Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kaleidoscopic visions of the kingdom

From Park View Mennonite Church, 1600 College Ave, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’
During my four years in seminary I was fortunate to have overlapped with the first seminary cohort as part of the local Mennonite Hispanic Initiative, which is committed to providing church planting resources, leadership development, and theological education to the Hispanic and Latino community here in Harrisonburg. One of the MDiv students is Byron Pellecer, pastor of the Iglesia Discipular Anabaptista (IDA), which currently meets Saturday evenings in the building of Harrisonburg Mennonite Church. Byron and I had a number of classes together and became good friends and brothers in Christ.

This past Sunday at my congregation, Park View Mennonite Church, Byron preached with his good friend, Marvin Lorenzana, who is an EMS MDiv alum and Director of Multicultural Services at EMU. I had been under the impression that Byron was going to be preaching in Spanish with Marvin translating to English. But then something amazing happened: While preaching, Byron would switch back and forth between the two languages, and Marvin would follow along. Here's the sermon...

This is an approach that I had never experienced before, but I'm told that these two have been doing it for some time. So what I find amazing here relates to three things: The proclamation of the gospel, friendship, and mission.


As it relates to gospel proclamation, I was struck by how I was both drawn in closer and was more attentive than I ever have been for a sermon - literally on the edge of my seat - and by how I was less focused on a single person. So it's almost like the gospel message becomes less one person's speech-act and in the process somehow more. The message begins to float somewhere in the midst of the linguistic dance.


Which leads me to friendship. After worship, during the Sunday school hour, we had the pleasure of having Byron and Marvin in our group, along with their wives and another couple from IDA. They told us the story of the first time Byron sprung this idea on Marvin shortly before they were going to be preaching/translating. "Just follow me," Byron assured a reluctant Marvin. The smiles on their faces while telling this story illustrated the trust, respect, and shared work between these two men and the depth of their friendship. This friendship is plainly visible in their preaching together.

Byron speaks fairly quickly, which is common in my experience with Spanish-speakers, so Marvin really has to work hard to keep up. And sometimes things break down. There were a few times in the sermon where Byron would have just switched to one language and Marvin would quickly start speaking in that same language, utter a few words, then stop. Looking over, Byron would be looking at him with an impish grin and the whole congregation would join them for a laugh before jumping back in. These moments of humor provided gaps, breaths of fresh air, that both displayed the friendship between these two men and gave the congregation a chance to relax for a moment.


Finally, as it relates to mission, I felt the missional draw of their sermon (and the bi-lingual celebration of communion that followed). Watching the delicate but rapid interplay of languages between these two men, I suddenly saw what was happening as a "kaleidoscopic vision" akin to what appears in the Revelation 7 text above. I owe the kaleidoscope image to my dear friend Luis, who is also studying at EMS as part of the MHI, and who was in Sunday school with us following the service. Experiencing this in worship on Sunday had a powerful impact on me and lit the "missional impulse" spark that sometimes flares up within me.

In the philosophy of language and virtue ethics I've been reading recently, there's been an emphasis on the formative character of practices, including how language acquisition comes through immersive experience in a community of practice. It's been on my back-burner to dust off my Spanish-speaking skills in order to better situate myself for wider ministry and mission across cultures and languages. So worship this past Sunday got me thinking: What better way to learn Spanish (or in my case, re-learn it) than in the context of Christian worship practices? My thanks to dear brothers, Byron and Marvin, for being ambassadors of the coming kingdom and showing a wider vision to me. "Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen."

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