Dear HMC, Here is this week’s E-Newsletter below and attached.  

HMC E-Newsletter April 15, 2010


Worship (and culture) forms us
By Linda Washburn, chair of the HMC Worship Team

Sports.  National anthem.  Patriotism.  Not topics you’d think would be discussed at a worship team meeting.  Yet, at our previous meeting in late March 2010, those were our topics of conversation for several minutes.  Although our meeting started at 7:00, we didn’t actually begin planning services that evening until after 8:15!  Our team sometimes serves as a small group of support for each other.

What were discussing was an item of current events: the decision by Goshen College (owned by Mennonite Church USA) to, for the first time, play the American national anthem – albeit an instrumental version -before a sports event.   See http://www.goshen.edu/news/pressarchive/03-19-10-first-game-anthem439.html for the whole story.  This article does not fully explain why the College had refrained from playing anthem, but one reason was probably philosophical opposition to the lyrics describing images of war.

 I had originally read the story in USA Today.  I brought it up during the meeting because I had read about it only a few days before – the word “Mennonite” in national newspaper having caught my attention – and was curious to know the opinions of others at the church.

One of us thought the decision was a good compromise, demonstrating hospitality and tolerance towards visitors.  Another of us thought the College was compromising its values of peace and excessive patriotism.  A third person brought up that what we do, say, and listen to forms who we are.  They were paraphrasing what we often discussed in worship team meetings; that worship forms us. 

Whether we are singing hymns, praying, or listening to the national anthem (the well-known lyrics probably going through our heads, even during an instrumental version of it), we are being changed through our actions.  As the team that plans worship services, that concept bestows on us some responsibility for the possible transformation of every member of the congregation!

I changed my opinion about what I thought of the College’s decision that evening.  I originally thought the College’s decision was a necessary compromise, perhaps due to a requirement to play the anthem by the sports league.  But realizing it wasn’t, and remembering Marty’s sermon of a couple of weeks ago, calling Mennonites to no longer be the “quiet in the land”, but to take a stand for what we believe in, I now wish the College continued to NOT play the anthem.

This discussion also brought to mind my parents’ reaction to hearing the American anthem while the lyrics appeared on an overhead screen at a sporting event we attended in Houston.  (My parents are Canadian Mennonites).  While they had heard the anthem many times before on TV, reading the lyrics about bombs bursting and rockets made the images more concrete.  My mother commented: “Those lyrics are pretty violent, aren’t they?”

No matter what your opinion of the College’s decision or the anthem’s lyrics are, I now know what I believe, and know how I’ll practice my beliefs given the next opportunity.


No One But Us
by Annie Dillard

There is no one but us.
There is no one to send,
Nor a clean hand,
Nor a pure heart
On the face of the earth,
Nor in the earth
But only us,
A generation comforting ourselves
With the notion
That we have come at an awkward time,
That our innocent fathers are all dead –
As if innocence has ever been –
And our children busy and troubled,
And we ourselves unfit, not yet ready,
Having each of us chosen wrongly,
Made a false start, failed,
Yielded to impulse
And the tangled comfort of pleasures,
And grown exhausted,
Unable to seek the thread,
Weak, and involved.
But there is no one but us.
There never has been.

From the book Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard


Saying Yes and Saying No: Prayers for Houston
By Pastor Marty Troyer

The American flag behind the podium was larger than the side of our church building. The patriotic rituals of the color guard, national anthem, and pledge of allegiance religiously entered into with zeal and dedication. The glitz and glitter of the ballroom communicated power, wealth, and acceptance. The parade of heavy-hitting dignitaries – both local and international – was mindboggling in its scope and clout. The patriotic, Christian, and civic language and symbolism mingled so seamlessly one wondered if the separation of church and state was an ancient dream or a reality. This was the scene last Wednesday morning as 1500 people elegantly sat around tables at the 35th annual Houston Prayer Breakfast.

My antennae were on overload as I soaked up the scene of this gathering of Houston’s finest (or wealthiest) faith and political leaders, the stated goal of which is prayers of blessing for Houston. The program offered quotes from the founding fathers in the same font and style as quotes from scripture, quotes, which were used to emphasis America’s Christian heritage and the rightful place of citizens as being “quiet” in respect to government.

Though I was invited by a trusted friend who has recently taken me under his wing, I couldn’t help but feel an enormous disconnect between my own faith and the civil religion I experienced Wednesday. There were two messages I felt they communicated at this event, both of which left me feeling on the fringe, outside the warm embrace of mainline Christianity’s safe wings. The primary verbalized message was complete and unquestioned support for the city and her leaders, our country and its public servants. It was a resounding “Yes!” to the way things are, the systems and structure of our world. There were no hints of a broken system, the economic downturn, militarism that is eating our youth, or the demands of justice, equality and dignity that cry out from every city street. It was complete and utter belief that the system works, and deserves our blessing & words of affirmation. This is not a belief that I share.  

The second message, communicated mainly nonverbally through ritual and symbol, was a resounding “Yes!” to the Church’s lofty position within the system. Pride for the lofty position of the Christian community in Houston was garishly expressed in the location (downtown Hilton Americas ballroom), the décor, the tableware, the meal itself, the pomp, the dress. But pride of position was overwhelmingly symbolized in the patriotic rituals mentioned above. Throughout almost all the spoken prayers and scriptures one strained to hear the words over the din of clinking silverware and slurped coffee, people milled about. But when the mayor led us in the pledge of allegiance, or the anthem was played, attention was singularly focused without reserve. It was pointed out I was not appreciated when I did not join in saying the pledge, though my same tablemate chatted annoyingly throughout the prayers. I felt like we were patting ourselves on the back, declaring for all the world (and media!) to see, “Look at us, we’re sitting at the right hand of power!” I witnessed the church pushing to make itself palatable, clinging to its reputation, and, ultimately, sacrificing too much in the process. Together these verbal (“Yes!”) and nonverbal (“Yes!”) messages combined to baptize the civil religion that is so profoundly popular in Houston. This is not the faith that I hold dearly.

The death of Jesus at the hands of the politicians and religious leaders of his day shows the world to itself as it truly is, diagnosing the world as sin-sick and broken. We must be able to say not only “yes” to our culture, but also “no” to the injustice, violence, greed, racial discrimination, community divisions and xenophobia around us. Prayers of blessing are woefully inadequate to capture the necessary yes and no of our Easter faith. Our prayers must be energized with the “No!” of lament, sorrow, and protest for the world as it is.

But we, as people of faith, know equally well that Jesus resurrection revealed God’s kingdom to be as it truly is! God raising Jesus was God’s way of vindicating the life Jesus lived and taught: God’s resounding “YES!” for the new world Jesus was creating right here in our midst. We, like Jesus, believe that peace, justice and celebration go hand in hand with being the people of God. As people of faith, we are invited to say yes, but not to the ways of the world, but to the new heavens and earth that God is creating in and through Jesus Christ. We pledge our allegiance to Christ and God’s kingdom, and commit to following after Christ in life. Again, prayers of blessing for the world as it is fall woefully short of embracing and working toward God’s world as it is coming to be. Our prayers must be charged with the ‘Yes!’ of expectation and longing for change!

So what would my verbal prayers look like for Houston, if I was asked to lead prayers at the 36th annual prayer breakfast? And perhaps more importantly, what would be the non-verbal rituals and symbols that would form the faith community to be the kind of people who can say not just yes to culture, but both yes and no? Perhaps one day I’ll have the opportunity to pray at just such an event. Or, more intriguingly, perhaps we should throw our own Houston Prayer Breakfast and answer those questions together. What do your prayers for Houston look like?


PICNIC Prayers and thoughts:

Sunday’s church picnic was fabulous! What fun to see kids playing games in our yard, the piñata, a clown, kids with face paint, and tons of new families on our property. Thanks everyone for helping out with this event, it was a wild success. For everyone who helped set up tables, clean up at the end, make or provide games, make and share food, greeted people, invited someone (who did or did not come), prayed about the event, shared your talents, dressed up as a really cool clown, etc… It was great to have everyone pitch in and make this a great event!

We had 5 visitors in our morning worship.
We had over 25 guests at the picnic!!!
We had at least 25 HMCers help out in some way.

Special thanks to: Outreach Team members Adrienne Graybill, Danielle Graybill, Judy Hoffhien, and Elizabeth Melendez for planning the event!! You did a great job. 

Thanks everyone!!

Prayers: God of creation, beauty, celebration, relationship and fun, we give you thanks for our church picnic! Thank you for: the new relationships we formed Sunday, the vision to make it happen, our value of church growth, for resources we can share, for willing servants, for opportunity to push ourselves and try new things, for lessons learned, for smiles shared, for good food and fellowship.

Help us to be good neighbors, good inviters, and caring for people. Open our doors to people who need community, and open our hearts to welcome them home!

Be with the individuals and families that joined us Sunday, you know their names, their needs, their hearts and dreams. May they know they are loved, and have a place to call home here as needed. AMEN


Connecting More Fully at HMC:
Offering Report: The April 11th, 2010 offering was $1,043.87, including $54.82 for Columbian Missionaries, Amanda and Galaliel Falla from our change offering.

►Care Packages for College Students.  Collecting now through April 25 for: Olivia Koshy (UT-Austin), Aaron Wilson (UMKC), Emily Voran (Trinity), Kristen Graber (Rice), Rachel Vlachos (Rice), Gabe Wilson( EMT training), Zack and Jessica Unruh (UH). Consider non-bulky options to keep postage reasonable.

We will also collect only flat paper items such as notes and cards for Amanda and Galeliel Falla, they are unable to receive care-packages any bigger than the size of a large manila envelope. So write them a card or note, and drop that by.
►Welcome Lunch for Newcomers: This Sunday April 18.  Are you new to Houston Mennonite? Would you like to hear more about our congregation’s history? Interested in knowing more about Mennonites and Anabaptists? Join us Next Sunday October 4th after worship for a light meal and time of fellowship and sharing. We’ll tell you more about our congregation’s vision and mission in the world, and give you a glimpse of our story over the 42 years of our existence. We’ll also talk about what it means to be a Mennonite, and why we think that’s an important part of our identity. Pastor Marty Troyer and our Community Life Ministry Team will host you for a meal.

Anabaptist Learning SeminarApril 18, 25, May 9 & 16. Come Sunday nights and learn more about Anabaptism worldwide: beliefs, practices, and culture.

April 18th: Anabaptist beginnings in Europe & beyond.
April 25th: The spread of Mennonites to the “New World.”
May 9th: Global Mennonites today: Asia, Africa, and beyond
May 16th: Global Mennonite theology.


►ANNEX DEDICATION:
Sunday afternoon April 25. 1PM, following the Fellowship Meal.
►Woman’s Retreat: Friday April 30-Sunday May 2. $20 per person. Relax, eat good food, enjoy good fellowship, do arts and crafts in prep for the Relief Sale. Register fast as space is limited. Women from other Texas Mennonite congregations will be present.
►You won’t want to miss Western District Conference Annual Retreat: Friday July 9-Sunday July 11. Put this on your calendar now! This is an amazing Christian resourcing, recreational, and relational event. Cost is incredibly low at $130 per person, for 2 nights and 5 meals. Location is Waxahatchie Texas, just South of Dallas. A 4 hour drive from Houston. Plan now to attend with your church family. Church leadership would love to see 20 or more HMCers attend. There will be a high school youth component which will include a service project.


This I believe…

I believe if God raised Jesus from the dead, then anything is possible.

Love is possible. Hope is possible. Joy is possible.
Taking risks, overcoming fears, moving beyond comfort zones, inviting others, sharing this faith – all are now possible.
The welcome and integration of strangers, extravagant generosity and simple living, food and dignity for all, reconciliation of enemies, an end to violence and war – these too are possible.

I believe if God brought Jesus back to life, then even I can change!

I believe if God is making the heavens new and the earth new, then all things are being renewed.

Individuals and churches, couples and families, institutions and corporations, cities and nations, the molecule and the cosmos- the entire world, both social and personal.

I believe our world needs God’s kingdom now more than ever. My friends, family, neighbors and co-workers need God now. I need God’s kingdom now, and commit my life and energies to making it a reality.

And one day – when our prayers for the kingdom to come on earth are answered – justice, peace, and celebration will be the state of the union and the state of every human heart.

I believe we are being transformed by God to transform the world.
I believe the same Spirit that brought Jesus back to life is within me.
I believe God is making all things new!

                 Dear God, please start with me. AMEN.


The following article intro was written by Christine Sine, Executing Director of “Mustard Seed Associates.” This was accessed April 15, 2010 at http://blog.sojo.net/2010/04/13/living-into-the-hope-of-the-resurrection-%e2%80%93-christ-has-conquered-death/, where you can read the article in its entirety.

Living into the Hope of the Resurrection – Christ has Conquered Death

by Christine Sine 04-13-2010

I have never been as conscious of the incredible hope of the Easter message as I have been this last Easter. It seems that death and resurrection are intertwined everywhere I look and I realize how desperately I need to celebrate not just Easter Sunday but this whole Easter season. I have very definitely needed the confidence of my belief in the resurrection and my anticipation that one day God will in fact make all things new and we will sit down together at the banquet table of God.

Click here to read the entire article, or go to: http://blog.sojo.net/2010/04/13/living-into-the-hope-of-the-resurrection-%e2%80%93-christ-has-conquered-death/


Budget and debt counseling

Are you living paycheck to paycheck, trapped in a cycle of debt? Or, are you considering bankruptcy? Maybe you feel in control of your money now, but have financial questions you’d like answered. Budget and debt counseling, a free service sponsored by MMA, can answer your questions and help you take real, positive, steps toward financial stability – and freedom. For more info Check out http://www.cccs.org/ and/or call 888-577-2227, be sure to tell them you are Mennonite, and that MMA sent you!


What do China, Iran, Iraq and the USA have in common?
We lead the planet in capital punishment.

The following article was written by the editors of amnestyusa.org, and was accessed at http://blog.amnestyusa.org/deathpenalty/business-as-usual-for-death-penalty-outliers/?rss=deathpenalty.
It was submitted by Brad Myers. Texas leads the country in executions, and all of them take place just north of Houston in Huntsville.

On March 30, 2010 Amnesty International released their annual report on global death penalty statistics.

The good news: the world has made progress toward upholding the fundamental right to life by continuing to decrease the use of the death penalty.

The bad news: a handful of countries are carrying on business as usual and need to hear the message more clearly that the time for global abolition has come!

Interesting Facts from the Report:

  • In 2009, 139 countries were death penalty free in law or practice.  (This is up from 16 countries in 1977, when Amnesty began working to abolish the death penalty.)  Burundi and Togo joined the list in 2009.
  • Executions happened in only 18 countries last year with five accounting for the lion’s share: China (thousands), Iran (388), Iraq (120), Saudi Arabia (69) and the US (52).
  • We know of 718 executions that happened in 2009 in addition to thousands from China.  And we know that at least 17,118 lived under sentence of death.
  • Only one country in Europe retains the death penalty – Belarus.  No one was executed in the continent last year.

The Outliers:

China remains the world’s top executioner by the numbers, with thousands being executed in 2009 as in past years.  We didn’t give a number for China’s executions for 2009.  The numbers we’ve given in the past are estimates based on independent, verified reports, but have always been gross underestimates.  China’s government continues to keep this number a state secret; yet, without revealing their records they claim executions have decreased.  So this year, rather than risk a low-ball number being misused, we challenge China to publish the numbers and move toward abolition.

The Middle East and North Africa region continues to lead in executions, per capita.  Just as in China, places like Iran and Iraq used the death penalty to send political messages.  Opponents were silenced and political agendas were furthered with executions.  Between the eight weeks between President Ahmadinejad’s election and inauguration, 112 executions were carried out – almost a third of Iran’s total number of executions in 2009.  Fortunately, however, Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco/Western Sahara and Tunisia did maintain longstanding moratoria on executions.

The US was the only country in the Americas and the only Western democracy to execute prisoners last year.  Fifty two people were put to death in the US last year, with Texas executing about half that number.  Overall, death sentences and executions have been on a downturn in the US in recent years and more state legislatures are seriously considering abolition.  Another welcome step was New Mexico’s repeal of the death penalty last March.  Fortunately, nine people were exonerated from death row, preventing wrongful executions.  This was another important sign for a public that needs to understand just how deeply flawed and broken the death penalty system truly is.  While there are glimmers of hope in the US for abolition, there is still a lot of work to be done to bring the “evolving standards of decency” up to international human rights standards.

We’re looking forward to the day, in the not very distant future, when dust collects on a series of annual reports we used to write about countries that once thought executing its citizens was an acceptable practice!

Help us work for that day!  Visit www.amnestyusa.org/abolish or email dpac@aiusa.org to get involved.


Order of Worship Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Do you know of someone who would benefit from hearing that there are things in life worth holding on to other than stuff, and that it might be time to let go of something? Consider inviting them to church. Here’s one way that might feel more comfortable to you and them: Tell them something your faith helped you to let go of, and tell them about our church Lenten theme. Let them know where and when we meet. Tell them to check us out online for themselves, so they know what they are getting into before they come. Try it, it might be just what they need!

Prelude                       
Welcome  
* Call to Worship                                                         HWB #668
* Opening Prayer
* Opening Songs                                                                                
        Holy Spirit, Come with power                                    
HWB #26
        New Earth, Heavens New                                      HWB # 299
Scripture Reading              Acts 9:1-6, 19b-20               NT Pg 127
Children’s Time (Children 1-5 dismissed for Children’s Church)   
Sharing joys and concerns, Prayer  Feel free to light a candle-prayer
Scripture Reading            John 21:1-19                          NT Pg 115
Message                                                   
•Community Dialogue
Song of Response          Christ’s is the world                                 SJ #62
Offering & Prayer       
Welcoming of Visitors and Announcements              
* Blessing Song         How can we be silent                        SJ #61
* Blessing                                                                                                                             

* Please stand if comfortable when indicated by asterisk.
SJ- Sing the Journey (Green spiral-bound) HWB- Hymnal Worship Book (Blue hardback).   

 

Community Dialogue: We believe that everyone is gifted and has a voice, and value your voice in our worship. “Community dialogue” is your chance to testify to God’s presence in our world, respond to the text or sermon, or share your perspective or experience with us. Consider adding your voice for our formation by sharing verbally during this time, or by writing on the enclosed index card your completion of the sentence, “This I believe…” These will be read aloud.


Pastoral Care

Do you want a person to talk with about something in your life? Got a question or insight into faith or scripture you want to kick around? Have you been sitting on a great idea for the church? Need prayer? Want to get to know your pastor better?
As your pastor, I’m available to meet with you at the office or at a time and spot that works better for you. Just let me know when and where! Monday’s through Thursdays, and weekends by appointment. Marty Troyer, cell:(713)835-9436, church office (713)464-4865, hmcpastor1@sbcglobal.net, also available on facebook.


Additional Information

HMC E-Newsletter is compiled by Houston Mennonite Church pastor Marty Troyer.

All are invited and encouraged to share articles, personal updates, stories, announcements, pictures, etc… to include in the weekly updates!

Know of others who would like to receive HMC E-Newsletter e-mails from Houston Mennonite?  Have them send name and e-mail to Marty at hmcpastor1@sbcglobal.net. 

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