized. And, across those many years, I was continually challenged to serve, always coupled with opportunities for training and preparation.

I have found the United Methodist denomination to be inclusive in nature, outreaching in connectional mission, enriched through the vast diversity of its members, yet grounded in its living “core” – of Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason. The discovery of this quadrilateral – this “four-legged” foundation – has provided a necessary “balance” for my seeking – and has proved most instructive for my growing relationship with God through Christ. I have found it to be a most holistic way to discern God’s will – and to understand God’s claim and call on my life personally, and on our life together as the body of Christ.

I thank God for the Church universal – and for the Mennonite and United Methodist Churches in particular.

Through loving parents and through the church – through Bible study, prayer, worship – through conversations with family and friends; through good music, art and books; through glorious sunsets and mountain grandeur; through the lives and witness of those dedicated disciples who diligently work for justice and peace in this troubled world – and in a myriad of other ways – I have come to know God, and to accept the way of Christ and make it mine.
But a “salvation journey” is always an ongoing journey: mine has now brought Darrell and me to this new juncture – and to our move to London.

The desire to serve together as mission volunteers in a Mennonite Agency has been our long-held dream. Across the years, Darrell and I had visited several family members who were involved in such endeavors: my parents, Bill & Liz Barge here in London at LMC; Darrell’s sister and family, Clydene & Kermit Gingerich, at Woodstock International School in India; my brother and family, Nathan & Elaine Zook-Barge, in their MCC work in Central America. Spending time with them and learning of their ministries validated our own call.

Thus – with full support of our two children, we had started making more definite plans in order to be available upon our retirement. And, it all came to a “head” on August 4, 2009, when my brother Bernell Barge sent us the Mennonite Mission Network link for this immediate opening at the London Mennonite Centre. He added: “Aren’t you two ready? Check this out!” Indeed we were — and later that same night we emailed our application, and began the process of contacting our references. Following numerous phone interviews, with MMN representatives and with LMC Trustees, in late October we were asked to come.

Bringing closure to a 40-year career as an engineer and manager with an oil serving company in Duncan, Darrell retired at the end of that same month. And, at the end of November, I too resigned from my 16 years at a Disciples of Christ congregation, where I served as Director of Adult Ministries. And just before leaving the states, we transferred our membership back to the Hesston Mennonite Church, in Hesston, Kansas, where we will move after this assignment.

In the meantime, for these three years, we look forward to our ongoing “journey” with London Mennonite Centre and with you – the Wood Green Mennonite community of faith – to become immersed once again in an Anabaptist witness – and along with each of you, to continue to grow spiritually and serve faithfully.

As we attempt to follow God’s leading and will on this salvation journey, Darrell and I have found it requires embracing both the intrinsic “mystery” of it all, and the occasional “revelation” glimpses provided. But mostly, we believe it calls us to live and serve in a spirit of gratitude for the opportunities of the day – knowing that the Eternal One promises to be with us every step of the way.

The Gospel of Luke reminds us of our call: the invitation to join with the Prophet Isaiah, with John the Baptizer, with the entire band of travelers from across the ages – in helping prepare the way of Our Lord and proclaiming that God’s Salvation is for one and all.


A Salvation Journey is a life-long Journey!
Our Salvation has everything to do
with God’s amazing grace.
The purpose and joy of life
(Your life – My life)
Is to respond and serve in gratitude
All our days
For that most precious gift.