December 12, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

Advent 3…collecting canned goods and grocery cards

Pastor Janice told the story in her sermon at Kern Road Sunday morning of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s interaction with a violinist who became frustrated with attempts to play well a very difficult Stravinsky piece.

In response to the less-than-masterful attempts, Stravinsky replied that he loved “the sound of someone trying to embody” the piece, despite whether or not it was played to perfection, Janice told us, pivoting next to a comparison of how the Divine might respond to our mostly less than perfect attempts to live out God’s dream for the world.  “God loves the sound of people trying to play that song,” she assured us.

Suggesting that the simple act of friendship can go a very long way toward building bridges and making a difference, she ticked off a list of the marginalized who might feel threatened in our present-day culture and wondered aloud what it might take “for all of these to be provided with a safe place, a place free from danger.  How will God make this happen?” she asked us.   

In response to her own question, she suggested that “friendship is one way we can try to play that song.”  The Advent 3 scripture describing Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in Luke 1:39-56, according to Janice, reveals how Elizabeth gives Mary the gift of friendship…two women’s friendship embodies God’s reign.”

And then she shared a story about friendship which made me perk up my ears upon hearing her mention Roy Hange, who grew up some years behind me at Line Lexington Mennonite Church, my childhood home congregation back in eastern Pennsylvania. 

Mennonite World Review’s (MWR) November 29 story entitled “MCC’s crisis response in Syria is its largest ever” describes Roy’s impact, which began with a friendship:  “The humanitarian work of Mennonite Central Committee in Syria during this time of war grew out of the placement of a single worker with the Syriac Orthodox Church 25 years ago.  It’s hard to believe that the presence of one English language teacher [Roy Hange] in 1991 became a relationship that has lasted for 25 years and has helped hundreds of thousands of people in their daily lives,” said Mor Ignatius Ephrem II, patriarch of Antioch and All the East, at a Nov. 12 celebration of MCC’s 25-year relationship with Syrian partners.”

According to the MWR article, the celebratory evening featured “a photo presentation chronicling MCC’s many involvements over the past 25 years: providing English teachers, supporting developmentally disabled adults and orphans, funding a prison ministry, helping Iraqi refugees who fled to Syria, and supporting exchanges,” such as a visiting Mennonite choir.

And further, the article explained, “in a video created for the celebration, the Middle East Council of Churches enumerated ways MCC had helped displaced Syrians and struggling host communities through that one partner alone:  providing 2,122 infant kits, 29,398 school kits, 38,775 hygiene kits, 15,772 blankets, 6,156 relief kits, 382 pieces of medical equipment, 20,386 winter-clothing kits, 5,720 heaters, 25,222 pairs of shoes and much more, benefiting in some way more than 248,000 people.”

Following Janice's sermon which gently challenged us to “offer a safe place for those in need as we embody God’s reign,” it seemed quite appropriate to  spend the afternoon at South Bend Civic Theater’s interpretation of It’s A Wonderful Life, where we heard George Bailey’s guardian angel Clarence say these concluding words: “No man is a failure who has friends.  Thanks for my wings!”  If you haven’t seen the 1946 movie or a theatrical production of it, check out this story of a frustrated businessman who gives up his dreams to help others.  Eventually Bailey learns from his guardian angel, who is working on earning his wings, how different the lives of his friends and family would have been had he, George, not been born.   

What are some little things we can do right where we are in our own neighborhoods or our shared church community?  This NPR story depicts how one congregation’s hand-painted outdoor sign has morphed into a colorful yard sign that is making its way across the country.  (Unofficial word on the street is that signs will soon be available to KRMCers.) We are engaged at Kern Road during the season of Advent in collecting canned goods for a local outreach to the homeless and in purchasing grocery gift cards for families in need.  I can only begin to imagine the efforts in which we may be involved as individuals.   

This parting thought from Parker Palmer seems applicable to the waiting that continues as we move past the third Sunday in Advent with much need evident all around us:  “None of us can save the world. But as more of us learn to live more simply “on winter’s margin”—sharing whatever crumbs we have with those who have none—together we can survive the winter and thrive when spring comes again, as it must, as it will.”