Mary E. Klassen
The Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary “Fab Five” aren’t a band of superheroes who can remove snow and raise frigid temperatures, but they did help participants to see Jesus at Pastors Week January 27–30.
AMBS planners questioned whether to go ahead with the event as snowfall and below-zero temperatures led to winter emergencies in the area. But the weather challenges may have served only to help inspire and unite the 157 participants as they encountered five different points of view on the theme, “Help me see Jesus! Help me see, Jesus!”
Presenters Andy Brubacher Kaethler, Rachel Miller Jacobs, Safwat Marzouk, Jamie Pitts and Allan Rudy-Froese are each in their second or third year of teaching at AMBS. They took on the challenge of helping participants see Jesus anew and allowing Jesus to help them see in new ways. The pastors and other church leaders present commented that they found the combination of theological study; practical ministry suggestions; and Spirit-filled singing, preaching and worship to be powerful and moving.
Pitts, associate professor of Anabaptist studies, opened the week with reflections on baptism. He drew parallels among the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, Jesus’ baptism and our own baptisms. The Israelites’ passage through the water “changed their vision of God and of the world. It changed them and their way of being in the world,” he said. Jesus entered the Jordan River for his baptism, “leaving behind his artisan’s work and emerging with a vision of the Spirit that led him to an itinerant ministry.”
Explaining how vision changes under water, Pitts emphasized, “We enter the baptismal waters where our vision is undone, distorted and finally blotted out. Only then are we prepared to see what is next,” he said. We are transformed by that experience, and it spurs us to “right seeing in the world.”
Right seeing also involves seeing our contexts and the culture in which we live, Andy Brubacher Kaethler, assistant professor of Christian formation and culture, emphasized. He pointed out that when we do not examine our own culture and the way it shapes our reading of the Bible, we risk being blind to God’s liberating, reconciling work in the world.
Kaethler argued that humans are not primarily rational beings, but “we are liturgical…. We are first and foremost loving creatures.” That human capacity for love is expressed in practices and habits that are often counter to our culture. “We need to be people who can imagine the Kingdom of God as if it is real and live into that reality.”
Jacobs, assistant professor of congregational formation, also challenged participants to a new way of thinking when studying the Bible in congregations. Instead of feeling that we or our congregations lack knowledge or time for Bible teaching and study, she said, we should approach the Bible with a spirit of “enoughness.”
She encouraged pastors to follow Jesus’ example of living and teaching with a sense of abundance and vulnerability. Rather than bringing our preconceived ideas to the text, can we “see ourselves in conversation with the text and in conversation with each other through the power of the Holy Spirit?” Can we trust the “enoughness” of the people gathered around the Scripture, Jacobs asked, even if that means we sit quietly until the Holy Spirit gives us ideas?
Marzouk, assistant professor of Old Testament, led the group in a study of the story of Sara, Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac as a way of exploring identity—how we see ourselves and others. The story often is read in a way in which self and other are binary opposites, he noted. Readers identify with Sara and Isaac, viewing them as positive and superior, while Hagar and Ishmael are seen as inferior, defiant or something to be resisted.
Marzouk pointed out, however, that Ishmael is neither an outsider nor an insider in God’s promises. His identity is complex; he is both Israelite and Egyptian yet neither fully Israelite nor Egyptian.
Jesus also has a hybrid identity; he “was fully human but divine … a prophet who did not fit anywhere,” Marzouk said. For Christians, too, there is an in-between identity, and recognizing this is important. “We are called to be disciples in this world but not of this world. We live in the already, not yet,” Marzouk explained. Focusing on Jesus calls us to expose the oppression we inflict on others and experience from others. “Seeing Jesus calls us to repentance; seeing Jesus also heals us. We can’t break the cycle of violence without seeing Jesus and seeing others as Jesus sees them.”
Helping others see Jesus through preaching was the challenge Allan Rudy-Froese, assistant professor of Christian proclamation, worked with. To prepare for preaching, Rudy-Froese called participants to do two things. First they must prepare their bodies, recognizing that the whole body is involved in speaking and that rehearsal is important for the preacher just as it is for the choir and soloists. Second, preachers must allow themselves to receive a gift from Christ in their study and preparation.
“If we don’t get the gift ourselves, we won’t preach it either. If we have not seen Christ, how can we help others see Christ? If we cannot see how Christ is carrying us, how can we say to others that Christ is carrying them?” Rudy-Froese asked.
Finally, he called on preachers to “do the Gospel in your sermon.” Listeners come to learn about God, but mostly they want a relationship. Preachers can bring Jesus Christ to the congregation, he said, if their bodies are ready and they paused to receive the gift that Christ has for them in their preparation.
Workshops during Pastors Week also featured several of the professors who had opportunities to expand on their earlier presentations or to address other issues. Willard Swartley, professor emeritus, also led a workshop based on his work with the Believers Church Bible Commentary on John and his companion book, Living Gift: John’s Jesus in Meditation and Poetry, Art and Song.
Worship services were led by Cyneatha Millsaps, pastor of Community Mennonite Church, Markham, Ill., and Janeen Bertsche Johnson, AMBS campus pastor. Julia Gingrich, AMBS student, was one of the preachers, drawing on her experience as a pastoral intern at the St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in Elkhart during the summer and how she had learned to see in new ways as a result of joining with that congregation.