Mennonites are blessed with traditions and aspirations that many admire: nonviolent peacemaking, mutual aid, voluntarism, relief efforts, generosity and so on. But these values alone do not inherently communicate the one whose name we bear as Christians.
Focussing on our ethical practices comes with the risk of becoming preoccupied with “how.” How will we be most effective? How can we use our resources most efficiently? How can we transform conflict and make peace? How can we sustain—or grow—vital services?
While Scripture shares many examples of “how” we can live our lives, the central theme of the Bible is “who.” God is the main character. Father, Son and Spirit engage humanity made in their image. And we’ve read many stories of those who met and experienced the living God. Who is God? Who is the Messiah? Who are the people of God? Who has the Spirit of God?
The preferred way of getting to know who God is happens through direct encounters. I’m not sure if God is concerned about being researched academically, inventoried for historic activity or examined existentially. But I’m pretty sure God is concerned about our relationship with our Creator: “I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:12).
Questions of faithfulness, obedience and identity are repeated themes. The “who” is an incredibly personal question. And knowing the “who”—who we are and who God is—happens primarily when we meet God.
At a glance, meeting someone else suggests that simple logistics need to be planned. But the Bible reveals that encounters with God are not always simple, straightforward, comfortable or planned.
What happens when we meet with the triune God is routinely unpredictable. Water can become wine, lepers can be cured, fishermen can become preachers, and people of diverse cultures can be filled with God’s Spirit. Meeting God is aided when we use our eyes and ears to seek what God desires.
God infrequently tells us what we want to hear. We may learn that our riches are problematic, the gate is narrower than we thought, or that our priorities are misplaced. We can also be told not to worry and not to be afraid when worrying and being afraid come naturally. And we can be reminded to watch and pray when we’d rather carry on in our own way.
Meeting God is good for us. God provides truth, cleansing, liberation and power that speak directly to the priority issues in our lives, whatever they may be. We may experience a call for confession, a decision to follow Jesus, words of forgiveness to give or receive, liberty from oppression, or the power and authority to continue sharing God’s reconciling gospel of peace with others.
The “how” of what we do is deeply rooted in “who” we know.
May God grant us the hearts to continually seek God, the humility to meet God and the grace to share our encounters with those around us.
Tim Froese is the executive minister of Mennonite Church Canada Witness.